The iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa is a sight that you can't help wanting to see when you're visiting Italy. If you're crunched for time, it's easy to add a train stopover in Pisa to your itinerary. This will allow you to not only see the Leaning Tower, but also to admire Pisa's beautiful architecture. In this article, I'll show you how to maximize your visit to Pisa during a 6-hour train stopover, including a walking tour and useful tips.
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Historically, Pisa was a maritime power which rivaled Genoa and Venice. Now, it's probably best known for the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Torre Pendente) - an architectural project which went very wrong and was already listing when it was unveiled in 1372.
If you're in Pisa on a day trip or stopover, you might be tempted to just visit the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) - the park where the Leaning Tower is located. To truly experience Pisa's charm, however, I recommend exploring beyond the tourist-swarmed piazza.
Home to several universities, including the University of Pisa, one of Europe's oldest universities, Pisa has a vibrant restaurant and café scene. Wandering through streets away from the Piazza dei Miracoli, you'll experience more of a local vibe. Plus, the historic architecture around the town is beautiful.
Although I'll share how we spent our 6-hour train stopover in Pisa in this article, I'd encourage you to stay longer if you have the time.
Getting to Pisa
Train to Pisa
As a prime tourist destination in Italy, Pisa has several direct trains each day that run between it and major cities, such as Milan, Rome, Genoa. For other cities, the journey may require a transfer in Florence.
Trains from Pisa to Florence run regularly throughout the day, both regional and high-speed, so it's easy to commute between the two cities.
Booking Train Tickets: On Rail Europe, I found it easy to check out train schedules, pre-book tickets, and choose seats for our train travel around Italy.
Flying to Pisa
The Pisa International Airport (PSA) is conveniently located a couple kilometers south of town's center. With Ryanair flights to London, Brussels, Paris, and other cities around Europe, flying to Pisa is a great way to start your Tuscany adventure.
Planning a Stopover or Day Trip to Pisa
When you're planning a train stopover or day trip to Pisa, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Pre-Book Ticket to Climb the Leaning Tower
If like us, your main goal for stopping in Pisa is to climb the leaning tower and see the sights at Piazza dei Miracoli, you'll want to make sure you pre-book your tickets. Otherwise, you might be very disappointed when you arrive and they're sold out.
In particular, you should pre-book your ticket if you want to climb the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa. Only 45 people are allowed to climb the tower at a time so tickets sell out quickly. Also, be aware that children under 8 are not permitted in or to climb the tower.
You can purchase a variety of combination passes or single tickets for each site on the Opera della Primaziale Pisana website. Tickets can only be purchased up to 20 days in advance. We bought the full pass - Completa + Torre (27€ pp) - which allowed us to see everything, plus climb the tower. You have to choose a time slot to climb the tower, but you can enter the other attractions at any time throughout the day.
Pro Tip: If you're very short on time and do not plan to go into any attractions, then you don't need to worry about a ticket. The Piazza dei Miracoli itself is free and open to the public.
What to Wear on Train Stopover in Pisa
Since you'll probably be visiting the cathedral in addition to the tower, you should be sure to wear appropriate clothing. Especially in the summer, for ladies this might mean wearing a longer dress and bringing a shawl to cover your shoulders in the cathedral.
Our 6-Hour Train Stopover Itinerary in Pisa
Our train stopover in Pisa fit nicely into our journey from Cinque Terre to Florence. We booked a direct train from Monterosso (in Cinque Terre) to Pisa. Then, we had to transfer for the last leg to Florence. So, it seemed the ideal time for a stopover in Pisa.
Arrival in Pisa
After leaving Cinque Terre on an early train, we arrived in Pisa around 10:15 am. Since it was a travel day and we had all of our suitcases with us, the first thing we had to do was find the luggage storage place. Upon first go, we failed miserably. Here's what we did and what you should do to avoid our mistakes.
Left Luggage in Pisa Centrale
When we Googled, "luggage storage in Pisa", we got a ton of hits - mostly locker storage rentals. But we decided that we'd rather just leave our bags at the train station to make things easier.
The Left Luggage company at Pisa Centrale is a bit pricey (5€ per bag), but you can leave your bags there all day (between 8:00-19:00). Plus, it seems quite secure. Once we found it, it was a breeze to drop off the suitcases. Though we had to wait in a short queue.
