The Best Things To Do In Pisa Beyond Its Touristy Leaning Tower, According To Rick Steves

When you think of Pisa, Italy, it's a pretty good bet that the Leaning Tower springs to mind. The tower started leaning a few years after construction began in the 12th century, and the number of tourists who have a picture of themselves appearing to hold up the tower rivals the stars in the sky. In fact, many tourists skip Pisa or just stop by for a pic of the tower and move on. However, travel pro Rick Steves tells us on his website that there is a lot more to see in Pisa beyond what he calls the "tipsy tower."


When Steves visits, he takes some time to walk around the town and see the other sites. Even right there by the tower is the domed baptistery, which Steves says, "features acoustics so remarkable that echoes last long enough to let you sing three-part harmony — solo." Not only that, the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, right next to the tower (pictured above) is a Romanesque wedding cake of a building, and you can spend hours lounging on the grassy area there called the Field of Miracles. That's the merest taste of the rest of Pisa, and Steves has wonderful recommendations beyond that single spot. Here's what you need to know about Pisa and what lies beyond the Tower. 

Sightseeing along the banks of the Arno River

The banks of the Arno River, which also flows through Florence (around 50 miles away), is a wonderful spot that isn't very touristy. "Pisa straddles the Arno River, just six miles from the coast — when the wind blows right, you can smell the sea air," Steves says. "Long lines of elegant mansions line the riverfront at the heart of town, reminiscent of Venice's Grand Canal." On the south bank you'll find the tiny Gothic church of Santa Maria della Spina (above). It was originally built in 1230, though later renovated and moved a bit away from its original location. In 1333 it acquired a relic that is said to be a thorn (or "spina") from Jesus's crown of thorns, though it's no longer there. What you can see inside is the "Madonna of the Rose" statue by Andrea and Nino Pisano. If you want great weather for your river walk, keep in mind Steves' pick for the best time to vacation in Italy.


You'll also pass the University of Pisa, established in 1343. Steves mentions its impressive students, saying, "Pisa's university, one of Europe's oldest, was where Galileo studied the solar system and Andrea Bocelli attended law school before embarking on his musical career." Thus, Pisa is a college town and students make up half the residents, giving the place great energy. And if you want to blend in, Steves has clothing tips to help you look like a local.

An imposing cemetery, the Corso Italia, and a famous mural

On the northern side of the Field of Miracles is the Camposanto Monumentale, an enclosed cemetery said to contain soil brought there in the 12th century from Golgotha, the place Jesus was believed to have been crucified. The building has some incredible Gothic arches (above), three pretty chapels to see, and the tomb and statue of the 12th-century mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, who introduced the world to the Fibonacci Sequence.


Steves recommends visiting the Corso Italia, "Pisa's main drag, where the kids are out making the scene." It's full of fashionable shops, pedestrian areas, cafes, and restaurants. It's right by the train station, so if you're taking one in from another city like Florence (tickets start around $10), you can wander down its beauty right away. Another stop to make on the Corso Italia is the riotous and lovely "Tuttomondo" (which translates to "All the World"). The 1989 mural by the famous artist Keith Haring is on the outside of the Church of Sant'Antonio Abate, and represents peace. It's also the only thing Haring made that was supposed to be permanent. There is one caveat for the city, however: Steves says beware of pickpockets, and has expert tips to avoid them in Europe. Finally, while you should absolutely venture beyond the Leaning Tower of Pisa, there is no reason you can't take your own picture pretending to hold it up. It's all part of the charm.