A shopper’s Guide To Italy
The endless summer evenings, the ancient ruins, the smell of freshly baked cornetti.. there is so much that money can’t buy in Italy. But thankfully there’s also a wealth of shopping to be done and things to be bought! Italy’s shopping is as up there as its art, food and history, in fact many visitors come for just that; to explore some of the country’s renowned retail.
Whether you’re a shopaholic, a browser or somewhere in between, Italy has everything, and it true Italian style it offers variety, colour, passion, and a little bit of crazy in its shopping. Prada, Versace, Armani, Gucci.. Italy is home to some of the worlds most well known and well loved high fashion brands. For the true experience, visit their stores here where it all first began. Or for the label without the price tag, try one of the outlet malls, that are becoming increasingly popular amongst locals and tourists alike, in the surrounding city areas. When it comes to markets and individual shops, I’m not confining these to fashion too; looking for that perfect Parmesan cheese, a work of fine art or a unique umbrella? Let’s go shopping and find it!
Here I’m going to give some direction to your empty suitcases awaiting an Italian fill to take home. To simplify I’ve taken it city by city and then given a few suggestions in each location under the categories high street, outlets, markets and individual shops. Of course each list could be endless so these are just some starters to get you inspired and ready to go.
Before we get going, a few reminders about shopping in Italy; even in the big cities tradition and siestas reign so be prepared for boutiques and smaller shopping streets to close for a few hours over lunch (but to be open until at least 19.00) and for markets to start before breakfast and end by lunch. Check in your city for local details as for example in Naples shops are often closed on a Monday but have late night shopping on Thursdays. Of course when it comes to city centres, shopping centres or outlet malls, opening hours are as normal. When it comes to markets, of all types, you can usually get by with English but if you’re feeling adventurous get your basic Italian prepared and have some fun haggling your prices!
Milan is best described as the Mecca of fashion. Fashionistas flock to the city’s shopping streets, boutiques and outlets. Its not just clothes and accessories to be browsed and bought here and I’ve highlighted some interesting boutiques in the individual shops section.
– High street
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II:
Since 1867 this Galleria in central Milan, steps from the Duomo, has served its faithful shoppers and admirers. Claimed to be one of the worlds oldest shopping malls, it is certainly an architecturally beautiful one. A glass roofed, mosaic floored arcade which holds several top brands, in fact Prada’s flagship store has marked the spot since 1913. The closest metro is Duomo.
Corso Buenos Aires:
If you’re looking to shop till you drop, this could be your place. The density of shops along Corso Buenos Aires is unparalleled; one kilometre of shop after shop. Reaching from Porta Venezia to Piazzale Loreto, come here to find high street brands, shoes, books and stationary, gadgets and trinkets. Thanks to it’s length there are several access points to Corso Buenos Aires; alight at any of the following metro stations: Porta Venezia, Loreto or Lima.
Milan’s golden rectangle of credit card swiping. The name really speaks for itself as this is the area for the best of the best. Comprising four streets; Via Montenapoleone, Via Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea and Bia Manzoni, this zone is where Italian fashion labels reside. The window displays are as mesmerising as the goods (and the prices!) within so don’t miss out on some window gazing and updates on the fashion trends of the moment. Metro options are Montenapoleone or San Babila, there are several buses or tram lines which also service the Quadrilatero d’oro.
Welcome to Europe’s largest shopping mall. The oldest sibling of the McArthur Glen outlet developer family and the first of its kind in Italy, this is designer outlet shopping at its finest. Even the location is a cut above the rest; nestled in the Piedmont countryside 50 minutes from Milan city centre but well worth the trip. You’ll be there all day. And Serravalle is set up for day long shopping; with over 300 designers to chose from, a great selection of restaurants and snacks, a child care facility and free WiFi, oh and a hairdresser! Even access has been made seamless; take a €20 shuttle bus from one of four pick up locations in Milan city or utilise the shuttle service from the closest train station.
This is Milan’s most central outlet mall on Via Fratelli Bronzetti, easily accessible by public transport, taxi or even walking from the centre. Here you can find unbeatable discounts on designer brands in clothing and accessories – up to 60 or 70% off. Locals love a bargain as much as they love their labels so Il Salvagente has been a favourite for the past 40 years. The translation of Salvagente.. lifesaver truly sums up the importance of outlet shopping in Italy! What makes Milan’s outlets particularly fruitful is the fast paced fashion market, here styles become old or last season as quickly as they fly off the racks so an outlet is a great place to find something not long ago seen in store.
Brera boutique market:
The Brera district is the chocolate box of boutiques; each as different and fascinating as the other. But as well as permanent shops there are regular markets to be found too. At these you can peruse the stalls and buy yourself a one of a kind handmade item to take home. Piazza San Marco has a popular market on Monday and Thursdays which combines fruit and vegetables stands with antiques and accessories. Another great market is the third Sunday of the month on Via Fiori Chiari. The antiques stalls selling ceramics, jewellery, clothes, books and homeware are also joined by artistic vendors displaying handmade artworks and candles. If you happen to be in Milan on the right Sunday, don’t miss this special market.
