What is Italy famous for? Pizza, pasta, and lovely Roma — where they say all roads lead to! But if you’re a travel-starved wanderer planning your next European getaway, we think you might already know this. This list might surprise you, though; there are more things Italy is known for aside from carb-packed specialties that are simply squisito! No time to lose, let’s dig in.
Delectable dishes Italy is famous for
There’s a reason why, in published memoir-turned-movie Eat, Pray, Love, protagonist Elizabeth Gilbert spent the “Eat” portion of her life-changing journey in Italy. It’s the birthplace of pizza — ‘nuf said.
Legends say that the first pizza dish was served in Naples in 1889, when Italy’s ruling monarchs (King Umberto I and Queen Margherita) had the first Pizza Margherita made. Pizza Margherita is now a staple in pizza parlors across the world, among other popularised flavors.
The dish didn’t become widespread globally, though, until after World War II, when Italian immigrants brought the delicacy to the United States. The rest, as they say, is history.
Italy is known for another saucy, carb-heavy dish: pasta! Although historical accounts differ when it comes to the origins of pasta, it can’t be denied that Italy is famous for making the dish well-loved best. Some say that Venetian merchant Marco Polo brought it back from his travels to Asia and the Silk Road, while others say Etruscans of ancient Italy had previously cooked a similar delicacy, which is proof that it is truly an Italian creation!
We can all agree, though, that if you’re looking to try the world’s best pasta, Italy is the place to go. Modern-day pasta comes in many forms, with several types of sauces — from cream-based and tomato-based, to those made of olive oil (like spaghetti aglio e olio!). As for its different shapes, where to begin? There’s penne, ravioli, rigatoni, linguine, tagliatelle, good ol’ spaghetti, and the list goes on!
All that talk about pizza and pasta had us craving for dessert. Luckily, Italy is known for temptingly tasty sweets, too! Forget about ice cream; Italy steps it up by bringing us gelato. Before you say that’s the same thing, let us tell you that it’s really not.
While ice cream and gelato may have similar ingredients, gelato is smoother, creamier, and even denser thanks to less butterfat content and more milk. Because of less butterfat, gelato also packs a more solid flavor, but is healthier. The frozen treat contains fewer calories and less sugar.
We don’t want to bore you with the details, so let’s leave that to the experts. You should know that there are respected culinary institutions in Italy that offer specialized courses in the art of making gelato. Now that’s one class we’ll never skip.
Pop quiz! Foodwise, what is Italy famous for again? Pizza and pasta — you got that right. Rice lovers need not fret, though; Italy has you covered, too. (Yes, I’m looking at my fellow Asians!)
Italy is also known for a rice-based specialty called risotto. Foodies know very well that while risotto isn’t a type of rice, the dish is indeed made with grains. Cook risotto by heating and mixing high-starch Italian rice in broth until it reaches the recipe’s ideal creaminess. This rich consistency is what sets risotto apart from other rice recipes. Italians absolutely go crazy on carbs. Often, they’ll pair risotto with pizza! We’re not drooling, you are.
5. Italian cheese
Some pizza, pasta, and risotto preparations feature the ooey gooey goddess of cheese. So it makes sense that Italy is famous for it! Like pizza and pasta, there are many kinds of Italian cheeses to choose from. The more common ones are parmiggiano (parmesan), mozzarella, ricotta, gorgonzola, provolone, and romano. Feeling like doing an Italian cheese bucket list? Add these to your culinary agenda: burrata, scamorza, fontina, mascapone, asiago, and grana padano!
6. Italian wine
Now, we move on to Italian tipple. In that department, Italy is known for its vino or wine. Did you know that Italy is the world’s largest wine producer? Southern Italy, in fact, has been a wine capital since the time of the Greeks.
Fun fact: The region of Abrezzo boasts of a fountain that gushes free-flowing wine open for public consumption. That’s surely a sight to behold, whether or not you’re a fan of the beverage. Aside from over 400 grape varieties grown to produce sought-after Italian wine, the drink also undergoes rigorous quality control. Italy takes wine-making seriously, from grape cultivation to actual wine production.
7. Italian coffee
Once you’re done munching and toasting your way through Italy, a pick-me-up is in order!
In case you missed it, Italy is also famous for coffee. Here, cafés here have been operational as early as the 17th century. Where do you think the words espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, and ristretto originated from? They sound Italian because… they are. So while in Italy, don’t forget to drop by a coffee shop and order the real thing. It’s not every day that you’ll get to sip on cappuccinos in the arms of the nation that brought the foamy drink into existence. Cheers!
Iconic destinations Italy is known for
Which destinations put Italy on the map as a tourist favorite? Absolutely too many to mention.
