Last updated on March 16, 2023 by Wandering our World
Italy has a long list of impressive cities to visit, with Milan and Venice often ranking among the country’s most desirable destinations. Beautiful and exciting in their own special ways, both of these cities attract large numbers of tourists every year.
Milan and Venice aren’t too far apart from one another. A little over 150 miles separate these two cities, and it’s possible to travel from one to the other, and it’s possible to take a fast train from one to the other in around two and a half hours. However despite that, these cities are quite different..
For example, Venice has world-famous waterways, gondola rides, and bridges. It’s arguably the better city for couples, but can be expensive and packed with tourists.
In contrast, Milan is a shopper’s paradise, with world-class restaurants and lively nightlife too. The food scene is spectacular as well.
However that’s just the beginning when it comes to how these cities differ!
That’s why right here we’ll put Milan and Venice side-by-side, and show you which has the better activities, food scene, which is better for families, couples, backpackers and more. All so you can make the right decision!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Is Better For Day Trips?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples & Honeymoons?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Milan vs Venice
Milan: A Quick Overview
Milan (Milano in Italian) is Italy’s second biggest city. It’s situated in the northern part of the country in the Lombardy region, and approximately 1.4 million people live in the city of Milan, with over 3.2 million in the full metropolitan area – only Rome has more people, with over 4 million in its metropolitan area.
Many people know Milan as one of the four fashion capitals, alongside Paris, London, and New York – Milan Fashion Week is always one of the hottest events on the calendar for clothing aficionados, and Milan boasts some of the best shopping in the world, with boutiques of all of Europe’s biggest designers.
This city is also a key financial hub for Italy, being home to many banks and businesses, as well as the country’s stock exchange.
Milan’s financial status makes it a very wealthy city, and this is reflected in its well-maintained districts, chic vibes, and focus on high-end fashion and gourmet food.
With such a lot of luxury, Milan is a prime vacation destination for the jet-set crowd, but can also appeal to backpackers, families, and couples from all walks of life.
It boasts an array of beautiful touristic landmarks like its cathedral – or Duomo – Arch of Peace, and Sforza Castle. It’s also a big sporting city, being home to two of Italy’s most famous and successful football teams.
Venice: A Quick Overview
Venice (Venezia in Italian) is a touristy city in the northeast corner of Italy.
It’s part of the Veneto Region, of which it is the capital, and over 250,000 people call this city home.
This means it’s significantly smaller than Milan in terms of physical size and population, with only a little more than 50,000 inhabitants in the historic center, which is where most tourists spend their time.
This city is famous for its truly unique layout and rich history. It’s built on the Venetian Lagoon, with a large part of the city spread out across more than a hundred little islands, all connected by bridges – many of these bridges are very decorative touristic landmarks in their own right, like the Bridge of Sighs and Rialto Bridge.
There’s also a mainland, or terraferma section of the city, which is more modern and where most of the population lives and works.
However, all of the main attractions and landmarks can be found in the historic center, like the jaw-dropping Doge’s Palace and Saint Mark’s Basilica cathedral.
Venice was once the heart of its own empire, with influence across the world. These days, the city primarily relies on tourism to prop up its economy, drawing in many visitors from far and wide.
It’s a highly romantic and aesthetically impressive destination, with its canals and boats making it a truly one-of-a-kind, ‘bucket list’ place to visit.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Next, let’s talk about the things to do in Milan and Venice. Like other Italian cities, these two locations have plenty to keep tourists intrigued and entertained, from great shops and restaurants to museums, cultural landmarks, and historic buildings.
However, the vibes and general range of attractions are a little different when comparing Milan and Venice.
Milan is much more oriented around shopping, with boutique streets and store-filled arcades to explore, while Venice is more of a sightseeing place with its bridges and buildings.
The Milanese lifestyle tends to be quite laid-back, making this city a fine place for those who like to browse the boutiques, sip coffee in a cafe, or take a seat in a pretty piazza to watch the world go by.
In Venice, on the other hand, days tend to feel livelier and more dynamic, and tourists will want to be on-the-move almost at all times to see everything the city has to offer, from its gondola rides to its annual carnivals and festivities.
Below we look at the activity highlights in both cities so you can work out which one will suit you best!
Milan: The Activities
In terms of traditional touristic landmarks, Milan has a small but impressive array of places to visit.
The city’s cathedral is well-known around the world – it took over six centuries for construction to officially finish on this extraordinary gothic building, and it’s the biggest church in all of Italy.
