One of the major decisions that comes with planning any trip is how many places you are willing to see in one vacation. How many attractions can you squeeze into one week? How much schlepping around can your kids handle? This decision is magnified when you visit Europe since countries are so close together and high speed trains whisk you from city to city in a manner of hours.
I’m in the final stages of solidifying my family’s trip to Europe this summer, and I’m trying to figure out places to hit and places to skip.
To Pisa, or Not to Pisa
I visited Italy in my late 20s with a tour group. We had a half-day stopover to the town of Pisa, and surprisingly, it was one of my favorite stops during my 2-week trip. It wasn’t just the tower that I loved. The cathedral was stunning, the whole town was beautiful, and it was just a really cute stop.
So naturally, I am looking at how to fit this into our current plans. The day before our cruise, we will going from Venice to Rome. Tourists often stop by Pisa on the journey between those two cities, but it does add a few hours to the journey.
Option 1: Skip Pisa
If we forget about seeing Pisa and save it for another trip, we could take a high-speed train from Venice to Rome. This train trip takes less than 4 hours. So, we could sleep in a bit, have a leisurely breakfast, hop on the train and still make it to Rome by mid-afternoon. Cost: $50/person for train. Time: ~4 hours.
Option 2: Add Pisa
If we left Venice earlier in the morning (we might be up early anyway due to the time change), we can take a train with one connection to Pisa (almost 4 hours on slower train). Then, after spending ~2 hours in Pisa, we can take a direct train to Rome (also ~4 hours), arriving in the early evening. Cost: $51/person for train (plus money to store our luggage at train station). Time: ~8 hours on trains + 2 hours in Pisa.
It’s just not just the cost and convenience we have to consider. Our time is valuable. We only have one night in Rome before we board our cruise, and one day for Rome after our cruise. I’ve already seen almost everything in Rome, but my family has never been there. Skipping Pisa will give us more precious time in Rome.
On the other hand, how many times will we visit Italy as a family? We have so many other trips on our wish list, so it may be a long time before we visit Italy again.
Readers, I’d love to know your thoughts on my two itineraries. Have you faced a similar dilemma? Do you prefer to squeeze in more sites/cities, or take a more leisurely approach?
Note: I’m currently traveling with limited internet access. My replies to your comments will be delayed.
How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.
Denise L says
A very tough decision indeed. I also love Pisa, beyond the tower. My then-teen daughter still talks about the Baptistry where a staff member sings every half-hour, demonstrating the baptistery’s perfect acoustics. Notes sung here last so long, it’s actually possible to accompany yourself It was amazing.
And the town is so pleasant – great shops, restaurants and interesting streets to explore.
But if you only have about 2 hours to explore, I would save it for a future trip, whether as a family or individually. AND I would not do a leisurely breakfast in Venice. I would beeline it to Rome. As I tell my family, you can sleep when you get home! Or on the train. 🙂
@Denise L I don’t know why, but your comments ended up in spam for whatever reason. I just found them and approved them. My apologies! The spam filter has a mind of its own at times.
@Denise Yes! You understand my love for Pisa. 🙂
Is stopping in Florence in lieu of Pisa an option?
Pisa is totally skip-worthy. Unless you have that as part of a bucket list item?
I am planning a similar trip. Flying in to Venice for 3 or 4 nights and then the high speed train to Rome. Like Chris says above, is Florence worth the stop ? This is my first trip to Italy. I guess I could spend 1 or 2 nights in Florence if it is worth it. I am staying for 10 nights total in Italy. I was originally thinking 4 nights in Venice and 6 in Rome but maybe I should reshuffle and add another city in. Thanks in advance for any advice folks !!
