When you think of Italian culture, you probably think of pizza, Italians using hand gestures and saying “mamma mia!,” and people riding Vespas past the Colosseum.
All of those things do happen, but Italy is famous for so much more!
Italy has produced or is home to some of the world’s most amazing
- food and drink
- fashion designers and fashion houses
- landmarks and tourist sites (both natural and man-made)
- family culture
- and more (like soccer – calcio, the Mafia, historic eras, and hand gestures!)
Insieme (together), let’s take a look at these 93 things that Italy is known for.
Famous Italian Food and Drink
Italian cuisine varies from region to region. What you find in Venice in northern Italy is quite different from the food and drink you’ll find in Palermo on the island of Sicily.
Still, there are some classics that Italy is known for:
|Famous Italian Food & Drink|
Italians take their caffè seriously – from the morning espresso or cappuccino ritual at the bar to the post-dinner espresso.
You’ll find Italians drinking from top-of-the-line espresso machines, or brewing their coffees on the stove with the Italian moka pot.
The classic Italian pizza is the margherita – with tomato sauce, fior di latte mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil leaves.
Pizza in Italy has a thinner crust, which means Italians will often eat an entire pizza for a meal.
Italy is home to over 350 different pasta shapes! Italians love pasta (even if many northern regions prefer rice dishes) and will usually eat it for the primo (first course).
We eat fresh pasta (pasta fresca) and dried pasta (pasta secca) and a plate of pasta is a classic dish for many Italian families.
My kids, along with millions of other Italian bambini, love pasta al pesto (pasta with pesto) and pasta al ragù (pasta with meat sauce).
Gelato, Italy’s favorite sweet treat, is similar to ice cream. You can find it everywhere in Italy, and we eat it throughout the year – yes, even in the winter!
Popular flavors include crema (cream), stracciatella (kind of like chocolate chip), pistacchio (pistachio), bacio (hazelnut and chocolate), limone (lemon), and fragola (strawberry), but you’ll also find delicious seasonal and regional variations.
The name of this famous Italian dessert literally means ‘pick me up!’ Tiramisù is made with mascarpone cheese, coffee, eggs, sugar, lady fingers and a little alcohol.
You may think of chocolate when you hear ‘truffles,’ but Italy is famous for the aromatic tuber. Tartufi are hunted in forests in Italy, especially in Piedmont, Tuscany, and Umbria. Alba (Piedmont) hosts the world’s greatest truffle fair each fall.
While you probably think of mozzarella when you think of Italian cheese, there are so many more formaggi deliziosi (delicious cheeses) to try in Italy!
From ricotta to pecorino, from parmiggiano Reggiano to burrata – Italy has you covered.
This rice-based dish is very popular in the North of Italy, especially in Lombardy, Piedmont and the Veneto regions. There are hundreds of recipes, but the classic risotto is flavored with saffron.
Italy is known around the world for its wines. The most famous Italian red wines include: Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Chianti Classico, and Amarone. While less famous than their red counterparts, Italy has an excellent selection of white wines, and we can’t forget the sparkling prosecco – used in many classic Italian cocktails like the Aperol Spritz, the bellini, or the hugo.
Italy’s most famous digestivo is made from the lemons of the Amalfi Coast.
These Sicilian treats are deep-fried pastry tubes filled with fresh, sweetened ricotta cheese, sometimes with the addition of tiny chocolate nibs and candied fruit.
Famous Italian Cars
Italy is home to some of the world’s most well-known car brands – especially supercar brands. Buckle up – let’s take a look.
|Famous Italian Cars|
Nothing embodies the Italian spirit better than the bright red Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari, the brand’s founder started as a racing driver. In 1929 he founded the ‘Scuderia Ferrari’, literally the Ferrari Stables – the perfect name for the house of the prancing horse.
Another supercar powerhouse, Lamborghini is based in Emilia-Romagna as well. The symbol of the car is a bull, and the classic Lamborghini color is yellow.
