Rome vs Venice – it’s long been one of the hardest choices for travelers in Italy.
On the one hand, there’s there’s the iconic Eternal City, where ancient temples silhouette against the Sabina Hills and the vast Vatican Museums brim with wonders by Michelangelo and Caravaggio. Then you’ve got Venice – the City of Canals, of romance, of the Renaissance. You go there to shorten the bucket list on gondola rides down the Grand Canal and encounters with St Mark’s Basilica.
To help you choose which of these two chart-topping cities should take precedence for you this year, we’ve slung together a guide. It will unravel individual aspects of each destination, from accommodation options to dining, and outline the different experiences you can expect to have in each. Ready? Rome vs Venice…let’s go…
Rome vs Venice: Accommodation
You’ll find just about all kinds of accommodation you could hope to find in both Rome and Venice. These are two of Italy’s most-visited destinations, after all. They each cater to millions of travelers per year, and that means there’s a whole kaleidoscope of establishments ready and awaiting, from backpacker hostels with beer bars to sleek boutique B&Bs for the honeymooners.
Booking.com lists a mega 5,151 properties up for grabs in Rome. That’s actually double what you get in Venice. However, Rome is a far larger city, and it doesn’t have to fit onto a series of small islands in the Med! The upshot? As well as having enticing luxury stays like the Condotti Boutique Hotel in the enthralling district around the Spanish Steps (sightseer 101!), you can also find out-of-town family campsites like Roma Camping In Town. We like places like the Arenula Suites for midrangers who want something comfy, clean, and historic.
The accommodation in Venice is notoriously expensive in the high season months. You basically have two options: Stay for cheap on the mainland and travel over to the lagoon for sightseeing, or fork out for a hotel on the lagoon and have the attractions on your doorstep. If it’s your first time in the City of Canals, we recommend the latter. Look to stays like the Splendid Venice – Starhotels Collezione for something truly special. Or, try to score a bed at the Combo Venezia for something more affordable – that’s a hostel in a 12th-century monastery, folks!
Winner: Rome – it’s got double the hotel options and is often cheaper than Venice overall!
Rome vs Venice: Getting around
Venice is relatively small, and everywhere is more or less walkable or accessible via water taxi or water bus. Once you get used to how these work they can be a godsend, especially if you want to visit other islands like Murano, Burano or Lido. We don’t want to make getting around Venice sound like a cinch, though. It’s not. It’s one of the most confusing cities in Europe, with winding alleys that go for miles before stopping at a dead end and canals that weave through ancient neighborhoods. You can attempt to use the map, but the best way to do this is to relax and embrace getting lost!
Rome is much larger than Venice. Thankfully, it’s got the mod cons of the Rome Metro system, an excellent bus network, and overground trams. You can buy a 72-hour ticket ($21.50/18 EUR) for those and it’s valid on ALL forms of transport. It’s also possible to get timed tickets that are good for 100 minutes of travel for 1.5 EUR ($1.80), but you’ll need to be certain you validate those at the machines when you board. It’s also possible to do Rome by foot, at least the major tourist areas. However it will involve A LOT of walking, so bring comfy shoes and plenty of water.
Winner: Venice, but only because traveling on the canals is part of the fun! Rome is still more efficient and easier to navigate.
Rome vs Venice: Food
Italian food is unquestionably up there amongst the most popular cuisines on the planet, so the good news is that you’ll never be at a loss for what to order, even if you don’t speak the language. Both the cities are pretty epic culinary hubs to boot, each offering their own unique twist on the Latin kitchen. Let’s take a look…
Where Rome really excels is on the pasta front. The city is the home of the world-famous carbonara, although the mishmash of bacon and eggs is thought to have originated with American GIs in the 1950s. Strange, eh? No worries, there’s oodles more traditional Italian food in the capital. You’ll want to try the deep-fried artichoke hearts when they’re in season (fall), the simple cacio e pepe pasta with black pepper and pecorino, and porchetta for a taste of what you get in the village markets of Umbria and Tuscany.
Over in Venice, the cooking brings in more influence from Austria and the Alps. It’s also heavily influenced by the Mediterranean Sea – it surrounds the whole city, after all! The staples here are things like squid-ink black risotto and preserved sardine bakes, fried moleche crabs straight from the Venice Lagoon, and rustic tomato pastas. Venice trumps Rome for wine, just about. That’s thanks to the proximity of the Veneto region, which hosts the Prosecco region. Nice.
