Getting from Milan to Florence (and Vice Versa)


milanflorence1As much as I might really like the city of Milan, I know it’s not to everyone’s taste – especially if you’re in Italy for a relatively short vacation and you’re more interested in Medieval Tuscan villages or Colosseum-sized Roman ruins.

But if you’re finding a better selection of discount tickets to Milan than you are on cheap flights to Rome, you might be better off flying into Milan and then making your way immediately to one of the cities on your itinerary.

One of the cities that’s often on an Italy itinerary is Florence – and it’s actually fairly easy to reach from Milan, so it’s not a bad starting point for a trip to Italy if you fly into Milan.

And if you’re not flying out of a different city, you can stay in Milan for a day at the tail end of your trip if you like, to see the highlights without spending too much time there.

Here are your options for getting from Milan to Florence.

Taking the Train from Milan to Florence

milanflorence2Even before the newer high-speed trains in Italy connected the cities of Milan and Florence, I still said the best way to get from one to the other was by taking the train. Now, on a Frecciarossa high-speed train, the trip is that much faster – and more highly recommended.

The Frecciarossa, the fastest train in Italy, makes the trip from Milan to Florence (and Florence to Milan) in around 1 hour 45 minutes. It’s not a direct trip – there’s a stop in Bologna en route, but it’s quick and the next stop is Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station. These trains leave from Milan’s Centrale station roughly once an hour during most of the day, and cost between €70-50 (first class and second class ticket prices, respectively). These trains do require that you have a reservation along with your ticket, so even if you have an Italy rail pass you’ll need to buy a reservation as well.

There are slower trains that connect Milan and Florence, too. These can take 3.5 hours or more, and have many more stops along the way, but ticket prices are in the €38-28 range (first class and second class ticket prices, respectively) and don’t always require reservations. If you’re on a tighter budget and you have a little more time on your hands, you might want to go with a slower train. These are also handy for last-minute travelers holding rail passes, because so long as they don’t require reservations you can just hop on a train seconds before it departs.

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Driving from Milan to Florence

milanflorence3There are, I’m beginning to begrudgingly accept, more and more places in Italy where having a car at your disposal is really advantageous for truly getting off the tourist path and exploring places many people miss. But when it comes to connecting big cities like Milan and Florence, you’re going to have to produce a very good reason for driving between them before I’ll admit it’s a better option than taking the train.

According to my favorite driving planning site for Europe, Via Michelin, the drive from Milan to Florence is more than 315km and – with no traffic issues – will take you about 3 hours 20 minutes. The recommended route essentially takes you along the same path the Frecciarossa train travels – from Milan southeast to Bologna, and then a turn almost due south to Florence.

If you’ve got plans to drive all over Tuscany, I can understand wanting a car from the start of your trip. And I’d still suggest that you at least look into taking the train to Florence and then renting a car somewhere outside of Florence when you’re ready to hit the back-roads of Chianti. Driving in Italy isn’t complicated by definition, but when you’re talking about driving in congested cities like Milan, or cities that have historic centers that are inhospitable to cars like Florence, it can make driving (not to mention parking) an exercise in frustration.

Taking the Bus from Milan to Florence

milanflorence4I’m a big fan of public transportation – I love the Milan Metro, and have used the buses in Florence to get up to Piazzale Michelangelo. But taking buses between different regions in Italy can be complicated to figure out how to do.

Italy doesn’t have a national bus service, so getting from region to region by bus/coach is at best complicated and at worst impossible. If you’re traveling within one region, then getting from place to place by bus in Italy is relatively easy – and often quite inexpensive. Although Milan and Florence being in two different regions, however, there are a couple of bus companies that will connect those dots for you.

SENA buses make four stops in Milan and one in Florence. The Milan stops are central enough and easy to reach, but the Florence stop is less than ideal – it’s at the Certosa exit off the A1 highway outside the city center. The good news is that there’s a local city bus that comes by the A1 Certosa exit every 15 minutes or so (it’s bus #37) that will get you to the main train station in central Florence. Fares on this SENA bus start at €36.

Another company that makes stops in both Milan and Florence is the SAIS company based in Sicily. SAIS buses leave Milan only on Sundays (and only once per day), and they stop in Florence about 7.5 hours later. Prices for these trips aren’t listed on the SAIS website.

Flying from Milan to Florence

milanflorence5If your itinerary calls for you to leave Milan for Florence immediately upon arriving at whatever Milan airport you fly into, then it might make sense to look into flying from Milan to Florence. Florence has an airport, which is about 15 minutes away from the city. But the only flights I can find from Milan to Florence are on Alitalia and cost more than €170 for a one-way flight.

Another airport that’s often popular with people flying into Tuscany is the Pisa airport, which has service from many of Europe’s discount airlines. It also does not, however, have any budget flights from Milan. There are flights from Milan’s Malpensa Airport to Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport on Alitalia that cost more than €115 for a one-way flight.

Flying from Milan to Florence might make sense if you discovered that Alitalia was having a spectacular sale, but otherwise it’s a logical-sounding theory that doesn’t pan out when you look into it.

And now that you’re in Florence…

milanflorence6Almost everyone I’ve ever talked to who came back from a visit to Florence has said, “Oh, I could have spent weeks there and not seen everything.” You may have weeks planned for your stay in Florence, but even if you don’t you can see the highlights of the city in a well-planned few days. And then, like all those other people, you’ll just have to plot your next trip to this beautiful city.

Here are some links to help you plan your trip to Florence:

photos, top to bottom, by: ccblaisdell, sammydavisdog, House Of Sims, fairbrand, anne.oeldorfhirsch, bongo vongo