A Little Day Trip… A Visit to Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa

Last updated on May 6, 2023

What world travel is complete without a classically cheesy photo holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Although I usually record the iconic places I’ve visited with jumping shots, there’s only one pose that’s appropriate for the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of Italy’s most famous landmarks and I needed to see it for myself—not only for the cheesy photo, but because the tower stands as a testament to the architectural and engineering achievements of the medieval era.

cathedral in the Pisa complex
Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa is worth visiting.

The Piazza del Duomo in Pisa is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and I make a point of visiting these notable cultural, natural, and historical landmarks where ever I go.

Since my friends and I had just hiked Cinque Terre, and were taking the train to Florence, it made sense to spend a few hours in Pisa, since you stop there anyway. Pisa just begs Florence-bound travelers to pop into town for a little exploration and a few quick shots in front of this iconic Italian building.

Here’s what you need to know about visiting Pisa on a stopover or a day trip.

Why Does the Leaning Tower of Pisa Lean?

Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy
A sunny day at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Before visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa either solo or on a tour, it’s worth knowing a quick rundown on its history.

Construction on the Leaning Tower of Pisa began in 1173 and continued for just shy of 200 years before it was completed in 1372. Contrary to popular belief, the tower did not start leaning due to an earthquake or shifting earth. Rather, the tower began to tilt during construction because the soft ground on one side of the site could not support the weight of the tower’s foundation. As soon as the builders started constructing the second story, the tower began to sink and tilt.

Over the centuries, attempts were made to correct the lean. The builders tried to compensate by making the columns on the lower side of the tower taller, but this only made the problem worse. In later centuries, engineers replaced many of the lower columns with stronger materials to withstand the weight of the tower. However, the lean persisted.

In 2001, a team of engineers worked to reduce the tilt of the tower by removing soil from underneath the foundation on the high side of the lean. This effort was successful in reducing the tilt by a small amount, and the tower is now considered stable. The more intricate history detailed in TILT: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa is a fascinating source for additional information.

Getting to the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Iconic views of Pisa, including the sites in the Square of Miracles.

My friends and I hopped off the train in Pisa, and I am not sure why, but for some reason I expected the leaning tower to immediately within sight. Hot tip: The Leaning Tower of Pisa is not near the Pisa-Centrale station.

When we left the Pisa train station, my seeking gaze was disappointed. Call it poor planning on our parts, but we had neither a map nor directions on how to actually get to the Leaning Tower (and my first visit to Pisa was way back in the pre-smartphone days). Now, it’s a cinch to buy a SIM card when you land in Italy and then you have Google Maps ready to point you to the fastest bus route.

Without that though, and with noticeably few other tourists near the train station, it took a bit of figuring out. That’s because many travelers visit Pisa on a tour. But it’s not necessary—Pisa is an easy day trip from Florence. Or it’s a cinch to hop off the train for a few hours, visit the Leaning Tower, and then catch another train to your next stop. We were in Pisa for just a couple of hours for pictures of the tower, lunch, and then onward to Florence.

There is a great self-service luggage storage option at the Pisa-Centrale train station that didn’t exist when I first visited as a day trip. For that reason, my friends and I had our backpacks with us. With the sun beating down on us, it added a good bit of pressure for us to make quick work of sussing out directions to the Leaning Tower and get on our way.

At the time, we searched the bus timetable for directions, but the tower wasn’t directly listed. My cousin and I have a bit of Italian under our belts, and Jenn speaks Spanish, so we split up to question strangers on how to get to the tower.

Eventually, a really nice Italian guy took pity on me. We were having trouble communicating in our mangled Italian/English, so he grabbed my hand, walked me 500 feet around a corner, and deposited me at a bus stop with firm instructions on which bus to take. I thanked him profusely with a mille grazie and hollered for Jenn and Helen to join me at the bus stop. After just two minutes, we boarded Bus 4 and it dropped us off on the doorstep of the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

My cousin Helen had already visited the Tower, so she planned to spend the afternoon in a coffee shop catching up on work (like me, she works online). Jenn and I dropped our backpacks behind Helen’s chair in the coffee shop, and then headed into the Leaning Tower complex to explore and take photos on our own DIY tour of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This site is not huge, so it’s easy to explore in an hour or two.

