When one thinks of an Italian vacation, Milan and Rome are two cities that you’d immediately think of. No surprise there, as both have everything a tourist would want. Fascinating history, delectable cuisine, and luxury shopping are only some of the few draws they can offer.
But while they have overlapping attractions, both have their own unique flavor. And if you’re undecided on which city to choose, this article highlights each city’s distinctive appeal.
As Italy’s most stylish city, Milan attracts artistic folks of all kinds, from designers to photographers. But this elegant city is for everyone, with hidden delights in every corner for the sightseer. Its starting juxtaposition of old and new is its real draw.
Apart from its fashion and design heritage, Milan is also unrivaled when it comes to Italy’s modern history. Top that off with artistic, culinary, and nightlife immersions, and you’ll have an unforgettable time in this vibrant city.
What Makes Milan Unique?
Delightful Architectural Wonders
When you’re in Milan, you’ll constantly get swooned by its eye candy. Architectural landmarks in other Italian cities are often dominated by one architectural period. But those of Milan span several eras, ranging from the Renaissance to neoclassical periods.
Whether you’re a history buff or just an enthusiastic sightseer, you’re in for a treat in Milan.
No other historical building in Milan is as iconic as the Duomo di Milano. This majestic gothic structure is the second-largest Catholic cathedral in the world. Thus, a visit here is a tick off of a traveler’s bucket list: you’ve visited one of the world’s most incredible buildings!
The best part is that you can climb up Duomo’s rooftop to get a panoramic view of Milan. This also gets you up close and personal with the gargoyles and spires on top.
But with the range of Milan’s architectural wonders, there’s plenty more to see and marvel over.
A blast from the Renaissance, the Santa Maria Delle Grazie is a real treat. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has an intricate gothic interior and is home to Leonardo da Vinci’s famous The Last Supper.
Visiting the 15th-century Castello Sforzesco is like hitting two birds with one stone. This sprawling medieval fortress’ defining feature is its red-colored bricks and three towers. But within its walls contain the masterpieces of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci!
These are only some of the highlights of Milan’s architectural gems. With so many of these fitting into the city, sightseeing is such a delight here. You’ll go home with some stunning pictures and serious bragging rights.
There’s Art Everywhere
Milan may have a long, illustrious history that the city widely celebrates. But it’s also Italy’s financial powerhouse, making for a winning combination of the old with the new. Thus, Milan holds a delightful mix of timeless art and modern pieces.
Milan shelters priceless art from the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. The city hides a plethora of museums, with intricate facades that are art in itself. But Milan also embraces all the street art sprinkled throughout its land.
There are museums for all kids in Milan. Most of them focus on preserving the city’s arts, culture, design, and fashion. But others are wholly dedicated to scientific inventions, archeological artifacts, and sports!
Among all the museums in the city, two top the list as the most visited ones.
The 20th-century Museo del Novecento houses various art movements. These range from abstractionism to realism and over 400 pieces from modern artists.
Pinacoteca di Brera or Breta Art Gallery has artworks from several hard hitters. This includes pieces from Picasso, Titian, and more!
What makes an artistic trip to Milan unique though is that it holds the original works of Leonardo da Vinci. This alone is enough for many to choose Milan over any other Italian city!
The Last Supper, one of his most famous artworks, is a privilege to see in person. You can find this massive masterpiece at the Santa Maria Delle Grazie.
More than being a painter, da Vinci was also a renowned inventor. Head over to Pinacoteca Ambrosiana to see his Codex Atlanticus. This is the largest collection of his works, ranging from doodles to military device designs.
Away from classic art though, Milan has thriving street art and graffiti scenes. In fact, Milan has the longest one in the country! These are expressions of the local artists’ thoughts, put into color, which gives more life to the city.
Many of these are vastly scattered throughout Milan. But those along Via Camillo e Otto Cima and Via Ortica are the best. These spots have a series of walls filled with bursts of color and are picture-worthy.
One of the World’s Shopping Meccas
Without a doubt, Milan is one of the world’s most fashion-forward cities. And because it’s one of the fashion capitals in the world, shopping is one of the city’s main draws.
