Bucket List Italy: How to Visit the Iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa
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Located in the Italian town of Pisa just an hour’s drive from Florence, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is known around the world for its gravity-defying tilt.
In fact, Italy’s iconic tower is widely considered one of the most remarkable architectural structures remaining from medieval Europe.
Yes, it’s kitschy. No, there’s not a whole lot else to see while you’re in town (though there are a few things!).
But if you’re planning a trip to Italy, this is one Bucket List attraction worthy of a spot on your itinerary.
Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit.
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History of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Construction of this freestanding bell tower in Pisa’s Cathedral Square began in 1173 and continued in three stages across nearly 200 years.
The tower’s tilt became evident almost immediately due to an inadequate foundation on one side that was unable to support the structure’s weight.
In an effort to compensate for the tilt, engineers built the upper floors with one side taller than the other resulting in a structure that is actually curved.
Where is the Leaning Tower of Pisa located?
The Italian town of Pisa is situated near the western coast of Italy in the famed region of Tuscany. Once you arrive in Pisa, you’ll find the tower located in the expansive Campo dei Miracoli (in English, the Square of Miracles).
Pisa is easy to reach from the seaport of Livorno if you’re visiting Italy by cruise ship. There are also plenty of day trips available from Florence, Rome, and other Italian cities.
Here are just a few terrific options:
The Campo dei Miracoli – Pisa’s Square of Miracles
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, Pisa’s most famous square may not be located in the center of the city but it’s without a doubt the heart of the city.
Situated on the northwestern edge of Pisa’s fortified wall, it was the only land still available within the walls when construction began in 1094. The three structures within the Piazza of the Campo dei Miracoli – the Baptistery, the Cathedral, and the Camposanto – are central to religious life.
The Baptistery represents birth, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (with its famous bell tower), life, and the Camposanto (or graveyard) is, of course, death.
Surrounding these historic structures, you’ll find an expansive green lawn perfect for relaxing and taking in the view.
How to get from Florence to Pisa
Pisa is an ideal day trip from Florence and a must if you’re visiting the region of Tuscany.
The local regional trains are a quick and easy way to get there. From Santa Maria Novella station in Florence, travel time to Pisa’s Centrale station varies depending on which train you catch.
Express trains (diretto) make fewer stops and cover the distance in just 50-60 minutes.
Long-haul trains (lunga percorrenza) make more local stops along the way and take closer to 90 minutes.
More than 40 trains per day service the route and reservations are not necessary. A one-way ticket costs EUR 8. From the train station, it’s a 20-minute walk through Pisa’s historic center to the Piazza dei Miracoli, home of the Leaning Tower.
Pisa is also an easy drive if you’re staying in the Tuscany area. The typical drive time from greater Florence is 60 – 90 minutes, depending on which side of Florence you originate.
Pisa’s historic center is surrounded by medieval walls and the area inside those walls is a limited traffic zone or “ZTL” which requires a special permit. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of free and paid parking available outside the ZTL.
Tip: For convenience, try the secure lot on Via Cammeo. It’s right behind the Leaning Tower of Pisa and costs just EUR 2 per hour.
How to get from Rome to Pisa
From Rome, a day trip to Pisa on the train is certainly possible, but it can make for a long day.
By Train – With the high-speed train, you can reach Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station from Rome’s Termini station in just 2 hours. From there, follow the directions above to continue on to Pisa.
Why not spend the night? Where to stay in Pisa:
Especially if you’re making the longer trip from Rome, why not stay over for a night in Pisa? Most lodging options in this small Italian town are small guest houses.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Rinascimento Bed & Breakfast – Located just a half-mile from the central train station and a 10-minute walk from the Leaning Tower, this traditional bed and breakfast is a favorite with visitors to Pisa. All rooms are air-conditioned and come with a private bath. And the breakfast is top-notch.
Five Roses Bed & Breakfast – Just a 5-minute walk from the train station, this popular B&B is also very convenient to the airport. It’s a little further from the Leaning Tower (a 20-minute walk) but delightful host Flavia is friendly, welcoming, and at the ready with local advice.