Tourists can also visit landmarks like the Basilica di Sant’Ambroggi, Sforzesco Castle, and the Teatro alla Scala.
However, while sightseeing might take up some of your time in this city, most visitors to Milan will spend a large part of their time shopping in places like the iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade or the Rinascente department store.
Without a doubt, Milan can offer some of the best shopping experiences in all of Europe. There’s everything here, from up-market boutiques to charming little retro shops.
And when you’re not busy browsing the wares of a local store, you could rest a while in Sempione Park or one of the city’s many piazzas, like the Piazza del Duomo or Piazza del Carmine.
Milan also has some excellent live entertainment opportunities. You could catch a show at the aforementioned Teatro alla Scala, for example, or participate in Milan’s annual Fashion Week events in spring or fall.
Sports fans can check out the San Siro for soccer matches or book a ticket to the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, only half hour out of Milan’s city center.
Venice: The Activities
In Venice, there’s much more of a focus on sightseeing than in Milan. Despite being quite compact, this city has a whole lot to offer in terms of cultural and historic landmarks.
Many travelers like to start off with a tour of the Doge’s Palace – this beautiful building boasts an array of riches and decorative artifacts, and was once home to the Duke of the Venetian Republic.
Saint Mark’s Basilica may not be quite as mind-blowing as Milan’s Duomo, but it’s still a gorgeous cathedral to see with your own eyes.
And Venice also boasts a couple of great art galleries, from the modern Peggy Guggenheim Collection to the centuries-old works of the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man.
Wandering around Venice, travelers can marvel at the unique layout of this city, and you might like to go on a bridge hunt, seeking out the prettiest and most impressive of Venice’s 400+ bridges – the Bridge of Sighs, Constitution Bridge, Rialto Bridge, and Academy Bridge are some of the must-sees.
Riding a gondola is another essential Venice activity, and you can also spend time on the water in other ways, such as taking a vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal.
Plus, just like Milan, Venice has some exciting events and live entertainment, like its annual carnival and the world-renowned Venice Film Festival.
Overall, the activities in these cities are quite different. A typical day in Milan might consist of wandering around some stores and buying a few souvenirs before enjoying a relaxing evening meal or some live entertainment. Whilst days in Venice often consist of long walks and water bus rides, marveling at amazing architecture and Renaissance art.
Which Is Better For Shopping?
Shopping is a popular activity when visiting many Italian cities, and it’s always fun to find a few souvenirs that you can take back home or give as gifts to your family and friends.
Both of these cities have many stores to explore, but there’s no question about which one is best: Milan is an absolute dream for those who love to shop.
You can find almost every big brand here, from leading Italian fashion houses like Gucci and Versace to other well-known clothing and accessory stores from around the world.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the most incredible places to shop, but there are also lots of hidden treasures and independent stores hidden away among Milan’s side streets.
When it comes to shopping, Venice isn’t bad at all. It has some of the most fun souvenir and gift shops in Italy, where you can try on various Venetian masks and find locally-made crafts to take home.
There are also plenty of up-market boutiques in places like the Salizada San Moise, but the shops here simply aren’t as numerous or diverse as those in Milan.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
Looking for some lively nights during your stay in either Milan or Venice?
Well, party people and club lovers might find a little more activity and excitement in Milan, which is home to a wide selection of clubs, pubs, bars, and evening entertainment venues.
Some European travelers specifically head to Milan for its nightlife.
From the student district of Navigli to the lively bar-lined streets of Marghera, there are lots of great places to spend an evening here, and you can have fun from late afternoon through to the early hours of the next morning.
In contrast, Venice tends to get quite quiet in the evenings, especially in the historic center. Although the Lido area has some clubs and bars if you’re looking for fun and music, but there simply aren’t as many options as Milan, and this isn’t really regarded as much of a party town.
Instead, travelers might simply like to watch the sunset in the evenings or enjoy a romantic restaurant meal.
Which Is Better For Food?
The home of countless pizza and pasta dishes, Italy has some of the best food in Europe, and you can eat well in any Italian city, especially Venice and Milan. Both of these vacation destinations have great culinary scenes, with plenty of excellent restaurants to choose from for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Milan’s culinary scene is particularly well-developed. A lot of up-and-coming chefs work in this city, and it’s a great place to try bold new flavors and exciting dishes, the like of which you simply may not find in Venice.