Pro Tip: Remember that you might have to queue to collect your luggage, so don't cut it too close to your train's departure time.
**IMPORTANT - HOW TO FIND LEFT LUGGAGE in Stazione Pisa Centrale**
Don't trust the map on the Left Luggage website! We blindly followed it because we didn't really understand the instructions underneath it.
After a hot walk dragging our suitcases, we found ourselves at a locker storage place. This might have been okay except that it only lets you rent lockers for 2 hours. This was clearly not going to work for our 6-hour stopover, but could work if you only need short-term storage. The lockers only cost 5€ total so it's a cheaper option.
When you're looking for the Left Luggage in Pisa Centrale - DON'T LEAVE THE STATION. In fact, you don't even need to go into the station. You'll find the Left Luggage center at the end of Platform 1 - towards the police station.
I didn't see a lot of signage for Left Luggage until we were almost there. If you're in doubt, ask someone instead of leaving the station. We ended up calling Jeremy's dad in the US (good thing he's an early riser!) from the locker storage to ask him. Luckily, Jeremy's parents had been in Pisa a month before us so his dad helped us figure it out.
Wandering Streets towards Piazza dei Miracoli
After wasting ~45 minutes getting our luggage stored away, we were finally ready to explore Pisa. Pisa Centrale is only a ~2-km (1.2-mi) walk from the Piazza dei Miracoli if you take the most direct route.
Wanting to explore a bit, we took a squiggly route and tried to lose ourselves in some of the beautiful parts of central Pisa. Below is a map of the (general) route we took and some of the sights we passed along the way.
Leaving Stazione Pisa Centrale, we made our way through Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II towards the Corso Italia. This pedestrian-only street is lined with a variety of shops, cafes, and bars. On a weekday morning, it was relatively quiet so it was easy to admire the beautiful buildings.
Piazza XX Settembre
The Corso Italia terminates just before the Arno River at the Piazza XX Settembre. The white building - Logge di Banchi - was built in the 17th century and served as a wool and silk market.
Also in the Piazza XX Settembre is the Palazzo Pretorio - formerly the seat of the Governor - of which I apparently did not take a photo. It was to the left of me.
Arno River and Ponte di Mezzo
To cross the Arno River, we headed over the Ponte di Mezzo. On the bridge, we admired the lovely views of the beautiful buildings along the river. The water wasn't quite still enough for a good reflection shot that day.
Piazza di Garibaldi
Just across the Arno is the Piazza di Garibaldi. This square is surrounded by pretty buildings, such as the 18th-century Casino dei Nobili (the pink one). In the center is a bronze statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian general and celebrated figure of his time (the 1800s).
Pro Tip: If you're looking for some delicious gelato on your trip to Pisa, try La Bottega del Gelato in the Piazza di Garibaldi - just beside the Casino dei Nobili.
From the Piazza di Garibaldi, we headed north on Borgo Stretto for a bit and noticed a continuation of the shopping theme. If you love to shop, you might want to spend some time here. Though I'd recommend coming back later for any purchases so you don't have to carry them all day.
Chiesa di San Michele in Borgo
Along the way, we passed the Chiesa di San Michele in Borgo - a church built in the 10th-11th centuries over an ancient Roman temple. It has been restored several times and the façade is from the 14th century. The interior is fairly stark with exposed wooden beams.
Wandering in Pisa
Shortly after seeing the church, we turned onto the Via Domenico Cavalca. My goal was to wander some of the smaller streets and alleyways. Although on the map I show a more direct route, we walked up and down several streets in this area.
On our walking tour, we passed several produce stands, almost like a farmer's market, set up along the street, plus lots of cute cafes. We stopped for a quick pastry and espresso in one of them to rest our feet and hold us over for a late lunch.
Once we were finished wandering in this neighborhood, we continued north to the Piazza dei Cavalieri.
Piazza dei Cavalieri
The second main square in Pisa, the Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights' Square) is worth a visit. In medieval Pisa, it served as the political heart of the city with several municipal buildings and churches.
