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Both Rome and Milan are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased opinions, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Mention the name Milan, and it instantly conjures up visions of fashion, refinement and exclusive shopping. This is a city where looking your finest is an obsession, and even the main tourist attraction, the Galleria, is shopping arcade. Luxury brands and designer boutiques may fill the historic centre but out on the outskirts are edgy districts where this creativity originated from.
As a visitor, you should realise that Milan does not have the breadth of monuments and standout tourist attractions as of other Italian cities. This is primarily a business focused city, which reveres in sophistication and looking good.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Considering the sheer number of outstanding tourist attractions, Rome can be seen within two days. Three days allows for a more enjoyable visit to Rome, with time to absorb the culture. There can be long queues for the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum, so starting early in the day is essential for a two-day visit.
There are good day trips from Rome including the Roman ruins of Ostia Antica or the historic town Tivoli. Rome has excellent intercity trains, and it is possible to visit Florence or Naples, or even Pompeii (2 hours by train) as day trips.
The main sights of Milan can be easily seen in a single day of sightseeing. A second day allows time to explore the more atmospheric districts (Navigli, Zona Tortona) or provides extra time for shopping. To capture the essence of the city, you need to experience the early evening drinks culture and the evening strolls where everyone wears their finest clothes.
Milan may lack many tourist sights, but there surrounding region certain compensates with many enjoyable day trips. This includes the historic towns of Bergamo, Brescia and Pavia, the beautiful lakes of Garda, Maggiore and Como, plus the Italian Alps. It is even possible to visit Verona as a day trip.
Most visitors head to Rome in the hot, humid and crowded summer months of July and August. Early spring or autumn are a much better time of year, and provides a much more agreeable climate, without the throngs of tourists. To truly avoid the crowds, consider November to March, but there is always the slight chance of rain and it can be chilly. Even if it does rain, head indoors for a long lunch.
For the real Milan experience, you want to visit during the summer or winter fashion weeks (Sep/Oct or Feb/Mar), to mingle with models, stylish and Aficionados. For a city break, Milan is almost year-round, but it is cool and possibly wet in the winter, while in hot August most residents head to the beach for the whole month.
One of the quirks of Milan is at the weekends, most of its affluent or mobile residents leave the city for the coast (summer), the Alps (winter) or lakes (Spring/Autumn), leaving the city to tourists and foreign shoppers.
If you adore fashion, embrace style, and willing to spend a little extra, then Milan is calling you. The city excels in designer shopping, trend-setting, and simply looking good.
Many visitors leave Milan slightly disappointed; it is without the flare of Rome, the culture of Florence, or the photo opportunities of Venice. Milan is a business city, where the reward for the industrious attitude of its residents, is cutting edge fashion and sophisticated nightlife.
Insight: There are few historic buildings in Milan, as many were destroyed by the extensive bombing of the second world war.
Rome’s appeal is ageless and timeless. It is no matter if you are going there for the perfect Instagram post of the Colosseum or on a religious pilgrim to the Vatican, the city will not disappoint.
Sadly, the years of austerity and political mismanagement are starting to wear through Rome, with an unkept and unloved mentality decaying around the edges of the city.
Rome in 48 hours
Below is an interactive map for 48 hours in Rome; day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights in grey.
Begin at the icon of Rome, the Colosseum, but also explore the Foro Romano with its many excellent Roman ruins. On the way to the historic centre of Rome passes the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, with its amazing viewpoint. For the afternoon explore the charismatic centre of Rome, taking in the Piazza Navona, the Fontana di Trevi and Piazza Colonna and the Pantheon. For the evening head to the Trastevere district on the western banks of the Tiber, for bars, late food and lively experience.
Start early on the second day to avoid the queues for the Sistine Chapel and Saint Paul’s Basilica. From the Vatican City, follow the River Tiber past the Castel Sant'Angelo, Mausoleo di Augusto to the Piazza del Popolo. For the afternoon explore the Villa Borghese park, before heading down the Via del Babuino, past the Spanish steps and into the Trevi district for a delicious meal. Before finishing in Rome part take in the tradition of passeggiata, an evening stroll wearing your finest clothes.
48 hours in Milan.
Begin the first day at the Piazza del Duomo, the heart of Milan. On this plaza is the gothic Duomo di Milano cathedral (head to the roof for amazing views) and the beautiful Galleria shopping complex, filled with boutiques and exclusive retailers. On the opposite side is the Palazzo Marino, and the elegant Teatro alla Scala.
For afternoon explore the sights around the Sforzinda castle and Parco Sempione. Do include the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, where the famed “The Last Supper” fresco is housed. For the latter part of the explore the chic Brera district, with its mix of high-end stores and fashionable people.
The early evening is when Milan excels, as the offices close and workers head to the bars for Apericena (happy hour with light buffet food) to drink exquisite cocktails and flaunt the latest fashions; Navigli is a great area to experience this modern cultural tradition.
The Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, the location of one of the most controversial religious paints….
For the second day, wander down from the Duomo along the bustling Via Torino and then the Corso di Porta Ticinese, passing the Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore, and enter the atmospheric Navigli district. This canal district is filled with artisan shops, fashionable bars, and where young Milanese frequent.
The canal and train lines separate Navigli from Zona Tortona, the once-gritty but now design and creative hub of Milan. Here designers create the latest fashions in the former warehouses. Understatedly cool, but the place to experience the drive and passion of the Milanese.
If you are a football fan, you probably want to include the tour of the San Siro stadium, in the second day.