If you’re visiting Pisa, it’s most likely to see the infamous leaning tower, which is, admittedly, very fascinating and worth a visit. But while you’re there, you may want to explore this underrated little city a bit more. I wanted to share some off the beaten path options in Pisa, so you can enjoy the city beyond the tower!
If Florence is the capital of Tuscany, Pisa is the second city. With a history dating back to Etruscan times through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, there are tons of tourist attractions worth visiting. All of the best things to do in Pisa, Italy could easily fill a city break of three days or more.
But Pisa Airport is only a 12-minute train ride away from the historic center and the frequent trains from Florence to Pisa train station take one hour or less. Since everything to do in Pisa city is only a short walk away, visiting Pisa for a few hours on a day trip from Florence is ideal too.
Pisa is mostly famous for the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thanks to the Arno River flowing from the coastline near the city, Pisa’s naval history was a powerhouse during the 12th century which shaped the city as it stands today. The influential Medici Family and world-famous scientist Galileo Galilei also helped put Pisa on the map.
Whether you’re planning a short visit or a short stay, this Pisa guide will help you navigate the narrow streets, the most popular sights, and all the awesome things to do in this small yet mighty city. You might just discover something beyond the tower.
We’ve been able to visit Pisa several times in the past year and it’s always a fun place to explore. The tower is obviously a must, but there are so many things to do in Pisa than just the learning tower.
p.s. If you’re visiting Pisa, I always recommend stopping in Lucca as well. It’s just a quick 30-minute train ride or drive from Pisa and it’s well worth the visit!
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1. Let’s get this out of the way: Pose With the Famous Leaning Tower of Pisa
It seems too obvious to start with the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa but its existence is probably the main reason why most visitors come to this city, and why you’re considering visiting! It’s one of the must-do things in Pisa, if not the top thing to do in Pisa.
Will you look ridiculous? Yes. But you’ve gotta do it…when in…Pisa, right?
The history of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa goes back to 1173 when construction began. Its purpose was a bell tower and it stood as straight as an arrow for five years until the completion of the third floor. Then, the unstable ground underneath the bell tower caused the tower to start leaning.
For 100 years, the tower remained untouched until engineer Giovanni di Simone built the tower as tall as the 7th floor. This caused the tower to lean even more!
Undeterred by history, architect Alessandro Della Gherardesca dug a path around the tower in 1838. Doing so caused the Leaning Tower of Pisa to lean even further.
Luckily, it’s still standing and the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and safe for visitors to admire the tower from the outside and even climb it. It’s made from white marble in a Romanesque architectural style with stone arches tiered like a wedding cake.
Enlist your travel buddy (or an enthusiastic stranger!) to help you take photos of you posing as if you are ‘holding’ up the Leaning Tower of Pisa with your hands. You can also book tickets for the Leaning Tower of Pisa tour either in advance or on the day. It often sells out during the peak season, so buy them in advance.
Fun Fact: Today, the Leaning Tower has a modest tilt of 3.97 degrees.
2. Visit the Church of Santa Maria della Spina
Wondering what to do in Pisa, Italy where you can see fantastic architecture? Head to the Church of Santa Maria della Spina. This compact, 13th-century church sits on the banks of the River Arno (literally) and is one of the most iconic buildings in the city due to its location, beauty, and one intriguing myth.
It’s a classic example of Pisan Gothic architecture with short, ornate spires and lots of statues of the Holy Mother and other saints. It’s not used for church services anymore, but it’s said to possess either one (or two!) religious relics.
Some say it once had a small piece of Jesus’s spine (hence the name, Santa Maria della Spina) or a thorn from Jesus’s crown.
Unfortunately, opening times for the Church of Santa Maria della Spina are very limited. It has an uneven, cordoned-off floor so there always has to be a guard during visiting hours.
Head there during Easter or other holy days for your best chance of getting a peek inside.
3. Smell the Roses at the University of Pisa’s Botanical Garden and Museum
Only have a short amount of time in Pisa? The University of Pisa’s Botanical Garden and Museum is one of the top things to see in Pisa in a day. It’s in a convenient, great location in Central Pisa and boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the city.
Dating back to 1544, this botanical garden was established by the Medici family and it’s one of the first in the world. There are over 3,000 plants across two hectares including lots of endangered and exotic varieties and centuries-old trees.
