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Things to do in Pisa – a guide to the Leaning tower, Duomo and Baptistery

Things to do in Pisa Italy

Are you someone who loves those cheesy photos “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Getting that selfie is one of the most popular things to do in Pisa, so perhaps you’ll be propping up that most famous of towers or leaning against it in a few of your holiday snaps?  I visited Pisa in a half day trip as part of a cruise excursion, but it’s a popular destination if you’re looking for easy day trips from Florence or are touring around Italy.

Things to do in Pisa Italy - Duomo in Pisa Photo Heatheronhertravels

Duomo in Pisa

Of course there’s more to Pisa than the best known sights of the Campanile (a.k.a Leaning Tower), Duomo and Baptistery, but if you only have a short time or are coming as part of a tour, these are the Pisa attractions you’re most likely to spend your time visiting. 

The Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa

The complex of the Cathedral, Tower and Baptistery are set on a grassy plaza known as the Piazza dei Miracoli  (Square of Miracles), the name having been popularised by the Italian writer Gabriele d’Annunzio in 1910. It’s also known as Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) but prior to that, it was known more simply as Piazza del Duomo, or the Square of the Cathedral.

At the time when these monumental buildings were constructed in the 11th and 12th century, Pisa was an important maritime city state with a fleet of ships that was able to dominate trade in the Mediterranean. The shore was much closer to the city than it is today, and ships would easily sail up the Arno and into the lagoons and waterways that surrounded the walled city. The gate in the city wall through which you enter the Piazza dei Miracoli from the coach park would once have been bustling with commerce from the ships being unloaded, although as one of the most popular places to visit in Pisa, it’s now the coach parties and tour groups that crowd to enter. 

Looking for accommodation? Check out these Hotels in Pisa

What to do in Pisa - The Duomo in Pisa Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

The Duomo in Pisa

Visit the Leaning tower of Pisa

One of the most popular things to see in Pisa, is the so called Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is actually the campanile or bell tower of the cathedral. It’s located just behind the cathedral and after a long restoration to stabilise it, is now open if you want to climb to the top.

The tower started leaning soon after construction started in 12th century due to the soft ground to one side that could not support the weight – remember that this area was closer to the sea and soft flood plain of the River Arno than it is today. The foundations were insufficient and by the time the tower had been built up to the second storey, it began to lean, causing work to be abandoned for nearly a century before it was eventually completed.

There have been various efforts over the centuries to stabilise the tower and further work took place in the 1990s to remove soil from under the foundations and reduce the lean, with the tower reopening for visits in 2001. If you want to climb the tower, there are 273 stone steps to take you to the viewing platform on the 8th floor where you can get some nice photos over the piazza and the Duomo. Once you’ve climbed the tower, you’ll probably want to find a spot around the railings that enclose the grassy campus and take some of those fun selfies of you “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Read the Tripadvisor Reviews here.

You may also enjoy: 5 of the best day trips from Florence, Italy – what to see and how to get there

What to see in Pisa - Leaning tower of Pisa Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Leaning tower of Pisa

How to buy Leaning Tower of Pisa tickets

As one of the most popular Pisa tourist attraction, there are a limited number of daily tickets available to climb the tower and these are for a specific time slot to avoid overcrowding. You can buy the tickets online within 20 days before your visit, up to 1 day before, or on the day at the ticket kiosk if there is availability. Therefore if visiting independently, it’s probably best to the buy your ticket for the tower first, although if you arrive on a Florence to Pisa tour, the tickets will generally have been organised for you. The tower is open for visits 9.00 to 18.00 with longer opening hours in the summer. Children must be over 8 to visit the tower. Tickets are €18 when you buy online or at the kiosk and the visit takes around 30 minutes. More information on the official Opapisa website.

You may also enjoy: How to see Cinque Terre in one day

Leaning tower of Pisa Photo Heatheronhertravels

Leaning tower of Pisa

The Duomo di Pisa

Pisa cathedral is properly known as the Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta. The commonly given name for all cathedrals in Italy is the Duomo meaning house, in other words it’s the house of God. The construction of Duomo di Pisa began in the 12th century, at around the same time that St Mark’s basilica in Venice was being built, with competition to see who could build the most beautiful church. The Pisa Duomo is a fine example of Romanesque architecture with a richly decorated marble facade alternating black and white stone, columns and arches.

The Duomo in Pisa Photo Heatheronhertravels

The Duomo in Pisa

Much of the cathedral’s interiors were destroyed in a devastating fire of 1595, so what you see today is probably a shadow of the original. Look out for the mosaic floor that was saved from the fire and beautiful wooden coffered ceiling that was added after the fire. There’s an ornately carved stone pulpit by Giovanni Pisano with figures from the Old and New Testament dating back to 1310 and I also enjoyed the modern lectern with sculpted figures that sits in front of the altar. Read the Tripadvisor reviews here.

