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Naples or Florence; a vs city comparison and travel guide

Both Florence and Naples are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?

We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Florence and Naples, hopefully making your choice that little easier.

The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the links:
• Introduction to the cities
• Scores and ratings
• Which one should I, friends, or family visit?
• When to visit and weather
• Who is the city suited for?
• The perfect 48hours (with map)
• Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)

Introduction to Naples and Florence

Florence comes at you in a flurry of priceless art, pastel-painted jewellers, romantic piazzas, marble-gilded basilicas, and saffron-scented risotto. Nestled into the rolling Arezzo hills in the northern part of Tuscany, this is the very birthplace of the European Renaissance.

Florence flows in its 15th-century brilliance; there’s the Uffizi Gallery - home to works by Michelangelo and Sandro Botticelli - and the handsome Ponte Vecchio bridge.
Delve beneath the famed sights and Florence is a lived-in Italian metropolis. Locals devour lampredotto sarnies while glugging Chianti reds in hidden trattoria.

Florence’s allure is as classical as the city itself, but be warned you will be sharing the experience with many others, as there will be crowds!

Spaccanapoli Naples

The Spaccanapoli cuts Naples in two and transitions from the old to modern sides of the city

In many ways, Naples is split in two halves; a town of shadow and light.
There's the Naples of pizza dough and La Dolce Vita, which is all about kicking it by the azure Tyrrhenian Sea with good food and great wine.
Then there's the gritty city, whose reputation comes from the Camorra mafiosos and the ramshackle alleys around Spaccanapoli street. Both are immersive and interesting in their own right

Put simply, Naples is one of the most authentic and enthralling cities in Italy. The self-proclaimed capital of the south, it's got Roman history and gorgeous landscapes in equal measure.
It promises something for honeymooners, backpackers, foodies, and outdoorsy types, but won't sugar-coat the experience with anything special for tourists.

harbour front in Naples

The harbour front in Naples

Florence Arno River

Every street in Florence is characterful

Naples vs Florence: City Ratings

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

That's a tricky one. Naples itself can be seen from tip to toe in just a couple of days. We'd say around 48 hours is perfect for tasting Neapolitan pizzas in legendary L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele and feeling the vibes down lively Spaccanapoli – the main drag in the historic centre.

For a longer stay of five to seven days, there's a catch: A lot of Naples's main draws are outside of town. Think the likes of Pompeii, the soaring crater of Vesuvius, and the Amalfi Coast. To add those on, you'll need to plan to come here for considerably more time.

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.

Piazza Riario Sforza Naples

The obelisk of San Gennaro in the Piazza Riario Sforza

Tuscany Florence

Tuscany is a beautiful region to discover

Spring is the best time of year in Naples. This southern city gets warm nice and early, so you can expect April highs in the 20s and even enough sun to hit the beaches of Gaiola and the local lidos if you want to take a dip in the Med. There are fewer other travellers about before the summer rush too, which means you'll find it more pleasant strolling the historic centre and Pompeii.

Of course, that's not to say the summer is bad in these parts. It most certainly isn't. Reliable warmth and loads of sunshine, topped off with a buzz about town, help make the months between June and August great options. Just be prepared to pay extra for hotels and flights, and don't expect the city to be quiet.

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.

Naples is a raw and immersive Italian city. It's got pizza places that are frequented by locals. It's got wine bars serving gorgeous Campanian tipples. It's lived-in and gritty and real. That makes it perfect for city hoppers who like atmosphere and energy. And the joys don't end there…

Just around the Bay of Naples are two of the country's most impressive archaeological sites: Pompeii and Herculaneum. They'll entertain the history lovers, along with the likes of the Castel dell'Ovo and the vast Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Loved-up duos might also want to make Naples a pitstop on a couple's break to the impossibly gorgeous Amalfi Coast that lies to the south.

Naples isn't for those who like small, easy-going towns where there's lots of room. It's crammed between the volcanos and the sea, so things are compact in the centre. It can also be quite hectic, with touts and traffic.

Piazza Plebiscito Naples

The Piazza Plebiscito is the grand square of Naples

Duomo florence

The Duomo has a gothic design, but the façade is covered in red green and white marble

Everything from millennia-old villas to rich art collections is on offer in this 48-hour guide to Naples. Oh, and there are plenty of chances to devour pizza – it's considered the very best in Italy.

Day 1: Start in the Quartieri Spagnoli. Ramshackle and rough around the edges, it's the perfect combo of Neapolitan grit and charm. There's bound to be a cafeteria serving cannoli (crunchy Sicilian pastries) and cappuccino there that takes your fancy.

