Which of Venice or Milan should you choose for a short 2-4 days visit? In this post, I help you answer this question.
Venice is a smaller city with a population of 270.000, built on over 100 small islands in a lagoon on the Adriatic Sea. Milan, on the other hand, is a big city with a population close to 1.5M in the Northern part of Italy. It’s considered the world’s capital of fashion and design. It’s also Italy’s first financial hub and is home to the Italian Stock Exchange.
With these quick facts in mind, let’s see what makes each city a better choice for a short trip.
Table of Contents
Venice or Milan: short answer
- Venice is often cited as the world’s most beautiful city and offers a very unique charm and experience. Most travelers agree it deserves 2 or 3 nights of your stay. Many tend to prefer Venice over Milan and will go back to Venice over and over.
- Venice is special because it has no roads, only canals everywhere, giving it a very special atmosphere. It is packed with stunning Renaissance art and architecture. Milan has a few impressive monuments (including the Duomo) but way fewer than Venice. Milan also has the stunning Lake Como nearby.
- Milan is well worth a visit, however, being more a real city (while Venice is primarily a tourist destination). People often recommend spending 1-2 nights in Milan. Milan is trendy with world-class fashion and designer shops, as well as high-end cuisine. Some travelers actually prefer Milan over Venice.
- Though Milan is a vibrant and interesting city, it is not as well-known by tourists. Venice, on the other hand, is overflood by tourists, over 20 million per year, so you typically have to cope with crowds.
- Venice is typically the best choice for romantic trips (honeymoon, anniversary etc). Milan is the best option for shopping, food, and nightlife. Winters are typically colder in Venice than in Milan.
Venice or Milan: access & transportation
Milan has an efficient subway transport system with trains scheduled to leave every 30 minutes. It has 4 major train stations, the Milano Centrale, Milan Porta Garibaldi, Milano Lambrate and Milano Rogoredo. The Malpensa Airport in Milan is just 50 minutes away from Milano Centrale by train.
Venice has 2 train stations, Venezia Santa Lucia and Venezia Mestre. There are practically no roads in Venice but 150 canals and over 400 bridges to facilitate your movement around the island city. A train bridge connects Venice to the mainland.
The Venice Marco Polo Airport is a boat ride away from Mestre and serves many International flights routes from United States, Canada, and the Middle East. You can take a flight from North America to Venice, then take a train ride to Florence/Milan/Rome- and take a flight back to North America.
The easiest way to travel between Milan and Venice is by train. From Milano Centrale to Venice is about 2.5 hours, arriving right where the vaporettos begins. Traveling between Rome and Venice takes around 3.5 hours. A direct train from Rome to Milan takes about 4 hours.
Venice or Milan: vibe & people
Venice is favored by tourists so it’s more crowded than Milan. If you make your trip to Venice in the summer, you should be ready to bump elbows as you navigate along the alleys. Tourist crowds mostly concentrate in the area from the train station through Rialto and San Marco.
Venice tends to get hot, muggy, and congested from July to September when there are wall-to-wall visitors. Nevertheless, you can get away from the masses if you get off the beaten paths. In Venice you will be walking up and down countless bridges.
The unique thing about Venice is that you are allowed to wander around freely and get lost in the alleys. You get to discover a small square here, a gorgeous bridge there. Some places like the Cannaregio area are more about the atmosphere than the sights.
Life without cars makes Venice seem magical and the beautiful churches, canals, museums, and squares give the impression of time standing still. You can best enjoy Venice early in the morning or after sunset.
In contrast to Venice, Milan is a big, busy, business, sports, and fashion capital, so the vibe is more fast-paced and energetic. With most of the city having been wiped out in World War II, star architects have competed to design striking skyscrapers that make up the city’s emergent skyline.
There are numerous designer brands so if you like shopping, fashion, and design are big in Milan. If designer clothes aren’t your thing, there is no shortage of second-hand stores, handmade clothes, and jewelry stores.
Avoid Milan around June or July as it’s crowded, hot, and humid – unless you’re going for the summer sale.
Venice or Milan: sights & culture
Venice is a special town known for its hundreds of bridges, canals, and Renaissance art. The Grand Canal water bus ride gives you a view of its regal palaces as you go through the scenic canals. The best views are at night when the palaces are well-lit and you can see the grand chandeliers and ceiling frescos.
A Gondola cruise and a Vaporetto ride should be part of your bucket-list experience in Venice as it’s the most fun and relaxing way to see the islands. Visit the Venice Lace Museum (Museo del Merletto) if you love history and get to know about Piazza Galuppi. San Martino church is also a famous historical site for its leaning campanile that gives you a view of Venice’s red roofs.
If you are an art lover, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is not to be missed. It’s in Venice’s Dorsoduro district and hosts a premier private Art collection. Walking around the islands, you can see the 16th Century Rialto bridge, walk down along the shops and restaurants down to the main food market. You can also access the Doge’s Palace, Bridge of Sighs, Ca’ D’oro gothic palace, and Murano Island on foot.
Milan is a city that also has significant art and architecture. The Duomo di Milano is a stunning Gothic cathedral and museum which took 600 years to build, located right in the city center. From the cathedral you get a nice view of Milan’s skyline, getting a feel for the blend of new and old.
In Milan, the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie is another important sight, as well as the Last Super mural by Leonardo Da Vinci – you should book a ticket prior to your arrival. Castello Sforzesco is one of the largest medieval citadels in Europe and houses great art by da Vinci and Michelangelo. It’s one of the best places to visit with many attractions in one place.
