While Pisa is not the cultural center that Florence is, it still has plenty to offer visitors.
Many view Tuscany vacations as those spent sipping wine amongst the region’s rolling green hills with puffy clouds floating by behind local farmhouses. But Pisa is a vibrant metropolitan area, filled with ancient architecture and stunning piazzas from the Renaissance era.
Whereas Florence is filled with tourists at every turn, Pisa maintains a small-town atmosphere, with locals permeating the bustling streets. Next time you visit Tuscany, check out these five must-see spots.
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Corso Italia and the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Obviously the prominent structure in Pisa, Italy is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. But don’t skip the adventures to be had on the walk there.
Corso Italia, also known as the Walking Street, begins just outside of Pisa’s main train station. A 20-minute stroll will lead you across the river to the leaning tower, but expect to spend more time than that along Corso Italia.
The lively street is the heart of the city, filled with fabulous shopping, restaurants, small churches and even Internet cafes.
Once you reach the tower, marvel at the incredible building—it leans at a nearly four-degree angle. Snap some photos then make sure to head inside and climb the ancient stairs to the top for sweeping city views.
Before you leave, stop by the Piazza dei Miracoli, or the Square of Miracles. This neighboring piazza has great views of the tower, but it also holds a cathedral, a baptistery, a couple of museums and verdant green lawns on which to relax.
To add some color to your day, stroll along the River Arno. Aside from the blue-grey water and vibrant sky above, the buildings that line the river are painted a variety of shades—reds, yellows, blues, oranges, whites.
The river, which once served as a watery highway to move both goods and soldiers during warring times, has always been a central part of the city. Visitors can kayak along the river or hop on board a small boat to see Pisa from a different perspective.
Museo Nazionale di San Matteo
Sitting on the northern waterfront of the Arno, the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo is the best place to view art in Pisa. Housed in a 13th-century building that was once a church, it’s a beautiful setting as well.
The museum is filled with works that range from Medieval to 16th century, including ancient paintings, Pisan sculptures, gold-adorned illuminated manuscripts and antique ceramics crafted by artists like Benozzo di Lese, Berlinghiero Volterrano, Donatello, Nicola Pisano and Ghirlandaio.
It’s always exciting to find a stunning display of nature in the middle of a city. Located just south of the leaning tower and the Square of Miracles, the Orto Bontanico is a botanical garden operated by a local university.
The garden has been in its current location since the 1500s and offers a quiet space for walking, meditation or exploring nature. With plenty of lush trees and ponds, it’s definitely an escape from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Pisa.
In addition to the gardens, ponds and arboretum, there are greenhouses and other university-related buildings, including a library and a small museum.
Piazza dei Cavalieri
The Piazza dei Cavalieri is easily one of the most gorgeous parts of Pisa, with incredible architecture that will leave you dreaming of centuries past.
Known as Knights’ Square, the area has an interesting history, once serving as a political center in medieval times and, later, housing for local knights. Piazza dei Cavalieri is now part of the city’s university as well.
The square is filled with ancient buildings, fountains, statues, faded frescoes, decorative facades and the Clock Palace, which consists of two towers joined together in the 17th century.
Take a short tour of these buildings to see all of the architectural and historical offerings in the area before leaving Pisa.