If you’re planning a trip to Italy and only have a couple of days to spend in either Naples or Florence, you may find it difficult to choose between these two wonderful options. In this post, I go over the main differences between the two so you can make the most informed decision for your travels.
You really cannot go wrong either way. Regardless of what Italian city you choose to stay in, you will have a plethora of things to do, see, and experience. Both Naples and Florence are home to unique art, cultural and historical landmarks, great food, and abundant shopping.
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Naples vs. Florence: The Short Answer
Florence is the smaller of the two cities. It is mid-sized, with approximately 400,000 inhabitants. It is polished, clean, and quite neat. Its compact nature makes visiting a breeze, and it’s less overwhelming than Naples.
Florence is very walkable so you don’t really have to worry about navigating public transport, an often-daunting task for tourists unfamiliar with the language and geography. This makes visiting in one day relatively easy because people can walk to and from the major landmarks.
Florence is a must-see if you are a Renaissance buff, with most of the art and notable sights dating back to this culturally rich time period.
Naples provides a different charm compared to Florence. It is far bigger than Florence, with a population of about 1,000,000 people. It has grit, character, and bustling metropolis energy. Buildings and structures are authentically rustic and worn. In Naples, tourists visit museums and sights dating from the 7th century B.C. all the way up to the modern era.
In Naples, a good understanding of how to use public transportation is important. Naples is cheaper than Florence. For example, you might pay 9 euros for pizza in Florence but 5 in Naples.
Naples or Florence: Access & Transportation
There are high-speed trains accessible throughout Italy. They are clean, fast, and easy to navigate. One option is taking the fast train from Termini to Florence (1.5 hours) or Termini to Naples (A little over an hour).
Another option worth considering is the Frecce trains. These go from Rome to Florence in about 1.5 hours. You can buy a ticket in advance and get 50% off (valid for a specified train at a certain hour).
Naples or Florence: Vibe & People
Naples is very eclectic and truly diverse, which makes it so special. It is filled with energy and color, creating what can only be described as fun and somewhat chaotic. It’s stunning nearly everywhere you turn. You can find this beauty in its range of piazzas, outdoor sculptures, fountains, churches, infrastructure, ancient castles, and its crystal blue sea.
We love Naples because it has fantastic sites but far fewer tourists than Florence and more locals to display the vibe and social scene of the city. On the flip side, the streets are often crammed with traffic and the urban feel might be off-putting for some, such as the graffiti displayed throughout the city. For some, it’s art and social commentary, for others it’s disruptive.
Naples is slightly under the radar for tourists mainly because it isn’t as organized as Florence. It is its own life form and doesn’t exist for tourism. It offers a peek into what Italian cities might have looked like generations ago. It is an escape from the ever-moving, ever-modern European world.
Although we are overall fans of Naples and recommend the visit, there are some cons. The city can be dirty. The air is polluted and the streets can be littered. Do not expect great restaurant service or a warm smile from locals on the street. But, as long as you have thick skin this should not get in the way of you fully appreciating Naples and all it can offer.
Florence is truly beautiful but it has been overrun with tourists for decades, even in off-seasons. Expect to see guided tours and large groups monopolizing the central historic district which is home to world-class sights such as the Duomo and Uffizi Palace and Gallery. Since it can be so crowded, a day trip might be unpleasant because you only have so much time to hit the hot spots as you try to push through the sea of people.
Florence is smaller than Naples but truly exists for tourism. Known the world over as a historical and cultural treasure, it’s like a giant campus. Florence is home to Medieval and Renaissance arts and culture, great examples of which you’ll find in the Galleria dell’Academia.
Florence has amazing window shopping, a great central food market, and other outlying artisan markets to pick up uniquely crafted items to take home as souvenirs. The food is delicious and the people are warmer than in Naples. Florence is charming, clean, and safer than many other European cities.
Naples vs Florence: Sights & Culture
As previously mentioned, Naples is sprawling. This means you will have to move around to see the monuments rather than jump from short distances in a central location. For example, it takes a little bit longer to travel between the Royal Palace of Caserta to Pompeii to Amalfi. Make sure you are planning enough time accordingly to hop from place to place.
Naples’ city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site with buildings dating back to 480 B.C. There are massively structured castles, royal palace, and other dominating cathedrals in the area.
Naples’ Old Quarter is home to beautiful Baroque architecture and museums like the Capella Sansevero, which features the famous statue, “The Veiled Christ”. Sometimes, tourists miss these hidden gems in contrast to Florence’s museum scene with its heavily populated central historic district.
We highly recommend the archeological museum in Naples- The Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli- for a trip back in time and the discovery of some dinosaur bones.
Florence packs a different punch when it comes to historical sites. Travelers can find 72 museums and sculptures in the city center. Don’t let Florence’s smaller size fool you, because it is brimming with sites on everyone’s bucket list like the Pallazo Vecchio and the Boboli Gardens. It’s a Renaissance-era powerhouse, although probably not the ideal experience for those who do not like crowds.
You can climb to the top of the Duomo or the Uffizi Museum to look out over the landscape. You may also climb over the tower at the Palazzo Vecchio and take a bus up to San Miniato to soak in some panoramic views of the city. Afterward, journey over to the famous Ponte Vecchio to taste iconic gelato.
