You’ve decided on Italy for your next vacation. While you’re there, you have family members and friends that you feel like you need to buy gifts for. Or you may just want to do all your Christmas or birthday shopping for the next year while you’re there – that way, you’ll be able to guarantee unique gifts that no one else will give. But what is specifically Italian, and where should you be buying it?
The Italian culture is unique and loved by many for its passion, sociability, and love of good food and wine. There are a variety of specifically Italian mementos you can buy yourself or gifts you can buy for friends and family that capture this spirit and allow you to bring it home with you.
Italy is known for its food, so that may be what comes to mind immediately! Depending on where you’re traveling to and from, your options for taking food and drinks might be limited. We’ll look at both edible and non-edible gift ideas that are particularly Italian and where you can find them on your trip to this European gem.
What gifts should I buy from Italy?
It’s easy to go through a holiday living in the moment and not thinking about trying to tick things off a list or keeping your eyes open for certain gifts. You’ll be sure to find something in Italy that you want to buy but reading through ideas such as what’s discussed below before traveling is a great way to have ideas in the back of your mind, that’ll just make you more aware when you’re shopping.
Gift-giving is an important part of the social culture in Italy, and children are taught from a young age to put thought and consideration into the selection of a gift. Gifts are used to express gratitude for invitations at social gatherings, such as being invited to friends for dinner or going to visit a family. Whether it’s homemade food or something more extravagant, the act of putting thought into something to gift someone you care about is valued and a nice sentiment to echo upon returning back home after your trip to Italy.
With that, let’s have a look at what type of gifts are uniquely Italian. While you may recognize some of the items below, they all originate from Italy, and there’s something special about getting a gift from whence it came, even if it’s your favorite food or drink that is available locally.
- Panforte is a chewy Italian dessert with dried fruit, nuts, and spices. It is known throughout Italy, though particularly associated with Tuscany and the area around Siena. This sweet treat is delicious and though available the whole year, is eaten around Christmas especially. It makes for a great gift for someone with a sweet tooth and can be found anywhere from supermarkets to specialty delicatessens.
- Depending on how far you’re traveling, fresh or dried pasta is an obvious choice! The variety of flavors and fillings that one can get in Italy surpass anything you will find in other countries, and the fresh ingredients and flavor combinations found in different local regions make for a taste sensation that would be a wonderful gift.
- Olive oil – freshly pressed from olives ripened under the Italian sun! The quality of fresh olive oil available in Italy is fantastic. Each region cultivates olives that are specific to its type of land, resulting in a variety of flavors that you don’t find elsewhere in the world.
- Parmigiano Reggiano. This hard cheese is aged for at least twelve months and has great flavor. It is only produced in its area of origin in Northern Italy, so getting it right from the source is a real treat. Visiting cheese shops and tasting various versions of it can be a fantastic experience, too – think of it as quality control for the gifts you’ll be giving! Note that bringing in cheese or dairy products is not allowed in some countries, so be sure to check the duty-free allowances of your destination country before purchasing.
- Mushrooms! Dried porcini mushrooms from Italy are full of flavor that can be used in dishes for months to come. Truffle products are the real gem if you’re looking for great mushroom products, though. Italy is home to the white or Alba truffle. The truffles can be found predominantly in Piedmont, Marche, Tuscany, and Umbria and are even celebrated with annual festivals in autumn.
- Balsamic vinegar originates in Italy and has a distinctive, complex flavor. Paired excellently with olive oil, this would make a great gift to be enjoyed with fresh bread, in salad dressings, or to flavor cooking with.
- Biscotti is another gift for those with a sweet tooth. These dried sweet biscuits, with nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, or nothing at all, come in a variety of flavors and make for a great treat to dip into coffee. As a dry good, they travel well and make for an easy and light gift to pack into your suitcase.
- Wine, both red and white, from various parts of Italy is delicious. Have a look at what is local to where you are going, and discover varietals that you don’t find outside of the country.
- Prosecco is Italy’s version of bubbly wine and is produced over a large area across Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. Serve chilled at celebrations or outdoors on a summer’s evening.
- Limoncello is a refreshing, sweet lemon-flavored liquor, served in frozen shot glasses and enjoyed in summer particularly. From Southern Italy, around Naples, and the Amalfi coast, this drink is a delicious after-dinner treat.
- Italicus is a spirit produced at a family-owned distillery. Paired well when topped with prosecco, this drink has the distinctive flavor of the bergamot fruit, with subtle notes of rose, lavender, citrus, and spices.
- Amaretto is delicious with coffee. This sweet almond-flavored liqueur originates from Saronno.
- Frangelico has a distinct hazelnut flavor and is produced in Canale. It can be served neat, with a twist of lime, or used in a cocktail.
- Campari is an aperitif from Italy. This is a bitters that is one of the key ingredients in a Negroni cocktail.
- Martini is one of Italy’s largest exports. Made famous by James Bond, this is served neat and topped with an olive or two.
- Aperol is used to make the popular Aperol Spritz from Northeast Italy. Made with prosecco and soda water, this very refreshing on a summer’s day.
- If you like Sambuca, also Italian, try its relative, the lesser-known Anisette. It has a similar licorice flavor but is sweeter and usually served with water to dilute it.
While food and drinks are great, you may want to gift someone an item that has more lasting value. While these items may not be the most useful, they make for beautiful decorations.
