Is it Worth Visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
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The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most well-known landmarks in Italy. It is also extremely popular among tourists. The tower is actually just a bell tower adjacent to the gorgeous Pisa Cathedral, which is a part of the larger Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). Despite its popularity, does Pisa deserve to be included in your limited time in Tuscany? Here, we outline 5 reasons not to go and 3 reasons to make the journey to Pisa.
5 reasons not to see the Leaning tower of pisa
1. It is overly-commercialized
So you get off the train and start walking to the tower. Just a few minutes into your walk it will start: dozens of street vendors trying to sell you cheap souvenirs, knock-offs, selfie-sticks and sunglasses. You will likely have to walk down some narrow streets made even narrower by the many stalls. There is no way to get around it; they know you are a tourist. You will have to say "no thank you" multiple times before even getting to the tower. While this definitely is not a deal-breaker, it does take away from the experience of visiting a famous historical monument.
2. You will spend more time getting there than you will at the monument
Most people come to Pisa by train coming from Florence. The train ride is fairly short at just an hour each way. However, the actual time you will spend at the monument will probably be about an hour at most. You snap a few quick photos, maybe climb up the tower and go inside the cathedral and then leave. In total, you will likely spend 3 hours total of transport time (2 hours on the train and an extra hour for getting to and from the train station in Pisa and Florence). You will not be spending 3 hours staring at the tower.
3. There is Nothing else to see in Pisa
"So what if I only spend an hour at the tower, there must be other things to see and do in Pisa" –– wrong. Okay, well you can see the Arno River and go to the University of Pisa, but there are so many more beautiful rivers in Tuscany and so many more spectacular Italian university buildings. There is nothing else in Pisa that people travel to the city to see. Even the Cathedral of Pisa, while beautiful, is not the most stunning Cathedral in Italy.
4. The Crowds
It should not come to a surprise, but if you go, you will not be alone. You might not be prepared for how many people will be there. Since there is very little to do in Pisa, all of the tourists will be in the same square. It is a mess of people all trying to get the same picture. Hundreds of people will be lined up along the walkways holding out their hands pretending to be holding up the tower. There will be a very hundred more bent down yelling at the posers to shift right and left and then right again. Entrance to the cathedral is free, but you have to wait in quite a long line to get in.
5. Mediocre Food
Pisa is known for lacking in quality food choices. You will find some sub-par Chinese restuarants and the infamous McDonalds. While there are some Italian restaurants to stop in for lunch or dinner, they are not the quality that you expect or as authentic as top restaurants in the larger cities or even those found in smaller villages. Italy is known for its amazing food, better not waste one of your meals on cafes and restaurants whose main goal is to make money of unknowing international visitors.
3 reasons to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa
1. Piazza dei Miracoli is breathtaking
After getting through the mess of street vendors, once you see the Square of Miracles and the astounding Duomo you will be dumbstruck. While most people come for the leaning tower, once you get there, the cathedral is what really steals the show. The tower is just one component of a 3-part complex of buildings. Climbing up the tower gives you a pretty impressive view of the cathedral from above and the Arno river in the distance.
2. It is an Architectural marvel
Built beginning in the 12th century with inadequate foundation, it is quite surprising that it has held up for so long. There were a few other similar towers constructed around the same time that collapsed from their own weight. After the recent restoration, the tower's tilt went from leaning at a 5.5º angle to a 3.99º angle now. I was half expecting not to even notice the lean in person, but you definitely can.
3. To take the famous photo holding it up
Sure, this is not a genuine reason to go. Still, you will catch nearly everyone who does visit doing it. In the age of Instagram, people travel to even crazier destinations just to snap a picture. There are also many creative twists to be had with forced perspective: kicking the tower down, poking it, hugging it, raising it up, or high-fiving other people with their hand out.
Ultimately, if we were to re-live our Italian honeymoon, we would skip Pisa. It only took half a day out of our itinerary, but that time could have been spent elsewhere. So what should you do instead while in Tuscany? Visit a more scenic Tuscan village like Siena or Lucca. Spend more time in Florence. Visit the many wineries or get lost driving through the hills.