Milan or Florence: Which Italian City to Visit?


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Should you visit Milan or Florence on your trip to Italy?

For anyone interested in European travel, perhaps one of the most sought-after destinations to visit is Italy, the beautiful and vibrant country along the Mediterranean coastline known for its incredible art and architecture, bustling food and wine scene, and truly stunning natural scenery. Being a country that has had an immensely significant cultural impact on the modern world, it is an extremely popular tourist destination that has so much to offer any type of traveller.

However, the country itself is quite large, and when planning a trip to Italy for a limited amount of time, you will likely have to choose which region you’re most keen to explore in order to get the most out of your experience. Because of this, you might find yourself struggling to decide whether you should visit Milan or Florence on a trip to Italy.

Both of these major Italian cities are great destinations, yet they offer different experiences that may appeal to different travellers. Milan is the booming financial capital of Italy, a fast-paced international city known for its world-class fashion scene and located in the northern Lombardy region, while Florence is a smaller city in Tuscany, boasting a high population of students and tourists in equal measure, and home to some of the most exquisite collections of art in the world.

If you find it difficult deciding between Milan or Florence to visit, keep reading for a breakdown of what both cities can offer in order to make the best choice for your Italian adventure!

Milan

Milan is the capital city of Italy’s northwest Lombardy region, a region known for its international influence, beautiful natural lakes, and modern and dynamic culture. Milan is the second biggest city in Italy, boasting a population of 1.35 million and is a fantastic point of origin for a trip to Italy.

Accessibility

An important aspect of travel to keep in mind when deciding between Milan vs. Florence is the accessibility of these cities, both internationally and domestically. Milan is an incredibly accessible city from most major cities in Europe, with roundtrip flights into Milan Malpensa Airport costing only about €20.

Travelling the last 50 km from the airport into the city is also a breeze, simply take the Malpensa Express Train directly into the city centre or book a bus transfer in advance.

Additionally, if you prefer interrail travel to flying, the Milan Central Train Station is one of Europe’s largest train stations, which means it can be reached from most major cities in mainland Europe by train, though as train fare into Milan can be pricy, it’s worth booking tickets in advance – click here to check train prices for your trip.

A commonality of both Milan and Florence is that the cities themselves are compact and extremely walkable, which means once you’ve arrived in Milan, you could easily walk from sight to sight without needing to utilize public transportation. However, there is both a metro and an extensive tram network that you could take advantage of whenever you get tired of walking for only €1.50 per ride, which is convenient for getting from one part of the city to another.

Being the extremely accessible city that it is, Milan is a great point of origin for many Italian trips because it is very well connected to the rest of the country. From Milan, you could easily either rent a car (use Rentalcars.com to find the best deals!) or utilize the bustling train network to get to many of the beautiful towns in Lombardy and beyond!

Milan Tram Network
Tram passing La Scala theatre in Milan

Affordability

Because Milan is a global capital of fashion and design, home to many designer stores and luxury hotels, many people have the misconception that it is simply not an affordable city to visit. However, just like any major city in Europe, a trip to Milan can be done as inexpensively or luxuriously as you wish, depending on what you value as a traveller and what you wish to get out of your trip.

The budget backpacker can find a bed in many centrally located hostels throughout the city for around €20 a night, take advantage of the city’s free museum days on the first Sunday of each month, and find cheap eats at pizza and panini shops throughout the city, meaning you can absolutely have an affordable experience in Milan.

In general, the central Piazza and the Duomo area in the city centre is the most expensive, as it is naturally the most touristy, so avoid eating and drinking in this area if you hope to have both a more authentic and more affordable experience in Milan.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are a plethora of more pricey hotels if you’re looking for a more luxurious experience, as well as a shopping scene that ranges from high-end designer wear to funky thrift store finds, which means there are options for many different types of experiences and budgets in Milan.

Milan's Central Piazza
Milan’s Central Piazza

Things To Do In Milan

Perhaps the most important factor when considering if you should visit Milan or Florence is what there is to actually do in these cities. While both have much to offer, and beautiful city centre Duomos (cathedrals) that are absolute must-sees, they differ quite a lot when it comes to how you’ll likely be spending your time.

While Milan houses an impressive collection of Italian art, including Leonardo da Vinci’s world-famous The Last Supper, Florence is truly the mecca for lovers of Renaissance art and history. Milan has more to offer visitors in way of musical culture, shopping, and nightlife.

Fans of performing arts can visit the Teatro la Scala, the most famous opera house in the world, while lovers of fashion and design can check out the Galleria, Italy’s oldest and most famous shopping mall. For the sporty type, catch a football game at the famous AC Milan San Siro Stadium (you can also visit the stadium or the official club museum), and those who enjoy going out on the town can check out the countless bars and clubs lining the canal in the Navigli neighbourhood, one of the youngest and most vibrant parts of Milan.

Additionally, there are many incredible outdoor day trips you can easily do from Milan, including a visit to the beautiful Lake Como. Milan is a buzzing international city, which means that while there may be fewer must-see historic attractions here than in some other Italian cities, there is always something new and exciting to see or do. Milan is the definition of modern, which makes it the ideal Italian city to visit for the energetic traveller.

