Both Milan and Florence are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This website will provide our unbiased opinions, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit. The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Mention the name Milan, and it instantly conjures up visions of fashion, refinement and exclusive shopping. This is a city where looking your finest is an obsession, and even the main tourist attraction, the Galleria, is shopping arcade. Luxury brands and designer boutiques may fill the historic centre but out on the outskirts are edgy districts where this creativity originated from.
As a visitor, you should realise that Milan does not have the breadth of monuments and standout tourist attractions as of other Italian cities. This is primarily a business focused city, which reveres in sophistication and looking good.
Which city would I go to? Florence
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Florence
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Florence
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.
The main sights of Milan can be easily seen in a single day of sightseeing. A second day allows time to explore the more atmospheric districts (Navigli, Zona Tortona) or provides extra time for shopping. To capture the essence of the city, you need to experience the early evening drinks culture and the evening strolls where everyone wears their finest clothes.
Milan may lack many tourist sights, but there surrounding region certain compensates with many enjoyable day trips. This includes the historic towns of Bergamo, Brescia and Pavia, the beautiful lakes of Garda, Maggiore and Como, plus the Italian Alps. It is even possible to visit Verona as a day 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 the real Milan experience, you want to visit during the summer or winter fashion weeks (Sep/Oct or Feb/Mar), to mingle with models, stylish and Aficionados. For a city break, Milan is almost year-round, but it is cool and possibly wet in the winter, while in hot August most residents head to the beach for the whole month.
One of the quirks of Milan is at the weekends, most of its affluent or mobile residents leave the city for the coast (summer), the Alps (winter) or lakes (Spring/Autumn), leaving the city to tourists and foreign shoppers.
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.
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.
If you adore fashion, embrace style, and willing to spend a little extra, then Milan is calling you. The city excels in designer shopping, trend-setting, and simply looking good.
Many visitors leave Milan slightly disappointed; it is without the flare of Rome, the culture of Florence, or the photo opportunities of Venice. Milan is a business city, where the reward for the industrious attitude of its residents, is cutting edge fashion and sophisticated nightlife.
Insight: There are few historic buildings in Milan, as many were destroyed by the extensive bombing of the second world war.
48 hours in Milan.
Begin the first day at the Piazza del Duomo, the heart of Milan. On this plaza is the gothic Duomo di Milano cathedral (head to the roof for amazing views) and the beautiful Galleria shopping complex, filled with boutiques and exclusive retailers. On the opposite side is the Palazzo Marino, and the elegant Teatro alla Scala.
For afternoon explore the sights around the Sforzinda castle and Parco Sempione. Do include the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, where the famed “The Last Supper” fresco is housed. For the latter part of the explore the chic Brera district, with its mix of high-end stores and fashionable people.
The early evening is when Milan excels, as the offices close and workers head to the bars for Apericena (happy hour with light buffet food) to drink exquisite cocktails and flaunt the latest fashions; Navigli is a great area to experience this modern cultural tradition.
The Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, the location of one of the most controversial religious paints….
For the second day, wander down from the Duomo along the bustling Via Torino and then the Corso di Porta Ticinese, passing the Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore, and enter the atmospheric Navigli district. This canal district is filled with artisan shops, fashionable bars, and where young Milanese frequent.
The canal and train lines separate Navigli from Zona Tortona, the once-gritty but now design and creative hub of Milan. Here designers create the latest fashions in the former warehouses. Understatedly cool, but the place to experience the drive and passion of the Milanese.
If you are a football fan, you probably want to include the tour of the San Siro stadium, in the second day.
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.
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.