If you decide on Florence, make sure you afford yourself a guide to visit The Last Supper frescoes. The city has several which makes it easy to see them all to compare and contrast different styles.
Naples vs Florence: dining
In Naples we recommend trying fried pizza – fresh, fried dough stuffed with delicious ricotta cheese and an assortment of meats, an absolute treat. Check out the Antica Pizza Fritta da Zia Esterina Sorbillo for this delicacy.
In Florence, try their most famous dish, Bistecca alla Fiorentina, or Florentine Steak. This huge steak is eaten on the rare side with an array of spices and marinades mixing to create flavors you didn’t know were possible!
Naples vs. Florence: shopping
Both Naples and Florence are shopping paradises. In Naples, the clothes and shoes are fairly inexpensive but always on-trend. You can find the Via Toledo, the longest shopping street in Naples, with numerous boutiques, department stores, and bigger chains.
Florence is best for unique souvenirs and artisan-made gifts. The Palazzo Pitti has put Florence on the map next to big fashion cities like Milan, with unique boutiques and quality flagship stores.
Naples vs Florence: lodging
The historical center in Naples is a great place to stay as hotels range from basic to opulent based on your budget and needs. The location is ideal for museums and sights, especially if you are only in the city for a few days.
The Decumani Hotel De Charme is a great place on the higher end, housed in a historical building with intricately decorated dining rooms and lounges.
Hotel Art Resort on the third floor of the Galleria Umberto, a great location off Via Toledo and across the street from the Teatro Di San Carlo. The hotel has good-sized rooms and a nice breakfast, and the front desk is manned all the time. The breakfast and wine room overlooks the interior of the Galleria. The area is tourist-friendly and close to the Gran Caffe Gambrinus, the Royal Palace, and Castel Nuovo. The Castel dell’Ovo is a short walk away with many restaurants.
Chiaia Hotel de Charme is also recommended – also a short walk from the Gran Caffè Gambrinus.
If you’re on a budget, Hotel Piazza Bellini is nice with its bright and airy rooms and bathrooms, and historic courtyard. It is convenient for the archaeological museum.
In Florence, the city center is the best option to stay for a short trip. It gives you the opportunity to see many of the sights in a short walk and go back to your hotel often.
The 3-star Hotel Hermitage with its wonderful breakfast terrace is well-priced and caters to English-speaking guests. It has a great location right next to the Ponte Vecchio.
Travelers also recommend Hotel Tornobuoni Beacci and Hotel Torre Guelfa, two nice options right in the center of town with pleasant rooftop bars.
Also recommended are Hotel Spadai, next door to the Duomo, and Hotel California, a block away from the Academia. Hotel la Scaletta is also a good choice, with great breakfasts and a rooftop view over the Duomo.
If you need to be close to the train station, the lovely little Hotel Casci is close to it and also to many of the sites.
More upscale, Hotel Davanzati is highly recommended. Be aware there is a flight of stairs up to the lobby.
Since Florence’s city center is so packed with tourists, some travelers choose to stay in the hills around Florence. They are close enough to the city to get in as needed but provide a quiet escape.
This is also a good base for those looking to use Florence as a foundation to visit the rest of Tuscany. You can also stay in a villa in the Chianti vineyards and olive groves to enjoy the charm and quiet of times past.
Naples or Florence: day trips
If you’ve ever been to Europe you know that one of its amazing perks is general ease of accessibility between countries and cities. The same can be said for the ease of access to other famous Italian cities such as Pompei, Sorrento, Positano, Tuscany, and the Amalfi Coast from both Florence and Naples.
From Florence, you can jump on a local train to Pisa to see the famous Leaning Tower. From Naples, on the other hand, you might decide to take a local train to Pompei or Sorrento, each famous in their own right.
Around Florence, you will be surrounded on all sides by the green Tuscan countryside. This is best seen with a car, as you can take your time meandering through these areas at your own pace. Additionally, you can take a train to Lucca or Pisa and buses to Siena if you really want to experience more of the art scene.
Naples is the ideal starting point if you are looking to visit Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and maybe the Vesuvio. If you should choose to fly to Naples, plan room in your schedule for the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, or Positano. Although they are hot tourist destinations, they are too stunning to pass up. It’s quite easy to catch a ferry between Naples and the Amalfi Coast or the Island of Capri.
Our advice on Naples: make the visit, even if it is for one day. However, don’t expect to be able to appreciate it in its entirety in this short time frame. Expect to make some sacrifices when picking and choosing your activities and sights. If your time allows, take about three days to discover the city fully. You might need more time to ease into the fast pace and let the beauty sink in.
Although you might be pressed for time for a day trip to Florence, it is probably the better option of the two to attempt to see in one day. In Florence, the train station to the historic center is about a ten-minute walk. You’ll likely be able to cover the main attractions without needing to waste time on transportation.
(1) Featured: “Naples and Vesuvius” (Public Domain) by Carlo Raso
(2) “florence_30” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by gumbeat
(3) “Naples – Monday” (CC BY 2.0) by GOC53
(4) “Naples – Monday” (CC BY 2.0) by GOC53
(5) “Florence” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Andy Montgomery
(6) “Florence” (CC BY 2.0) by HerryLawford
(7) “Naples” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Alexandra Svatikova
(8) “Pompei Street with Mount Vesuvius” (CC BY 2.0) by RealCarlo