You arrive in Europe and would love to spend some time shopping, be it for gifts or for pampering yourself. Jewelry? Food? Cakes? If you are looking for the perfect souvenirs from Italy, don’t look further, here is our complete guide.
Here in Italy, we welcome some 50 millions visitors every year and if you are one of them, this article will sure come in handy for you. The things to buy in Italy are endless and differ from region to region, but you will also find shops that gather Italian artisan souvenirs from all over the country.
The two main favorite types of souvenirs are the artisan handicrafts that represent the country, or local food. In the end, it all depends on where in Italy you want to do your souvenir shopping, but fret not, there is no lack of choice.
Read on for are our suggestions of souvenirs from Italy to take home with you
Famous the world over, many products from the Italian food tradition can make for perfect gifts to buy in Italy and take home for family, friends and for yourself.
Cheese, formaggio in Italian, is a perfect Italian souvenir, especially if you come across agriturismi like the lovely Archelao I visited in Sardinia or local producers, instead of the mass industrial cheese on the market. It’s even common among Italians to send abroad to their relatives and friends the cheese from their region as Italian regional souvenirs. There are many different kinds of cheese in Italy, from the delicious Pecorino Romano (Roman sheep milk cheese) to the strong casu marzu with worms typical from Sardinia.
The most famous and emulated Italian cheese around the world is the Parmigiano Reggiano, so if you are traveling to Italy and you are a fan, it would be a pity not making time for some food shopping. Parmigiano can be used grated on the pasta or just served in chunks, it’s not too strong so an easy cheese for the whole family.
Some other delicious cheeses in Italy are the spreadable blue Gorgonzola from the northern town of Gorgonzola, Sardinia’s sheep-milk Pecorino Sardo, and the above mentioned Pecorino Romano from Rome. Slightly salty, this is the “cacio” of the famous Roman tonnarelli cacio e pepe pasta dish.
Sardinia is a sort of heaven for cheese lovers. Here you can buy cheeses with pepper, chili, soft and sweet, aged and strong-flavored, or the famous braided cheese that remains fresh and less strong than others. In Sardinia, you can find also “casu aghedu” and “cazzau“, both very soft and to be kept in the cheese water. Difficult to both ship and pack, these, delicious in soups, are definitely to be enjoyed on-site. There is also another very fresh cheese in Sardinia called “frue“, but this is usually left to dry and becomes slightly harder, so it can be packed. We have it with fresh tomatoes and also use it to make soups. It’s a very summer cheese, the best is made with goat milk.
Same we can say about Puglia’s “burrata“, an absolute mouth watering fresh cheese similar to mozzarella with a creamy heart. Have your fill in Italy because it’s very fresh and can’t face shipping and transport.
Truffles and dried porcini mushrooms
The delicious and precious truffles mushrooms grow wild in many regions in Italy, but in Lazio and Umbria are very popular and available in the most diverse shapes, from truffle paste to pasta sauce to just the powder to sprinkle here and there for a delectable twist. Black or white, truffles come in different qualities, and some are very expensive. Every year there is an auction and some pieces of rare and high-quality truffles can be sold for thousands of euros. You don’t need the most expensive type to enjoy it with your food, in many shops around Rome, Viterbo, or cities in Umbria, you will find them in their shapes for different prices.
To stay in the mushroom world, a welcome gift is also dried porcini. These tasty mushrooms are excellent for pasta and risotto, they can be bought in packages of few grams each and before cooking them you need to soak them in warm water or milk. You can find dried porcini also in supermarkets, where they will cost a few euros, cheaper than the packages in deli stores.
Used in many recipes in Italy, sun-dried tomatoes are another inexpensive gift you can bet cooking lovers will heartily welcome. Popular especially in southern Italy, making sun-dried tomatoes is one of my childhood memories. During summer, our balcony was always filled with tomatoes. We used to cut ripe tomatoes in half, cover each half with medium-grain salt and expose them to the sun for some three or four days (this depends also on the heat intensity, you will understand when the tomatoes have dried out). During the night take them inside to avoid humidity to ruin them.
