This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
Who else here is as obsessed by souvenirs as me? Whenever me and Al visit a new place, we make sure to find some nice things to buy that will forever remind us of our trip. Yet I recently realized that there are so many misconceptions about what are the best souvenirs from Italy. As a local, I’d like to clear the air, offering a few insider tips to make sure you stay away from the tourist traps. Let’s discover the best gifts from Italy you can buy, according to your preferences and destination. Did you know that every region here has different products? I’m not just talking about food but also about linens, silk, glass and so much more!
Italy souvenirs: lots and lots of food!
A while ago I planned to bring cute “Italian care packages” to a few friends from abroad that I was going to meet at a travel event. I kept thinking and thinking about what I wanted to offer that wanted them to bring home from Italy, and all I could come up with were… delicious Italian treats.
The fact is that some of the very best gifts from Italy are food related: in my Country we are used to good food and there’s so much diversity. Every region in Italy has traditional dishes, or produces yummy ingredients that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Before you go on a shopping spree, it’s always better to read all the rules for importing food in your own Country. This way you’ll make sure you won’t have to leave your souvenirs from Italy behind!
One of the best things to buy in Italy is Formaggio (cheese). While the most famous cheese from Italy is Parmigiano Reggiano, followed right after from the Neapolitan Mozzarella, there are definitely some delicious types that you should look for.
I’m thinking of Caciocavallo Silano from the South of Italy, Fontina from Valle d’Aosta, Formaggio di Fossa (one of my favorites) from Tuscany, Umbria, Marche and Emilia Romagna, the delicious Gorgonzola (blue cheese) from Lombardia or Piemonte, Grana Padano (you can find it basically everywhere in Italy, just like Parmigiano Reggiano) and more.
In case you’re interested in visiting Italy off the beaten path, choose Pienza. This little town in Tuscany produces a delicious cheese, Pecorino di Pienza, that is one of the best things you can eat in Italy!
One of the genuine Italian gifts you can buy in Naples is taralli. While of course you won’t be able to bring pizza at home (the perfect excuse to get back for more, maybe spending one more day in Napoli!), you can still buy food souvenirs from Naples. Neapolitan taralli are a crunchy, salted kind of treat which is very popular where I live. They look like small donuts, made with almonds, ground pepper and lard. In case you are planning to visit via San Gregorio Armeno or if you are lodging in Naples Centro Storico, you can go to Taralleria Napoletana. This shop has cute souvenir boxes that you can fill with small taralli, and they have a lot of yummy flavours! You might also be lucky enough to see how they prepare fresh taralli. Being one of the most popular street foods in Naples (aside from the delicious Pizza a Portafoglio), you will find them everywhere. Taralli are cheap souvenirs that will make everyone happy!
When I think of gifts from Italy that people can buy, the first things that come to my mind are local delicacies that won’t spoil even if you are going to stuff them into your luggage.
In many Italian regions you will find interesting truffle products (pasta, oil, butter, sauces, sausage, cheese and even honey!) that make great souvenirs, for you and for your loved ones. Yet the best “truffle regions” in Italy are Piemonte, Lombardia, Tuscany and Campania. The latter, where I live, is usually less popular if compared to Piedmont, home to the famous “Tartufo d’Alba“. Yet if you happen to visit during truffle season I suggest you try the “Tartufo nero di Bagnoli Irpino” (black truffle of Bagnoli Irpino): it’s absolutely delicious!
I know I’m biased but if you’re going to visit Naples you will find a lot of interesting souvenirs. Like mason jars full of sun-dried local tomatoes, eggplants or mushrooms (usually in olive oil), Neapolitan espresso coffee (click to find info on how to prepare it at home and what Italian brands you should buy), and of course pasta. If you are going to visit the Amalfi Coast, make sure to stop at Minori, as it’s one of the towns on the coast that produces the best artisanal pasta!
Neapolitan sfogliatelle usually spoil in 1-2 days maximum, and the same goes for the delicious cannoli or cassate (some of the best Sicily souvenirs for those who live in Italy). But Sfogliatelle can survive a short flight, if you won’t stuff them into a carry-on, whereas the Sicilian pastries won’t make it for sure.
