Last updated on March 15, 2023 by Wandering our World
If you’re planning a trip to Italy, Rome and Milan are most likely at the top of the list of cities you’d like to visit. These two locations draw in huge amounts of travelers every single year, and both have so much to offer.
Milan is famed as one of the fashion capitals of the world, alongside the likes of Paris and New York, but fabulous fashion is only a small part of this cultural metropolis, which also houses world-class museums, art galleries, and magnificent architecture. It’s also Italy’s financial capital, with high-end boutiques and gourmet restaurants all around.
Rome, meanwhile, is the historical heart of Europe. The capital of Italy and the former hub of the Roman Empire, this city is steeped in history like no other, and many of its most iconic historic monuments are still standing today, like the world-famous Colosseum and Ancient Forum.
Both Rome and Milan are great cities to visit if you want to immerse yourself in all things Italian, from delicious food to amazing shopping, historic landmarks, and enriching cultural experiences.
But, for all the things they share in common, these cities also have a set of clear differences….
Rome has almost limitless appeal for those who are interested in culture and history, for instance, with large parts of the city dedicated to its storied past and even annual festivals that look back on the days of the Roman Empire. It’s also a spiritual place, being home to Vatican City and the Vatican Museums.
Milan, meanwhile, is more of a modern and forward-thinking location, with its trendsetting fashions, glamorous inhabitants, luxury boutiques, lively entertainment, and Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s a chic and trendy place, beloved by creators, artists, and aesthetes.
Ideally, the best thing to do on your next trip to Italy is to visit both of these grand cities if you can. However, with over 300 miles separating these cities, it can be a challenge to see them both on the same vacation.
So, if you’re only able to pick one, this guide will help you make up your mind as we use our experience of both cities to show you which is best!
- 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?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples & Honeymoons?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Has The Best Weather?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Milan vs Rome
Milan: A Quick Overview
Milan, or Milano to Italians, is a large city in Lombardy region in North Italy. It’s the second-biggest city in Italy, home to around 1.4 million people, with over 3.2 million in the full metropolitan area – this is significantly less than the 4.3 million people in Rome’s metropolitan area, for comparison.
It’s a very developed city with a strong economy, and it’s often regarded as the financial hub of Italy, with its sizable business district playing home to the country’s stock exchange. Statistically-speaking, Milan has the third-biggest economy of any city in the EU, trailing only Paris and Madrid in this metric.
Thanks to its wealthy status, Madrid is a beautiful and luxurious place, filled with fancy restaurants and high-end boutiques of Europe’s most famous fashion designers.
Speaking of fashion, it’s also one of the cities that has the most influence on fashion all over the world, with leading designers always in attendance at the iconic Milan Fashion Week.
Fittingly, Milan boasts many luxury hotels to cater to the wealthy jet-setters who visit the city each year.
Tourists here often spend time indulging themselves at local restaurants or browsing the boutiques, but Milan also has a beautiful Duomo, or cathedral, along with theaters, museums, and art galleries, as well as a great entertainment scene and lively nightlife.
Rome: A Quick Overview
Rome, or Roma for Italians, is Italy’s capital city. It’s situated in the Lazio region in the central section of the country, only a short distance from Italy’s western coast.
Over 4.3 million people live in the Rome area, with 2.7 million of them in the city itself, placing it in the top three most populous cities in the European Union.
When many people think of Rome, they think of the Roman Empire. This city served as the beating heart of that ancient power, and for many centuries, Rome reigned supreme as one of the most influential cities in the world.
It was known as the “cradle of Western civilization” and played a huge part in the development of European and Western culture as we know it today.
Of course, Rome has changed a great deal over the years, but some of the landmarks from its past are still standing, with the Colosseum being the most famous example – visitors to this city often take a tour of this gladiatorial arena, as well as visiting other historic landmarks like the Forum and the Pantheon.
Another interesting aspect of Rome is the fact that it’s built around Vatican City, the home of the Pope and the Catholic Church.
There are various unique buildings and museums to visit there, in addition to the many galleries and cultural landmarks of Rome itself, giving visitors countless things to do.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Italian cities are famed for being some of the best places to visit in Europe, as not only do they have amazing food and lively atmospheres, but they also boast of so many interesting things to do, from incredible museums and art galleries to fun family attractions.
Rome and Milan are no exceptions, and both of these cities have plenty of interesting activities to keep you entertained.
However, there are some big differences. Rome, for example, has much more appeal for history and culture aficionados, thanks to its wide range of historic monuments and landmarks.
