As two of the most visited cities in both Italy and internationally, it can be a difficult feat to decide whether to visit Milan or Rome if you’re only able to visit one of the two.
In this article, both cities will be broken down into various categories, from location landscape and accessibility to cuisine and affordability, helping you to make a solid decision on whether to visit Italy’s most cosmopolitan city, Milan, or its eternal city and capital of Italy, Rome.
In general, choose Milan if you want a cosmopolitan vibe with luxury shopping and a more compact city centre. On the other hand, choose Rome if you have more time to devote and want to see sites like the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps and the Sistine Chapel.
One of the most well-known Italian cities and arguably the fashion capital of the world, Milan is a blend of old and new; from the world-famous gothic cathedral, the Duomo, to now being an influential business and economic centre of Europe. Whether you’re searching for a destination old or new, the northern Italian city of Milan is wonderful.
Luckily, Milan is an incredibly accessible city due to its Northern Italy location, a trifecta of international airports, and modern infrastructure.
When it comes to arriving in Milan, you’ll likely arrive either by plane or train. If arriving by plane, Milan is covered by three airports; Malpensa, Linate, & Milan Bergamo.
With Malpensa being the largest and likely where you’ll arrive from outside of Europe and Bergamo servicing budget European airlines, it’s safe to say that no matter where you’re coming from, you’ll find no trouble finding flights to Milan.
If you’re visiting from outside of Italy from a nearby country such as France or Switzerland, or elsewhere in Italy like Venice, Florence, or even Rome, Milano Centrale is the main station for the city as well as the largest train station in Europe by passenger volume. You can check schedules here.
As for getting around Milan’s sprawling urbanity, Milan likely has one of the best public transportation systems in Italy. With a 5-line metro system (compared to Rome’s 3-lines), and comprehensive bus and tram system, you’ll have no difficulty getting around in Milan.
Furthermore, if you’re wondering whether you should rent a car during your time in Milan, I’d suggest against it unless you plan on venturing outside the city into nature or other small towns/villages. Even then, it’s best to wait until you leave the city or just take train transportation as like any other city in Italy, both the traffic and parking are unrivalled.
While Italy in general is a more affordable destination in comparison to other European countries, your money in Milan won’t take you as far as it will in Rome.
Milan is by no means an “expensive” city to visit if you have an average budget and don’t plan on staying in high-end hotels and dining in 5-star restaurants, but the city is still marginally more expensive than the capital city of Rome.
General costs such as transportation, accommodation, and activities come out slightly more expensive than in Rome but still make an affordable trip possible depending on the time of year that you visit as well as where you stay and what you’re keen on exploring.
Expenses in Milan will likely be spent more on dining, going out, and shopping compared to the large amount of historic sites and museums typically visited in Rome. Aside from accommodation and necessary transportation, this leaves you with a large degree of flexibility in costs when visiting Milan.
You can easily keep costs down by staying outside the centre and being frugal with food and entertainment costs. On the other hand, Milan can easily become an extremely expensive city to visit if you decide to spend your time otherwise.
Things to do in Milan
Milan is a bustling, sprawling, cosmopolitan, and historic city with no lack of things to do or see and major attractions.
With unique, diverse neighbourhoods like the beautiful Navigli district, and the ideal location for day trips into the stunning Italian Alps or Lake District, no matter the type of traveller you are, you’ll surely find a unique itinerary for you in Milan.
As a city rich in culture and a key component in Italian history, Milan’s historic centre is a must-visit, with key spots to visit being the striking Duomo of Milan, La Scala theatre, the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio the Royal Palace & the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
While these are easily the most visited spots in the city, they’re completely worth visiting and best visited earlier in the day as they can become extremely busy.
For an escape into nature while in Northern Italy’s urban capital, Sempione Park is a large, vast green park in the centre of Milan with historic monuments such as Castello Sforzesco, leafy trails, and even a fair amount of wildlife to enjoy.
