Pisa is an ancient city with origins that go back before the Roman Empire to the Etruscan era. Therefore, you'd expect that a city is old would have some impressive museums. And you'd be right.
Pisa has a good variety of museums that explore different facets of the history of the city. In fact, you can't visit a city like Pisa without visiting at least some of the important museums the city holds. And alongside the better-known cultural institutions of Pisa, you can also find hidden gems that will show you different facets of the city's past and art from around the world.
So what you waiting for? Drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in Pisa and get ready to explore the fascinating history of the city. When you see everything there is to do and see in Pisa, you'll be glad you choose to travel light.
How do you visit Pisa and not see the world-famous Leaning Tower? The answer is, you can't. This beautiful 14th-century Romanesque bell tower is an icon not only of Pisa, but of all of Italy, and is known around the world for its unique appearance.
Located in Piazza dei Miracoli, the Square of Miracles, the Leaning Tower is right next to Pisa's Cathedral in the heart of the city, and it's the perfect place for a classic Italian photo op. Climbing the 294 steps to the top of the tower will give you an incredible view of the city and the surrounding countryside. And exhibitions around the tower will explain more about the history of this enigmatic structure and how it came to be the way it is today. While not a museum in the truest sense, the tower is such an icon of the city that it's impossible to leave it off this list.
National Museum of San Matteo
One of Pisa's top art museums, the incredible collection at the National Museum of San Matteo is the perfect place for art lovers in the city. The museum contains paintings and sculptures spanning the history of artistic creation in Italy from the 13th up to the 16th century, some of the most important centuries in the history of Italian art. Donatello and Ghirlandaio are two of the biggest name artists on display here, we also find lots of artistic treasures by artists whose names you may not know, but who nevertheless occupy an important position in the history of Italian art. It's no wonder this impressive collection has been designated a National Museum in this famously art-loving country thanks to the importance of the masterpieces it holds.
Pisa's beautiful Botanical Garden claims to be the oldest in Italy. Begun back in the 16th century, the garden is one of the most stunning locations in all of Pisa thanks to the abundance of plant specimens it contains. One of the highlights of the garden is the popular Botanical Museum it contains.
One of the top science museums in Pisa, the Botanical Museum holds portraits of notable botanists and artifacts once used to teach botany back in the 18th century. There are also stunning drawings and paintings of plants that show the development and progression of the science of botany through the centuries. Finally, immersive exhibitions allow visitors to visit the historical collection of the Herbarium, which is normally closed to all but serious scholars. All in all, it's an unusual but fascinating place to explore and will give you a new appreciation of the development and advancement of scientific knowledge.
Centro Arte Moderna
Italy is well known for having an astonishing historic heritage of art, but after a while, all the old paintings in those art galleries can start to look the same. If you find yourself in need of an energizing shot in the arm, the Centro Arte Moderna is the ideal place to go for an invigorating encounter with contemporary art. Established in 1976, this museum doesn't get anything like the number of visitors that the National Museum of San Matteo does, meaning you can explore what it has to offer in peace. You'll find just about every form of contemporary art on display here, from painting to photography to video to multimedia installations. As well as a permanent collection housing works by important Italian contemporary artists, the Centro hosts an ever-changing selection of temporary exhibitions to bring together art and artists from around the world, making this a vibrant place to disappear into the future of international artistic creation.
Located on the banks of the River Arno a ten-minute walk from Pisa Centrale, the Palazzo Blu is one of Pisa's most important art museums. This striking blue building is one of the most prominent local landmarks in Pisa and is worth visiting just to see the building itself. However, the Palazzo Blu has more to offer than its architecture alone.
The permanent collection houses works by Artemisia Gentileschi, among other Italian painters of the Renaissance and later artistic movements. It is also an impressive collection of antiques. But Palazzo Blu is probably best known for its constantly changing temporary exhibitions to bring together various forms of art from across Italy and around the world. Check to see what's on display when you're in town, and you'll be virtually guaranteed an artistic encounter you won't forget anytime soon.
Museum of Ancient Ships
During renovation work on the San Rossore train station in Pisa, construction workers made an astonishing discovery. For much of its history, Pisa was closer to the sea than it is today and was an important port. And when work is dug into the ground beneath San Rossore train station, they found the incredibly well-preserved remains of Roman and medieval ships that bore witness to this period of Pisan history.