It’s full of old-school charm with research facilities on-site and leafy, shaded paths so it’s perfect to escape the crowds and heat of the city.
4. Explore the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
Also one of the best things to do in Pisa, Italy in one day is to visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Despite being constructed around a century after the Leaning Tower in the 1300s, both complement each other with their fantastic architecture and white marble facades.
There’s nothing humble about the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, or its adjacent tower. It’s an incredibly huge, opulent building with golden mosaics, bronze doors, and statue after statue inside.
Entrance to explore Pisa Cathedral is free (though you can pay extra for an audio guide) so it’s absolutely worth visiting during your trip.
5. Wander Around Campo Santo Monumental Cemetery
You probably didn’t come to this city to check out graves, but the Camp Santo Monumental Cemetery really is one of the top Pisa things to do. This graveyard dates back to the 1300s and is said to be built on sacred soil from Golgotha outside of Jerusalem, so it’s more of a fascinating historical site than a cemetery.
In Campo Santo Monumental Cemetery, you’ll find stunning frescoes with biblical themes painted by the greatest master painters of the 14th and 15th centuries. Buonamico Buffalmacco, in particular, painted scenes depicting Stories of the Holy Fathers, the Last Judgment, and Hell and the Triumph of Death.
Once upon a time, Campo Santo housed an enormous collection of Roman Sarcophagi. Today, there are only 84 (still, 84 is a lot!) in the Campo Santo Monumental Cemetery museum.
Entrance to the cemetery is cheap and it’s right by the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Piazza del Duomo.
6. Navigate the Crowds at Piazza Dei Miracoli
Most of the top things to do in Pisa are conveniently located in this gorgeous square, Piazza dei Miracoli. Also known as Piazza del Duomo, Campo dei Miracoli, or ‘square of miracles’ in English, this piazza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to all the important and beautiful buildings here.
Piazza del Duomo is where you’ll find the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the Leaning Tower, the Baptistery of St. John, Museo Dell’Opera del Duomo, and Pisa’s ancient walls. Most visitors spend most of their time in Pisa in Piazza dei Miracoli.
Because most of Pisa’s historical buildings are concentrated in one spot, it can get super crowded in Piazza del Duomo. Visit early in the morning or later in the day to avoid the crowds and keep an eye out for pickpocketers.
7. Step Inside the Pisa Baptistery of St. John
If you’re still stuck on what to do in Pisa in Piazza dei Miracoli, visit Pisa Baptistery of St. John. It’s a huge, rounded building opposite Pisa Cathedral with bright orange tiles on its roof and the same ornate, white marble exterior.
Pisa Baptistery is only one hall, which is common for most baptisteries in Tuscany. While many will be satisfied seeing the beautiful architecture from the outside, amateur singers may want to pay the nominal entrance fee and test out the acoustics.
They’re legendary so you don’t need to be embarrassed about singing your heart out there!
8. Learn More at Opera Del Duomo Museum
So many religious relics, beautiful paintings, and intricate sculptures have been excavated from the baptistery and the many chapels and rooms in the Pisa Duomo. There is such a huge collection that it’s necessary to have a Pisa Cathedral museum to house them all.
Museo Dell’Opera del Duomo is right across the street from the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and you should add it to your itinerary if you love historic art and are wondering what to see in Pisa.
There are just under 400 items so there’s plenty to see at the Museo Dell’Opera del Duomo without it becoming overwhelming or taking up too much of your time.
9. Stroll Along Pisa’s River Arno
Florence is famous for straddling the River Arno, but it also flows through Pisa city too! If you’re traveling on a budget and want to know what to do in Pisa for free, taking a stroll along the Arno River is a must.
There is some beautiful scenery along the riverside like pastel-colored houses, bridges like the Ponte di Mezzo, and panoramic views from the Guelph Tower. Don’t forget the Church of Santa Maria della Spina and the National Museum of the Royal Palace both reside on the River Arno as well.
Some of the best viewpoints of the Arno River are at Lungarni di Pisa, Palazzo Medici, and Scalo Roncioni.
10. Climb the City Walls at Mura di Pisa
One of the best things to do in Pisa in one day is to climb to the top of the city walls and walk along the Mura di Pisa.
These ancient walls date back to the 12th century when most of the other famous historical buildings in Pisa, such as the Leaning Tower and the Cathedral, were also being built. This is exactly why the walls were built, to protect these structures and be a military fortress.
