Milan or Florence – Where Should You Go?

Written by Rem Malloy, since 1995 Rem has been guiding and designing trips to Italy and all of Western Europe and is considered an expert in his field for over 30 years.

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Italy is a country filled with spectacular cities. From flooded streets to foodie havens and houses built into the cliffs, there’s a destination suited to every traveller. If you’ve already been to some of Italy’s most popular cities and are trying to plan your next trip to the country, you might have found yourself stuck trying to decide between visiting Milan or Florence. And what a decision to make!

Florence is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Italy, home to an incredible array of Renaissance buildings and known as one of the best parts of the country for history and art. Milan, on the other hand, is the global capital of fashion and Italy’s financial hub, offering a much more cosmopolitan but still very cultural experience to travellers.

Perhaps there’s something in particular that you’re looking for on your next Italian holiday, or you’re just wondering which city is better suited to your interests. From the food to the culture and ancient history, we’ve put together this comparison guide that is sure to help you decide whether you should visit Milan or Florence.


If you ask anyone about Italy’s history, they’re bound to mention Florence. This small city is found in the rural region of Tuscany and is perhaps best known as being the birthplace of the Renaissance movement. 

Florence was established during the Roman Empire, but it didn’t begin to grow in prosperity until a few centuries later when the city became one of the wealthiest and most important trading destinations in Europe. Ruled on and off by the powerful Medici family dynasty for over 500 years, Florence flourished as it became a hub of art, architecture, poetry and politics, and is certainly the most historic of these two locations.

If you’re a fan of the Renaissance then there is no better part of Italy to visit than Florence, where you can wander the same streets as past inhabitants such as Leonardo da Vinci, Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Boccaccio as you admire the incredible architecture from this period that is still preserved across the city. The selection of ancient art inside the city’s galleries and museums is unparalleled, and there are historic stories attached to almost every building and artefact that make it a truly fascinating place to visit.

The origins of the city of Milan can be traced right back to 400 BC, but it was firmly put on the map (so to speak) when it became the capital of the north of Italy in the 3rd century. Found in the region of Lombardy, Milan has a history of different rulers and inhabitants who have favoured the city because of its prime position as part of the European trading route.

During the Middle Ages, a region known as the Duchy of Milan was established, which fell under the control of both the French and the Spanish until it joined the Republic of Italy in the 1800s. The city was famous for its passion for Italian nationalism, and whilst the capital of the country moved to Florence and then Rome when Italy united as a nation, Milan has always been thought of as its financial centre.

Modern Milan is the second-largest city in Italy, and despite its rather dramatic past, there are not many traces of this history left. Instead, Milan has prospered as a city that focuses on industrial, commercial and financial success, as well as sharing the title of Europe’s fashion capital with Paris.

This is one instance where the choice between Milan vs Florence is simple; if you’re after history then Florence is a clear winner.


Both Milan and Florence offer their visitors different cultural experiences, and which city you prefer will very much depend on where your interests lie.

We’ll begin in Florence, which is known as one of the best places for culture in the world. It’s the Renaissance history of the city that makes Florence so rich in its cultural heritage, with a huge range of art galleries and museums as well as many fascinating churches, bridges and other historic buildings.

The Duomo in Florence is certainly one of the city’s cultural highlights; a huge cathedral dedicated to Saint Mary that is topped with an iconic red dome. The Uffizi Gallery is another must-see attraction, home to an art collection that once belonged to the influential Medici family.

Milan is home to an equally exciting cultural scene, although there is less history to be discovered here. There are a brilliant number of museums and art galleries to be visited across Milan, including one which houses Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ painting. The famous Teatro la Scala opera house is also found in Milan, alongside a range of other theatres and performance venues that frequently host international artists.

Milan is a city that has international influence, so whilst it might not have as grand a past as Florence, it is certainly worth visiting as a cultural destination. If you’re after more historic culture then Florence should be your destination of choice, but those who have more of an interest in modernity will find plenty to see and do in Milan.


The metropolitan hub of Milan is full of sleek and modern architectural design as well as a large, beautiful cathedral that has both Renaissance and Gothic elements and is one of the city’s must-sees. As a European capital for design as well as fashion, architectural advancements are frequently being made in Milan that can be seen in many of its newer buildings across the city, and fans of more modern design will enjoy the range of styles and innovations.

Florence, in comparison, often feels like you have stepped back into the past when you look at its buildings. Many classic pieces of Renaissance architecture have been preserved across the city, along with numerous examples of Gothic and medieval design that make it an absolute paradise for those who appreciate more historic architecture. 

Architectural highlights of Florence include the Duomo, the Gothic-Romanesque Palazzo Vecchio, and the Ponte Vecchio. Many of the city’s tourist attractions are also housed in beautiful old buildings, and there are classic churches in almost every part of the city that are open for visitors all year round.

Whilst Milan is home to heaps of technical innovation in its architectural design, if you’re looking for classic examples of Italian architecture then Florence will probably be your first choice out of the two cities. 