Then, in the 16th century, Giorgio Vasari, an Italian Renaissance Master, designed the square in the Renaissance style. It became a hub for the Order of St. Stephen - a Roman Catholic Tuscan military order founded by Grand Duke Cosimo de' Medici in 1561 to fight Saracen piracy in the Mediterranean.
Today, the square is a center for education and is home to the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa - a public university.
Palazzo della Carovana in Pisa
The most prominent building in the Piazza dei Cavalieri is the eye-catching Palazzo della Carovana. Built in the 16th century, it served as the headquarters for the Knights of St. Stephen. Now, it is the main building for the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa.
Chiesa di Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri
Built in the 16th century for the Order of St. Stephen, the Chiesa di Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri pays homage to the knights.
The church displays trophy banners captured during naval battles with the Saracen pirates. And the paintings framed in gold on the ceiling depict events that occurred while the military order was active.
After leaving the Piazza dei Cavalieri, we wandered in the general direction of the Piazza dei Miracoli on random neighborhood streets. It was quiet and a nice contrast to the crowded Piazza dei Miracoli.
Pro Tip: The key reason I included this route is actually for the entrance on Via Cardinale Pietro Maffi. There is a public water fountain on this street just before you reach Piazza dei Miracoli. It did not have a queue like the one in the square and the water was cold - very refreshing on a hot summer day.
Piazza dei Miracoli
When reaching the Piazza dei Miracoli, you'll get your first glimpse of the iconic Leaning Tower. As a result of our wandering route to get to the Piazza dei Miracoli, we arrived shortly before our time slot (12:45 pm) to climb the tower.
Pro Tip: Don't forget to check your bag before lining up to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Even purses are not allowed when climbing the tower. The place to check your bags is located on the eastern side of the Piazza dei Miracoli, next to the ticket office.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
One of Italy's most well-known sights, the Leaning Tower (Torre Pendente) was unveiled in 1372. After taking 200 years to build, it was already leaning and continued to tilt until the 1990s when it was halted by a major stabilization project. Today, this 58-m tower is slanted 3.9 degrees off the vertical. In real life, it's pretty crazy to see just how tilted the tower is.
Climbing the Leaning Tower
After checking my bag, we headed over to join the queue for our time slot to climb the Leaning Tower. Once it was time, the people in our group filed into the bottom of the tower to wait until everyone was inside.
Immediately, I felt a bit off as I looked up and could see the lines of the tower were not straight. It's kind of trippy!
As we began to climb the stairs (251 total), I felt a little off balance and dizzy at certain points. The stairway was warm, plus we had to occasionally pass people coming the opposite direction. The stairs themselves were not overly steep but the marble might be slippery depending on what shoes you wear.
Views from the Leaning Tower
The views from the top, however, were spectacular and well-worth the climb! This was probably my favorite view of the Duomo.
Also, somehow the Fallen Angel sculpture by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj also looks more poignant from above.
The Leaning Tower is officially the bell tower for the Duomo and upon reaching the top, you'll be surrounded by various bells.
And on a clear day, the views of the mountains in the distance are gorgeous!
Pisa Cathedral - Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta
Construction on the beautiful cathedral in Pisa - the Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta - began in 1064 and was consecrated in 1118. The elliptical dome was added later in 1380. The cathedral is a notable example of Romanesque architecture. Due to the international presence of merchants in Pisa, various elements from other styles - classical, Byzantine, Islamic - appear in the cathedral's design as well.
The exterior of the cathedral is a beautiful display of multi-colored marbles, mosaics, and various bronzes.
Inside, the nave is framed by two rows of monolithic granite columns and flanked by four aisles. The wooden coffered ceiling replaced the original exposed trusses in the 17th century. Many of the interior decorations had to be re-done after a fire in 1595. However, the 14th century mosaics in the apsidal conch - the semi-dome behind the altar - survived.
Pro Tip: The Cathedral is the only attraction in Piazza dei Miracoli that is FREE. However, you will need to get a fixed-time free ticket from the ticket office to enter. If you've purchased a ticket to any of the other monuments in Piazza dei Miracoli, then you can enter the cathedral at any time.
Construction on Pisa's round baptistry began in 1152, however, it was not fully completed until the 14th century. Its vaulted design consists of a double dome which is topped by a gilt bronze statue of John the Baptist. As a result of this design, the acoustics in the baptistry are exceptional.