Venetian glass – Murano is renowned for beautiful glass blown products. All handmade, these unique items make for a beautiful addition to any home. Whether you choose decorative glass Christmas ornaments or something more practical like drinking glasses, you’re sure to get a one-of-a-kind gift here.
Deruta ceramics are hand-painted in southern Italy. This pottery is hand-painted and includes both ornamental and tableware goods. With a history dating back to the 16th century, these unique pieces display distinctive patterns and colors.
For those wanting to gift something lasting and useful, these are some Italy-specific gifts that keep giving.
- Pasta maker – this may be a bit heavy to put into your suitcase but could be delivered directly. Nothing beats fresh handmade pasta, and it’s a fun activity that anyone can take part in. it would be great to pair this gift with an online pasta-making course from an Italian!
- Online cooking courses from locals – you might have done a course while visiting Italy and want to gift someone else the same experience, either in Italy if you know that they are planning a visit or online.
- Santa Maria Novella fragrances – this boutique brand of fragrances has body, home, and perfume ranges, all based on natural scents. Traceable back to the Santa Maria Novella convent’s apothecary, the origins of this fragrance institution can be traced all the way back to 1221.
- Leather products – particularly found around Florence, Italian leather goods are of a very high quality. Especially well-known are its shoes and bags. This is a great idea to put all of your additional purchases in!
- Bialetti – the most popular coffee maker in the world! This stovetop espresso maker comes in a variety of sizes and is perfectly paired with some Illy coffee for those friends and family who need their daily fix!
- Borsalino hats – from fedora to felt and straw to Panama hats, these iconic hats are a summer or winter staple, having been around for 164 years already.
Which city in Italy is best for shopping
Italy is full of great shopping. From designer brands to local artisan crafts, there is a huge variety in the quality and range of items you’ll find for sale in the country. Some cities, such as Milan, are known for their high street shopping, while others, such as Florence, are great for markets. Depending on what kind of a shopper you are and what you’re looking for, you’ll be better off heading to certain cities. Let’s have a look at where you should be for what!
One of the shopping capitals of the world, Milan offers plenty for the more refined, trend-conscious fashion shopper. There is a fashion quadrilateral (quadrilatero della moda) which is made up of the most elegant shopping streets, full of fashion stores and boutiques. Via Montenapoleone and Via Della Spiga are the most well-known streets. For high-end fashion, this is the city to shop in!
Via del Corso is the main shopping street in Rome, where the most prestigious boutiques can be found. Your high-end Italian fashion brands are on Via Condotti. There are plenty of counterfeit goods available, too, at markets or street vendors if you don’t have the budget for the real deal. Via del Babuino is where to head if you’re looking for art and antique shops.
Several street markets are worth a visit, including Porta Portese, Mercato dei Fiori, Piazza Fontanella Borghese Market and Via Sannio Market. Depending on which you visit, you’ll find books, clothes, antiques, flowers or fresh fruit and vegetables, among other things. These are not all open every day, so make sure to check out opening days and hours before heading there.
While you’ll find high-end fashion in Florence, too, the city is best known for its leather goods, artisan crafts, unique souvenirs, perfume, and stationery. With such a variety, the shopping is more dispersed over this city, so you’ll get to explore more of it. If you’re looking for luxury shopping, Via de’ Tornabuoni is where to head to, a pedestrian street with only the best, and great for window shopping. Via Roma and Via Dei Calzaiuoli offer both luxury and high street brands, while the Florence leather market is well-known for everything from belts and bags to shoes.
While Venice itself has some great shopping, heading out to the island of Murano is a great day trip for some glassware shopping. You can find some truly unique (and valuable) pieces here. You could also pick up some lace in Burano if you’re island hopping. If you’d rather stay in Venice itself, masks, fabric, or handmade shoes are just some of the treasures you can find in this city.
Spending in Italy
So now that you have some ideas of what you want to buy, is there anything else you need to know about actually making the purchases in Italy? Not much! Italy is part of the Eurozone and so officially uses the Euro currency. There is no limit to the amount of cash that you can bring into Italy, but you will have to declare it if you enter or leave with more than 10 000 Euros.
Cards are widely accepted in Italy, so there is no need to exchange a whole lot of money to bring cash with you. There is usually a surcharge for American Express cards, as they are not very popular here, so a Mastercard or Visa is the safest bet. Alternatively, you can also use a traveler’s card such as Revolut, where it is easy to load money into your account and change it between currencies. This is particularly good if you are traveling between a number of countries using different currencies.
It is advisable to carry some cash with you, though. This is easiest to get by using your credit or debit card at an ATM at the airport when you arrive and just drawing some cash. How much cash will you need? It is always a good idea to have a small amount on you, around 50 Euros. This will ensure that you don’t get stuck in a situation where you need cash. Typically, you would use cash for purchases below ten or twenty euros, for items such as street food or taxis, for example.
In general, Italy is not very expensive, but groceries there are 13% higher than the EU average. This means that your prices for self-catering accommodation or for eating out are likely to be slightly higher than average. This varies in different parts of the country, though, and the amazing flavors and fresh local produce that the country offers are well worth the premium, so don’t let this put you off!
Italy is full of treasures waiting to be shopped! Whether you stick to the main streets in the cities or head off the beaten track to local neighborhoods or smaller villages, you can be sure that something will catch your eye. Whether it’s a gift for yourself or for someone you care about, there is something for everyone – both in price range and in appeal. All that’s left is for you to discover the gems that await you.