Planning a trip to Italy and debating Florence vs Venice? Or perhaps you just want to know where you should allocate more time. I've been to both cities many times and will take you through what each place has to offer and which might be best for you!
Italy is one of my favorite countries in the world. The cuisine, weather, passionate locals, art, and varied landscapes offer a reason for tourists to visit again and again.
Two of the most popular cities in Italy are Florence and Venice. While they may be a mere 2 hours apart by train, they are very different from each other.
If you're short on time and are not able to visit both, or you just want to know where to allocate more of your precious sightseeing time, I'm here to help with the Florence vs Venice debate.
Why decide between Florence or Venice if you can do both?
Before we get into Florence vs Venice, let me first say that both cities are worth a visit. They are similar in some ways and vastly different in others.
Florence deserves a minimum of two days to explore the city and an additional day for visiting the medieval hill towns and wineries in the Tuscan countryside. Therefore, if you have four full days or more allocated to Florence, you could easily add in a day trip to Venice.
To go the other way around. Venice deserves at least one full day and two nights to experience the island. If you have a third day in Venice, you could do a day trip to Florence.
A high-speed train connects Florence to Venice in just 2 hours.
If you're OK grabbing the earliest morning train and the latest evening train, you could make a day trip out of either Venice or Florence and then be able to see both.
If you're going to try visit both cities by making a day trip out of one, I (personally) would base myself in Florence. Do a day trip to Venice vs the other way around.
The short and sweet answer to Florence vs Venice
Since you’re reading this post on Florence or Venice, I'll assume you are either short on time or would like to explore one city to the fullest and not feel rushed. Therefore, fitting both cities into your itinerary is not an option.
The quick answer to Florence vs. Venice is...Florence.
Now, this is my personal opinion and I'll go into my reasoning below. Overall, Florence is a better experience all around. There are more tourist sites and attractions, the food is better, and the day trip options are endless. While Florence is, of course, touristy, it's not nearly as bad as Venice.
Over-tourism has really affected Venice and it kills me each time I visit to see the effects. You really have to time your trip right with Venice and make sure you go during shoulder season. And while you may be thinking, "no problem", just wait. The big issue is that shoulder season is also flood season in Venice.
We will further discuss flood season and the small window visitors have to visit Venice with fewer crowds in detail below.
Venice also sees the dreaded cruise ship crowds that overwhelm the city in the afternoon. While the city is trying to combat over-tourism, like charging a minuscule fee for day trippers, I honestly don't foresee things improving much in the future.
Florence vs. Venice - who should pick Florence
While Florence brings crowds, it's not as touristy as Venice
Florence is one of the most popular cities to visit in Italy, so it's not surprising that it can become extremely crowded during certain months. Yes, it may seem touristy in certain areas where top sights are located, but it's nothing compared to Venice.
Unlike Venice, where all the locals have been priced out of the main island, locals actually live in Florence.
Are locals hanging out by crowded sights like the Duomo? No. If you venture away from the hot tourist zones, you'll actually find Italians who live here. Venture across the river to the Santo Spirito area and you'll find locals grabbing a drink or taking an evening stroll.
When visiting Venice, I often feel the only Italians I come across are people working in tourism (hotels, restaurants, shops, etc.). Everyone else seemed to be of every nationality except Italian.
I also notice a constant stream of massive tour groups...the kind that travels with 50+ people, have no regard for their surroundings, walk right in front of you as you're trying to admire a site, and proceed to snap five million photos as you patiently wait...it's really off-putting.
It really is a shame because Venice can be charming, but you have to really work and plan accordingly to experience that side of Venice.
I've also noticed that there are a lot more tourist traps in Venice. Shops selling junk, restaurants that are a complete scam, etc.
Florence has a longer shoulder season than Venice
The shoulder season for Florence is pretty straightforward. Mid-October through November and March through mid-May.
Venice is more complicated because of acqua alta.
Each year between October and January, Venice experiences flooding throughout the city. This is known as acqua alta (tall waters).
The highest chance of acqua alta is (in this order) November, December, and October. If you're a "go with the flow" person and won't be upset if you experience a flooded Venice, you could try fall. Otherwise, the fall shoulder season (mid-October through November) is out.
The next shoulder season option is late winter through early spring.
