Ask a local: what should I do, see, and eat in Pisa, Italy?

by gigigriffis

Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Italy guide.


Today I’m happy to introduce you to Davide Diolaiti, tourism expert and linguist, here to tell us all about Pisa.

First, tell us about you.

My name is Davide and I’m 28. I was born and grew up in Pisa. My father is from Pisa and my mother is from a small town halfway between Pisa and Florence.

During my free time, I like to play sports, read, and listen to music. In summer, my passion is going to the sea. And, when I have the opportunity, I love travelling.

I don’t watch TV; Italian television is rubbish.

If someone is visiting Pisa for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?

Pisa is principally known for the leaning tower and the whole Piazza dei Miracoli, but that’s a limitation. Pisa is a city with a great history. In fact, the city was founded before the Roman Empire and was re-invented century by century.

You can see all the places that made the history of the city: Piazza dei Cavalieri, where the Scuola Normale Superiore, a school founded by Napoleonic decree in 1810 is located; Borgo Largo and Borgo Stretto, our busiest, most charming streets; the San Jacopo Cemetery; the Torre Guelfa, a 15th century tower with a beautiful view from the top; and an authentic jewel like Chiesa Della Spina, the only gothic church in Pisa.

I also recommend the beautiful views from the lungarni (walkways along the Arno River).

What neighborhoods or parts of town are best to stay in?

Pisa is quite a safe city; there’s not much crime and you can move through the streets on foot or riding a bike.

The only place to avoid, especially during evenings, is Piazza delle Vettovaglie.

Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?

Pisa’s surroundings are very nice! First of all, you have to go to Calci, a beautiful town really close to the city. Calci is famous for the good quality of its oil and vegetables. In Calci, you must visit the Certosa—an ancient monastery that houses the Natural History Museum of the University of Pisa, which includes paleontological, mineralogical, and zoological collections.

After Calci, another beautiful town is San Miniato. The lower part of the town is totally historical.

Another important trip is to Lucca. Lucca is a medieval city in the north of Pisa and its historical center is totally surrounded by walls!

Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here?

There are lots of first course soup dishes during the winter months, which are always accompanied by slices of stale bread. These include really tasty bean (or fatto) soup, pappa al pomodoro (or Pisan-style cabbage soup), and lots of fish soups.

Another typical dish is panzanella, a poor man’s dish based on stale bread, tomatoes, and onion. A pasta dish worth a mention is pappardelle with duck or hare sauce. Pallette, little balls of polenta in meat sauce, are also really tasty.

Pisan cuisine incorporates many types of meat. You can taste typical Pisan beef, wild boar with olives, lamb fricassee, rabbit, and lots of game, including hare, pheasant, deer, and wild boar, prepared in various ways. Obviously, fish is also very much present; there is a lot of dried cod, which you can eat fried or in a sweet and sour sauce.

What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants?

You must go to Pizzeria da Pancino, located at Via Benedetto Croce 59, where you can eat the best pizza in the whole city! It’s a funny and friendly place with cheaper prices.

If you want to eat some typical food from Pisa and its surroundings, I recommend Osteria del Tinti, located at Vicolo del Tinti 26—a really relaxing place.

If you want to pass a nice evening with your friends, the best place is The Wall Pub (at Via Cardinale Maffi 26), close to the leaning tower and rich with events of various kinds.

Is there anything tourists do that locals find rude or strange? What can we do to better fit in with the culture?

The majority of the Italians have a great defect: they think that Italy is the best country in the world for food, art, and clothes. The rest is often seen as something ridiculous compared to the things we are used to in Italy. Anyway, the socks with sandals fashion trend is really strange to us.

I think foreign people must be remain the same and don’t change. In my opinion, it’s important for the Italians to accept diversity.

What is the best way to meet locals and make friends?

This is really a good question! This situation is object of discussion by locals and people who’re not from Pisa. People from everywhere often say that local people are closed. Local people are say that foreigners don’t want to mix to local population. I think the truth is in the middle. It’s not a simple answer, sincerely.

Why should people make sure to visit Pisa?

Piazza dei Miracoli and the lungarni are unique in the world!

What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the city?

The most known place of the city: Piazza dei Miracoli! Many people like to take a picture of themselves next to the leaning tower. In my opinion, though, pictures of the lungarni from different points of view, especially from bridges, are fantastic too.

Anything else you want us to know?

Yes, I want to invite everyone to visit Tuscany. Art, history, culture, and food are the perfect mix for an unforgettable holiday!

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