First Trip to Italy: Looking for unique things to buy

It's our first trip to Italy in a few weeks: Venice, Florence, and Rome. What are some 'must-have' treasures that you've found? I know the Murano glass factory is part of our tour and I'd like to buy something and have it shipped back home. I also watched a recent Rick Steve's episode that talked about the town of Burano and how it's famous for its hand-woven lace. Can you recommend some special places that had unique gifts? Any real 'deals'? I love flea-markets and antique stores too.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7329 posts

In Venice and Florence, make sure that what you buy is made in Italy - lots of inexpensive pieces will be marked "PRC" for Peoples Republic of China. I prefer to buy from stores rather than outdoor markets, but last year I bought a half dozen leather purses (minis with lots of zippers) at the San Lorenzo market in Florence, all tagged "made in Italy". Silk scarves from Venice are easy to pack, and glass is always good (I found many glass places in Burano but not a lot of affordable genuine lace). Also easy to pack is truffle salt, not widely available in the US. You can find lots of unique, non-perishable food items in the small shops of any city you visit, sometimes samples are available. In Rome, be careful of buying "paintings" in Piazza Navona - most are cheap mass-produced pieces. There are some good artists in the piazza who can do a portrait sketch for you, or if you have a few days to wait, they can do one from a photo. My favorite part of buying things like small glass pieces or nearly anything else is that the shop will gift wrap it without being asked, so even if the purchase is for you, it's a present. (Be sure to be able to label it.)

Posted by Rik
Vicenza, Italy
711 posts

In Rome you will find bottle openers with the Pope's likeness on them, they are referred to as "Popeners" and are about the coolest gifts I've ever bought people from Italy. They're only about 4 or 5 euros but people get the biggest kick out of them.

Posted by LaVee
Edenton, NC, usa
74 posts

Stamps from the Vatican! Especially if they still have any from Sede Vacante when you get there. Rosaries, especially if blessed by the Pope, if you have Catholic friends of family members.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
1747 posts

Just watch what you buy from some of the glass factories that give tours. We wandered into one, got to watch for about 5 min, then they take you to the crazy expensive showroom (like, 1000's of euros)...there tends to be another less expensive option...we bought a picture frame decorated with glass for my mom, then saw practically the same thing on Rialto Bridge (come to think of it, if memory serves, it was the same frame) for 10euro cheaper! My fav part of Venice tho is wandering thru all the little shops lining the canal in Murano, and getting a glass bird ornament...3 so far. I usually end up going into about a dozen shops before finding the perfect bird.

Posted by D.D.
375 posts

Perhaps coral jewelry? I watched a craftsman carving some in Venice and thought it was nicely done.

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
1496 posts

Venice:I bought several pairs of venetian glass earrings. They're light, and very pretty. I've worn them for years. They come in all shapes and colors. Easy to pack wrapped in tissue and weigh next to nothing. I also bought wooden Pinocchio's for my grandsons (made in Italy) Their mother loves them, and they're still hanging in the bedrooms. Florence: Purses/leather gloves. Gloves are easier to pack than the purses, and they come in alllll colors, even purple! Also, there are some "paper stores" in Florence that sell beautiful gift wraps, and pens, etc. Florence is also famous for their soap, which is lovely. If you have lots of $$ indulge yourself in a custom leather jacket. Rome: Campo di Fiori - go before Noon, and you can buy jars and envelopes of
spreads for bruschetta! They let you taste them. Unbelievably, the onion was my favorite, even better than the eggplant or artichoke. LaVee was spot on about the articles from the Vatican, and they make great gifts for your Catholic friends.

Posted by Alexandra
West Coast, California, USA
385 posts

Wow, love reading all these posts! I'm more excited now about my trip than before I posted my question. Regarding the Murano glass stores... are there any that will ship your purchase back to the USA for a not-too-hefty fee? I don't want to travel with a vase or bowl. When I went Rothenburg, Germany a few years back, I bought a cuckoo clock and had it shipped back. The store also took off the VAT tax too. Would love something similar. And any more unique ideas? Love hearing about all your purchases!

Posted by Debra
Los Angeles, CA, USA
1001 posts

I love my authentic carnival masks from Venice. There are a few legit shops (can't find the names right now but if you search this board or tripadvisor people give the addresses) where they are still made in Venice by hand. They are not that expensive. I hang mine on the wall, looking at them right now and absolutely adore them. A must-buy from Venice IMO!