DIY Self-Guided Tour of Pisa

If you’re visiting Pisa as a quick day stop en route to Florence or Rome, then you’ll need about two hours to just see the first stop, the three main sites in the Square of Miracles (the Baptistery, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (which includes the tower), and the Camposanto. If you’re on a day trip or self-guided tour of Pisa, then this is what you can do with one day in Pisa.

Assuming you’ve started your day early—and you should—aim to arrive at the Leaning Tower by 9 am (the tour buses and crowds descend rapidly after 10 am).

Start at the Square of Miracles (Leaning Tower of Pisa)

To start, leave the Pisa-Centrale train station and make your way to the Leaning Tower of Pisa (walk 22 minutes, cab it, or take the bus). The tower is located in the Square of Miracles, which includes the Cathedral and most other notable attractions in Pisa. Assuming you’ve started your day early—and you should—aim to arrive at the Leaning Tower by 9am (the tour buses and crowds descend rapidly after 10am).

sunlight on the leaning tower
leaning tower of pisa columns

Everything gleams at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The church, the bell tower—it’s all limestone structures coated in white marble and it’s stunning.

Even more though, this imposing marble structure juts at a precarious angle from the ground. With the church nearby, and other tall, straight buildings showing stark contrast. The Tower seems better suited for a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum than an actual, standing monument that’s not going to tip over at any moment.

The bell tower (now bell-less to relieve weight from the structure) and the the spectacular cathedral are the highlights of visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

How to Get a Great Picture the Leaning Tower

cheesy tourist shot at the tower
leaning tower
day trip to the leaning tower of pisa

If you have your heart set on a cheesy photo holding up (or knocking down) the tower, you should do this the moment you arrive—as the day progresses the lawns around the tower begin to heave with crowds. Alternatively, you could go at the end of the day.

If you’re traveling solo, or if you want your entire group in the shot, you’ll need to hang around until you see the right type of other traveler taking a picture in the lush green grass near the Leaning Tower and all of the landmarks in the Square of Miracles.

My friends and I scoped the area until we spotted two women in their late twenties chatting in English. The girl taking the picture was so committed to getting the shot right that she was kneeling on the ground even though she was wearing pristine white pants. Now that is commitment I can respect! The photo she took of us looked great. We reciprocated and captured a great one of the two of them.

If you’re only in Pisa for a couple of hours, then end your day here and head back to the train station.

Climb the Leaning Tower

with friends at the leaning tower
Since we all dearly love gelato, we wanted a picture of the three of us with our packs, ice cream, and all of the tower. This is actually a tall order. It’s hard to make people understand that when you ask for a shot of you in front of a major monument, you kind of want the full monument, too!

With a full day in Pisa, book a timed-entry ticket to climb the Tower. You’ll need to book tickets well in advance during the busy summer months. This is doubly true if you want one of the coveted early morning time slots, when there are fewer clouds, and the sun is at an advantageous angle for photos. The tower opens at 9 am.

While I didn’t didn’t pay to go up the tower, it’s a steep climb up 294 steps for those eager to head to the top. The climb can be tiring, but the views from the top are definitely worth it.

Once inside the tower, respect the rules. The Leaning Tower of Pisa does not allow large bags or backpacks up the tower, and you should avoid touching the walls or leaning over the edge.

Visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Pisa, also known as the Duomo, is a stunning Romanesque-style cathedral located in the Piazza dei Miracoli. Built in the 11th century, it features beautiful marble façades, intricate carvings, and a striking bronze door. Inside, visitors can admire the impressive nave, exquisite frescoes, and the impressive pulpit by Giovanni Pisano. The Cathedral is also home to some of the most important relics of Pisa, including the Holy Spine and the Lamp of Galileo.