This city is the heart of Italy’s fashion and design and is home to big international names in the industry. This includes the likes of Prada, Versace, and Valentino, to name a few.
There’s glitz and glamour in every corner you look at. Even the well-dressed locals live up to the city’s reputation, so get some fashion ideas from them!
Quadrilatero Della Moda is the city’s top upscale shopping area. While there are antique shops and trendy cafés here, the main attraction here is the big-name stores. This is a luxury shopping paradise, with a high concentration of expensive flagship stores posing side by side.
Luxury shoppers can also head to one of the world’s oldest shopping arcades, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. You’d find the famous Louis Vuitton here, along with other upscale brands like Prada and Gucci.
But of course, not every tourist can splurge on these high-end names. Thankfully, Milan has more affordable shopping options. And as long as you know where to look, you’ll get a bang for your buck.
Corso Como has outlets with the best prices for well-designed clothes. Corso Buenos Aires is a vibrant boulevard with stores ranging from fashion boutiques to discount outlets. Check out flea markets too, you may score some vintage finds if high fashion is too heavy for your budget.
Northern Italy is a foodie’s paradise, as it’s home to the heartiest dishes in Italy. In Milan, you’re not only going to get authentic eats from the proud local eateries. But you’re also going to get dishes beyond the Italian and Milanese cuisine, along with world-class eats.
The food scene in Milan is spectacular, to say the least. It’s one of the few cities in the country that gets the most Michelin stars yearly. There are over 15 restaurants in the city with this distinction, and the Enrico Bartolini al Mudec has earned three stars.
If a star-studded restaurant isn’t in the cards for you, then local-owned restaurants won’t disappoint you. Don’t limit yourself to pizza, as Milan has more to offer than this famous dish.
Help yourself to Risotto Alla Milanese, a velvety rice dish with bone marrow, butter, and cheese, to name a few. Costoletta Alla Milanese is a crunchy veal cutlet and is one of the city’s oldest dishes. The heavenly Ossobuco uses marrowbones as the star of the plate, with risotto or polenta on the side.
Milan’s culinary scene is full of creativity and experimentation though. And if you’re looking for some fusion food, Milan has an answer for you.
Tokuyoshi is a great example of this. This restaurant fills the gastronomic gap between Japan and Italy. There are tons of surprising finds here, such as an aubergine panna cotta.
Exciting Night Scene
Aperitivo is a pre-meal drink that’s meant to stimulate your appetite. While this cultural ritual is widespread across the country, no other city does it like Milan.
Anytime between 6 PM and 8 PM, locals clock off work and grab a few drinks and snacks on the side. While some head home for dinner on a weekday, weekends in Milan are nothing short of electrifying. Milan’s night scene is diverse, so there’s always a place to go for some merrymaking.
If you prefer a casual and quiet night out, you’re going to love the neighborhood of Brera. But if you’d rather go to upbeat, trendy clubs, the Corso Como area is right up your alley.
But the heart of Milan’s night scene is the area around Navigli. This is the home of the city’s glorious pubs and cocktail bars. And it’s a popular Saturday spot for the Aperitivo ritual.
Bars here offer a wide array of cocktails and food to go with your drink. Because of the area’s popularity though, it can get crowded on the weekends. But this won’t deter you if you’re a social butterfly, as it’s a perfect spot to rub shoulders with the locals.
If you’re looking for some top-rated bars though, there are two cocktails spots that you’d want to visit.
Nottingham Forest is a world-renowned mixology bar. Not only are the drinks here spectacular, but there’s a twist that comes with them. Some quirky concoctions get served in a skull or a bathtub!
The Botanical Club is another spot for the night owls. Not only do they have an extensive variety of quality-grade gins, but they also have a must-try house brand. Creative cocktails here have an unusual touch, with additions of lavender syrup, for example.
Gorgeous Green Spaces
Milan may be the face of the country’s modernization and business. But it still has plenty of breathing spaces for lush greenery and nature. If you’re tired of the hustle and bustle of the city, Milan’s sprawling parks are a nice change of pace.
