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cathedral of santa maria de fiore in florence italy
Travel tips

Rome vs. Florence: Which Italian City is Right for You?

Mar 05, 2021 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Dreaming of taking a tour of Italy? If so, chances are fellow travel lovers told you to visit Rome or Florence. Both Italian cities are filled with incredible sights, history, art, architecture, culture, and food. But which is better: Rome or Florence? What’s the difference between Rome and Florence, anyway? This guide is designed to help you decide if Rome or Florence is the city for you.

the exterior of the Colosseum

Visit Rome if you like the classics

If you’ve never been to Italy, visiting Rome is a must. This bustling city is a true relic of the past. It’s home to nearly all of the Roman sights you’ve seen in movies—like the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Roman Forum, jut to name a few.

There are over 2,000 fountains, more sculptures than you can count, 83 museums, several parks, and so much more. One park we recommend visiting during free time in Rome is the Borghese Gardens. It’s located right in the center of the city, but as soon as you enter, you’d never know. There are tree-lined paths, several museums, three historic temples, a boating lake, zoo, cinema, full-scale Globe Theatre, and one of the world’s finest art galleries.

Whether or not you’re religious, you’ll also be in awe of the incredible architecture and art inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, which isn’t technically Rome, but it’d be a sin not to mention it!

Visit Florence if you want to feel like a local

Florence is smaller and more self-contained than Rome. The city itself is a beauty, but it offers more than even meets the eye. Packed with iconic sites like the Duomo, Santa Croce, the Uffizi Gallery, and more, the best part of Florence is that everything is in walking distance. You can even take a virtual sightseeing tour of these sites.

The difference between Rome and Florence is that there aren’t many flashing lights or fast food chains in Florence. Everything is authentic, and stunningly so. As you walk through the cobblestone streets, navigating narrow quarters, looking up at Renaissance buildings, or glancing over at the glistening Arno, you won’t have a single doubt that you’re in Italy. You’ll be fully immersed in a special spirit you can’t find anywhere else.

Read the Go Ahead Travel Guides to Rome and Florence

Travel tips
The Beginner’s Travel Guide to Rome

If you’re a history buff, Rome is for you

While both cities have brilliant history, Rome is essentially a living museum. Every step takes you deeper and deeper into the history of Western civilization, and every sight tells a story richer than the last.

You can stroll through the ruins of the splendor that once defined the Roman Empire, and get an close-up look at the regal relics. You can stand in the Colosseum where crowds once stood, cheering along fighting gladiators. You can visit churches so full of art, they are masterpieces, themselves. You can even explore the archaeological remains of bathhouses, palaces, and meeting spaces where the Romans spent most of their time.

If you are interested in the way the Romans lived, visit the Baths of Caracalla. Built in the southern section of the city in 216 A.D., they’re some of the biggest and best preserved, with many masterful mosaics still intact.

If you like art, you’ll love Florence

Another difference between Rome and Florence is that if Rome is a history museum, Florence is an outdoor art museum.

Florence isn’t just the birthplace of the Renaissance. It’s the birthplace of some of the period’s most notable artists, too: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli, to name a few. You can see pieces by all three of these artists at the Uffizi Gallery, gaze upon sculptures by Donatello at the National Museum of Bargello, or see works by Brunelleschi inside the Duomo. You can even explore the Basilica of Santa Croce, the burial site of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo.

When considering Florence vs. Rome, know that with every turn on the streets of Florence comes a new sculpture, stunning mural, or picture-perfect piece of Renaissance architecture. It’s like walking through a postcard.

Michelangelo's Statue of David

Visit Rome if you love variety

Rome is a big city, with all that a big modern city has to offer. It’s an exciting place to be—a place you could easily spend a full week. With vespas and cars whizzing around you, people from all kinds of places, a variety of restaurants, and many museums, everything you could possibly want is right at your fingertips. Dreaming of being in the Eternal City right now? Take a virtual walking tour of Rome’s Jewish Quarter.

One minute you’re in a sleepy cafe sipping espresso with the Italians, the next you’re standing at the Pantheon where emperor Hadrian stood in 126 A.D. You can go from a park full of greenery, to the site of the 1960 Olympics, to a brand-new gelateria, to the Colosseum in a matter of hours—ending your day with dinner in a centuries-old neighborhood that bursts to life at night when locals go out for diner. It’s no wonder they call it the Eternal City.

