Plan your day trip to Pisa, Italy – Pisa, Italy, day trip itinerary and tips
Pisa, Italy, has one major worldwide claim to fame: they have a 900-year-old tower and it leans precariously. Each day tourists and cruise excursionists from all over the world swarm over the Field of Miracles to gawk and take photos of themselves appearing to hold up the tower with their own two hands. But should you make a day trip to Pisa? Is Pisa worth it?
Since I was a child that leaning tower has held a certain mystique for me. I simply knew that I had to see it one day. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually the bell tower that was built to go with the great cathedral of Pisa. The complex of buildings there—the cathedral, bell tower, baptistery and camposanto—are known as the Field of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli).
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Is Pisa worth it?
How to get to Pisa by train
We visited Pisa as a day trip from Florence, an easy train ride of about an hour to an hour and 30 minutes (depending on which train you take). You can also easily get to Pisa from Lucca (approximately 30 minutes) or Siena (an hour and 30 minutes with a train change).
Italian regional trains are easy to use. You can check the schedule on the Trenitalia website ahead of time to help you plan your day. There is a frequent service of trains from Florence. Keep in mind that the Trenitalia website uses the Italian city names, so we were looking for trains from Firenze S. M. Novella (the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence) to Pisa Centrale.
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On the results page, you can click on the little “i” next to the train number to see what stops each train makes. We took the 8:05 a.m. train that got us to Pisa at 9:22 a.m. Regionale Veloce trains will get you to Pisa faster, but may not run at the time you want to travel.
To check the schedule for your return trip, I recommend using the free DB Navigator app. This is a German app, but includes the Italian train timetables. We used the app to help us decide what train we wanted to take back to Florence.
Don’t bother buying your regional train ticket in advance online. The automatic ticket machines at the station are easy and fast to use. We paid about 40 euros round trip for the both of us.
Do not forget that your train ticket needs to be validated before you board the train. Trenitalia validation machines will be located on or near your platform. While neither of us were asked to show our ticket on either the train ride to or from Pisa, the penalty for getting caught without a validated ticket is steep and you are expected to pay immediately.
Getting from Pisa Centrale train station to the Field of Miracles
To get to the Field of Miracles from the train station, you can take a taxi or bus if you’re pressed for time, but if you can, I think you should take the time to enjoy a slow stroll through the city. It will take you about 25 – 30 minutes.
If you have an hour, try the Rick Steves walking tour of Pisa (found in his Florence & Tuscany Guidebook) which starts at the station and ends at the cathedral.
If you want to eat in Pisa, I would strongly recommend you not eat anywhere near the Leaning Tower. Those restaurants, while convenient, are not good. We made this mistake (against our better judgment) because we were tired and hungry…and it was convenient. If we were to go back to Pisa someday, we’d pack a lunch.
On your way back to the train station, stop for gelato at Gelateria de’ Coltelli. Their lemon basil sorbet is one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Buying tickets for the Fields of Miracles in Pisa
The complex of monuments in Pisa known as the Field of Miracles includes a cathedral, baptistery, bell tower and enclosed cemetery (the Camposanto). There is also the Sinopie Museum and Opera Museum. The Opera del Duomo Museum houses important artworks from the cathedral complex for their preservation. It has recently undergone a large renovation and reopened only in October 2019. It was still closed when we were there in May 2018, so I have not visited this museum.
The Sinopie Museum preserves and protects the “sinopia,” the preparatory sketches done for the frescoes of the Camposanto. They were discovered when the frescoes that survived the Pisa firebombing in World War II were removed for restoration. These sketches were also removed so they could be preserved in the museum
You can buy entrance tickets for the Field of Miracles monuments up to 20 days in advance and up to the day before your visit. You can cancel or change your reservation up until 24 hours before your visit; your credit card won’t be charged until the day of.
You can choose the price of your ticket based on the number of monuments you want to visit. The first is 5 euros, 7 euros for two, 8 euros for three and 9 euros to enter all four (the baptistery, camposanto, opera museum and sinopie museum). Timed entrance to the leaning tower is 18 euros. Entrance to the cathedral is free. If you have purchased a ticket to any other Field of Miracles monuments you can use that ticket to get into the cathedral at any time on the day of your visit; however, if you only want to see the cathedral (again, for free) you will need to get a fixed time free pass from the ticket office on site.
The cathedral interior recently underwent a four-year restoration project that was completed in time for the 900th anniversary of the cathedral’s consecration in September 1118.
If you don’t have a fixed time to enter the cathedral, I recommend getting there well before noon. As you get on in the day, the piazza and cathedral will be overrun with tour groups from cruises. We got to the cathedral between 10:30 and 11 a.m. and had to wait just a few minutes to get in.
We discovered that, though the area around the Field of Miracles is swamped with tourists, very few are actually going into any of the sites that require a ticket, except the cathedral since it is free.
The tower isn’t the only building at the Field of Miracles that leans; the baptistery does also. And it’s the largest baptistery in Italy.
While in the baptistery, be respectful of their request for quiet. Every 30 minutes or so, the attendant on duty offers a demonstration of the astonishing reverb by singing a few notes. Other than that, there is to be quiet inside the building.
Take a few minutes to take the stairs up to the gallery overlooking the main floor and view of the cathedral out the windows.
The Camposanto (holy field) was my favorite thing at the Field of Miracles. The enclosed cemetery was established in 1277.
During WWII the Camposanto was severely damaged by fire caused by an Allied incendiary bomb. The fire melted the lead in the roof which dripped onto the marble floor of the interior passageways, leaving them pitted and uneven. The centuries-old frescoes were also badly damaged.
While we were there, we enjoyed taking a few minutes to watch the fresco restorers at work. The restoration had been going on for decades and is almost complete with the most famous fresco “The Triumph of Death” returning to its rightful home in June 2018.
The Bell Tower
The bell tower, best known by its affectionate nickname the Leaning Tower of Pisa, is most likely why you are considering a visit to Pisa.
You can climb the bell tower if you wish for an extra fee of 18 euros above what you paid for entrance to the other monuments. You’ll need to reserve a time to climb the 273 stairs.
In my view, the wonder of the tower is its exterior and not what you can see from it, so we passed on paying extra.
How long should you plan to spend in Pisa?
We arrived in Pisa at 9:30 a.m. and took about an hour to walk from the train station to the Field of Miracles, doing the Rick Steves walking tour. Allow about two hours to see the cathedral and monuments without climbing up the Leaning Tower. If you do the tower climb, I’d recommend adding 30 minutes to an hour.
Plan on an hour for lunch if you don’t bring it with you (which, again, is what I would do if I ever return to Pisa). Add to that 30 minutes to walk back to the train station. And don’t forget to stop for gelato!
All told we spent five hours in Pisa without rushing any of our sightseeing…or eating.
Is Pisa worth it? The bottom line.
If you’re like me and you’ve wanted to see that famous leaning tower basically your whole life, then yes. Why not take a day or part of a day out of your trip in the area to see Pisa? It’s a charming town and the day trip is not expensive. Having said that, the next time we find ourselves in Tuscany we’ll more than likely pay a visit to Siena or Lucca rather than go back to Pisa.