Artisanal Panettone from Milan is one of the few “cakes” that last a bit more. It’s some kind of tall, sweet bread filled with raisins and candied fruit, that we usually eat during the holidays. If you’re looking for cheap souvenirs, you can buy industrial Panettone in every supermarket for less than 5€, but it definitely isn’t as good as the artisanal one!
Those who intend to visit Tuscany and are wondering what to buy in Florence could bring home a nice bottle of wine (again, always make sure that you can bring it back with you!). Aldo’s favorite ones in Tuscany are Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino (Aglianico, Falanghina, Primitivo and Taurasi if you’re visiting Campania or Puglia region).
Yet let me offer you a delicious alternative that not many people know about. My brother in law has been living in Siena for many years and he treated us to Cantucci con Vin Santo. Cantucci biscuits are crunchy biscotti with almonds. According to the tradition they have to be immersed into a glass of Vin Santo before you can eat them. While you might think that Vin Santo is just another kind of wine, we don’t drink it with our meals, as it’s sugary, thus we prefer to enjoy it with dessert, generally pairing it with Cantucci.
One of our best friends from Piemonte loves to offer rice boxes as Italian gifts, and it’s a great idea! Of course you should buy some “good” rice (as in not the industrial one), so you can cook an amazing risotto once you’re back home! You can buy the best rice in Italy in Piemonte, Lombardia and Veneto.
As I mentioned often in my 5 itineraries to spend 10 days in Italy, Bologna is one of our foodie destinations. If you can import cured meats, then by all means, in Bologna you’ll find the best options. From Prosciutto Cotto to Salame and Mortadella, there’s something for everyone! And if you’re going to spend a few days in Rome, try the “Focaccia romana con mortadella“: a thin bread covered with ground salt and served with the freshest Mortadella. This is considered Italian street food and it’s delicious!
Aldo’s family lives in the Frosinone area (Lazio) and they own a few olives fields. The whole family makes their own olive oil and thus of course they are very picky when they have to buy a bottle for someone. Let me share some of their knowledge with you!
In Italy our olives are amazing, and the artisanal olive oil can be thick enough that you need to use a small amount for cooking: it has a strong taste! The good one is usually served on fresh Italian bruschetta so you can enjoy its scent and taste.
Small bottles of olive oil can be delicious souvenirs from Italy that you will never regret buying. The best olive oil produced in Italy comes from Puglia, Calabria, Tuscany and Lazio.
Make sure that the bottle says “Olio Extravergine di Oliva“: it’s the very best quality!
So many people visit the lovely Cinque Terre in Italy every year. Well, if you’re going, try to buy a jar of pesto! It’s another thing that you can buy in every supermarket, but the industrial one has nothing to do with the handmade pesto that you can find in Cinque Terre or Genoa!
Looking for things to buy in Italy for someone who prefers alcohol to a glass of wine? Then you’ll be happy to know that most of our regions locally produce a delicious herbal liquor (we call it “Amaro“), which is never too expensive.
Of course, while you explore the best beaches on the Amalfi Coast, try to find some time to enjoy a shot or two of Limoncello. This delicious liquor is made with Amalfi lemons, and thus you will find it everywhere on the Amalfi Coast. Please, buy the local version, making sure they are produced on the coast, be it in Amalfi or Minori, Maiori and any other little town. There are some Limoncello brands that are produced in other parts of Italy or abroad and have absolutely nothing to do with the real thing! Original Limoncello is never too strong and has a distinctive scent of lemon. Us locals like to drink it very cold (so it is always kept in the fridge) and in a cold glass. We still make our own limoncello at home!
In Campania region you can also find other versions of Limoncello, which is Meloncello, flavored with cantaloupe, or Rucolino, flavored with arugula!
Crema di Limoncello contains milk and cream. It is way less alcoholic and usually we love to enjoy it as cold as gelato, so we keep it in the freezer.
The South of Italy also offers the chance to buy cool souvenirs not many people think about. Did you know that Calabria is the Italian region where people eat the most spiciest food ever? I have never been able to eat anything flavored with Calabria red spicy peppers, they’re too strong for me! But they can be a great gift for those who are used to eat habanero and the likes.
