A group of skilled engineers were tasked with bringing the Leaning Tower of Pisa back from the brink in the early 1990s. The highest slope the structure could withstand before collapsing in a white marble explosion was 5.44 degrees, according to computer simulations. Before work began, the temperature was 5.5 degrees. Everybody has been perplexed and duped by this tower's perilous trajectory throughout the ages, its seeming willingness to slope southward millimeter by millimeter over the course of nearly a millennium of life. Was the incline intentional? Why has it not been fixed? How in the world does that stay upright?
However, in more recent times, it's possible that people's interest in these questions has been replaced by the iconic photos that everyone and their mother snaps when they first see the most recognizable tower in Italy. You'll recognize them as holding it up, pushing against it, pointing at its summit, amusing viewpoints, and quite a few naughty variations that make the most of the tower's likeness to...well, we don't need to go into detail about that right now.
However, those engineers had finally found a solution to stop the decreasing trend thanks to technical improvements. The tower began to sway back, disconnect itself, and eventually settle in the soil at a far more stable 4 degree slant as a result of their careful removal of soil from the northern end and a system of lead weights and supports. But why stop there? After all, who would really care about another straight tower in Italy? It was much more crucial to preserve the mistake made in the 12th century than to make it right.
Everyone is aware of the tower and has seen those pictures, but the truth is that many visitors are unimpressed. And it's possibly because Campo dei Miracoli has become somewhat of an outdoor theme park due to its fame and photo opportunities that have somewhat prematurely preceded it. It's not our intention to stifle celebrations or prevent tourists from capturing pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It's more important to ensure that you're well-prepared to make the most of your time at one of Italy's most famous attractions and avoid missing out on some of its most fascinating, undervalued features.
Following our own experience from the previous summer, we have also provided you with all the necessary information to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, whether as a day trip or during a longer stay in the Tuscan city. This advice includes details on the confusing ticketing process, transportation options, and the reasons you should go inside.
HOW TO VISIT THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA
In Italy, there are additional leaning towers. In Europe, there are other towers that slant at an even sharper angle. However, they do not get the five million visitors they should. Perhaps Pisa's prominence as the most popular tourist destination among the towers is due to its position in Italy, which is near the Renaissance wonders of Florence, the walled city of Lucca, the Cinque Terre, and grape retreats in the Tuscan hills.
Once you get over the lean, it's the delicate marble pillars, the complex patterning, and the ambition of the mesmerizing six external arcades. However, we also believe an underrated reason is because of that graceful elegance which so charmed a young American GI. In fact, there is a case to be made that the attention being paid to the flaw actually hides something incredibly beautiful in terms of architecture and aesthetics. But many visitors spend the majority of their time with their backs to the tower—and this is not an exaggeration—because it's common to take specific kinds of shots.
As we previously noted, many visitors to Pisa are noticeably unimpressed. They have that amusing photo for Facebook or Instagram, but the whole point of visiting the city was embodied in a single squint landmark that can be observed, captured on camera, and left in less than five minutes. Some traveler communities actually advocate against visiting Pisa since it will be a waste of time.
Actually, neither of us had high hopes for our day excursion to Pisa; rather, we just felt like it was something we had to do rather than something we were looking forward to. But even before we got to the treasures that were just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the tower itself, craning our necks and entering it left a striking impression on us. This information will help you prepare for your personal trip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
TRAVELLING TO PISA
Pisa is reachable by car rental, train, and airplane. Its international airport, which Google Maps also refers to as Galileo Galilei Airport, is located 10 minutes by train from Pisa Centrale train station. If choosing this route, it makes sense to stay in Pisa for at least one night. The ideal way is to take one of the frequent, reasonably priced rail services to Pisa Centrale and then walk about 25 minutes (2 km) across the Arno river to Piazza del Duomo and the tower. Pisa is also a simple day excursion from other parts of northern Italy.