You'll need the energy, because your next destination is the acclaimed Naples National Archaeological Museum. It's known to have one of the largest collections of Roman artifacts anywhere in the world, but the standout highlight is surely the Alexander Mosaic, reconstructed from the floors of Pompeii's opulent House of the Faun.

Once you're done in there, head south to the sleepless street of Spaccanapoli. Literally meaning 'the street that divides Naples', it does exactly as that implies. It runs right through the heart of the city, with drooping washing lines, street-food vendors and age-old churches looming on both sides. It will take a while to walk its two kilometres but it's all about breathing in the urban energy. What's more, the iconic L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele sits at the eastern end.

You'll be rewarded there by one of the best pizzas in town – choose between marinara (just fresh tomato passata and garlic) and bufalina (with buffalo mozzarella). After lunch, make for the port area.

That's crowned by the turrets of the Castel Nuovo, a grand fortification that has a history of more than 800 years. Behind that comes vast Piazza del Plebiscito. Prepare to be stunned by its sheer size and grand horse statues. For evening, a few cocktails and some tasty homecooked pasta awaits in the osterias of stylish Chiaia district.

Castel dell'Ovo Egg castle Naples

The Castel dell'Ovo (Egg castle) on the harbour front of Naples

Day 2: Rise early and get to the platforms of Naples Centrale station. That's where the trains depart for Pompeii in the morning. You might just have heard of that place – it was once an entire Roman resort town for the nobles and elite of the empire.

That is, until Mount Vesuvius suddenly erupted in 79 AD and flooded it with lava and ash. These days, the site is an amazing and haunting archaeological dig, with whole streets, entire villas, and even brothels complete with Roman wall art just waiting to be discovered.
It's likely Pompeii will take more than half of the day, while the most devoted history buffs can add on a trip to Herculaneum to boot. If not, head back to Naples city and go straight to the hilltops where the Castle of St Elmo keeps watch. That's the Vomero district, and it's famed for its sweeping panoramas of the Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. With that as the backdrop, find yourself a traditional trattoria or pizzeria and dine with a view of the metropolis to cap off the trip.

Pompeii

Pompeii was covered in 6m of volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79

Galleria Umberto I Naples

The elegant Galleria Umberto I shopping gallery in Naples

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.

A quick in and out there should be enough to appreciate the wonderful David statue by Michelangelo, before hopping back to the riverside and crossing the Ponte alle Grazie (have the camera ready).

For sunset, a climb to the Piazzale Michelangelo is a must. The panoramas include the Tuscan hills and the pastel-painted tops of the city, which look stunning as the light dips low.
For dinner try the regional meal of Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak).

Ponte Vecchio Florence

The shops along the Ponte Vecchio traditionally sold jewellery

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.

Uffizi Gallery florence

The Uffizi Gallery exhibits the greatest collection of Renaissance art

david Michelangelo

The statue of David is regarded Michelangelo finest work

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.

You definitely won't have to worry about finding somewhere to stay. From slick boutique hotels to simple hostels, Florence has all sorts. The town's primary industry is tourism, after all. Just expect prices to soar in the middle of the summer, before dropping again around the start of September.

Piazza della Signoria Florence

The Piazza della Signoria

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.
Related articles: Where to stay in Florence?

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.

Capodichino Airport, or Naples Airport, is the main gateway to the city by air. It's the fifth largest in the country, so should have lots of low-cost and premium services jetting into its runways. There's a metro line to the terminal in the works, but for now arrivals will need to use the Alibus to Naples Centrale station. Tickets cost about €5 each way and the travel time is roughly 15 minutes outside of rush hours.

Centrale Station is a main stop on the north-south railway line through Italy. It's easy to get there on high-speed links from Rome and even Milan. That's one of the most glamourous ways to arrive in Campania, offering gorgeous views of the countryside before pulling right into the heart of the city.

When it comes to booking hotels in Naples, take some time to consider each neighbourhood one by one. Most travellers are drawn to the Historic Centre (or Centro Storico in local speak). That's the home of the Duomo and the buzzing lane of Spaccanapoli.

It's probably one of the pricier and more lively areas to stay. Alternatively, go to Vomero for boutique B&Bs with great views, not to mention proximity to some of the coolest hipster eateries and cafes. Or, choose the down-to-earth Quartieri Spagnoli, which is filled with hostels and guesthouses that shouldn't break the bank.

Naples hill view

The view over Naples from the surrounding hills

Naples has a reputation for being Italy's roughest and most dangerous place.
It's true that crime rates are higher here than in the north. What's more, the mafia are still in action in these parts. You'll want to be a little more careful walking around areas like the Naples Centrale station and Quartieri Spagnoli.

Also try to stick to more touristy central districts, and don't walk alone at night. On top of that, be wary of street touts selling stolen goods, and be on the guard for pickpockets and drive-by thieves on scooters.

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