If you’re going to visit Capri or Ischia, you will find a lot of shops selling small plastic bags with “Condimento per pasta” (pasta seasoning). It’s a mix of spices (often including flakes of dried spicy peppers) that is very easy to use. Boil your pasta, put it in a pan with olive oil and your bag of Condimento per pasta, then mix it for a minute and you’re ready to go! Perfectly seasoned Italian pasta! They are very cheap and fit in every bag!
Wondering what to buy in Italy for kids? Go for some chocolate! My favorite Italian brand is Novi, especially “Gianduia” chocolate with hazelnuts from Piemonte. You can find it in every supermarket, as it’s very popular here!
Turin is home to “Gianduiotti“, delicious inglots (usually individually wrapped in a golden foil) produced from a paste of sugar, cocoa and a special kind of hazelnut: Tonda Gentile delle Langhe. They won’t be cheap but rest assured that it’s the best chocolate you’ll ever eat!
What to buy in Italy during the holidays
In case you’re lucky enough to visit Italy in Winter, maybe during the holidays, there are a few good souvenirs that you can only find around Christmas.
Aside from Panettone, that you can buy in Milan, try Panpepato or Panforte in Tuscany. These are flat cakes with almond, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pepper, cinnamon, candied fruit and raisins. You will find different versions with or without cocoa, chocolate chunks, coffee or honey.
Among the things to eat in Naples for the holidays there are Mostaccioli e Roccocò. Neapolitan Mostaccioli are diamond shaped cookies, with a sweet and spicy center, dipped in chocolate. Roccocò look like crunchy donuts, and are made with spices, almonds, sugar and sometimes also candied fruit. Another traditional treat from the holidays in Naples is Struffoli: bits of dough deep fried and then seasoned with honey, candied fruit and funfetti.
Fashion items as gifts from Italy
Everyone and their mother knows that Italy is the place you go to if you want to buy great clothes, shoes and accessories. I’ve seen lots of travelers from all over the world visiting our outlets in Rome, Florence and Milan. They were carrying empty suitcases because they knew they were going to buy everything they needed in Italy!
So if you’re still wondering what to buy in Rome that isn’t a cheap plastic replica of the Colosseum, head over to Via dei Condotti. It’s the shopping street in our Capital. The best shopping in Naples happens in Via Toledo, while in Florence you have to head over to Via Tornabuoni, near Duomo.
Milan is the fashion capital in Italy, where you can buy lots of amazing designer clothes and shoes. While many people head over to Via Montenapoleone or Via della Spiga, the shops there are very expensive even when they have sales. I personally found the best deals at Piazza Gae Aulenti and at Citylife Shopping District.
In case you are planning to visit Positano, there are shops that also sell handmade, customized sandals. Unless you visit during high season (when it’s very crowded), they are usually able to finish your brand new pair of sandals in about 2 days. One of the best shops is Nanà Positano.
If in doubt on what to buy in Florence, know that they sell all kinds of leather products, also in the open air markets. The best shops where you can buy anything leather-related (mind you, it might not be cheap) are Casini and Pietrotucci.
As you walk around Florence, you will find lots and lots of jewellery. But to buy the best gold filigree, you need to head to Sardinia, where there’s a centuries-old tradition!
II also love to buy Murrina when I’m looking for good Venice souvenirs.
Murrina is an ancient technique that uses several kinds of glass to make abstract drawings, used as jewels (mostly earrings or pendants). Nowadays you can find Murrina as amazing glass homeware as well, especially if you go to Burano or Murano, not far from Venice (more about this in next chapter).
Cameos are also souvenirs from Naples and the whole Campania region that you should consider buying. These beautiful jewels are made from carved shells, and then mounted on gold or silver frames. They are traditional and absolutely beautiful!
Some of the best gifts from Italy are also silk products, albeit not many people know about it. If you are planning to go to Lake Como, maybe searching for George Clooney and his beautiful Amal (who spend many months every year in George’s villa), have a look at the shops in town. Como has been the Italian city of silk since XIIth century!
Italian perfumes are also good souvenirs from Italy that you can buy, provided you stay under the 100ml per bottle if you’re planning to bring them back in your carry-on.
Some of our favorite brands are of course Salvatore Ferragamo, Moschino, Valentino, Versace, Armani, Gucci and Dolce e Gabbana. During the sales periods you could find great deals in our “profumerie” (perfume shops), but have a look also at the duty free shops in our airports!
