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Florence or Rome

I'm thinking of spending a couple of weeks in Italy in March (I've been there once before about 7 years ago, seeing much of northern and central Italy). Probably at an airbnb or equivalent.

But since I'd like to spend a week beforehand in Paris, I don't want to go both Florence AND Rome.

I know the two are really quite different. One is a megalopolis, the other a medium-sized city with many museums that is walkable. It would be more relaxed than Rome, but I would like to go to the Villa Borghese, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, SantCastelo, Forum, etc.

Both I assume are equally crowded with tourists "per square meter." Rome seems a lot challenging in terms of the traffic, vespas, noise, sheer size (Piazza del Popolo, or the Metro, for examples) that can be intimidating/overwhelming.

I'm definitely NOT into taking selfies at major monuments (done that, it's truly boring) or snapping up tourist souvenirs/shopping. More into a cultural experience, not swinging nightlife (am 68 years old). A charming pensione would be nice, if they still exist, other than in the imagination of those who have seen David Lean's "Summertime" or the Merchant-Ivory "Room with a View."

Florence was people-packed around the Duomo but seemed a lot more intimate...the Uffizi was a nightmare, with wall-to-wall people including school children in the afternoon.

With Covid-19, I have no idea what tourism in Italy is like now for a foreign tourist.

Has anyone spent time in both and can compare the two?

Posted by
5221 posts

I think you've nailed the most important differences from a tourism standpoint. I also think, based on posts I've read here, that you'll find less crowding and people-packing now, or next spring, than pre-Covid. Whichever city you pick, you could be strategic about timing your visits to major sights to avoid the worst crowding. The Borghese takes care of that for you with timed entry, and others may also have timed entry due to Covid. (The Vatican was the worst for me.)

But with two weeks, why not visit both cities? You say you don't want to because you're spending a week beforehand in Paris, but it isn't clear why that matters. Maybe see Florence between the two bigger cities, just to change pace a little.

Posted by
12800 posts

I would spend about one week in each.
Florence’s major sights can be visited in 3 or 4 full days, but Florence is an excellent base to visit many more Tuscan towns and villages, so you can easily fill a longer stay.
Leave Rome for last. It’s probably the place you will depart from to return to the US as it is Italy’s largest airport.

Posted by
2926 posts

I take your point that you don't want to go to both Florence and Rome. With two weeks, I vote for Rome. I think could make great use of that time to really get an immersive sense as a "temporary local." I don't know about you, but I've found when I walk around Rome I find something fascinating to gaze at everywhere I turn. I could spend an hour just traversing a city block. Then again, Rome has excellent train connections so if you decided you wanted a day trip (Orvieto? Tivoli? Castel Gandolfo? Tarquinia?) you could easily do that.

Posted by
4595 posts

Rome wins hands down every time even though I've been more times that I can recall. There's just so much more to see and do in Rome. I wasn't particularly enamoured with Florence, I found it a bit limited and a bit too much Renaissance.

Posted by
234 posts

I have a charming hotel recommendation for each city: Palazzo Belfiore in Florence and Relais le Clarisse Trastevere in Rome.

Posted by
3140 posts

I love Rome, but for me it would totally be Florence because it's so easy to get around. Every time I go to Italy, I spend more time there. You could do day trips to Siena, Pisa, maybe Orvieto whose cathedral is a wow.

Posted by
255 posts

Have you considered one week in Sicily. There are flights into Palermo and Catania. Syracuse (near Catania) is a good base with lots of day trips by bus. People like to stay on the island. It is a smaller city than Paris and Rome. Fly or take the train to Rome to end the trip.

Posted by
14784 posts

I've enjoyed my visits to Florence but I can't imagine spending 2 weeks there. If you're looking for somewhere to "chill" and "live like a local" - shop in the markets, cook at home, but have sights nearby, I'd choose Bologna. It gets many fewer tourists (though March is not high season anywhere in Italy) and it's also a rail hub, so it's easy to take day trips to lots of other towns, including Florence.

On the other hand there are so many sights in Rome that two weeks would be very easy to fill without leaving the city. The main streets are busy but there are lots of neighborhoods that are quiet yet near good public transportation.

I'm curious to know when you were in Italy, since you mention lots of crowds and noise.

Posted by
1791 posts

Tourism starts to pick up in March, but it isn't crazy busy. I'm thinking Rome will offer more nooks and crannies away from the crush of tourists. I Googled and found this.

I've got just the thing for your trip to Paris. It's called Alcove and Agapes. It connects you to very small B&Bs. You determine what part of Paris suits you and your budget. You then submit paperwork through Alcove and Agapes to the prospective B&B. They usually want to know something about you, your interests and why you'll be in Paris. Once they have reviewed your CV, they let you know if they accept your offer. If they do, you pay Alcove and Agapes a modest finder's fee. Then, upon arrival, you pay your hosts in cash for the stay. We brought them a small gift and an envelope with the money

Through them we found not only a great place to stay but also made fast friends. We stayed with a family who rents out the top floor of their home. It was the artist studio of his grandfather, who painted camouflage in WW I. Our hosts were an architect and physician. Breakfast was served at their kitchen table and at our insistence they and her 90 year old mother ate with us. They were so kind that we treated them to dinner our last night on the condition they took us to their favorite non touristy neighborhood restaurant.

Posted by
13352 posts

Hi Denny! Arg, I don't know as there's a wrong answer for this 'cuz both cities are as overrun with fascinating cultural treasures as they are with tourists who come to see 'em! I know you said that you didn't want to spend time in BOTH but as you have two full weeks, I might encourage you to reconsider?