The Pinacoteca di Brera gallery is a Napolean palace and museum specializing in Italian paintings with works from Titian and Caravaggio.
La Scala opera house is the center of Milan’s cultural scene, an 18th-century grand theater where classic Italian operas and ballets are played.
Milan’s Quadrilatero Della Moda hosts glamourous fashion weeks bi-annually and is an international center for fashion. If you’re a sports fanatic, the AC Milan and Inter Milan’s San Siro Stadium should interest you.
Venice or Milan: food & nightlife
Venice has many good restaurants like the Al Covo, All’Arco, Caffé Florian (great risotto), Covino, Mascaron, and Corte Sconta. Being the original founder of Tiramisu, the I Tre Mercanti bakery gives you an option of over 25 types of fusion tiramisu. Campo San Giovanni e Paolo also has fine desserts and you can access it on foot from the Rialto bridge.
If you can afford it, you can have breakfast or lunch on the roof terrace of Danieli Hotel just a few steps from San Marco, a lesser-known terrace that is open to the public. In the evening, Hotel Locanda Canal is well-known for its Bellini cocktails, and Hotel Huereka for its gin and tonic.
In a different way from Venice, Milan also is known for its cuisine experience. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a 19th-century gallery with a glass roof that has luxury shops and upscale cafes. There you can have authentic Milanese food such as risotto and veal stew (osso buco).
The best places for drinks in Milan are in the city center. Good places include Bar Luce, the Monkey Cocktail bar, the Doping Club, the Blue Note (Jazz), the Club Milano (nightclub for the young crowd), and Backdoor 43 (aka world’s smallest bar). The Chinatown quarter of Milan is also packed with a variety of street food joints and bars.
In the Fonderie Milanesi, you can sit outdoors between 7-9 p.m. and appreciate the different drinks and cocktails for the pre-dinner aperitivo. Alternatively, you can wander around the Navigli or Brera area.
Venice or Milan: shopping
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is the center of luxury shopping in Milan. The place gets very crowded during summer sales. Very high-end brands are also found in Quadrilatero d’Oro, which has a very different atmosphere from the rest of the metropolis, being housed in historical palaces with great architecture.
Other good shopping areas in Milan are the Golden Triangle – many high-end brands in one place, Prada, Versace, Armani, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, etc – and the Piazza Portello shopping mall.
Venice, on the other hand, is a good place for traditional handcrafted traditional products. For uniquely handmade leather bags and purses go to Il Grifone along the canal. For traditional costumes, Venetian masks, velvets, and marbleized paper, check out Ca’ Macana and La Bauta. You should also make a stop at the Murano Art Glass, a renowned glass-maker in Venice that also offers workshops.
Venice or Milan: logding
Venice and Milan are two of the most expensive cities for a vacation, but both have tons of accommodation options.
In Milan, the area surrounding Milano Centrale has the highest number of hotels. Four Points Sheraton Milan Center (now Duo Milan) and the Michelangelo Hotel offer decent customer experiences and are a walking distance from the train station.
Around the Milan Malpensa Airport, you will find the Moxy Hotel which is part of the Marriot brand, the Holiday Inn Express, or the First Hotel Malpensa all with (relatively) affordable prices and decent accommodations. If you stay in the airport area, you can easily store your luggage at the Milano Centrale station and take the Metro to Duomo to visit the downtown area.
In Venice, B&Bs can offer very good value. Location may not be as critical in Venice as in Milan since it’s a much smaller town. You can often find more affordable places to stay in Lido, Chioggia, or one of the islands such as Burano, and in general on the city outskirts.
Travelers also often recommend Hotel San Cassiano in Venice. Excellent location, good reviews, price around $100 for a single room with breakfast included. The hotel is in a quiet area albeit close to the Rialto Bridge. It has a private dock for private taxis. The only caveat is the hotel has no elevator and has a very steep staircase – you can have someone carry your luggage, though.
Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo in the Santa Croce Sestiere residential neighborhood is also praised.
The area around Campo San Barnaba in Dorsoduro is less touristy and easily accessible from the Ca’ Rezzonico vaporetto stop, with no bridge to carry your bags across.
Another affordable option is to base yourself in Montegrotto Terme (1 hour from Venice by train) where hotels are cheaper. You can even stay in Padua (25 minutes by train) or Verona and then take day trips to Venice. Many travelers find the hostels much better in these 2 towns compared to the city.
Venice or Milan: day trips
From Venice, you can take day trips to Abano Terme or Montegrotto Terme hot spring areas. You can take a day tour to Verona and Padua to see the old towns and 1st-century ruins.
From Milan, you can take a 45 minutes train ride to Lake Como and take a ferry ride through the villages. Bellagio is a nice place to visit with its cobbled streets, well-designed buildings, and Villa Serbelloni Park.
(1) Featured: “Venice, Italy” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by szeke
(2) “Milan” (CC BY 2.0) by DavidMartynHunt
(3) “Venice” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Indyblue
(4) “Milan” (CC BY 2.0) by DavidMartynHunt
(5) “Dorsoduro seen from Ponte dell’Accademia” (CC BY 2.0) by Dimitris Graffin
(6) “Milan Bar, Croydon, CR0” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Ewan-M
(7) “Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by CraigMoulding
(8) “Venice” (Public Domain) by thinkrorbot