I'm only going to have four days to spend in Italy, and want to focus on just one place. I've heard great things about both Rome and Florence. What would people recommend?
You'll get different opinions here. Either choice, you can't go wrong.
Rome is massive, the touristic center of Florence relatively compact.
If you choose Florence, don't drive there.
The threshold question is whether you actually have 4 full days, after allowing for intra-Italy travel time. Probably not and that is actually a detail for you to focus on, how much actual sight-seeing time do you have after allowing for intra-Italy travel?
This is only an opinion, but if you're into art/architecture/culture/history, 4 days is probably not enough time for Rome, you'll just scratch the surface.
And some would say that 4 days is maybe 1 day too much for Florence.
One way to do this, and certainly not the only way, is to spend the time in Florence but with a day trip to Sienna. Allowing for travel time, that will give you 2 - 3 days in Florence to really do a quality visit to Florence. Florence is worth it.
Some here will say that's still too much time for Florence. It's a matter of personal preference and opinions will differ. It may be helpful to think of Florence as, possibly, the place in Europe with the most art/architecture/culture per sq ft.
Part of the answer depends on how much interest you have in art/architecture/culture/history? If you're into that, possibly it's better for you to do a quality, in depth visit to Florence and Sienna, instead of just scratching the surface in Rome.
Or you could have a busy but great introduction to Rome.
Either choice, you can't go wrong.
With limited time, I think it's great that you're focusing on just one place. Either city could easily occupy the full four days – my first visit to Florence was 10 days, and my first visit to Rome was a week. And there was plenty in both cities to occupy that time.
If you have a primary interest in Renaissance art, I'd suggest Florence for all four days. In my first visit, I remember being amazed that I could walk 100 yards in any direction from my hotel and find amazing art.
If your interests are broader, and in particular if you have an interest in the Imperial era, I'd suggest Rome. And certainly you'll also find amazing art in Rome.
Is that 4 nights meaning 3 days or 5 nights meaning a solid 4 full days?
However much time you have, you can't go wrong with either.
I think Rome is an exterior city about sculpture, big ruins, big history and big architecture. After all, a big part of the world was run from Rome for almost 1000 years.
Florence is about the intellectual, financial and artistic awakening of the Renaissance. I find it more intimate and more about painting, museums, smaller churches, smaller public areas.
Research both and then decide, keeping in mind that both are also modern cities where people live their daily lives.
Lo lays out a good comparison. If it was my last four days on earth with a choice of Rome or Florence it would be Rome. The history is so deep (literally and figuratively). So much revolved around Rome for thousands of years and Florence didn't hit map till the Renaissance but it did hit in a big way. And then the whole religious factor is another month. However, Rome tends to be far more intense with crowds, traffic, food, etc. At the end of day I am sure you will be a 50/50 response which doesn't help your decision process. I with Kent. Three days is max for me in Florence.
Florence has the better food and wine. And gelato! Another thing you could do is join a one day tour of the Tuscan countryside, to get out of the big city and see the "real" Italy, sample vino where it is made or check out a couple of quaint hill towns.
Rome is a jumble of different eras, with the 2500 year old Pantheon and its massive colosseum, plus the largest church on earth and plenty of art from Ancient Rome & Greece to the renaissance and beyond. It'll certainly wow you. But it can be very overwhelming.
2 days in Firenze, 2 in Roma. Fast train gets you there fast. Bus trip takes a tad more time.
Then use that city's bus service to see the sites. Stay near Firenze's central Santa Maria Novella SMN train station and Roma's Termini train station. The bus terminal surrounds mainly E, W, and S sides of Firenze's SMN, while in Roma the buses collect at the huge Piazza Cinquecento side of Termini.
In Firenze take those little buses too cause they go where the big buses don't. PM me for a map of the bus stops around SMN. Check at the newspaper/souvenir stand where you buy bus tickets inside SMN for a paper map of the bus service. Go to www.ataf.net for more info.
Buy bus tickets at newspaper/souvenir stands inside Roma Termini. Go to www.atac.roma.it for info on city bus service. Piazza Cinquecento posts signs in office windows listing which buses go where. There are plenty of staffers around who will tell you which bus goes where. Bus maps are posted at every platform.
The city buses will show you the entire city. Sure it's a macro view, but you get to see the entire city! Just stay on the bus!
There is no way to know how you will feel about a place until you go there. And both cities have ardent adherents (it's not like asking whether you should see New York City or Buffalo, where there is a clear "winner").
If you need help deciding, Rick has a lot of videos on both cities, and he just shot new ones a couple of years ago. They are on Hulu, and on YouTube through links here (click the Italy tab): http://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/video/tv-show
And yes, if you just want to "hit a few highlights," you can see both cities in 4 days. But I prefer your original plan of spending all the time in one city. Both have lots of day trip options, if you find you don't like your home base.
People would recommend either or both depending on their personal preference.
I am Assuming you have really 4 full days (some people say 4 but then you discover the first day is the day of arrival and the last it's the day of departure, therefore you can't really count those). With 4 days (meaning 5 nights in Italy) you could do:
A. All 5 nights in Florence with at least one or two full days devoted to Florence only and the rest devoted to day trips to other towns and villages in Tuscany.
B. All 5 nights in Rome with three days devoted to the Eternal City and one day as a day trip to, for example, Orvieto.
C. Spend 2 nights in Florence and 3 in Rome (or even vice versa depending on what your personal preference) and concentrate on the cities only without outside trips.
One question: If you could only see one, would you pick the David or the Coliseum? While Rome is not without art certainly, it's highlights are historic and architectural. Florence is art and beautiful churches. As other posters have mentioned, either has great choices for day trips and Siena from Florence or Orvieto from Rome are both easy. (I absolutely love Orvieto.) I've been to both several times and either is a great choice although Florence is my personal favorite. Hope you have a great trip.
I'd go for Rome first. For me it has more to see. The Vatican Museums has lots of art to see that you can skip the Uffizzi gallery on this trip. Spend your time in Rome, and daytrip out to Orvieto, or the Appian Way and Aquaduct Park, Hadrain's Villa or Ostia Antica for one day.
I suggest Rome over Florence for many of the same reasons already mentioned by others. Basically, I think you can get a better cross section of Italian history and culture there compared to Florence. The city has a great mix of history and art from ancient to Rennaisance to recent and four days is enough for a solid first visit.
Have fun with whichever option you choose.
I certainly agree that either city has plenty of attractions to fill your time, and that a day trip (one hour each way) to a smaller town would give you a different perspective on Italy without much expense or need to plan ahead - just buy a train or bus ticket on the day of travel.
This is like asking you to choose which child is your favorite! Both are equally beautiful but have different personalities that you adore. I say flip a coin...you'll be happy with either choice!