If you visit the Lamborghini museum and factory in Italy, you can watch and hear the cars being tested on the roads out front.
Maserati, in Emilia-Romagna’s Motor Valley, produces some of the world’s most gorgeous luxury cars. The symbol of Maserati is a trident, based on a statue of Neptune in the center of Bologna, the company’s adoptive hometown.
FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino), based in Torino, is Italy’s largest producer of automobiles. The FIAT 500 is one of the world’s most recognizable (and adorable) cars, and you’ll see Italians throughout the country driving them.
This elegant automobile company symbolizes Milan and was founded in the city in 1910.
Alfa stands for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (the Lombardy Automobile Factory). The ‘anonima’ or anonymous was a legal requirement for the name at the time because the investors were anonymous. The Romeo part is the name of one of its founders, engineer Nicola Romeo.
Piaggio is most famous for creating a two-wheeled scooter that was destined to make history. It became one of Italy’s most iconic symbols of freedom, movement and elegant design: the Vespa (wasp in Italian).
If you have a chance, visit some of Italy’s car museums, almost all located in Northern Italy.
Italy is Known for Fashion
Milan is on the international Fashion Week circuit, along with Paris, London, and New York. And you’ll see Italian labels worn around the globe.
|Famous Italian Fashion Designers|
|Dolce & Gabbana|
Guccio Gucci opened the first Gucci store in Florence in 1921. As well as luggage, the company crafted leather saddles: the Gucci ‘horse bit’ is still one of the brand’s most recognizable symbols. As Gucci grew, silk scarfs, shoes and handbags followed.
The iconic designer perfected his craft in Paris and then returned to Rome to open his atelier on the fashionable Via Condotti. Jackie Kennedy helped thrust Valentino into the spotlight by wearing the designer’s dresses.
The house of Versace is as famous for its founder’s untimely death as it is for its gorgeous, luxurious clothing. Founded by Gianni Versace in 1978, Gianni chose the symbol of the Medusa to represent the house.
His collections were strong, sexy and attention-grabbing (one dress held together with safety pins made then-unknown actress and model Liz Hurley famous!) He was even quoted as saying ‘I don’t believe in good taste’.
When the Armani brand has always focused on elegant luxury and minimalism – the influence of Japan and the Orient was strong and the brand was associated with muted tones – grey, brown and black – and impeccable tailoring.
Today the brand is an empire, which includes not only clothing, but accessories, fragrances, cosmetics and even restaurants and hotels.
Dolce & Gabbana
Style-wise nothing could be further removed from Armani’s minimalist aesthetic than Dolce and Gabbana. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have always drawn inspiration from their roots and their brand’s clothing is a real celebration of Sicilian – and Italian – heritage.
Dolce and Gabbana garments are vibrant, colorful and sexy.
Let’s not forget powerhouses like Prada, Tods, Ferragamo, and Fendi!
Famous Italian Landmarks and Tourist Sites
Italy is home to almost 60 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Millions of tourists visit Italy annually to visit these incredible landmarks and sites.
|Famous Italian Landmarks & Tourist Sites|
|Pompeii & Herculaneum|
|Leaning Tower of Pisa|
|The Last Supper|
|Capella degli Scrovegni|
Completed in the 1st century AD, this outdoor Roman amphitheatre is the largest one of the ancient world and for many, the symbol of Italy.
Set inside Rome, the Vatican City is actually its own country. It’s ruled by the Pope and home to some of the most amazing sites and landmarks in Italy, including the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican Museums.
Pompeii & Herculaneum
Pompeii and Herculaneum both lie near the slopes of Mt Vesuvius… and both were buried in ash and pumice from the erupting volcano. The pumice and ash helped preserve the cities and they are visited by millions of curious visitors each year.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Pisa’s Torre Pendente is part of the city’s Campo dei Miracoli, and visitors flock to take a silly photo or climb the Leaning Tower. It was closed for over 10 years while engineers worked to correct some of the lean.
