Not sure if you should visit Rome or Milan first? We can help you decide with this detailed comparison of the two Italian cities!
There are pros and cons to visiting both, but ultimately it comes down to this: are you more interested in exploring the history of Italy, or would you rather mingle among Italy’s business (wo)men? One city is full of ancient ruins and iconic landmarks, and the other is the business and fashion capital of the country – which sounds more fun to you?
Read on to see what you should consider when choosing between Rome and Milan, and find out which of these cities is ultimately the better option!
If you can’t be bothered to read through my detailed comparison, the answer is Rome. Especially if you’ve never visited the city before. Milan is a stunning city and everyone should visit it when they get a chance, but in the end, all roads lead to Rome.
The Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Vatican City, and the Roman Forum are just a few of the many different reasons why Rome is the first Italian city you should visit. There is actually so much to see in Rome, you will need days (or a week) to see it all.
Read on to see some of the other reasons, as well as why Milan is a worthy alternative to many others!
Rome is one of the oldest cities in the world and it’s all about history and culture. All roads in Europe lead to Rome, and if you’ve never visited the Italian capital before, it should definitely be a priority over Milan. Head to Rome to admire the ancient architecture, spectacular art, and all the best of what Italy has to offer.
Milan, on the other hand, is a lot less touristy than Rome. It has famous attractions, but they’re nowhere near as abundant or as popular as those you find in Rome. Visit Milan if you want to experience the business and luxurious side of Italy, or if you’re into fashion. It’s one of the major fashion capitals in the world and it’s where you’ll find all the best high-end shops.
Before you decide on one of the two cities, consider their geographical locations. If you want to explore more of Italy or even some of the countries it borders, then try to figure out which of these two cities is better located for your idea of the perfect Italian road trip.
Rome is on the western coast of central Italy, close to Naples and Florence. The Italian capital is also the better option for people who would want to visit Sardinia since there are several ferries that operate on this route every day.
On the other hand, Milan is better if you want to explore more of Northern Italy or even Switzerland and France. It’s close to Genoa, Bologna, Verona, Venice, Padua, Turin, Lugano, and Nice, among other cities. If you want to see more of Italy’s big cities and maybe even travel to the French Riviera our southern Switzerland, staying in Milan is easily the better option for you.
Rome is cheaper than Milan so if money is a big factor in your decision, you’ll probably want to avoid the more expensive city. It’s not a huge difference between the two cities, but everything is slightly more expensive in Milan. It makes sense because Milan is the business capital of Italy, with a much higher BDP than any other Italian city. Also, more than 50% of Italy’s richest residents are from Milan.
Naturally, with a little luck and research, you can have a great time in Milan on a budget. Rent an apartment outside the city center, avoid the extremely expensive restaurants, and check whether any of the museums have free-entry periods. You should also do this if you decide to visit Rome, but keep in mind that you’ll generally spend less money on accommodation and going out in Italy’s capital city.
Rome is the capital city of Italy and one of the most important cities in the history of our civilization. It’s full of historic landmarks and ancient architecture, which should be the main focus of your trip to Rome!
Colosseum is one of the most famous landmarks in the world, and it’s easily Rome’s top sight. The extraordinary amphitheater is a must-see for everyone who visits Rome and a guided tour of the former gladiator arena is the only proper way to experience it.
Located just a few steps away from the Colosseum, the Roman Forum is the heart of what once was the Roman Empire. The large excavated area boasts Roman temples, squares, and government buildings, some of which are more than 2,000 years old.
Some noteworthy landmarks in the Roman Forum include the Titus Arch, Via Sacra, Basilica di Santa Francesca Romana, and others.
Trevi Fountain is another iconic Rome landmark. The 18th-century fountain is as recognizable as the Colosseum, with its rococo design and sculpted figures. The imposing fountain is over 26 meters tall and more than 49 meters wide, which makes it the largest fountain in the city of Rome.
