When you want to study abroad in Italy, Rome and Florence are top Italian cities to consider. In broad strokes, Florence and Rome share many attributes that may appeal to you, so you may want a little help to identify the many subtle—and not so subtle—ways in which these cities showcase their originality and distinct, regional character.
In either location, you will appreciate Italy's remarkable contribution to human achievement in artistic, academic, and spiritual pursuits, from ancient times through the present day. And in the present day, Florence and Rome are vibrant, modern, and popular as international centers of commerce, culture, and education.
To help you decide where you should study abroad in Italy, here is a comparative look at Rome vs Florence, beyond the attractions detailed in any one of a thousand guidebooks, which should help with your evaluation of study abroad destinations. And remember, it isn’t a matter of which is the best location, but rather, which is the best location for you!
Rome vs Florence - Italy in All Its Glory
With natural beauty, delicious food, and an unparalleled concentration of history, art, architecture, and culture, Italy is one of the world’s most popular study abroad destinations. Because they serve as al fresco museums of Italy’s complicated and compelling history, with the added advantage of being modern cities of global importance, Rome and Florence are the most popular Italian cities for study abroad.
Both cities are centers of art, music, architecture, and history, boasting UNESCO World Heritage Sites and plenty of regional character. Rome is the bigger of the two and has a more traditional, urban feel, while in comparison, Florence gives a bit of a small-town vibe. Florence is a city of about 400,000 people and far less sprawling than Rome, at around 3 million.
Rome is a better option if you prefer a big city with public transportation and many distinct neighborhoods to explore. This is because Florence doesn’t have a metro system, so the best way to get around is as a pedestrian; you can easily get familiar with the city in a short time by walking around and exploring your surroundings. If you love to travel, Rome has a bit of an edge, but both cities are great locations for convenient excursions to other parts of Italy and neighboring countries.
Both cities offer beautiful scenery, world-class museums, and exceptional restaurants, although Rome offers more variety due to its size. Although they are both river cities, and have beautiful parks, gardens, and green spaces, neither is ideal for students that want to be surrounded by nature. Of the two, Florence has more countryside, but in either location, you’ll have to explore outside of the city to really experience Italy’s natural beauty. Although, you will definitely find plenty to do within either city, and a great mix of nightlife and entertainment.
As far as weather, the majority of Italy is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea and enjoys a mild climate. Winter in Rome is mild and a bit rainy, while summer in Rome is relatively dry. Winter in Florence is also rainy but a bit colder than Rome, while summer in Florence tends to be hot and humid.
Now, let’s talk about food; Italian food is beloved worldwide, but in Italy, it is not a one-size-fits-all category. Each part of Italy has a distinct style of cooking, to the point that you can explore regional styles and specialties from town to town, and even neighborhood to neighborhood. Some dishes you will only fine in a single, remote village, while others will be everywhere, but adapted for local preference and regional food sources. In this way, food is a microcosm representing every facet of life in Italy. There is a cohesive originality and energy, yet this emerges from diversity and strong individuality.
Rome vs Florence - A True Comparison of the Most Popular Italian Cities
Rome is located to the south of Florence in the Lazio region of Italy, situated on the banks of the River Tiber. Rome was the seat of an empire and now the capital of Italy and home to the Vatican. Rome is a much bigger city, and perfect for adventurous students who like to get out and explore.
Known as The Eternal City, Rome is one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe. From origins as a birthplace of civilization through the age of the Roman Empire and beyond, this city is full of history to discover. Throughout the city, thousands of years of history and development are on display, including monuments, artwork, architecture, and feats of engineering. The arch, dome, and vault are all innovations of this historic city.
This city is full of famous landmarks, art, and architecture from all periods of European history. The legacy of the Roman Empire and the influence of the Vatican helped Rome give birth to the Renaissance and evolve throughout time as a powerful global city. Rome’s fountains alone provide examples of classical, medieval, baroque, and neoclassical periods.
Modern Rome is a chaotic, friendly, cosmopolitan city. It is home to the Italian film industry and national TV and radio, in addition to many international corporations, agencies, and humanitarian NGOs, as well as foreign embassies from around the world. The city continues to flourish as an international center for government, education, commerce, culture, religion and the arts.
Florence is located north of Rome, in central Italy, situated along the banks of the River Arno. It is the capital of the Tuscan region of Italy. Florence is a smaller city and a better choice for students that want the benefits of an urban setting that is still very reasonable to explore as a pedestrian.
Julius Caesar founded Florence in 29 AD. Within the city, an ancient fountain still flows as the terminus of an ancient aqueduct. Despite these ancient roots, Florence is most famous for an enormous wealth of Renaissance art and architecture. While Rome was the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence was its cradle and nurtured the rebirth of learning through the Age of Discovery. A center of music since the Middle Ages, Florence is also the birthplace of opera.
You’ll hear Italian dialects throughout the regions of Italy, indeed Florentine Italian has its own nuances to this day, but what is now recognized as standard Italian language found its origins in Florence during the city’s Golden Age, when authors like Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio chose to write in the local vernacular instead of Latin.
Modern Florence is an international center of education, fashion, tourism, and commerce. Shopping, fashion, and local style are highlights in either city, but Florence has extra appeal if fashion is your passion. This city is the birthplace of Italian fashion and home to numerous boutiques and luxury brands, including Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, and Emilio Pucci. You won’t want to miss San Lorenzo for shopping, not far from the world-famous Duomo.
Rome vs Florence - Insider Tips for International Students
Rome and Florence are extremely popular destinations to study abroad, and the good news is that these cities are located within a couple hundred miles of each other. This means that you can travel quickly and affordably between the two, so you can visit Rome if you choose to study abroad in Florence, and vice versa. Plus, if you choose providers like AIFS Study Abroad, intern and study abroad programs in either location may include travel to the other. These types of programs are great options for you to get the best of both worlds without the additional expense of another program or semester abroad.
Both cities are incredibly popular tourist hubs. When you study abroad in Rome or Florence, you have the luxury of far more time to explore the sights and attractions than the average visitor, so use your time wisely to get the best views, the best tables, and the most enjoyment out of your sightseeing. It’s time to enjoy the good life! However, make a point to visit popular sites off peak hours, because they are popular for a reason—you don’t want to miss them, but you really want to avoid a hasty tourist experience, squished together with so many strangers like sardines.
While studying abroad in either city, do your best to connect with locals for helpful suggestions to enjoy an authentic experience of living, not just visiting, in your host city. If your study abroad program in Italy includes on-site support and opportunities to meet and interact with locals, these are incredibly valuable opportunities to make friends and enrich your experience abroad.
For more insider tips on study abroad in Italy, check out 10 Things Your Program Provider Wish You Knew About Study Abroad in Italy
Rome vs Florence - Do you have your answer?
Both Rome and Florence are ancient, powerful cities that have modernized with the changing times while maintaining rich historical legacies and strong sense of identity. Whether you decide that Rome or Florence will provide you with the best opportunities to study abroad in Italy, both are outstanding options to help you grow and change the way you see the world. As a student abroad in either city, you’re sure to learn a lot, expand your personal and professional networks, and have immeasurable fun making precious memories to last a lifetime.
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This article was sponsored by the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS). With comprehensive pricing and transparent value, AIFS Study Abroad offers all-inclusive options to intern and study abroad in remarkable destinations around the world. For the better part of a century, these programs have prepared students with the global skills and cultural dexterity needed to excel personally, academically and professionally.