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La Spezia - go to Pisa or go to Cinque Terre?

Hi there, I am new to the forum and everyone seems to be a wealth of knowledge so hoping you can help me.

We will be in port for the day in La Spezia. We arrive at 7am and leave at 6pm from our cruise ship. I was hoping to get to see some on Cinque Terre, but we will have our 13 and 16 year old kids with us, and they are very, very excited to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I have heard that Pisa itself, other than the tower, is quite underwhelming, but I also want to compromise with my kids...

Can you share if it might be possible to get on the first train/bus from La Spezia to Pisa, see the Tower, get back on the train/bus and get back to La Spezia in time to take the train the other way to see some of Cinque Terre? What are the travel times like, and are they reliable?

Thoughts and insight greatly welcomed - thank you!

Melissa

Posted by
1048 posts

Melissa,

I can understand your kids wanting to see the Leaning Tower (I first saw it when I was 15), but I'm not sure if it is practical. It's 1 1/2 hours from La Spezia if all goes well. As you point out, there's not a lot else to do there. You can visit the church, but I don't know if that will hold your kid's interest. Here's some information about climbing the tower. You'll notice an adult will have to accompany your kids and the price is 18 Euro each. Online tickets, which are highly recommended, are limited. As I recall, plan on an hour or so for the climb.

It is a fun experience, but you'll have to decide if trying to make the trip is worth the time, expense and anxiety.

Posted by
2409 posts

If you decide to go to Pisa, take a train from La Spezia Centrale to Pisa S. Rossore, which is a small station about a 10 minute walk from the Field of Miracles. There are 1-2 trains per hour, and the trip takes a little over an hour each way. Buy round trip tickets in La Spezia, as I don't recall seeing a ticket window at the S. Rossore station. However, don't validate your tickets back to La Spezia until you're at the S. Rossore station waiting to return, and know the available departure times so that you don't waste an hour waiting for the next train. It will probably be at least early afternoon by the time you get back to La Spezia, which doesn't leave a lot of little time to see the Cinque Terre towns before you'll need to head back to the ship. If you try to do both, grab take-away sandwiches to eat for lunch on the train.

Posted by
1020 posts

Yes, Pisa is a little underwhelming, mainly a tourist attraction. Take your picture and leave, especially with kids. Takes about 1 hour 15 minutes to get there. You would spend more of your day traveling.

Cinque Terre is about 18 minutes (to Vernazza), each town is just a couple of minutes apart. There is so much more to see. Show your kids videos of both, let them help decide.

Posted by
29478 posts

missy,

While it might be feasible to visit both places, you'd be spending a considerable time on trains. You also have to keep in mind that there's a time limit. There can sometimes be delays with Italian trains and especially on the longer trip to Pisa, if you're late getting back the ship won't wait (and they will be very annoyed at you!). Also, there could be queues to climb up the tower and it may not be possible to see that as quickly as possible. It may also take some time to get off the ship and get to the train station in La Spezia and back.

My suggestion would be to take the "safer" approach and visit the five towns of the Cinque Terre. You could perhaps hike one segment of the Sentiero Azzuro trails, enjoy some great Pesto dishes in the area where it was invented or perhaps even do some swimming in one of the towns (Monterosso has the best beaches of the five).

In the same situation, I'd probably start in Riomaggiore (which is only about 8 minutes by train from La Spezia Centrale), visit Manarola, Corniglia (if you're interested or if you want to hike that segment of the trail), Vernazza and then have a late lunch in Monterosso. You'll probably want to start heading back to the ship about 16:00 or so. Get use to using 24-hour time in Europe, as that will avoid confusion.

Posted by
8035 posts

This is a case where I would absolutely overrule my children. They can come back as adults and spend their own money and time seeing the tower. You (and they) will never forget the Cinque Terre. Just ride the trains and walk through each of the pretty towns. Make reservations for lunch at Trattoria da Billy in Manarola. Incredible view and fabulous food!

Posted by
4154 posts

As long as no one is set on climbing the tower ( would eat too much time) you can do both.

Everyone has to be ready for a busy day.

Posted by
3940 posts

Maybe the piece of information that is missing is what time of year is this?

