It seems crazy to come to this beautiful region of Italy and only have such a short time here, but if that’s your reality like it was ours…then these are things to do with your time.
You cannot come to the Tuscan region and miss out on visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles, also known as the Square of Miracles – Piazza dei Miracoli). We recommend getting there early though as the crowds really pick up throughout the day.
Opening times vary throughout the year and they are worth checking out before you arrive. We came to Pisa on an organised bus tour, which got us there nice and early. Mind you, even if you are there at the start of the day you won’t be alone! Take plenty of sunscreen and hats as it is a very open area with limited shade.
If you come from the bus parking area it will be a shortish walk to the main attraction. Along the way you will pass a large variety of market style stalls selling all kinds of trinkets and memorabilia.
The Tower of Pisa is located in a large open square, the Piazza dei Miracoli. The square is bordered by eateries, coffee houses, and more stalls selling keepsakes of your visit. The coffee is excellent, as is to be expected in Italy, so if you are venturing out early then treat yourself to a coffee as you walk around the square.
Whilst the key architectural marvel in the square is the tower itself, there are a number of other architectural elements of major significance that are also worth seeing. Il Duomo (the dome) is the Pisan cathedral and, whilst not the main attraction, its beauty pushes it to centre stage in the square itself.
Il Duomo is the largest part of this amazing historical site and its architecture and beauty are quite breathtaking. Inside you are transported to another time by the vast array of incredible Italian masters’ paintings and works of art on display.
The third major architectural element in the plaza is the baptistry. Its design is representative of a Roman era crown. It stands out in the amazing landscape of heritage buildings because of its red domed roof and its striking columns and arches.
If you are in Pisa for a reasonable period of time and need the use of the local conveniences, then you will need to go into an eatery or coffee house and buy something in order to use their facilities. This was the only downside of our very enjoyable visit.
Our organised bus tour that brought us to Pisa also took us to the other ‘must see’ location in Tuscany…. Florence . We found this the best use of our very limited time in the region. You may however prefer to split these two tours over two days if you have more time.
Even though we arrived by tour bus to the beautiful river city of Florence, we elected to take a guided walking tour of the centre of the city and the Galleria dell’Accademia, which houses Michelangelo’s David.
We started the walking tour in the Piazza de Santa Croce which is home to the stunningly beautiful Basilica di Santa Croce. A tour through the basilica is like walking through the pages of the Italian Who’s Who. Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Rossini are all buried in the basilica and you can visit the burial sites that are clearly marked with statues and plaques. The basilica is also home to a Dante memorial, which is not to be missed.
From the Piazza di Santa Croce we wandered through the centre of Florence visiting the Piazza della Repubblica, and the Piazza della Signoria. Walking from the Piazza della Signoria we passed the historic Ponte Vecchio (be warned this is not as visually amazing as all the movie hype may have had you believe – but just revel in the magnitude of its historical significance).
After leaving the Ponte Vecchio we walked to the Piazza del Duomo, which is home to Florence’s cathedral. The cathedral known as Il Duomo (not to be confused with the one in Pisa) is truly spectacular. It really has to be seen to be believed. Do not miss this on any tour of Florence!
After the majority of the walking aspect of the tour was completed we had a traditional Florentine lunch at a local restaurant consisting of pasta, bread, local beer and local desserts. Whilst the food was fine, the restaurant itself was almost over run with our tour and other tour groups.
If we did this again, we would opt for a tour that provided time to find your own lunch options rather than a scheduled, group lunch. This would also be an important choice if you were travelling with people with allergies or fussy eaters as the menu was set and did not allow any choice at all.
Following the lunch we walked to the Galleria dell’Accademia. Coming here was the main reason we decided to go on a guided tour. As a part of the tour we had tickets that allowed the group to skip the line and enter through a designated tour entrance.
Whilst we still had to line up for a short while, hats and sunscreen really came in handy here as it was blisteringly hot, we got in much faster than the general admission people queuing for hours at the other entrance.
Once inside we had time to wander through the museum and peruse the incredible works of art in our own time. That was welcome at this stage after standing in groups and listening to the tour guide for the majority of the day.
The entire museum is just breathtaking but the David was the jewel in the crown. If you see nothing else when in Tuscany, please see this.