The question for many when trying to decide between France or Italy, is what separates these European holiday destinations from each other? Yet while both nations have similar climates and are great coastal destinations, each has its own distinct histories, cultures, sights to visit, and cuisines that set them apart.
After spending time in each, we pit France vs Italy below. We compare both before looking at what each country has to offer, the food you can try, what natural attractions you can see in each, as well some amazing towns and cities you should visit.
France or Italy: Which is the better vacation destination?
Both France and Italy are known for their superb coastlines and iconic cities, so you’re guaranteed a great holiday whichever you choose.
However, in our experience the beaches are a little better in Italy than in France. The Italian coastline has some stunning stretches of sand – some of the best in Europe – and with hundreds of islands there are still opportunities to find secluded pieces of paradise all to yourself. So if beaches are your priority, then Italy may be a better choice than France.
France has some stunning beaches too – especially in the French Riviera. This nation also has a rich history, can boast iconic cities like Paris and La Rochelle, and ancient fairytale-like towns such as Annecy and Yvoire. On top of that France’s different regions have exceptionally unique qualities and charm – as we outline later.
The dramatic scenery in France, such as in the French Alps and the Pyrenees mountain range, also make it a wonderful climbing and hiking destination.
However Italy is one of those countries that gives France a run for its money when it comes to holiday destinations. This nation has a rich history, and architectural gems from the Roman Empire are everywhere. Furthermore, cosmopolitan cities like Milan, Rome, Florence, and Venice are famous for their galleries, museums, and beauty.
The dramatic scenery in Italy, from the Dolomites mountain range to the islands of Sardinia and Scilly, and the beautiful lake district in the north, means Italy is arguably more beautiful than France. At least in our eyes.
The food scene is also phenomenal in Italy, so if cuisine is top of your holiday list then Italy may be the better choice. Although France – the home of wine and cheese – is a culinary giant in its own right.
Whilst in terms of expenses, we’ve found Italy to be slightly cheaper than France when it comes to accommodation and eating out. Although saying that, they’re both quite similar destinations cost wise.
France or Italy: Alluring natural wonders
With pleasant weather for most of the year, alongside regions that are as diverse as they are pretty, France is one of those countries we’ve been going back to for years.
For beach lovers, the French Riviera – or Côte d’Azur as it’s also known – is the place to be based. This coastline on the Mediterranean Sea is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing. One of our favourite beaches is Plage de Pampelonne which is a long stretch of coastline beside Saint-Tropez with gorgeous soft sand and lovely crystal clear water for swimming.
For a more secluded beach, then head to Calanque d’En-vau, which is just south of Marseille. This isolated beach can only be reached by boat or via a trail that takes 2-3 hours, so you won’t find crowds here. The beach sits in a cove, and the water – trapped on either side by dramatic cliffs – is different shades of blue. It’s the perfect spot for swimming.
However, France has so much more to offer than just sun, sea, and sand. The winding canal system throughout the country means you can travel through France by boat – which in itself is a great way to see just how varied this country is from region to region.
In Normandy, in France’s north-west, a trip to the breathtaking tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel is a must. The gravity-defying abbey is a pilgrimage destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In Alsace – which borders Germany and Switzerland – you can find centuries-old towns that look like they’ve been plucked from the Swiss Alps. Surrounding them is a landscape full of wild flowers and forests that appear like something from a Van Gogh painting.
For avid walkers and hikers who want a real challenge, the French Alps and Pyrenees mountains both have countless trails that span a variety of difficulties and lengths. The Trekkers Haute Route, which starts in France’s Chamonix, and ends in Switzerland’s Zermatt, is a highly demanding multi-day trek, but possibly one of the best in Europe. (Recommended: Common & Dangerous Spiders in France).
If you’re a wine aficionado then visiting the French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy will be a delight. Vineyards are spread throughout these areas and scattered amongst them are spectacular medieval towns.
Northern Italy has fantastic beaches, and the capital of seaside tourism in north Italy is Rimini on the Adriatic coast – famous for its fine sandy beaches and promenade of bars, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.
Northern Italy also happens to have some of Europe’s most iconic and beautiful lakes. The stunning Como, Garda, Iseo and the highly underrated Orta lakes are all within easy traveling distance from Milan.
Further north are the hiking and winter sport paradises of the Italian Alps and the Dolomites – possibly Europe’s most easily recognisable mountain range.
The island of Sicily in the south has an attractive climate, historic cities such as Palermo and Catania, miles of fine sandy beaches, vineyards, Greek temples, Roman sites, and gorgeous baroque towns. (Related: Scilly or Sardinia: Which should you choose?)
Back on the mainland of Southern Italy is Cinque Terre – the postcard-perfect collection of ancient villages on the Liguria coastline. This National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site receives 2.4 million visitors a year. Why? It’s gorgeous! From north to south the villages are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, each with unique character and superb sea views. This is mostly a place for beaches, outdoor activities, and water sports.
The rocky mountainside of Aspromonte National Park in Calabria has the abandoned ghost town of Pentedattilo and a wild untouched landscape that is well worth visiting too.
France vs Italy: Fascinating cities and towns
Cities like Paris are worth a multi-day visit in their own right. The capital’s chic cafes and coffee shops are great places to watch the world go by. This city also has one of the world’s most famous shopping streets – the Champs-Élysées.
