Rome vs Venice – Which One Should You Choose?
‘Should I visit Rome or Venice?’ – a common dilemma for those trying to choose between two of Italy’s most magnificent cities. Both locations are particularly popular with tourists and both offer a very different experience of the country, each with their own pros and cons.
Rome was referred to as the ‘eternal city’ by the ancient Romans who believed that the country’s capital would always stay standing, and many of its spectacular historical buildings, monuments and artworks have stood the test of time and made it a fascinating blend of history and modernity. Venice on the other hand is a more transient location; the city is slowly sinking into the lagoon that it ‘floats’ on and is predicted to be underwater in the next century. For now though, it remains a beautiful and unique part of Italy, built on over 100 small islands that are connected by bridges, canals and waterways.
Each destination is rich in culture, steeped in history and full of things to see and do, and trying to decide where to go can seem impossible! To help you choose whether Rome or Venice is better to visit, we’ve put together this guide of what each city has to offer.
Italy has played a major part in many significant historical events; the Italian peninsula was the heart of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance period is said to have begun in Italy, and the headquarters of the Catholic Church are in its capital city. Both Rome and Venice are teeming with sites and stories to discover that make up just a small part of the country’s rich history.
When most people think of Italy they think of Rome; the capital city and birthplace of the mighty Roman Empire. The power of this once small settlement grew rapidly, and for centuries Rome was the wealthiest city in the entire world, controlling much of Europe and the Mediterranean. Thousands of years later, the buildings, engineering and legacy that the empire left behind are still awe-inspiring, making Rome one of the most impressive cities that you are likely to visit.
In the unlikely event that you grow tired of visiting remains such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Roman Forum on Palatine Hill, Rome contains the historical heritage of many other periods that have left their mark with stunning monuments and architecture. From the beautiful Renaissance design of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City to the Baroque details of the magical Trevi Fountain, Rome prospered throughout the ages and the marks of its later inhabitants are still everywhere.
In total contrast to the powerful beginnings of Rome, the city of Venice was founded by those who were fleeing the collapse of the Roman Empire, chased out of their homes by barbarians invading from Northern Europe. The lagoon in which Venice was built became a haven for those who managed to escape from the mainland, protecting its inhabitants and growing in size to become one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Venice was once a key part of the European trading route, and consequently had a very cosmopolitan population and culture. The wealth that this commerce brought to the city led to a period of prosperity and power, which eventually dwindled as it fell under both French and Austrian rule until joining the Italian state in the 1860s.
Venice is best known for the network of canals that connect the city and is truly unique in its layout and forms of transport. Getting lost trying to navigate the narrow, winding streets is all a part of being a tourist in the city, and often leads to stumbling across deserted squares and churches that feel like you have stepped back into the past.
For those who are really after a trip steeped in ancient history, Rome is the obvious choice as a holiday destination, particularly if you are a fan of preserved archaeological sites and remains. Venice is more suited to those who want to enjoy a more elegant city that feels like it belongs to another time, but aren’t as interested in historic sightseeing.
Italian culture has flourished through the ages, and its focus on art, music, food and family is evident in both Rome and Venice.
When it comes down to classical art, Rome is the best of the two cities to visit to enjoy pieces that date all the way back to the Roman Empire, with a wide range of galleries and museums showcasing everything from frescos to statues. Artwork is not just confined to gallery spaces however, as many of the capital’s grand churches are also decorated with beautiful mosaic panels and elaborate depictions of religious scenes.
The Vatican City in the centre of Rome is a cultural highlight; an independent city-state that is the centre of authority for the Catholic church. The Vatican Museums contain a vast private collection of artworks and artefacts from across history and form the entrance to the grand Sistine Chapel, home to frescos that are known as the painter Michelangelo’s greatest masterpiece.
What makes Rome so special is its blend of old and new, and the city’s modern culture can be enjoyed alongside its history. When you are tired of sightseeing, you can soak up the laid-back atmosphere of cafes and restaurants in Rome’s quieter areas or just stroll through the city streets that have inspired so many artists, writers and filmmakers.
There is a large amount of classical art housed in Venice, but if you are also wanting to experience some more contemporary culture you can visit the famous Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of the finest museums of modern art that is displayed in a gallery on the Grand Canal. The city also hosts the Venice Biennial; an internationally renowned art exhibition and festival that showcases different kinds of work from all over the world.
Venetian culture has stronger ties to music than Rome; in the medieval period the area was known by many as the ‘Republic of Music’ for the number of talented composers and musicians that were born or trained in Venice. Antonio Vivaldi, most famous for his piece ‘The Four Seasons’ was born in Venice, and you can listen to live performances of his work and many others in some of the splendid concert locations around Venice and appreciate the grand musical heritage that the city has.
If Rome is the best place for history, then Venice beats it for the range of culture that the city has to offer, from its galleries to the gondolas and the famous Murano glass produced on a nearby island. However, it is worth noting that tourism has saturated Venice somewhat in recent years and driven out a lot of its residents, meaning that Rome is a better place for those seeking to experience more modern and authentic Italian culture.
