Rome vs. Florence: A Subjective Guide to Choosing One!

Before I launch into my super subjective opinions on Florence vs. Rome, I have to get something out of the way.

These are two of the most important, culturally significant cities in the world. If you can do both, do both, even if you have to take another trip out this way to make it happen.

Visiting Italy more than once in your life should be on your bucket list anyway, honestly.

That said, there is a winning pick in my heart for the city I’d prefer to spend more time in, and this is after visiting both Rome and Florence multiple times in my charmed life.

I’ll get into all of that, including the best sights and things to do for common Italy travel interests in both in this gladiator battle in blog form. 

Quick Tips for Your Italy Visit

Your Flight: Seek out deals to Amerigo Vespucci Airport in Florence or Leonardo da Vinci–Rome Fiumicino Airport in Rome using Skyscanner. Love deals? Subscribe to Going.

Your Accommodations: Browse or for classic hotel options in each city. Vrbo is my Airbnb alternative.

Top Spots: Don’t miss the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, and David in Florence. The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Vatican City are must-dos in Rome.

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Is it better to visit Florence or Rome?

It’s better to visit Florence if you want that quintessential Italian experience with easy access to delicious food, wine, and Renaissance art. 

A view from above of the city of Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

You may prefer Rome if you’re a big fan of the Roman Empire. This is one of the most historically important cities in the world, so it’s a must for history buffs.

Italy is blessed with high-speed trains that make travel around the country more efficient. As someone who has done both the speedy kind of travel here and a slower version, this is a country that begs you to stick to one region at a time.

If you know you’ll be back, stick with one of the major cities and dig in. The region around each one is worth your time, too.

Which Italian city is better for foodies?

Florence is better than Rome for foodies. You’d have to try pretty hard to have a bad meal in Florence. We ate WELL in Florence. My Florence guide has the details on all of that.

A woman gets ready to dig into some gelato in Florence.

Rome requires some more legwork when it comes to food. I wouldn’t be comfortable without an eating plan in Rome, which unfortunately is part of the fun of exploring any Italian city. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t eat well in Rome. It just means I’d recommend knowing where you’d like to stop for noshing before you arrive at each eatery. You’ll avoid tourist traps with mediocre food that way. 

Fun fact: People who return from Rome all, “Food in Italy is terrible,” likely didn’t do their research.

Which has more historical heft, Rome or Florence?

I have to give points on essential history to Rome, the Eternal City. Florence may be the birthplace of the Renaissance, but there’s a reason people are obsessed with the ancient Roman Empire. 

Rome is featured in so much of what we think about when we imagine the origins of European culture. Its history spans three millennia, and you can feel that as you walk through this place, even if you have to elbow your way through at times. 

The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill are the biggest symbols of that legacy.

These iconic sites give modern visitors a glimpse into Rome’s history, culture, and enduring influence on Western civilization.

It’s also fun to pretend to be a gladiator as you mosey your way through.

Which is better for cultural attractions?

Florence is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, so plan Florence travel if you’re here for the arts. This is where you’ll find Michelangelo’s David within the impressive Accademia Gallery and the Uffizi Gallery. 

The Uffizi Gallery is one of the world’s top art museums, so expect to walk amongst the masters here.

An impressive painting by Botticelli at a Florence museum

Start with Botticelli’s Allegory of Spring and the Birth of Venus before wandering the halls for portraits from Michelangelo and Raphael. Pause to admire The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci

You can also spend a full day exploring the Duomo, or the complex of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Climb Giotto’s Bell Tower and Brunelleschi’s Dome if you have it in you.

READ MORE: I have a full guide to the Duomo. Read all about how to plan your time there!

If you like being a contrarian and hitting Rome for your art fix, you’ll want to book tickets to the Borghese Gallery.

This one definitely sells out quickly, so get your hot little hands on those as soon as you know when you’re visiting Rome.

Which has the better tourist attractions?

If we’re talking iconic tourist attractions that folks at home will know and admire in the photo montage upon your return, I have to give this one to Rome.

The Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, Vatican City’s Sistine Chapel, and the Trevi Fountain are all bucket list attractions in Italy.

They’re all great. They’re also crowded as heck no matter when you visit unless you hit the Spanish Steps at the crack of dawn.

Even then, you’ll probably be sharing the space with some sprite in a flowy dress doing her thing at magic hour. 

You’ll just need to deal with it because you simply can’t go to Rome and skip out on these things. Everyone does ‘em, and so you will, too.

At our core, we all just want to see the things people talk about. 

Which is more touristy, Florence or Rome?

When I talk about how touristy a place is, it’s more than the fact that it’s frequented by tourists. Cities like Paris, Tokyo, and New York are frequented by millions of tourists each year for a reason.

They’re all awesome.

Note: When I call a place “touristy,” it means it’s a little more commercialized than the others. It may even support tourism over authenticity, catering more to visitors than the local culture.

Venice gets close to this vibe, although I’d still recommend a gondola ride at least once.

You can still have a VERY authentic experience in Rome, but I found it to be a lot more touristy than Florence.

A man stands at the bottom of a hill in Rome.

You’ll always have “tourist menus” at eateries around the main piazzas anywhere in Italy, but it was much more aggressive in Rome. 

There were more hosts outside of the restaurants asking us to come in for a meal in Rome. That’s an easy way to spot a meh establishment and more obvious price differences in tourist-friendly eateries. 