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Altar at The Duomo in Pisa

Altar at The Duomo in Pisa

How to get tickets for the Duomo di Pisa

It is free to enter the Pisa cathedral, but to avoid overcrowding you do need a free ticket for entry. If you buy tickets for any other parts of the complex such as the leaning tower or baptistery, you will be given at the same time a free ticket for the cathedral to use at any time on the same day. You can also visit any of the ticket offices to request a free ticket for the cathedral which will be for a specific time slot. 

Duomo in Pisa Photo Heatheronhertravels

Duomo in Pisa Photo Heatheronhertravels

Visiting the Baptistery in Pisa

The round domed building that sits in front of the Duomo is the Baptistery of San Giovanni which was completed in 1363 . At nearly 55 metres high it’s the largest Baptistery in Italy and the splendour of the building reflects the importance of the sacrament of baptism to the Christian church. Due to being built on the same soft ground as the tower, the building also has a slight lean, although you’d barely notice it. 

Looking for accommodation? Check out these Hotels in Pisa

The Baptistery in Pisa Photo Heatheronhertravels

The Baptistery in Pisa

In medieval times it was typical to have a baptistery that was separate to the main church, which was used several times a year for the bishop to baptise large numbers of Christians, who would be fully immersed in water. Within the baptistery you can climb the stairs to the women’s gallery to look down on the central octagonal font where baptisms would have taken place. The Baptistery is known for its acoustics, so you may well be treated to a singing demonstration by your guide to listen to the echoes around the building. Read the Tripadvisor reviews here.

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The Baptistery in Pisa Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

The Baptistery in Pisa

How to get tickets for the Pisa Baptistery

Admission to the Baptistery is also by ticket, which you can buy online in advance or on the day at the ticket office. The price to visit the Baptistery alone is €5 but you can also but combined tickets that include the Camposanto and Sinopie Museum for €8. When you buy a Baptistery ticket you will also get a free ticket to visit the Duomo.

The Baptistery in Pisa

The Baptistery in Pisa

What else to see in Pisa at the Piazza dei Miracoli?

Although I didn’t have time to see them on my visit, you can also take a look at;

Camposanto – the cemetery of the Duomo that sits along its northern wall, founded in 1277 to house some of the graves that were previously scattered around the cathedral. You can see marble monuments and the frescoes decorating the walls on the theme of life and death. 

Sinopie Museum – this museum displays the Sinopia or original drawings made with red pigment for the frescoes that decorate the walls of the Camposanto. They are housed in the former medieval hospital.

Opera del Duomo Museum – This museum of religious sculptures and liturgical objects is currently closed for renovation.

How to get from Florence to Pisa

If you’re looking for day trips from Florence, check out CiaoFlorence who offer lots of different options, including a half day trip from Florence to Pisa. Their tour takes in many of the famous landmarks in the Piazza dei Miracoli like the Leaning Tower, Duomo and Baptistery and this is an easy way to visit if you are limited in time. The tours cost from €49 and include the coach travel, a tour guide and tickets to the main sites. 

You can find lots of information about the places mentioned on the official Opapisa website.

If you have more time or want to visit Pisa independently there are a few other options if you’re coming from Florence.

City wall in Pisa Photo Heatheronhertravels

City wall in Pisa

From Florence to Pisa by train

If you need to check the Florence to Pisa train timetable I recommend The Trainline Europe for times and prices in English. You can also find train times from Florence to Pisa on Italian Railway’s own website Trenitalia. The cost for a return trip by train is typically around €18

From Santa Maria Novella station in Florence the journey time to Pisa Centrale station is around 1 hour or a little more depending on which train you catch. From here you can take a bus using the Red Line or Lam Rossa to reach the Piazza dei Miracoli which takes around 15 minutes. Cost of the bus trip is around €2 1 way if you purchase on the bus or a little less from the shops inside the station. You can also walk it in around 25 minutes.

Pisa Flickr

From Florence to Pisa by bus

It is possible, although not as convenient to travel from Florence to Pisa by bus. Take the bus from Florence Santa Maria Novella Railway Station to Pisa Airport, this will take about 1 hour and 10 minutes and cost around €12 one way – more details here. Once you are at the airport, take another bus, the Lam Rossa (Red Line) to get to Piazza dei Miracoli which takes around 25 minutes.

More information to plan your trip to Pisa

If you are looking for flights to Italy I recommend Skyscanner to find the best routes and prices.

Looking for accommodation? Check out these Hotels in Pisa

You can find more information about the places mentioned on the official Opapisa website. Other information on Pisa is also available on the Pisa Tourism website and Italy Tourism website

If you are looking for a guidebook for Pisa, we recommend the Top 10 Florence and Tuscany guide which covers Pisa, Florence and other parts of Tuscany in Italy.

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Things to do Pisa Italy

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Maria
    August 14, 2019 at 7:22 am

    Leaning Tower of Pisa is first on my bucket list, will definitely love to explore someday

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