Visitors to Venice will likely walk over one of the city’s most famous bridges (the other being the Bridge of Sighs at the Doge’s Palace). It was built towards the end of the 16th century by Antonio da Ponte (literally, Anthony of the bridge) and is a wonder of Renaissance architecture and engineering. It’s the oldest bridge on the Grand Canal, and is also worth viewing from a gondola or ferry.
Florence’s most famous bridge is the ‘old bridge,’ Ponte Vecchio. Although it originally housed shops like butchers, it’s now home to many of Florence’s jewelry shops. It’s a lovely bridge to stoll at sunset with a gelato in hand!
The Last Supper
Considered by many to be Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, you can see the Last Supper (il Cenacolo in Italian) in Milan at the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The fragile painting is carefully monitored and daily entrance numbers are limited.
Capella degli Scrovegni
The Scrovegni Chapel in Padua in northern Italy contains one of the most important works in the history of modern Western art: the fresco cycle by Giotto showing the History of Salvation.
This famous fountain in Rome depicts the god Oceanus taming the waters and is made from Travertine stone quarried in nearby Tivoli. It was made famous in the 1960 film La Dolce Vita and millions of visitors toss coins into it, wishing for a return visit to Rome.
Verona’s Roman Amphitheater is so well-preserved that it is famous as a modern-day opera, theater and concert venue. It’s one of the largest in Italy and its shape ensures perfect acoustics.
Part of the UNESCO site of Venice and its lagoon, the Venice canals are magical. Take a ride in a gondola or hop on a ferry and sit back and take the city in.
The trulli of Puglia in southern Italy are unique cone-roofed stone houses. The mortarless buildings are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Famous Italian Natural Landmarks
|Famous Italian Natural Landmarks|
|Volcanoes – Mount Vesuvius, Mount Etna, Stromboli|
|Mountains – The Dolomites, Monte Bianco, Monte San Giorgio|
|Hot Springs – Saturnia (Cascate del Mulino), Bagno Vignoni, Merano, Bormio|
|Valleys – Val d’Orcia|
|Lakes – Lake Como, Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore, Lake Braies|
|Islands – Sardinia, Elba, Capri, Ischia, Aeolian Islands|
|Caves – Frasassi Caves (Le Marche), Grotte di Castellana (Puglia), Blue Grotto (Capri)|
|Formations – Scala dei Turchi|
Italy is an active volcanic region, and some of the most notable volcanoes are Mount Vesuvius, Mount Etna, and Stromboli (seeing it erupt at night from a boat is one of my all-time favorite experiences here in Italy).
Three of Italy’s most notable mountains and mountain areas include the Dolomites, Monte Bianco, and Monte San Giorgio.
Italy’s hot springs are becoming more and more popular as the word gets out. Some of our favorite areas for thermal soaks are Saturnia hot springs (Cascate del Mulino), Bagno Vignoni and Merano. Bormio’s hot springs are also well-loved by Italians.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Val d’Orcia (Orcia Valley) in Southern Tuscany is velvety green in the spring, followed by golden yellow in the summer and layers of brown in the fall. It’s one of Italy’s most photographed areas and it’s full of charming villages like San Quirico d’Orcia and Pienza.
Lake Como, Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Braies top the list of famous Italian lakes, but there are so many more gorgeous lakes to check out in Italy.
From jet-setters to hikers to nature lovers, there’s an island in Italy for every type of traveler. Sardinia is well-known for its luxurious northern coast and for having Italy’s most beautiful Maldivian blue waters. Capri is the chic island of the Amalfi Coast, and her little sister Ischia gained fame from the film The Talented Mr. Ripley. Meanwhile, Elba Island off the Tuscan coast, captures visitors with its natural beauty. Sicily is a cultural, culinary, and historical hotspot. And the Aeolian Islands include the erupting Stromboli!
