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Vienna or Florence; a vs city comparison and travel guide

Both Florence and Vienna 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 of Florence and Vienna, 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?)

Introduction to Vienna and Florence

Florence comes at you in a flurry of priceless art, pastel-painted jewellers, romantic piazzas, marble-gilded basilicas, saffron-scented risotto – the list goes on. Nestled into the lovely Arezzo hills in the northern part of Tuscany, the regional capital is famous around the globe.

The erstwhile epicentre of the great Habsburg empire, Vienna, is just as grand and glorious as you might expect. The Hofburg palace spreads is vast Baroque wings in the heart of the town, framing manicured gardens topped with equestrian statues. There's the Belvedere, a patchwork of orangeries and old court rooms. There are opera houses and theatre rooms and the elegant façades of the Schönbrunn. It's enough to keep the camera a-clicking for several days.

But Vienna isn't only about 18th-centry grandeur. This is a lived-in European capital. It's got gritty nightlife districts that offer up beating boat bars on the Danube. It's got handsome parks packed with pine forests and duck ponds. There are vibrant markets with food from all around the globe. And you've got one of the world's most active café cultures, with coffee shops where the likes of Freud and Trotsky were once regulars.

High-level summary for Vienna and Florence

Summary
Which city would I go to?
Vienna
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Florence
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Vienna
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Florence
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!

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

Vienna is big and brimmingwith sights. History buffs and culture vultures will want at least three or four days to check off the bucket-list attractions. That's because the mainstay palaces and the most immersive museums each deserve at least half a day to themselves. You'll also need some time to wander the Old Town area and hop the famous Viennese cafés.

If you're eager to explore all of the facets of Vienna, then you'll certainly need much longer than just your average city break. Whole weeks can be spent enjoying the buzzy squares and the statue-filled parklands. What's more, there are day trips aplenty in the region, ranging from the pine forests of the Wienerwald to the rising foothills of the Salzburger Alps.

Florence demands at least two days. Lovers of this enchanting town will surely scoff at that. They wax lyrical about how Florence seduces folk who pass its way into staying weeks, months, years, and even whole lifetimes. Still, we think it's possible to check off the main sights, try the top dishes, and explore the historic center with around 48-72 hours total.

In the peak season there are extremely long queues for the galleries and Duomo cathedral; to avoid wasting precious time, it is advisable to pre-purchase tickets and start the day sightseeing very early (before 8am).

There are many good day trips from Florence, which are easily accessible by train, and include Siena, Lucca, and Arezzo. Florence may be a smaller city, but a fabulous one-week holiday could be had based here.

Vienna in the summer can't be beaten. When the sun shines, the city's parks and bars come alive. The best weather is usually between June and August, but beware that things can get hot and humid, with temperatures cranking up over 30 Celsius. The good news is that there are some strands and swimming spots along the Danube for cooling off. If you prefer things a little milder, May and September are usually also dry and warm.

On the flip side, Vienna in winter is a real wonderland. The Austrian capital hosts some of the most enchanting Christmas markets in Europe. You'll find those brewing up hot chocolates and mulled wine on Rathausplatz and in the grounds of the Schloss Schönbrunn. They get into full swing in December, when it's common to get dustings of snow and sub-zero temperatures – boots and woollies will be required.

You've got to remember that Florence is up there with the most famous in Italy, and the vast majority of the 15.4 million visitors that come annually turn up in the summer months! That sends hotel rates skywards between June and August and means you'll need to jostle for space in front of Giotto's Bell Tower and the Duomo.

The ideal time to visit Florence is from April to June or September and October. They have good weather, fewer people, and cheaper prices, not to mention food festivals and wine harvest events. Winters are cooler and possibly wet but have the lowest number of tourists.

Culture and art are the pillars of Florence. Lovers of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance will feel right at home between the Accademia Gallery and the Uffizi. Within their halls are iconic sculptures like Michelangelo's David, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, and Caravaggio's haunting Medusa. And that's only scratching the surface!

Adding to the mix are the intriguing collections of the Museo Galileo for science buffs, the Ponte Vecchio for architecture aficionados, and tasty Tuscan farm foods for gourmands. Downsides include high visitor numbers, so it's best to steer clear if you're not a fan of crowds, particularly in the summer.

Florence is not an overly expensive destination, is relatively safe and has a small city atmosphere.

Packing in handsome palaces, Austrian beer houses, Alpine forests, cool cafés, art-filled galleries, and a buzzy nightlife, Vienna satisfies all sorts of travelers. You can easily fill whole trips in the museums alone. Days can be whiled away flitting between coffee shops. Nights can be spent in opera shows or glugging frothy beers in hipster bars.

Don't go thinking that Vienna is the great Austrian outdoors. This might be the country of the Alps, but the mountains are still at least an hour's train ride to the west. What's more, there's not a beach in sight. The best that landlocked Central Europe can offer in the way of sand and water is a few artificial swimming areas along the River Danube.

48hours in Vienna
So, you only have two days in the Austrian capital? Get ready for an itinerary that's packed to bursting with all sorts. From Neo-Classical Habsburg mansions to strolls on the Danube canals to mornings in buzzy market areas, there's something for a whole host of traveler types in these parts.

Day 1: Morning on the Heldenplatz. This manicured urban garden is one of the most iconic squares in Vienna. The huge equestrian statue of Archduke Charles of Austria is what will probably catch the eye but remember that the plaza was also the place where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria in 1938. Nearby, the Hofburg stands proud.

