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The surprising Italian destination you can actually afford to visit


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Italy travel guide: How to spend 48 hours in Pisa. Photo / Getty Images

There’s far more to do in Pisa than its leaning tower, and with cheaper prices than alternative Italian cities, it’s a good destination for your pocket too, writes Kate Wickers

Most visitors don’t stick around in Pisa but rather tick off its famous Torre Pendente (leaning tower) then move swiftly on to elsewhere in Tuscany. However, this historical city is worthy of a linger, and far cheaper an option than the likes of Lucca or Florence. Best of all, once the day-trippers have departed, you’ll have the city to yourself, and a vast choice of bars, cafes, and restaurants to choose from, all thriving thanks to Pisa’s large university, and offering authentic food at excellent value (no grazie to soggy bottomed pizza costing €20 here!).



Begin with a walk along the banks of the river Arno to the waterside triple-tiered church of Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina, a gothic gem with towering spires and statues. To breakfast like an Italian, cross the Ponte di Mezzo bridge to Borgo Stretto and one of the many cafes found under ancient porticoes (covered walkways). A pastry with a marmalada filling and espresso will cost just €6 at Caffeteria Cellini. From here, my advice is to tuck away your map and get happily lost among the washing-strung, ochre-hued lanes of Pisa’s oldest quarters (and remember to look up so as not to miss the architectural details and pretty balconies). You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to low-key museums to mooch around (most found in historical buildings). On the riverfront, pop into Palazzo Blu – a pale blue 14th-century building housing Pisan art from the 14th to 20th centuries (it’s only €6 for admission) – or the intriguing Gipsoteca di Arte Antica, with its collection of late 19th-century plaster casts, kept in the former church of San Paolo all ‘Orto (admission is free).

Pisa’s Arno River with Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina. Photo / Getty Images


Book a traditional Pisan cookery class, enjoyed in a local’s home, and learn how to cook nonna-style Tuscan recipes such as Cecina, a chickpea flatbread, or opt for a food and wine tour. Think focaccia, artisanal charcuterie, and cheese of northern Italy, washed down with Chianti. Pisa’s leaning tower is one of Italy’s most arresting sights, located, along with the magnificent candy-striped duomo and baptistery, in the stunning Piazza dei Miracoli. Save your visit to the tower until late afternoon/early evening (in spring months it is open until 8pm; from mid-June to the end of August until 10pm; so the best advice is to pre-book at ticket in the evening, once the tour buses have departed). To dodge the crowds once more, save the cathedral and baptistery until early next morning.

Pisa’s leaning tower is one of Italy’s most arresting sights. Photo / Daryan Shamkhali on Unsplash
Pisa’s leaning tower is one of Italy’s most arresting sights. Photo / Daryan Shamkhali on Unsplash


A stalwart on Pisa’s dining scene since the 80s is Ristorante La Buca. Standout dishes here include creamy burrata with anchovies, paccheri (large tubular pasta) with a seafood ragu, and not to be missed is their signature pistachio souffle (a three-course meal with wine costs around €30 per person).



Most of Pisa’s accommodation is on the old-fashioned side, so it’s worth a little splurge to stay at Palazzo Cini, an award-winning boutique hotel (if this were in Florence, it would be double the price). Begin the day with breakfast in their pretty flower-filled garden, then head straight to the Duomo (although admission is free you still need a ticket and it’s best to pre-book). The oldest parts date back to 1064, but the main façade was completed in the 13th century. Not to be missed is the wooden ceiling embellished with 24-carat gold, and the 14th century octagonal pulpit sculpted from Carrara marble. Then, head to the beautiful round baptistery next door, and the Camposanto, an atmospheric cemetery within a cloistered quadrangle. For a student-style cheap lunch, pick up a slice of takeaway pizza from Pizzeria Rosemary, then lounge on the central grassy area of Piazza dei Miracoli with views to the leaning tower – by now the marble will be positively aglow in the midday sun.

The oldest parts of Pisa's Duomo date back to 1064. Photo / Getty Images
The oldest parts of Pisa’s Duomo date back to 1064. Photo / Getty Images


Far from the madding crowds, enjoy a stroll through the Orto e Museo Botanico – an oasis of a walled garden filled with palms, ponds and antique greenhouses, home to Europe’s oldest University botanical collection, dating from 1543. Another hidden gem is Pisa’s Centro Arte Moderna, dedicated to mainly Tuscan contemporary art and photography from the second half of the 20th century to the present day (don’t miss the work of artists, Franco Banti, and Mario Meucci).


Walk the recently restored city walls at sunset for dreamy light over the Leaning Tower and Piazza dei Miracoli. These medieval walls were constructed in the 12th century and have recently undergone restoration. Access them via the staircase in Torre Santa Maria (a round tower located behind the baptistery). From the entrance, guided tours cost just €2 but need to be pre-booked, or you can go it alone. Stop for a Campari soda (which comes with gratis garlic bread) at cosy I’Antica Bottega, then take a stroll to Piazza dei Cavalieri, lined with impressive buildings such as the striking Palazzo dei Cavalieri, Pisa University’s most prestigious property, beautifully floodlit by night.

The town of Pisa, Italy at sunset. Photo / Johan Mouchet on Unsplash
The town of Pisa, Italy at sunset. Photo / Johan Mouchet on Unsplash


Double rooms at Palazzo Cini, an Art Noveau villa with garden (located a 20-minute stroll to Piazza dei Miracoli), start at NZ$320. palazzocinilux.com




Fly from Auckland to Rome with Emirates, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines with one stopover. Drive time from Rome to Pisa is approx. 4 hours, or 2 hours, 40 minutes by train.



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