Some of Italy’s most famous caves include the Frasassi Caves (Le Marche), the Grotte di Castellana (Puglia) , and the Blue Grotto (Capri).
Oft-photographed Scala dei Turchi in southern Sicily is a natural wonder made up of rocky steps that were formed by erosion that dramatically drop into the sea.
Famous Italian Cities & Areas
Most people think of a few specific places when they think of Italy. These are some of the most visited and well-known places on the Italian peninsula.
|Famous Italian Cities & Areas|
Florence, Italy’s Renaissance City, is most known for Michelangelo’s David, the Uffizi Gallery, the Ponte Vecchio, Piazzale Michelangelo and its incredible views, and the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore).
Rome, the Eternal City, is best known for the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, and Vatican City (with St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Museum, and the Sistine Chapel).
Romance blossoms in Venice – in Piazza San Marco, on the Rialto Bridge, in gondolas on the Venice canals, on the Venetian islands (especially Burano and Murano), during Carnival, and while eating cicchetti.
Hikes between the five villages (cinque terre translates literally to ‘five lands’) of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare, and afterward feast on lemon gelato, seafood, and pesto!
One of Italy’s most glam destination, this seaside gem in Southern Italy is home to Positano, Capri, Amalfi, and some of Italy’s best mozzarella and ceramics.
Slip on your shades and wave to George Clooney as you ferry across Lake Como. Or, explore some of the loveliest villages on Lake Garda (Sirmione, Malcesine, Peschiera del Garda, Bardolino) or Lake Maggiore (Stresa and Isola Bella).
Tuscany is synonymous with Siena and the Palio, Chianti villages, wine, rolling hills and vineyards, Pienza’s pecorino (sheep’s milk) cheese, and villages like Monteriggioni, San Gimignano, Montepulciano, and Montalcino.
Famous Italian Artists
From da Vinci to Donatello, Italy sweeps the podium in the famous artist category!
|Famous Italian Artists|
|Leonardo da Vinci|
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci, born in Tuscany, is probably the most important artist who ever lived. He was a visionary genius whose inventions were groundbreaking for his time and whose interests also included anatomy, aviation, warcraft, nature, physics, mechanics and weaponry.
Caravaggio, from Milan, is considered by many to be the father of modern painting.
The hallmark of his paintings was his dramatic use of light and shade – chiaroscuro – and the way he combined the ugly realism of life with the classical beauty of his art.
Michelangelo was another Tuscan genius. A sculptor and painter, he is most remembered for his incredible David statue and the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City.
Raffaelo Sanzio da Urbino was a contemporary and great rival of Michelangelo – in fact Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael are regarded as the great trinity of Renaissance artists.
If you visit Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, you’ll have a chance to see some of Botticelli’s most famous works – The Birth of Venus and Primavera (spring).
Famous Italian Musicians
While there are many famous musicians in modern Italian times like Andrea Bocelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Måneskin and Fedez, let’s take a look at famous musicians in Italian history.
|Famous Italian Musicians|
Verdi is one of Italy’s most famous composers, best known for his operas. He showed musical talent from a young age, but failed to get into Milan’s famous music conservatory.
However, by studying privately and after decades of hard work, he rose to become the most important opera composer of his day.
Stradivarius, born in Cremona in northern Italy, is famous as a lute maker as well as a craftsman of stringed instruments like harps, violas, guitars, cellos and of course the instrument that he is most famous for – the violin.
Rossini produced 39 operas, as well as chamber music, sacred music and songs. He was admired by Liszt, Chopin and Wagner and had a great influence on many of the composers who came after him.
Giacomo Puccini, born in the mid-19th century, was considered by many to be the natural successor to Giuseppe Verdi. This great Italian composer gave the world La Bohème, Madam Butterfly, Tosca and the famous aria ‘Nessun Dorma’ from Turandot.
Vivaldi was an ordained priest, and he composed over 500 concertos and 40 operas. His work was virtually ignored until the 1920s when a collection of his original manuscripts was discovered (including the much-loved Four Seasons).