Lake Como might be a factor when choosing Milan or Florence
Lake Como is a popular day trip from Milan

Cuisine

While everyone knows and loves the staples of Italian cuisine (pizza, pasta, cheese, wine), all the different regions have their own various speciality dishes that should definitely be sampled on a trip to Italy. Whether you choose Milan or Florence, there are sure to be countless amazing options when it comes to food and drink on your trip.

The Lombardy region is known for having some of the best risotto in the world, and no trip to Milan would be complete without sampling Risotto alla Milanese: a creamy, saffron-infused rice dish topped with a generous amount of parmesan cheese. Another speciality dish in this part of Italy is Ossobuco, a famous braised veal dish that is often accompanied by risotto or polenta.

Milan is also credited with being the birthplace of the Negroni Sbagliato, a riff off of the classic Negroni in which prosecco is used instead of gin. Legend has it that this drink was created by mistake when a busy bartender accidentally reached for the wrong bottle when making a Negroni, but it became famous in its own right and highlights the innovative spirit of Milan.

Finally, when it comes to coffee and desserts in Italy, it is hard to go wrong, no matter what region you may find yourself in. Just keep in mind, if you order a milk-based coffee drink in the afternoon, you might get some strange looks- cappuccinos and lattes are strictly considered breakfast drinks in Italy.

one day in bologna
A typical Italian breakfast

Where to Stay in Milan

Milan gets lots of travellers every year and therefore there is ample accommodation to choose from in the city. Whether you’re looking for a dorm bed in a hostel or a chic boutique hotel, Milan has you covered. If you’re wondering where to stay in Milan, have are some options.

Queen Hostel – This centrally-located hostel is one of the highest-rated in the city. Perfect for budget or solo travellers, they have a range of dorm and private rooms available, great common areas, and a helpful staff to make your time in Milan a great one. Click here to check availability

Lancaster Hotel – This classy hotel located in Milan’s city centre is the perfect base if you’re looking for a bit of comfort during your stay. They have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available and a great buffet breakfast included in the nightly rate. Click here to check availability

Station Hotel – An excellent high-end option, this is a fantastic place to rest your head if you want to live in luxury during your time in Milan. They have numerous modern and comfortably designed rooms available and its central location makes seeing all of the best of Milan easy. Click here to check availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Milan!

Florence

Florence is the capital city of Italy’s stunning Tuscany region, known for its rolling hills, expansive vineyards, and some of the world’s most notable Renaissance art and architecture. Famous for its galleries and museums, delicious food, and stunning beauty, Florence is an incredibly popular city to visit on a trip to Italy.

The beautiful city of Florence

Accessibility

Florence can be reached from most European cities by plane, but the airport in Florence is much smaller than Milan’s, and it only services a select few airlines. Because of this, flights at any time of the year into Florence can be pretty expensive – you can use Skyscanner to see the latest prices.

Since Italy is pretty well-connected by train, you could also fly into a more affordable airport, like Milan Malpensa, then take the 90-minute train into Florence to save some money – click here to view prices for this route.

Although it is a little less accessible from outside the country, once you are in the city itself, it’s extremely easy to get around.

Florence is a compact city which makes it very walkable, and you’ll find that walking from sight to sight is one of the best ways to actually see the city and take in the amazing architecture. However, there is an efficient and affordable tram system that you can always take advantage of if you prefer to use public transportation.

Whether you choose Florence or Milan for your trip, you’ll find that both cities are well connected to the rest of the country by both bus and train, so you’ll easily be able to explore other cities throughout the country. However, if you specifically want to explore Tuscany and its amazing vineyards and small, medieval towns, or cities like Bologna or Modena in Emilia-Romagna I would recommend renting a car (use Rentalcars.com to find the best deals!) in order to be able to fully explore the region.

one day in Bologna
Bologna is a popular day trip from Florence

Affordability

Despite being more expensive to get there, Florence and Milan are similar in terms of affordability. Florence also has budget hostel options for around €20 a night, however, because it’s such a popular tourist destination, make sure you book accommodation at least a month or two in advance to ensure you can get a fair deal.

Again, when looking for a place to get food or drinks, avoid the Piazza del Duomo. This square is the tourist heart of the city, and most of the restaurants in this area are both overpriced and inauthentic. Get a little off the beaten path in order to find better and cheaper food!

When it comes to the cost of activities, a visitor in Florence could easily end up spending the most money on admission fees to all the various museums and galleries around the city, which are usually around €20.

For the art-loving traveller who wants to see as much as they can on a trip, it is a good idea to buy the Firenze Card. This card is a steep €85, but it provides you with free admission to the museums of Florence for 72 hours, so it ends up being worth it if you plan on visiting multiple galleries and museums each day.

All that being said, general prices in Florence are fairly standard to most of the major Italian cities as long as you’re careful to avoid tourist traps and plan well.

