Of course we’re all familiar with Pisa‘s most famous monument – the Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of Italy’s most visited tourist attractions. Most people who check Pisa off their must-see list do so after a couple of hours en route from one city to another, or as a brief day trip from nearby Florence. There is, however, much more to see and do in Pisa than just the tower.
Here are some things to do in Pisa – besides the famous tower.
Duomo – Often overlooked in our focus on the tower is the enormous cathedral that is right next to it. Indeed, that leaning tower was built merely to be the Duomo‘s bell tower. A fire in 1595 destroyed some of the 11th century Duomo’s interior decorations, and renovations after the fire destroyed even more, but the church is still gorgeous inside (pay particular attention to the intricate carvings on the pulpit made by Pisano) and well worth a visit.
Baptistery – The other structure besides the tower and the Duomo on the so-called “Campo dei Miracoli,” or “field of miracles,” is the Baptistery. It dates from the 12th century, and it’s the biggest Baptistery in Italy. One of the Baptistery’s notable interior features is the incredible acoustics afforded by the immense dome. If you’re lucky, you may get to hear a demonstration of these acoustics by one of the porters – they can sing harmonies with themselves, as their voice bounces back to them a moment after they’ve sung a note.
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina – This small 13th century church was once the home of a reliquary said to hold a thorn from Jesus’ crown. In the late 19th century, the entire church was dismantled and then rebuilt in order to raise the whole church up by one meter.
Palazzo Agostini – The 15th century facade of this palazzo is attached to a building that contains remnants of Pisa’s 12th century city walls.
Botanic Gardens – Pisa is home to a large and old university, and also the oldest university botanic gardens in Europe. It’s not far from the Leaning Tower, and it’s free to go in and enjoy.
Piazza dei Cavalieri – This was once Pisa’s main square, and it was remodeled to the beautiful piazza you see today by Vasari in the 16th century. The Italian name “Piazza dei Cavalieri” translates to “Knights’ Square.”
Borgo Stretto – If you’ve come to Italy to shop, then head for the street called Borgo Stretto, where the fashionable Italian boutiques are located.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – To see some of the artwork that was once inside the Duomo, including work by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano, you’ll need to visit this museum.
Old Citadel and Guelph Tower – The Guelph tower and the Citadella Vecchia (Old Citadel) to which it is attached sit on Pisa’s riverbank. It’s the views from the top of the tower – views that include Pisa’s decidedly more famous tower – that make this worth a stop.
Keith Haring Mural – For all that’s centuries old in Pisa, there’s also some notable modern art, too. The late artist Keith Haring liked Pisa so much that he visited in 1989 to paint a big mural on the side of the Chiesa di Sant’Antonio. It was the last public painting he would do before he died in 1990.