Shopping in touristic areas, Pisa
There are small markets everywhere that charge anywhere from two to four times what you would pay for staples in a supermarket. Prices can vary widely for anything from bottles of water and especially if you need something like shampoo or shaving cream it's like shopping in an American convenience store with a 200% markup.
Fun Alternatives: Ask the hotel where the nearest supermarket is. There was a Pam supermarket within 15 minutes walking from the Tower that had everything you could want at regular reasonable prices. There was also a Ming Ming Tsai store next to it which was similar to a dollar store only with more stuff but at a great discount. Suitcases that were 20 euro at the Tower were 9 at Ming Ming.
The entire area around the Tower is a tourist trap. Between the Africans hawking "real" Rolexes for 50 euros to the barrage of hats, clothes, and leather bags that are ridiculously overpriced.
Unique Suggestions: Step outside of the box, meaning go outside of the Tower walls where there are still hawkers but they're not nearly as aggressive or expensive. Inside the walls we were told the price was the price, but outside bartering was perfectly acceptable.
Fun Alternatives: Best time to shop is at the end of the day and offer less than the asking price. Be prepared to walk away. They'll come after you.
This may seem obvious but I'm always surprised by how many people I see still picking up their souvenirs right in front of the tower. People! Seriously, take a walk down a side street and you'll more than likely encounter some of the same items for less. This, of course, wont' be true for all things, but it's definitely worth taking a look.
Unique Suggestions: A lot of the kiosks that sell goods sell much of the same thing. If it's possible ask how much something is in earshot of a rival vendor. When you get a price ask the other vendor what he's selling it for and see if a bidding war breaks out. It doesn't always work, but I bought an umbrella once for 3 euros from a guy who kept outbidding his own partner!
Fun Alternatives: If the item you just have to have can be found nowhere else but it's too expensive it never hurts to haggle.
Climbing up the leaning tower is a must for most of the tourists, although I think the view is not THAT great at all, except the small part where you see Piazza dei Miracoli from above. Enlarge my extra pics and see what you will see from the top of the leaning tower !
Unique Suggestions: Climbing up the tower might be OK, if you have enough time and saw the Duomo, Camposanto and Battistero as well.
Otherwise it is a waste of time and a lot of stress, as you have to be there some time before the tour starts and you have just 30 minutes to climb up, have a look and climb down again.
Fun Alternatives: Pisa is much more than the misconstructed leaning tower...
Everywhere I turned there was some person trying to sell me knock off designer sunglasses or hand bags. Very annoying. I would tell them I was broke (which was very true) and because I am American they didn't believe me. It was very hard to get away from them.
Unique Suggestions: I just had to say no and keep walking.
Fun Alternatives: Honestly, I don't see any way around it except to be slightly rude. Not really my nature, but you have to in order to see what you want to see.
Especially near the Piazza dei Miracoli, there are lots of stalls that sell souvenirs, in fact you will see lots of similar souvenirs, don't buy from the first one you see cos prices will be totally different as you go along. Just see first and then compare. One other thing there will be lots of coloured people trying to sell sunglasses, watches and belts ... don't trust them... they are all fake items. In fact if a police see you buy something they will charge you and the seller, so be careful.
Unique Suggestions: Just ignore those people telling you that it is a bargain and will sell you fake things
We parked in a lot a distance from the entrance and took a free bus to the street leading to the square and tower. The entire distance to the entrance was lined with tourist shops that sold mostly junk that probably was made in Asia. Once in the giant square there was a line of stalls that ran the entire length of the square. Vendors standing everywhere were selling watches, purses, toys etc.... It all kind of ruined the mood of the event.
I did experience one problematic moment when I least expected...rude local person contact as every traveller's worst nightmare was what happened. Here is the story...
