The best food cities in Italy are urban centers offering a high density of deliciousness. With such fierce competition from all corners of the peninsula, you’re guaranteed multiple life-changing moments at these, the best cities in Italy for food.
Italian food culture has been generous to the western world. Many gastronomic pilgrimages to Bologna are made every year, with people traveling to sample the original bolognese sauce. Pizza fans book trips to Naples for odysseys among the city’s legendary, flour-dusted pizzerias.
And then there are those cities that offer something Italian but with a unique cultural spin, such as Palermo in Sicily or Cagliari in Sardinia. These are places awash with recognizably Italian flavors and techniques, but cities that still harbor traditions and dishes that you’ll find nowhere else in the country.
Read on for a selection of the best food cities in Italy.
Bologna doesn’t disappoint as a culinary metropolis. The capital of the famously foodie Emilia-Romagna province is the home of Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto di Parma, and balsamic vinegar. It’s even where you will find the world’s first food theme park, Eataly FICO.
Amid the medieval center’s weathered colonnades, you’ll come across street food stalls and small restaurants catering to the Bolognese and the students attending the world’s oldest university to be in continuous operation.
Banish thoughts of pizza slices and instead pick up warm tigelle flatbreads stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella.
For transcendent pasta, stop into Pasta Fresca Naldi for authentically hand-made pasta dishes. With only a few stools inside, be prepared for take-out.
Of course, to truly commune with the traditions of “Bologna Grossa” or “fat Bologna”, as this well-fed city is known, you have to sit down at a trattoria.
The menus can be relied on for must-try regional dishes such as a lasagna verdi or tortellini in brodo, the flavorsome ingredients sourced from the nearby Po river valley, Italy’s bread basket.
And don’t forget to pick up some slices of mortadella bologna. With its eighth-century BC origins, this is a sausage of considerable dignity. Don’t even think of calling it “baloney”.
Palermo is one of the best food cities in Italy. A former Capital of Culture, it’s an urban lasagne of historical influences, with cultural layers baked over the centuries into a more-ish architectural and culinary treat.
You’ll see these various elements melded together in the basil-fragranced, souk-like street markets such as Via Porta Carini, or among the city’s shadowy side-street trattorias, or strolling through its baroque piazzas.
Here, in Sicily’s capital, you can experience the island’s unique cuisine with its Spanish, Arab, and Greek inflections.
Expect swordfish and sardine dishes by the boatload at this coastal city’s table, as well as a devotion to the myriad ways of serving eggplant (try parmigiana di melanzane and join the ranks of the devoted).
A superb place for dishes such as this, or the legendary pasta con le sarde (pasta with a sardine and anchovy sauce), is Trattoria Ai Cascinari. But if you’re too busy ticking off sights like the Norman Palace or the Cathedral, then it’s time to tap into the fantastic street food.
Find a hole-in-the-wall serving panelle alla ceci, the city’s deep-fried chickpea batter fritters served in a bun. Or pick up a cone of arancini (fried rice balls).
Throughout your Palermo food experience, you’ll be tasting all of those outside influences that have added seasoning and spice to the Sicilian plate.
Like four noble families that have settled into a necessary truce, Rome’s menus are ruled by a quartet of local pasta dishes. Familiar names may include carbonara or even cacio e pepe, while amatriciana and gricia may be delights of the cucina Romana still to discover.
You’ll find these famed pasta dishes throughout the Eternal City, although the trattorias of Trastevere, one of the city’s nightlife hubs, serve some of the best. You enter the cobbled lanes of this lively medieval neighborhood where the Ponto Sisto hurdles the Tiber.
Discover outstanding carbonara at unassuming Tonarella, while Ta Deo’s rigatoni alla gricia sets the standard for this rich dish.
Beyond the pasta, culinary pockets offer a history lesson as a side dish to a mouthwatering meal.
Find the former working-class area of Testaccio for its trippa alla romana. The tripe in this winter warmer is a cut categorized as the “fifth fourth”, or the Quinto Quarto. This label indicated the leftovers remaining after the upper classes had chosen their preferred cuts.
Or explore the fabulously atmospheric Jewish ghetto. Among these elegantly decayed streets, hunt out one of this historic neighborhood’s specialties: carciofa alla giudea, or deep-fried artichokes.