I say this, to point out that in the Winter months the Cinque Terra are a bit too quiet to underwhelming (but a quiet beauty) to in the Summer oppressive and packed shoulder to shoulder. If in the shoulder seasons, it will still be crowded, but OK.

So if you are talking late May to early September, I might opt for Pisa, with a stop along the coast someplace for beach and a good meal. I would probably suggest Viareggio, a popular beach town with a good array of restaurants. Narrow times outside of that, the Cinque Terra would be nice, not sure if the kids would be thrilled, maybe they would like hiking, but cute scenery is the draw.

Pisa itself, as you said, is really only the tower and the church and Baptistery. Is it a must do? my opinion is that it is an iconic site, in itself it is a bit cliche, but so is the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Canals of Venice, and a hundred other sights, you are there, and worth the cursory effort. The fact that it means something to them makes it special, it may mean more to them than being dragged to overcrowded cute small towns.

Bottom line is, Pisa is probably a better option, as long as you mix it with something else, my vote would be (seasonal dependent) Beach and a splurge meal.

Posted by
1048 posts

Paul, she’s arriving by cruise ship, along with 3,000 to 10,000 other day trippers. There’s no chance it will be too quiet. CT will look more like Disney World on a really bad day.

Posted by
266 posts

One answer, Cinque Terre.
Hands-down, all-day, everyday.

Unfortunately, kids in school have been inculcated with certain icons and if it's not the Coliseum, then the leaning tower in Pisa is what represents Italy. If you MUST visit Pisa, the kids are pleading and you promised, said they could pick, it's the only thing they wanted to see...go first thing in the AM, hire a car and get their fast. Everything you've heard about Pisa is true, it's massively underwhelming, you'll walk away wondering how on earth is this lone, single item, turned into such a magnet; great marketing. Get that goofy picture and hustle over to Cinque Terre. Even if you only visit one of the towns in CT, it'll be a much more satisfying and enjoyable than time spent in Pisa.

Otherwise, make the command decision, skip Pisa and head to CT. Time = money, where do you want to spend your time.

Posted by
3 posts

Wow, thank you so much for your responses. I really appreciate all your perspectives and opinions. It is giving us lots to think about - you are all a wealth of knowledge and we really appreciate it! Keep it coming if there are more opinions!

Posted by
17 posts

I’ve read all the responses and can see pros for doing Cinque Terre over Pisa. On the other hand, someone pointed out that your kids could do the Leaning a Tower later on their own as adults. But, who knows when that might be? I’d agree to head straight to Pisa - of you could disembark EARLY you might be able to grab a train and get there in time to beat most of the tourist rush. Yes, Pisa, particular the Piazza dei Miracoli, where the Tower is, is full of tourists and vendors selling cheap stuff. BUT, the Leaning Tower is spectacular to see in person. It is an immense, awesome, iconic structure not to be missed. As some pointed out, if you can make online reservations, for a mid morning time to climb it, your kids will never forget that experience. I did it when I was when I was 13 (before there were big crowds and long waits to go up) and, at 65 I still remember that climb - have seen the Tower many times since (usually bringing friends to see it for the first time) but never climbed it again. Follow the advice of those who said to get off at S. Rosario station as there is a long walk from Pisa Centrale.
If you then still have time, you can go back to La Spezia, and go to the town of Portovenere, one town south of the Cinque Terre (get a taxi from La Spezia, it’s close). Portovenere is essentially the sixth Cinque Terre (which means five lands) town. It has a beautiful port, Lord Byron swam by a grotto there every morning - all the charm of Cinque Terre without the tourists. Its under a half hour each way between La Spezia and Portovenere. There are many restaurants on the waterfront and a beautiful hotel, Grand Hotel Portovenere, with a beautiful balcony with spectacular view of the water where you can get food or coffee. Also, above the waterfront, a beautiful old town where you can wander the streets, buy the best pesto in the world. IMO, you can do this itinerary, getting the kids (and parents!) the chance to see the Leaning Tower and the Cinque Terre type experience without frantically trying to cram in CT on top of Pisa.

