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Top 20 things to do in Pisa

The Leaning Tower may be the first thing one thinks of when talking about the Italian city of Pisa. However this vertically challenged tower is not the only thing to see in this historic city.

When you realize the craftsmanship and artistry is hundreds and some thousands of years old, you begin to appreciate why such grand structures were built to house these treasures. The city's naval and religious history are intertwined into a fascinating and colorful story through the ages.

The list below gives you 20 of the best attractions in Pisa and offers travel tips and advice for visiting. Using this as a guide, you can maximize your vacation time by selecting attractions and sites which fit your itinerary and interests.

20. Orto Botanico di Pisa

Orto Botanico di Pisa

More than just a botanical garden full of exotic plants, the Orto Botanico di Pisa is one of the oldest of its kind in the world.

A peaceful place to pass the time and explore various exotic plants. Don't miss out seeing the Old Institute building as the exterior is covered in seashells.

Run by the University of Pisa, the Orto Botanico di Pisa houses illustrations, artwork, and scientific journals all relating to plants in the University's library. A collection of rare plant specimens and seeds are also under the care of the experts there.

19. "Tuttomondo" mural on the Church of Sant'Antonio Abate

'Tuttomondo' mural

Although it is easy to think of a trip to Italy is only about seeing artwork and buildings created centuries ago, it isn't.

Don't miss the "Tuttomondo" mural on the Church of Sant'Antonio Abate. This colorful wall painted by American Keith Haring in 1989, represents all the people of the world and shows we are all connected and the same.

What better way to represent the past and future coming together than modern art on 13th century church?

18. San Piero a Grado

San Piero a Grado

Art historians and pilgrims won't want to miss seeing San Piero a Grado. The frescoes inside the church, painted by Deodato Orlandi, depict the most complete images of the popes in existence.

Excavations show that the church was built upon remains of a rather primitive chapel. The legend says that this previous chapel was built when the ship carrying St. Peter was washed ashore after encountering a violent storm on his voyage from Palestine.

The facade of the church is a bit of a puzzlement to architectural and historical scholars but has been altered over the centuries.

17. Ponte di Mezzo

Ponte di Mezzo

If arriving in Pisa by train, walk across the Ponte di Mezzo and you'll come to the Field of Miracles.

The views from the bridge are inspiring, as the River Arno passes beneath. Notice the emblem of Pisa in the center of the cobbled road.

The bridge was reconstructed after it was destroyed in 1944 by Allied bombs and German mines. Parts of the previous bridge were included as a symbol of remembrance.

16. National Museum of San Matteo

National Museum of San Matteo

For those seeking out the lesser known tourist sites, The National Museum of San Matteo is a hidden gem. Visitors are amazed at the lack of people and the quality of pieces on display.

It features statues and carvings from the Romanesque period, and an entire section devoted to Christianity works. Just 10 minutes from the Leaning Tower one can escape the crowds and view some of the best artwork in Pisa.

In a city with historical buildings on virtually every street, with frontages more extravagant than the last, you might pass this museum. It's lack luster exterior looks more like a post office than a museum and belies it's treasures and artifacts inside.

15. Church of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria

Church of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria

The Church of Santa Caterina d'Alessandria may seem simple in comparison to some of the more grand examples in Pisa but is still worth a visit.

Located off a quiet leafy piazza the white marble facade greets visitors and offers a haven from the hustle and bustle. Impressive stained glass windows including a Catherine window on the front make this a memorable visit.

14. Piazza delle Vettovaglie

Piazza delle Vettovaglie

For a fantastic display of how current life exists side by side with the past, visit the Piazza delle Vettovaglie. It's full of quaint shops, and in the center has an outdoor vegetable market.

But take a moment and look at the buildings that surround the square and you'll discover medieval architecture all around you. This is the epicenter of medieval Pisa and for many the heart of it.

13. San Michele in Borgo

San Michele in Borgo

Even when out shopping, don't be surprised to find the San Michele in Borgo street as houses of worship are plentiful in Pisa.

With it's multi-columned facade and tabernacle, with the Virgin Mary statue above the door, this small church is characteristic of a true church of Pisa. It's simple inside but perfect for a break and a bit of reflection during a busy day.

12. Chapel of St. Agatha

Chapel of St. Agatha

One of the quirkiest buildings in Pisa is the Chapel of St. Agatha behind the Church of San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno.

With an octagon shape and a cone roof, this simple chapel was built and used by monks in the 11th century. Now it is set in a garden area after bombing raids destroyed much of the previously connected building.

Most of the attractions you'll see in Pisa are built with stone or carved marble. This petite chapel is made from red bricks which is in stark contrast to the more opulent sites you'll visit during your stay in Pisa.

11. Church of San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno

Church of San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno

Affectionately called the old cathedral by locals, the Church of San Paolo a Ripa d'Arno has roots back to the 900AD.