On a quick, two-day itinerary, it's probably best not to delve inside. The exhibits can easily take hours on end, though it's a must if you're a lover of 18th-century European history. Take your photos of the mighty Neo-Classical exterior and then move straight to the streets to the west. They herald the Innere Stadt (the Old Town) of Vienna. Cobbled lanes and little archways form a maze here that's lovely to get lost in. A lunch stop (read: strudel stop) at Café Central is a doozy. Gold-leafed ceilings and elegant royal portraits gild the interior, though the main draw is sitting where Freud and Trotsky once sat sipping their coffees.

Later on, head north around the ring roads to the Sigmund Freud Museum. It's a fine introduction to the life and works of the founder of psychoanalysis, with the original doctor's couch that his patients would sit on. Beeline straight to Prater when the evening closes in. You can get there on the underground, emerging into Vienna's famous inner-city theme part with its twirling Ferris wheel and fairground attractions.

Prater amusement park Vienna

The Prater amusement park with its traditional rides and the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel

Day 2: The early hours on the Naschmarkt offer some of the best people watching in the city. Fruit sellers call out prices while locals chow down on pretzels and white beer in the stalls. This vibrant bazaar is also the perfect place to grab any Viennese souvenirs and foodstuffs. A ubiquitous fix of palaces comes next. We'd recommend choosing one of the big two – the Belvedere Palace or the Schönbrunn. Both are stunning but the former is the easiest to get to. Both will also likely take a couple of hours, especially if you want to explore the sprawling grounds as well as the interior court rooms of the old Habsburg elite.

That will still leave some time in the afternoon to breeze over to the Danube Canal. Abuzz with boat bars and hole-in-the-wall eateries, it can help balance out the culture with a little hedonism. The district of Leopoldstadt is right behind, replete with hipster coffee joints and cocktail emporiums. An alternative way to cap off your weekend could be a jaunt to the hills of the Vienna Woods (the Wienerwald). They offer lookouts – and gorgeous sunsets – above the capital just behind the area of Hütteldorf.

48 hours in Florence
Early morningstarts are key in Florence, to hit the galleries and basilicas before the crowds. Don't worry, though, this two-day itinerary has time to rest with beautiful views in Renaissance gardens come the afternoon…

Day 1: Make for the Piazza del Duomo for the break of dawn – seriously, the earlier you can get there the better. That way, you can snap shots of the great cathedral and adjacent Giotto's Bell Tower without plumes of visitors getting in the way!
Look to the green-white marble inlays and the striking Gothic Revivalism of the whole building and think about hitting the 87-meter high lookouts of the belfry for some sweeping views across the city and the Apennines.

Traditional Tuscan design oozes from the lovely Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria – this is the town hall, dating from way back in the 1400s. Grab an on-the-go pizza slice and make north to Galleria dell'Accademia after that.

Day 2: It's a museum morning in the famous Uffizi Gallery on day two. For art lovers, the journey here is a rite of passage. The collections span several wings of a great palace in the heart of central Florence and can take hours on end to appreciate fully.

Highlights that simply can't be missed include The Birth of Venus (Botticelli), Laocoön and his Sons (Bandinelli), Raphael's portrait of Pope Leo X, and Caravaggio's unforgettable Medusa. Back outside, the Ponte Vecchio bridge isn't far. It was once a butcher's market but is now famous for its jewellery boutiques.
On the hills beyond are the handsome Boboli Gardens, all brimming with babbling fountains and carved statues. Further up again is Forte di Belvedere, where even more breathtaking views of Florence are on offer come the evening.

Florence
The best place to touchdown on a flight is surely Amerigo Vespucci International Airport. A mere 15 minutes' drive (7km) in a taxi, or 30 minutes in a train, can link you from the downtown to the terminals there.
Unfortunately, the bulk of Europe's budget carriers will jet into Pisa. That's still close – around 1-1.5 hours (83km) in the bus to the west.
Avoid flying into Bologna, as this is even further away (115km), and bus transfer 1.5-2 hours.

In terms of neighborhoods, you'll want to focus on bedding down within the SS67 ring road. More specifically, the districts of San Giovanni (the historic core) and Santa Croce are perhaps the most central, even if the latter retains a lived-in Italian feel. San Marco is a whisker to the north, hosting the bulk of the low-cost hotels and guest houses. Oltrarno boasts buzzy nightlife venues and hip coffee shops.

You probably won't need any forms of transport in Florence other than your own two feet. The town is eminently walkable. Be sure to bring comfy shoes that are suited to long days, however, especially if you're keen to scale to the lookout points around Piazzale Michelangelo.
For exploring the surrounding region, a rental car is a must. These tend to be cheap in Italy and are best organised from the airport to avoid driving through the centre of town.

Aside from the infamous Stendhal syndrome – a condition supposedly caused by exposure to too much beautiful Florentine art – there are no standout risks to visiting this city. The centre is generally safe and well maintained, crime rates are relatively low, and the locals are often happy to help out.

Vienna is among the safest and most liveable cities in the world – at least if the stats are to be believed. Of course, you'll need to have your wits about you as if you were traveling anywhere. Pickpocketing, fake tour guides, and taxi scams do occur, though they aren't common as in other European capitals.

The best arrival point for those flying is Vienna International Airport. It's a well-equipped, modern port on the south-eastern side of the capital. Direct S-Bahn trains link the centre to the terminals, or you can hop on the premium Railjet from Vienna Hauptbahnhof. There's also a shuttle link provided by AirportLines Bus, costing €13 per person, return.

Picking hotels in Vienna can sometimes be a tricky business. First-time visitors can't go wrong if they aim to stay in the Old Town (the Innere Stadt), but rooms there can be pricy and sell out fast. Good alternatives include the hip and happening district of Leopoldstadt (great for dining with a youthful vibe) and any of the blocks that come off Naschmarkt.

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