You can find classic Italian dishes when you visit Milan or Florence, but both of these must-see Italian cities also have their own regional specialities that make them great locations for food lovers. 

Milan is most famous for its iconic Risotto Alla Milanese; a rich and creamy rice dish flavoured with saffron and served with parmesan cheese. The city is also the birthplace of the Negroni Sbagliato which is a spin on the classic Negroni cocktail that replaces gin with prosecco and must be tried at least once whilst you’re in Milan.

The Tuscan region is known for the exceptional quality of all of its local ingredients, so if you are visiting Florence you are sure to benefit from the fresh flavours in many dishes that come straight from the cities surrounding countryside. Truffles, olive oil, cheese and vinegar are all regional specialities, and wine from the Chianti region in Tuscany is revered all over the world.


When it comes down to shopping, the decision is simple if you’re choosing between Milan or Florence. Whilst Florence is a city with a reasonably good selection of shops, Milan is known for being the most influential fashion destination in Italy as well as being a hub of business and commerce, so if you’re serious about shopping then it should be your first choice.

From designer outlets to luxury boutiques, Milan is overflowing with shopping opportunities. The city centre has a store for every brand you’ll ever have heard of, and the outskirts are filled with independent retailers that have birthed numerous famous designers and artists who have been inspired by Milan’s glamour and style.

Milan is also home to two annual fashion events that take place in February and September, and shopping in the city at this time is even more of an experience. But all year round, the streets of Milan are almost like a catwalk in themselves, and it’s a brilliant place to go if you’re looking to update your wardrobe. 


Because of Milan’s reputation as a prosperous city of fashion and finance, many people are under the impression that it is an expensive part of Italy to visit. And whilst staying in the central areas of the city or frequently shopping and dining out can lead to a very pricey holiday, there are plenty of budget options for those who want to visit Milan as well. 

As in many modern European cities, Milan is home to many hostels and budget hotels that are ideal for travellers who are trying to explore the country more cheaply. If you’re got the cash to spare then you can certainly live it up in luxury in Milan, but don’t be put off by its glamorous image.

Florence’s location in Tuscany means that it can be more expensive to travel to, but in terms of overall cost, the city is on a similar level to Milan. There are a range of different accommodation options that are suitable for all budgets, although it should be noted that Florence is more of a tourist destination so prices are affected by peak seasons and it can be harder to find somewhere nice to stay if you’re booking last minute.

Both locations are similar in price when it comes down to food, and both have relatively cheap public transport options.


Both Florence and Milan offer visitors many different things to do, although the former of the two cities is slightly more geared up for tourism.

A top choice for something to do in Milan is shopping of course, but there are plenty of theatres, galleries and museums to visit as well, alongside a few historical attractions. Don’t expect the same variety of sightseeing opportunities as places like Florence, Venice or Rome, but you can look forward to a fantastic nightlife scene.

Milan is also a brilliant base location for taking day trips to other popular parts of Italy. Lake Garda, Verona, Bologna and Lake Como are all close enough to visit for a short time, allowing you to see much more of the country in a single trip.

When it comes down to tourist attractions, Florence does have more to offer than Milan. Though the city is small, there are exciting things to see and do around every corner, so be prepared to spend a lot of your holiday on your feet as you explore.

Whilst there aren’t as many cities near Florence that provide day trip opportunities like Milan, its position within Tuscany is perfect if you’d like to spend some of your trip in the beautiful countryside. Whether you spend a few nights in a medieval villa or simply visit a vineyard for the afternoon, there’s a lot more to explore just outside of the city.


Both Florence and Milan have a lot going for them, and even after considering what each city has to offer, it can still be incredibly hard to decide between the two. Both locations have very different atmospheres and cultural highlights, so in most cases, it will come down to what kind of Italian holiday you’re after.

Milan is a city that is suited to energetic and modern travellers who are less concerned about history and want instead to enjoy the food, nightlife and contemporary culture of one of Italy’s most sophisticated cities. However, lovers of art, history and more traditional Italian holidays will prefer the slower pace and ancient beauty of Florence, where you can spend your days soaking up the past and admiring the city’s wealth of architectural marvels.

If you’re visiting Italy for the first time then Florence is the more obvious choice as a holiday destination, as this famous location has plenty of the historic attractions that most people expect from a holiday to the country, and is more geared up for foreign visitors. Milan on the other hand is a better choice for those who have already ticked off the top cities on their Italian bucket list and are looking for a more authentically modern experience of life in Italy.

Whichever of these two spectacular cities you decide to visit, at Italy4Real we can help you plan your perfect trip. Get in touch with one of our team to find out more.

About the Author

Rem Malloy started Italy4real back in 1995 with his mother, Deborah de Maio.

He specialises in Italian tours as well as customised tours to France, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. He was also featured in the Travel Channel show Mysteries at The Museum in 2016.

Rem has family in Italy and his mothers home town is Cava di Terrani, near the Amalfi Coast. The family has a street named after them in Sorrento, Via Luigi de Maio; a relative who was mayor of Sorrento.

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