Discover 14 tasty cities in Italy and our favorite things to eat in each city. These are the cities to visit if you’re looking to eat the best food in Italy.
When it comes to food and travel, Italy is far from a hidden gem.
Not only is Italian food popular around the world, but traveling to Italy is a bucket list item that takes many, if not most, travelers to Italy’s three famous cities – Rome, Florence and Venice.
Regardless of their motivations, these travelers eat plenty of pasta and pizza during their trips and leave happy. But many never experience Italy’s full food story in the country’s varied north, south and central regions.
Discover the best food in Italy.
When we first visited Italy in 2009, due to limited vacation time, we fell into the same travel trap.
Back then we followed the path of most neophyte Italian tourists by visiting Rome and Florence. However, we diverged from Venice, choosing Bologna instead. That trip was our first to Italy but not our last. We’ve returned to all of these cities multiple times as well as additional Italian destinations from the top of the boot in the north all the way to the heel, instep and toe in the south.
Italy never bores us and our love grows with every visit. Exploring the country has become a lifetime endeavor that requires at least one visit each year. And by exploring, we mean eating our way through Italy one city at a time.
Check for updates as we eat our way through more cities in Italy including Genoa, Palermo and Turin.
Table of Contents
Our Favorite Food Cities in Italy
If you visit Italy and don’t eat pizza, did you really visit Italy?
While this question is a bit cheeky, we can’t conceive of an Italy trip that doesn’t include pizza.
Each city in Italy has unique pastas, breads, meats and other dishes that date back centuries before unification, back when Italy consisted of 20 separate nation states. Some like Tiramisu are well known around the world but others, like Rome’s Suppli, are more difficult, if not impossible, to find outside of their home cities or regions.
For food food-focused food travelers like us, this situation is nothing short of an enlightening challenge. Our rewards involve tasting new and exciting foods in different regions each time we visit Italy.
If you’re ready for a similar culinary challenge, be sure to include one or more of the following Italian cities in your next Italy food trip itinerary:
Naples food seekers fall into two categories. They either love Campania’s urban jungle or hate it.
We fit into the first category since we love everything about Italy’s gritty city. We adore strolling through Napoli’s winding streets filled with graffitied buildings just as much as we adore glancing upon mighty Mount Vesuvius when we stroll along the Via Partenope next to the blue Bay of Naples.
But, most of all, we love eating pizza and other food favorites in Naples. Over the past decade, we’ve taken this love to the next level by visiting Naples three separate times, spending close to two months in Campania’s capital. We’ve even pondered living in Naples permanently, a dangerous prospect for Mindi due to her extreme pizza love
Naples is famous around the world for its pizza.
It may be the city that invented Margherita Pizza. There’s a dubious legend that involves a Napoli pizzaiolo inventing the pie in honor of Queen Margherita’s visit in 1889 but the tomato, mozzerella and basil pie may have existed decades earlier. That being said, there’s no debate that Naples is the ultimate destination for pizza lovers.
There’s also no debate that there’s more to eat than pizza in Naples. Much of the city’s food culture traveled by boat to the Americas, a migration that eventually made Italian food famous throughout the world – think spaghetti, tomato sauce and meatballs (which are generally served separately in Italy) in addition to New York’s version of Pizza. But the best Neapolitan food is found in Naples.
The city has cornucopia of tasty treats ranging from fried snacks to pasta made with ingredients like tomatoes grown in volcanic soil. And the desserts! Just thinking about Sfogliatelle makes us hungry.
Must Eat Foods in Naples
Fiocco di Neve, Friarielli, Frittatina, Gelato, Mozzarella di Bufala, Pasta Genovese, Pizza, Sfogliatelle and Spaghetti alle Vongole
Bologna isn’t just one of the best food cities in Italy. The Emilia-Romagna city ranks toward the top of the most food-obsessed cities, joining the likes of Lyon and Tokyo.
This food obsession earned the city its nickname La Grassa – The Fat One, a nickname that the porticoed town carries with pride. Food travelers will understand once they eat pasta classics like Gramigna with Sausage, Lasagne Verdi al Forno and Tortellini in Brodo.