For art enthusiasts, Milan is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper at the UNESCO Heritage Site, Chiesa di Santa Maria Delle Grazie. You can book a guided tour here.
The Pinacoteca di Brera is another great option, as Milan’s main home to art from both Italian and foreign artists throughout the 13th to the 20th centuries.
If you’re keen on heading out of the city and exploring Milan’s beautiful and varied surroundings, Milan is perfectly located, offering you locations feasibly reached for a day trip, such as Lake Como, the Italian or Swiss Alps, Bergamo, Verona, and more.
Where to Stay in Milan
Lancaster Hotel – A lovely 3-star hotel classically decorated in Milanese fashion, they have a range of beautiful rooms on offer, a 24-hour reception, an on-site bar, room service and a garden for guests to enjoy.
Castello Guest House Milano – An upmarket hotel close to Milan’s top attractions, they have several modern and clean rooms to choose from and plenty of amenities to ensure your stay is a great one.
QUO Milano – This hostel is a great option for backpackers and solo travellers. It offers a good social atmosphere, several room types to choose from, fun events organised and good common areas.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Milan!
The eternal city and the city of seven hills, Rome, will easily conjure many images in your head, from the ancient Colosseum to endless summer sunshine and comforting meals al fresco.
Rome is typically the ideal destination for anyone searching to visit Italy, but it’s beneficial to look into the logistics of visiting the city, especially when compared to a trip to Milan.
As the Italian capital city, it’s no surprise that Rome is an easily accessed city, both to reach and get around.
Rome is the home to two airports servicing the city, Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport and Ciampino Airport. Fiumicino is likely where you’ll arrive if flying from outside of Europe, and Ciampino is more catered towards budget airlines within Italy and Europe.
While both are near Rome, Ciampino is a bit more of a stretch from the city centre, with transportation options only being taxi or bus, and Fiumicino has easy city access by train. You can book bus transfers here.
If Rome isn’t the first stop on your Italy itinerary, it’s quite easy to access by train, and with strong connections to essentially anywhere else in Italy, you’ll find no difficulty finding a train connection to Rome.
Furthermore, while the city’s main train station, Termini, is the hub for most high-speed train lines, Rome has a good handful of train stations throughout the city, adding to the convenience of reaching your destination. You can check schedules here.
When it comes to getting around the eternal city, it’s important to note that while there is an extensive public transportation system in Rome, things run a bit slower and less organised than in Milan. Albeit, with a metro system consisting of 3 lines, and a wide bus and tram system, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting around the city, no matter where you’re staying or going.
Additionally, Rome is essentially an open-air museum and locals would agree that the best way to get around is on your own two feet, taking in the magic history of one of the oldest cities.
Despite likely being the more popular Italian city with an average of 7–10 million visitors per year, when comparing Rome vs Milan, Rome can come out marginally cheaper than its northern counterpart.
An important aspect to factor in when considering the affordability of a trip to Rome is the time of year that you visit. Late spring and summer is the high season in the Italian capital, and this is strongly reflected in accommodation costs throughout the city, often being double the price of what you would pay during the fall or winter.
The majority of time spent in Rome is typically spent indulging in delicious Roman cuisine or wandering the historic streets and visiting the many monuments, museums, and sites that the city has to offer.
Because of this and especially the sheer number of museums and sites, unless you plan on spending your time wandering the city (which is a delight in its own regard), costs can add up pretty quickly in Rome, despite being the cheaper city when compared to Milan.
Things to do in Rome
As one of the most visited cities in Europe, the abundance of things to do, see, and eat in Rome comes as no surprise. While the historic centre of Rome that you’re likely most familiar with is pretty compact and walkable, the metropolitan area of Rome is large, making it one of the largest metropolitan areas in Europe.
A trip to Rome can be easily moulded to fit your interests as well as budget, whether you’re keen to visit most of the historic sites and eat at Roman classics, or you’d like to experience a different edge of the city and spend time visiting the various neighbourhoods of Rome.