The iconic Moulin Rouge remains a popular evening spot for tourists in the city who wish to visit the place where the modern form of can-can was invented.
However French cities like Strasbourg, Toulouse, and Bordeaux all offer their own unique charm and insight into French life as well.
Strasbourg, the capital of the Grand Est region, is a fascinating city which mixes French and German influences due to its proximity to Germany.
La Petite France in the city is well worth visiting. This postcard pretty district sits on the Rhine river and is made up of centuries-old homes – some made from timber – and is full of quirky cafes and shops. It’s historically a chocolate-making district, and some small chocolate shops with delicious goods still exist here.
Away from French cities are the medieval towns that dot the countryside. Some are built around the wine trade, like stunning Saint-Émilion. With its many outside cafes and bars, this town is one of the best places in the wine region to taste France’s most famous export,
Further north, take a trip to the colourful town of Colmar in the north-east which looks as though it’s come out of a Hans Christian Anderson storybook. Colourful buildings, cobbled streets, and flower boxes hug the canals that make up the old town. It’s arguably the most beautiful town in Europe.
City breaks to Italy are popular throughout Europe due to the cosmopolitan feel, and perfect mix between old and modern.
Bologna is a gorgeous medieval city in north Italy that has thrived with a steady flow of students that has kept this city a vibrant place to visit. Food lovers can delight in the city’s food festivals like Eataly and a slew of food markets where you can learn more about its cuisine. This is also an excellent choice for art, music and Italian film enthusiasts who are all catered for inside Bologna’s galleries and museums.
Face the tourists and head to Venice, but take your time strolling its hidden side streets, canals, piazzas and local shops and cafes. Discover a treasure trove of history in its museums, visit St Mark’s Cathedral and Venice’s ornate churches, the exquisite old theatre Teatro La Fenice and the sprawling art museum Gallerie dell ’Accademia. Or take a boat to see the colorful island of Burano.
In the heel of Italy’s boot is the region of Puglia which is home to the charming city of Lecce. Its streets are perfect for wandering to discover its hidden piazzas, beautifully detailed buildings and churches including the baroque Santa Croce. The city’s main square is Piazza Sant’Oronzo, the site of a Roman amphitheater and in the evening join in with the local tradition of strolling down the evening passeggiata before dinner. Day trips include the lovely seaside towns of Otranto and Gallipoli for moreish local flavors.
The cosmopolitan city of Milan is not known for being incredibly ‘Italian’, as it lacks the cobbled streets and ochre buildings that Italy is best known for, but it has a wealth of culture to discover. The main sights include the majestic Sforza Castle, the incredibly detailed Duomo where you can climb up onto the roof and the ornate Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – a shopping center with beautiful mosaics and designer stores. Outside of this, the canal area offers chic eateries, all-you-can-eat sushi, street art galore and vintage shops plus bars to enjoy the city’s lively aperitif culture.
France or Italy: Tempting cuisines
The traditional food of France and Italy is a cocktail of the various civilizations that have inhabited these nations.
French cuisine is famous around the world, mainly due to two exports – cheese and wine!
There are wonderful region-specific cheeses throughout the country, from Camembert in the north, to the potent Roquefort in the south. The latter is one of the world’s most famous blue-cheeses, and you can visit the caves where Roquefort is matured by visiting the village where it’s made – Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
If you’re looking for something more meaty, then try Boeuf bourguignon. This dish hails from Burgundy and is a beef stew that is braised with red wine and cooked with a selection of vegetables like carrots and mushrooms.
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to what to drink, and most red wines from the Bordeaux region are going to trump any other wine-growing region in the world. However if you want something other than wine, then try Crème de cassis – this sweet blackcurrant liqueur is a popular after-dinner drink.
The eight provinces of Northern Italy all offer unique culinary traditions, influenced by neighboring countries such as France, Austria, and Slovenia.
In the Aosta Valley try Fontina cheese, with its milky and sweet flavors. In Emilia-Romagna you’ll come across piadini sandwiches, a flatbread stuffed with cheeses, hams, or salad.
Of course, the north is most famous for prosciutto di Parma (from Parma); balsamic vinegar (from Modena and Reggio); and Parmigiano Reggiano.
In Venice, sample, Risotto al Neri di Seppi, risotto flavored with cuttlefish and colored with its black ink.
South Italy is the birthplace of pizza! Go to Naples for an authentic classic Margherita pizza and fried pizza calzone style.
The Amalfi coast offers fresh seafood while you sip your Limoncello lemon liqueur – which also tastes good in cake form!
On Sicily, sample Nero d’Avola red wine, a native grape to the island and don’t leave without trying the wonderful couscous of Trapani or the pastries of Noto.
France or Italy: Which one should you choose?
Both France and Italy will provide an unforgettable holiday, but they’re also very different destinations.
While France has a great coastline, if your priority is sun, sea, and sand, then Italy may be a better choice than France. Italy has some stunning beaches and the water is warm for swimming.
Both Italy and France have some great city breaks too, and it’s hard to separate these countries in that respect. However France is arguably the better choice inland, as the diversity of culture, tradition, and landscape from region to region in France is astonishing. As the land of cheese and wine, France also has a rich culinary tradition, although Italy’s diversity of cuisine makes it a popular choice for foodies.
Recommended for your trip to France or Italy
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