Being food lovers, we adore Bologna.
We first visited La Grassa in 2009 and have since returned four more times. Not only is it the city where we formed our passion for gelato, but it’s also the city that introduced us to grandmotherly sfoglinas who transform the most basic of ingredients into world-class pasta, much of it shaped and rolled by hand.
Let’s not forget the city’s legendary meat filled ragù (Bolognese sauce) which has become famous throughout the world. There’s nothing better than a simple bowl filled with tender ribbons of tagliatelle and topped with the region’s deep, rich, multidimensional, beefy sauce.
You’ll want to eat pasta and gelato when you visit Bologna too. However, take time to partake in leisurely aperitivo sessions involving plates piled high with Mortadella, cheese and prosciutto as well as glasses filled with locally produced Lambrusco wine. The Sangiovese reds produced in the nearby Romagna hills are great too.
Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna, a region that proudly produces Italy’s most famous products including Parmigiano-Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Prosciutto di Parma. If you travel for food, be warned that your first trip to Bologna likely won’t be your last.
Must Eat Foods in Bologna
Gelato, Gramigna with Sausage, Lasagne Verde al Forno, Mortadella, Proscuitto di Parma Tagliatelle al Ragù and Tortellini in Brodo
All roads have been leading to Rome for centuries. But this ancient city is far from a relic. In fact, Italy’s capital is as popular today as ever. Maybe even more so.
Some people travel to the Eternal City to view sites like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. Others make a pilgrimage to the Vatican and tour the Jewish Ghetto. Then there are food travelers who go to Rome specifically for the food. True Confession – We are those people.
Located in Italy’s Lazio region, Rome has four primary pastas – Amatriciana, Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara and Gricia. It also has multiple pizza styles including Pizza al Taglio which is cut and served in square slices by weight, thin crust ‘Roman Style’ pizza, thicker pies and the Trapizzino, a special sandwich made with fluffy pizza dough.
When we’re in Rome, we rarely turn down contorni like Carciofi alla Guida, special fried artichokes perfected by the city’s Jewish community centuries ago. Rome also excels with meats. The city is the home of porchetta, flavorful rolled and roasted pork that’s served both in sandwiches and on its own.
If you haven’t eaten a Suppli before, Rome is the city to try the fried treat that resembles Sicily’s Arancini but adds a stretchy core of cheese to the recipe. We won’t blame you if you eat more than one.
While Rome is eternal, humans only live once.
Must Eat Foods in Rome
Cacio e Pepe, Carciofi alla Guiuda, Gelato, Maritozzi, Pasta all’Amatriciana, Pasta alla Carbonara, Pasta alla Gricia, Pizza al Taglio, Porchetta and Suppli
Most Italian cities aren’t just famous for just one food. Located 30 miles north of Naples, Caiazzo is the exception to this rule.
Caiazzo is famous for one food and one food only – pizza. But not just any pizza. This is the city where Franco Pepe serves what many consider to be the best pizza in the world at his restaurant Pepe in Grani.
Read about our amazing pizza dinner at Pepe in Grani.
You may be skeptical that a restaurant in a tiny town serves the best pizza in the world. Go anyway. If you don’t trust our opinion, hopefully you’ll trust the opinions of David Chang, Alex the French Guy, Nancy Silverton, Emeril Lagasse and the late Jonathan Gold.
The pies that Pepe produces are legendary, with pillow like crust that retains a light delicate crunch. Pepe also sources top quality ingredients like locally grown tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala produced just a few kilometers from the restaurant in his home province of Caserta.
If you’re lucky, you’ll meet the man himself. Franco Pepe is a master pizzaiola who runs a tight ship and creates other-worldly pizza. He’s also a great guy. Check out our experience at Pepe in Grani in our YouTube video.
