This article will honestly compare Florence and Madrid, for a city break or holiday.
We understand that so many travel guides and websites make every destination seem so amazing, but few actually say which one is better, and more suited for your style of holiday. This in-depth guide of 2,245 words will provide our unbiased opinions and independent views, and hopefully help you to select your ideal city to visit.
The guide has the following sections:
1) City introductions -
2) City score charts -
3) Which one would I, friends, or family would visit -
4) When to visit and comparison weather charts -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Please click on the underlined link to be taken directly to that section.
Florence is a beautiful city, and is an enchanting mix of renaissance history and classic Italian charm. It was from this scenic city that the 14th-century renaissance era originated, creating a cultural explosion in the arts and sciences.
This enlightened era still resonates through modern Florence, from the inspiring art-galleries, the magnificent religious buildings or the museums bearing the names of the era’s great scientists. Beyond the famed attractions is small and personable city, which adores its food and has deep rooted Tuscan heritage. Florence is a wonderful destination which you will adore.
Which city would I go to? Florence (really tough decision)
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Florence
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Madrid
Which for my food obsessed friend? Florence
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.
Florence is a compact city which can be seen within a stay of one day and night. This is usually extended by an additional day to visit the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries. In the peak season there are extremely long queues for the galleries and Duomo cathedral; to avoid wasting precious time, it is advisable to pre-purchase tickets start the day sightseeing very early (8am).
There are many good day trips from Florence, which are easily accessible by train, and include Siena, Lucca, and Arezzo. Florence may be a smaller city, but a fabulous one-week holiday could be had based here.
For Madrid, the length of stay greatly depends on how much you want to devote to visit the three famed art galleries (Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía), or immerse into Spanish culture. The city can be seen in two days of sightseeing, and a third day is often given to the galleries.
There are many outstanding day trips from Madrid and a trip can be easily extended to 5 or 6 days. A selection of the best day trips includes the medieval town of Segovia, charming Toledo, and the magnificent El Escorial. Madrid makes for a good base from which to explore the region, and is served by inexpensive public transport
The ideal time to visit Florence is from April to June or September and October; this is when there are fewer tourists, prices are slightly lower, and the weather is pleasant. Even though it is popular, we would discourage the summer as it will be very hot, crowded, and most expensive for flights and accommodation. Winters are cooler and possibly wet but have the lowest number of tourists. Early spring and late autumn and are ideal for a city break.
The major consideration for Madrid, is to avoid August, when the entire city shuts down (most restaurants, cafes and independent shops) and everyone heads to the coastal towns. Late spring and early autumn (Jun/July and September) are the best seasons.
Madrid can be surprisingly chilly in the winter, but is comparatively dry to the rest of Europe. As Madrid is in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula it tends to get more extreme weather than the coastal cities.
Madrid is one of the finest cities in Europe. The city may not have the iconic monuments and attention-grabbing tourist attractions, but in reality, there is a lot to see during a city break.
Much of Madrid’s tourist literature focuses on the museums and galleries (which are world-class), but this should not deter you; this is a fun-loving city, which has the best nightlife in Europe. No matter your style of trip, there will be something to love about the Spanish capital.
Madrid excels as a long-stay destination, and if you are able to work here, the city offers perfect work/life balance.
Florence is an amazing destination. The focus for a trip will always be around the renaissance historical sights, from the statue of David in the Accademia Gallery, Botticelli, Caravaggio paintings in the Uffizi, or the Duomo. Beyond this there is a delightful city, with classical Italian architecture and delicious Tuscan regional cuisine - also gelato originated from Florence!
Florence is not an overly expensive destination, is relatively safe and has a small city atmosphere. The only real negatives are the sheer number of tourists (and day-trippers) who visit during the peak season, which means hours can be wasted stood in queues. Florence is highly recommended.
48 hours in Florence
While sightseeing in Florence always aim to see the major sights as early in the day as possible, to try to avoid the awful queues. For the first morning visit the Duomo complex with the church, the Campanile di Giotto Tower and Museo dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. Next visit the Palazzo Vecchio palace and the pretty Piazza della Signoria.
In the afternoon visit the Galleria dell'Accademia, which the standout attraction will be the statue of David by Michelangelo (advisable pre-book tickets). For the latter part of the day cross the Ponte alle Grazie with it’s views the Arno River and head to the Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte church. For sunset climb to the Piazzale Michelangelo viewpoint, the most romantic place in the city. For dinner try the regional meal of Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak).
The statue of David is regarded Michelangelo finest work
For the second day start early again and head to the Uffizi Gallery, with its extensive collection of renaissance art (Botticelli, Caravaggio Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian). For the afternoon cross the Ponte Vecchio with its jewel shops and visit the Boboli Gardens. To end the day visit Forte di Belvedere.
48 hours in Madrid is not just the sights but also the atmosphere of the city. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.
Begin in the Puerta del Sol, then wander through charming streets of the El Madrid de los Austrias, which is the oldest section of the city. This leads to the Palacio Real, surrounded by its formal gardens and the Catedral de la Almudena to the south.
For the last part of the day explore the La Latina district and have a delicious tapas meal at one of the restaurants along the Cava Alta or Cava Baja. La Latina boasts numerous bars and is always a great place to start a night in Madrid.
The Gran Vía is the bustling main avenue of Madrid
The morning of the second focuses on the three art-museums, the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía. Close to the museums is the pretty the El Retiro Park.
For the afternoon head down the Gran Vía, the main shopping street of Madrid, and visit the Malasaña district, with its artisan vibe, independent shops and trendy nightlife. For sunset watch it at the Templo de Debod, and then head back to Malasaña for a memorable meal and evening.
For your first visit, you would want to be based in the Centro or Retiro districts, and this will limit accommodation options. If you do wish a more remote, budget option always ensure it is close to a metro station. While exploring Madrid, you will do a surprising amount of walking.
When selecting a location to be based in Florence, it is very difficult to go wrong, the city is compact and walkable. You should also stay within the confines of the SS67 ring road, and all of the main historic sights are to the north of the Arno River. The San Marco district (north of the historic centre) tends to have more budget options, while Oltrarno (south of the river) tends to have a younger vibe with its lively nightlife and artisan scene. For a more authentic Italian experience head to the east of the city and the Santa Croce district.
Florence is best explored on foot, and there is rarely any need for public transport or taxis. The two train stations are conveniently close to the city centre and make public transport day trips easy.