Whenever people visit Italy, they always seem to go to the main tourist hot spots. Rome, Venice and Florence are so saturated by tourism that in the summer months they are unbearable, both for locals and tourists alike, and it is becoming obvious that travellers need to diversify their travels in order to take some of the strain off the big cities.
I have strived to promote lesser-known destinations in this blog, from Ukraine to Albania, and while Pisa may not strike many as a ‘lesser-known’ destination (we’ve all heard of a certain leaning tower after all), Pisa gets a fraction of the tourism that other major Italian cities get, and I think that this is a real shame as it is a fantastic city with a lot to offer.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of reasons why Pisa should be your next Italian city break!
1. Cheap direct flights from the UK to Pisa
Pisa is actually very easy to get to from the UK. There are so many direct flights from the UK to Pisa, and Pisa is always one of the cheapest Italian destinations to fly to. What’s more, it’s very easy to get from Galileo Galilei airport to Pisa City Centre – for just a couple of euros you can take the airport shuttle and be in the city centre in a few minutes, avoiding expensive taxi fares and a lot of messing around trying to reach your accommodation. If you’re not carrying heavy luggage then you can even walk from the airport to the centre as it is just 1km away!
2. Pisa is more budget-friendly than other Italian cities
Pisa is Western Europe, meaning that it’s never going to be as cheap as destinations in Eastern Europe or the Balkans. However, Pisa is still significantly cheaper than other tourist hubs in Italy, which is great news if you’re a budget traveller like me or don’t have much time to save up for your trip!
For a bed in a 4-person female only dorm room (smaller dorms and female only dorms are always more expensive), I paid about €20 per night and for a two-course meal in a nice restaurant for two people plus a bottle of wine, the bill was €50. Public transport is also super affordable, meaning day trips to surrounding towns are really easy (more on that later) and a coffee and sandwich in the local bakery was less than €5 which meant that we could eat breakfast out every day and not feel even remotely guilty!
(Sidenote: the hostel that I stayed in was called Hostel Pisa and I really recommend it. It was super close to the train station and had an €8 all-you-can-eat buffet dinner every night which is great for budget travellers! There was also a 24h bar and an outside area with table football! To book your stay just click here!)
3. Marina di Pisa – the beach!
On our first day in Pisa, my friend Helene from Wandering Helene and I were in desperate need of some serious beach time, and luckily for us, the beach is just a stone’s throw away from Pisa! For a €7 return ticket we took the bus to Marina di Pisa, a small seaside town less than half an hour from Pisa. Marina di Pisa has both rock and sand beaches, and we were able to score sunbeds and parasols on a private beach for the whole day for just €5 each! After sunning ourselves for the day, we wandered around for a while, discovering a beautiful stone church which immediately topped my list of most beautiful European churches (it was seriously cute) and eventually choosing a nice local restaurant to eat at. I chose a plate of grilled seafood and Helene opted for seafood spaghetti, both of which were deliciously fresh and very reasonably priced.
We found Calambrone almost by accident! While looking around on Google Maps to find Marini di Pisa, we noticed that there seemed to be a long stretch of beach just a little way past Marini di Pisa, on the way to the city of Livorno. Knowing that we could take the same bus that we took to Marini di Pisa, we decided to check it out, and although it took longer to get there, it was well worth it.
Calambrone is actually a village in the province of Pisa (25km from the centre), and is home to huge stretches of golden sandy beaches. Helene and I didn’t want to wander too far from the bus stop but luckily for us, we found a beach club named Salinas that had a bar, sun loungers (not too many, which was good – I hate beaches that have been taken over by sun loungers and parasols!) and was absolute paradise.
Just like with Marini di Pisa, Calambrone was completely devoid of tourists, and the only other people on the beach were locals, which made it even more special.
5. Pisa is the perfect spot for day trips
There are SO many day trips that you can take from Pisa! While Helene and I explored the beach towns of Marini di Pisa and Calambrone, Pisa is also super close to the city of Lucca (which has fantastic architecture, well-preserved fortifications and is great for shopping), as well as the famous Cinque Terre.
For those wanting to go a little more off the beaten track, I recommend a trip to Barga. There is usually a direct train, or you can go via Lucca. The journey takes a couple of hours but it’s well worth it. I wrote extensively about why you should visit Barga in this article if you’d like to give it a read!
6. Pisa is super walkable
One of my favourite things about Pisa is that it is so easy to get from one side to another by foot. I hate spending all my time in a city on public transport or in taxis, and in Pisa that isn’t necessary. My hostel was super close to the train and bus station, and it was only a 20 minute walk to the Leaning Tower (less to the start of the Old Town itself). This also makes it easy to see all the major sights of Pisa in a day, so if you’re pushed for time or want the chance to take some day trips to the surrounding areas, it’s ideal.
If walking isn’t your thing then you can also make like a local and use one of the many shared bikes dotted around the city!
7. Does Pisa have the best gelato in Italy?
Italy is famous for its gelato and Pisa takes this very seriously. Whilst Helene and I were in Pisa, we wanted to make it our mission to eat as much gelato as humanly possible, and so we conducted some very – ahem – scientific research on where we could find the best gelato in Pisa.