Posted by
8796 posts

Missy, just a couple of little details should you opt for the Cinque Terre:

In your case I'd look at purchasing Cinque Terre Treno MS Cards for all of you in La Spezia. 2nd-class train rides to/from La Spezia and from village to village cost about €4 a pop. A one-day card costs € 16.00* for ages 12 and over (unless they raise the price this spring) so you'd break even in 4 train rides.

The card also covers the fee for hiking either or both of the two segments of the famous (and very busy) Sentiero Azzurro trail likely to be open during the spring - fall season. Those would be the legs from Corniglia>Vernazza, and Vernazza> Monterosso. If time is short, I'd probably train to Vernazza, hike Vernazza> Corniglia, and then trains to Manarola>Riomaggiore>La Spezia. Raining? Skip the hike; they'd probably close the trails anyway.

Even if you choose not to hike, I think you'd probably use the trains enough to make the pass worthwhile. Oh, and they also cover the bus from the Corniglia train station up to the village, which is otherwise an arduous climb up a very long stairway. It's easier (and more fun) to climb DOWN after a look at the tiny town. The passes MUST BE VALIDATED the first time you use the trains, which would be before you'd board your first one in La Spezia, but they eliminate having to buy and validate individual tickets EACH time you want to hop to the next place.

Details here:
http://www.parconazionale5terre.it/page.php?id=158

The trains are very busy during high and shoulder seasons so yes, give yourself plenty of time to get back to your ship.

(*) € 16.00 is assuming you're not going during the winter. The price is a bit lower in the off season.

Posted by
1048 posts

For anyone contemplating seeing Europe via cruise ship, I recommend you reading fredandkell's report to get some perspective.

Kathy makes a good point about trains. Melissa, when will you be there?

Posted by
4 posts

Hello,
You can take a train from La Spezia Central Station to Pisa Central Station in just about 1 hour (some IC trains are timed in at 54 minutes). Seems to me if you wanted to see the tower and have some lunch you would have plenty of time. I disagree with a lot of the conversation shortchanging Pisa. If you venture away from the Campo dei Miracle (considered to be one of Italy's most beautiful squares, some writings have described it one of the most beautiful in the world) you will discover a hidden gem of a Tuscan city filled with picturesque alleys and shopping streets. Because its a university town, you will find numerous "cheap eat" restaurants and a youthful vibe to the city.

I first traveled to Europe with my parents when I was 13 and then again at 17. I still have memories from those travels. In my opinion your children are the perfect ages to enjoy Pisa. The tower is as noted above, an iconic landmark, world famous. I would make this special for your children, they may never have the opportunity to visit this area again, and if not, they will always regret being an hour away on a memory of a lifetime.

Me and my wife visited Pisa and the climbed the tower in 2002. We are returning to Tuscany in May 2019 and plan on spending an entire day in Pisa to again enjoy the city without the tourist region of the tower.

Again, in my opinion, the CT needs at least 2-3 three days to fully enjoy.

Best,
Mike

Posted by
17 posts

I wrote the post encouraging you to go visit Pisa, take in the Tower and then spend time in Portovenere for a taste of Cinque Terre. However, I would now wholeheartedly defer to Mike’s post! Take the direct one hour train from La Spezia to Pisa Centrale and enjoy the walk to the square with The Tower, beautiful cathedral and baptistery. I’ve traveled to Italy countless times but will spend the night for the first time as an adult IN Pisa for that very purpose of taking in the streets populated by university students, not tourists (mind you when I made that first trip at 13 my family and I did spend a night there with Italian relatives in Pisa).
You will all enjoy the day (even with the chaos of the tourist throng by the Tower) if you don’t try to also do Cinque Terre - or Portovenere as I’d originally suggested. Embrace the piazza with arguably the greatest lawn in Italy but stop to smell the roses - or pizza and pasta and gelato - between that crooked tower and the train station.

Posted by
3 posts

Cinque Terrre hands down better option......Pisa dirty, and Tower so crowded and you are done in an hour.

Posted by
298 posts

We have done both. I would show your kids CT and tell them there's lots of cool photo opps and hiking and let them decide. When we did Pisa, we prebooked tickets for tower climb. We walked from main train station along the river and thru the town--it is a nice town and walk. On the way back, we did gelato quest to make it fun. We had a great day with our teens and they got to climb the iconic tower (which was closed for almost a decade I believe).