Fiera di Senigallia:
One of two notable markets in the Navagli area, Fiera di Senigallia runs every Saturday at Porta Genova. This is the flea market jewel in the antique, vintage crown of Navagli. Brimming with character, the market should be visited for the experience as much as anything. The rules here are simple – items must be used, and the resulting array of tools, bicycles, telephones, vinyl records, crockery and cutlery endows an authentic eclecticism to this market.
– Individual shops
On Via Brera where locals and visitors shop by day and socialise by night there’s a wealth of boutique style places to browse and spend money. Rigadritto is a must visit. This is no ordinary stationary store, it’s an Aladdin’s cave of goods that are sourced from across the world. Whether you’re an avid letter writer, a note scribbler or an occasional card signer, you won’t fail to be seduced by the stationary on display.
In this homeware and clothing boutique, shabby chic is the signature style. The owner Rosi is as well known and loved as her store. Her interior design creativity imbues all her designs and she is particularly successful with her transformation of old items. Profumi e Balocchi is constantly evolving so expect to see something different on every visit. Definitely a boutique to find something unique to put back home and remind you of Milan. The nearest metro is Gambara.
In a city as lively and full of character as Naples, it is inevitable that the shopping is as unique. Famous (or infamous) for its arts and antiques, these can be found in many shops around the city, or in markets. Do be careful of forgeries and fakes as Naples is the birthplace of counterfeits back in the 17th and 18th centuries. As mentioned earlier, Naples is still a traditional city in many ways and its shopping style is no exception, particularly individual shops will usually take a generous lunch break but remain open later in the evening.
– High street
Previously named Via Roma, this is Naples’ longest shopping street at 1.2 kilometres. The majority of Via Toledo is pedestrianised which makes it very shopper friendly, particularly given the crazy nature of local traffic! Here you can join locals in wandering the variety of high street chains, boutiques and a department store. Expect the usual Naples buzz of street vendors, children playing, young couples hand in hand and old people sat on benches observing it all. It’s not just the shop windows to notice here in Naples. Easy to access via metro stop Toledo which stops conveniently midway along. Take time to enjoy the neoclassical architecture of the Galleria Umberto I which can also be found along Via Toledo.
The area around this historic piazza is where many high-end street shopping can be found as well as interesting boutiques. Explore the surrounding streets for clothing, accessories, window shopping and for the big name Italian designers. Take time to appreciate the piazza itself, with the impressive 19th century monument to martyrs (translation of Martiri) and join those sipping coffee whilst reading in the Bookshop chain Feltrinelli.
One thing that Naples is lacking is a range of outlet malls. Until the designer outlet developer McArthur Glen opened La Reggia, the city had nothing to match the offerings of Milan or Rome. McArthur Glen is responsible for many of Italy’s major outlet malls as well as others across Europe. La Reggia is no exception to the developers successful formula. It boasts 137 stores across which 200 different designers goods are up for grabs. In true McArthur Glen style, shuttle buses are available from Naples city as well as hotels in Sorrento. Alternatively it’s a 30 minute drive from the city or a local bus ride.
For the foodies out there this is where you need to be! A street market that will tempt your tastebuds from one end of Via Pignasecca to the other. If you can resist snacking on everything as you buy then look out for stalls with suitable to transit home food. Bare in mind though that the majority of this market is street and fresh food so come with an appetite to explore the delights of Naples cuisine. Early morning is when the stalls appear but there are also permanent shops selling speciality foods. This market appeals to all the senses; it’s a riot of colour, a buzz of orders and waves of frying anchovies and baking pizza. Conveniently accessed from Via Toledo and thus Toledo metro stop, Pignasecca market is open everyday.
Got the antiques desire? Agnano market will fulfill that. A huge antiques and flea market held every Sunday in the Agnano racetrack which is bursting with goods to explore and refreshments to keep you going. There’s a bit of everything here; 200 dealers with a range of antique wares, furniture, clothing, bits and bobs. Don’t be afraid to bargain but don’t expect vendors to speak English so prepare your Italian numbers at least! The treasure hunt is available from 6am to 2pm so come with plenty of time to discover. The market is located 30 minute drive from the city centre. If you take public transport it’s a little more of an effort as you’ll need to take the metro line 2 to Bagnoli and either walk 30 minutes or find a taxi.
– Individual shops
Via San Gregorio Armeno:
Technically not a shop but a street, Via San Gregorio Armeno is as Napoletan as it gets. On this narrow cobbled street is tiny shop after tiny shop overflowing with Presepi – nativities. It’s a feast for the eyes with handcrafted figurines and scenes ranging from small and simple to huge and extravagant. Typically the nativity figurines are painted and dressed with real material and scenes can be a wooden stable or an entire lit up village with moving parts. Some people even commission figures of themselves or specific people to add to their scenes. Find this fascinating street in the historical centre.