The walls are so well-preserved and are open to the public. You can walk along the 3km trail (don’t worry – you can climb down at several points!) and admire the beautiful scenery in Pisa.
There’s an affordable fee you’ll find the entrance at Lion’s Gate in Piazza dei Miracoli.
11. Marvel at Keith Haring’s Tuttomondo Mural
Pisa is very much a historic city with most of its artworks and buildings being at least several hundred years old. It’s also a university town with a young population but there isn’t much to reflect this side of the city.
One of the few pieces of truly modern art is also one of the top free things to do in Pisa, Italy. On the side of the Church of Sant’Antonio near the train station, there is an authentic mural by American pop artist Keith Haring.
It’s named ‘All the World’ and depicts 30 figures covering several big themes like man’s relationship with nature, good and evil, and much more. He created the mural in 1989, the year before he died.
There are very few public Haring murals so this work is special for many reasons.
12. Appreciate Italian Art at Palazzo Blu
While the Leaning Tower, Pisa Baptistery, and Cathedral are pretty in white marble, one of the most unique historical buildings in the city is Palazzo Blu. One of the best things to do in Pisa, Italy is to visit this former-palace-turned-art museum on the River Arno with a huge collection of beautiful paintings by local artists.
Palazzo Blu displays a blend of modern Tuscan sketchers, medieval religious works, and everything in between. The temporary exhibitions at this gallery are just as well-curated as the permanent works.
The cherry on top is the beautiful palazzo itself with period furniture and incredible ceiling decoration.
While many of the plaques that accompany the paintings are only available in Italian, there’s one big perk to visiting Palazzo Blu: it’s free! Put the Google Translate app to good use and you will still have a great experience.
13. Join a Walking Tour of Piazza Dei Cavalieri
Walking in Pisa tours are a great way to visit the highlights of what to do in Pisa, especially if you are only visiting Pisa for a short time. One of the stops that is sure to be on all Pisa tours is Piazza dei Cavalieri, the former political center of the city.
Piazza dei Cavalieri translates as ‘Knights Square’ because during medieval times it was the headquarters of the Knights of St. Stephen. It grew during the Renaissance period when the Medicis built most of the beautiful buildings still standing today in ‘Knights Square’.
One of the most picturesque is Palazzo della Carovana, a former 16th-century palace with a stunning fresco on the facade. It’s now a University of Pisa building so visitors can’t go inside, but there’s plenty to see from the outside.
Aside from Palazzo della Carovana, there are lots of notable statues like the Monument to Cosimo Medici I.
14. See Relics at the National Museum of San Matteo
One of the top things to do in Pisa is to visit the National Museum in Piazza San Matteo. It has a huge collection of religious and medieval art such as paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and manuscripts from all over the Pisa region.
As with many of Pisa’s buildings, often the art isn’t why you want to visit a place! The courtyard in Piazza San Matteo is almost as beautiful as the works that the National Museum holds.
15. Visit Galileo Galilei’s Casa Ammannati
One of the most underrated places to visit when figuring out what to do in Pisa is Casa Ammannati. It’s the birthplace of Galileo Galilei, the world-renowned 16th-century astronomer, physicist, and engineer.
Granted, you can’t actually go inside the house but there is a huge informational plaque detailing (in Italian and English) the early life of Galileo. Plus, this house is right in the center of town so you won’t have to go far out of your way to stroll past the birthplace of one of the most important scientists that ever lived.
16. Discover the Museum of Ancient Ships of Pisa
Pisa’s naval history might come as a surprise as the city doesn’t have a harbor and isn’t right on the coastline. But it’s close enough! When you’ve had enough of art museums and are still wondering what to do in Pisa, the Museum of Ancient Ships of Pisa is a fantastic option.
This modern museum is on the banks of the River Arno and houses a huge collection of, well, ancient ships! You’ll find vessels of all sizes and uses from Roman ships to fishing boats.
There are also exhibitions on the history of flooding and shipwrecks in the region.
17. Eat a Scoop or Two From La Bottega del Gelato
There are so many amazing gelaterias in every city in Italy, it’s often impossible single out the best. Not in Pisa! Tasting a scoop or two of the delicious treats on offer at La Bottega del Gelato is a must-do in Pisa.
It’s in a great location on the Arno River in Piazza Garibaldi so you can’t miss it. Don’t let the line put you off – there’s a long line for a reason!