Enjoy the Acoustics at the Baptistery

The Baptistery of Pisa is a circular religious building located in the Piazza dei Miracoli, adjacent to the Leaning Tower. Like the Duomo, it was constructed in the Romanesque style, in the 12th century. It features a unique blend of Roman and Islamic architecture, including a gorgeous marble façade and an impressive dome. Head inside to admire beautiful mosaics and intricate frescoes, as well as the impressive pulpit by Nicola Pisano. The Baptistery is also known for its remarkable acoustics, making it a popular venue for concerts and other musical performances.

Head to the Campo Santo Monumentale

The Campo Santo Monumentale in Pisa.

Built in the 13th century, the final stop in the Square of Miracles is renowned for its beautiful Gothic architecture, intricate frescoes, and impressive collection of Roman sarcophagi. The cemetery was originally created as a holy ground for soil brought back from the Holy Land, and over the centuries it became the final resting place for many prominent citizens of Pisa. Today, the Camposanto has a serene atmosphere and rich cultural heritage.

Other Top Things to See and Do in Pisa

  • Visit the Keith Haring “Tuttomundo” mural: Located just three minutes from the train station, Tuttomondo is a vibrant and vast mural created by famous street artist Keith Haring. Painted in 1989, it portrays colorful figures, animals, and shapes that carry a message of unity and diversity. It was his last work and is a must-see for contemporary art lovers and symbolizes Pisa’s cultural significance.
  • Enjoy the River Arno: Stroll along the riverbanks, admire the stunning views of the city and its landmarks, or take a boat tour of Pisa’s portion of the River Arno. The Lungarno promenade offers many bars and restaurants where visitors can relax, enjoy the local cuisine and watch the sunset over the river. Another option is to cross the famous Ponte di Mezzo bridge and explore the vibrant nightlife scene on the opposite side of the river.
  • Take in the Palazzo della Carovana: Built in the 16th century, it’s another key example of Renaissance architecture and features intricate sculptures and beautiful frescoes. The palazzo is home to the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore, one of Italy’s leading universities, and you can explore its impressive courtyard and learn about the building’s fascinating history. The palazzo also houses the Museum of the Sinopie, which displays a collection of preparatory drawings for the frescoes in the Camposanto.
  • Walk the Corso Italia: Starting at the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, the Corso Italia is a pedestrian street located on the left bank of the River Arno. The street is lined with beautiful palaces, historic buildings, and charming cafes and restaurants, offering a glimpse into the city’s rich cultural heritage. It’s also the place to visit if you’re shopping for anything from high-end designer clothes to local handicrafts.

Grab a Meal and a Gelato

It’s always a good time to stop for gelato when you’re in Italy, and you’ll work up a sweat if you’re visiting Pisa in the summer months.

No matter how long you’re spending in Pisa, you have time for gelato. And if you’ve made this as a stopover between Florence and Cinque Terre, plan on having lunch before you head back to the train station.

On my day trip popping into Pisa, we grabbed lunch and a gelato after our time at the Leaning Tower. There are ton of gelato places, and really your best bet is to check the Google ratings of a place near you when you’re ready for a cool, sweet treat.

Travel Tips for Visiting Pisa, Italy

How to Get to Pisa by Train

Book your tickets at least a day or two in advance in you’re tight on time and planning a stop over in Pisa between Cinque Terre and Florence. I did this in August 2022 and the trains were full. There were few seats left on the evening train into Florence when we booked one day in advance.

From Florence, your journey to Pisa will take roughly one hour, though some slower trains may tack 15 minutes onto the journey. To speed up your morning, plan to catch a train that stops closer to the Leaning Tower. Otherwise, know that you can find a train at least twice an hour heading in that direction.