More touristy vibes doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, though. If you mess up and fail to book something well in advance that was on your Rome bucket list, there’s probably a tour waiting in the wings to scoop you up.

You just may need to pay extra for it.

Is Rome or Florence more expensive?

Rome tends to be slightly more expensive because of the higher volume of tourists.

I’m not saying Florence doesn’t get thick with tourists. It’s just much smaller, so things sell out faster and folks may plan their travel around the big-ticket items.

I’ve found that accommodation prices in both rise during the high season, especially if you’re looking to stay in the city center of either Rome or Florence. Book your hotel well in advance and you’ll get to enjoy lower prices.

While neither is “cheap” by budget travel standards, I found there are plenty of options for budget eats in both Rome and Florence.

A closeup of meats at a deli in Florence, including cured hams and salami

I loved the Testaccio Market in Rome for wallet-friendly pasta staples. The sandwich shops in Florence are a steal. I Fratellini is my favorite.

If you’re here for shopping, you’ll find a variety of options for both the budget-conscious and the luxury travel.

Florence is known for its leather, but expect to put down some cash if you’re in the market for high-quality leather goods.

I’ll be honest here. I’m usually eating in Italy, not shopping, so I’m the wrong person to ask for more details on that.

Is Florence more walkable than Rome?

Florence is definitely more walkable than Rome. Neither city is small by any means, but Rome is much larger.

Fun fact: Rome has a population of over 2.5 million compared to the 400,000 or so in Florence. 

If you’re sticking to the historic city center, Rome can be a walkable destination, but Florence is generally more compact and easier to navigate on foot.

Most of what you’ll see as a first-time visitor to Florence will be convenient as a pedestrian.

A view of the Duomo complex in Florence with the imposing Giotto's Campanile towering over the rest of the landscape

Which city requires more pre-planning?

Honestly, you can’t go into any of the big cities blind, even if you’re visiting in the off-season.

Italy is one of the most popular destinations in the world, and if you wait until you’re there to start planning your itineraries, you’ll miss out on the biggest attractions.

Again, it doesn’t matter when you’re here. Things will sell out.

That said, Florence may require a little more pre-planning because it’s more compact. Tickets at the big attractions are more limited, so you’ll want to book those well in advance of your travel.  

The inside of the Duomo in Florence, Italy

If you go away with any travel tips in this super subjective guide, know this: As soon you know your dates of travel, book those must-dos.

If you wait too long, you’ll be stuck at the most crowded spots in the middle of the day, spending way more on skip-the-line tickets than expected, or worse, shut out completely.

Which is more beautiful, Florence or Rome?

Florence is more aesthetically pleasing. If you’re here in the low season, you’ll be blessed with a more intimate level of charm as you stroll the city’s picturesque streets.

A view of the Arno, a river in Florence

Rome may feel grander, but it suffers in the beauty contest because of its size. It’s grittier, especially if you find yourself around the main train station.

On that note, I’d recommend not staying near Roma Termini if you can avoid it.

We were wooed by cheap accommodation prices there and easy access to the train for day trips, but we paid a price in other ways. Most mornings found us stepping over human feces to get out of the neighborhood.

It wasn’t ideal.

Which one is better for day trips?

Florence and Rome are close enough that they can be day trips for one another, but you’re not here for that kind of talk.

Florence is the better day trip base because it’s in Tuscany.

Note: If you’re here because of Under the Tuscan Sun, I salute you. The hype is real.

Pisa and its wonky tower, San Gimignano, the walled city of Lucca, Volterra, and Siena are all easy to pull off in one day from Florence. The Chianti wine region is a must for Italian wine lovers, while romantic Verona was made for lovers. 

A public garden with a fountain in the middle in Verona

Bologna, one of my favorite Italian cities, is less than 45 minutes by train.

READ MORE: Sold on Bologna? Read more about its food tour scene!

With more time, Cinque Terre is a charming escape, especially if you’re here outside of the brutally busy summer months. Venice is just over two hours by train, but I beg you not to make that one a day trip.

Stay in Venice for a few days. The locals will thank you for it.

If you have your heart set on Rome despite my opinions, the day trips were my favorite part of our last trip there.

Visit the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, wander hilltop Tivoli, or eat your way through self-guided pizza tours in Naples.

If you want to pull off an overnight nearby, head to the Amalfi Coast. I know some posts recommend it as a Rome day trip, but it’s really too far to result in a good experience.

I prefer Florence, but Rome is still pretty sweet.

I love Florence as a gateway Italian destination because it feels more manageable for first-time travelers to Italy. It’s not as intense as Rome, even if the crowds are more concentrated, and it’s easier to navigate.

If all you do is talk about the Roman Empire in your day-to-day life, I don’t blame you for prioritizing Rome. I’m sure I’ll find myself back there again at some point, if only as a starting point for places like Sorrento.

I know I’ll be back in Florence, too, and not just once. I just love those Tuscany vibes.

Traveling elsewhere in Italy? Check out these travel guides:

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Agnes Groonwald

Agnes Groonwald is the creator of Travel on the Reg, a travel/humor blog for regular people who travel in a regular fashion. She has been to 50/50 U.S. states and explored 30+ countries, most often as a digital nomad. She's all about sharing the honest truth about travel, real experiences, and all the quirky stuff about her favorite (and not so favorite) places.