Must Eat Foods in Caiazzo
The Best Pizza in the World
Filled with regal influences left by French/Austrian monarch Maria Luigia, Parma has one of Italy’s most gorgeous cathedrals as well as one of its most acclaimed opera houses. But those stunning sites aren’t the city’s biggest claim to fame…
That honor goes to Parmigiano-Reggiano, the king of cheese which can only be produced in specific provinces within Emilia-Romagna. Needless to say, Parma is in one of those provinces. It’s also a city with a deep food culture.
Discover the best restaurants in Parma.
One visit was enough to whet our appetites for the food in Parma, a culinary city that exemplifies why Emilia-Romagna is nicknamed Italy’s Food Valley. We fell as hard for Parma’s rustic yet refined dishes as we did for its cured meats and flowing bottles of ruby-red Lambrusco.
Parma, the city and province, is a happy place for meat lovers who can gorge on a range of roasted meats in Bollito Misto in restaurants. They can also eat unique local products like cotechino, culatello and salami strolghino at local sandwich shops.
We’ve traveled to Parma three times and counting. Once you visit Parma, you’ll understand why we keep returning to Bologna’s tasty neighbor to the west.
Must Eat Foods in Parma
Bollito Misto, Cannoncini, Culatello, Cotechino, Gelato, Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, Pasta, Pizza and Prosciutto di Parma
Verona may not be on most food travelers’ radar. However, Shakespeare’s fair city is a known commodity for traveling oenophiles who flock to the Veneto city to sip Amarone, Bardolino, Ripasso, Soave and Valpolicela.
As we discovered during two separate visits, Verona is a paradise for carnivores and pescatarians who can indulge their cravings with platters of meat and twirl their forks in pasta laden with fruits of the sea respectively.
Feel so hungry you can eat a horse? In Verona, restaurants can literally make that happen.
Don’t skip Verona if you’re a vegetarian or even a vegan. Not only does this protein-rich city have access to amazing locally-grown produce, but its toothy bigoli pasta can also be prepared as a meat-free dish. Plus, since the city is swimming in wine, you certainly won’t go thirsty.
Must Eat Foods in Verona
Bigoli Pasta, Bollito Misto, Gelato, Pizza, Risotto all’Amarone and Seafood
Florence has been a cultural hub since it served as the birthplace of the renaissance. Beyond its iconic Duomo and prolific architecture, the Tuscan city has some of the world’s most remarkable paintings and sculptures created by the likes of Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo.
As we’ve learned during three separate trips to Florence, the city’s art isn’t just visual. While we love viewing David in all of his naked glory and give major props to the Uffizi museum, we love Florence’s culinary art just as much and perhaps even more.
While Parma’s food has regal roots, many of Florence’s popular foods fit into the cucina povera (i.e. poor cooking) category. Dishes like Florence’s famous bean stew, Ribollita, and its equally famous tomato bread stew, Pappa Pomodoro, may emanate from poverty but they’re joyfully rich in flavor.
Maybe it’s because Florentine cooks use high quality, locally sourced ingredients produced in the Tuscan hills. Or maybe these cooks are culinary artists who could make shoe leather taste appetizing. In our opinion, it’s a combination of the two.
That being said, you can also live large in Florence by ordering a Bistecca alla Fiorentina. It’s a great steak that’s worth the splurge.
Must Eat Foods in Florence
Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Gelato, Lampredotto Paninis, Pane Toscano, Pappardelle al Pomodoro, Pizza, Ribollita, Schiacciata and Zuccotto
Ah, Milan. We hardly knew you and we weren’t alone.
Italy’s second most populated city is often overlooked by travelers looking to hit the country’s big three tourist destinations (Florence, Rome and Venice), eat pizza in Naples or escape to villages in regions like Tuscany and Umbria. We were two of those people until we weren’t.
As we discovered during our initial whirlwind visit, travelers (like us) who appreciate culture and urbanity won’t be disappointed by the city that Leonardo da Vinci called home for more than a decade. The northern Italian city is a treasure trove for architecture buffs with the Duomo as its shiniest gem.
However, to be clear, not all of Milan’s gems are buildings. Fashionistas are well aware of Milan’s charms as are Italian food fanatics who appreciate eating Milanese dishes like Cotoletta, Ossobucco and Risotto.
