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Famed for its iconic Leaning Tower, the city of Pisa sits in Italy’s Tuscan region and is a melting pot of beautiful buildings and stunning (sometimes gravity-defying) architecture. A city of elite education, with some of Italy’s best universities calling Pisa home, education has fuelled the economy for centuries with students from around the world competing for a space. The city of Pisa itself is a vibrant mix of cafes and bars, both old and new, and isn’t overly populated with tourists, so it’s the ideal place to visit if you’re after an authentic taste of Italy.
Talking of tastes, Pisa is home to some of the country’s best traditional food and drink, and there’s plenty of opportunity to try out a trattoria or grab a gelato, as you explore this beautiful city in your holiday hire car.
Serviced by Pisa International Airport, better known as Galileo Galilei Airport, the city centre is just a six kilometre drive in your rental car from the airport to the city and takes less than 15 minutes to complete. Also nearby, is the city of Florence, a stunning city laden with windy streets and amazing architecture, and easily accessible in your hire car, should you wish to travel a little further afield on your Italian adventure.
Pisa is a compelling city, steeped in history and culture-rich, the city offers something for everyone. The beautiful Piazza dei Miracoli, or Square of Miracles, is the site of the magnificent Leaning Tower of Pisa, which can be best viewed from one of the viewing platforms on the climb up the tower; a real once in a lifetime opportunity. The Piazza is also home to a stunning cathedral, a baptistery and museum, as well as a cemetery around the square’s perimeter.
The city plays host to many year round events, which invite locals and tourists to get involved. Each June, the streets of Pisa come alive in celebration of the city’s patron saint, San Ranieri, with a multitude of events taking place city-wide during the Giugno Pisano.
For a stylish – and affordable – stay in the Tuscan city, check into the Hotel Relais Dell’Orologio, which sits in the heart of the centro storico. This 14th century palazzo is stunning throughout, with period features adorning the rooms and corridors, and an authentic, romantic, Italian restaurant in the grounds, the Hotel Relais Dell’Orologio is real value for money, and will only cost you around £42 per room per night. The hotel is in the perfect Pisan location too, and you’ll find the Leaning Tower and the Campo dei Miracoli just a short walk from your hotel.
If you’re on a shoestring budget, check into the Affittacamere Leopolda, which is a cheap and cheerful hostel-style hotel in the centre of the city. Offering great access to all of Pisa’s main attractions, the hotel has both a restaurant and a bar area, perfect for socialising with other travellers and relaxing after a day of exploring the sights in your holiday hire car. The hotel is nestled in Tuscany’s wine region, so it’s worth leaving your rental car at the hotel and booking onto a day of wine tasting in one of the many world-famous vineyards nearby.
Villa Primavera is a family-friendly hotel located amongst Pisa’s tourist hotspots, providing air-conditioned rooms and free wifi for guests, the hotel has lovely grounds to relax in after a busy day, as well as clean, comfortable and spacious rooms.
Another great place to stay in the area is the Fattoria di Migliarno, which is a family-run hotel, located a six mile drive outside of the centre of Pisa. Owned by husband and wife team, Martino and Giovanna Salviati, who have transformed this once working fattoria – or farm – into a charming inn, which welcomes guests from all over the world. Rustically furnished, with fireplaces and authentic Tuscan decor, the spacious apartments can accommodate between two to eight people. There is also a pool located in the grounds, which are framed by rolling fields and frequented by the hens that the couple keep to produce the eggs for the guests’ breakfasts each morning.
Food and drink:
For a cosy and intriguing evening of traditional Italian dining, book a table at Beny, a small single-roomed restaurant in the centre of town. The husband and wife team behind Beny, are passionate about bringing delicious Tuscan cooking into the kitchen, and this restaurant specialises in fish dishes; the fish-stuffed ravioli with a tomato-octopus sauce is a particular hit with both locals and tourists alike. Working with fresh local produce, the menu here changes seasonally, ensuring that the freshest possible flavours are utilised in each dish.