When they are done and you want to store them, it’s better if you do it in a proper terracotta pot. Place each half on top of the other with some salt between the two halves (always medium-grain) and, if you want to give it a special twist, a leaf of fresh basil. After each layer of tomatoes inside the pot, you sprinkle some salt and you have them well-preserved for the whole year. Before using them, make sure you wash the salt away and soak them to rehydrate. Once hydrated you dry them with absorbing cooking paper and you are good to go.
If you don’t feel like making them yourself, you can buy some in Italy and use them in different recipes (you will still need to wash the salt away and soak them). Some of the ways you can use them? A special Caprese salad with some diced sun-dried tomatoes on top of the mozzarella cheese, adding them to some soups to make them tastier, or even filling them with some veggie and herbs blends.
Pennette, fusilli, paccheri, spaghetti, conchiglie, pici, orecchiette. With all its shapes and flavors, pasta is one of the dishes that made Italian gastronomy famous all over the world.
While now the Italian brands of pasta industrial production such as Barilla and De Cecco can be found also abroad, if you want to take home from Italy a special gift, go for some artisan pasta or try those made with different flours, from the original wheat-based to the whole-grain, to other relatively new types made with quinoa, rice, corn or kamut flours.
Some good pasta brands you can buy in Italy are Voiello, Alce Nero, Afeltra, Benedetto Cavalieri, Verrigni, Il Pastaio di Gragnano, Antignano, Alfieri, Mancini and others available in deli stores, organic shops like NaturaSì and Eataly stores in Rome, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Piacenza, Bologna, Trieste, Forlì, Florence, Bari. They are more expensive than Barilla and Garofalo sold in the average supermarket, but if you want to buy them for a nice gift from Italy, these are your best choice.
Italian sausages and cured meat
For Italian gifts meat lovers will welcome, try the Italian sausages, different types all falling into the collective categories of salumi or insaccati. Among the most famous insaccati you will find salsiccia, salame, prosciutto, bresaola, pancetta, guanciale (the cured meat used for spaghetti alla carbonara and amatriciana, please don’t use bacon) and many others.
Also when it comes to sausages, different regions, different products. In Sardinia you will find many types, some made with wine-soaked meat, and pieces of lardo (lard), big chunks of pig’s fat, while in Siena, near Florence, the boar’s sausage is very popular, in Parma they produce the renowned prosciutto di Parma, Parma’s ham, and in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region prosciutto San Daniele, San Daniele’s ham.
Typical from northern Italy are also Milan’s fine-grained salame and bresaola. The latter comes from different areas, the most famous being the one from Valtellina, in Lombardia region, made with beef, the one from Piedmont’s Val d’Ossola also made with beef and seasoned with herbs and spices such as cinnamon, garlic, rosemary, laurel, cloves, sometimes juniper. It’s also possible to find bresaola made with horse meat (in Piedmont’s Asti province and Veneto’s Padua), or deer (in Novara, Piedmont region).
Southern Italy, on the other hand, is home to more spicy sausages, in Calabria region, they add quite a good amount of chili so sausages are usually very hot.
Italian sweets and pastries
No meal is properly over without a combined dessert, and in Italian tables, this can hardly be missed. The whole country boasts a great tradition of sweets, pastries, cakes, and cookies that can be bought in bakeries or deli shops.
Torrone is one of the things to buy in Italy, especially if you are in the Sardinia region. The island’s version of nougat, the best torrone is made with pure honey and different nuts, that can be walnuts, almonds or sometimes hazelnuts. It’s excellent as a dessert, with green and black tea, for an out-of-meal treat and obviously as an exclusive gift from Italy. There is also the cheaper sugar-based type and you can spot it as it’s white instead of cream-hued.
While it’s sold in most shops in Sardinia, the best, 100 per cent honey-made, can be found in towns’ weekly markets or local festivals and events.
Hands down, the best torrone in the island is from the mountain town of Tonara in Nuoro province, where they also hold an annual torrone food fair around April.