Beyond its famous dishes, MIlan is an international center with a vibrant street food scene and a Chinatown that’s worth exploring. The same goes for Milan’s food markets and its unique Northern Italian pasticceria.
The Milanese love a good aperitivo and, while Milan doesn’t get credit for the Negroni, it instead takes the nod for the Negroni Sbagliato which replaces gin with Prosecco. It’s a cocktail that’s as bubbly and sophisticated as the city where it was invented.
Must Eat Foods in Milan
Cotoletta alla Milanese, Gorgonzola Cheese, Ossobuco, Panettone and Risotto alla Milanese
Prior to visiting Venice, we didn’t expect to eat food that rivaled dishes we’d eaten in other Italian cities. We also didn’t expect to experience once-in-a-century flooding that landed us in in Newsweek. As happens in life, some surprises are better than others.
Venice, like many of the most touristed cities in the world, has more than its fair share of tourist trap eateries. However, Italy’s City of Canals also has amazing food like Fritto Misto, a melange of fried seafood served as a first course, salads made with local spider crabs and a range of amazing pastas that feature ingredients as varied as langostinos and truffles. Venetian sauces made with cinnamon and other atypical Italian spices date back centuries to Venice’s time as a great trading center.
To be clear, we weren’t the first to discover Venice’s culinary charms.
Marcella Hazan blazed a trail with her cookbooks that was followed by food traveling personalities like Phil Rosenthal and the late Anthony Bourdain. It was just a matter of time until we wandered through Venice’s maze of alleys and canals, stopping at restaurants, gelato shops and cicchetti bars along the way.
You’re in for a treat if you’re not yet familiar with cicchetti bars.
Venetian cicchetti bars serve snacks that include small slices of bread topped with prawns, squid or seafood crudo as well as full sandwiches filled meats like mortadella and coppa. Serving a plethora of wine and the occasional Aperol spritz in addition to tasty snacks, these rustic antique bars are as fun as they are economical
Must Eat Foods in Venice
Baccala Mantecato, Bigoli in Salsa, Carpaccio, Cicchetti, Frito Misto, Gelato, Polenta, Sarde in Saor and Seafood
The 20th most populous city in Italy, Modena overachieves when it comes to food.
Not only is Modena the hometown of the late Luciano Pavarotti, one of Italy’s most famous opera singers and an insatiable gourmand, but it’s also the hometown of Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant and former World’s 50 Best Restaurants winner.
You may be disappointed if you fail in your attempt to snag a reservation at Modena’s most lauded restaurant. However, you won’t be disappointed by other restaurants including Massimo Bottura’s more casual Franceschetta58 which, despite serving a range of Modenese classics, creates innovative dishes like its special Emilian burger, a juicy mini pork and beef ‘hamburger’ served in a small cardboard burger box.
Discover the best restaurants in Modena.
Not all of the food in Modena is expensive. Some of Modena’s best food, like Passatelli in Brodo and fluffy Gnocco Fritto, are best eaten in casual osterias and trattorias. The city has a great specialty coffee house and wonderful gelato. Its Mercato Albinelli ranks as one of the best produce and meat markets in Italy.
Must Eat Foods in Modena
Gelato, Paninis, Passatelli in Brodo, Pizza, Tagliatelle al Ragu, Tortelloni in Brodo and Zuppa Inglese
Bergamo is an delightful Italian city that many travelers visit without experiencing its delights. Those travelers fly into Milan Bergamo Airport and head straight to other Italian destinations without stopping in the city of Bergamo. They’re missing out!
Not only is Bergamo an easy 20-minute bus ride from its international airport, but it’s also a charming city that warrants a multi-day exploration both by foot and via funicular. Those who make the stop will discover stunning cathedrals, epic scenery and tasty food.
Much of the food in Bergamo will seem familiar to those who like eating pizza and pasta. But Bergamo has some culinary tricks up its sleeves starting with its signature pasta – Casoncelli alla Bergamasca.