Rome and Venice rival one another when it comes down to architecture, with both cities home to many impressive buildings and feats of engineering from across history. Wherever you decide to visit you will find iconic designs and spectacular structures, from the immense Piazza San Marco in Venice to Rome’s extravagant Vittoriano monument.
The architecture in Venice is unmistakable; there are strong influences from the Byzantine era in the style of many of its churches and a lot of classic examples of Venetian Gothic design in the facades of larger buildings. Perhaps most impressive however is the very structure of the city; Venice is built on thousands of wooden stakes supporting the stone foundations of its buildings, and it is fascinating to see the bridges, balconies and doorways opening out onto the water that have been created to cope with canals in the place of streets.
The scale of the architecture in Rome, both old and new, trumps anything that Venice has to offer, and the capital city certainly has the best collection of preserved historical remains. But as well as famous examples of ancient construction, you can also admire the neoclassical design of Rome’s Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana and visit contemporary buildings such as the Ara Pacis or the MAXXI National Museum of 21st Century Arts.
Venetian architecture has a magical charm that certainly makes it the most beautiful city, but if you are looking for grand historic monuments then Rome is the place to visit for the scale and diversity of its buildings.
Italian food is immensely popular all over the world, and there is no better place to enjoy it than in its home country. Whether you are staying in Venice or Rome, the quality of well-loved pizza and pasta dishes is exceptional in both cities, and once you have tasted authentic Italian cuisine you will never forget it.
Pizza is a must if you are visiting Rome, but pasta from the capital city is truly exceptional. Cacio e pepe, carbonara, spaghetti alla gricia, and amatriciana are the four pasta dishes that Rome is best known for, and it is recommended that you try each of them at least once during your stay!
Venice is an excellent place to appreciate classic Italian meals as well, but also offers many delicious local specialities that feature a lot of fish, rice and vegetables. If you’ve had enough of pizza and pasta then Venice is the perfect place to try a variety of other wonderful food that the city’s residents, or veneziani, have been enjoying for years.
Finally, a trip to Italy is not complete with gelato, which you can find an abundance of in both places. Try Gelato di Natura in Venice for artisanal décor and flavours, and Gelateria La Romana in Rome for a rustic setting and exceptional ingredients.
If, like many, you have been inspired by the Italian’s chic and refined fashion sense, then Rome is the best place in the whole country to go shopping and bring a little bit of that glamour home with you. Well known brands and exclusive designers line the streets of the city centre, and the most prestigious labels can be found on the glamourous Via dei Condotti where you can discover styles straight from the runway.
Venice is also home to a small designer district, as well as a lot of souvenir shops where you can buy classic Venetian style masks and famous Murano glass. If it is fashion you are after however, no other Italian city tops Rome.
When it comes down to cost both Venice and Rome can be expensive places to stay, but if you are travelling on a budget then Rome is your best option to get the most out of your holiday. Venice is a much smaller city and is known for being particularly pricey everywhere, whereas Rome has a better range of accommodation as well as more free things to see and do.
THINGS TO DO
No matter where you decide to visit, each location has a huge variety of different attractions suited to a wide range of interests.
Venice is ideal for exploring over a long weekend, with a great selection of churches, galleries and hidden gems tucked into its side streets. You can also make use of the water taxi service, known as a vaporetto, to reach some of the other islands in Venice’s lagoon, and escape the crowds of tourists for an afternoon.
Rome’s sprawling size means that it has a lot more attractions to keep you busy, and visiting the city’s numerous historical sites is the obvious choice for spending your time. Those who are planning a longer visit can also plan day trips to nearby places like Ostia, Florence or Pompeii, which can be easily reached by train.
Rome and Venice are two very different cities, and it comes down to which aspects of Italian culture you are looking to experience whilst you are away.
Choose Venice for beautiful scenery and architecture, a perfect location for a romantic holiday, or if you prefer art over history. Venice is very popular with tourists and you may find that famous locations can get very busy, so consider visiting in the Spring or Autumn instead when it is likely to be quieter.
Choose Rome if you are fascinated by ancient history and want to be able to step back into the past, but also want the convenience of modern amenities on offer as well. Whilst the popularity of Rome means that it is more overrun with pricey tourist traps, it is Italy’s capital city for a reason and the food, fashion and culture live up to expectations.
Ideally, you should visit both Rome and Venice at least once in your lifetime to experience all of the wonderful things that both cities have to offer, and those who are visiting Italy for a long time might be able to fit a stay in both into their itinerary. If it is your first visit to the country then Rome is a brilliant introduction to the bold history and atmosphere that Italy is known for, whereas Venice is calmer and easier to navigate, offering a unique slice of Italian life.
If you are still stuck on trying to decide between visiting Venice or Rome, contact Italy4Real today and speak to one of our experts who will help advise you on which of Italy’s two most famous cities you should choose for your next holiday.