Milan also has many traditional specialties, like ossobuco – veal steak cooked in onions and carrots – and cassoeula – a flavorful pork stew.
Venice also has some super food and great-rated eateries. You can find decent pizza and pasta here, like most other parts of Italy.
But where Venice really shines is in its seafood; lots of local eateries offer traditional fish dishes like sarde in saor – sardines in a delicious marinade – and fried moleche – little green crabs sourced straight from the lagoon.
Overall, the best choice for you will depend on personal preferences. Seafood lovers will adore Venice, but those with more diverse tastes may appreciate Milan’s rich mix of gourmet restaurants and casual street eats.
Which Is Better For Day Trips?
While Venice and Milan are both fabulous places to spend a few days or even a full week, you might like to leave these cities behind to explore some other parts of Italy during your vacation.
Both of them are nicely positioned for exploring the northern section of the country, with some great villages, towns, cities, and natural areas within easy reach.
Milan, for example, is well-placed for trips to cities like Bologna – the home of bolognese, this city has some of the best food in the country.
It’s also possible to visit some peaceful places like Pavia or the seaside spot of Camogli. Or, to escape into nature, you could take a ride out to Lake Garda – the biggest lake in the area – or Lake Como (photo below) – the most picturesque.
From Venice, one of the easiest and best day trips is to visit the nearby city of Verona – the romantic setting of Romeo and Juliet.
There are also some great wineries to uncover around the Prosecco region, as well as lovely islands like Burano and the charming, artistic town of Padua. Lake Garda is also easy to get to from here.
Overall, both of these cities have great day trip potential, and it’s even possible to do a day trip to Venice from Milan – and vice versa – since the two cities aren’t that far apart.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Located in the Milan City Centre, the trendy three-star Moscova Luxury B&B is in the heart of the action, has great service and is at an affordable price point. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Set in the heart of the fashion district, the five-star Park Hyatt Milano is luxury embodied. The service is world-class and some rooms have a fantastic private terrace with views of the city’s skyline. See photos and rates!
Budget: Finding a Venice accommodation with a canal view on a budget is difficult in such an expensive city, but Residence Laguna Giudecca is a two-bedroom holiday apartment that offers just that.
However it’s often reserved months in advance, and no wonder due to the location and gorgeous views. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: Set 80m from Saint Mark’s Square and with stunning lagoon views, Baglioni Hotel Luna is known for being one of the best hotels in Italy.
Arrive in style by gondola – yes that’s possible at this five-star hotel on the water – then head past the chandeliers to the exceptional terrace with panoramic views. A stay here really is holidaying in style. See photos and rates here!
Which Is Best For Families?
If you’re planning a family vacation, you and your children should be able to make a lot of happy memories in either Venice or Milan.
Both of these cities have attractions and activities to please visitors of all ages, from the kid-friendly MuBa museum of Milan to the Doge’s Palace dungeons in Venice.
Milan has a theme park on the outskirts of the city, while Venice has a few water parks just a short drive away.
Venice also has the unique advantage of being closer to the beach, perfect for families with young children who like building sandcastles and splashing around in the sea.
Plus, kids of all ages can appreciate Venice’s fun water buses and colorful masks.
Milan’s vibe and activities are a little more oriented towards older kids.
Teens will love the shops in Milan, with so many great places to grab new clothes and souvenirs, as well as local museums and landmarks, but younger children might get a little bored. So, if you’re traveling with little ones, Venice might be the better choice.
Which Is Best For Couples & Honeymoons?
For couples’ getaways and honeymoons, Milan and Venice rank highly among Italy’s most romantic cities.
They’re both very nice places to be with a special someone, offering the ideal conditions for happy couples to enjoy great food and fun times together.
Milan has some terrific luxury hotels where couples can really relax, while also offering the awesome shopping and lively nightlife that younger couples, in particular, may favor.
Plus, it’s got some of the finest restaurants in Europe, perfect for those evening meals with your partner.
Venice, meanwhile, is often listed among the most romantic destinations on Earth. It’s a breathtaking place to be with a loved one, and you can spend hours wandering around the winding streets or relaxing together on your own private gondola ride.
In terms of pure romance, Venice probably has the edge here. It has more to offer in terms of couple-oriented activities, coupled with a generally romantic atmosphere throughout the entire city.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
Many backpackers stop off at Venice and Milan while making their way across Europe, and both of these cities can appeal to the backpacking and budget-conscious crowd.
However, you might have an easier time backpacking in Milan over Venice.