Originally eaten as cucina povera centuries ago, Casoncelli alla Bergamasca is now served at Bergamo’s best restaurants as well as at restaurants throughout Lombardy. The unique, envelope shaped pasta is stuffed with a mixture of cheese, meats, veggies and bread crumbs.
Casoncelli alla Bergamasca isn’t the only unique dish to eat in Bergamo. While polenta is popular in other Italian cities, Bergamo chefs make a decadent version with Taleggio cheese. Then there’s Polenta Taragna made with buckwheat flour.
Gelato fans won’t want to miss eating a cone of Stracciatella Gelato in the city where it became famous. Yes, it seems like a touristic thing to do but do it anyway. We enjoyed our cone so much that we returned the next day and ate another.
Must Eat Foods in Bergamo
Casoncelli Alla Bergamasca, Polenta, Salami, Stracciatella Gelato and Taleggio Cheese
Bolzano is located in the shadow of the Dolomites.
Originally called Bozen when it was part of the Austrian empire, Bolzano is the largest city in Alto Adige, Italy’s northernmost region. Although it’s now in Italy, the city retains elements of its former life. These elements include Italy’s oldest Christmas market and South Tyrolean food.
Discover more cities and villages to visit in Alto Adige.
Travelers to Bergamo should to try South Tyrolean cuisine. More similar to Austrian and German food than to Italian cuisine, Tyrolean dishes include hearty foods like Canederli (dumplings) and Wiener Schnitzel as well as Apfelstrudel for dessert
It’s tasty food but let’s face it – most people want to eat in Italian food in Italy even when they’re in Bolzano. At least that’s what we wanted to eat after spending almost two weeks in the Dolomite mountains.
We have good news. The Italian food in Bolzano is excellent. In fact, the city has one of Italy’s best pizzerias as well as spots that serve handmade pasta and artisan gelato.
As a bonus, you can taste excellent wines both at Bolzano restaurants and local wineries. You can also buy a few bottles to take home.
Must Eat Foods in Bolzano
Italian Dishes like Pasta and Pizza as well as South Tyrolean Dishes like Canederli and Wiener Schnitzel
Most travelers journey to Matera to experience its rich history and stay at a cave hotel.
Although Matera was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the city garnered much of its fame when Mel Gibson filmed the visually stunning The Passion of Christ in Matera a decade later. More recently, Matera had a starring role in the 2021 James Bond film No Time to Die.
Similar to Florentine cuisine, much of the food in Matera evolved from cucina povera.
The southern Italian city was impoverished until the 1950s, with most of its residents living in dreary caves that were later transformed into chic boutique hotels. This difficult history has had a direct influence on Matera’s cuisine.
Today, there’s no shame in eating homey Italian comfort food passed through generations at Matera restaurants.
Local cooks generously add mild Senise peppers to age-old recipes featuring ingredients like orecchiette pasta and the region’s full flavored, yet mildly spicy, pork nduja spread. Yes. Basilicata’s sun-dried peppers are surprisingly mild.
Must Eat Foods in Matera
Cialledda, Cured Meat, Gelato, Lagane (a flat ribbon pasta), Nduja and Orrechiette
Trento isn’t a typical Italian food city. With a history that includes the famous Council of Trent, the northern Italian city charms all who visit with its quaint cobblestone streets and epic mountain views. But, despite these diverse elements, Trento’s biggest surprises are found on its restaurant menus.
Located in Trentino near Lake Garda and the Dolomites, Trento is so close to Austria that its food has both Austrian and Italian influences. In other words, it’s almost as easy to find bratwurst on a Trento menu as it is to find pizza.
Eating butter-soaked bread dumplings called Canederli is a must when you visit Trento. However, the best way to experience the city’s two food worlds is to start your evening with pints at a beer hall and end it with plates of pasta at a local Trento restaurant.
Discover the best restaurants in Trento.
We won’t blame you if you choose to eat pizza instead. Trento is in Italy after all.
Must Eat Foods in Trento
Bretzels, Canederli, Carne Salada, Gelato, Pizza and Risotto
Useful Italy Facts
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
Original Publication Date: November 14, 2021