18. Experience Pisa’s Signature Dishes on a Food Tour
Speaking of treats, one of the top things to do in Pisa is to join a wine-tasting and food tour. Tuscany is known for dry red wines such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Thanks to its close proximity to the coast, Pisa is known for seafood dishes like shrimp-stuffed mussels, spaghetti with clams, and squid and eggs. You’ll also find simple street food dishes like cecina (chickpea flatbread) and culinary delights favored in the Tuscan region like Bistecca Fiorentina.
There are tons of food tours you can book when you visit Pisa to try the best meals in the city. We did this one and it was great! If you’re stuck on what to do in Pisa on a free afternoon, you won’t regret spending that time on a tour.
19. Visit the Baths of Nero Archaeological Site
The Romans left their mark all over Italy and the Baths of Nero is an archaeological site you can visit in Pisa. These ruins are the remains of a public bath built by the Emporer Nero around Nero 37-68 AD and visiting this site is a great option if you’re looking for what to do in Pisa for free.
You’ll find the site by Porta a Lucca and the Mura di Pisa walls.
20. Relax in Nature at Giardino Scotto
The botanic gardens aren’t the only place you’ll find beautiful scenery in the city if you want to know what to do in Pisa where you can relax in nature. Giardino Scotto is one of Pisa’s best parks, hidden behind 15th-century fortress walls away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
There are lots of benches, shady trees, and colorful vines crawling up the ancient fortress walls. Bring a book or back a picnic for an al fresco Italian lunch.
21. Wander Along Borgo Stretto
Pisa is full of charming narrow streets, but one of the top things to do in Pisa is to walk along Borgo Stretto.
This street runs from Piazza Garibaldi next to the River Arno all the way to Porta a Lucca. You’ll find lots of shops, cafes, courtyards, and historic landmarks down Borgo Stretto
22. Visit the Basilica of San Piero a Grado
Half church and half excavation site, if you want to know what to do in Pisa off the beaten path then you should head to the Church of San Piero a Grado. It was built in the 11th century at the location of the former Port of Pisa.
According to the legend, this church is on the site where St. Peter landed in Italy from Antioch in 44 AD. This grand basilica is filled with lots of stunning frescoes covering every wall and is much, much bigger than you would expect it to be.
23. Natural History Museum of the University of Pisa
Want to rent a car and explore things to do near Pisa, Italy? The Natural History Museum of the University of Pisa is only 20 minutes east of the city, but it’s far enough away that the majority of travelers never visit.
Once a 14th-century monastery, this building has been completely renovated to house fossils, large-scale dinosaur skeleton replicas, and tons of other historical exhibits.
Pisa Italy Things To Do FAQs
Where Is Pisa, Italy? Is Pisa in Tuscany?
Pisa is a city in the Tuscany region of Italy. It’s located only a few miles away from the western coastline and the region’s capital city of Florence.
If you’re thinking of visiting Pisa, the city is only 10 km/6.2 miles away from Pisa Airport and 88 km/55 miles west of Florence.
Why is the Leaning Tower of Pisa famous?
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is famous for several reasons, but you’ll find the main reason in its name! It is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is usually not a feature that architects want to happen when building a tower.
It’s also famous because it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of only seven in the Tuscan region of Italy. The iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa is a wonderful example of Romanesque architecture, with narrow stone arches across the facade made from marble.
The other buildings next to the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, like the Pisa Cathedral, also bring in more crowds. Stories of how architects in the 12th century tried to save the Leaning Tower of Pisa and stop it from leaning too far and collapsing are also notorious.
Fun Fact: It’s not the only leaning tower of Pisa! The bell tower of the San Nicola Church which is also in Pisa also leans.
Are there things to do in Pisa other than the Tower?
While the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and therefore one of the biggest tourist attractions to see when you visit Pisa, it’s not the only thing to do in the city.
With just a few hours, you can also check out the Church of Santa Maria Della Spina, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Museo Dell’Opera del Duomo, and Palazzo della Carovana in Knights Square plus so much more.
Experience The Best Things To Do in Pisa On Your Trip
This Pisa travel guide lists all of the best things to do in Pisa, Italy that will make sure you have a fun day out in this cute and compact Tuscan City.
From the Leaning Tower of Pisa to delicious gelato, to unique tourist attractions, to charming churches, to stunning frescoes, hopefully, this list has got you excited about planning your trip and visiting Pisa!