But we can start with what is perhaps the place that holds the most number of tourist go-tos, Rome. The Italian capital not only oozes sophisticated European appeal; it’s also home to a number of heritage sites. The city’s history is deeply rooted in the empire that immortalized Rome as a center for trade, culture, literature, philosophy, politics, and power.
Today, Rome stands out to visitors because of its myriad of attractions: Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, to name a few. You’ll even find the Vatican, a state city of its own, in the center of Rome! But more on that later.
We all know that Italy is famous for Rome through literature, too. The city has inspired many iconic lines such as “…the glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome” and “All roads lead to Rome”. The latter is a testament to the fact that Rome was indeed a center even from the medieval period; all major paths that led to other regions of the country sprouted from there, after all.
Fun fact for cat lovers: Rome is also where you’ll find the place where Julius Caesar was murdered, Torre Argentina, which has been repurposed into a cat sanctuary. Now that’s a purr-fect example of adaptive reuse.
“Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Bridges”, “La Serenissima”, “The Floating City”, “La Dominante” — Venice goes by many names. And yes, Italy is famous for this romantic city!
Synonymous with the Grand Canal, Venice draws tourists with its quaint bodies of water. Through these waterways, Venice built its local economy around lagoon aquaculture and touristy experiences such as gondola rides. Other Venetian must-sees are Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, and the Rialto Bridge. Don’t forget to dine at the waterfront after a full day of exploring!
For avid fans of Shakespeare, Italy was catapulted into literary fame by star-crossed lovers Juliet and Romeo. Who could ever forget the playwright and author’s opening words, “Two households, both alike in dignity in fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” *goosebumps*
One thing’s certain: Shakespeare was right to call Verona fair, because it’s such a beautiful city. From the historic Piazza del Erbe to the many shops at trendy shopping district Centro Storico, you’ll come across many photogenic spots! Don’t forget to visit Teatro Romano, Verona Arena, Ponte di Castelvecchio, and the immaculately manicured Giusti Gardens. You can’t miss Juliet’s House, of course — where you’ll glimpse the stone balcony that inspired the line, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”
Medieval architecture, impressive collections of Renaissance artworks, and a landscape peppered with olive groves, vineyards, cypress trees. Tuscany sure paints a pretty picture of what Italy is famous for! Hollywood made sure to pay homage to the Italian region’s idyllic charm with a movie starring actress Diane Lane. If you want to see snippets of Tuscany prior to your epic holiday, ready the popcorn and put on Under the Tuscan Sun.
A few top destinations to add to your Tuscan itinerary: the Leaning Tower of Pisa (yes, the city of Pisa is in Tuscany!), the romantic art and architecture center that is Florence (which is also the Tuscan capital), the pristine coastlines of Monti dell’Uccellina, and Cortona, an ancient town that remains exquisite to this day. Oh, and don’t miss the chance to sample some of the world’s best truffles!
One word encapsulates what Milan brings to the table: Fashion, and lots of it! Italy is also known as a center for designer labels and couture, mostly thanks to homegrown brands like Versace, Fendi, and Gucci, and of course the fashionable city itself — Milan. Did you know that Milan is home to the world’s oldest mall, whose structure is as impressive as the shops it houses? Take in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II’s glass-ceilinged glory while flitting from one store to the next! If you’re willing to spend big bucks on designer items, make a beeline for the shopping district Quadrilatero d’Oro.
Milan isn’t only a fashion capital; it’s rich in cultural heritage as well. Drop by the Leonardo da Vinci Museum and marvel at The Last Supper, which you can view inside Santa Maria delle Grazie Church. Never been inside an 18th-century opera house? Now’s your chance! Head to Teatro alla Scala. Of course, who could ever forget Piazza del Duomo, home to one of the greatest Gothic architecture masterpieces?
While Crema may actually be the most underrated Italian destination on this list, its claim to fame was (yet again) a Hollywood film adaptation. Novel-turned-blockbuster hit Call Me By Your Name was shot entirely in Lombardy, Italy but paid great attention to the city of Crema. Aside from visiting the filming locations, you could also go on a tour of its many architectural gems. Don’t miss: Crema Cathedral, Praetorian Palace, Civic Museum of Crema, and Santa Maria della Croce, which is most notable for its unique circular structure.
Breathtaking Sicily — where to begin? We daresay, like Rome, it’s just one of the places that Italy is known for. Sicily offers the gamut of Italian tourism. Some spots need no introduction, such as Valle dei Templi or Valley of Temples, an archaeological site that dates back to the Greco-Roman period. Sicily houses more of these heritage gems; there’s the Theatre of Syracuse and the Necropolis of Pantalica — part of the Unesco World Heritage Site officially called “Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica”.
Sicily outdoes itself in the category of natural beauty as well, with iconic attractions such as Mt. Etna. At the Zingaro Nature Reserve, tourists are treated to otherworldly scenes above and below clear waters. Sicily is also home to some of Italy’s best beaches: Cefalù, Sampieri, Mondello, and San Vito lo Capo, to name a few.
And of course, everyone knows to try authentic Sicilian pizza at least once. It’s thicker and has more tomato sauce, which makes it quite the filling treat!
15. Amalfi Coast
Speaking of beaches, here’s one that any beach bum should have on their bucket list. In case you didn’t know, Italy is also famous for the Amalfi Coast. It spans about 50 kilometers of sand, sun, and sea, and is lined with dreamy seaside accommodations. Lemon groves, fishing towns that let you get your fill of the ocean’s fresh bounty, and cliffs overlooking the sea; Amalfi just doesn’t sound like a dream, it looks the part, too!
History buffs salivate over the thought of stepping into Pompeii and getting transported back in time. The archaeological site hosts the well-preserved ruins of an ancient Roman city destroyed by the devastating eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE.
Built structures aren’t the only things left behind by the disaster. Excavations also led to the discovery of the calcified forms of actual living things — people and animals — frozen forever in the positions they died in when the volcano erupted centuries ago. Although somewhat gruesome and grotesque, these “frozen” bodies offer an invaluable glimpse into Greco-Roman life, and the disaster that took the entire city.
17. Mt. Vesuvius
Since we already touched on Pompeii, it goes without saying: Italy is known for Mt. Vesuvius. The stratovolcano is often connected to the early Romans’ worship of Vulcan, god of fire. In fact Mt. Vesuvius’ historic eruption in 79 CE happened shortly after the locals’ celebration of Vulcan’s feast day, 23 August. A day later, to be exact. Accounts and artefacts suggest that Mt. Vesuvius violently spewed lava, heavy ashfall, and lethal gases into the air, killing everything in its path for two days straight.
In case you’re planning a visit, drop by nearby town Herculaneum, too. Aside from ruins, museums, and walking tours, it’s also a great place to go hiking.
18. Lake Como
When it comes to the high life, Italy is also known for luxurious lakeside living. The best place to experience this? No other than Lake Como. Here, tourists would do well to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view with some premium vino and cheese. Rent a lakeside villa or go all-out and check into popular resorts such as Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, Grand Hotel Tremezzo, and Villa d’Este.
19. Graian Alps
Did you know that Italy has its fair share of mountainous marvels, too? The Graian Alps is any adrenaline-seeking adventurer’s dream. The mountain range offers a wide array of heart-pumping activities such as a three-day ascent at Gran Paradiso (Italy’s tallest peak!), mountain biking along rocky ridges, canyoning in Maglia Canyon, skiing on the snowy slopes of Verbier, among others! Want to wind down instead of breaking a sweat? Explore the greenery around Mercantour National Park. Here, picnics pair marvelously with easygoing treks.
20. The Vatican
Technically, the Vatican isn’t a part of Italy but geographically speaking, you’ll find it in Rome. The city-state is a country of its own, though, and is governed by the Holy See. And yes, it has its own flag! If you’re a practising Roman Catholic, then you would know that the Vatican is the epicentre of Catholic faith — being the headquarters of the papacy. That simply means the Pope, who is the elected head of the Catholic church, resides in and mainly runs affairs from the Vatican.
Interesting facts about Italian culture & history
21. Italian, the language
Needless to say, Italy is known for the Italian language. After all, it’s spoken by over 85 million people worldwide! For many people born and raised in the European Union, Italian is their first language. Italian is also the official language of classical music, with terms such as alto, soprano, and crescendo (among many others), owing its origins to Italy.
In case you didn’t know, there are many dialects that spring from Italian, whose official alphabet only has 21 letters. Fun fact: Italian was standardised by celebrated author Dante Alighieri, which is why he is often referred to as the father of the Italian language! Keep that in mind next time you’re reading The Divine Comedy.
22. Hand gestures
You’ll soon realise how emotive Italians are once you hear and see them converse. Aside from speaking the language passionately with the right intonation, Italians are also known for their many hand gestures, which some fondly call “silent Italian”. These actions may be used sans words, or while talking for more emphasis. You could say that locals in Italy speak with their hands, too! Here are a few hand gestures you should note (and practise!):
- Finger purse (all fingers bunched up together and pointing upwards while speaking) – use carefully; this Italian hand gesture has a negative connotation. While it may mean a harmless “What do you want?”, it can easily turn into “What the hell are you doing?!”
- Finger cross (make a tiny “x” with both your index fingers and place in front of your lips) – swearing on something as if to say, “cross my heart!”
- Line in the air (basically the OK hand gesture) – translates to “perfect” or “good”.
- Cheek screw (pushing your index finger into your cheek as if it were a screw or drill) – in a restaurant, it can simply mean that the dish is delicious. Careful on the streets, though! If you see someone making this gesture at you, then you’re probably being catcalled. (That person is trying to tell you openly that you look good enough to eat. Yikes!) How vulgar.
- Eyelid pull (tugging against your bottom eyelid with your index finger) – simply means, “pay attention” or “watch out”.
23. Ancient Rome
Augustus, Nero, Julius Caesar, Constantine the Great. Ring a bell? They should, because these are notable people of Ancient Rome. Most of us remember the Roman Empire, but actually, Ancient Rome spans several periods in world history, from 8th century BC to the 5th century AD. We don’t expect you to bring out your old history books; a quick Google refresher will do.
To summarise, Italy is known for Ancient Rome because this was what paved the way for the country’s establishment as a centre for power, culture, and thinkers. Ancient Rome covers the time when Rome went from being a kingdom to a republic, and finally, the Western Roman Empire (which eventually collapsed after the invasion of the Germanic tribes).
24. Catholic faith and the papacy
We’ve mentioned this previously, and we’ll touch on it again. Italy is known as the centre of catholic faith especially since it houses the city-state Vatican. It officially became a sovereign nation in 1929, thanks to the Lateran Pacts. When in Rome, drop by the Vatican and visit what is perhaps the city-state’s most iconic landmark — St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Pope Francis!
25. Mussolini and fascism
Fast forward to World War II, when former Prime Minister of Italy Benito Mussolini, led the fascist movement in the country. He ruled Italy from 1925 to 1945, and joined forces with Germany through the Axis alliance. Of course, as you might know, this partnership with Hitler ended tragically for Mussolini and his cohorts. In April 1945, the Italian political figure was shot and killed while trying to flee to Innsbruck, Austria disguised as a German soldier.
26. The Italian arts: painting, sculpture, opera, architecture, music, cinema
Handsdown, Italy is famous for the arts! The country overflows with a deep appreciation for arts and architecture, which could be traced back to Italy’s roots in ancient Rome.
Think about it. Italy excels in every branch of the arts. Visual arts, whether in painting or sculpture, brings to mind names like Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Bernini. The opera originated in 16th-century Italy, which only proves the country’s prowess in musical and theatrical arts! From the time of the Romans to the emergence of the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque movements, Italy was at the forefront of architectural design and innovation. Even in the arts’ culinary sense, Italy obviously excels, as seen in the first part of this list. Last but not least is the niche that Italian cinema carved for itself, so much so that there is a song titled Cinema Italiano, which pays homage to the genre.
27. A long-running obsession with football
What is Italy famous for in the sports scene? Football, of course! And why wouldn’t it be, when the Italian national football team is considered among the best in the whole world?
To date, Italy has won the World Cup four times, which makes them the second-most accomplished country in World Cup history. They’re second only to Brazil, a five-time World Cup winner. That said, football is the most popular sport in Italy, with millions playing it every year.
28. Photogenic scenes that figure prominently in novels and Hollywood movies
If you truly paid attention, you would have noticed that there were a lot of film references in this piece: Eat, Pray Love, Under the Tuscan Sun, Call Me By Your Name. Why do many Hollywood (and foreign) films shoot on location in the country? Why do authors extensively write about Italy in their works?
Because Italy is known for its gorgeous scenes, period. Heck, even a portion of the Twilight films were shot in Tuscany! Aside from the fact that Italy is easy on the eyes, the place carries with it the quintessential European charm everyone looks for when vacationing in the region.
29. Sports cars, Vespas, and luxury automobiles
Another thing that Italy is famous for is its love for luxury vehicles, from sports cars like Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini to sleek Vespa scooters. Would you look at that — they’re all Italian brands! No wonder Italians have a reputation for driving a certain way. Some call it reckless and downright insane, but we believe they’re just used to being fast! How else should sports cars be driven anyway?
30. Warm, family-centric locals
Finally, we’re at the end of this list! In the spirit of ending with something heartwarming, let us be the ones to tell you that Italians are friendly people who treat guests as if they were family. Italian families are known to be tight-knit and affectionate, after all. In fact, don’t be surprised if locals greet you with a kiss on the cheek. That’s totally normal!
Now that you’ve had a brush-up on what Italy is known for, are you aching for more? Only an Italian getaway can satisfy your wanderlust. Brb, planning that trip now — ciao bella!
Before you go, jump into our Explore the World series and read about France, Spain and other countries! Also, check out these quotes about Italy and get some ideas on some Italian souvenirs to take home with you.