Just outside the station, you can board the LAM Rossa bus if you have mobility concerns. Get out at the 'Torre' stop by Piazza dei Miracoli, making sure it is headed toward Park Pietrasantina and not Ospedale Cisanello. The cost of the ticket is €1.70 if purchased at the machines before to boarding, however it is €2 if purchased on board (it is recommended to purchase the ticket in advance to avoid time and hassle, and always remember to validate the ticket in the tiny machine on board). Within Pisa Centrale, there is also a paid luggage storage area.
For another option, walk the short distance of one kilometer (15 minutes) to Pisa San Rossore station, which is much smaller, calmer, and less frequented. All services will stop here. We didn't go to this station, but if you read the comments on its Google Maps profile, you'll see that it has a reputation for being a hotspot of successful pickpocket attempts on visitors. Pickpocketing is a quite widespread issue in Pisa as a whole, and we have additional details on that in the last part. The most well-liked day excursion routes to Pisa Centrale typically take the following amounts of time and money:
Florence | 50 - 80 minutes, €8.70 - €9.90 per person one-way
There are two or three departures every hour from Florence Santa Maria Novella station, with some services a little quicker than others. Make sure you don’t jump on a 2+ hour service by mistake though!
Lucca | 30 - 40 minutes, €3.60
The option we took, as we were based in Lucca for a week and it made sense to hop on the train for a day wandering around Pisa. Two to three departures every hour from the station outside the city walls.
Bologna | 2 hours, €30+
Home to its own famous leaning tower, as well as the home of ragu, we adore Bologna and hope to spend longer in the city. It’s not the ideal departure point for a Pisa day trip and usually requires a connection in Florence; if you do it, make double sure you go on the quick service, not the 4+ hour one!
Cinque Terre (inc. La Spezia) | 50 - 90 minutes, €7.90 - €9.90 /
The Cinque Terre is simply too expensive to use as a base for future excursions of northern Italy; instead, you should make the most of the time you are paying for lodging there by exploring the five picturesque villages and the hiking trails. We do recognize, though, that for some of you, it might end up being the most logical logistical choice. Visit Italiarail and Trenitalia to see the schedules and purchase train tickets.
GOING INSIDE THE TOWER OF PISA
Despite having climbed the spiral staircases of numerous Italian towers, we were unprepared for the peculiar feeling that overcame us as soon as we stepped upon the marble steps. Disoriented, inebriated on punch, and a little sick from the heady combination of fairground rides and too many glasses of wine, we had to watch our feet climb the 273 stairs to the eighth story while leaning against the wall for support. There are 273 steps that tourists have followed in Pisa for almost 800 years, creating an enduring mark on the polished marble (which by the way, makes them super slippy, so be careful).
The most amazing views over the Campo dei Miracoli, the city (all orange roofs atop pink buildings), and the Tuscan countryside beyond will meet you as you ascend to the top and—hopefully—under blue skies. Although there is safety fence around the tower for obvious reasons, you can pop a camera out and over it to get a 360-degree view. Oh, and make sure to glance up at the tower's seven imposing bells. Interesting fact: In the 1950s, the bells were locked and muffled because the owners feared their ringing would only heighten the danger of an accident!
For one last visual reminder of the illustrious past of these eight storeys that would not be straightened out, look upward from the center of the tower into the sky before leaving within your 30-minute window, which flies by very quickly.
Going up the tower is not advised for anybody with mobility concerns, heart conditions, or difficulty with heights due to the steps and cramped spaces. Bags and backpacks are not permitted within the tower, although they may be left safely and without charge in the cloakroom located inside the main ticket office. The attendant will place your belongings in a closed, sequentially-numbered locker and give you the accompanying token. In case there are lines or delays, we advise that you complete this at least 15-20 minutes before your scheduled time; waiting until the last minute simply increases the likelihood that you will be turned away or only have half the time allotted for inside the tower.
You can bring your phone and camera inside. We strongly advise that you get to the queue outside the tower around 10 minutes before the start of your scheduled ticket time. There are ticket inspections, so double-check your tickets. You will be informed when to leave and ejected very aggressively so that the following group can ascend. Access is limited to 45 persons each 30 minute session (now 25 due to social distancing tactics). Children under the age of 8 are not allowed in, and those between the ages of 8 and 18 must be accompanied by an adult.