Milan’s largest park is the famous and romantic Sempione Park. This easily accessible urban park is the perfect place for some relaxation. But it also offers some recreational fun for adults and kids.
There’s a pond in the middle of Sempione Park, with a bride known as the Bride of the Little Mermaids. This itself is a great spot for some scenic touristy photos! Among the calming nature views of the park are some cafes, too, where you can grab some drinks and snacks.
There’s also a 354-feet (108 meters) tower in the park called Torre Branca. For a small fee, you can climb this imposing structure to get a 360 view of Milan. You may even be lucky enough to see the Alps from here.
Another green space in Milan is the Library of Trees. Owing to its name, the park features over 135,000 plants with over 100 species and 500 trees. Carefully planned, its unique layout is a geometric map of interlacing paths.
There’s an area for play, relaxation, and events here. Another green structure you can see from the park is the Bosco Verticale. This is a pair of green-covered residential towers that display plants and trees on their exterior.
If you’re looking for ancient sites, priceless art, amazing food, and stunning views, Rome has them all. With a winning blend of everything you’d want, it’s a perfect starting point for your Italian vacation.
And despite being a highly visited tourist spot, Rome never lost touch with its roots. Embracing its rich history and arts, Rome transports tourists to its glorious past. And this is a major aspect of its enduring popularity.
With all its attractions, it’s hard to find a reason not to choose Rome for your Italian escapade.
What Makes Rome Unique?
Breathtaking Historic Architecture
The entirety of Rome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this itself puts the city at the top of anyone’s travel bucket list. Rome has layers and layers of history on its land, and it’s an exciting feat for any tourist to peel these off. You’ll find modern buildings incorporated with ruins, temples that go thousands of years back, and more.
The city holds an incredible mix of visual remnants of diverse epochs. And you’d find them just about anywhere. With this, sightseeing in Rome is a major draw in itself, and it’s easily accessible.
Paris’ iconic architectural site is the Eiffel Tower, and London has the Big Ben. In Rome, it’s the glorious Colosseum that defines the city’s architectural scene.
The Colosseum is the largest-ever ancient amphitheater. And despite its age, it still remains the largest one in the world today.
You may not find any gladiators here today, but you can stand in the same spot where they once stood. This unique experience is better with a guide, as it can open up your eyes to the great history before you.
The Pantheon is another one of Rome’s most recognizable structures. One that is inseparably bound to the city due to its long history. It represents a cultural revolution, built for common people.
This monument also has some undeniable records. It’s the largest unreinforced dome in the world, and one of the best-preserved ones. It’s another free visit to tick off an entry on your bucket list!
These aren’t the only must-see structure in the ancient city of Rome though. You don’t want to miss the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Castel Sant’Angelo, and more! With these many gems, there’s never a time to get bored in Rome.
Star-Studded Arts Scene
The whole of Rome is one exciting open-air museum. Art is deeply revered and highly celebrated in the city. And the best painters, artists, sculptors, and more, have left their mark on the city.
Some of the most famous artists that have done this are Michelangelo, Sangallo, and Bernini. With a plethora of museums and galleries dotting the map, you’re definitely going to bump into some of their masterpieces. The best place to admire these renowned artists’ works is at the Villa Borghese Gallery.
If you’re in Rome to feast your eyes on the works of the great Michelangelo, head over to the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling here alone is full of his art, leaving any tourist washed with awe. You can also find his famous sculpture of the Pietà here.
While Rome is full of timeless masterpieces, creative minds thrive in the city to this day. Street art is everywhere in the city, so you’re never too far from a magnificent mural.
The streets of Quadraro, Ostiense, and Tor Marancia are often flushed with brightly-colored street art. This is a delightful contrast to the ancient works that dominate Rome.
Rome’s unmissable masterpieces include its extravagant fountains. Not only are they a sight to behold, but they are also historical landmarks dating back various periods. These structures are the cherry on top of the city’s landscape, and no one does fountain as Rome does.
Back in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, fountains of all kinds popped up everywhere in the city. The Popes during this period used to outshine each other with lavish fountains. And you can still see many of these around Rome today.
Like the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain is also an iconic site in Rome. This recognizable structure is one of the most famous fountains in the world due to its beauty and intricacy.
It’s a showy exhibition of cascading waters and detailed statues. Tourists and locals alike gather here to marvel at it and throw coins into the clear water to make a wish.
With tons of these to boast about, you can treat Rome’s fountains as a pilgrimage! Bernini has designed fountains aplenty in the city. Some of these are the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, Tritone in Piazza Barberini, and La Barcaccia at the Spanish Steps.
The Fontanone is one of the largest fountains in Rome, with gorgeous views to boot. The Fontana Delle Rana is an added charm to the quirky neighborhood of Coppedè. While the Fontana Delle Tartarughe is a hidden delight in Piazza Mattei.
Incredibly Indulging Cuisine
Italian cuisine is world-renowned for being delicious, and it’s a crowd favorite across the globe. With this, authentic eats are one of the highlights of a trip to the country. But in Rome, there are more exciting aspects of their food scene.
Roman cuisine has deep ancient Greek roots. Over hundreds of years, the city developed its own cuisine with its local ingredients. And while you may love carbonara back home, it’s nothing compared to how the Romans prepare it.
With thousands of restaurants in the city, you’re bound to find a favorite spot. You can find famous Italian dishes here, such as pasta, pizza, gnocchi, and more. But to make your gastronomic adventures in Rome unique, you must help yourself to some local favorites.
A special dish unique to the city is Roman artichokes. You can enjoy them fried or braised, and they’re widespread around the city!
The excitement doesn’t stop there, though, as Rome’s food scene is the gift that keeps on giving. Dining in Rome is affordable and many restaurants offer unlimited buffets for lunch. Most of these occur on weekdays, so there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of this.
Don’t forget to dine like a local and have some wine on the side. Italy has a seemingly endless list of a fine selection of wines. And Rome is one of the best cities to sample the best of the best.
The most well-loved wine here is Frascati, nicknamed the “golden wine”. This refreshing white wine perfectly complements any meal, so you can never go wrong with it!
Blue Flag Beaches
Rome may feel like an endless expanse of architectural wonders. But if you need to take a break from it, it’s easy to hit up a beach thanks to the city’s easy public transportation.
The locals’ favorite beachside respite is Ostia. And like the city, it has a long history of being an ancient port to Rome. You can take a detour and visit the archeological site nearby as well.
Another option is the pristine beach of Santa Marinella. You’ll find crystal clear blue waters here, with colorful umbrellas dotting the golden shores. You can either choose between the free part of the beach or the paid one with more benefits.
A more special beach is the picturesque Sperlonga. On its shores, you’ll find a swaying blue flag. And this is a sign that you’re on a world-class beach.
A Blue Flag award is a big feat for any beach, as it speaks for its quality. Sperlonga is home to two crescent-shaped beaches, with long stretches of sand for sunbathing.
If you’re a shopaholic or a souvenir collector, you’re bound to be busy in the streets of Rome. There’s a wide range of buys in the city, ranging from luxury goods to vintage finds to quirky gift ideas. And as long as you know where to look, you’re bound to find something special to bring back home.
For some haute couture shopping, the historic Spanish Steps area is the place to be. It’s densely lined with the best Italian luxury brands for your retail therapy needs. In particular, the Via Dei Condotti, facing Piazza di Spagna, is the spot here for exclusive brands.
But the Spanish Steps also has some affordable shops for the thrifty shopper. You can find all sorts of goods here, such as clothing, shoes, gloves, and more!
For your leather shoes and bag needs, Via Frattina is your holy grail. If you’re seeking vintage items, head to Via Dei Coronari. Via del Corso or Via Nazionale is home to trendy yet affordable offers.
If you’re on the hunt for some boutique shopping and unique jewelry and clothing, three neighborhoods will spoil you. Monti, Prati, and Piazza Navona are home to all these.
A general guide to shopping in Rome is that lesser-known streets offer lesser-known brands. But don’t count them off of your retail immersion. Some small alleys have hidden gems that are worth the spend, and you may even find true pearls to bring home.
Is Milan or Rome Better?
There’s no exact answer to whether Milan or Rome is better for your holiday, as it’ll depend on your wants. But keep in mind that Milan is a working city first, and being a tourist destination only comes second. Meanwhile, Rome knows how to cater to its tourists’ whims better.
While that may be so, Milan is still an excellent tourist destination. Some factors make it a better destination than Rome.
If you love to party and drink, Milan has a more vibrant night scene. Not only that, going around Milan is easier as its public transportation is more efficient.
But it doesn’t come close to Rome’s sightseeing opportunities. Nor does its unpredictable weather work in its favor. Rome’s Mediterranean climate offers mild weather so you can explore more of the city to your heart’s content.
Milan vs. Rome Tourism
Rome has a massive tourism scene, often the top recommendation of travelers if you’re heading to Italy. Milan is a magnet for tourists too, especially those who are seeking endless shopping. But Milan is primarily a working and business city, and tourism isn’t its focus.
Milan’s streets get filled with busy bees daily. And aside from its pedestrian areas, it’s filled with many cars heading off to work.
Being more industrial, with fewer attractions, it’s not your average tourist destination. You can visit the main historical sites of Milan within a day or two. So unless your main focus is to shop, Milan pales in comparison to Rome in the tourism aspect.
Meanwhile, Rome is a highly walkable city that doesn’t bombard you with cars. It’s an endless maze of cultural sites and masterpieces, with many free attractions if you’re on a budget.
Is Milan More Expensive Than Rome?
The chic and modern city of Milan is a more expensive destination than Rome across the board. On average, the daily cost per person in Rome is 131 USD, and in Milan, this is around 133 USD. But keep in mind that in Rome, you’d have many ways to be thrifty, from accommodation down to food.
For a more in-depth overview of the expenses in these two cities, here is a breakdown of the daily cost.
Accommodation for one person in Rome is 67 USD and 76 USD in Milan. But if you’re traveling as a couple, Rome will set you back at 134 USD and Milan at 152 USD.
Local transportation in Rome is cheaper, and the average daily cost is 17 USD. And while Milan’s is more efficient, it comes with a cost. Getting around the city will cost you 28 USD a day.
Daily meals in Rome will cost around 37 USD, while in Milan, this is only 31 USD. Entertainment costs in Rome are around 29 USD, more costly than Milan’s 25 USD.
But take note that Rome also has way more free attractions compared to Milan. So you can go about your touristy excursions without spending much in the city.
Milan or Rome in December?
There are pros and cons to each city in December. But you’d have to pick between better weather or fewer crowds to decide on this.
December in Milan is cold and rainy, with average lows at 34 F (1 C) and average highs at 45 F (7 C). And you’re only going to see an average of three hours of sunshine too.
But the big bonus to visiting Milan in December is that you’d have less competition. The weather drives tourists away, so Milan is cheaper during this month! So if you don’t mind the cold, choose Milan.
Rome is also cold during December, but it’s a bit warmer than Milan. Average temperatures are around 45 to 50 F (7 to 10 C). Days can shift from cloudy and gray to warm and sunny in a snap.
December in Rome is quite crowded though, as Christmas tourism is at its peak. You’d need to pre-book your accommodation early to secure a stay. And due to the competition, costs can skyrocket as well.
But if you have deep pockets, Rome is magical during December. The city goes all-out with its Christmas decorations and festivities!
Is Milan in Rome?
While both are in Italy, Rome and Milan are two separate cities. Rome is in the center of the country, while Milan is a part of the north.
Milan and Rome Distance
The straight line distance between Milan and Rome is 297 miles (478 kilometers). The driving distance is much longer though, and you’ll have to cover a distance of 360 miles (579 kilometers).
Is Milan Bigger Than Rome?
Milan is significantly smaller than Rome. It’s only 70 square miles (182 square kilometers) big. Meanwhile, Rome is a massive city with an area of 496 square miles (1285 square kilometers).
