Along the Arno
Away from the crowded heavyweights of Piazza dei Miracoli, along the Arno river banks, Pisa comes into its own. Splendid palazzi, painted a multitude of hues, line the southern lungarno (riverside embankment), from where shopping boulevard Corso Italia legs it to the central train station, Stazione Pisa Centrale. Don't miss the waterside, triple-spired Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina; closed for restoration work, it's an exquisite Pisan-Gothic church encrusted with tabernacles and statues. It was built between 1230 and 1223 to house a reliquary of a spina (thorn) from Christ's crown.
Pisa's medieval heart lies north of the water: from Piazza Cairoli, with its evening bevy of bars and gelato shops, meander along Via Cavour and get lost in the surrounding lanes and alleys. A daily fresh-produce market fills Piazza delle Vettovaglie, ringed with 15th-century porticoes and cafe terraces.
How to Fall in Love with Pisa
Sure, the iconic Leaning Tower is the reason everyone wants to go to Pisa. But once you've put yourself through the Piazza dei Miracoli madness (littered lawns, football-playing school groups, photo-posing pandemonium…) most people simply want to get out of town.
To avoid leaving Pisa feeling oddly deflated by one of Europe's great landmarks, save the Leaning Tower and its oversized square for the latter part of the day – or, better still, an enchanting visit after dark (mid-June to late August/early September) when the night casts a certain magic on the glistening white monuments and the tour buses have long gone.
Upon arrival, indulge instead in peaceful meanderings along the Arno river, over its bridges and through Pisa's medieval heart. Discover the last monumental wall painting Keith Haring did before he died, enjoy low-key architectural and art genius at the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina and Palazzo Blu, and lunch with locals at Sottobosco or Osteria Bernardo.
And only once you've fallen in love with the other Pisa, should you head for the tower.
Tower & Combo Tickets
Buy tickets for the Leaning Tower from one of two well-signposted ticket offices: the main ticket office behind the tower or the smaller office inside Museo delle Sinopie. To guarantee your visit to the tower and cut the long queue in high season, buy tickets in advance online (note tickets can only be bought 20 days before visiting).
Ticket offices in Pisa also sell combination tickets covering admission to the Battistero, Camposanto and Museo delle Sinopie: buy a ticket covering one/two/three sights costing €5/7/8 (reduced €3/4/5). Admission to the cathedral is free, but you need to show a ticket valid for another Piazza dei Miracoli sight or a fixed-time free pass issued at ticket offices.