The Uffizi Gallery might be a factor when choosing Florence or Milan
Uffizi Gallery in Florence

Things To Do In Florence

Because Florence is home to so much world-renowned art and architecture, a stay in this city will likely include a huge amount of sightseeing.

One of the must-sees includes the absolutely stunning city centre Duomo, the famous cathedral that boasts an elaborately decorated exterior. If you pay the entrance fee to the Duomo, you get access to climb to the very top of the tower, where you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the entire city.

For the art fanatic, some of the most amazing Italian art can be found at the Uffizi Gallery, Bargello Museum, and the Academia Gallery. The collections at these museums are legendary but be warned… because they are relatively small and Florence is so packed with tourists year-round, you’ll likely have to wait in extremely long lines (2-5 hours!) if you don’t pre-book a time to visit the museum. Click here to book skip-the-line tickets or guided tours of these museums.

Additionally, no trip to Florence is complete without a few leisurely strolls down the Ponte Vecchio, the beautiful Medieval stone bridge across the Arno River that is lined with jewellery shops and fun souvenirs. Florence is also well known for producing beautiful and cheap leather goods, which can be found in abundance at The San Lorenzo Market. Even if you aren’t in the market to purchase leather goods, this sprawling outdoor market provides great people watching and a fantastic spot to get some food and wine at the two-story gourmet food court located in the Mercato Centrale.

While there is absolutely no shortage of things to do in Florence, keep in mind the importance of planning well and booking activities ahead of time when visiting this city in order to avoid the astronomical lines!

Ponte Vecchio in Florence
Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Cuisine

In Florence and the greater Tuscan region, an emphasis on simplicity is showcased in its cuisine and signature dishes. While you can find Italian classics such as pizza, pasta, and paninis anywhere you go, make sure to try one of the most famous regional dishes, Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a large portion of high-quality steak cooked to perfection and often served with truffles.

Additionally, seek out cheeses, breads, olive oils and Chianti wines from local vendors – these handmade and high-quality products highlight the spirit of simplicity that is embraced by Tuscan cuisine.

When it comes to dining out in Florence, make sure to check out an aperitivo. Aperitivo is a sort of Italian happy hour in which many bars and restaurants set out a buffet of appetizers, salads, and pasta dishes to be enjoyed with a pre-dinner drink. Going to an aperitivo is a great option for a traveller because it is often much more affordable than going to a sit-down restaurant, and you are able to try a huge variety of dishes, meaning you pay less to try more!

Finally, Florence is well known for outstanding homemade gelato, so be sure to sample as many flavours as you are able, and maybe get a scoop or two while waiting in line at the museums to make the time go by more quickly!

Italy trip cost
Some bars give guests their own aperitivo spread!

Where to Stay in Florence

Florence is one of the most popular cities to visit in all of Italy and, because of that, there is no lack of accommodation options in the city. Whether you’re on the hunt for a backpacker’s hostel or a high-end hotel, you will find something suitable in Florence. If you’re wondering where to stay in the city, have are some options.

Leonardo House – As one of the highest-rated hostels in Florence, this is the ideal place to stay if you’re on a budget or travelling solo. They have both private and dorm rooms on offer, good common areas, and a central location making it easy to explore all that Florence has to offer. Click here to check availability

Hotel Bellavista – This hotel located in the city centre is an excellent place to stay if your budget allows for a bit more comfort on your trip to Florence. Its central location means that you can easily reach all of Florence’s main attractions, they have a range of comfortable and clean rooms, and the option to include breakfast in the nightly rate. Click here to check availability

Hotel Dei Macchiaoli – This elegant hotel located in the centre of Florence is the perfect place for those who want to include some classic luxury on their trip to Florence. There are a number of plush and clean rooms available and there is also a great buffet breakfast included every morning. Click here to check availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Florence

Milan or Florence: The Verdict

So, what’s the verdict? Wherever you choose to visit in Italy, you will have an amazing time, be able to see incredible world-famous and historic sites, and enjoy incredible food, but Milan and Florence do have different vibes that could make them better suited to different types of travellers.

Milan is the perfect city to visit for an excited and energetic traveller, someone who wants to go out at night, see shows, and have a fast-paced experience that may not include spending long periods of time waiting in lines and perusing museums.

However, for the art lover, history fanatic, and traditionalist traveller, Florence is absolutely the must-see city. The sheer amount and quality of art and architecture that can be found in Florence is truly incomparable to any other city, making it a very compelling travel destination.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence

As you can see, when deciding if you should visit Milan or Florence, it all comes down to where your own personal interest lies and what you value most as a traveller. Regardless of your choice, you can be sure that your experience in either city will be extremely fulfilling and provide you with a sense of Italy’s unique and vibrant culture.

When travelling in Italy, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! Click here to get a quote from WorldNomads 

Are you trying to choose between Florence or Milan? Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below!

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Ella is a writer for The World Was Here First. She is an American living in Dublin, Ireland, and when she isn’t writing, you can find her playing the guitar, reading, or pouring the perfect flat white at the café she works at. Ella fell in love with travelling while studying abroad in Galway, which is what prompted her to come back to Ireland after graduating university and start writing about her experiences.

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