The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most famous landmarks in the world. Located in Pisa, Italy, it was built over a period of about 200 years beginning in 1173. The tower originally served as the bell tower for Duomo di Pisa (Cathedral of Pisa), which is located beside it.
Galileo Galilei, who was born in Pisa and who both studied and later taught at the University of Pisa, is said to have dropped two balls of differing masses from the top of the Tower (which leaned even in his day) to demonstrate that they would fall at the same rate.
The Tower of Pisa is about 185 feet high and contains just under 300 steps in an uneven, winding, circular staircase constructed from stone. The top floor is the bell chamber, containing seven large bells, and providing an expansive and panoramic view across the city.
Although the staircase is not a particularly difficult climb, you should be in at least moderately good physical condition to attempt it. There is no handrail along the steps (important to some people), and there is also no handicapped access or elevator. So if you have difficulty walking or climbing stairs, you will probably not be able to go up inside.
Additionally, climbing an uneven spiral staircase inside a tilting tower can lead to a strong sense of dizziness. If you are susceptible to this sort of thing, you will want to be prepared, or forego the climb.
For security reasons, bags, purses, backpacks, etc., are not allowed to go up into the Tower. Lockers are provided so that you can secure your belongings while you are inside.
Pisa is about one hour’s drive from Florence (about 52 miles, 84 kilometers). On our trip to Italy in 2014, we visited Florence in the morning; then, after lunch at a friendly outdoor cafe, we set off for Pisa for the afternoon.
In advance of our trip, we had purchased “skip-the-line” vouchers, which we were to exchange at the site for tickets to go up inside the Tower. These vouchers cost around $35 and guarantee you entrance to the Tower within a certain time frame — our appointment was around 4:30 in the afternoon. Because we were driving ourselves, we also had to deal with Pisa’s traffic and parking. So we dropped off one of our party to fetch the tickets, while the rest of us tried to find a legal parking spot.
Although the vouchers would allow us to “skip the line,” it turned out when we arrived that there was no line to skip. This might have been because it was late in the afternoon, or we might just have gotten lucky. But there really was no long line like you see at many other tourist spots in Italy. In fact, the person who was holding our place while we parked the car actually got up to the Tower entrance at one point. But since the rest of us were still not there, she allowed a number of others to go ahead of her. We still got in very quickly when the rest of us arrived from parking the car.
(Parking the car was an adventure in itself, and netted us two Italian traffic tickets with fines of 125 euros each. To help prevent this from happening to you, whether in Pisa or any other Italian city, read our post on the subject.)
Climbing to the top of the Tower takes about ten minutes. As noted earlier, the climb itself is not too, too difficult. But if you are injured, handicapped, or very out of shape, it will definitely not be easy. Be aware, too, that people traipsing up and down the stairs for hundreds of years (how many people is that?) have worn down the stone very unevenly. You need to watch your footing!
At the top of the Tower, you are treated to a sweeping, panoramic view of the city of Pisa, and of the Tuscan landscape beyond. In addition, if you stop to think about it, you are sharing the stage with history — standing in the same spot where Galileo himself stood is rather awe-inspiring! You’re permitted about 15 minutes at the top of the Tower to explore and take pictures, before you have to begin your descent in order to make room for the next group.
Click here for some Pisa tours you might like.
Here are a few more pictures from our own trip to Pisa: