Best Italian Cities for Food: 7 Foodie Heavens

Pasta in Rome
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It’s no secret that Italy is a foody’s paradise – the birthplace of pizza and pasta; aficionados in coffee and ice cream, you’re guaranteed to not go hungry and every city, town, and coastal village is brimming with regional delights to savor. If you’re looking for the best Italian cities for food, you’re in the right place. 

With its long Mediterranean coastline, thousands of years of ancient history, and distinct culture, Italy has a stronghold over Western civilization. Renaissance art and architecture can be found in every corner of the country, creeping over borders and into foreign cities. The Romans also left a powerful mark on Europe with roads, ruins, and amphitheaters punctuating the continent. Still, you can’t talk about Italy’s influence without mentioning the food.  

Language, luxury, opera, and fashion all mean nothing without the Italian flavors that have become characteristic of the Mediterranean diet. From cannoli to calzone, here’s everything to eat in Italy and where. Let’s get into it. 

Venice

Best Italian Cities for Food
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The capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region and an iconic city in culture, literature, and architecture, Venice is built on more than 100 islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic with no roads but canals and bridges connecting its decadent islets instead. 

The Grand Canal is the heartland of Venice and is lined with Renaissance palaces and Gothic buildings, while the central Piazza San Marco is anchored by St. Mark’s Basilica, a spectacular cathedral complete with a Byzantine mosaic facade and Campanile bell tower. 

Venice might be tourist-choked all year-round, but you’d be surprised how many deserted narrow streets and hole-in-the-wall bars you’ll come across as you get lost on your way to the main square, even in the high season. Venice is infamous for cicchetti, the northern Italian tapas-like sliders. Typically served on bread, these small delicacies encompass many local ingredients like prosciutto and gorgonzola to creamy baccala, the Venetian salt cod. 

Paired with local wine, you can enjoy cicchetti across the city but typically in the ancient Venetian taverns, or bacari, dotted in the San Polo and Cannaregio districts. Check out Rialto Market and the Grand Canal fish market for a further taste of Venice and don’t miss out on risotto nero di seppia, the Italian rice dish cooked in cuttlefish ink. 

Florence

Best Italian Cities for Food
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The capital of colorful Tuscany, Florence is a monument to Renaissance art and architecture and a city for creatives and culture aficionados. Nestled in the sun-drenched central Italian region, some 100 kilometers from the coast, Florence houses some of the most recognizable Renaissance masterpieces in the world, flanked by a skyline of terracotta-tiled buildings. 

One of Florence’s highlights is the Duomo, formerly the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Instated in 1296 in Gothic Style, the cathedral was finished in 1436 with the Renaissance dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The Duomo, its 150 feet wide dome and Giotto tower stand tall over the city, but the Galleria dell’Accademia, exhibiting Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture, and the Uffizi Gallery, home to da Vinci’s “Annunciation” and Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”, are once in a lifetime visits for art lovers. 

Still, Florence isn’t just the art capital of the world, rather, it regards itself as the birthplace of Italian cuisine and this is hard to dispute once you’ve savored the street food, gelato, breakfasts, and marketplace delights all over the city. A trip to Mercato Centrale, Florence’s main indoor food market, will take you down a mouthwatering journey through Florentine gastronomy.        

Bitecca alla Fiorentina is one of the most notable local dishes, a juicy T-bone steak from Chianina beef served with Tuscan cannellini beans, best enjoyed by a hungry pair. Wild boar pappardelle and tagliatelle funghi porcini e tartufo is also paired well with Chiante reds and the restaurants in Santa Croce and Sant’Ambrogio, and across the River Arno in San Gimignano, serve plates piled high of the delicacies. 

And for ice cream fans, don’t forget to savor the local gelato, which was invented in Florence’s very own streets. The gelaterias are open until the early hours to satisfy the tastes of sweet-toothed punters. 

Trieste

Capesante
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Nestled close to the Slovenian border on Italy’s northeastern coast, Trieste is a maritime gateway for Central Europe and a melting pot for western culture. Trieste was once a major seaport for the Austro-Hungarian empire and countless influential figures have breezed through the city on the chilly Bora winds. Trieste is also a stepping stone to Slovenia, Austria, and the Istrian Peninsula and its location and history are what have made the culinary scene so unique.

Seafood delicacies like octopus salad and tuna tartar adorn the menus, with other quintessential Italian delicacies following suit. Yet, you’ll also find boiled meat in various cuts, sausages, goulash, horseradish, and sauerkraut thanks to the lingering Austro-Hungarian influence. 

The culinary scene really unfolds in the family-owned tavernas and iconic cafes. It’s customary to stand at the bar for lunch and you can expect just as many platefuls of pork as bowls of pasta. Trieste lived under the Hapsburg rule until the end of the First World War and the architecture and food are just as Viennan and they are Italian. You can savor jota, the Slovenian ‘leftover dish’ prepared with pork cabbage and beans, or risi e bisi, the Venetian rice and peas, in any of the cozy cafés, but don’t forget Trieste is still a modern Italian city at the end of the day. Spaghetti scoglio (seafood pasta) will always be on the menu and pesto gnocchi is a local favorite too. 

Bologna

Tortelloni
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The lively and historic capital of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna is bizarrely off the radar for many international tourists which makes it all the more worth visiting. Bologna is tucked away in northern Italy, between Rome and Milan. Cafes, arched colonnades, and Renaissance structures, like the City Hall, Fountain of Neptune, and Basilica di San Petronio punctuate its sprawling Piazza Maggiore, the central plaza. The old university city is known for its well-preserved ancient buildings, medieval center, and great beauty. It’s also historically a city of left-wing politics and home to the former Italian communist party and its newspaper, L’Unita. Nevertheless, the food culture is equally prolific.

Bologna is the birthplace of tortellini and tortelloni, the delicate pasta parcels where the latter are just slightly larger, and not forgetting tagliatelle al ragú, which isn’t to be confused with pasta bolognese which actually has no definitive tie to the city. Peruse the medieval streets of Quadrilatero, set just off the Piazza Maggiore, and dip in and out of the market stalls and cafés hidden under arches, walking you through a history of Bologna’s cuisine. 

Being quintessentially northern and located inland surrounded by rich farmland, Bologna is also known for its cured meats, salty cheeses, and gelato. There’s even a food theme park, the FICO Eataly World, with food-centric exhibits, pop-up stores, and hands-on demonstrations. If that isn’t a testament to the importance of food in Bologna, we don’t know what is. And be sure to wash it all down with Lambrusco, the local fizzy red wine that makes a great aperitif.    

Milan

Best Italian Cities for Food
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A city that needs little introduction, Milan is a sprawling metropolis in northern Lombardy and a global hub for art and design. Milan is widely regarded as one of the most important fashion capitals in the world, playing host to the renowned Milan Fashion Week and some of the best high-end shopping districts in Europe, but Milan is culture-rich in more ways. 

You’ll find the national stock exchange here, the Gothic Duomo di Milano, the opera La Scala, medieval Sforza castle, and the Sant Maria Delle Grazie convent where da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” mural hangs proudly on the walls. The extraordinary culinary scene, too, cannot be ignored. 

Milan is also one of the most ardent examples of the fine Italian tradition of aperitivo hour. For the price of a spritz or glass of house white, you can tuck into an array of free bars snacks from crisps and olives to bruschetta and cold cuts, as Italians flock to outdoor cafes for their post-work breather. 

If you’re still hungry, head to Via Dente, Brera, or Corso Garibaldi for the best selection of restaurants and tuck into a bowl of the beautifully uncomplicated risotto alla Milanese, made with beef stock, saffron, shallots, parmesan, and white wine. Or if you’re after something heartier, osso bucco, the slow-cooked veal shanks, is a specialty of Lombardy.   

Rome

Carbonara

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Italy’s capital and the capital of the Lazio region is an awe-inspiring metropolis with ancient ruins, a vibrant street life, charisma, romance, and more. Rome’s cityscape is the result of 3,000 years of urban development and monumental cultural shifts in western civilization, anchored by the legacy of the Roman Empire which was initiated with the founding of the city of Rome in the 8th century BC. 

The Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Roman Forum invite the city’s golden age as the caput mundi (capital of the world) in the present day, while the basilicas and Vatican City tell another story of its seat at the head of the Catholic Church. Decadent piazzas, baroque facades, and ornate fountains add neverending charm to the city and the artistic heritage make it a bucket list destination for even the least artistically inclined. 

Still, no trip to Rome is complete without dipping into the dolce vita after you’ve made the most of the iconic sights. You can whittle hours away strolling both pretty and grungy alleyways, lounging in streetside cafés, people watching from fountain-sides, and joining the hoards of young professionals who descend on the city bars for aperitivo hour. The Roman Experience is just as much about eating and socializing as it is about lapping up the art and culture and Roman food is definitely worth talking about.

Eating out is one of the great pleasures in the capital and tourists and residents alike will tell you the same. Romantic alfresco settings, stand-up bars, and up-scale tavernas tucked down narrow lanes are just waiting to be gorged on. Cucina Romana is surprisingly simple. Spaghetti alla carbonara is one of Rome’s most famous native dishes, traditionally made with just three ingredients, none of which are cream. 

Roman pizza is also characteristically thin and crispy with plenty of toppings. Capricciosa can be found on every menu, topped with ham, olives, mushrooms, artichoke, and egg, as well as tomato sauce and mozzarella. Oil is added to the pizza dough in Rome and it contains much less water than down south, affording the characteristically crispy texture.  

Check out Testaccio food market for a taste of real Rome. Among its near-100 stalls, you’ll find the finest extra virgin olive oils, Parmigiano Reggiano, and cured meats, as well as hot pizza slices, vegan burgers, pasta, tapas, and Sicilian street food. Head to the Trastevere district just across the River Tiber to eat with the Romans or the Monti area near the Centro Storico for hidden hole-in-the-wall gems and family-owned tavernas. 

Naples

Best Italian Cities for Food
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Nestled in the Bay of Naples, overlooking the still-active Mount Vesuvius that destroyed the nearby Roman town of Pompeii, Naples is the jewel of southern Italy with all its gritty charm and Old World accents. With breathtaking natural views, incredible historical sites, and an unbeatable street culture, Naples is one of the oldest cities in Europe but perfectly mixes modern values with the quintessential Italian way.  

Naples is unexpectedly elegant and undoubtedly energetic, and the same can be said about the cuisine. Naples is the modern birthplace of pizza, and for this, the rest of Europe will be forever indebted. The classic Napoletano comprises San Marzano tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, and basil on a crusty base, best served in a cozy trattoria or to go to be eaten al fresco to the backdrop of the lavish Royal Palace gardens or the 13th-century Castel Nuovo.  

Naples is also big on the humble pizza slice, and other street food delicacies like deep-fried calamari, whitebait, artichokes, and even the Neapolitan pasta fritters, called frittatine di pasta, are served up by the bucket load at the Pignasecca market. 

Check out the Chiaia waterfront district for more upscale seafood restaurants and delight in large bowls of spaghetti alla vongole and paccheri con la zuppa di pesce, the flat rigatoni-like pasta tubes served with shellfish and tomato sauce. When you’re done, wash it all down with dousings of limoncello. The local liquor is made with Amalfi lemons and a shot glass of the stuff finishes off a meal wherever you go in southern Italy.  

What food is Italy known for?

Italian cuisine is loved worldwide and the rich culinary traditions and Mediterannean ingredients have been adopted by many nations. Italy is most famous as the birthplace of pizza and pasta, the two iconic dishes to have been born in the country, but it’s also known for gelato, risotto, great coffee, meat stews, and gnocchi, all served differently depending on the region.  

Where is the food capital of Italy?

Although underrated and off the radar of many international tourists, Bologna is often regarded as the culinary capital of Italy, and it’s got nothing to do with bolognese. Bologna and the surrounding region are tied to some of the best dishes in Italy and vital ingredients to the Italian diet such as the rich tagliatelle al ragú, Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, Lasagne Verde al Forno, and balsamic vinegar.  

Which city in Italy has the best pasta?

You’ll find regional variations of pasta dishes all over Italy whether it’s seafood favorites in the far south you’re after or creamy bowls of gnocchi in Bologna and Lombardy. However, one of the best cities for pasta is Rome, the birthplace of spaghetti alla carbonara and cacio e pepe. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried a traditional carbonara, comprised of just three ingredients, while cacio e pepe is the tangy and peppery sister dish to the Italian classic, neither of which uses any cream if made the traditional way. 

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Esmé is an English literature graduate and freelance writer. Originally from London, Esmé is lucky enough to call Bali home. Her travels have taken her from the far corners of the East to the islands of the Caribbean. When she's not writing, you'll find her lying on a beach somewhere, lost in a crime novel.