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The attraction that lures over 1 million visitors a year: That Leaning Tower that’s among a grouping of other 12th century architectural triumphs–Cathedral, Baptistery, and Camposanto cemetery—all splendidly set on the Campo dei Miracoli, a square of shimmering green grass.
Wander away from the tourist crowds to Pisa’s tranquil historic center, to admire awe inspiring Gothic churches, such as the miniature Santa Maria della Spina, Renaissance piazzas such as the dei Cavalieri, and the colorful Vettovaglie food market, called Provisions’ Square during the days of the Medici. Duck into wonderful small museums, such as the San Matteo with its grand collection of sacred art, and the Palazzo Blu for contemporary exhibitions.
Leave the schlocky souvenir stands of the Campo dei Miracoli behind and explore the historic center’s refined shopping scene around the Borgo Stretto and Corso Italia. You’ll find handmade leather goods at Max il Cuoiaio, high fashion for high prices at Armani or DEI, and get a kick out of the old fashioned Scarlatti shop, that sells pipes and perfumes.
Via Buonarotti and Via San Martino are where you’ll find outdoor markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays, where clothes and accessories can be bought on the cheap, especially if you hone your bargaining skills.
For unique souvenirs, Pisa is home to one of Italy’s best outdoor antique markets, that takes over vias in the historic center every 2nd weekend of the month, radiating out from Piazza Cavalieri, with beautiful displays of vintage linens, ceramics, and handicrafts.
Pisa’s menus showcase such culinary treasures as white truffles, fresh caught seafood, and wild boar. Though preparations are elegant, there’s a folksy vibe to the dining scene, whether you’re surrounded by outstanding wine collections at the high end Osteria Cavalieri or Il Campano, or mangia-ing excellent homemade pasta at Spaghetterie Le Bandierine or Osteria dei Mille. Follow the locals to Il Crudo and Vineria di Piazza, for casual budget lunches featuring top quality ingredients.
Taste the sweets of Pisa at Salza pasticerria, where you can linger in a 19th century salon and enjoy pignole (pine nut) cookies or Torta Coi Bischeri, Pisa’s signature cream-filled cake. Foraward winning chocolate, De Bondt is definitely worth a visit. And when you get that hankering for gelato, head to Piazza Garibaldi’s La Bottega del Gelato or De’ Coltelli.
On weeknights when university is in session, (especially Thursdays), you can blend in with the student bar scene around the Ponte di Mezzo, where fun spills out to the banks of the Arno, in venues as varied as the sophisticated Amaltea American Bar, the Cuban bar La Bodeguita, and Bazeel for cocktails, beer, and live music. For locally produced organic beer and delicious snacks, head to Orzo Bruno, or for lively pubs on the less touristy side of the Arno, the San Martino quarteris loaded with spots for cheap drinks and food.
If you’re seeking a more tranquil evening, Pisa has beautiful wine bars, including Il Colonnino, that offers a choice of 450 varieties in a Renaissance setting, theOp Art Café,that hosts art exhibitions, andRistorante Enoteca La Cressidra, which features a dopocena (after dinner) menu of sweet wines and deserts, served in their secluded garden.
Immerse yourself in Pisa’s history with a stay in one of the many old family homes that have been converted to hotels. Best for luxury are Relais dell’Orologio, a fabulously renovated 14th century tower or Relais di Fiori, an elegant B&B. Three star favorites are the Royal Victoria, a sprawling 19th century palazzo on the Arno, Hotel Francesco, a welcoming spot steps away from the tower, and Hotel Alessandro della Spina, in a quiet neighborhood near the train station. The 5 Roses B&B is a top choice in the budget category, or for families, the Behind the Tower apartment is an excellent option.
Stone bridges and paths along the Arno are lovely for a sunset stroll or romantic evenings when glowing medieval buildings create a fairy tale atmosphere–such as the Palazzo Agostino, with its famous historic Caffe Dell’Ussero. By day, wander through riverside parks, including the Giardino di Scotto, a beautifully landscaped public garden, or further outside the city center join joggers, dog walkers, and birdwatchers along the tree-lined paths of Le Piagge, where there’s a playground and you can relax at the Bar Salvini amidst peaceful views. Alternatively, tucked inside the historic center is the Orto Botanico, the oldest botanical garden in Europe, which features species from the around the world.
Head to seaside San Rossore Park where you can hike, enjoy bird watching, boating, biking and horseback riding. Or for ultimate relaxation, go to the San Giuliano Thermal Springs, to soak in the baths as the Romans did.
Foodies will enjoy a drive east to the medieval hilltop town of San Miniato, home to prized white truffles. Even if it’s not November truffle season, have lunch at one of its many great restaurants, such as Pepenero.
Indie rock bands are featured at bars such as Caracol, Borderline and the most popular Millibar, which also offers karaoke nights and DJs spinning dance music. For opera and classical concerts, the Teatro Verdi is a 19th century architectural gem, offering an excellent year round repertoire of events. Pisa also hosts the world famous Anima Mundi Sacred Music Festival every autumn, or for other delightful outdoor concerts, there’s Metarock festival in September and lots of alfresco musical events in June, during the celebration of Pisa’s patron, Saint Ranieri.
Restaurants surrounding the Campo dei Miracoli that offer dreadful tourist menus. It’s well worth it to walk just a little further into the historic center and join the locals in Pisa’s