Rome’s Pangiallo, Panpepato and Mostaccioli
Typical pastries belonging to the old Roman tradition that make perfect gifts to buy in Italy are the popular Pangiallo Romano made of a mix of different nuts such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and pine nuts, to which they add honey, raisins and chocolate, Panpepato, a different version of the Pangiallo with chocolate and spices, Mostaccioli, very old recipe ancient Romans used for weddings, and Torrone Romano, also dating back to the ancient Rome with the addition of pistachio, almonds and chocolate. They all make for perfect souvenirs from Rome.
A great pastry shop in the capital is Valzani, open since 1925, in 37 a/b Via del Moro, in the beautiful Trastevere district, a must-visit for anyone traveling to Rome. Open 10 am-7 pm Wednesday to Sunday; Monday and Tuesday closed.
Gianduia, artisan chocolate
Italy has a long tradition of producing artisan chocolate. Apart from being delicious, chocolate makes for a very nice gift because it’s possible to find it in the most diverse shapes and packages that can be considered a proper form of art.
A typical Italian product is Gianduia created in 1856 by Caffarel, Turin’s oldest chocolatier, a mix of hazelnut and chocolate. Famous brands such as Caffarel, Perugina, and Venchi always have beautifully packaged chocolate and their name is always a guarantee of high quality. Venchi, operating since 1878, works on improving and polishing traditional Italian recipes using strictly selected ingredients belonging to the Italian tradition such as hazelnuts and almonds.
Hardly a secret, when it comes to fashion and style, Italy is one of the world’s leading countries. Clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories, your trip to Italy can become the perfect occasion for revamping your wardrobe and surprise your friends with some elegant Italian gifts.
I know that Italian fashion brands like Valentino, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace have stores everywhere in the world, but in Italy, you can find other less famous but no less beautiful brands. Here also the more renowned brands have different collections than those found abroad.
Some great names you can look for in Italy for a gift for you or your loved ones are Germano Zama, Mariella Burani, Sandro Ferrone (less expensive but really nice stuff), Ermenegildo Zegna for men, Marella and Luisa Spagnoli (only for women).
Just like for clothes, also when it comes to shoes the “Made in Italy” label is a ticket for success. So, if you are lucky to be in Italy, you really don’t want to miss some good shoe stores.
Look out for brands like Nero Giardini (truly one of my favorite), Cafè Noir and Igi&Co, very affordable, comfortable and nice shoes. For very comfortable shoes, albeit a little more expensive, you can try also the brand Geox.
If you are looking for more exclusive and expensive pieces, then Just Cavalli, and the usual names of Valentino, Armani, or Salvatore Ferragamo will certainly have something for you.
On a more traditional note, if you feel like taking home a piece of local artisan made shoes, Florence is famous for its leather, so here you will find historic family-owned businesses always up and running.
The Italian region of Tuscany is famous for the quality of its leather goods such as purses, bags, wallets, belts, gloves, and shoes. Something very classy for a gift from Italy, both for women and men, even though a little expensive, can be an artisan leather wallet. If you happen to go to Florence, visit via Roma and Piazza Della Repubblica (both next to each other in the city center) for some good quality Florence leather goods displayed for everyone to photograph and spoil themselves.
You’ve got to love Italian accessories. Bags and wallets in all shapes and colors, shawls, ties, belts, key rings, hats, and gloves are as important as the shoes to make an outfit shine. Some of my favorite brands for personal bags are Coccinelle and Furla (pretty expensive so I don’t really shop there too often, but window shopping never harms!). Other great brands to check out are Moschino, Emporio Armani, Missoni and Versace among the others.
If you are in Rome, thoroughfares such as Via del Corso, Via Cola di Rienzo and Via Nazionale are a perfect starting point, while in Milan Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga are famous fashion streets. In Florence all around the city center, you will find both stores and the traditional botteghe, family-owned artisan shops that have been producing handicraft for centuries.
Florence is also known for its jewelry. For more than 400 years Florence’s goldsmiths have been selling their precious creations in Ponte Vecchio bridge when Ferdinando De’ Medici ruled they moved all there to be more under the government’s control. But the production of jewelry in Florence is much older and shows no sign of cooling. Have a walk along the shiny windows of Ponte Vecchio and you will most certainly find what you are looking for.
