Pisa – the biking heaven

Manarola, Le Cinque Terre

If you’re a keen traveler  there’s no way you haven’t seen this famous picture of Manarola village in Le Cinque Terre (the Five Lands, from Italian).

Exactly this pic has made Le Cinque Terre a wanted destination in my trip list. I did one attempt to visit it last summer, in August, but the hectic traffic and crowds along the way quickly changed my mind. So, my next attempt was a month ago, beginning of April.

I usually keep to a busy touring schedule so I decided to combine the visit to the dream Five Lands with a visit to the nearby Pisa and Lucca. A group of four, we set our ‘base camp’ in Pisa by renting a good apartment from airbnb, and planned a day for each of the places we wanted to see.

Pisa

Pisa is said to be very touristic, and I didn’t expect to enjoy it really. Crowds giving you elbows now and then can ruin any view or experience, no matter how awesome it is.

Alas, at the beginning of April the crowds in Pisa were moderate, and the weather was already warm enough. This is definitely one of the best slots to pay a visit to this city.

Of course, the crowd goes to the leaning tower, and this is where we headed too. But – for me the best thing in Pisa is the city itself.

River Arno in Pisa

The river Arno is passing just along the city, with several bridges crossing it. Get off the river a bit, and you are strolling so many cute narrow streets, with lovely houses and hidden gardens. Most house entrances have a bike or a miniature car parked in front (this is the heaven for smarts and puntos..I didn’t see a jeep or even a bigger limousine anywhere!).

Small streets have a biked parked in front of most house entrances

No matter how small a street is, though, it is a paid parking place, so getting around by car and parking it makes no sense really. Get yourself a bike or walk on foot instead.

Renting a bike in Pisa

Pisa doesn’t seem to have city biking service (or at least I couldn’t find such), but you can rent a bike from many locations near the leaning tower. Beware though – the rental service can be expensive, and the bikes kind of old. The usual rental rate is around 14 -15 EUR per day. Have in mind that some hotels near the tower also offer daily rental, and their pricing is cheaper, so look around before you get a bike.

No matter the quality of the biking service, most tourists do rent a bike to move around the city. That seems to be a preferred transport from Pisa residents too, and I really enjoyed seeing all kinds of colorful, flower-decorated and multi-basket or even multi-child-seat bikes in Pisa.

Fancy red bike

What I liked best in Pisa

Piazza dei Miracoli (the Miracle Square)

The Piazza dei Miracoli is of course Pisa’s greatest attraction. This is where the Leaning Tower is, but the tower is actually one of the many interesting buildings you may enjoy here. The Duomo (the city cathedral), the Campanile (a bell tower), the Baptistry and Camposanto (holy field) are 4 other sights you should take a look at.

Piazza dei Miracoli, with  Campo Santo at left and the Leaning Tower at the back

The Camposanto has a really curious story around it. It was built in 1278 around sacred dirt brought from Golgotha (where Christ was crucified). It was said that this dirt allowed bodies to rot in just 24 hours.

Gradually it was decorated with frescos and became the cemetery for the upper class in Pisa. Now it contains 84 Roman sarcophagi within its walls.

Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights’ Square)

The Knights’ square, earlier known as ‘The Square of the Seven Roads’ was a political center in Roman Pisa. Nowadays it hosts the Scuola Normale Superiore – an elite university founded by Napoleon Bonaparte, named after the elite Paris university ‘Ecole Normale Superiore’. There is the Palazzo dell’Orologio, the Palace of the Council of Twelve and others. On Sundays this square turns into a marketplace for antiques and souvenirs of all kinds.

Scuola Normale Superiore

Piazza dei Cavalieri


Santa Maria della Spina

This little church was just next to our apartment, located on one of Arno’s banks (originally it was built at a lower level, closer to the river, but was dismantled and moved to a higher level due to floods from the river). It’s tiny but is said to feature the finest examples of Pisa’s gothic fancy. The name comes from the thorns (spina) from Christ’s crown of thorns that were brought to this church from the Holy Land in 1333. Nowadays it’s mostly used as a place for art exhibitions.

Santa Maria della Spina


The small city streets

Pisa has almost 90,000 residents in its central part, and many tourists, so its streets are fairly busy. But, get up early and walk or bike around, while the city is still waking up. The sight of the rising sun, the strong smell of flowers and trees, the morning song of the birds and coffee aroma from cafeterias just setting up their tables is unforgettable.

And just as you bike or stroll along, get into some pasticceria popping out of nowhere – the almond cookies in Pisa were among the best I’ve tasted in Italy.

Make sure to enjoy this biking heaven yourself, one day! And why not even bike to another similar heaven – the nearby city of Lucca! More on it in my next post 🙂

Accommodation tip!

In Pisa you can find awesome apartments for rent, in the very center using Airbnb. We rented an amazing apartment for 4 people, for just $100/night (end price). So, do check Airbnb as a good accommodation option.

You can use $25 discount for a first-time booking with Airbnb (booking should be $75+ total) if you sign up using my referral link:

Sign up for Airbnb here for $25 discount

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