If you think Pisa is all about the Leaning Tower, it’s time you heard the full story. Of course the awe-inspiring Square of Miracles is what Pisa is famous for, with its famously captivating Medieval architecture. But there are many more attractions in Pisa worthy of your attention too, from lovely squares to river walks and museums. When it comes to Pisa, people don’t know just what they are missing. Here are our Top 10 Pisa Attractions!
Marvel at the Leaning Tower – Just one of the Top 10 Pisa Attractions
This grand square is the heart and soul of Pisa, the symbol of its long and fascinating history. You can spend at least two hours exploring all the stunning edifices that make this Piazza one of the wonders of the world. Go inside the Romanesque Cathedral to truly appreciate the complex architecture and decor of the church that was once the biggest in Europe. The same goes for the ornate, domed Baptistry with a gallery from which you can admire a different view of the square. The bell tower, with its famous gravity-defying tilt, is really only a part of the spectacle.
2. Camposanto Monumentale – Monumental Cemetery
The Camposanto Monumentale is a part of the Square of Miracles, but it’s a small world in itself. A legendary holy place (said to have been built on sacred soil brought to Pisa from the holy land in the 12th century), it’s a sombre and moving sight and peaceful too, after all the noise of the square. A beautiful courtyard, Gothic architectural details, a collection of Roman sarcophagi and some faded frescoes that add charm to the complex.
3. Knights Square – Piazza dei Cavalieri and Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri Church
The second most beautiful square in Pisa is Piazza dei Cavalieri, flanked by some of the towns most gorgeous buildings. If you love history and architecture, you’ll be impressed by the lavishly decorated Palazzo della Carovana (seat of the prestigious Normale University), the elegant Palazzo dell’Orologio and the interesting Church of the Cavalieri of Santo Stefano which contains relics won by the Order of Saint Stephen during naval battles against the Ottomans.
4. The beautiful Lungarni in Pisa
A walk along the Lungarni (riverwalk) is a must when in Pisa. Ancient buildings, lovely churches and great sunsets await you here, in what is arguably the most romantic spot in Pisa. English poets Lord Byron and Shelley both used to live along the Arno river at the beginning of the 19th century and praised the view and the cultural inspiration that the city offered.
Discover how to spend the best day in Pisa with our walking itinerary.
5. Santa Maria della Spina Church – A little Gothic shrine
Nothing can prepare you for the sight of this gorgeous little church. A tiny Gothic gem set in the Lungarno Gambacorti which was built as shrine for a very precious holy relic – a thorn (‘spina‘ in Italian) from the crown worn by Christ during his crucifixion. Decorated with marble statues, pinnacles and arches by great sculptures like Andrea Pisano, it’s one of Pisa’s top attractions. The interior is very sparse, but the exterior will leave you speechless.
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6. San Matteo National Museum – Medieval art at its best
If you love Medieval art, the San Matteo Museum is the place for you. Pisa was attracting great artists during its heyday as a powerful Maritime Republic in the 12th and 13th century. These artist included Andrea and Nicola Pisano – two of the greatest sculptors in Italy. The museum has a great collection of wooden crosses from the 13th to the 15th century, one of the most important of its kind in Italy, and it houses Medieval paintings that were originally to be found in Pisa’s churches.
7. Check out an exhibit at the Palazzo Blu
Art lovers head to Palazzo Blu, a delightfully blue coloured building located on the Lungarno Gambacorti. Apart from a permanent collection of paintings (14th -20th century), furniture and coins, the three floored building usually hosts temporary exhibitions – the latest being Escher. There’s a lack of information in English but it’s still a good place to breathe in some Italian culture.
8. Tuttomondo mural by Keith Haring
Near the Pisa Centrale train station, you find one of Haring’s latest murals, painted in 1989 (not long before he died). 10 metres high and 18 meters wide, its brilliant, lively images pass on a hopeful message of peace and harmony in the world. It took the artist a full week to finish it, and he used soft pastel colours in line with the city’s buildings. It’s on one side of Sant’Antonio Abate church, and it is his only work thought to be permanent.
9. Take a stroll in Borgo Stretto
The heart of Medieval Pisa, Borgo Stretto is a lovely pedestrian street dotted with shops, gelaterie and cafes. The perfect place to do a bit of shopping in Pisa, relax with a drink after the sightseeing, have a stroll and people watching. Check out the Romanesque Church of San Michele in Borgo, an attractive church with an ornate marble facade.
10. San Pietro a Grado Basilica
The last of the 10 top Pisa attractions isn’t actually in Pisa, but a few kms. from Pisa airport (10 minutes by car from the city centre). If churches and Medieval architecture are your thing, a detour to this magnificent example of Romanesque style is a must. Close to a main road but surrounded by a meadow, this church definitely deserves a visit. An impressive structure in local tufa stone, the interior hosts some delightful frescoes and the legendary ‘altar of Saint Peter’, who was thought to have disembarked here from Palestine.
San Pietro a Grado is one of the best Romanesque Churches in Tuscany.
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