Pisa Train Station Guest House – If you’re traveling with the family or just looking for a little extra space, this modern, 2-bedroom apartment is a great option near the train station.
Why does the Leaning Tower of Pisa lean?
Though the tower was built between 1173 and 1372, it wasn’t until 1990 that scientists discovered why it leans.
The tower has a slanting foundation on clay soil, which made it slowly start to lean to one side. For centuries people have tried unsuccessfully to fix the leaning problem by adding weights at the top or trying other methods.
Did the Leaning Tower of Pisa fall?
No. Despite the best efforts of a viral trend on TikTok, the Leaning Tower of Pisa did not fall over. PSA: Don’t get your news from TikTok.
Can you go inside the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
From 1990-2001, engineers worked to strengthen the internal fortitude of the tower and today visitors are able to go inside and make the climb up the 294 spiral steps to the top.
Tickets are timed for entry every 30 minutes. I strongly recommend purchasing your tickets online in advance here and arriving at least 30 minutes before your scheduled time. If you miss your ticket time, you’re out of luck!
Tickets are EUR 20 per person plus a EUR 6.50 online booking fee.
Visitors must also go through a security check before climbing up. All bags, backpacks, and umbrellas must be left in the bag drop area (north side of Piazza dei Miracoli). But luckily, cameras are allowed.
It only takes most people about 10 minutes to climb to the top but the sense of imbalance along the way often causes dizziness. And fair warning, at the uppermost viewing terrace, the thrilling tilt of the low edge may cause vertigo in those who are susceptible.
How to get the best ph0to at the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Of course, the classic photo op of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is of you, trying to hold the tower up (as my husband is attempting to do here!).
But there are plenty of other great photos to be had while visiting this iconic Italian landmark.
So have some fun and get creative!
Here are three tips for getting a great photo:
1) Search for a unique perspective
Find something distinctive about your subject. With its prominent lean, the tower itself has an unusual shape. Frame your shot so that you capture as much detail as possible while still showing how odd it looks when tilted on its side.
2) Have some fun with angles
Get up close and personal by zooming in on a specific feature, like the tower’s tip or arches. Or just take a step back and capture the whole tower in one frame. It doesn’t matter if you shoot from ground level or above; either way, you’ll produce stunning images of this remarkable structure!
3) Visit early or late for the best lighting
First thing in the morning is the best time to shoot the Leaning Tower of Pisa (just another reason to spend the night in town!). In the early morning, there’s still just enough cool blue sky leftover from the night before. The sun is low on the horizon and hits the tower at just the right angle for optimal lighting. Can’t make it in the morning? Sunset is another great time for beautiful color in the sky. And the shadows will help further accentuate the tower’s leaning shape.
Other things to see and do in Pisa
Yes, there’s more to Pisa than just the Leaning Tower! Once you’ve captured the perfect shot and made the climb to the top, explore the rest of the Square of Miracles.
Designed by the architect Buscheto in 1604, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a blend of several styles and cultures. Inside, you’ll find a number of impressive works of art. Don’t miss the mosaic of St. John the Evangelist by Cimabue and the magnificent pulpit by Giovanni Pisano.
The largest Baptistery in Italy, this Pisa masterpiece was actually built before its famous leaning neighbor. It’s a splendid blend of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and full of fascinating works of art. And, like many buildings in Pisa, it even has its own (barely noticeable) tilt.
The Arno River
When you’re done exploring the wonders of the Square of Miracles, don’t miss a stroll along the famed Arno River.
Don’t miss Italy’s famous leaning landmark!
So if you’re planning a trip to Italy, be sure to plan at least an afternoon exploring Pisa’s delightful Square of Miracles.
While most visitors come for the famous photo op (I mean, you have to, right?), there’s so much more to see and do in this historic Tuscan town.
And if you’re looking for more incredible destinations in Italy…
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The Best of the Italian Riviera in 3 Days
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3 Reasons to “Make Like Napoleon” and Escape to Italy’s Elba Island
I heard that it was a place with too many tourists that took away some of its magic but i personally loved visiting the tower.
Thanks Fabiana! I agree, despite the tourists, it’s still a beautiful sight!
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