These are four of the most well-known European landmarks. Kids may not know about the Astronomical Clock in Prague, but I guarantee that most kids know about the Leaning Tower of Pisa – and even dream of visiting it one day.
With so much to see in Europe, so much to see in Italy, and even so much to see in the Tuscan region, is the Leaning Tower of Pisa worth visiting? Find out in this honest review!
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Where is the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is located in Pisa in Tuscany, Italy. It is about 3 hours by train north of Rome and about 1 hour by train west of Florence.
Although driving in Italy isn’t too bad, I recommend you take the train. There are two main train stations: Pisa Centrale & Pisa S. Rossore. If you’re traveling via Florence or Rome, you’ll likely end up at Centrale. It is slightly less convenient for walking to the Tower, but there are connections you can make to transfer a little bit closer.
When I visited, we were staying in Montecatini Terme so we took the regional train to S. Rossore. It was a super easy walk – just about 15 minutes. If you have the option to arrive at S. Rossore, I would go that way!
The Duomo, Tower, and Baptistry are all located within the historic walls of Pisa. The main entrance is to the west of the tower just adjacent to the McDonald’s (yes, really). Just navigate towards the McDonald’s near the tower and you’ll arrive at the right place!
Why does the Leaning Tower of Pisa lean?
The question on everyone’s mind – why does the belltower have the distinctive lean?
Long ago in the 12th century, the tower was constructed on soft ground. One side was apparently softer and more unstable than the other side, which lead to a lean even during construction! The construction crews tried to correct the lean but even modern-day efforts haven’t been able to eliminate it entirely. Adding counter-weights, changing where the soil is, and more have only lead to correcting the lean by 16 inches.
Fear not: the Leaning Tower of Pisa is extremely well monitored and it is not a danger to visit. In fact, experts expect the tower to be safe for at least another 300 years!
First Impressions of Pisa
Pisa’s location is perfect so originally I was very excited to visit. Training in from my hotel in Montecatini, just outside Florence, was easy. There were billboards for McDonald’s everywhere – either Italians love McDonald’s (doubtful) or Americans choose to eat McDonald’s instead of authentic Italian food. Boo! (This won’t be my last mention of McDonald’s, unfortunately).
The walk towards Pisa from S. Rossore was easy. But then we found the crowd. A gigantic blob of tourist groups speaking every language under the sun. We were quickly absorbed by large herds of people following a leader holding a stick, or a sign, or a bright umbrella. Almost everyone was in a tour group, except us.
Pushing past the slow-moving (or stopped!) tour groups, ignoring the vendors selling mediocre souvenirs, we finally made it to the entrance through the city walls.
And had to push past even more tour groups.
Y’all. This was February. Not shoulder season, low season. We got a killer deal because hotels were just trying to get people to visit Italy. And it was jam-packed. I can’t imagine how dreadful it would be during the high season!
Ok. After making it through a few more blobs, finally, we made it to the famed tower.
And everyone was taking photos for the ‘Gram where they were holding the tower up. How original.
By now, I was a little annoyed. This wasn’t the Italy I imagined!
What You Need to Know Before You Climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa
My biggest recommendation for Pisa: go straight to the ticket office if you want to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
They limit how many people may be climbing the tower at any given time so it is a ticketed, reservation-based system. Go get you a reservation, stat. Even better, make one online! THEN, only after you have a time to climb, is it ok to explore the ground area around the tower.
ONE IMPORTANT THING TO NOTE: children under 8 cannot climb the tower. No exceptions! In addition to that, bags are not allowed up the tower. They will tell you that if you buy a ticket, but if you reserve one online, be prepared to drop your bag off near the ticket office in a locker.
Ok! Before climbing the tower, walk around and explore the Square of Miracles (Piazza dei Miracoli). The buildings, consisting of the Duomo (cathedral), Tower, and Baptistry are absolutely stunning. The grass is perfectly manicured and there’s a cemetery (Camposanto) that you can visit if interested. There’s also a museum and a souvenir shop!
I really do adore Italian architecture. I love that different regions, provinces, and cities have their own styles. I certainly did enjoy admiring the buildings.
When it was time to climb the tower, we dropped our bags off and rendezvoused near the tower entrance (about 15 minutes ahead of time – don’t be late or you’ll lose your spot!)
When it was our time, we entered the tower.
Is it Worth it to Climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
Inside the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa
What do you imagine the center of the tower is like?
Well, I imagined it would be ornate, much like the exterior of the buildings. I expected some kind of living quarters, storage facilities, or something. Turns out, at the bottom, it’s just a hollow tube with a spiraling staircase outside.
The climb started with a brief discussion of the rules, expectations, and history. And then, andiamo!
Climbing to the top of the tower
Two things to know about climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa: (1) the staircase is skinny and most people are rude, and (2) it is intense.
What do I mean by that?
There isn’t an up staircase and a down staircase; everyone goes up and down the same way. On top of that, the pathway is skinny and most tourists are not worried about making room for others going in the opposite direction. They won’t step to the side or otherwise make room. Some were polite, but most weren’t. This was frustrating.
Not to mention, it is a climb! At about 180 ft tall, it is not easy. Wear comfy shoes!
There are occasional little ledges to stop off at to catch your breath, at least.
If you’re in Pisa, it’s worth it to climb the tower
Even though climbing the tower was annoying and difficult, the top of the tower made it all worthwhile.
The views were beautiful and being above the other buildings gave me an appreciation for how grand they really are. Look how tiny the tourists on the ground look!
After getting your fill of time at the top, meander down the tower back towards the Piazza dei Miracoli.
The overall verdict: if you do decide to visit Pisa, it is definitely worthwhile to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
However, belltowers are not unique in Italy, so you could climb one in just about any Italian town. Seeing this view alone does not make the Leaning Tower of Pisa worth visiting.
What Else To Do in Pisa
Explore the grounds and go into the other buildings in the Piazza! Explore the Duomo or the Baptistry and marvel at the architecture.
I especially recommend checking out the walls. Seeing the original walls that protected the city is pretty cool – not many cities have walls that are this well preserved.
And another thing you can do… as much as I hate to admit it… is to check out the McDonald’s outside the city walls.
Yes, blasphemy. I know. I’m sorry. But hear me out.
It is a pretty legit McCafe where you can awesome pastries (like macarons and mille-feuille!). They also have a restroom, which I’m sure you’ll be dying to use by this point. Buy some fries and macarons, sit down, and people-watch.
Final Verdict – is the Leaning Tower of Pisa Worth Visiting?
My verdict is a solid “meh”.
Most churches in Europe have bell towers. This one happens to be unique because it’s leaning. Does a leaning tower interest you a lot more than any other tower? If you’re into that kind of thing (no judgment, I’m an engineer!) then sure. Go nuts.
If you’re going just because It’s A Thing To Do, then I recommend you skip Pisa and go somewhere else. There are so many cool day trips you can take near Florence, Rome, or the surrounding areas that will be way less crowded and more authentic. Montepulciano, for instance, is awesome. The Umbrian region is something you can’t miss, either.
If you really want to check out the Leaning Tower of Pisa, however, it’s not going to be a big time suck. It’s about a half-day excursion so you can always show up in the morning, enjoy Pisa, and then train off to somewhere else before returning to your hotel.