@Tom I’ve been to Italy several times and it’s one of my favorite countries in Europe. My two cents: Florence is skippable. I actually expected to love it, but it just didn’t do it for me. Perhaps it’s because I visited Venice right before it, which I absolutely adored. But it’s definitely a matter of preference, so I suggest you do some research and decide for yourself. The museums in Florence are pretty cool and locals were very friendly towards us. I don’t have any bad memories, to me it just didn’t have that special magic that Venice had, if that makes sense. Personally, with 10 nights in Italy I recommend you split your stay between Venice, Rome and Amalfi Coast. If you want a “taste” of Florence, you can always take a train there after staying in Venice. It’s on the way to Rome, so you can check your bags at the train station (pack lightly) and hit a few highlights. Then take a train to Rome, which should be about 2 hours at most. IMO, Amalfi Coast is a must. Pompeii is not to be missed, and the scenery in the area is gorgeous. I would pick it over Florence any day.
Thanks Leana and CST. I think I will leave this up to the wife to decide.
Florence is 100% worth it. Spend two nights.
Denise L says
Florence is definitely worth the trip if art, architecture and culture is interesting to you. Its a place to be savored. Hitting just a few sights doesn’t do it justice.
I’ve been to all 3 places and for me Florence is the best of them, For me the food in Florence far surpasses what’s available in Venice and Rome.
Thanks Chris. I think I am going to wedge Florence in for 2 nights. I had a free night open after Venice and before Rome. So I will either shorten Venice from 4 nights to 3 or Rome from 5 nights to 4 to free up that 2nd night in Florence. I heard Almafi Coast is incredible, but I think that will have to wait for another trip sometime.
I completely agree with Chris. We did all 3 as well and Florence was my favorite. I also agree with Chris that the food there was the most memorable. For me 2 nights in Venice was plenty so if it were my choice I’d trim a night there and save the Rome nights. All 3 cities are amazing though so you can’t really go wrong. But I think it’s a great idea to squeeze Florence in if you are able.
I think Pisa be worth the half day, because rest of your family haven’t seen. Got to see it once. Pisa also relative small. I was surprise to get street parking near by walk around a wall and entrance and there it was. Pretty cool
SKIP Pisa. Full of thieves and not worth the view.
I personally didn’t love Pisa when we went to visit it. Felt like extra time was wasted to make the trek there. But that is only my view. And seeing how you love it, would make sense to want to go back.
Not a fan of Pisa at all, although the Basilica was very nice and I did climb the tower and the view was lovely -and the workout to see said view was impressive. The gauntlet of hawkers to get to the square decreased the charm unfortunately and taking into consideration the extra time you would be taking from your trip, my vote is no.
Florence, on the other hand, is always, always yes.
I would skip it. Don’t think it’s worth the hassle..
I was very disappointed in Pisa – felt like a tourist trap with tons of people. Florence on the other hand – AMAZING!
Denise L says
A tough choice indeed. I found Pisa to be very interesting if you go for more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. My then-teen daughter loved the Baptistry where the guards sing every half hour demonstrating the acoustics – notes sung here last so long, it’s actually possible to accompany yourself. It was amazing. And the surrounding streets are filled with shops and lovely streets to wander.
But with just 2 hours I would head straight to Rome, with no leisurely breakfast in Venice. As I tell my daughter, you can sleep when we get home…or on the train. 🙂
Considering a trip to Italy. It would be the first time other than business trips, which allowed me to see only a little of Milan. Is Pisa just the leaning tower? If so, skippable?
I was thinking of Rome, air force museum north of Rome, Ravenna, San Marino, Venice.
If you think Florence is skippable, 100000% you should skip Pisa. It’s probably the most skippable place I’ve been to in Italy, and I’ve been all over Italy.
doing option 2, but staying 3 night in Rome. Covering North Italy this time.
Since you only have 2 nights in Rome, save Pisa for a future trip exploring Tuscany (and Umbria if you have time), Pisa is definitely worth an afternoon, we did it as a side trip from the charming nearby walled city of Lucca (see Rick Steves for more info on Lucca).
Head directly to Rome early in the morning. There’s way more to see there than in Pisa for much less effort imho
Thank you everyone for your input! I’m just back from a cruise and I’ve been reading all of your comments. Sounds like I should skip Pisa this time.