Posted by Ellen
Centennial, CO, USA
1617 posts

We always bring home either a bottle of local olive oil, or a great bottle of wine. Also shop for ceramics and linen. Be careful and picky, there is a lot of "junk" out there for tourists. But, if you see something that is a great reminder of your holiday, buy it!
I love buying a cheesy souvenir from a stand outside the duomo in Florence or Vatican...even if made in China, I bought it in Italy. The stalls in Florence will keep you busy for hours. If you are on a group tour, be really careful if they take you to a store...the guide is most likely getting a kick back, and the prices could be inflated, or the quality not up to snuf.

Posted by JustTravel
San Francisco/ Venezia
309 posts

You might be interested in this recent discussion about souvenirs from Venice and Florence.

Posted by Jeanine
Pacific NW, USA
112 posts

I love to collect linens. Lightweight and easy to pack. Be careful about the lace in Burano. Much of it is not locally made. I agree with the post about Murano glass earrings. I think about Venezia every time I wear them. We always bring back olive oil. Lasts much longer than a bottle of wine. Think about bringing bubble wrap with you. Enjoy!

Posted by Alexandra
West Coast, California, USA
385 posts

How can I tell if the lace from Burano is not the cheap stuff? I don't know about Italy, but I know that in Germany linens (and other items) don't have to have a tag that states 'made in -----', as we do here in the US. I can usually tell if an item is 'made in China' instead of handmade in Germany. What should I look for in Italian lace? Any special stores you can recommend?

Posted by Julie
Frisco, Texas, US
130 posts

Venician glass for sure. I also think the Mardi Gras masks are cool, even a small pin is done well in Venice but if you are into this type of thing, the elaborate masks with glitter and feathers and all, I would bring some tissue to pack it or maybe bubble wrap. Easy to bring from home, hard to find when packing in Italy. Just a thought. Florence has a lot of nice leather, not cheap, but good quality for a good price, compared to how much you pay for what you get in US.
I have a pasta bowl (made in Italy of course) that I bought in Rome and carried home on the plane, Rome to London, London to Chicago, Chicago to SFO, and it was so worth it. You can't get that here. I like the ceramics made in Italy. I was in Verona in December (close to Venice by the way) and I found a wonderful shop! I got a bowl and spoon rest...I could have bought way more, but I made that trip with a carry on only, so one bowl for me. Have a wonderful trip, and eat as much gelato as you can.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7329 posts

I recently started buying Christmas ornaments from cities I visit - same caveat, make sure they are made in Italy.

Posted by LaVee
Edenton, NC, usa
74 posts

Thanks Zoe, your Christmas ornament is a great idea. I will definitely look for those. Any place in particular you found for buying them? I bought some Italian made ceramic tiles for some of the places I went, e.g., St. John Lateran in Rome. Eventually I want to mount them on a backdrop of some type that I can hang but also that is moveable from residence to residence.

Posted by Andrea
West Coast
138 posts

Don't miss the San Lorenzo market stalls in Florence, as others have said. I was hunting for micromosaic frames which were surprisingly hard to find, and found them there. My other favorite shopping experience was wandering down the main canal on Murano and going into just about every little shop. The glass factory I was taken to was uninspiring but at least the free boat trip got me to Murano, which surprised me by turning out to be one of my favorite days of the whole trip. Be sure to allow yourself some free time (like hours!) after the glass factory tour to wander on your own through the shops along the main canal if you're interested in glass. I know these shops are as touristy as those in Venice, but somehow the atmosphere felt "authentic" and it was a magical day. I bought some beautiful jewelry - necklaces and earrings - and wish I'd bought more.

Posted by Patty
Steilacoom, WA, USA
718 posts

If I had to it over again, I would bring back one of those marble mortars. They looked heavy as lead, but the Italian cooking teacher said you needed one to make truly good pesto (using a blender "burns" the basil). I can't find one big enough in the States.

Posted by Susan
Kamloops, BC, Canada
301 posts

In reply to your question about Burano lace, a small handkerchief with just a corner of embroidery was priced at 40 euros when I was there 2 years ago. The lady in the shop I visited was doing some embroidery and said that it took 4 days to make that handkerchief (I guess all the edges were hemmed by hand). There is a lace museum on Burano if you are really interested in getting more details. But if it's authentic it will be expensive. The above advice for earrings and other small glass items and small bottles of salt, pesto or other food items in grocery stores are great ideas.