Pisa is one of the most famous cities in Italy and a must-visit city. It is located on the Western coast of Italy and is a common stop-off for any backpackers heading to Florence. However, visitors should not dismiss the city of Pisa as just a stop-off. Pisa Italy has plenty to offer backpackers. This includes some of the most beautiful historic buildings in the country, lavish churches, fascinating museums and some stunning scenery along the River Arno.
Pisa has a combination of history, visually striking sights, and great food. Backpackers should spend a few nights here exploring the Medieval and Gothic architecture, soaking up the rich history and enjoying the Pisa lifestyle. This article explores the top 10 things to do in the city of Pisa, Italy.
Santa Maria della Spina
The stunning Santa Maria della Spina church that sits on the bank of the River Arno is truly a fantastic feat of architecture. Don’t be fooled, whilst this church looks big in pictures it’s actually very small. Locals consider this to be one of the most beautiful churches in Pisa due to its location and visually striking architecture.
You will also find this church opposite the National Museum of Pisa. The Santa Maria della Spina was constructed in the 13th century. It features Gothic-style along with stained rose windows that should not be missed as they are very unique.
Walk Along The River Arno
The River Arno is 241km long with its source at Mount Falterona. The river runs straight through Pisa Italy and is an incredible place for a walk. As you stroll down the riverwalk, you will also get a feel for the city. Anyone on a backpacker budget will enjoy just strolling down the river to take in the sights, historic buildings, and small cafes that line the way.
A suggested route starts in Garibaldi Square. Here, you can grab a takeaway gelato from La Bottega Gelato, then head West along the North Bank. From here, pass the campus of the University of Pisa and continue along the North Bank. Historic buildings to watch out for also include Palazzo Alla Giornata, the Palazzo Reale (National Museum of Art and Culture) and San Paolo a Ripa d’Arno (former Pisa Cathedral).
Cathedral Of Sainta Maria Assunta
The Cathedral of Sainta Maria Assunta or Pisa Cathedral somewhat lives in the shadow of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, however, it is visually striking and an amazing feat of architecture in its own right. Construction of the cathedral started in the 11th century and finished in the year 1092.
You will see at the front of the building a number of intricate stone and marble arches that are seriously impressive when considering the time Pisa Cathedral was built. Head inside and you will simply be in awe at the decoration you will discover. The ceiling is covered in gold and the dome is adorned with a magnificent fresco that depicts the Assumption of Mary; religious architecture and construction at its finest in the heart of Pisa Italy.
Eat At Osteria i Santi
Traditional Tuscan food, inexpensive and located right near the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Osteria i Santi is the perfect restaurant for backpackers looking for an authentic Italian meal in the heart of the city. Founded in 2001, this delightful little restaurant is all about quality ingredients, experience, and authenticity.
It is also a family business that has a great passion for their work. On the menu, expect to find a number of both traditional Pisan and Tuscan foods including Tuscan soup, tripe, and cod. You can also expect some Italian classic dishes such as Lasagne, Bolognese, Risotto, Marinara, Ravioli, and Gnocchi. Superb Italian cuisine for a good price, what more could you want?
Leaning Tower Of Pisa
How could we not start with the world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa? This magnificent historic building is the main attraction of Pisa, people from all over the world come to see and take photos with it. The tower is also known as The Campanile or bell tower of Pisa Cathedral.
The building was constructed in the 12th century shortly after the construction of the Cathedral it stands so proudly next to. The reason the building leans is due to the poor foundations that were laid for the building, this resulted in the tower starting to lean.
However, the foundations have now been made safe and you can even climb to the top for a unique view over the city. If you are on a budget you may also want to settle for the view from the ground as Leaning Tower of Pisa tickets are €18 ($20) per person.
The area in which you find the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Cathedral of Sainta Maria Assunta is known as the ‘Square of Miracles’ and the final piece is this, Campo Santo. It’s located just to the side of the Cathedral and is also a Monumental Cemetary.
The beautiful and tranquil courtyard is a delight. Also, architecture in this courtyard is just as stunning as the other historic buildings in the area. Along the hallway, you will notice some frescos. However, the highlight is the peaceful courtyard surrounded by flowers in which you will find people taking lots of photos or just taking in the moment.
You will find the Museo Nazionale on the banks of the River Arno. It’s also the most popular museum in the city as it holds the most impressive pieces of art, sculptures, and artifacts. The museum is a great place to learn more about the history of Pisa and all for €5 ($5.60).
Inside, you can expect to see some wonderful pieces of 14th and 15th-century art, as well as some paintings from the 16th to 18th centuries. The highlight of the museum can be found in room 16 where crosses are displayed that show the changing of Christian iconography from the Byzantine era onwards.
The museum is open Tuesday to Saturdays from 8.30 am to 7 pm. On Mondays, the Museo Nazionale closes early at 1 pm and Sundays it is closed.
Located in the Square of Miracles next to the Cathedral and Leaning Tower of Pisa, you will find the glorious Baptistery. It was built alongside the Cathedral of Pisa and is a stunning piece of architecture in its own right. The bullet-shaped structure stands at an impressive 54m in height with an attractive exterior made up of very intricate stonework.
You may also notice that the roof is only half complete, one side orange tiles and the other bare. It’s always been like this and was never actually completed by those who constructed it. Additionally, inside the cathedral, the heavenly decorations continue along the halls of this impressive building worth seeing whilst visiting Pisa.
Palazzo dei Cavalieri
Located in the Knights Square stands this visually stunning building that goes by the name of Palazzo dei Cavalieri. The palace has a rich history, constructed in the 16th century by Giorgio Vasari. It then became the headquarters of the Knights of St. Stephen. It truly is a wonder to behold with beautiful exterior and intricate stonework throughout.
Also, as you walk up the stairs, at the front of the building you will see some impressive sculptures of the Dukes of Tuscany. The facade is made up of sgraffiti representing allegorical figures and zodiacal signs. They were all designed by Giorgio Vasari, and sculpted by Tommaso di Battista del Verrocchio and Alessandro Forzori. The Palazzo dei Cavalieri is yet another must-see historic building of Pisa!
Eat Gelato At Geleteria De’ Coltelli
You simply can not leave Pisa Italy without eating some of the world-famous Italian gelatos. The best place to go? The one and only Gelateria De’ Coltelli! Here you will find all sorts of classics like caramel, chocolate, and vanilla. With them, you can also find experimental flavors such as kiwi, honey, and ginger. The gelato is absolutely divine, well priced and should not be missed!
Gelato dates back to the same century as most of the buildings in Pisa, around the 16th century. There are many arguments about where Gelato first originated from. However, most will tell you it was created by a man named Bernardo Buontalenti, a native of nearby Florence.
Supposedly, his creation delighted the local courts and was soon a favorite treat for wealthy and famous Italians. However, it wasn’t until 1686 when a man named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli started to sell Gelato to the public; when this Italian treat gained popularity throughout Europe. Today, gelato is enjoyed by millions worldwide.