To Visit or Not to Visit: Is the Leaning Tower of Pisa Worth Seeing?
Let’s face it: everyone who visits Italy really wants to see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. To be honest, I’m just not really sure what all the fuss is about. It’s just one of the hundreds of towers found throughout Italy, except this one happens to be leaning. In fact, this is not the only leaning tower in Italy! I distinctly recall seeing one in Venice and another on the island of Burano. A little research tells me that there are actually seven leaning towers in Italy, and three of them are located in Venice. So take that Pisa.
Would I incorporate Pisa into a planned itinerary?
If I am in the vicinity would I make an effort to see it?
So the obvious question is should you make the time to get to Pisa to see this famous Italian landmark, and is it worth the effort? The answer really depends on where you are coming from and how much time, energy, and money you are willing to spend to see it.
To be honest, there are plenty of other interesting sites to see across Italy, so dedicating half a day to a full day just to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa means less time spent elsewhere. On the flip side, we are all tourists at heart, and certainly, there is something about this tower that lures visitors from all over the world, so why not see it? I will tell you that I have actually been to Pisa twice to see the tower. Neither visit was really planned, but because we were close by, it was easy to get to and we figured we might as well see it.
What Is There to See Besides the Tower?
The entire tower complex is known as the Piazza die Miracoli, or the Field of Miracles. Four buildings make up the complex, including the Bell Tower (Campanile), the Cathedral of Pisa, the Baptistery, and the cloister that encloses part of the cemetery. The Cathedral of Pisa—one of Italy’s Grand Cathedrals—is a magnificent building that was started in 1063 and completed in 1092, almost 80 years before construction began on the tower. The entire complex is contained within a walled area and is very compact with everything within close proximity to each other.
If you venture outside of the complex in search of interesting sites, I’m afraid there is not a great deal to see, at least in my opinion. There is the Botanical Garden, the Piazza del Cavalieri, and a scenic path along the Arno River, but most visitors seem interested in seeing just the tower.
I've been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It's a tower, and it's leaning. You look at it, but nothing happens, so then you look for someplace to get a sandwich.— Danny DeVito
Hopefully, I haven’t swayed you out of visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is certainly one of Italy’s most popular attractions, and it draws visitors from all over the world. It’s actually a lot of fun to people watch the crowds in the complex as they try to get their photos and selfies. Like it or not, this tower is a part of Italy’s legacy, and the community of Pisa has gone to great lengths to preserve the tower and make sure that it is safe for visitors to view and climb.
Interesting Tower Facts
- Construction started in 1173 and finished in 1399.
- The tower was originally planned to be 60 meters tall.
- Its height today is 56.67 meters on the high side and 55.86 meters on the low side.
- Surprisingly, there is confusion and controversy over the number of steps to the top. Various websites range from 250 to 297, which seems like a large margin of error. According to a website I found where they actually counted the steps while filming the ascent, there are 269 steps to the top of the tower. I believe this number is correct.
- The tower has eight stories, which includes the top floor bell chamber.
- There are seven bells in the tower, one for each note on the musical major scale.
- The tower is leaning due to the soft and unstable clay soil upon which it was built, and an inadequate foundation.
- By 1178, as construction reached the third story, the tower had already begun to lean.
- A renovation project to secure the tower was completed in 2001. This project made the tower safe for visitors to climb.
- The engineers that worked on the tower renovation project believe that it is possible to totally straighten it. However, nobody really wants that to happen, especially the community of Pisa that has lived off of the six million annual visitors to the tower for a very long time.
- Prior to the restoration project, the tower was leaning at 5.5 degrees, it now leans at an angle of about 3.99 degrees.
- April to Sept: 9 am to 8 pm, except open until 10 pm mid-June through Aug.
- October: 9 am to 7 pm.
- November: 9 am to 6 pm.
- December to February: 9:45 am to 5:15 pm.
- March: 9 am to 6 pm, 7 pm the last week of the month.
- Entry to the complex and grounds is free.
- The fee to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa is 18 euro.
- Entry times are available every half-hour.
- Tickets are purchased for a specific entry time with a limited number sold.
- Tickets can be purchased ahead of time for a hefty fee of 10 euro.
- Children under 8 years old are not permitted to climb the tower.
Getting to the Leaning Tower of Pisa
If you have decided to visit Pisa, it’s actually an easy place to get to. It is accessible by train from Lucca, Florence, and Rome. The trip from Lucca is just 30 minutes, while Florence is about an hour away.
How Much Time Should You Spend in Pisa?
Expect to spend a few hours to visit the entire tower complex and to take your photos. If you are coming from Lucca or Florence you can definitely do this in half a day and be back in time to enjoy other sites. Rome, while further away, is still doable and will take approximately two and a half hours by train. Should you be arriving by car, there is plenty of parking surrounding the complex. Some of it is free and some requires a fee. If you are arriving by train at the Pisa Central Station, be aware that the tower complex is 2 kilometers away, about a 25-minute walk or a 10-euro taxi ride.
Our First Visit
I mentioned earlier that we have seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa twice. The first time we were staying in a small village called Montemagno. It’s in the hills outside of Pisa and my very first glimpse of the tower was from our B&B window using a long telephoto lens. It was great fun to spot it from about seven miles away, albeit was small and distant. We did get into Pisa on that trip and what I took from that visit was that it is definitely over-hyped, yet a lot of fun to actually see it and create funny photos doing stupid things in front of the tower. This is of course why so many people want to see it, so they can take that coveted selfie or photo struggling to right the tower before it collapses.
Our Second Visit
Our second visit to Pisa was much more recent, and this time we came from Lucca. Pisa is, in fact, a very easy day-trip from Lucca for those who want to get there, see it, and get out of there. Lucca, by the way, is absolutely beautiful and has lots of towers that are higher and just as interesting, in case you were interested. Lucca is a mere 12 miles north of Pisa and a very easy 30-minute train ride away. If your travels are taking you to Lucca, definitely consider taking a few hours to visit Pisa.
So why did we return to see the tower a second time? We were traveling with friends who had not seen it, and being so close, you can hardly ignore its drawing power. The entire complex, which is contained within a high wall to hide its treasures, can be accessed through a couple of gates. The price you will pay to enter, which is free, is a run through the gauntlet of vendors trying to sell you Pisa trinkets and souvenirs. It’s actually an unwelcome and somewhat tacky introduction to the complex. Once you manage to slither through, however, I think you will be impressed, as I was, at the beautiful green grass that carpets the complex and the stunning cathedral before you. And yes, located just behind the cathedral is the tower that leans, the reason you are here.
Ciao for now.