Choose Florence if you want a walkable city

You may have to navigate public transport, or take a taxi here and there while in Rome, but in Florence you can see every single site on foot. Though much smaller in size, Florence is filled to the brim with museums, artwork, restaurants, and other stellar sites. Every turn will introduce you to a new cafe, shop, church, museum, or trattoria that invites you to rest, explore, or indulge. We recommend getting out of the city center and popping across the Arno to the Oltrarno neighborhood. It’s where you’ll find all the locals, and there are no shortage of ways to spend your free time in Oltrarno.

The best part about Florence is that you can plan your day on your own accord. There’s no need to worry about understanding a public transit system or sit in traffic. If you really want to live like an Italian, you don’t have to rush at all. So relax and enjoy those paninis at Osteria All'antico Vinaio, spend hours lost in the incredible artwork of the Accademia Gallery, which includes Michelangelo’s David, or visit ten museums in one day. You’ll definitely sleep well that night.

Shop top-rated tours of Rome and Florence

Do your shopping in Rome

If shopping is on your list, Rome is the winner in the great Florence vs. Rome debate. Rome has so many shops to visit—with fashionable clothing, souvenirs, and even the big brands we all know well.

Via Del Corso and the surrounding streets are home to many shoe stores and popular fashion companies inside large historic buildings. Then there’s Porta Portese, which is Rome’s biggest market. It takes place on Sundays between 7am and 2pm on the southern end of the Trastevere neighborhood.

Florence does have many markets and is actually where “Made in Italy” began, so you’ll be able to fill your bags regardless of which city you choose.

Florence is fabulous for foodies

Don’t get us wrong, you’re going to have some excellent eats whether you visit Rome vs. Florence. But there’s something about Florence that just can’t be beat. Between tiny cafes and restaurants serving food that rivals any Italian nonna’s home cooking, you’ll have some of the best meals of your life in this small city—and for a much lower price than in Rome.

Try fresh pappardelle with wild boar sauce at Zeb or top-notch cheeses and cured meats at Ino. Visit the Mercato Centrale, a contemporary food hall, for every Italian food you could imagine.  And if you're looking for something a bit fancier, try the chicken liver terrine with a vin santo reduction at Osteria dell’Enoteca. Looking for gelato recs from an expert? We asked an Italian Tour Director where to get gelato in Florence.

a traveler looking down at Rome over a bush of pink flowers

Go to Rome if you want to travel in the spring

Spring is one of the best times to visit Rome. Temperatures in the spring hover around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but can occasionally reach the 80s, making it perfect for long walks and outdoor dining as you admire blooming flowers and chirping birds. You’ll also notice fewer crowds at many attractions before the busy summer season kicks into full swing.

There are many festivals and events in the spring, too. The Vatican at Easter is a sight to see. April 21 is the annual celebration of Rome’s birthday and there are parades, mock gladiator shows, and vibrant fireworks all the way from Aventine Hill to the Tiber River. Explore other reasons why spring is the best time to travel to Rome.

Go to Florence if you want to travel in the fall

The spring may be considered off-season for taking a tour of Florence, but that makes it one of the best times to visit. With fewer crowds, you’ll feel like you have the most popular sites (almost) all to yourself. That means being up close and personal with the artwork at the Uffizi or more easily getting tickets to the Accademia Gallery.

The temperature cools down as winter sets in, making walking all day a lot more comfortable. You can wear a light jacket to admire the tabernacles, stroll through the Oltrarno neighborhood on the other side of the Arno River, or sit outside as you taste incredible pasta at Trattoria Sabatino. Speaking of food, fall is the season for truffles, eggplant, and pumpkin—all delicious Tuscan delicacies. See other top reasons why you should visit Florence in the fall.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, aka Duomo, in Florence, Italy

So, which is better: Rome or Florence?

Ultimately, when it comes to Rome vs. Florence, it’s all about your personal preference. Regardless of where you go, you’ll experience Italy at its absolute finest.

Whether you’re spending a slow morning sipping espresso as you watch the world wake up in Florence, or standing in the shadows of massive statues in Rome, you’ll take Italy in just as you intend.

And if you’re anything like us, you’ll want to visit Rome and Florence. It’s a good thing most of our Italy tours do! Rather than thinking Florence vs. Rome, you can appreciate Florence AND Rome. Prego!

Which Italian city is your perfect match? Let us know on our Facebook page!

About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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