Famous Italian Writers
|Famous Italian Writers|
Italy’s greatest poet, Dante Alighieri is best known for his work La Divina Commedia, or the Divine Comedy. This epic, allegorical poem is divided into three parts and follows a man through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise guided by the poet Virgil.
Giovanni Boccaccio, born in 1313, was an Italian poet, writer and scholar. His most famous work is the Decameron (which is sometimes nicknamed “L’Umana Comedia”, or The Human Comedy). The book is a story containing 100 tales told by 10 people that range from tragic to erotic and bawdy.
Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) is sometimes called “The Father of Humanism.” He traveled widely throughout Europe collecting Latin manuscripts and his writings helped spark the Renaissance. As he traveled for pleasure (unusual at the time) he is also often referred to as ‘the first tourist!’
Umberto Eco’s vast knowledge and wealth of passions formed the basis of his novels, the most famous being The Name of the Rose, published in 1980 and later made into a film starring Sean Connery.
Levi, a Holocaust survivor, wrote about his experience in Auschwitz in “If This is a Man.” A later book, “The Periodic Table,” is considered one of the best science books ever written.
Famous Italian Inventors
|Famous Italian Inventors|
This 18th century scientist was a pioneer of electricity and power. He invented the electric battery and discovered methane, but his greatest recognition came after is death when the volt was named in his honor.
Nobel-prize winner Marconi created the radiowave-based wireless telegraph system, which led to him being credited as the inventor of the radio…not bad for a man who never went to school and had no formal higher education.
Galileo was a mathematician and astronomer, among other things. He invented the thermoscope and compasses used by the military, and although he didn’t invent the telescope, he did create his own versions.
Famous Italian Explorers
|Famous Italian Explorers|
Vespucci, from Florence, gifted his name to… America! The explorer traveled to the new world after Columbus, but he wrote about it and stamped his name on the Novus Mundus.
We all know the story of Christopher Columbus, the genoese explorer who thought he was sailing to islands of spices and gold… and stumbled upon what is now the Americas.
Marco Polo was a 13th century Venetian merchant, explorer and writer who traveled Asia along what is known as the Silk Road.
Things Italy is Known for in Cycling
From epic races to champion cyclists, Italy is well-known in the cycling world.
|Famous Italian Cyclists & Cycling Events|
Famous Italian Cyclists
Italian cycling history is saturated with Italian cyclists, including Marco Pantani, Gino Bartali, and Fausto Coppi. Modern cyclists like Vincenzo Nibali continue to represent Italy well on the global circuit.
While not as famous as neighboring France’s Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia is a stage race that takes place in May every year in Italy.
During the three weeks of the race, you’ll see pink (the official race color) everywhere, and Italians line the streets to cheer for racers and catch glimpses of some of the world’s strongest riders.
The race, which first ran in 1909, now has a women’s version and editions for younger racers.
The concept of the granfondo is hard to define, but it translates roughly to ‘big ride.’ It’s a long-distance ride / race and the energy is amazing!
I can’t count how many granfondos I’ve ridden in here, and I always encourage cyclists to try one. You can ride or race, and usually there are multiple distances to choose from.
Some of the most famous of Italian granfondos include the Maratona dles Dolomites, the Nove Colli – both are epic and memorable!
Italy is Famous for Its Films
Ok, so Italy isn’t producing any blockbusters, but Italia has been a big part of cinema history, producing iconic films and stars (like Sophia Loren).
|Famous Italian Films|
|The Godfather Trilogy|
|La Vita è Bella|
|La Dolce Vita|
These western films were made in Europe from the early-1900s up until the late-1970s. They were typically filmed by Italian directors in the desert. Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, and Charles Bronson all starred in spaghetti westerns.
The Godfather Trilogy
The Godfather films tell the story of the Corleones, an American mafia family in New York City.
Its known as one of the best films ever to be made.