Pantheon is a historic temple built between 118 and 125 A.D. It features a dome and tombs, the most notable of which is the tomb of Raphael, the famous Italian painter, and architect. The Pantheon remains one of the best-preserved Ancient Roman buildings, largely because it was continuously used throughout the years.
Largo di Torre Argentina is an archeological site in the heart of the city. It’s famous for being close to where Julius Ceasar was killed, and visiting the site truly feels like a step back in time. But there’s one extra thing – Largo di Torre Argentina is also home to a cat colony, making it an absolute must for all cat lovers out there.
Belvedere del Giancolo is a historic hilltop terrace well outside the city center. It features an espresso bar and the most scenic views of Rome you can experience. Have a cup of authentically Italian espresso while admiring a panoramic vista of the Italian capital’s skyline – what’s not to love?
Orto Botanico di Roma is a botanic garden situated just below Belvedere del Giancolo. If you’ve already made it to this part of Rome, don’t leave before you visit the marvelous garden. It boasts more than 7,000 different plant species, fountains, a bamboo grove, and even a Japanese tea garden.
Campo de’ Fiori is a local produce market situated in a public square. It’s another iconic Rome attraction, even without any ancient sculptures or Roman ruins. Come here to shop for fresh local produce, homemade pasta, or for a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants on the edges of the public square.
If you’re generally into weird and morbid things, you will absolutely love the Capuchin Crypt. It’s a crypt that consists of several smaller chapels beneath Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini church, and it’s thought to be the resting place of Capuchin Friars. The crypt contains skeletal remains of 3,700 bodies and they’re everywhere through the crypt. Perhaps skip this attraction if you’re not that into skulls and bones.
If you’re already in Rome, you really should visit the Vatican. The city-state is entirely located within Rome but remains independent from Italy. The Vatican is the headquarters of the Roman Church and the Pope’s home, so it’s a rather special place for all Roman Catholics.
The city-state is best known for St. Peter’s Basilica, which happens to be the largest basilica of Christianity in the world. The Vatican is also home to the Sistine Chapel with the iconic 16th-century ceiling painted by Michelangelo. Other worthwhile sights include the Vatican Gardens, the Apostolic Palace, the Vatican Necropolis, and the Vatican Museums.
Milan is a beautiful city but it’s much less touristy than Rome. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you prefer to avoid crowds of tourists when you travel. Milan is the business and fashion capital of the country, and it’s a bit more luxurious than Rome.
Duomo di Milano is one of the largest cathedrals in the world and the most iconic sight in the city of Milan. The construction of the cathedral started in 1936 and lasted for nearly six centuries. The final details were added to the church in 1965, and more than 70 different architects had worked on the cathedral at one point.
The Milan Cathedral is the largest building of its kind in Italy and the third-largest in the world. The grandiose Gothic exterior is spectacular to look at, but it’s nothing compared to what you’ll see once you’re inside the cathedral. It’s full of ornaments, stained glass windows, and incredible artworks, so don’t miss out on an opportunity to tour the interior of the spectacular Milan landmark.
Related:great view of Milan Get a from the Duomo rooftop.
Milan is famous for being the home of The Last Supper – the iconic painting by Leonardo da Vinci. It’s one of the top sights in the entire country, and definitely one of the first things you should check out when you arrive in Milan.
The 15th-century mural painting is located in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the second-most popular church in the city. You must buy tickets if you want to view da Vinci’s masterpiece, but it’s worth noting that the room with the painting is also accessible directly from the plaza outside.
The Sforzesco Castle is another iconic Milan landmark. And just like the other iconic Milan landmarks, it’s a bit much in all the best ways possible. The medieval-renaissance fortress is absolutely massive, with landscaped gardens, a pond, a bridge, and incredible artworks inside.
Sempione Park within the castle grounds is definitely worth checking out, so make sure you leave enough time for that. But you should check out the castle first, especially if you enjoy visiting museums. Sforzesco Castle is home to several historical museums, some of which boast artworks by da Vinci and Michelangelo.
