Best Places to Do Holiday Shopping in Italy
One of the perks of traveling to Italy late in the year is that you can tackle some of your Christmas shopping while you’re there – you’ll not only get your shopping done early, you’ll also be able to say, “Oh, when I saw that in Florence, I thought of you…” Who can resist the allure of that?
In every city throughout Italy there are hard-to-miss souvenirs of varying levels of kitsch, and of course if they’re on your must-buy list then go for it. But if you’re looking for the places where you might find something a bit more unique and interesting to hand out as gifts for the holidays this year (or to bring home for your own enjoyment), here’s a list of places to go shopping in Italy.
>> And if you can’t get to Italy in time for this year’s Christmas shopping, don’t forget you can introduce a little bit of Italy to the holiday anyway with the things on my Italy gift guide!
Tazza d’Oro or Sant’Eustachio – Rome
Whether you’re a coffee snob or not, chances are good you’ll at least partake in the Italian tradition of standing at the bar for your morning espresso at least once during your trip. Can you bring the Italian bar home with you? Probably not, but you can bring home some Italian coffee.
Two of the best-known coffee bars in Rome are steps from each other, and steps from my favorite place in the whole city (the Pantheon), so they’re easy to find after you visit one of Rome’s top sights. Compare coffee drinks at both Tazza d’Oro and Sant’Eustachio if you like, or just pick the one with the packaging you like the best – both shops sell coffee beans and coffee-related candies, neither of which messes with the TSA liquids restrictions.
Murano – Venice
Glass may seem like a dangerous thing to recommend people buy while traveling, but there’s a very good reason it should be high on your Venice shopping list. There are already problems that get reported now and then where glass that’s being sold as authentic Murano glass turns out to be made in China, but if you’re buying something directly from a reputable shop on the island of Murano in the Venice lagoon you’re far less likely to run into authenticity problems.
Of course, if you’ve got your eye on a flower vase or a set of goblets you’ll want to chat with the salesperson about getting your purchases shipped home – but there are lots of Murano glass items you can buy and easily transport home for yourself or as gifts. Murano glass pendants and beads are incredibly popular and common, and for a particularly Christmas-y gift you can also often find Murano glass ornaments that would be welcome additions to anyone’s tree.
Outdoor Leather Markets – Florence
Florence and many cities nearby in Tuscany are famous for their exceptional leatherwork, and there are a couple of outdoor leather markets in Florence that are equal parts tourist attraction and shopping destination. Although you need to be careful about pick-pockets in these markets, and prepared to haggle with the vendors, there are great deals on beautiful leather goods to be had.
You’ll find the usual suspects – purses, belts, and coats – everywhere you look, but there are non-traditional leather items at some stalls. I’ve seen small leather trash cans, for instance, which would be challenging to bring home but would certainly make taking out the garbage more interesting.
Via Montenapoleone & Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – Milan
I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t afford to shop on Milan‘s famous Via Montenapoleone – but if you’ve got someone who’s splurge-worthy on your shopping list, or if you just want to gawk at all the beautiful people doing their holiday shopping, there are few places that are better. The window displays of all the big fashion houses that have storefronts on this pretty little street are interesting to check out, too.
The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II nearby is only slightly better in terms of affordability, but again it’s hard to beat for beautiful shopping backdrops. And unlike Via Montenapoleone, I have done some shopping in the Galleria before – there’s a music store there that’s an excellent spot to shop for Italian music CDs. The store is close to the entrance by the Duomo, although it’s actually underground. It’s not the Prada store, but it’s at least shopping in the swanky Galleria.
Via San Gregorio Armeno, AKA Christmas Street – Naples
It’s Christmas year-round on one long, rambling street in the historic center of Naples, which makes it quite easy to get into the spirit no matter when you visit. The tradition of making elaborate nativity scenes dates back decades in Naples, and these nativities grace homes all over Italy throughout the holiday season. What makes the nativities made in Naples unique isn’t just the detail, it’s also the topical characters you can add to your creche.
In addition to the usual cast of characters found in every nativity, the Italian creche is an entire village – including often animatronic version of the butcher, baker, candle-stick maker, etc. – as well as figures from modern-day life. You’ll see soccer stars, politicians (President Obama remains a popular one), and musicians alongside angels and wise men. Personally, I’ve brought home a couple of pizza-making figures for my amateur-pizza-maker of a husband, and they’re on display in our kitchen all year long.
Capo Market – Palermo
Palermo is full of daily outdoor markets – there are three well-known markets in the historic center alone. The most famous is probably the Vucciria market, but the one that came most highly-recommended to me by a longtime Palermo resident is the Capo market behind the Teatro Massimo.
Now, the vast majority of the stuff for sale at the Capo market is food, and I’m not suggesting that you bring home a nice swordfish head for your brother-in-law’s Christmas gift. The food stalls at the market are intensely fun to look at (and if you’re renting an apartment or staying in a hostel with a kitchen, they’re great for picking up whatever cooking supplies you need), but the ones to linger over for potential gift-giving are the ones that sell spices or dried nuts. Pistachios in particular are popular in Sicily, and make a lovely gift.
Carthusia – Island of Capri
A visit to the Amalfi Coast isn’t complete without a sip of limoncello at some point, but toting home a big bottle of the sweet liqueur could be a daunting prospect. There are certainly limoncello candies you can buy instead, but if you want a slightly more high-end gift idea that’s still uniquely of the region, may I suggest Carthusia perfume?
Based on the island of Capri (but available at many shops along the coast), Carthusia has been producing scents for men and women for hundreds of years using what’s available on the island – including lemons and rosemary. I’m partial to Mediterraneo, but I encourage you to talk to the very-knowledgable salespeople about the perfumes and colognes to find the one that’s best suited to the lucky person on your gift list.
Designer Outlets in Italy
Italians love a bargain just like everyone else, so of course there are designer outlet stores in Italy for the big names – even Prada, Ferragamo, and Gucci. The outlets themselves aren’t right in the big tourist cities, so it’s usually helpful to have a rental car (or a local friend who knows where to go), or you can book a shopping tour.
Oh, and remember that Italian sizes on clothing and shoes are different than US or UK sizes, so before you prance giddily into an Italian outlet be sure you know the sizes of the people you’re shopping for – and their Italian equivalents.
What are your favorite places to buy special Italy gifts? Leave your suggestions in the comments!
photos, top to bottom, by: The Wolf, wiredtourist, ptwo, Milan & Naples by Jessica Spiegel (and may not be used without permission), Ko_An, Simone Ramella