Sardinia also boasts a beautiful jewelry tradition of fine gold filigree, silver and white gold with mounted gemstones or coral. Among the stones used in Sardinia, the volcanic black onyx occupies a special place as it’s a symbol of good luck. While it probably won’t have any impact on your good fortune, when it’s set on a pair of earrings, a bracelet or a pendant in either gold or silver with some red coral, it does make for a wonderful piece of artisan jewelry.
Among famous commercial brands of jewelry, you can peruse to find some great souvenirs from Italy, look for Bulgari, Buccellati, Morellato, Salvini, and stores like Stroili.
Just like shoes and clothes, also Italian perfume brands can be found abroad. In Italy, however, you can find a wider selection of the most popular names and also some brands present only in Italian shops.
Some names? Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Laura Biagiotti, Dolce&Gabbana, Prada, Bulgari and many others available in most cosmetics shops and department stores such as La Rinascente, Sephora or Limoni.
In many places, however, you can find absolutely lovely traditional perfumes made with extracts of herbs and plants, like the ones sold at the Officina Profumo in Rome’s Corso Rinascimento.
A set of artisan knives
For an original Italian gift, you can pick a set of Italian artisan knives that you can either use on the dining table or just keep for collection. In Sardinia there a couple of great knife artisans, the most famous being those from Pattada, Desulo, Gavoi, Dorgali in Nuoro province and the ones made by Mura family-owned business in Santu Lussurgiu.
The steel used to make these knives is of great quality and everlasting sharpness, the handle made of wild pig’s horns and other materials. Depending on the style and the material, they can be a little pricey but they will certainly make a long-lasting gift.
This is one of the rare artisan productions that remained out of the all-encompassing waves of globalization. Each piece of Murano glass is handmade and unique, so you can be sure you are not going to find the exact same piece at your neighbor’s house.
The prolific activity of glass production in Venice has been going on since 982 and local historical sources record that from around 1200 most furnaces for the glass production were mainly in Murano, where still now are the oldest workshops.
Countless are the Murano glass objects you can buy as souvenirs from Italy, from pots to cups, from jewelry to clocks, from lamps to ashtrays. Needless to say, pay extra attention when packing it, probably better if you can carry it in your hand luggage.
Ceramics and pottery
Being pottery and ceramics among the oldest man-made works, it’s little surprise that most regions in Italy have a ceramics tradition. Colorful ceramics of all shapes and for all purposes can be found in Florence historical workshops along Ponte Vecchio or Borgo Ognissanti, in Sicily’s Caltagirone where they sell ceramics also in the shape of Moors’ heads, Piedmont’s Mondovì with their famous rooster decorating all possible table ware objects, Bassano del Grappa in Veneto region and Napoli’s Capodimonte, among others.
These are only some of the locations where ceramics tradition boasts an old history, but all over Italy, you can find stores selling these products coming from the different regions from northern Piedmont cities to southern Sicily’s production to Sardinia.
A nice, and more valuable, alternative to postcards are photography books. If you want to take home something that shows the place you have been to in Italy, peruse the local book store and ask for pictorial books from that place. They are usually made by local photographers and the different areas are pictured at different times of the day. I have seen some pretty gorgeous ones from Sardinia, Rome, and mountainous northern Italian regions.
From Viterbo in the Lazio region to Emilia Romagna to Sardinia, table cloths are produced in many regions and definitely one of the things to buy in Italy. Some famous textiles are from Perugia, in Umbria region, where the production dates back to the 12th century. The table cloths from Perugia are made with linen and decorated with blue patterns of geometrical, human and animal shapes.
Perugia’s traditional tablecloths have been so popular throughout history that we can see them reproduced even in paintings by famous artists such as Florence’s Ghirlandaio and Siena’s Pietro Lorenzetti. To take home such a piece of art from Italy you probably need to travel to Umbria region, but hey, what’s a better reason to visit Perugia?
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