A trip to Naples would not be complete without a purchase, or at least a visit, to the legendary Mario Talarico umbrella shop. Now in its fourth generation, Talarico has been hand crafting world famous quality umbrellas for years. For a last you a lifetime, one of a kind umbrella this is where to come. Mario Senior, in his 80s, can still be found proudly creating umbrellas using traditional techniques in his shop in the Spanish Quarter, now accompanied by Mario Junior (his nephew). What makes these umbrellas unique is the use of bone rather than metal and that the shaft is, unlike other manufacturers, made from a single length of wood. Each umbrella is uniquely designed and crafted and prices range from €80 to €20,000. Talarico store is located on the alleyway Vico Due Porte a Toledo just a stones throw from Via Toledo.
Rome really has it all; high street,high-end street, been-there-forever boutiques, food, and antique markets… it is the capital after all!
– High street
Via Condotti/Piazza di Spagna:
Let’s start high-end where Italy’s finest designers and shiniest stores can be found. Via Condotti and Piazza di Spagna have long been the places in the heart of Rome’s historical centre in which to splash some cash. Here you can combine sightseeing with shopping (or window shopping!); starting in Piazza di Spagna to admire the Spanish steps, wander around the small surrounding streets which are bursting with brands, or simply follow Via Condotti to Via del Corso, which is next on our list. There is a metro station at the Spanish Steps named ‘Spagna’, so reaching these shops with public transport is a breeze.
Pretty much parallel to Via Condotti is Rome’s most popular high street shopping. Stretching from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo, Via del Corso hosts everything from H&M to Lush. In fact there are several shops for many of these brands so if you can’t find what you’re looking for keep walking to the next store further along the same road.
The Vatican area’s answer to the historical centre combines both high and high-end shopping. Cola di Rienzo culminates at Piazza Risorgimento where buses and taxis circulate as shoppers and locals refuel in the surrounding cafes and restaurants. Although equally popular to Via del Corso, I prefer Cola di Rienzo as it’s size gives a less crowded feel and it attracts more locals.
Castel Romano designer outlet mall:
If there’s anything Romans love more than a shiny new designer handbag, it’s one with a reduced price tag. Well, don’t we all? Castel Romano is a 30 minute drive outside of the city centre, or a €15 shuttle bus from Termini train station, but don’t let that put you off as the journey is worth the effort. This is where to come for a fashion bargain.
Another locals favourite, Porta di Roma; Italy’s largest shopping mall, was built ten years ago. This is where to find all your classic mall stores, from fashion to technology to home-ware and even IKEA. Not forgetting your fast food favourites just to complete the mall experience. With 240 stores to browse, this mall will certainly keep you busy! There is no direct metro line but you can catch a bus or take a taxi as it is only 12km from the city centre.
The place to be on a Sunday in Trastevere. This famous market is frequented by locals and now a great number of tourists and expats. Located through Porta Portese this market is a myriad of things to eat, drink, buy, admire, wonder about and photograph.. new, old, antique, bric-a-brac, eclectic, you name it. Don’t expect the cheapest of prices, vendors have caught on to its popularity, but expect an enjoyable Sunday out. Like much of Rome, it’s accessible by bus only to Porta Portese.
The largest covered food market in Rome is situated in the Vatican area of Prati. Open daily except Sunday, closing early afternoon, earlier on Saturdays. This is the place to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and meat, sample cheeses and dried meats, stock up on all cupboard essentials at a cheaper price than the supermarket. To add to the colour and variety, there’s also haberdashery, furniture and small clothes stalls. Closest metros are Ottaviano or Cipro on Line A.
– Individual shops
Typically haunted by Rome’s expat community, this speciality and international food chain has 12 stores citywide, including Via Nazionale, Via Ottaviano and Cola di Rienzo. Castroni has been providing Rome with a wide range of Italian and international foods since 1932. It’s where Americans come to prepare for thanksgiving, Brits come for their Marmite fix. Castroni also stocks Italian classics, baking and cooking ingredients, a tempting chocolate selection and in several stores you can try their own production coffee at the bar.
The Marini family are somewhat the royalty of the shoe world, now third generation run, Marini shoe design first opened in 1899. For over a century the small shop in the heart of Rome has been producing tailor made shoes for its clients. Its history is star studded; during the Dolce Vita ‘50s and ‘60s golden era of Rome film stars flocked for a pair of Marini designed shoes. In recent years the King of Morocco, Queen of England and members of the Qatar royal family have all been clients. And why not join them if you can? For a once in a lifetime experience and a unique, personally designed pair of shoes, make an appointment online or in store. Marini is on Via Francesco Crispi, fairly equally placed between Barbarini and Spagna metro stops on line A.
Rome’s independent English bookshop that has a home away from home feel. Founded with the name Corner Bookshop it was originally located on the corner of the street but in 2002 it was bought by its current owner and relocated just a few windows down the street; hence the name change. The current owner has established a well respected and well loved name amongst Rome’s English speaking community. Expect to find an expansive range of fiction and non fiction (note that these are all new books) and regular readings and presentations. Almost Corner is open seven days a week and is located in the Metro line-less area of Trastevere so take a bus or the tram to arrive.
Written be “Holly Streader“
If you liked this article, read also “FOODIE GUIDE OF ROME: ROMAN SPECIALTIES FOR TAKE AWAY“