Like the cathedral, the baptistry has a zebra effect of white and grey marble. The hexagonal marble pulpit (1260) by Nicola Pisano is the highlight.
The Camposanto lies on the northern border of the Piazza dei Miracoli and is a cemetery in which many famous Pisans are laid to rest. Arranged around a garden in a cloistered quadrangle, it's worth a visit to admire the impressive frescoes.
Although some of the frescoes were destroyed in WWII, several have been salvaged and restored, including Inferno and Triumph of Death (1336-41).
Museo delle Sinopie
This museum is home to several frescoes, as well as the sinopie (preliminary sketches) drawn by artists on the walls of the Camposanto before they were covered with the frescoes.
We didn't visit the museum, but it was one of the things included in the Completa ticket.
Returning to Stazione Pisa Centrale
After spending a couple of hours visiting the sights of the Piazza dei Miracoli, we decided to head back to the train station. By this point, I was apparently so exhausted that I completely forgot to take any photos. Does this ever happen to you?
Via Santa Maria
We left the Piazza dei Miracoli on the Via Santa Maria - a bustling street with lots of restaurants. Since we were famished by this point, we stopped quickly for a late lunch (2:30 pm).
Lunch at Il Canguro
At my in-laws' suggestion, we had lunch at Il Canguro, which serves a variety of sandwiches and pastas. The sandwiches were good, but had a bit more bread to them than I could handle. After eating what I could, I guiltily left behind much of the baguette.
Random musings - In some cultures, it's polite to leave behind a bit of food to show you're full. However, judging from the reactions I got when I left something on the plate, in Italy, that's not the case. Can anyone confirm this? Even if I'd eaten 95% of it, it was like they thought I'd hated it!
Continue on Via Santa Maria
For this next part of the walking tour, I recommend continuing south on the Via Santa Maria (as shown on the Google map). Unfortunately, we did not do this, so this portion of the tour is more "I wish we'd done this" rather than "this is what we did".
Instead of trying a new route, we turned on Via dei Mille to head back to the same area where we'd walked on our way to Piazza dei Miracoli. As a result, we missed the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina - one of the sights to see in Pisa.
Cross the Arno River on the Ponte Solferino
If you follow Via Santa Maria, you'll cross the Arno on a different bridge - the Ponte Solferino. Before you cross, you'll notice an interesting church across the river perched on the river wall. That's the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina.
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina
Once you cross the river, make a detour to the left to visit the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina. This gothic-style church with three spires was built in the 13th century to house a reliquary of a spina (thorn) from Christ's crown. The reliquary is no longer there, but the name remains.
Final Trek to the Station
After visiting the church, you can decide how you'd like to return to Pisa Centrale Station. The route shown on the Google map - on Via Francesco Crispi - is the most direct, but it's a two-way modern street so not the most charming.
You could head over to Via Guiseppe Mazzini which is a one-way street that looks slightly more interesting. Or, return to the pedestrian-only Corso Italia for more shopping and to experience the afternoon hustle and bustle.
Catching a Train to Florence
Once we returned to Stazione Pisa Centrale, we picked up our luggage and bought our train tickets to Florence at the kiosks in the station. Trains from Pisa to Florence leave so frequently that we only had to wait around 15 minutes for the next train.
After arriving at 10:15 am, we were out of Pisa by 3:30 pm - less than 6 hours. In that time, it seems like we saw a lot of beautiful sights. I only wish that we'd had more time to really experience Pisa and enjoy the vibe of the town more fully.
Spend the Night in Pisa
Would you like to spend the night and get to know Pisa better? Use the map below to start your search for the perfect accommodations. Filter by your individual preferences and input your travel dates to see what places are available and what their nightly rates are.
How I find great accommodations: To find the best deals, I generally look on several hotel websites (usually Agoda.com and Booking.com for Europe). As a frequent customer, sometimes I find flash deals or special discounts that can save me a nice chunk of money. Then, I also check on VRBO and Airbnb to see if I can find a cute apartment that might work better than a hotel.
Although famous for the Leaning Tower, Pisa is a charming and walkable town that deserves to be explored. But if you're short on time, you can easily plan a train stopover to get a taste of this lovely university town.
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