It has many of its own museums and galleries, coupled with the additional museums and buildings of Vatican City, which is located towards the western side of the city, over the River Tiber.
With smaller crowds and less traffic, Milan is more of a laid-back location, but it still has lots to do. From shopping in the city’s up-market boutiques to hanging out in hip cafes, there are plenty of ways to spend your days.
Milan has appeal for sports fans, with two big soccer teams, along with a small but impressive selection of landmarks and beautiful buildings.
Milan: The Activities
In Milan, shopping is without a doubt one of the main activities. In fact, one of the city’s most-visited landmarks, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, is a high-end shopping arcade.
The city is simply filled with boutiques and fancy brand stores, as well as department stores like La Rinascente and vintage shops along the Corso di Porta Ticinese.
If shopping isn’t your thing, you might like to do some sightseeing.
While this city can’t compete with Rome in terms of the quantity of its historic buildings, it still has a few must-see landmarks, like the beautiful Duomo di Milano – by far one of the prettiest cathedrals in Italy – and the 15th century Castello Sforzesco, which once served as the home of the Duke of Milan.
There are some lovely churches dotted around Milan, like the 12th century Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, as well as large parks, like Sempione, which is a really pleasant place to stroll around or take a seat on the grass and watch the world go by.
Art lovers will also want to check out the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, home of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
Milan also has lots of interesting events and live entertainment to enjoy. Visitors might like to time their trip to match the annual Fashion Week events in spring and fall of each year.
Otherwise, you can catch various festivals and concerts throughout the year, or head to the San Siro – the biggest stadium in Italy – to catch a soccer match of AC Milan or Inter Milan.
Rome: The Activities
Rome is all about history. Since it’s such an old city, there are plenty of landmarks from the past to visit, and most travelers start off at the Colosseum.
This famous amphitheater is relatively well-preserved and has been standing for close to 2,000 years – you can take a guided tour to learn more about it or walk around at your own pace.
The Pantheon and the Forum are also great places to visit. The former is an ancient temple that has since been converted into a church, while the latter is a mixture of ruins and remains of old buildings.
Once again, guided tours are available for those who want to find out as much as possible from local experts, or you can roam around on your own to soak it all in.
Then, of course, there’s Vatican City. The hub of the Catholic Church, this place is actually a self-contained city-state, and it’s the smallest state in the world.
However, despite being relatively little, the Vatican has a wealth of riches for visitors to enjoy, from its magnificent architecture to its extraordinary art collection and Sistine Chapel.
There are many more museums, monuments, and landmarks to find around Rome, from the Spanish Steps to the Trevi Fountain, as well as additional things to do like shopping and family attractions.
There are also great festivals, like the Natale di Roma, which honors the origins of Rome and involves great pageantry, with local performers dressing up in old Roman outfits.
Overall, these two cities vary greatly in terms of their general vibe and attractions. Rome is much more-suited towards people who want to delve into the past and consider the history of this storied city, while Milan is far more focused on the present, with its flashy boutiques selling the latest apparel and accessories.
Which Is Better For Shopping?
One of the best things to do in Italian cities like Rome and Milan is to shop, especially for clothes. After all, Italy is well-known as a trendsetting country, producing some of the greatest fashion designers the world has ever seen, like Giorgio Armani, Guccio Gucci, and Donatella Versace. But which city does shopping best?
Milan needs no introduction when it comes to shopping. Home to an array of designer boutiques, this city is a shopaholic’s dream.
You can buy products from all of the big Italian and European designers here, but Milan isn’t just for fancy brands like Gucci; it also has vintage stores, antique stores, department stores, and everything in between.
Rome is also a fine place to shop, with various streets dedicated to one particular kind of store. The Via dei Coronari, for example, is filled with antique stores, and other streets are lined with big-brand boutiques or vintage clothing shops.
There are also some nice markets around Rome, along with department stores, but it’s not quite as good for shopping as Milan.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
If you love to spend evenings out on the town during your trips and vacations, you’ll want to know about the nightlife scenes of both Milan and Rome.
As large cities with millions of inhabitants, both of these places have plenty of bars and clubs to keep you entertained, but you may find that one is a little more exciting and dynamic than the other.
Milan is famous for its nightlife. Places like the Arco della Pace, Navigli, Isola, and Marghera are all lively spots to spend an evening, and nights start early here.
You can often spot locals crowding the bars from 6pm onwards, enjoying some early drinks, snacks, and conversation before moving on to the clubs and music venues.
Like Milan, Rome boasts a great mixture of nightlife hotspots, from chilled out wine bars to thumping nightclubs.
