I Traveled to All 20 Italian Regions | Here Are My Thoughts

Picture of me in Venice

I am in love with Italy. I’m fascinated by the people, food, language, landscape, and the variety of all of these things that makes this country so unique. In March of 2022, I moved to Italy for a year to get my Italian citizenship recognized and have a new experience. During that time, I made it a goal to travel to all 20 regions of Italy, a goal which I’m happy to say I achieved. 

Italy Collage

Here are some things that I’ve observed in my travels, for better or worse. These observations are based on my experience, and I understand that everyone has a different perspective. To my Italian friends or any Italian readers – it’s not my intent to insult anybody with this post. I tease with love, and there’s nothing I’ve written here that I haven’t spoken about with my Italian friends in person. The quirks of Italian culture are after all just a part of what makes it so interesting, and have me wanting to go back to dig even deeper.

Planning a trip to Italy? Check out my resources page to see all the sites I recommend for booking trains, rooms, tours, and more.

Enough intro – here are 19 things I’ve noticed traveling to every region of Italy. 

1. Every region is worth visiting.

Everything from the people, the food, the landscape – every region has something to offer. You don’t need to go to Pisa or Rome to experience something remarkable. Some of my most positive and memorable experiences were in the most unassuming of places. While I was staying in L’Aquila, the capital of the Abruzzo region, I met some fun locals at a pub who were more than curious to know what an American was doing in their small town, and after a round of shots they invited me to karaoke. The next day, my AirBNB host felt bad that it was raining the whole time during my stay. So she was kind enough to drive me to the nearby picturesque village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio for an amazing dinner in a charming medieval tavern. No leaning towers or giant fountains needed.

Planning a trip to Rome? Check out my Rome Recommendations!

2. Language differences run deep and wide.

Considering that Italy is only about 75% the size of California, the fact there are so many regional dialects is pretty remarkable. To put a finer point on it, if someone from one town speaks in their native dialect, someone from the town 5 miles away won’t be able to fully understand them. Why is this? While Italy as a nation is pretty young (unifying in 1861), prior to that it consisted of various nation states all with their own dialects/languages. Add to this the mountainous geography which limited mobility, as well as language influences of foreign invaders, and you have modern day Italy with all of its linguistic variety.

3. Italian-American culture is a world away from what it claims to be.

Italian subs. Feast of the Seven Fishes. Spaghetti and meatballs. Fettuccine Alfredo. Dean Martin. To an Italian, these are either unfamiliar terms or punchlines. The Sopranos hit the nail on the head when the crew goes to Naples, and a disgusted Paulie asks the waiter after staring at his black, squid ink pasta – “Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?”

4. Some Italians don’t speak Italian.

In the more southern parts of Italy as well as Sardegna, regional languages (not dialects, separate languages) are more commonly spoken. This is especially the case with older generations, who have a hard time speaking in Italian (or at least maintaining standard Italian in conversation). But also, and more strangely, there are some areas where even younger generations have this trait. In Naples, for example, there are parents who have to pay closer attention to their kids’ language education for fear that they will grow up speaking only Neapolitan, limiting their employment opportunities, among other things.

5. The negroni is the best cocktail.

My first one – I hated it. Second – ok maybe. Third – I’m sold. Note: don’t have 3 in one sitting. 

6. “Touristy” things are touristy for a reason.

After traveling for some time, it’s easy to become a cynical travel snob and scoff at anything that draws a crowd. I have been and at times still am one of these people (see item #1). But the reality is, the Colosseum, Positano, Venice, the Vatican, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Lake Como, Capri, and the like are all absolutely stunning. Yeah, some things probably get more attention than they deserve (I’m looking at you, Pompeii and Trevi fountain), and you’re unlikely to see much Italian culture in Positano. But you can’t complain about something being too touristy as you are literally a tourist looking at said thing. You don’t sit in traffic, you are traffic.

Planning a trip to Florence? Check out my Florence Recommendations!

7. The food is as diverse as the language.

Again – for a country this small, it’s almost impossible to believe. Pani câ meusa (lung and spleen sandwich), ‘Nduja, cacio e pepe, sagne e fagioli, bistecca alla fiorentina, porchetta, peperoni cruschi, pesto, carbonara, taralli, jota, biscio. The list goes on. Each of these items come from specific regions, sometimes specific towns. 