It’s no trip to Rome without visiting the “Centro Storico”, or the historic centre. The entire district of the city was declared a UNESCO site in 1980, due to the immensity of history throughout the district; from the iconic Colosseum and Roman Forum to the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Vatican City, Piazza Navona and more.
While sites such as the Colosseum and Vatican require tickets and entrance fees, most of the notable points within the historic centre make up the free open-air museum that we know as Rome. The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Circo Massimo, Villa Borghese, and beyond, are all brilliant features of the city with free visits.
If you’re keen to venture outside the city centre, Rome is home to an abundance of unique neighbourhoods making up the city of Rome. The Testaccio neighbourhood on the south side of the city is a good glimpse into everyday Roman life, with traditional restaurants, food markets, and unique spots to visit such as Monte Testaccio, the Pyramid of Cestius, and the non-catholic cemetery.
For a trendy spot to visit for drinks, shopping, or even just a coffee and wander, Monti, an area popular with locals beside the Colosseum, is another great option. And if you’re looking for nightlife, head to the Trastevere neighbourhood which is always a popular option.
Where to Stay in Rome
Domus Palatina – Located close to Termini Station, this 3-star hotel is good for mid-range visitors. They have several comfortable rooms, air conditioning and a central location for exploring Rome.
Barberini Dream – A plush option close to the Trevi Fountain, this pet-friendly hotel offers a superb breakfast, rooms with fireplaces, an airport shuttle and plenty of other great amenities.
The RomeHello Hostel – A highly rated hostel situated within walking distance of the top attractions, this is a great place for backpackers in Rome. They have a range of rooms and great common areas.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other options in Rome!
Milan vs Rome: Which is Right for You?
All in all, both Milan and Rome are wonderful contenders when searching for a city to visit in Italy, and the best city to visit ultimately comes down to your preferences and budget.
If your ideal Italian getaway is a trip surrounded by historic buildings and a slower pace of life, I recommend visiting Rome vs Milan.
While Milan is still very much an “Italian city” in most regards, there’s a much more cosmopolitan and modern air to the city, compared to a more traditional feel and timelessness in Rome. This is reflected in the architecture, food, and things to do in the city.
While Milan is great for modern galleries, trendy Michelin restaurants, and modern design, Rome is best suited to someone searching for a quintessential Italian visit. When considering the cultural differences between Rome and Milan, it’s essential to note that if you have a passion for exploring museums and historic landmarks, Rome undoubtedly stands out as the superior choice.
As a walking museum, you’re at no loss of history and historic sites and museums in Rome, vs just a handful in Milan.
Due to Milan’s convenient location in northern Italy, I would say that Milan is the more accessible option. With multiple airports and more direct international flights, a close proximity to other nearby countries such as France and Switzerland, and nearby lush nature such as the Italian Alps and the Dolomites, Milan couldn’t score any higher regarding location.
On the other hand, if you’re also visiting southern parts of the country such as the Amalfi Coast, Sicily, or other popular destinations in the south of Italy, Rome is your best bet. With short and frequent train connections to the south, Rome is much closer both in pace of life, cuisine, and climate.
Affordability is also another important factor to many people when deciding whether to visit Rome or Milan and with other factors such as time of year and areas of the city, Rome is generally the more affordable option of the two.
Finally, my favourite category when it comes to deciding where to visit, is food, and with Italian food being one of the most famous cuisines internationally, food is likely going to be a large part of your travel itinerary.
If classic tomato dishes and a traditional Mediterranean diet is on the altar of your Italian dreams, Rome is undoubtedly the city for you. If you’re interested in a more decadent cuisine with dishes such as tortellini, ragù, and risotto, make your way to Milan instead of Rome.
With all things considered, both cities are two of the most visited cities for a great reason and regardless of which city you decide to visit, you’re guaranteed a delicious slice of la dolce vita.
Are you deciding which Italian city to visit? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!