The reason for this is that Milan has a significantly larger number of hostels dotted around its various neighborhoods, providing cheap accommodation and the opportunity to socialize with other travelers from around the globe. It’s also a little cheaper to get around in general in Milan.
Venice has hostels, too, but they’re mostly over on the mainland, which means that you’ll have to spend time and money getting over to the historic center each day.
Prices also tend to be higher overall in Venice for everything from food to souvenirs, making it less of a budget-friendly destination.
Which Is Cheaper?
No comparison can be complete without taking a look at the average prices in both of these two cities.
And if you’re a budget-conscious traveler or just simply want to get the best value on your next vacation, you may find that Milan is a little more affordable than Venice.
Neither of these cities can exactly be called cheap, and they both appeal to wealthy, jet-set crowds with their high-end boutiques and above-average food prices. However, it’s easy to get a cheap hotel and budget-friendly food in Milan.
This is most likely due to the difference in size between the two; Milan is way bigger and has lots of hotels and restaurants competing with one another.
In Venice, options are more limited and many travelers feel forced into over-spending on their accommodation and evening meals.
Which Is Easier To Get To?
One of the first things to think about when you’re planning a trip is how you’re going to get to your destination.
Since both Milan and Venice have multiple international airports nearby, accessing these cities shouldn’t be any problem at all for the vast majority of travelers, but Milan might be a little easier to get to for some people.
Milan has no less than three international airports – Malpensa, Bergamo, and Linate. Malpensa is the main airport, with direct flights to almost every part of the world, from South Korea in the east to the US in the west.
Bergamo and Linate are smaller and mostly provide flights around Europe – Bergamo is particularly useful for British travelers looking for low-cost flights.
Venice has two international airports – Marco Polo and Treviso. Marco Polo is the main airport, and it has good links all around Europe, as well as direct flights to some cities in North America and the Middle East.
It’s pretty easy to access, but since Milan’s Malpensa has even more direct flights, it’s generally more straightforward to get to Milan than Venice.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
Once you arrive in either Milan or Venice, you’ll most likely want to rely on local public transport services to make your way around – it is possible to rent a car.
But with Venice being on the water and Milan having very efficient public transport links, there’s really no need for cars in either of these cities.
Getting around in Venice is quite different to Milan and other cities; due to the nature of Venice, the main way to travel here is via the water, with various water buses and water taxis to help you get along the Grand Canal and make your way from place to place.
It’s pretty expensive, and it takes some getting used to, but it’s a fun and unique way to travel.
In Milan, the situation is a little more conventional. You’ll find buses, trams, and metro lines here to take you to the various districts, museums, and attractions.
You can buy a single ticket or pass to use on all different forms of transport, and Milan is really easy to get around in general, even if you don’t speak any Italian, as the city is very modern and tourist-friendly.
Both of these cities are also quite walkable, with many attractions close by to one another. The larger size of Milan means that you may have to spend more time on public transport to get from A to B, but if you’ve spent any time in a big city before, you shouldn’t have any issues making your way around.
Which Has The Best Weather?
Many travelers like to take the weather into account when deciding on the dates of their trips or choosing which places to visit. Well, when it comes to weather conditions, Milan and Venice don’t have huge differences.
In fact, the average temperatures of these cities are almost identical all through the year, with warm summers and cold winters. Venice has slightly milder temperatures in winter and spring, but it’s not a noticeable difference.
However, Venice does have considerably more rainfall than Milan throughout the year, especially in spring and in winter. There’s even a risk of flooding in this city from October through to January, and the watery environs of Venice make it a more humid place overall.
In terms of the best time to visit, both cities are arguably best in the shoulder months either side of summer, like May and September.
The weather conditions are great in these months and the streets aren’t quite as crowded as they would be in summer.
Milan vs Venice: Which Is The Better Choice?
So, when we weigh up the winners in each of the different categories listed above, which city comes out on top?
Well, it’s a tight race between Milan and Venice; both of these cities are so beautiful and inspiring, and it’s certainly worth it to try to visit both, if you’re able.
However, if you have to pick one, Milan might just have the edge. It’s got better shopping than Venice, as well as a more diverse culinary scene, livelier nightlife, and cheaper prices all-around, which should make it more appealing to a greater number of travelers.
With that said, even though Milan has many advantages, Venice is still an extraordinary city.
Venice is a truly unique place, unlike anywhere else, with its special sights and gorgeous architecture making it an ideal destination for honeymoons or romantic getaways.