Every year, Godfather fans visit some of the filming sets in the Sicilian villages of Savoca and Forzà d’Agrò.
La Vita è Bella
La Vita è Bella, or Life is Beautiful, tells the story of a father and son in a concentration camp and how the father shields his son from the horror of the situation.
The film won numerous awards, including Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor (Roberto Benigni).
La Dolce Vita
Fellini’s drama-comedy that came out in the 1960s was actually condemned by the Vatican for its sexuality and more, but the film continues to capture viewers for its scenes from Rome, its fashion, and how we can still relate to the themes.
This coming-of-age story about a boy in Sicily and a cinema was one of the first Italian films I saw and it’s a beautiful film for all ages.
Things Italian Families are Known For
|Italian Family Culture|
|Staying Close to Home|
|Living with Parents Until After University Graduation|
|Low Birth Rate|
|Italians Love Children|
Staying Close to Home
My husband, like many Italians, lives just a few kilometers from where he was born. He still goes out for pizza with friends he knew when he was a baby. While he’s traveled, lived, and worked outside of Italy, he managed to find his way back ‘home.’
Many Italians end up settling where they were born, even after spending time away for university or work.
Campanalismo references the campanile (bell tower) that you’ll find in every Italian village or city. The concept refers to feeling pride for the place you are from. It means feeling patriotism towards your village or area.
For example, where we live in Tuscany, someone from Siena (a city) may feel senese before feeling Tuscan (the region) before feeling Italian.
If you’ve heard stories about grown Italian men going home for the weekend with a bag full of laundry, you’ve heard about mammoni. They may also call their mothers with important news or to seek advice before they call their spouses. They may even still live at home with their moms.
The root of the word is mamma and these Italian men can’t quite break free from depending on their mothers.
It’s totally common for an Italian household to contain members of multiple generations. Nonni (grandparents) often live at home and help with the care of grandchildren (picking them up from school, helping with meals, etc).
At one point, we had four generations of my husband’s family on our property – beautiful!
Living With Parents Until After University Graduation
It’s not uncommon for Italian students to continue living at home until after they graduate and have started their careers. They’re not being lazy – it’s a financial issue.
Low Birth Rate
Italy annual birth rate continues to decline (1.25 in 2022 according to ISTAT). The cost of having a child has discouraged and prohibited many Italians from starting a family.
Italians Love Children
This will never change – Italians adore children, and I think this is one of the best places in the world to be a kid!
Italians are gentle, kind, and understanding with kids – from babies to toddlers to older kids.
More Things Italy is Famous For
- Italian Hand Gestures – You’ve seen Italians use them, including the ‘buono’ finger to the cheek or the ‘watch out’ finger to the lower eyelid.
- The Mafia – From Sicily to New York films, the Mafia had and still has a place in Italian society.
- Soccer – Italy is soccer… err, calcio. Italians are, and have always been, passionate about the sport. Some of the best players in history have come from Italy (like Francesco Totti, Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro del Piero, and adopted Diego Maradona), and when a football match is on, everything else stands still!
- Historic Times – Roman empire, Etruscan times, the Renaissance
What is Italy Famous For FAQ
Italy’s culinary scene varies from region to region, and you’ll find delicious food wherever you go – from risotto dishes in Milan to canederli in the Dolomites, from fresh mozzarella in Campania to prosciutto di Parma in Emilia-Romagna.
Yes, most Italian citizens identify as being Catholic, and you’ll find churches throughout the country, from the largest cities to the smallest remote villages. The Vatican City is an independent city-state in Rome – and it’s home to the Pope, who is the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
That’s a tough question! The most well-known or recognized is probably the Colosseum in Rome.
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the most visited sites in the Vatican City, along with the Vatican Museums (and the Sistine Chapel). They both draw visitors from around the world.
Chianti wine is well-known, especially the earlier versions in the fiasco – a rounded bottle with a basket on the bottom. Other world-famous wines include Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino.