Pisa deserves its place on any tour of major European cities – and not just because of its world-famous Leaning Tower. This medieval Tuscan city has an attractive waterside location, with the River Ano dividing it in two. Cross the water on the graceful Ponte di Mezzo bridge and watch the world go by from a coffee shop on the riverside promenades. By night, you're spoilt for choice with its fine Italian food and an after-dark scene buoyed by the city’s many students.
Hostels in Pisa sit both north and south of the river. You can stay at a renovated, rustic farm building with private rooms, or choose a dorm in a house with a garden just a five-minute walk from the tower. Meet like-minded travellers at a hostel with an open-air backyard for TV screenings. You'll generally find free Wi-Fi and city maps to help you get around. Some Pisa hostels offer a free breakfast or budget-friendly meals, and most have a shared kitchen.
Pisa’s historical imprint is on its four main districts. North of the river, you’ll find the peaceful San Francesco quarter and Santa Maria, which is home to the famous Leaning Tower, the cathedral and Piazza dei Cavalieri. At night, join students and locals at the clutch of bars on the streets around Piazza Garibaldi. To the south are the old quarters of San Martino, with its narrow lanes and a treasure trove of independent grocery shops, and Sant'Antonio, with its pretty churches on medieval streets.
From its epic marble cathedral to Keith Haring’s Tuttomondo mural just off Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, there are plenty of attractions in Pisa. For views over the medieval rooftops and to the alps beyond, you can climb the Leaning Tower. In the heart of the old town, the university's 16th century Botanical Gardens are some of the oldest in the world. Visiting the city in the summer? Make an evening trip to the Versilian coastal resorts of Viareggio or Forte dei Marmi – locals migrate here after dark for the legendary nightlife.
The closest airport is Galileo Galilei International Airport, just 1km from Pisa, and you can get to the centre on the high-speed Pisamover shuttle service. This runs every five to eight minutes from the airport to Pisa’s central train station, costing a few euros. The train station is within walking distance of the sights and is a major rail hub for Tuscany. Pisa is compact and easy to navigate, so can be explored on foot with a map.