A historical church which has been sympathetically altered and boasts two toned marble giving it a striped appearance. Internally it is calming with its arched columns and cavernous interior.

Lacking in paintings or décor by comparison with other churches in Pisa.

10. Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri

Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri

The Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri is an unabashed show of the pride in the naval heritage. A proud and ornate exterior featuring a coat of arms and emblems.

Don't think the exuberance stops at the door because the interior carries on the theme.

With a painted wooden ceiling and flags captured from enemy pirate ships marking the décor of this house of God.

9. Piazza dei Cavalieri

Piazza dei Cavalieri

The uncrowded Piazza dei Cavalieri or Knight's Square is a open area surrounded by medieval buildings. The site has been the scene of political meetings, executions, and an area for community meetings.

It was in this square that The Knights of St. Stephen were stamping out Pisa's past independence to have the residents support Cosimo I de Medici . The building, which in the past housed the city elders, is now an elite university founded by Napolean Bonapart who based it on one in Paris.

8. Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina

Church of San Lorenzo and Medici Chapels

Lovers of Gothic architecture don't want to miss the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina.

Situated on the edge of the Arno River this Church is consider one of the best Gothic examples in all of Europe. The word spina means thorn and is referring to the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross.

7. Museum of the Cathedral Vestry Board

Museum of the Cathedral Vestry Board

For only 30 years the Museum of the Cathedral Vestry Board has been safeguarding the treasures and collections from the Piazza dei Miracoli.

This includes Egyptian artifacts and sculptures from the 12-16th centuries by renowned Italian artists. They were transferred here from the field of miracles for safety reasons.

6. Museum of Sinopie

Museum of Sinopie

In the small Museum of Sinopie you'll find early sketches of some of the famous frescoes. Art historians will find these interesting to better understand the how the medieval masters worked and the reality behind the majestic and restored frescoes seen around Pisa.

For many purists they prefer these to those which have been restored.

5. Camposanto Monumentale

Camposanto Monumentale

Beneath the Camposanto Monumentale it is said there is soil taken from the Calvary Hill where Jesus was crucified making this holy ground.

During World War II, during an allied bombing raid, the roof caught on fire and many of the frescoes were damaged. Through restoration work, this Holy Cemetery, including the tombs and frescoes, can now be seen by the public.

4. Piazza dei Miracoli

Piazza dei Miracoli

The Square of Miracles or the Piazza dei Miracoli simply wows people when they see it.

The expanse of grass surrounded by 4 of Pisa's iconic landmarks, brings home the immensity of the culture and history of this region of Italy. Whether photography, architecture, or religious history is your thing you only have to stop, take a deep breath and look all around you.

3. Baptistery of St. John

Baptistery of St. John

With its domed top and ornately carved Gothic exterior, the Baptistery of St. John is one of Pisa's most visited attractions.

Inside however it is a complete contrast, in fact simple by comparison. A large font in the center and a statue of St. John are surrounded by great columns supporting the dome.

Built on the same substrata as Pisa's Leaning Tower, the Baptistery of St. John is also listing.

2. Duomo of Pisa

Duomo of Pisa

Considered the perfect example of Romanesque architecture, which the city is known for, the Duomo of Pisa delights international visitors daily.

Beyond the awe inspiring carved marble facade into an elaborate hall with sculptures, bronze statues, frescoes and mosaics. The Duomo of Pisa, is a treasure of past generates preserved for the future.

Whether you are a Roman Catholic or not, the grandeur of this cathedral is emotionally inspiring and should be on everyone's must see list during their time in Pisa.

1. Leaning Tower

Leaning Tower

If you ask most people what the city of Pisa is known for, they will respond with the Leaning Tower.

It's true that the bell tower has gained popularity because of its unfortunate inclination, which began shortly after it was constructed.

Its flaw has been the focal point of many amusing photos as tourists appear to either be pushing, kicking, or supporting the tower.

There are only 40 people allowed in the bell tower at any one time, therefore it is necessary to book a ticket to avoid disappointment. Children under 8 aren't allowed and all bags must be left behind. Those ascending the tower can only take a camera.

 

Now that you know what to see, you'll want to know when to go.

June through September is the high tourist season and consequently everywhere is busy and prices are higher. During the summer months temperatures can be 90°F so it's worth taking sunscreen and a hat with you if you will be standing in lines waiting to see an attraction.

From October until March one can expect smaller crowds of tourists and lower prices as well. An umbrella is advisable as showers are likely to occur.

During the winter holiday season temperatures can dip to 40°F so bring something warm to wear. Those who visit during the Christmas season are enchanted by piazzas filled with lights and decorations.

Attending services at this time at any of the churches and cathedrals in Pisa is a memory which will last a lifetime. The months of April and May are generally pleasant and the prices are still low, for many, this is the ideal time to visit.