Rome, Florence Or Venice: Which City For A Short Vacation?

Short on time and not sure where to visit? We break it down so you can decide between Rome, Florence, and Venice according to your needs.

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The Pantheon in Rome. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash.

With limited time and so much to offer, it can be hard to choose among Italy’s most popular travel destinations, especially when planning a short vacation. What are the pros and cons of each for a traveler thinking of visiting Rome, Florence or Venice? With so many factors, it’s not easy to make a decision, but hopefully this rundown will help you make a choice and plan your trip.

A week or a few days? 

First of all, you might want to decide if you want a city that allows you to escape the hustle and bustle and venture out to the countryside and nearby villages, or if you’d like to stay in one place. Florence might be the perfect location for the first option. It is very easy to visit Tuscany with public transportation or by renting a car. Let’s imagine you only have three days to spare for your vacation. One afternoon could be spent in Siena, which is relatively close and would allow you to have a quick change of scenery. We will go back to the perks of choosing Florence, but traveling outside of Venice or Rome in just a few days is more challenging and time consuming. Travelers who wish to immerse themselves in one place and do not plan to deal with further logistics or change of accommodations might prefer Rome or Venice.

Let’s talk budget first

Price-wise, Florence and Rome are very similar. Rome gives you a chance to have access to Airbnbs and accommodation outside the city center that are slightly more affordable. The pandemic has changed the tourism market drastically, with prices that dropped significantly in 2020 all over the country and then rose again in 2021. Florence’s accommodation options are pretty much the same all over the city with an average of €80 or €90 a night. In Rome you could stay in many vibrant, off the beaten path areas such as Flaminio, which is still in the city center, or Garbatella, an area a little bit off center but charming. For the traveler who wants to live like the locals, staying a bit outside the historic center allows you to have access to cheaper restaurants and a more everyday local experience.

In Florence, the options are more limited due to the smaller size of the city, but areas such as San Niccolò and Piazzale Michelangelo or Boboli and San Miniato al Monte might be a good fit for someone who wants to get a true neighborhood feel. San Niccolo and Piazza Michelangelo are lovely areas south of the river, east of the Ponte Vecchio and up in the hills. You will find hip bars and boutiques but also a lot of greenery and quiet. In Boboli, you will admire the Palazzo Pitti and beautiful villas. For a short vacation, such as a honeymoon or a special occasion, it is great area as they have a lot of all-inclusive hotels with pools. 

While Rome and Florence have some budget-friendly options and various neighborhoods that will satisfy different needs and interests, Venice is a different environment. Of course, Venice is an unmatched experience, but it is also a place that, on first glance, can feel like a display case for tourism. A short visit, especially during high season, can leave you feeling that it does not represent the quintessence of Italian life. The relationship between residents and tourism is complex and flawed. Over the past few years local institutions, residents, and activists have been advocating for a sustainable Venice. This website offers various guides on how to stay, visit, and eat in Venice sustainably.

However, budget-wise, even local gems are often overpriced — the city is suffering from inflation, which affects tourism but also residents: supply chain issues and staff shortage. Staying in Venice is therefore expensive and travelers on a quick vacation should choose to go there with the city’s well being in mind. If you want to visit Venice in a way that helps the city, plan to spend time researching in advance and consider staying longer, if possible, to experience Venice outside of what has become the traditional tourist experience.

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Colonna di San Marco in Venice. Photo: Massimo Adami on Unsplash.

If one wants to mix the modern with the old, Rome is definitely the best choice. The eternal city has all the obvious choices for travelers looking to dive into ancient history or archeology, but it has so much more to offer. In one afternoon you could visit the MAXXI —the National Museum of 21st Century Art — and the Colosseum, and then go to dinner at either a trendy vegan restaurant or a traditional Roman trattoria. A Roman vacation, even a short one, allows you to do so many different things in one single day. If you are looking for a wide rage of options or traveling with family members with conflicting interests — your dad wants to see churches, your sister wants to eat gelato, and your mom wants to shop — Rome is definitely your best match. All of this is easily accessible in the city center. Keep in mind that public transportation outside of the city center in Rome is a bit of a nightmare or non-existent. Once again it requires some planning. 