Flights From Rome to Milan
You have a ton of airline options that fly from Rome to Milan, and there are 220 flights on this route per week. ITA Airways is the most frequent flyer, with 24 flights per day. Delta has nine flights a day, and Tarom has three a day.
November is the cheapest month to travel to Milan from Rome, with an average cost of 21 USD. The most expensive month is August, with an average cost of 89 USD.
Traveling by plane is the fastest way to get to Milan from Rome. The average flight time is only around 1 hour and 12 minutes.
How Far Is Milan From Rome by Plane?
The flight from Rome to Milan covers a distance of 297 miles (478 kilometers). This is equal to 258 nautical miles.
Milan to Rome by Train
You can either ride a Frecciarossa, Trenitalia, Italo, or Freccibianca train from Rome to Milan. This covers a distance of 297 miles (477 kilometers). And the travel duration ranges from 3 hours and 10 minutes to 3 hours and 26 minutes.
Usually, there are over 60 trains per day that travel this route. Tickets start at 51 USD, but you can get cheaper tickets if you book in advance.
The first train departs at 5:00 AM, while the last train departs at 10:13 PM.
The country’s high-speed trains have the tourist’s comfort in mind. They’re equipped with air-conditioning and electrical outlets by your seat. You also have WiFi, though the signal fluctuates in stations and tunnels.
You’ll find a cafe car on every train for your coffee needs. And there are also food carts for sandwiches, snacks, and drinks.
These trains also have restrooms at the end of the car. You also have plenty of racks to store your luggage.
Train From Rome to Milan Malpensa Airport
There are over 32 trains that travel from Rome to Milan Malpensa Airport Daily. You can choose between several companies for this, such as Italo and Intercity. The first train leaves at 6:00 AM, while the last train departs at 8:00 PM.
This journey covers 318 miles (512 kilometers). But the train durations can vary between 4 hours and 14 minutes to 7 hours and 51 minutes.
Unfortunately, there are no direct trains on this line. So you’d need to make one train change along the way.
The average ticket price is 50 USD, and the cheapest can go as low as 36 USD. You’ll get better prices when you book in advance rather than buying tickets on the day.
Is the Train From Milan to Rome Scenic?
A train ride from Milan to Rome offers a scenic view of Italy’s rural spots. At the end of your journey, you’ll get a glimpse of rustic towns and charming cities. Passing by Fidenza, Florence, and Bologna is the most visually appealing part of the journey.
Night Train From Rome to Milan
There are no night trains from Rome to Milan as there is no need for them. With Italy’s high-speed trains, the travel time between the two is only a little over 3 hours.
Rome to Milan Train Time
The average train duration on the journey from Rome to Milan is only 3 hours and 13 minutes.
How Long Is the High-Speed Train From Rome to Milan?
The fastest high-speed trains from Rome to Milan only have a travel duration of 3 hours and 5 minutes. But some can take as long as 3 hours and 30 minutes.
Milan to Rome Drive
It’s possible to rent a car and drive from Milan to Rome. And while this gives you more options to take scenic routes, you have added costs to consider. This includes tolls and gas prices on top of rental fees.
Driving between the two cities covers 370 miles (595 kilometers). While the travel time is around 6 hours and 19 minutes. The average total cost of this option is around 130 USD.
If you’re keen on driving between these cities, make sure to go check the Michelin site. It gives you a rough estimate of your costs depending on your route. You can customize this and type in specific addresses of your departure and arrival sites.
Driving Distance From Milan to Rome
The driving distance from Milan to Rome will depend on your route. The shortest route is via A1, with a distance of 355 miles (571 kilometers). The longest route is via A4 and A1, with a distance of 398 miles (641 kilometers).
Milan to Rome the Cheapest Way
Although traveling by bus from Milan to Rome takes around 7 hours, it’s the cheapest way to travel. Bus fares start as low as 16 USD, and you have several travel companies options to choose from. There are about 20 departures a day too, so you’re bound to catch a bus for your trip.
This enticing price is what makes buses a popular option among backpackers. Flight prices between the two cities are around 112 USD, rental cars can cost about 130 USD, and train tickets start at 51 USD.