8. Molise does in fact exist.

A long running joke among Italians is that the youngest and second smallest region doesn’t exist. I can confirm it does. There are people, they have cars, houses, and even jobs. I think they speak Italian, too. 

9. Italians know how to take it slow.

Unless they’re driving or taking your coffee order, in which case hurry up or get out of the way. Otherwise – what’s the rush? Let’s eat slowly. Drink our wine slowly. Go for a leisurely walk. Get back to the office – when? When we get back. The PowerPoint with 2023 KPIs isn’t going anywhere.

10. Dietary “rules” are arbitrary and based on tradition, sort of.

Yes, you can drink cappuccino after 11 AM. Thousands of basic influencers on TikTok and Instagram love to spread the trope that one of the things “you should NEVER do in Italy” is order a cappuccino after 11 AM. As if the Carabinieri will arrest you on the spot and the Italian government will try you like Amanda Knox. While it’s true that Italians generally don’t drink cappuccino after breakfast, nobody is going to refuse to serve it to you, they will just quietly judge you. The idea is that the milk in a cappuccino isn’t good for digestion – a concept that apparently doesn’t apply to gelato, which Italians will eat with abandon at all times of day.

What about pineapple on pizza? I’m not particularly a fan but I love it when the topic comes up. Man, that one makes the Italians’ blood boil. It’s another “rule” – you don’t mix sweet with salty. That doesn’t stop them from wrapping melon in prosciutto (also not particularly a fan).

11. There is no limit to how much sun Italians can tolerate.

There’s some bias here, because I almost never enjoy being in direct sunlight. But Italians, man, they just embrace it like an old friend. The inverse of this is that when it gets even a little cold out, the streets empty.

Planning a trip to Venice? Check out my Venice Recommendations!

12. It feels like there’s a holiday every other day in Italy.

I’m exaggerating, but whether it’s national or local holidays, I swear there’s always some kind of festival, party, or event. 

“Today is the Feast of Saint [insert saintly name], the patron saint of [insert city name]. Everybody takes off work and the main piazza will be closed off for a market, and there will be celebrations all night.”

“I thought that was last week?”

“No, last week was the Festival of Saint [insert other saintly name].”

“Oh ok. Alright, see you later – I’ve gotta go to the post office.”

“It’s closed for festival.”

13. Italians tend to keep to themselves.

Why this is, I’m not sure – I think the language barrier has a lot to do with it. It’s not that they’re unfriendly or unwelcoming – it’s just not their first instinct to be open to strangers or be the first to strike up conversation. If you need help – they’ll be more than happy to assist. But most people that I met in Italy who were open, friendly, and inviting were not Italian (and were typically from South America, Spain, or the UK). There were of course exceptions – Italians who welcomed me and quickly became great friends, and are some of the most exceedingly generous people I have ever met.

For Italians, with friendships and relationships – it’s more quality over quantity – much like their food.

14. When it’s your birthday, you pay.

A group of friends goes out for dinner and drinks for one of their birthdays, and birthday boy or girl has to pay for the group. The logic behind this, I haven’t yet wrapped my head around – but it made me less bummed out to have spent my 30th stuck at home with COVID. 

15. Italians drink frequently, but not too much.

Wine with lunch. Maybe beer, but normally wine. Aperitivo before dinner – usually just one. Wine with dinner. Maybe a cocktail after dinner, but not often. On the weekends, maybe a night of drinking – but not too much. Holidays and festivals – that’s when they’ll turn up. This is when you might actually see drunk Italians. But still – it’s rare. They’re experts at something I and my fellow Americans struggle with – moderation.

Planning a trip to the Amalfi Coast? Check out my Amalfi Coast Recommendations!

16. The Italian “Mediterranean” diet is hard to find.

At least as foreigners see it. Lean meats, fresh pasta, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, fish, etc. From what I’ve gathered, this is from generations passed, and the state of the Italian diet has unfortunately shifted a bit, as reflected in their recent childhood obesity rates. Don’t get me wrong – by almost all metrics, Italians are still eating healthier than Americans (for reference, Italy has the 6th highest life expectancy compared to 46th for the US, with diet surely being a factor). It’s refreshing to be somewhere where the concept of “in season” still means something. But for every fresh market San Marzano tomato, there’s a cornetto cioccolato just begging me to eat it with my cappuccino – and I probably will.  