And, with a sizable student population, nights can get pretty lively in certain areas, like Testaccio and Trastevere. There are some excellent dance music clubs, sports bars, and other fun venues.
Overall Milan’s nightlife is actually a little livelier than Rome’s. People tend to start hitting up the clubs and pubs a little earlier in the fashion capital, and a lot of the best nightlife spots are within walking distance of one another,
Meanwhile Rome’s party neighborhoods are spread out and require the use of public transport to access.
Which Is Better For Food?
Italy is famed for its food, and you won’t have to worry about eating badly in either Milan or Rome, as both of these cities have some of the finest culinary scenes in all of Europe.
There are plenty of great restaurants to try in both cities, with world-class pasta, top-notch pizza, and delicious gelato easy to find.
With that said, Milan’s food scene is more focused on gourmet-grade experiences. There are a lot of fancy restaurants with expensive menus in this city, and if you’ve got the cash to spend, you can eat exceptionally well here.
Those who love trendy restaurants will particularly appreciate Milan’s food havens like the Via Dente and Piazza del Duomo.
Rome is no slouch when it comes to food, either.
As the capital of Italy, this city can boast of some of the country’s best restaurants, and Rome is usually where people go to taste the finest Italian pasta dishes, like carbonara and amatriciana.
There’s a more diverse range of options in Rome too, with everything from Michelin-starred eateries to casual street food vendors.
Which Is Better For Day Trips?
Depending on how long you’re in the area, you might like to spend one or two days of your trip outside of the city, visiting other parts of Italy.
Both Rome and Milan are nicely-positioned for some decent day trips to local towns and interesting areas, but which one is best? Well, that will mostly depend on what sorts of places you want to visit the most.
Milan is ideal for exploring the north of Italy. You can take train rides to local cities like Bologna and Genoa, or explore the green haven of Varese, just an hour away.
To the north, Milan is only an hour away from stunning Lake Como, arguably the prettiest lake in all of Italy, and it’s even possible to head east for a Venice day trip, as trains only take around two and a half hours.
Given its prime central location, Rome is very nicely-placed for exploring various parts of Italy. You could head south to the city of Naples, for example, or even take a trip to the breathtaking Amalfi Coast.
There are some great historic locations within easy reach, like Tivoli, as well as rural spots like Assisi in Umbria.
Overall, both of these cities have amazing day trip destinations to choose from, and it’s very difficult to say that one is better than the other.
However, since Rome is more central, it gives you a few more options in terms of where you want to go.
Which Is Best For Families?
If you’re heading to Italy with children, you can have a fabulous family vacation in either Milan or Rome. Both of these cities have pleasant things to do with kids, although it’s arguable that Rome is a little more family-friendly overall.
No matter what age your children happen to be, from toddlers to teens, Rome has something for all ages, including its own wildlife park, multiple theme parks with fun characters and thrilling rides, and water parks, too.
There are multiple interesting museums in Rome, including one all about video games, and many kids will enjoy learning about gladiator battles at the Colosseum.
In Milan, family attractions are a little more limited. There is a theme park called Leolandia just outside the city, with fun rides for all ages, as well as an aquarium, but little ones might get a bit bored in the city itself.
Older kids and teens, however, should have fun browsing Milan’s boutiques and visiting locations like the Natural History Museum and Duomo.
Which Is Best For Couples & Honeymoons?
For couples and romantic getaways, the choice is a little trickier, as both Milan and Rome rightfully rank among Italy’s most romantic cities.
There’s plenty to see and do in both places, and they both work well for romantic evening meals or late night strolls, with beautiful architecture and luxurious hotels easy to find.
With that said, the chic and trendy nature of Milan, coupled with its less crowded streets and squares, might make it a better choice for some couples.
It’s a little easier to relax in Milan, without the sounds and crowds of the capital, and it’s ideal for couples who love to shop, as well as those who enjoy great food and nightlife.
Rome is also a very pleasant place to spend time with a special someone, especially if you and your partner are active people who want to get out and about each day exploring historic sites and partaking in cultural activities.
But the busy and noisy nature of this city may make it a little less peaceful and romantic than Milan.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
Both Milan and Rome can also appeal to backpackers. They both have several hostels and often feature among the best backpacking routes across Europe.
However, if you like to pack all your travel gear into a big backpack and travel on a budget, you may find that Rome is just a little more appealing to you than Milan.
This is due to the fact that Rome has even more hostels than Milan, especially in key areas around the center of the city.