Now, these amazing ships are kept in Pisa's Museum of Ancient Ships. One of the most interesting museums in Pisa, this museum preserves not only the incredible ships themselves but also archaeological artifacts from throughout Pisa's long and rich history. If you're interested in the past, this is undoubtedly one of the best museums in Pisa, and best of all, it's completely free to visit. In fact, it's one of the best free things to do in Pisa.
Museum of Opera del Duomo
Located in the heart of the city at Piazza del Duomo, this museum is dedicated to Pisa Cathedral, or Duomo. This museum preserves some of the most stunning artwork that has been used to decorate the Cathedral over the centuries, showing just how important this building is as the spiritual heart of the city. Along with paintings, statues, stained glass, and other examples of religious art, you'll even find the odd holy relic. This museum provides a fascinating insight into the growth and development of the central church through the ages, and since it's so close to the Leaning Tower and several of Pisa's other top attractions, it's well worth taking the time to visit and see some of the treasures on display here. Plus, because you'll be near the heart of the city, you'll be in a location where you can try some of the best street food in Pisa.
For a more unusual glimpse into Pisa's past, check out the memorable Sinopie Museum. A sinopia is a preliminary sketch drawn in plaster on a wall and is an essential part of creating a fresco. Ordinarily, the sinopia is buried beneath the completed fresco and not meant to be seen. However, preserved sinopia let viewers learn more about the process of artistic creation by some of the best artists in history. And the rarity of preserved sinopia makes them all the more valuable.
Pisa's Sinopie Museum holds the sketches for the huge frescoes on the walls of the Camposanto. These sketches were only recovered when bombing during World War II threatened the priceless frescoes, and the decision was made to remove them. When the top layer of paint was removed, the sinopia beneath was found to be remarkably intact, and now takes pride of place in this unusual Museum. Seeing beneath the surface of these works of art is the closest you'll ever come to watching over the shoulder of the artists as they created their works, and so this small but impressive museum makes a great destination for art lovers to aim for.
National Museum of the Royal Palace
Like nearby Florence, Pisa was once ruled by the powerful Medici family, and the Royal Palace on the banks of the Arno was their home when they were in town. Nowadays, this 16th-century building is home to an impressive museum that collects the personal items of the most powerful families in Pisa's history. The Medici tapestry is a standout item, as is the huge collection of ancient arms and armor that details warfare down through the centuries. You also get a glimpse into everyday items that will set your imagination running as you ponder what it was like to live the luxurious yet turbulent lives of Pisa's ruling family.
Museum of Italian Parachutists
Another hidden gem in the city of Pisa, the Museo Aviotruppe Esercito Italiano is a quirky but fascinating place to explore. Part of the larger Historical Museum of the Air Forces, this museum is dedicated to airborne soldiers from their inception around World War II up until the present day. Spread over 15 rooms, this museum is the only one of its kind in Italy and uses uniforms, weapons, medals, and other items to detail the history of these courageous soldiers. A little off the regular tourist track, this museum is an excellent place to visit for fans of military history or anyone who's looking for a good place to go on a rainy day in Pisa.
Museum of Natural History
Another of Pisa's top science museums, the Museum of Natural History is based at the University of Pisa and is one of the oldest museums in the world. Located in a former Monastery, this museum holds an incredible collection of specimens from around the world, dating back to 1596. It holds the largest collection of whale skeletons in Italy and also has the largest freshwater aquarium in the country. Its intact blue whale skeleton is one of only a few on display anywhere in the world, and the re-creation of the prehistoric art of Chauvet Cave in France is a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of early humans. In short, this museum offers a crash course in the history of different species, and is not only one of the best museums in the city, but is also one of the best things to do with kids in Pisa.
What are the best free museums in Pisa?
Visiting Pisa isn't cheap, but you can save some money by trying some of the free museums the city has to offer. The spectacular Museum of Ancient Ships is completely free, as is the Museo Aviotruppe Esercito Italiano.
Which are the best museums in downtown Pisa?
The historic center of Pisa is home not only to some of the city's major historic monuments, but also its top museums and art galleries. You'll find the Sinopie Museum, the Museo Opera del Duomo, the Leaning Tower, and the Botanical Museum all located within walking distance of each other in the heart of the city.
Are there any cheap museums in Pisa?
As well as many free museums, museum admission for those places where you do have to pay can be surprisingly cheap in Pisa. For instance, the fun Natural History Museum costs only eight euros to visit, and the Sinopie Museum is also eight euros, which includes admission to the impressive Baptistery of the Cathedral. Meanwhile, the National Museum of San Matteo is an even better deal, at only five euros for an adult ticket.