  • San Rossore is the closest train station to the Square of Miracles, which includes the Leaning Tower of Pisa—just a five minute walk—though it’s smaller and only three trains leave Florence in the morning directly bound for San Rossore in Pisa. Use Trenitalia to check the schedule.
  • Pisa-Centrale is the main train station and it’s through here that most trains from Florence, Cinque Terre, and other locations will stop. It’s about 22 minutes walking from the Pisa Centrale train station to the Leaning Tower—you can also take a local bus, shuttle, or a quick €10 taxi ride.

From Cinque Terre, a train runs roughly every 30 minutes from La Spezia. If you’re staying in Monterosso al Mare or one of the other towns along Cinque Terre, it can take an hour just to get to La Spezia—plan enough time to switch trains and catch the train to Pisa. Your train will stop in Pisa-Centrale, hop off, spend a couple of hours enjoying the Leaning Tower and the Square of Miracles (leaving your luggage at the train station), then catch a train onward to Florence. These trains leave twice an hour, or so, and take an hour.

From Bologna, plan on two hours with a train change in Florence, and from Rome you’ll need four hours, a transfer in Florence and a plan on where to sleep that day (consider Hotel Bologna in Pisa)—it’s not day trip distance to return to Rome that night.

How Much Time is Enough for Pisa?

You’ll need roughly two hours to explore the cathedral and monuments. Add another 30-45 minutes if you have a ticket to climb up the Leaning Tower. Besides the Leaning Tower, you can see a lot of Pisa on a one-day day trip. That said, there’s enough to fill up to three days if you’re keen to use it as a base to explore Tuscany.

Which Ticket to Buy at the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

If you’re popping over to the Leaning Tower for just a couple of hours, you likely should skip climbing the tower. Instead, as of 2023 prices, pay either €7 or €10 to visit the Cathedral and one or more of the other sites in the Square of Miracles.

If you’re in Pisa for the day and keen to get the most out of your visit, €20 allows you to visit the Cathedral and climb the tower, while €27 gives you a complete visit—the whole enchilada of sites in the Square of Miracles, including climbing the tower.

Check the latest prices on the official site.

Is the Leaning Tower of Pisa worth it?

Yes, just do it! It’s not a hard day trip from Florence, and even though the iconic shots are cheesy, it’s also just a beautiful square with a lot of history. The magnitude of the Duomo is also stunning. Plus, it’s straight-up trippy to see just how much the tower leans while still standing for centuries.

Essential Travel Planning Resources:

Booking.com: Essentially the only hotel booking site that I use. It has a wide and affordable selection of traditional hotels, but also hostels and vacation rentals, too.

Rome2Rio: Super handy to assess the full range of transport options between two cities—shows everything from flights to trains, buses, minibuses, and more.

Expedia: Best site, hands down, for low-cost flights in the region.

IMG Global: A travel insurance option I’ve used for well over a decade and recommend for many other travelers.

7 thoughts on “A Little Day Trip… A Visit to Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa”

  1. When we visited the leaning tower of Pisa we scheduled CLIMBING the tower with the tour we were on with the cruise line. Those BIG bells are still up there at the top.

  2. “some people just don’t seem to understand that when you ask for a shot of you in front of a major monument…you kind of want the monument!” – So damn true!

  3. You are so lucky! What amazing pictures.

    I am going to Pisa for a week’s holiday in August and stumbled across your site here and it made me laugh so much. I now can’t wait to go and hopefully I’ll be doing the same cheesy pictures that you have done here.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for stopping in – enjoy your own trip in August and definitely take the cheesy pictures. The one we wished we had thought of taking was one of us pushing it over and the other holding it up! Just a thought :-)

  4. In reference to your Stats page: I had Olive Garden Cheese Ravioli with Alfredo Sauce 2 days ago. Let me tell you, it was delicious! :)

    …a little mean, I know. But I couldn’t resist :)


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