It’s also a little cheaper overall in terms of day-to-day spending and food costs, so you should be able to make your way around relatively comfortably without worrying about going over-budget.
Milan is still a suitable option for backpackers and has its own hostels and cheap places to eat, but you’ll have to be a little more careful about tours and activities, due to the high costs of this city.
Which Is Cheaper?
Of course, we also have to consider costs when weighing up the right choice between Milan and Rome. In terms of prices, these cities are quite comparable to one another, with similar average rates for their hotels and eateries.
However, when we look closely at the accommodation, tour, and food costs for both cities, Rome just about has the edge.
It’s got more diverse accommodation and places to eat, so you should be able to stay here a little more cheaply than you would in Milan.
Even the local transportation costs are lower in Rome, so it’s cheaper to get around from place to place, but the final price of your trip will mostly depend on what hotel you choose and what activities you enjoy each day.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Residenza Maritti Decò Style is a gorgeous three-star guest house set in the heart of Rome. Not only is the location perfect, but so is the roof terrace with exceptional city views. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Located in one of Rome’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, Hotel Eden – Dorchester Collection is a five-star hotel that oozes luxury. It’ll come as no surprise then that their in-house restaurant is Michelin starred. 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!
Which Is Easier To Get To?
No matter whether you choose Rome or Milan for your next Italian getaway, you shouldn’t have a tough time accessing either city.
As two of Europe’s most-visited locations, they’re both easy to access and both have the benefit of several international airports in the surrounding area.
The primary airport of Rome is Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino, which is where most travelers will arrive. This airport has direct flights all over the globe, as far away as Australia and the west coast of the United States.
Ciampino Airport is smaller, with fewer connections, but is a nice option for budget travelers, with various low-cost airlines operating here.
While Rome has two international airports, Milan has three. Most travelers will arrive at Malpensa, which offers flights to and from the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Bergamo and Linate are the two other Milan airports to consider, but they’re mostly used by European travelers and aren’t as accessible for those traveling from places like the US or Australia.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
In terms of navigation and traversal, both Milan and Rome are pretty easy cities to wander around.
A lot of their landmarks are located near to one another in the city center, and both cities have strong public transport links, with buses, metro lines, and trams to help you get from place to place.
Milan’s public transport is the better of the two cities, thanks to its modern simplicity. You can easily grab a single ticket or day pass in Milan and then that same ticket or pass on any of the city’s buses, trams, or metro lines.
The metro is particularly quick and efficient, with four lines to take you to the main landmarks and attractions.
Just like in Milan, Rome also has a handy ticketing system in which you can use the same tickets across all forms of public transport.
Its metro lines provide a quick way to traverse large parts of the city in a matter of minutes, and it has a good bus network.
However, traffic can be quite bad in certain areas of Rome, and the city’s huge size makes it a little tricker to traverse.
Which Has The Best Weather?
Since Rome and Milan are situated in different parts of Italy, with Rome being much further south, weather conditions can differ between these two locations.
There isn’t a huge difference in terms of average temperatures, but it’s still something to take into account when deciding which place you want to visit and what time of the year you plan to travel.
Rome is a little warmer than Milan throughout the year, with quite hot and humid summers and relatively mild winters.
The temperatures can be quite stifling in the peak of summer, so you might prefer to visit this city in late spring or early fall, instead. And, since it never gets too cold here, you can even plan a winter trip to Rome to enjoy the city’s festive vibes.
Like Rome, Milan gets relatively hot and sticky in the summer months, and this is also when it’s most crowded. It also has more rainfall overall, especially in spring and fall.
Winters are much colder, making Milan less desirable for Christmas trips, and one of the best times to visit is during the famous Fashion Week events in February/March or September/October.
Milan vs Rome: Which Is The Better Choice?
So, which of these two cities is better for most travelers? Well, when it comes to Milan vs Rome, it’s really difficult to pick a winner, as both of these cities are so beautiful and wonderful in their own special and separate ways.
Milan is an extraordinary modern metropolis where trends are set and tastes are made. It’s an amazing place to experience if you enjoy fashion, shopping, food, and romance, with a healthy dose of historic and cultural landmarks mixed in for good measure.
Rome, meanwhile, is a city quite unlike any other, with thousands of years of history that you can see and feel all around you. It’s unparalleled for art and culture, while also boasting family attractions, fine dining, and plenty more.
Overall, thanks to its larger size and wider range of things to do, Rome takes the win. It has greater appeal to a wider range of travelers, working equally well for families, backpackers, couples, and groups of friends, and it’s one of Europe’s must-see destinations.