Pisa in five hours or less

by Jessica Zen
Stripes Europe

Planning a trip to another country can be equally as daunting as it is exciting. There are so many things to consider: mode of transportation, lodging, activities, food, what to pack, and most importantly, which country to visit. The list goes on! If Italy is your current country of choice, consider adding Pisa to your list of places to visit, but only for a few hours.

The Tuscan city of Pisa is located in Central Italy and sits among the Arno river. Not far from the Ligurian Sea, this city is most famous for the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If you aren’t looking to see much more than the tower, this city can easily be seen within five hours and included as a day trip from a surrounding city, like Florence.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, which currently leans at 3.99 degrees, is the bell tower for the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and is located in Piazza dei Miracoli, or Square of Miracles. The tower, which started leaning when construction began in the 12th century, reached a 5.5-degree tilt in 1990 but has since been restored. The word pisa comes from a Greek word meaning “marshy land.” It’s no wonder the subsoil wasn’t the greatest for building a tower that was supposed to reach over 196 feet. Weighing in at an estimated 14,500 metric tons, the tower contains 296 steps and allows visitors of a sturdy constitution to climb to the top. Once at the top, you can view the city of Pisa and the seven bells that grace the structure. The bells weigh up to 8,000 pounds and haven’t rung since the 20th century, as engineers worry the ringing may cause more leaning. All in all, an impressive structure, but not the only thing to see in the Square of Miracles.

The square is said to have three main structures that represent the stages of life. The Baptistery represents birth, the Cathedral represents life, and the Camposanto represents death. The Baptistery is the largest in Italy and holds 12 columns, representative of the apostles, and an eight-sided baptismal font. The Cathedral, started in 1064 with mostly Romanesque style, has an interior that features black and white marble, frescoes, and a gilded coffered ceiling. The Camposanto, or graveyard, is an ancient monumental cemetery that holds sarcophagi and Roman graves of prestigious men. The floor holds graves of Pisa noblemen. Together with the tower, these structures do indeed form a square of miracles!

Before you pack up the family and head to Pisa, there are a few things to do ahead of time. The most important thing to do is get your tickets to climb the tower. Tickets can be purchased online for 18 euros and are for a fixed time. When you are within 15-30 minutes of your tour time, you can line up outside of the tower. However, before you can enter the tower, you must place all purses, backpacks, etc. in the cloakroom. This service is free and only requires proof of ticket purchase for climbing the tower. 

If you purchase tickets for the tower, you will have free entrance into the cathedral at any time that day.  If you would like to see the Baptistery, Camposanto, or Sinopie Museum, each monument is an additional cost. You can add all three for 24 euros. Tickets for the tower and other monuments are separate but must be presented when you enter each building.

Ideally, if you arrive by train and make the approximately 15-minute walk to the square, you should be able to see everything and have time for a bite to eat within five hours or less. Plan on getting your tower tour done first and then wandering through the square at your leisure to see the other structures. Stop at a local restaurant on your way back to the train station and enjoy some fresh pasta. Maybe treat yourself to gelato along the Arno River, then hop back on the train and head to your next stop. No need to spend the night if you are on a tight schedule and want to see as much of Italy as possible.

Pisa is a great place to visit during your tour of Italy, but perhaps shouldn’t be the main event. Take a few hours out of your trip to stop and wonder at the magnificent structures within the Square of Miracles and be thankful that engineers have secured the tower from toppling over… at least for now!


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