Maybe it's a difference in perception but I didn't find Rome to be all that intimidating/overwhelming. It's busy, sure, but not as spread out as, say, Paris, London, NYC and some other cities I've been to. Most of the things that visitors come to see lie within the couple-mile square area of the historic center; we've only felt the need to take public transport a couple of times. The metro, because the area of historic center it covers is relatively limited, is not difficult to use. Still, my guess is that you probably with use the Metro in Paris more frequently.

Curious: you'd asked a lot of questions back in 2015 about the RS "Best of Italy" tour. Did you end up doing that one? If so, that's when you had your first experience with Rome? My guess is that you'd find your 2nd venture to feel a bit different because you have a rough idea of the layout and how things sort of work so there's less to feel anxious about. As well, the RS tours operate at a pretty brisk clip so you might enjoy getting reacquainted with both Rome and Florence at a more leisurely pace, with time to explore some of the less-visited areas/attractions. :O)

Florence is indeed more compact but also offers SO much to see (!!!!) if you find those things of interest (I did). As someone above mentioned, should you run out of things to see in the city, it's also a very nice base for a number of easy day trips. So, could you make time for both?

Posted by
1199 posts

It would be great to have a couple of weeks in Italy! I'm assuming you've never visited either Florence or Rome and will be arriving after a week in Paris. In comparing the two, you have the Renaissance or the Roman Empire and you can't go wrong with either. I would opt for starting out in Florence because it will likely be more relaxing after spending a week in Paris. After you've experienced it for several days you may enjoy a day trip or two. You may even decide to travel to Rome after all. We visited both cities in early November about 10 years ago and walked into virtually all the museums, churches, etc. we wanted to see and didn't have to wait in line anywhere that I can remember.

Posted by
6510 posts

Totally a personal choice. We spent weeks in Florence on several trips before our first trip to Rome. And while we have visited both since, Florence is hands down our choice. It is beautiful and filled with amazing art experiences. We have always found Rome a chore although it is filled with wonderful things to see. We have friends who love Rome and are meh on Florence.

Entirely what floats your boat. Do the one that appeals to you most and then plan to do the other on a later trip. We have on 3 occasions, 30 years ago 15 years ago and again when I retired 10 years ago spent a week or two in the Tuscan countryside with a base in a small town and a car to explore the region -- highly recommend doing this if you can. Our last stay was two weeks in Montepulciano where the front door of the apartment was in town and the balcony looked out over the Val d'Chiana -- breathtaking experience -- we drove out most days and enjoyed being in a beautiful town with good restaurants in the evening.

Posted by
354 posts

I'm curious to know when you were in Italy, since you mention lots of crowds and noise.

I was there 6 years ago (approximately), spending a couple of days in both places. Florence in its center actually seemed more crowded with people everywhere. I recall it was mostly pedestrian (+++++), with lots of upscale boutiques next to palazzi, etc. Very easy to get around. Rome--and I've spent time watching 4K videos on You Tube--seems to have roads with 4 lanes of traffic. But if I could find a neighborhood "onto itself," away from tourists, shopping, etc., I could be quite content. I'd really like to spend time at the Villa Borghese. The Piazza Navona was stunning but the Pantheon was closed the day I went.

I let like to stay put for 1-2 weeks, as I find all the plane travel (including lay-overs) and moving from place to place (hotels) exhausting and not my cup-of-tea at all. I spent 2-1/2 weeks in Nice recently, divided between two airbnbs near Port Lympia. Got to see much of the Cote d'Azur I had not seen on two previous trips there.

Florence seems to be much more relaxed than Rome, which is so large and overwhelming. But it obviously has greater variety and a super-urban feel. I'd rather choose between one or the other than try to do both. If I knew Rome better, I'd consider taking a train up to Tuscany (6-8 hours?). Dragging luggage from train station to station is something I'd rather avoid, as well, except when I feel really "up" to it. Travel always includes compromises.

Posted by
354 posts

Hi Kathy,

Curious: you'd asked a lot of questions back in 2015 about the RS "Best of Italy" tour. Did you end up doing that one?

Yes, I did. I haven't been back since, though I've told myself I should go back. The Cote d'Azur is the closest I've come (3 times). I speak French so France is a natural choice for me. Italy is much bigger a stretch for me. I found Lisbon (a month ago) chaotic though beautiful, so there is a part of me that is anxious about spending a couple of weeks there. I even find France chaotic and crowded, but beautiful and interesting. I don't think I could handle Naples. Getting on and off a guided tour bus might actually work there for me. But I prefer solo travel though it can get lonely at times.

Posted by
5385 posts

I think that in March, you won't find the level of tourism there is in May and later. Your question seems ... to be mainly a comment about urban versus rural. In that respect, it's a false choice to contrast Florence and Rome. Yes, Florence is much smaller, but it is a vital tourism center for those oriented towards art. Maybe your question is a little like asking whether to visit NYC or Boston.

As a NYC native, I'm a bit of a big-city partisan. But the advantage, in terms of tourism, is quick access to an unlimited number of sites (and after that, daytrips.) What you should be focusing on is what neighborhood of Rome to stay in to persuade yourself that you are living locally. (Irony note: I've read that Americans expect all AirBnB's to have an espresso machine and luxury bath amenities. So much for living locally.) It is an actual fact that New York City is a place of neighborhoods, where locals (especially parents) can spend many days within ten blocks of their apartments.

One good reply you've received is Bologna. I think train access for daytrips is very important for "weeks" of stay in one location. I'm tempted to suggest Naples as well, but I suspect (I mean, reading between your lines) that you would not enjoy a place where urban living is so "intense." (Now that I'm 70, I believe I wouldn't retire to NYC, because it's so much "effort" to live there. But I visit weekly.)

Have you studied the March climate statistics?

Posted by
14784 posts

My "when" question was about the time of year, not which year? Perhaps you were there during a busier tourist season?

I don't remember more than a couple 4-lane roads in Rome.