Pisa was both the third Italian city we visited on our honeymoon, after Turin and Genoa. Our day trip to Pisa also took us into our third Italian region and right into central Italy. After spending the last week or so visiting smaller town or relaxing in our hotel with a massage it was nice to visit another city.
Among travel writers and bloggers Pisa gets a bit of a bad deal. It’s often depicted as a place where you get a flight to or from on your way to other destinations. So many people dismiss it because of the popularity of the town’s famous tower.
A day trip to Pisa
Taking a day trip to Pisa wasn’t actually on our to do list when we go to Rapallo. Initially we were going to take a whale watching trip from Genoa out to a marine reserve off the coast. Unfortunately, we missed the final date for the year, the last day of October, so we had an extra day to play with. I took a quick look at a map on my iPad and saw that very close to us was the city of Pisa. A quick look at the Trenitalia website showed Pisa was just over two hours away. So we decided to take a day trip, see the tower and explore another part of Italy.
The train felt like stepping back in time, the rolling stock seems pretty old in design and each carriage is split into individual compartments with a corridor. It was just another little thing which contributed to making us feel like we had stepped back in time. The train from Rapallo to Pisa Central Station takes around two and a half hours and takes you through some quite beautiful coastal countryside.
The city on the sea
Pisa sits between a coastal national park on one side and low rising mountains on the other. The city itself is pretty flat and if the tower was a little taller you’d see it from pretty much anywhere in the town. Just like Genoa where we were a week or so before, Pisa built its wealth as one of Italy’s maritime republics.
Pisa city center is reasonably sized and you can walk around most of it without needing to use a bus. The tower is just a short 20 minute walk from the station through Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II and along Corso Italia before crossing the river and heading to the Piazza del Duomo.
As we had a couple of hours of train journey each side we decided to walk straight up to the Piazza to see the tower. Pisa feels very historic and you can see it has no doubt been wealthy in the past, producing gorgeously beautiful churches, buildings and covered market places.
Corso Italia is the main shopping street which has all the international chain stores you could want as well as lots of smaller and unique Italian and local shops. As shopping streets go, it is a very nice one. I really liked the style of the buildings and the gorgeous yellowy colour of them.
At the top of Corso Italia you come to Piazza 20th September on the bank of the River Arno. Here we found a really lovely covered craft market. I didn’t get any pictures as I was saving my phone battery to get lots of pictures at the tower and to be our city map.
Across the River Arno is Piazza del Pozzetto where we stopped for a beer later in the day. Walk on for another 10 minutes or so and you get to Piazza del Duomo.
Piazza del Duomo
I didn’t have any expectations when it came to the tower. I didn’t know that it is situated as part of a larger Piazza, or that the tower was built as a bell tower for Pisa cathedral, which along with the tower and baptistry form a UNESCO world heritage site. The whole area is a wide beautiful space with gorgeous architecture and pristine grass areas. The piazza is contained in gorgeous walls on three sides.
To enter any of the buildings you’ll need to buy a ticket combining any or all of the three sites. You have to book in for a ‘slot’ to walk up the tower as it is pretty popular. Before heading up the tower went into the Baptistry which was gorgeous.
The tower is a bit of a strange one when you’re walking up it. As you walk around the spiral staircase at times you feel you are walking up hill whilst at other times you feel you’re walking on a flat surface. Anyway the view from the top is well worth it!
A little bit of history about the tower
If like the vast majority of visitors to Pisa you visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Piazza del Duomo then you will get a bit of history about the famous landmark from your guide up the tower. The leaning tower wasn’t designed to lean like it does, but once construction reached a certain point architects and builders noticed that the tower was (very, very gradually) moving and starting to lean.
The town was built over a period of almost 200 years. It started in 1173 and within five years the lower levels which were under construction started to sink and lean. The sinking comes from foundations which are far too shallow for the weight of the building combined with soft soil. Essentially one of Italy’s most famous tourist attractions was a failed design from day one.
Over the years various stages of construction progressed and engineers and architects tried to correct for the lean and solve the tilt of the building. Unfortunately back in the 1990’s the tower was (again) in danger of falling over and needed to be closed for just over a decade before finally reopening in 2001, hopefully ‘fixed’ with a slightly smaller lean and more stability. One small thing I was able to say to our guide was that the lead engineer on the project to straighten it was an old family friend.
After the tower we also visited Pisa cathedral itself which is as ornate inside as it is architecturally on the outside.
After visiting the Piazza del Duomo we were suitably famished, so a stop for some more brill Italian food was just what the doctor ordered.
After lunch we went for a walk around the city, exploring the gorgeous architecture and the various Piazza of the city. We finished off with a beer by the Arno as the sunset before heading back to Rapallo on the train.
Amici Miei, Rapallo
A little sleepy, we finished off the day with another great meal back in Rapallo at Amici Miei. Of all the restaurants we ate at I think Amici Miei best encapsulated that feeling of having stepped back in time. Whilst other restaurants like Hosteria Vecchia are in older buildings, Amici Miei feels like you’re in the 1950’s. There are pictures on all the walls with movie stars who have visited Rapallo in the past. The restaurant has a real feel of being back in time.
Amici Miei Rapallo serves traditional food from the Genoa region and features more of the region’s fantastic fish and seafood in carefully and classically prepared dishes as well great local, regional and Italian wines.
We began with some great starters, a salmon tartare for Hana.
And these fried balls for me.
We both went for a risotto for the main course, you can see it in all it’s gorgeous yellow glory below.
I finished the meal and the day off with a little dessert, after all I’d climed to the top of the leaning tower, that must have burned a calorie or two off, right?
If you are close to Pisa on your next Italian holiday I really recommend a day trip to Pisa. You can see most of the sights in a day and you won’t come away feeling like you missed out on a lot as it is a relatively small city. If you have a few days I’m sure there is a lot more to explore which we didn’t see.
Getting to Pisa
We took the train from Rapallo to Pisa with Trenitalia. There are several trains a day but do plan both your day out in Pisa and your journey there and back as you get the best deals by buying reserved seating on a specific train journey. Journey times vary between one and three quarter hours and two and a half hours, depending on whether you need to change part way. Prices ranged from €17 to €24 euros per person.
If you’re travelling from outside Italy, Pisa has an international airport with regular flights across Europe.