To bypass the crowds that visit Venice for Carnival, you'll want to avoid late February through the beginning of March.
Your best window of opportunity (excluding Carnival dates) will be February through April. Unfortunately, February and March can be freezing cold with icy winds whipping across the water. April may bring better weather, but this is also when the crowds start arriving.
As you can see, your window of opportunity to visit Venice with nice weather and fewer crowds is much smaller than Florence.
Florence wins the Florence vs. Venice debate when it comes to restaurants
Florence also beats Venice when it comes to restaurants and cafes.
Venice seems to have more low-quality tourist traps than authentic restaurants.
I've never had a bad meal in Florence. This is a city where you can pop into almost any restaurant (aside from ones that are obviously touristy, like those surrounding the Duomo) and have a good experience.
I also appreciate that Florence has an incredible coffee shop scene. There are several cafes where you can actually connect to WiFi and work on your laptop.
Florence offers more to do + day trips
If you're going to spend several days in one city, Florence will have much more to keep you busy.
Not only are there more museums, sights, cathedrals, churches, and shopping opportunities, but there is also a long list of day trips to choose from.
Top Florence day trips include Cinque Terre, wine tasting in Tuscany, and visiting nearby medieval villages like San Gimignano and Montepulciano. The cities of Siena, Pisa, and Lucca are also close enough for a day trip by train or bus.
The day trip options for Venice, while fun, are not as memorable as the day trips from Florence.
Visiting the islands of Burano and Murano is the most popular day trip from Venice. Padua and Verona are your closest options for a day trip on the mainland.
Florence is cheaper
Getting supplies to an island is not cheap. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that everything (food, hotels, drinks) will be a little bit more expensive in Venice. Is it a big difference? No. But you will feel like your money stretches a bit farther in Florence.
Florence has better hotels
Venice is filled with hotels, but I've always felt like your main options are outdated, mediocre hotels or 5-star, extremely expensive hotels. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but it takes more digging to find these in Venice vs Florence.
Florence on the other hand seems to have hotels for every taste, budget, and preference.
A summary for who should choose Florence over Venice
To sum it up, if you want a city that is a little less touristy, has a wider shoulder season, offers better restaurants and cafes, and has more to do plus day trip options, Florence is the city for you.
Venice vs Florence - who should pick Venice
Moving on to part two of Venice or Florence...Venice. While I personally prefer Florence and heartily believe the average tourist will better appreciate Florence over Venice, that doesn't mean Venice won't be a better fit for some travelers.
Canals, Canals, Canals
The only reason I would strongly encourage a visit to Venice over Florence is if you're just dying to see and experience the canals.
These canals are what make Venice so unique after all. Hundreds of tiny islands connected by a network of bridges...that's one memorable experience. Add the fact that the island is entirely car free and your main mode of transportation is your own two feet or a boat, just another unique aspect.
While I may prefer Florence to Venice, I do have some incredible memories of wandering the canals early in the morning and late at night after the day trippers left. There isn't a city I've visited that has quite offered that experience.
If you're willing to time your trip right, make use of the early mornings and late evenings, and are up to putting in some research time for restaurants and hotels, you'll have a nice trip.
Summary of Venice vs Florence
To sum up Venice or Florence…if you’re looking for a city that offers plenty of attractions to keep you busy for several days plus a long list of day trips, Florence is the city for you. Florence also has a better restaurant and hotel scene and requires less research to find a "good" spot. Venice has far more tourist traps.
Florence also has a wider shoulder season. In Venice you have to deal with acqua alta (flooding season), which shortens your window of opportunity to visit with fewer crowds.
The only reason I would recommend Venice over Florence is if you're dying to experience the canals. You can't get much more unique than stringing together hundreds of islands with a network of charming bridges.
If you're still debating Florence or Venice, feel free to leave a comment below on what type of trip you want and I'll help you out!
**FLORENCE HOTEL RECOMMENDATIONS**
- Rocco Forte Hotel Savoy
- The St. Regis Florence (Marriott)
- The Westin Excelsior, Florence (Marriott)
- Baglioni Relais Santa Croce
- Hotel Bernini Palace
**VENICE HOTEL RECOMMENDATIONS**
- Londra Palace Venezia
- The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice (Marriott)
- St. Regis Venice (Marriott)
- Baglioni Hotel Luna