It’s a dish emblematic of the Cucina Ebraica-Romanesco that, over the centuries, flourished here. Kosher laws saw oil replacing butter for frying.
But in a city this resplendent with sights and history, you need food you can carry. Little wonder then that pizza al taglio or “pizza by the slice” was invented here.
The porchetta panini is another quick-fix local favorite you can acquire at kiosks and delis from the Spanish Steps to the Piazza del Popolo.
Read: Explore Rome Off the Beaten Path
Tuscan cuisine is one of the most widely revered subsets of Italian food culture, with its emphasis on pulses and the earthy flavors of cucina povera (peasant cooking).
From this region comes ribollita vegetable stew, acquacotta (cabbage and bean soup), as well as simple and delicious fagioli all’uccelletto—baked beans with herbs.
But if you’re not into beans, don’t fret. Flashy Firenze serves up the best of all worlds—Michelin-starred international cuisine at restaurants such as that of Massimo Bottura in the Gucci Museum, as well as national classics on practically every menu.
And for the carnivores, this is the origin city of the Florentine steak—a T-bone simply grilled with olive oil and herbs, the succulent beef sourced from the prized Chianina cow. Stop into Trattoria dall’Oste Chianineria for one of the city’s best examples of this dish.
And helping to confirm Florence as one of Italy’s best cities for food is the Mercato Centrale, one of Italy’s best markets. The 19th-century former fish and meat market is today a showcase for local and Italian food in general.
Inside the Mercato Centrale, pick up stick-to-your-ribs Tuscan ragu at Tosca, or wait in line for a crusty roll of lampredotto—a tripe sandwich beloved by Florentines and a culinary icon of its working class.
Like Sicily to its south, Sardinia’s invasion-washed shores have given rise to a unique island kitchen.
Fed by the sea, sun-swelled produce, and ideal grape-growing conditions, Sardinian cuisine is a complex fusion of Mediterranean flavors with African accents washed down with delicious homegrown wines.
Island classics to try include semolina fregula, an African take on pasta often found in Sardinia’s saffron-laced seafood soups. A menu mainstay is Sardinian gnocchi, or malloreddus, that’s often mixed in with fennel and sausage ragu.
Meanwhile, spaghetti con bottargo is the choice of the unflinching foodie: full-flavored cured fish roe in pasta.
What to drink is an easier decision. Vermentino, with its fresh acidity and salinity, is the island’s most delicious white wine varietal and only DOCG. Its citrus and green apple flavors pair sublimely with the island’s seafood dishes.
Book early at L’Imperfetto or try Sa Piola, both found in the Il Castello old quarter, for Sardinian cuisine cooked to the highest standards.
Read: Why Visit Sardinia
Sun-kissed Sorrento, positioned on a cliff overlooking the glittering Bay of Naples, is one of the best food cities in Italy. While its reputation as a gastronomic hot spot is multi-layered, its fame is attached to one incredible product: lemons.
Groves of these oversized, flavorsome fruit are cultivated in and around this easygoing Italian coastal town, which has been an escape since the time of the Romans.
The lemons are almost omnipresent, whether as a slice to squeeze over your catch-of-the-day sea-view dinner, infused into a pastry, or as a chilled glass of limoncello, the town’s most famous export.
There are many avenues to discovering Sorrento’s cuisine. Explore the production process of essential local ingredients such as olive oil and mozzarella at a visit to La Sorgente Farm on the city’s hilly outskirts.
Or walk amid the lemon groves at the Villa Massa Limoncello Distillery and discover this liqueur’s production process. You can even dine beneath lemon trees.
Secure a reservation at Ristorante Parrucchiano for a magical meal in its lemon-fragranced garden with a knock-out local dish such as gnocchi alla Sorrentina.
For the other side of Sorrento’s food scene, make your way to the town’s Marina Grande. Here, beneath the cliffs, watch the fishing boats unload their fresh catch of the day to the seafront ristorantes.
Get a table at Bagni Delfino and dine on ostriche con limone di Sorrento e pepe (oysters with Sorrento lemons and pepper) while watching the changing afternoon colors through the Vesuvius-view windows. Pair with a glass of local white wine such as Greco di Tufo.
Genoa, the capital of Liguria or the “Italian Riviera”, often flies under the radar as travelers seek out Rome, Venice, or another headline metropolis.
The truth is that Genoa is one of the best food cities in Italy. Pesto, the famous green sauce found in almost all western supermarkets, was created by the Genoese.
With the local basil leaves smaller and more flavorful in Italy, a bowl of pesto pasta here is something else entirely.
On the edge of the city’s atmospheric medieval center, Cambi Caffe is the place for a swift immersion into Genoese culture and cuisine.
Located in an old palazzo, its walls and ceiling covered in 17th-century frescos, Cambi Caffe’s pesto lasagna is a textbook example of its kind. If you have room, try the rich, Genoise sponge-based sacripantina for dessert.
Afterward, explore the kinks and crannies of the centro storico, among which you’ll find fishmongers, butcher shops, and an artisan confectionary boutique with chocolates cast by 19th-century machinery.
There’s also a bakery, Antico Forno Patrone, that’s been in operation for over a century. It’s here you should try Liguria’s other regional big-hitter: a spongey, olive oil-laced square of focaccia with caramelized onions.
Often overshadowed by nearby Bologna, Parma is a charming small city with grass growing between the cobbles of its historic center. Of course, its name recognition is closely tied to Parma ham or prosciutto di Parma, a specialty that’s been in existence since the Romans.
So intertwined is this foodstuff with the city’s identity that you can find a 15th-century engraving of a man killing a pig for use as pork above Parma cathedral’s door. As you tour the city’s historic sites, you can’t escape its rich culinary heritage.
Enter the interior of the pink marble baptistry and you’re surrounded by images of agriculture and viticulture. However, even more ancient than this building, is Parmigiano Reggiano.
Its “PDO” production protections mean that Parma is only one of a few cities where this delectable and versatile hard cheese can be produced.
Time to eat. Near the center of town, look for the tucked-away bistro of Croce di Malta. When the weather’s good, sit outside in the tiny piazza, a church’s baroque façade to one side.
The regional specialty of tortellini in brood, umami parcels of meat and Parmigiano Reggiano bobbing in a fragrant chicken broth, is fantastic here.
For something truly singular, find the Michelin-starred Inkiostro. Chef Terry Giacomello is renowned for his cuisine’s textural and flavoring surprises.
His eggwhite tagliolini with Parmigiano Reggiano sauce and black truffle caviar summarises this approach and transforms the winter foodstuff of 12th-century monks into something entirely new.
If you’d prefer something light, find somewhere that serves torta fritta, a puff of deep-fried pastry. You slice the warm pastry open and add a nearly transparent slice of prosciutto. The way the flavors and textures melt together is unforgettable.
Coastal Naples is the home of Neapolitan pizza and its urban streets course with an electric atmosphere. Because of this, it’s easily one of the best cities in Italy for food.
In the 18th century, the Neapolitans were known as mangiamaccheroni for the plates of pasta they would eat in the streets with their bare hands. Today, of course, the city is more closely associated with its world-famous pizza.
Its Vespa-strewn streets are a honeycomb of neighborhood pizza places, with dough spinning in the air on its way to wood-fired ovens.
A historic stop is Pizzeria Brandi, the place where the Margherita was invented. A plaque acknowledges this half-mythical story on the wall outside.
An essential element of Neapolitan pizza’s success is the application of buffalo mozzarella, that fresh yet subtly earthy cheese produced in the Campania region. For excellent pizza with superb buffalo mozzarella and a seaside location, stop into Gino Sorbillo.
A visit to the food markets is one of the best things to do in Naples, with Mercato Porta Nolana and Mercato Pignasecca the biggest and best.
Amid the piled-high carts of produce and the clamor of stall owners, you’ll find street food classics such as pizza al portafoglio (pizza folded into a portable triangle) as well as cones of fried seafood.
It’s possible the elevated levels of excitement in the city are the result of Vesuvius’ volcanic energy, although it’s probably just the caffeine.
Naples is famous for its coffee, and there’s even a distinctive pot—the cucumella—that produces a cupful somewhere between an Americano and an espresso in strength.
Naturally, a sweet pastry is required to balance the coffee’s bitterness. Find Piazza Domenico Maggiore for Pasticceria Bistrot Giovanni Scaturchi and its Vesuvius-shaped rum baba—the perfect counterpoint.
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