If you find yourself exploring the beautiful streets of Pisa, make sure to try out La Pergoletta. Hidden away in the old streets of the city, La Pergoletta is a small and simple restaurant which is located on a street of beautiful towers, and the restaurant itself is located inside one of the celebrated towers. An imaginative restaurant, La Pergotella is popular with local Pisans, who flock here to enjoy the creative menu, which often includes curry and ginger in its dishes. Using the best ingredients which are in season at the time, the restaurant has many specialities including a summer risotto – a red rice dish from the Carmargue, which is cooked with cow’s milk cheese, and is run by mother-daughter team, Emma Forte and Daniela Petraglio.
La Mescita, which can be found in the centre of the city, is the place to dine if you’re looking for simple, yet delicious food. With a regularly changing menu, to reflect the seasonality of its ingredients, La Mescita’s walls are adorned by the sketches, etchings and paintings of local artists. This restaurant gets pretty busy during the evenings, and it’s worth noting that it is closed on Sundays and there is no lunch option on a Tuesday, so make sure to check the website before you visit, to check that the restaurant is open.
Shopping streets and areas:
Pisa’s premier shopping spot can be found on the Corso Italia, which is a pedestrianised street of shops, which is located south of the river between the railway station and the Ponte di Mezzo. Here you will find everything from department stores to bargain shops and antique sellers; it’s worth putting a few hours of your time aside to properly take in all that these shops have to offer. It’s worth noting that there are many vendors, and ‘flying merchants’ that pitch up on the Campo dei Miracoli and target tourists with overpriced souvenirs – generally of the Leaning Tower. If there’s something that you particularly want to buy from these vendors, make sure that you haggle with them to get the best price, as more often than not, the mark up on the items is pretty high.
Further out from the Leaning Tower, you’ll find the Piazza dei Cavalieri and the Ponti di Mezzo, two areas of the city which play host to an open air market on the second weekend of the month. Here, you will find Tuscan treasures and antiques which are often in high demand – you never know what type of priceless piece you might uncover here – it’s definitely the spot for a unique souvenir to take home to friends and family. Be wary though, if the prices seem too good to be true – they usually are.
The one thing that you won’t find in Pisa, is a shopping mall; instead, there are plenty of arcades and shopping streets that house your favourite stores and local retailers. Via Buonarroti and Via San Martino are the places to go if you’re looking to pick up a designer purchase. Alternatively, head to the Borgo Stretto, which has a great variety of clothing, jewellery and crafts; there’s also a stringed instrument shop that sells violins, cellos and violas.
Attractions and destinations:
Famous the world over for its Leaning Tower, hordes of tourists flock to the city each year to bask in the architectural significance of this attraction. Built in 1173, the Leaning Tower of Pisa had started to lean as it was being built; when the building had only three of its eight storeys it had already started to lean, but over the years the building has tilted in the opposite direction. Over the following couple of centuries, architects endeavoured to correct the misalignment of the tower, but to no avail, and by 1990 the building was leaning 4.5 metres from its upright position.
Following a decade of repairs and structural reinforcement, the Leaning Tower of Pisa was reopened to the public, and today visitors can climb the 294 narrow winding steps to reach the pinnacle of the tower, its bell chamber. If you’re thinking of visiting this iconic emblem of Italy, make sure to book tickets in advance, as during tourist season, as you may expect, the site gets very crowded with tourists eager to climb the tower. Tickets for entry to the tower can be purchased prior to your visit, online.
However, there’s a lot more to see in Pisa than simply its leaning tower, which has become somewhat of an icon of Italy. Pisa’s golden age of architecture is evident on Campo dei Miracoli, which is the home of the Leaning Tower, as well as the Duomo, Baptistry and Campo Santo. These buildings were built between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries and the area can often be overrun by tourists vying to get the best spot for a snap to share with their friends on social media. If you venture away from the main square, however, you will stumble across a completely different Pisa, a less crowded, more authentic Italian experience. Head to the Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, a museum housing a fine collection of Italian art and sculpture, to truly immerse yourself in the city’s rich cultural offerings.