La Scala is the abbreviation for Teatro alla Scala – Milan’s famous 18th-century opera house. The lavish building boasts a theatre, a museum, and a music library all under one roof. The museum alone is worth a visit, and if you can actually catch a show at the famous opera house, it’s even better!
In front of the famous Milan opera house is Piazza Della Scala – an old plaza featuring some beautiful landmarks and monuments. There’s also a 16th-century palace on the other side of the plaza, with some stunning frescos inside. It’s possible to tour the interior of Palazzo Marino as well, so be sure to set apart enough time to see all the fascinating landmarks at Piazza Della Scala.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a glass-covered shopping mall situated in a 19th-century arcade. It’s anything but a traditional shopping mall, considering you can casually stroll around and see Fabergé eggs and F1 cars on display.
The architecture of the shopping mall arcade is remarkable and reason enough to visit, even if you can’t actually afford anything from the high-end shops inside. The covered shopping mall is also home to a few cafes and eateries, giving you the perfect excuse to sit down and do some window shopping while you’re there.
Pinacoteca di Brera is Milan’s best art museum. It has one of the most extensive collections of Italian art you’ll find anywhere, with works by Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, Rubens, and many other notable Italians. If you have time for just one museum while you are in Milan, this one should definitely be at the top of your list.
It’s worth noting that the museum shares its building with the Brera Academy – a state-run academy of fine arts. I’m only mentioning this because of all the other attractions in the vicinity that are also worth checking out – the Brera Astronomical Observatory, Brera Botanical Garden, and Palazzo Brera.
When you’re done admiring the art and architecture, head to Via Brera – a small street right in front of the art gallery, where you’ll find even more art galleries and some great Italian bistros.
Triennale di Milano is an art museum with permanent and temporary exhibits on Italian design. The themes of temporary exhibits are always changing, and they’re on everything from contemporary art to furniture design.
The museum is quite big with a lot to see, so you could easily spend 3-4 hours inside. Even the exterior of the museum building is worth a more detailed look, with the colorful windows, elaborate fountains, and interesting sculptures.
Mudec is Milan’s best art and culture museum situated in a restored factory. The inconspicuous building houses some incredible works of art, and it’s like Charlie’s Chocolate Factory for art lovers.
The exhibits rotate, so there’s definitely value in revisiting the museum. Also, there’s a restaurant inside the factory building and it’s a great place to grab a bite if you work up an appetite with all the art viewing and souvenir shopping.
Palazzo Morando is an 18th-century palace housing a museum on Milanese fashion. The interior of the palace is decorated with period furnishings and paintings and it’s certainly an interesting sight. But, the museum is definitely the highlight of a Palazzo Morando visit.
The museum is on the first floor of the palace and entry is free. You can see costumes and attire from various periods of Milanese fashion and most of them are a wonderful sight.
Giardini Indro Montanelli are Milan’s 18th-century public gardens. The park area is huge and home to the Natural History Museum and Palazzo Dugnani. The latter is a 17th-century villa with Tiepolo frescos and it’s certainly worth a quick tour. The city park also features a planetarium from the 1930s, which often holds educational astronomy shows.
You’ll find a few cafes and bars in the park, so you can easily spend half a day here without leaving the grounds at all. The entire area is very peaceful and relaxing with ponds, statues, pedestrian walkways, and beautiful green surroundings.
Milan Fashion Week is held semi-annually and it’s one of the busiest times for the city. You won’t be able to get inside any of the shows without an invitation, which won’t happen unless you’re a VIP or a fashion insider. But it’s still worth it to visit Milan during fashion week because the city truly comes alive.
Seeing impeccably dressed people in the latest fashion trends is a normal occurrence in Milan. But during fashion week, you’ll see some crazy outfits and extravagant clothing pieces from some of the best-known designers in the world. Fashionistas, designers, models, and everyone who matters will be strutting down the streets of Milan in fabulous ensembles, giving you the perfect excuse to wear that outfit that’s a bit too risqué for a normal Tuesday.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.