Another example: Pizza Americana – it’s a cheese pizza with french fries and hot dogs on top, and it’s sadly a hit with Italian children. How the same people behind the masterpiece of cacio e pepe can serve this travesty to their children, I don’t understand. At first I was a little offended that Italians would call this the “Americana”, but then I remembered that in the US we have the “Italian” sub. Touché.

17. Italians have endless patience when talking about food.

The topic of food makes its way into almost every conversation. Walk down the street in a local neighborhood, and most conversations you overhear will be “carbonara” this, or “pomodori” that. And it’s ok, often encouraged, to ask four or five questions to the waiter before ordering at a restaurant. This is why it’s considered some of the best cuisine in the world. Attention and care for every detail.

18. Italians are extremely generous.

If you are lucky enough to make it into a friend group, even as an acquaintance, you will see that Italians are beyond gracious. Perfect example – my cousin and I had to catch a Friday night train to Ancona for an evening ferry to Croatia, and at the last minute the train was cancelled (should’ve checked the strike schedule). We scrambled to get a ride, and fortunately one of our acquaintances in town was nice enough to drive us over an hour to the coast, and we practically had to force cash on him. Our treatment from our friends was better than we deserved.

19. I’ve barely scratched the surface.

The reality is that a year in Italy isn’t enough to really go deep into more than a couple regions, and I want to go deeper. I still have a lot of cities to visit, food to taste, landscape to see, locals to meet, places to re-visit, and stories to create. 

That’s All for Now

I’m sure there will be a part 2 to this, in some form or another. After all, an entire culture can’t be distilled down to a list.

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. Please check out some of my other content like some of my recommendations pages. Additionally, if you’re planning a trip to Italy and need one-on-one support or guidance, check out my services page where you can get in touch with me.

16 thoughts on “I Traveled to All 20 Italian Regions | Here Are My Thoughts”

  1. Wow! Your old English teacher is incredibly proud and blown away by your descriptions and little quips! Well done, Anthony!

    What an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, notes, and recommendations!


  2. Ciao, Anthony!

    Out of so many blogs and articles I’ve read from people traveling and or moving to Italy, you’re the ONLY one that has written a realistic picture of what Italy is all about. Without overly romanticizing, but sharing the true beauty and normality of touring the bel paese.

    I lived full time in Italy from 2016 to 2021. Learned to speak Italian enough to grant me a B2 advance level (and proud of it 🙂 it helped me navigate the Italian culture and made great friends among some of my Italian neighbors (still communicate till this day).

    My relationship with Italy now is “da una distanza”😂 I feel as I’ve cheated myself from not traveling within Italy more… At the time, we bought a house based on a romantic idea of living among locals in a small village instead of a logical decision based on what we needed. It would have changed the outcome 100% and probably we would still be there! But, I’m back in USA soil and no regrets. It was the adventure of a lifetime.

    Anthony; Bravo for getting all the facts together and cheers 🥂 to you and your future living in Italy!

    1. I really appreciate that thoughtful response, Monica! Sounds like you had an amazing experience despite it coming to an end. I’m sure you made lots of great friends in Italia as well, that I hope you can keep in touch with and keep those Italian skills up! Thanks again.

  3. Joseph Montrose

    Thank you for this article. I am working on my dual citizenship and hope to go to Italy next year while my citizenship is being processed and granted. I have not decided where to live yet, but I look forward to it

  4. Can you describe each of the regions?
    What you liked and didn’t like in each region?
    Love the article. Thank you.

    1. I appreciate the feedback, Julie! This will be something I’d like to address in a future post. But one thing that comes to mind that I love is the use of the Neapolitan language in the Campania region.

  5. Very nice to read about your story of your personal discovery of all the 20 italian regions.
    I did identify with several things, as I’ve also done the same.

    As a brazilian with italian citizenship, I traveled around 16 regions in 2019/2020 (had to pause it and go back to Brazil because Covid started), and then this year, 2023, I finished the last 4 regions in july and august.

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