Just imagine our delight when we discovered that multiple gelaterias in Pisa have been named as some of the best gelaterias in the whole of Italy! Helene was particularly taken with her pistachio gelato from Il Gelato di Toto, which she said was quite possibly the best pistachio gelato she’d ever tasted (and as someone who used to live in Rome, she’s tasted a lot!). I’m not usually someone who enjoys a lot of sweet things but even I succumbed to the gelato in Pisa and I didn’t regret it!
8. The coffee shops
Another thing that Italy is famous for is its coffee, and just like with the gelato, Helene and I made it our mission to try and find the best coffee in Pisa! Unfortunately we weren’t able to go to all the coffee shops that we wanted to, but we definitely found some gems nonetheless!
Our three favourite picks for coffee in Pisa were Keith’s Art Shop Cafe, dedicated to famous artist Keith Haring (with a huge mural of his on the wall just outside), Caffe Settimelli and Filter Coffee Lab.
Keith’s Art Shop Cafe has a cheap and varied food menu, with plenty of salads and sandwiches (I got a Spanish omelette sandwich with cheese and salad for €3) and delicious cappuccinos that are reasonably priced (€2.20) and not too milky.
We stopped in Caffe Settimelli so that Helene could get her much needed espresso fix, and she was a definitely a fan of Caffe Settimelli’s coffee. She did note that her espresso was very strong and bitter, so perhaps wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but she enjoyed it a lot. Caffe Settimelli has a beautiful wooden interior and a small collection of cakes and biscuits, and is the perfect place to stand at the bar and sip espresso like a true Italian.
Filter Coffee Lab was my personal favourite coffee shop in Pisa. With its rustic interior and quirky staff, I felt as though I could have been back home in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, but in the best possible way. Filter Coffee Lab has lots of fancier coffees which are a little pricier than your average cappuccino, but that’s to be expected. After asking the barista for her recommendation, I went for the iced hazelnut latte (€3.50) which was very creamy with a subtle hazelnut taste, but not enough to get in the way of the fact that I was definitely drinking Italian coffee! Filer Coffee Lab have a lovely selection of bagels and salads (food is served until 3pm), as well as vegan cakes and the option to have soy/rice/lactose-free milk. Filter Coffee Lab is definitely a place I would feel comfortable bringing my laptop and spending the afternoon drinking coffee and blogging.
9. The River Arno
The River Arno is one of the main rivers in Italy and the city of Pisa has been built around it, with the river dividing Pisa into two halves. Not only is the River Arno a wonderful place to take a stroll alongside (not to mention a great photography spot!), but at night it comes alive, with the young residents of Pisa spilling out of the bars and restaurants and congregating on the bridges and sitting on the walls to enjoy the romantic sunset views.
10. Pisa is full of authentic Italian restaurants
In cities such as Rome, you’ll often find extortionately priced restaurants serving food geared specifically towards tourists. You’ll struggle to find the kind of Italian food that Italians actually eat, with the pastas especially being prepared with foreign tastebuds in mind.
In Pisa however, the food feels decidedly more Italian, and the black ravioli with crab and squid that I opted for one night was absolutely divine (and you can bet that Helene enjoyed her zucchini and mint risotto with goat’s cheese!).
Of course, it goes without saying that the restaurants close to the Leaning Tower will definitely be tourist traps, but the rest of the restaurants in the Old Town were full of Italians and didn’t feel inauthentic at all.
11. That famous Leaning Tower of Pisa
Of course, if you’re planning city break to Pisa then it almost goes without saying that a trip to the legendary Leaning Tower of Pisa is going to be high on your list. However, while the tower is beautiful and definitely worth visiting, I wouldn’t recommend actually climbing it if you’re on a budget or don’t have much time. Not only will you be queuing outside in the heat for hours, but the tower costs €18 to climb which is pretty steep IMO, no pun intended!
The Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) where the Leaning Tower is situated is actually home to four jaw-dropping buildings that include the tower itself, the Duomo di Pisa (Cathedral of Pisa), Pisa Baptistery and the Campo Santo (cemetery), and as you are able to sit on the grass by the Duomo, I think that a better use of your time would be to relax and soak up the wonderful architecture from the ground where you can enjoy the sun and avoid the €18 price tag!
12. Pisa is the ‘real Italy’
In cities such as Venice, you’d be hard pressed to actually find locals that live there year round. It’s simply too crowded and too expensive for them, and so you’re far more likely to be rubbing shoulders with groups of Chinese or American tour groups than real bonafide Italians.
In Pisa, however, you definitely feel as though you’re in Italy. Not only is Pisa a student city (the University of Pisa was founded in 1343 and is one of the oldest and most highly respected universities in all of Europe!), but aside from the area surrounding the Leaning Tower of Pisa (and the handful of touristy restaurants nearby), Helene and I rarely heard English being spoken and were always the only non-Italians in the various restaurants and coffee shops that we went to. This is quite a feat given that we were there in the middle of June, which is usually the time when high season really begins picking up.
So, did I manage to convince you that Pisa should be your next city break? Let me know in the comments section below!
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