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Both Vienna 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 of Milan 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?)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.