Why Pisa Is The Best Starting Point for Your Tuscan Trip
Everything I knew about Pisa before arriving is that it’s a city with some of the most unoriginal tourists in the world. Yet all the articles I’ve read about it were mainly titled: So Much More Then Just The Leaning Tower. And indeed it was. But firstly, let’s see why choose Pisa at all.
The city has its own international airport (also known as Galileo Galilei Airport). It is the principal airport in Tuscany and in terms of passenger traffic much more dynamic than the one in Florence. All major European low-cost airlines use the airport. For a detailed list of airlines check the airport’s official webpage. Probably the biggest advantage of the airport is that the city is just across the street. That’s right, unlike all other major airports, at this one you don’t need to take a shuttle bus to reach the city center. The railway station is on a 15-minute-walk and the Leaning Tower on a 30 minutes. Of course, there is a bus service named LAM rossa (red line) and it will take you downtown and to the main city attraction.
Nearby Destinations Easibly Reachable
Throughout history Pisa’s geographical position made it a super power in these territories. Today, it’s a city with aproximately 100,000 inhabitants and a hub for all modes of transportation. The Galileo Galilei Airport, being one of the most imporant in Italy, has connections to all major destinations in the country and abroad.
The main train station, Pisa Centrale, has everyday trains to Florence, Rome, Genoa (through Cinque Terre) and other cities and local municipalities. The train service in Italy is high quality. The vast majority of trains are on time, clean and comfortable. Here’s a tip: if you are buying a train ticket for a destination within the region of Tuscany (this stands for other Italian regions as well), you don’t need to stay in the line at the counters, but instead go to the kiosks located within the train stations and buy your ticket there. Here’s a must: all tickets need to be validated before entering the train or you risk to pay a fine up to 60€. The validators are white-green and are located within the station hall or at the platforms.
Bus services tend to be cheaper than the trains, although it does depend on the destination. If you choose buses to get out of Pisa, head to the airport, since regional buses mostly leave from there (see map bellow). Buy your ticket at the company’s kiosks located alongside the bus lanes. If you are travelling by car (there is a car rental located at the airport as well), Pisa is attached to the Florence-Livorno highway which runs through the heart of Tuscany and has other regional and local roads connected to it.
Cheaper and more tranquil than Florence.
It’s understandable why most tourists opt for Florence as their residing place. However, if you decide to locate yourself in Pisa, you will immediately see the benefits of it. Hotels, hostels and BnB’s are much affordable here. The main and probably only tourist traps are near the Campo dei Miracoli, where the Leaning Tower stands. This means that for finding good but reasonably priced places to eat or go out you don’t need to leave the city center.
Most of the tourists invade the streets of Pisa during daylight, as the city is widely known as a one-day-destination. This doesn’t mean that later in the evening or at night the streets become deserted. On the contrary. The University of Pisa has tens of thousands of students and you will start to notice them when the sun heads west.
One detail is particulary interesting, as my host pointed it out to me. The town is divided by the Arno river (the same that passes through Florence) and, clearly, so is the city’s population during night. While the southern part of the city is less crowded, the moment you cross the Ponte di Mezzo bridge, you will see nothing but young people strolling the streets and occupying endless bars and restaurants. So yes, if you are searching for hearing more Italian and meeting local people, find yourself a stay in Pisa.
And if it’s not about the Leaning Tower, what is Pisa really about? The first impression when going out of the airport or the train station is a feeling of proximity of the sea. In fact, Pisa was a big naval force for many years, although the city itself is not located on the coastline. If you are looking for a nearby beach, go to Torre del Lago Puccini, less than half an hour away. The Marina di Vecchiano beach is four kilometers long and it’s mostly non-commercialized. It is accessible by train and car.
As for the city, it has an urban touch, but it’s not traffic congested. Actually, it lacks all the significant tourist metropolis problems. The most imporant matter for you as a tourist is that you feel safe. And you will. You can walk peacefully around the city day and night. The only spot where you should be aware of your belongings is near the Leaning Tower, but pickpocketers are not common in other areas. Therefore, take advantage of these factors. Pace the streets calmly, order an espresso in a bar while talking with the barista about calcio. Get lost in the side alleys and be found on the major cobblestone piazzas. Mingle with the locals and you will be surprised of how many hiddden gems you will discover. Oh, and don’t forget to laugh and smile.