How We Spent Our Day In Pisa
Travelling around Tuscany after our friend’s wedding, we spent two nights staying at Palazzo Feroci, a lovely and historic hotel in the old part of Pisa which proved to be the perfect base for exploring the area. If you’d like to visit Pisa I’d recommend setting aside a day to do a leisurely itinerary. This is how we spent our day in Pisa.
Breakfast at a Cafe
Pisa is a great place to fly into to avoid the bustle of Florence, which is what we had done a few days prior. At the airport there are plenty of hire car options which is what we did for the first leg of our trip (my Siena guide will also be coming soon!) but we returned our car super early after dropping our friends off for their flight and left our bags at the hotel before setting off to find some breakfast whilst we waited for another group of friends to catch up.
Breakfast is nothing fancy in Italy, and as you’ve got so many great (pasta heavy!) options to explore at lunch (you can read my full Tuscany food guide here!) the classic pastry and coffee is all you’ll need. I can’t tell you where we stopped, except to do what we did, keep walking (Pisa is a VERY walkable city) until you see somewhere busy with locals eating a pastry that looks good to you. The filled pastries are something I adored in Italy: as a general rule, always go for the pastry cream-filled ones, unless the far superior pistachio cream version is available!
Getting Your Bearings
As I mentioned, Pisa is quite a small, walkable city and one where you’ll miss out on a lot just sticking to the main tourist attractions around the Cathedral and Leaning Tower. Go for a walk, take in the beautiful buildings, take note of the location of a few away-from-the-tourist-drag bars that will open later on for an apero before dinner, and gelato shops that look worth a visit when it starts to warm up (though I do have a recommendation on that to follow!)
I’d avoid the main shopping street as it is a bit underwhelming but all the churches we passed were worth looking in. The daily vegetable market on Piazza Sant’Omobono is also worth a visit to get a feel for daily life and seasonal produce.
Lunch at Trattoria Sant’Omobono
For lunch, we loved Trattoria Sant’Omobono, right on the same square as the market. It gets busy, so unless you’ve booked a table get there right when they open at 12:30pm, if not a few minutes more. The menu is small and hyper-seasonal, and if there are a group of you, get a litre of the excellent local red wine for 10€.
The boys both had platefuls of fresh spaghetti with the local speciality wild boar ragu which were good, but not as good as other versions we’d had in Empoli or Siena, so I’d go for the hyper-seasonal plates to find the really special dishes. We adored the drunken octopus ragu – both meaty and full of beautiful seafood flavours at the same time and being toothsome and something a little bit different.
The medley of slow cooked courgette, peppers and aubergine we got on the side was also tasty and a must-order if you visit during the warmer months, but the real hero was the mushroom lasagna. Feather light pasta, rich sauce, and meaty, hearty chunks of seasonal mushroom it had so many dimensions of earthy flavour, so different to if I’d ordered a mushroom lasagna elsewhere I have a suspicion I’d have received a finely minced ragu trying to be meat.
Exploring the Piazza del Duomo
After lunch (and a sneaky gelato if you have room!) is the time to visit Piazza del Duomo where all the iconic sites of Pisa are located. A 15€ ticket purchased from the ticket office on your left if the Cathedral is to your right and the tower is right behind you (located inside the Museo delle Sinopie – there are some nice frescos in there, but unless frescos are a special area of interest you won’t want to spend more than about 10 minutes in there plus use of the toilets!) will cover you for the whole complex except for a trip to the top of the tower which needs to be booked in advance and is usually booked up really quickly. We skipped this, because, to be honest we were there to see the rest of it (it was our view once you’ve seen the Leaning Tower you’ve seen the Leaning Tower) and we’d recommend you do too if you’re staying the night in Pisa. You’ll see why later.
Our first stop was the Battistero di San Giovanni, pictured above on the right. It’s a pretty building with some beautiful frescos inside, though the main draw of the famous acoustics were somewhat ruined when we were there by the scaffolding inside. Searching for it to write this piece it is now temporarily closed for refurbishment, so it is worth checking in advance of planning a trip to make sure what you want to see is not being restored.
Next to the Battistero you’ll find Sarcofago di Giratto, a colonnaded garden of tombs to create probably the most fascinating place of burial I’ve ever visited and well worth a walk around for the sculpture and frescos. It still manages to be a quiet, completive place, and with plenty of shade – one to earmark if you’re visiting during a blistering hot day, like we were!
The Cattedrale di Pisa is the highlight of the Piazza del Duomo complex. With ornate, towering Romanesque bronze doors, a pulpit that dates back to the 1300’s, a stunningly ornate ceiling and the striped marble that was characteristic of cathedrals built in Tuscany of that period, it is something to take in and to plan to spend some time exploring, both walking around it and just sitting gazing up at the ceiling above you.
Your 15€ ticket also gains you access to Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the sculpture museum at the foot of the Leaning Tower, but we were hot, sweaty and needed a sit down. This point is where we’d recommend going to get gelato and to assess how much you want to see the sculptures. We all felt we’d got our moneys worth, but as one ticket gets you into everything in a day and you’re free to explore at your own pace, flag it as an option for later.
Sorbet & Gelato at Gelateria De’ Coltelli
Gelateria De’ Coltelli is located by the river and always has a queue it is so popular (though that will give you time to choose!) They focus on unique flavours, fresh fruit, organic ingredients and boast a few zero food mile flavours we can highly recommend. Utterly delicious were the bites of J’s chocolate gelato and the must-order toasted almond gelato with candied lemon pieces, but given the temperature I think those of us who ordered servings of the zesty, refreshing, just-tart-enough lemon sorbet and the raspberry that captured the essence of plucking a raspberry fresh from the cane even better than the unadulterated fruit itself had the right idea.
Either if you’ve chosen to continue exploring Pisa’s art and history, or you went for our option of relaxing at your hotel, around 6:30-7pm I’d recommend heading out for an apero before dinner. Again, like at breakfast, I’d recommend taking a walk and seeing where looks good, and where is popular with the locals. The four of us ended up at a bar I can’t find on Google Maps next to Le Parisien Wine Bar (which J and I went to ourselves the next night and also loved!) which had excellent limoncello spritz and gave us a few pieces of pizza, salami focaccia sandwiches and crisps to nibble on – all nothing to write home about, but exactly what you want on a lazy evening with friends after you’ve spent the day exploring the city together.
Pizza for Dinner
We had dinner at Pizzeria Le Mura, a locals-only joint with a fantastic atmosphere where we got in more spritz, an excellent caprese salad and a couple of good pizzas. Okay, so the crusts were a little over-done but if you can’t find anywhere where the pizza’s look better the flavours were fantastic due to the impeccable quality ingredients they used. Honestly, we had a really lovely time.
Gelato & Pizza at Night
Our after dinner gelato came by way of Le Bonta ‘Toschi Marco next door to the restaurant, which I can highly recommend for their excellent and slightly unusual pear flavour; it reminded me of the stout glass bottles of pear nectar my grandmother used to buy me from the French supermarket when I was a child.
And then, walking back to our hotel, we saw the Leaning Tower the only way I think one ought to see the tower: at night, with it beautifully lit up, with only a fraction of the people thronging around it’s base. And most importantly, with no one trying to take a picture of themselves holding it up.