Back before ‘it’ stopped anyone and everyone from having any fun that wasn’t within the confines of your own home, I visited Italy for my birthday. Literal days before complete pandemonium broke out across the north of Italy, I travelled to Pisa.
Picking it as my birthday destination back in early December 2019 when Ryanair had one of their trusty £5 a flight sales on, Pisa was the cheapest place to go on the weekend of my birthday. Being so close to Valentine’s Day often impacts the cost of my birthday trips, but I was happy with my £25 per person return fare.
Where I Stayed?
I also found a super tiny and ultra cute bed and breakfast, just 15 minutes walk from the tilted main attraction in the city. The Leaning Tower was pretty much exactly how I expected it to be; at a jaunty angle with a number of people lining the street next to it trying to get the perfect shot of themselves holding the the tower up. What did surprise me was just how white both the tower and the surrounding cathedral both were.
As we were staying so close to the tower, I feel like it worked in our advantage because we were able to visit the tower and its surrounds as it was getting dark. There were practically no people around by the time it got completely dark and only a handful of people when we were first passing the area.
There were a few other things I came to note during my time in the city which might be useful to know, should you ever find yourself in Pisa.
Pay Attention to the Details
If you are able to, and by that I mean if the area is not restricted, try to get up close to some of the magnificent architecture in Pisa. Luckily for me, there were very few people anywhere so we were able to walk up to everything really easily and came to appreciate some of the fantastic detail on some of the biggest attractions, that you usually just don’t see.
Don’t Take The Airport Shuttle
The staff in Pisa airport are by far some of the most unhelpful people you will encounter in the city. We were looking to take a local bus from the airport to the town centre and we were told by a few different people that this was not possible. We knew it was possible – thanks to Google and even had a bus stop and a number to try and find.
We asked more than once, concerned that people did not understand what we were asking. We knew there were a number of ways to get into the city centre that were not the over-priced airport shuttle, but finding tickets or indeed drivers with change was a challenge I did not have the energy to face.
The extremely turbulent flight had also led to me vomiting twice en-route, so my birthday break was not off to the best start. Had I been in a better state, I may have been more determined to get a cheap way into the city, but I really just wanted to take a shower and relax, so on the shuttle I hopped.
Anyway, avoid the airport shuttle. Search for a bus and someone to sell you a ticket. The shuttle takes about 90 seconds and costs FIVE EUROS. It is definitely not worth it. On the way back for our home-bound flight, we actually walked to the airport from the city centre, which took about 30 minutes.
Explore Side Streets
Everywhere we went, including around the Leaning Tower, was very quiet when we visited, although probably not as quiet as it was to become in the weeks following our visit. It is a simple rule, true in any city, in regards to avoiding the tourist traps, but I feel like in Italy it is really worth your while looking for something off of the beaten track.
I found a few mini pizza bars that served Italian pastries, coffee, pizza (obviously), beer and ‘glasses’ of wine by the bottle. These places were very cheap compared to regular restaurants and I can imagine in a virus free, peak summer season they will be bustling with locals.
Take a Train to Florence
Many people stay in Florence because of the city having better international connections than petite little Pisa. However, with my cheap flight in hand and hotel already sorted, it made sense to stay in Pisa and travel to the Tuscan capital by train.
Train tickets can be booked online in advance or picked up at the machines in most train stations and cost around £15 per person for a return journey. Florence is a great city and where I chose to spend my actual birthday – so there’ll be more on that soon, in the form of tips and food!
Walk to the Airport
As I mentioned before, walking to the airport in this city is completely possible. The airport in Pisa is located in quite a residential area. For one, the airport is tiny so it isn’t like a sprawling piece of land that needs to be miles away from anything because of the noise. There were about six flights on the day we were travelling back and that was over the course of the whole day.
Obviously, walking to the airport from the city won’t be an option for everyone. However, when I am in a city I like to see most things on foot and a half hour walk from the centre of town, or about 40 minutes walk from the tower, was more than doable for us as we had no luggage to heave around.
Of course we made a bunch of stops along the way for refreshments – only to be expected, and we had great weather for early February, which made for a really pleasant walk.
Observe the People
So this ‘tip’ is a bit silly, but sure makes for some fond memories. People get into all sorts of shapes and contortions trying to get the perfect picture of them ‘holding’ the Leaning Tower up or pushing it over.
You know the pictures. Anyway, taking a picture of the people can make for a giggle or two once your trip is over – especially the people balancing on the wall nearest to the tower with various body parts waving in the air as they precariously balance for the picture.
Have you visited Pisa before? If you have, let me know your tips for the city. If not, does it sound like a city you would like to see? Let me know!