History? Traditions? New trends? What kind of vacation are you looking for?

Venice might not be focused on new trends as much, but definitely has a lot of history and gorgeous historic sites and has the advantage of requiring less planning when it comes to sightseeing. You can simply walk around and that would be enough. Bear in mind however that everywhere you will go you will see tourists, so booking in advance for museums or restaurants is encouraged to avoid long lines.  Florence is a good compromise between the two: artsy boutiques close to monuments and sightseeing. Restaurants also allow you to taste the wonderful Florentine cuisine, especially in the city center. There is a great modern scene but there are so many dining options that it requires a bit of searching planning.

In Rome you can find delicious, high quality restaurants near touristic sites, with the exception of a few occasional but obvious tourist traps around the Fontana di Trevi for instance. Florence’s restaurant scene, however, requires a bit more digging. Rome’s scene also is more dynamic when it comes to the hospitality industry in general: it will attract young crowds who want to stay late, while Florence is more family-oriented, calmer. In Venice, you will enjoy a true Venetian apperitivo around every street corner. You cannot possibly miss out on the cicchetti tradition — it’s an art form. We recommend Al Timon that attracts a hip crowd where you can snack or dine on finger food while also enjoying a glass of wine from their extensive menu. That and other bacari — traditional Venetian restaurants by the lagoon and the canals named after the god Bacchus — are the place to go if you would like a mix of innovation and tradition. It might also be your chance to mingle with students, locals, and other international people.

The wow-factor and accessibility for a perfect vacation

You might be flexible with the activities you want to do, but you want the Instagram-worthy posts, the postcard scenery? Venice is an obvious choice, every corner is jaw dropping, but Rome has a more discreet, subtle charm, the orange walls, the sunset over the hills, the corner table at the restaurant with a Madonna painting on the wall. Between the canals and the cobblestone streets, you can choose. Both definitely have wow factor in different ways, and will work their charms and allow you to create beautiful memories. While Rome is gorgeous, it can also feel somewhat chaotic and loud.

For people with reduced mobility, wheelchair users, parents with strollers, both Rome and Venice can be challenging. You will find staircases everywhere, narrow streets that aren’t always well-maintained in Rome, and countless bridges and lack of ramps in Venice. According to the Sage agency, who specialize in logistics for disabled travelers, “Florence is a great city for disabled tourists to visit. The city has numerous things to see and do and is not nearly as spread out and hilly as Rome. Florence wheelchair accessible accommodation is cheaper than in Rome and Venice, and several of the attractions are free to disabled tourists.” Florence’s urban planning allows you to do more while also leaving room for quiet time on your vacation. It is a great choice for people who want to include a mix of relaxation with their activities. Both Rome and Venice tend to push travelers to fill their schedules with necessary, not to be missed outings while Florence allows a good compromise. Four or five days allow to do the main attractions while also leaving time to rest. 

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Piazza del Duomo in Florence. Photo: Marshal Quast on Unsplash.

Best time of the year for your short vacation?

Unfortunately, Venice is prone to flooding, especially in the winter time, so some flexibility is required when it comes to booking. Florence is great in most seasons and a spontaneous trip is a lovely idea anytime. Like Rome, however, it gets extremely hot and stuffy during the summer. While prices decrease a little bit and it is empty in August like all Italian cities, hotels remain expensive and restaurants that tend to cater to tourists sometimes increase their prices. You will be hot and you won’t get to see as much of the rich, charming local life. Spring is the perfect moment to come, while autumn and winter can be rainy. These factors are important to consider if you want to meet locals, while also exploring mostly on foot and wandering around for hours. 

If you are a poet at heart but also love partying and daydreaming while walking endlessly, Rome might be your city of choice — it would be busier, especially if you want to pack in a lot of sightseeing. Florence is a good option for families or people who want to see more and relax at the same time, as the city offers a slower pace of life. Venice will charm everyone but might not offer as rich a nightlife scene. No matter what, these cities have so much to impress you with during your stay. When planning on getting there, keep in mind that Rome will be accessible from a lot of places around the world, while Florence or Venice might require layovers and transfers.

Consider what you would like to see, feel, and discover on your trip and choose accordingly — the possibilities are endless.

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