Florence and Naples are two of Italy’s blockbuster destinations, but they’re miles apart in both geography and character. Where Florence is a compact, renaissance city propped up by tourism, Naples is a sprawling and bustling metropolis. Naples sits on the sea, while Florence’s foot is firmly inland. Both offer history and culture in droves but with a very different perspective, on account of being part of two different kingdoms until the unification of Italy in 1861. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, but only have time for one of these cities, our handy guide on how to choose between Florence and Naples will help you decide which city is right for you.
Florence or Naples: How to Choose Between the Two
Overview – is Naples or Florence better?
Florence is known as the Cradle of the Renaissance for good reason. Between 1300 and 1600 it was home to some of the greatest thinkers of the Renaissance and each has left their stamp on this spectacular city. It’s widely regarded as one of Italy’s best-looking cities, with pretty palazzi, extraordinary art and heart-skipping views at every turn. The whole of the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site too. Beyond the aesthetics, there’s gourmet cuisine and brilliant shopping opportunities to explore too.
Naples, is Italy’s third largest city. For years tourists steered clear of it, hotfooting from the airport to the Amalfi coast. But recently, the world is beginning to discover what the boisterous, bustling city has to offer. Here lies reams of historical sights, art galleries and museums, hundreds of frescoed churches, all within a stone’s throw of celeb-studded coastal towns and the ancient sights of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Things to do
For art, Florence boasts some of the best galleries in the world, let alone in the country. The Uffizi Gallery is a bucket-list destination for art aficionados, home to works from Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. Then there’s the magnificent white marble David, Michelangelo’s masterpiece to see at the Galleria dell’Accademia
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, also referred to as the Duomo, is one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the world. Until 1881 it was the world’s largest and today you can climb 463 steps to the top for sparkling city views.
For a compact city, Florence is also home to some impressive green spaces. The best is the Boboli Gardens, located behind the Pitti Palace.
Almost 3000 years old, the Centro Storico is teeming with locals, tourists and Vespas all day, every day. Its cobblestone alleyways hide some of the city’s most celebrated sights, including dozens of Caravaggio’s greatest works in the area’s many chapels. You’ll also find the only Banksy in Italy in the Piazza dei Girolamini.
For ancient art and artefacts from Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli is unbeatable. Those keen to get a taste of Naples burgeoning reputation as the capital of contemporary art can explore the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina Napoli too.
For older palatial residences, head to Castel Nuovo, built in 1279 by Charles d’Anjou. Inside you can gaze up at the soaring star-shaped vaulted ceiling and beneath glass flooring at ancient ruins and skeletons.
For beach buffs, do as the locals do and head to Posillipo, a sleepy suburb on the northern arm of the Bay of Naples.
Food and Drink
Naples is the birthplace of pizza, so any visit to the city has to include at least a handful. There are some big restaurant names in Naples like Pizzeria Sorbillo and Pizzeria di Matteo but Antico Pizzeria Port’Alba claims to be the oldest and most authentic. You have to work really hard to find a bad pizza in Naples though, so any will do. Since the city is on the sea, fresh seafood and fish are nearly always on the menu too. For a sweet treat, try the sfogliatella, a shell-shaped pastry filled with ricotta or almond paste. Like most big cities, Naples boasts a lively nightlife, but even those who aren’t after all-nighters can enjoy an evening aperitivo.
Florence is famous for good food too. It’s home to hulking Bistecca alla Fiorentina (t-bone steak), wide ribbon pasta served with game or mushroom ragus and Florentine salami. You’ll find the world’s best sandwich at All’Antico Vinaio, though it’s no secret so expect a hefty queue. Its proximity to Chianti means you can expect some of the best wines in the country too. For lively aperitivo, Piazzo Santo Spirito comes alive at sunset.
Some flock to Florence for world-class art, others for world-class shopping. High-end design houses like Gucci and Ferragamo call the city home, so those looking for luxury goods are well catered for. On the other side of the river, the Oltrano district is famed for its artisan workshops. Stroll the wide streets here for vintage clothing, leather workshops and boutique galleries. If markets are more your bag, then there’s the Mercato Centrale which sells the high-quality regional produce, as well as the sprawling Sant’Ambrosio Market. And, for iconic shopping experiences, there’s the Ponte Vecchio, one of the only bridges lined with shops in the world.
While Naples can’t compete with Florence’s offering, there’s still plenty to satiate enthusiastic shoppers here. Along Corso Umberto, the main thoroughfare in the city, you’ll find everything from global chains to tiny family-owned shoe shops. The Chiaia district is home to the city’s high-end offering, with outposts of all the major luxury fashion brands. For vintage and thrift shoppers, the Resina market is a must-visit and also the oldest market in Naples. The historic centre is brimming with tiny independent businesses for all your souvenir, artisanal and limoncello requirements too.
Both Naples and Florence offer an excellent range of hotels to suit all budgets and tastes.
In Florence, the best mid-range and budget hotels are in the San Frediano, Santo Spirito and San Lorenzo neighbourhoods. These districts are a little further away from the centre, but you’ll still be able to get to all of Florence’s best-loved sights on foot. Given the high density of pretty palazzi, lots of hotels are housed in beautiful renaissance palaces, such as the Ad Astra and the Palazzo Guadagni.
Given the size of Naples, it’s easier to find affordable accommodation than in Florence and cheaper to stay in the heart of the city. The Centro Storico is ideal for those looking to be right in the thick of the action, at lively BnBs like Piazza Bellini. For bay views, Chiai is particularly popular, with high-end hotels to match the high-end shopping opportunities. For those looking to get a real feel of Naples, the narrow streets of Quartier Spanoli will steal your heart.
The best time to visit Naples is in the spring between April and June or early autumn. Temperatures soar to the mid-30s (degrees Celcius) in August, which makes for stifling sightseeing conditions, particularly in the heart of the historic centre with its narrow streets and tall buildings. That said, Naples has plenty of beaches to cool you down, so if its a beach break you’re after with a sprinkling of sightseeing the temperatures are more tolerable.
Florence is pleasant in spring, but if you’re really looking to beat the crowds, the best time to visit is off-season in the winter. The small city is heaving with tourist in the summer and the temperatures can reach insufferable heights too. You’ll miss out on the vineyards, but it’s worth it to avoid the long queues and premium prices.