Winner: Draw. There’s no other way!
Rome vs Venice: Sights
There’s a running theme here: Rome and Venice are both among the greatest cities in the world. They both have SO much to see.
There’s almost no end to the attractions in Rome. The Roman Forum should always come top. We think there’s nothing that can beat the ancient part of this town. It unfolds in a mass of 2,000-year-old temples and you can even see the burial spot of Julius Caesar. Right next to the Roman Forum is the mighty Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine – both of which take the breath away. Then you have the joys of the Centro Storico, the maze-like heart of medieval Rome that includes the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Over the river is the Vatican Museum, which we’d say is the best in all of Europe (sorry, Louvre!).
Venice has some mainstay sights, like the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge, and St Mark’s Square. However, it’s not on the same volume as Rome and you can usually tick all the must-sees off in a couple of days. Where Venice is better is when it comes to street (or should we say canal) life. You can wander and boat you way through a labyrinth of back alleys, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells as you go – it can’t be too different to what it was centuries ago!
Winner: Rome. Sorry, but there’s nowhere quite like this!
Rome vs Venice: Museums
Where to begin with Rome? Well…The Vatican Museum is the piece de resistance. With no end of stunning Renaissance art and the grand finale of the Sistine Chapel (be sure to dress right for that one), it’s got enough to fill three whole days for the most dedicated of art lovers. On top of that, there are smaller galleries like Borghese and even unassuming churches that host masterworks by painters like Caravaggio. They’re often free to go in and have the art still in situ.
Over in Venice we have St. Mark’s Basilica, Museo Correr, Doge’s Palace, Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, the Glass Museum over on Murano, and a whole lot more. There’s a lot going on in Venice, but it’s generally smaller in scale than the huge and poignant museums of Rome. The best museum Venice has to offer is simply Venice itself. Just got for a wander and you’ll see what we mean!
Rome vs Venice: Price
The cost of living in Rome and Venice are more or less the same. The average cost of a beer in Rome is €5 (around $6), while in Venice it’s €4 ($4.77), but more in the heart of the Lagoon area on squares like St Marks’s. For an inexpensive restaurant, you’re looking at around €15 ($18) in Rome against €13 ($16) in Venice.
The one thing that brings Venice back into line with Rome is the cost of accommodation. Because space is so limited on the small Venice Lagoon, there are fewer hotels near the main sights. That drives up the cost, especially when the cruise ships and the summer rush is in full flow. In fact, the average rate for a double room in a hotel in Venice in the middle of the high season is an eye-watering €186 ($221).
Rome vs Venice: Nightlife
If you’re looking for a wild night on the tiles, then there’s really no question that Rome’s the answer. As the biggest city in Italy, it’s got all sorts of after-dark activity, from chic piano bars to gritty student dives. The main place we love is the Testaccio area. That hosts the top clubs. Nearby Trastevere is also worth a look in, mainly for street-side bars and pubs that bustle with life at the aperitif hour.
Venice is generally a classier affair than Rome on the nightlife front. A night at the opera? Sure! A refined meal of fusion food and crisp Veneto wines? You bet. There’s romance too, especially if you opt for an evening gondola ride or Bellini in Harry’s Bar down on by St Mark’s Square. The more raucous nightlife in Venice is typically centered around a few hotspots. Check out the Campo San Giacomo di Rialto, or head to the student mecca of Campo Santa Margherita.
Overall winner: Rome
Both Rome and Venice are incredibly different cities. Venice is a wonderland of winding canals and ancient palazzos that will have you gasping at every bend in the gondola ride. It’s got amazing Renaissance sights and some of the best art in Italy. It’s also near the Dolomites and the wine lands of Veneto for when its time to escape. It certainly deserves a place on the bucket list.
However, there’s something undeniably touristy about Venice that you don’t get in Rome. What’s more, it doesn’t have the ancient past, nor the colossal museums of the Eternal City. That’s why we’d recommend making a beeline for the capital before you go up north. Rome is somewhere everyone simply has to see, an it’s the perfect place to start your Italian odyssey.