We're going to be in Florence for about 2.5 days in June. Is a trip to Pisa worthwhile? If so, how much time should we set aside to visit Pisa? Should we sign on to a tour, or try to go it ourselves? About how much should it cost us to go by train and back? Any advice appreciated.
The train ride is as short as one hour. Add 10-15 min. to get to the Piazza dei Miracoli from the station by bus (it's a long walk). Leaning tower, duomo and baptistry are all in the same field (called Piazza dei Miracoli). If you just want to look at them from the outside and take a picture and leave, you need 10 min. If you want to go up the tower, visit the Duome and baptistry give it 2 to 3 hours. So you could leave Florence early in the morning, visit Pisa and be back to Florence by early afternoon or even by lunch. The train fare is puny. Less than 6 euros p.p. one way. Forget the tour, you can do it on your own. It's easy.
Ron I agree with Robert, don't over plan the visit to Pisa (the tower and surroundings). Three to four hours might be enough to get from Florence to Pisa, check out the sights get a quick bite and back to Florence (including the bus ride to and from the tower in Pisa). The town of Pisa is a non-descript middle class town you can find anywhere in the US, so don't spend any extra time on it (you'll see). If you are planning to do a lot in Florence, Don't sweat it. Get up earlier and you might even be back before noon. Just follow RS's instructions on the trains and busses and it'll be painless and quick. Check out the Trenitalia web site and check out the times. http://www.trenitalia.com/cms/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=ad1ce14114bc9110VgnVCM10000080a3e90aRCRD
Do you have Rick Steves Italy? If you do, it has very clear directions for seeing Pisa as a day trip from Florence. There's no need for a tour, and no need to plan in advance; you can decide while you're there. In 2.5 days, you'll be hard pressed to see just Florence, so you probably won't have time to add Pisa. But, if it's a must see, it's easy to do yourself.
Last March, our daytrip to pisa went like this. Train to Pisa from Florence and bus to Field of Miracles. We had pre-arranged tickets for climbing the tower at 11:15. After going up and coming down, we bought some lunch from a place in RS guidebook and sat at the fountain and people watched. The day we went was a monday and it was an offday for all the high school kids so they were having a big party in the field. We returned to Florence by 3 and walked to the Duomo where I still had time to climb the Duomo and be back down by 5. I wish I had climbed the bell tower as well, so I could have climbed all 3 in one day.
I would budget about 6 hours for a trip to Pisa. Trains take about an hour each way, I found the half hour walk to the sights worthwhile (take bus the other way), and you'll likely spend an hour or two visiting a couple of sights. Budget a bit less time if you don't plan to eat while in Pisa. It's easy to visit Pisa on your own, and you control the time of day you go.