We returned to visit Pisa after 12 years, and it surprised us that the tower was just as impressive as the first time we saw it. Also, just like last time, we got the obligatory photos of us holding up the Leaning Tower. This time we had to get the kids to do the same, though they were much more creative than us!
Although the leaning Tower is the highlight of Pisa, there are a few other worthwhile things to see in the vicinity.
You can buy a ticket to climb the Tower, but we did not do it this time. The boys are too young, and not permitted to climb. Also, on our last visit, we were very fortunate to go to the top on a beautiful evening at sunset, which would be hard to beat.
You can get a combination ticket to all the other sights nearby, which are nestled in a lovely area surrounded by grass.
The entry to the church is free, but if you don’t buy a combined ticket to the other buildings you will still need to pick up a timed entry pass. Compared to some of the spectacular churches we have visited in Rome and Florence, this one is lacking. It didn’t help that there was scaffolding inside for renovations.
Next to the church is the Romanesque-style dome-shaped baptistery, which is very impressive from the outside, but surprised us that it had a blank inside of the dome. Unlike other domes we have climbed up, this one is still waiting to be covered by frescos. Do any good artists want a job?
Climbing to the next level of the Baptistery (more stairs!) gave another perspective of the inside. It is lovely and quiet inside if you can avoid going in with a large group of noisy students! Interestingly, inside there is a skull and crossbones, crafted into the marble floor. We don’t think it is the pirate version though, possibly a tomb?
The upstairs more importantly gave us a great view of the church from out the window, with the leaning tower peeking around the corner. It is quite a stunning view, with the architecture very similar to the Florence Cathedral.
The surprise for us was the Monumental Cemetery (Camposanto Monumentale), which we were initially not sure of its purpose. We had time to enter the impressive space, and wander the beautiful symmetrical hallways. It included manicured grassed area inside, lots of coffins and interesting frescos on the walls, which were being partly restored by artists as we watched.
The kids had the most fun playing on the grass, as they were a little freaked out by all the coffins that lined the corridors.
The rest of Pisa central does not have a lot of attractions, though on our pleasant walk from the hotel to the tower we passed an interestingly situated small church perched on the bank of the Arno River (Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina), which is built in the same style as the tower. The town square was also nice to see, with some pretty walkways and buildings along our journey.
We had a really enjoyable day in Pisa, it is definitely worth visiting as it is very close to many other tourist centres, although only one day is needed to see everything of note.
Where we stayed: Hotel Moderno This hotel was super convenient for us, as we arrived with all our bags at the train station a block away. It was a friendly, family run budget hotel, including breakfast. The bonus was that they allowed us to leave our bags there after checkout while we went to see the tower.
Getting there and away: Pisa is conveniently located on the railway line from Florence to Livorno on the coast. We passed through on our way to Corsica, and coming back we caught the train from Livorno to Pisa. From the train station it is an easy walk to the tower, or you can catch the bus (we did both). We hired a car from Pisa to further explore Tuscany. All the rental car offices are located at the airport (a short free shuttle from the main terminal). It’s a short distance away, you can walk, bus or train to the airport from the railway station.