Of course, if you’re looking for something more classy, expensive and that you can only buy in Italy, have a look at Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence. This shop opened in 1612 and has been the go-to place for perfumes, cosmetics and even liquors since then.
Homeware and other things to buy in Italy
As I already mentioned, glass jewels are not the only Venice souvenirs you should buy. Nowadays Murrina, one of the most famous Italian brands in the world, is making awesome glass goods like jars, centerpieces, sculptures and much more. They surely won’t be cheap but they are always unique and handmade.
While you will also find them in many Naples souvenir shops, hand painted majolica and ceramics are the highlights of the Amalfi Coast. Vietri sul Mare in particular has hundreds of shops and studios. You will find many of them on the seaside road. Some of the best are Ceramiche S. Falcone, Sol’Art Ceramiche and Ceramica D’Urso Vietri.
Still wondering what to buy in Florence? Head over to Florence Factory Shop, the first studio-shop in Italy, entirely dedicated to independent designers from Florence. You will find ceramics, homeware, but also bags, shoes and jewels!
Naples shopping means also going to Christmas Alley (via San Gregorio Armeno) to see the artisans at work on their Italian Nativity sets. They are famous in the whole world: each piece is always unique. If you visit off season (high season for Christmas Alley goes from November to January) you might also get huge discounts!
When buying make sure you tell them to be extra-careful with the wrapping because you have to travel, and then also wrap your clothes or a towel around the nativity set to make sure it won’t break in your suitcase!
In many towns you will also find Italian linens and tablecloths, often hand stitched. From bibs customized with a name to towels, they are very beautiful. Not many shops sell them anymore so you have more chances in the smaller towns!
Woodworks from Trentino Alto Adige or the Dolomites are also genuine Italian gifts that you can buy while visiting my Country. Some of them are thin but sturdy, so you can fit them easily in your luggage. If you’re planning to buy a bigger wood carving, ask the local post office (check for a Poste Italiane sign) how much it will cost you to ship it at home!
If you are looking for Sicily souvenirs, then by all means buy a “Pupo siciliano“! These beautiful puppets are traditional and always handmade. Each one represents a specific knight with its beautiful armour. The Opera dei Pupi is a particular puppet show that has been very popular in Sicily since 1800. You will find Pupi everywhere you go in Sicily and while they look sturdy, you’d better wrap them tightly in a towel to make sure they won’t break!
Collectibles can be cute and cheap souvenirs from Italy
I don’t know about your fridge, but ours is almost completely covered in fridge magnets that we have bought in every city we have visited together these past 18 years. I know, it might sound cheesy, because not many people still buy fridge magnets, but we absolutely love them!
Another thing I collect is mugs. People who visit our place see that most of the house is full of beautiful mugs. Some parts of the world don’t really sell hand-painted mugs or anything like this, so they aren’t as many as the fridge magnets (much to Aldo’s relief), yet I’m still pretty proud of my collection!
Mugs can be cheap or expensive, but they’re still a nice present. Envision yourself drinking cappuccino at home in a mug bought in Rome: way to start the day with a smile!
Because in Naples we’re particularly fond of coffee, if you are looking to buy some nice souvenirs, try looking for espresso cups. They are very cute, often hand-painted (especially on the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento) and sold in pairs. If you buy them with a bag of coffee and a Neapolitan moka, you can make your own espresso at home!
Superstition in my area is a big thing. So while shopping in Napoli, search for a Pulcinella mask (they have them in many sizes) or a “Cornicello“. The Neapolitan red horn in particular is believed to bring good luck and money to those who always have it on them. When people here move to a new place, usually friends or relatives bring a Cornicello to bless the house. It is in fact most effective when offered as a present!
Postcards are probably the cheapest souvenirs ever. Yet they are very nice. In my studio I have a scratch map on a big cork board. It’s where I like to pin my best postcards: it’s a really nice decor that takes almost the whole wall. If you want it to be even more effective, buy a nice stamp (you can buy stamps in Italy at every Post Office or at a Tabaccheria, indicated with a “T” that has to have “valori bollati“) and send it over to your own address!
Being a huge fan of shopping on the road, I also have a long list of interesting souvenirs you can buy in Japan. Have a look!