My mother bought a calling card called "Europa" for 10 Euros in a small newsstand shop. She made one call with it and while she was trying to make another, the card died. I tried using it on different phone booths but the card wouldn't scan anymore. While trying to figure out what to do, I noticed writing on it - "Telecom Italia". I called the number they advertised and when I finally found someone who spoke English, he told me that he never heard of "Europa" calling card and that Telecom Italia does not support it. He could have also told me that they do support it but he doesn't feel like helping me because he is not in the mood and I would still feel equally powerless and defeated. As I am not someone who gives up easily, I decided to go back to the store where we bought the card and try to get information from the salesman on how to deal with our problem. So we went back to the small newspaper shop, however salesman didn't speak a single word in English. That was unbelievable to me as his tourist-oriented shop was located just steps away from the Leaning tower. Well I tried with my extremely broken Italian to explain what happened which he understood. That also made him very frustrated as he started screaming at me. He even told me to go to the local comune to complain. Gotta love his sense of humour. Then I gave up and entire event made me realize that being a tourist that does not speak local language is not always the most pleasant experience.
Fun Alternatives: Do not buy "EUROPA" calling card.
At the shop where you buy the tickets, you can purchase an alabaster model of the Leaning Tower. It costs 26 Euros !!! whereas the same model in a much bigger size (made of cheaper material) is around 3 Euros in the same shop. So, if all you are buying is a souvenier for a friend or colleagues, buy the cheaper one. It looks equally good or maybe even better '-)
This is actually right outside Porta Santa Maria in the city of Pisa. We thought we were in Arizona for a minute there. These teepees are full of "tourist treasures" and at night, they simply close them up and lock them.
It gets a bit crowded walking through them and there are more traditional tacky tourist stands right inside the Porta opposite the famous Leaning Tower.
Unique Suggestions: Hey, if you like plastic or metal Leaning Tower replicas, go for it. If you're not interested, skirt the area and keep to the left as you enter the walled part of Pisa to avoid the continuation, albeit not wigwams, of the tourist trade.
If your camera breaks, you can always pick up photos and post cards here! There's always a bright side.
Fun Alternatives: You can enter someplace else in Pisa, but this is close to free parking and you enter right at the Leaning Tower so the alternatives aren't as convenient. Just ignore these . . . or laugh at them as we did. It really does look odd in Italy.
Around the Piazza dei Miracoli you will find a lot of African hawkers walking around with goods. Most of the time they will sell watches, jewels, sunglasses from famous designers like Gucci, Cartier, Rolex ... Don't believe what you see, because it's all imitation.
Unique Suggestions: Don't pay too much.
Together with mass tourism, you also have the negative consequences of course. Along the Campo dei Miracoli are lots of stalls selling you little leaning towers, T-shirts with "I love Pisa" print, ...
There are also a lot of people selling fake brand watches, wallets, ...
Needless to say all of this is expensive for the quality offered!
Unique Suggestions: If you're buying a watch, wallet or other fake item, at least bargain! A colleague of mine bought a watch 10 euro, which was originally 40 euro!
If you need to eat something to continue your tour of Pisa and you are in Piazza dei Miracoli, you have two choices: 1) To spend a lot of money for a Pizza or a Pasta dish or simply for an hamburger
2) "Escape" from this area (30 meters far is still near and it costs much less!!!) and find a good place for lunch or dinner (look at my restaurant tip)
Fun Alternatives: If you are too lazy to walk a little bit and you absolutely want to eat something, you can decide to taste a good GELATO (ice-cream); it is a good meal and it is cheaper than a normal lunch even if you are in the "hottest price area" in Pisa!
Around the tower you will see plenty of souvenir-shops, the closer to the tower, the more expensive...
...and the more strange and even a bit funny.
I wonder what Michelangelo would say, to see the "best part of David" on underpants... ???
Unique Suggestions: For souvenirs and postcards, you may also have a look at many shops in the town of Pisa, while walking TO Piazza dei Miracoli
Fun Alternatives: Take a walk back to the station and buy your souvenirs in town !
NO guarantee, though, to find underpanties made by Michelangelo.... :-)
At the campo die Miracoli they try to persuade you of buying all kinds of worthless stuff.
The entire square is lined with stalls selling small towers, in all shapes and sizes. They are not only useless but also far too expensive.