Over the last two years, I’ve visited Italy on four separate occasions (covering six regions) and averaged about one gelato per day. So, in my own fantasy world, this makes me some kind of gelato expert/connoisseur. At the very least, I’ve picked up a few tips on how to find the best gelato in Italy. Well, 11 tips, to be precise.
You might be thinking, “but it’s Italy, Rebecca, surely all the gelato in Italy is great gelato?!” and you’d be dead wrong. There’s a lot of sh*t gelato out there, my friend. Just as many of my fellow Brits will attest that there are several wrong ways many of us make a cup of tea, there are many incorrect ways that Italians produce gelato.
But fear not! For I have already waded through the sh*t gelato, clearing the path for you to only experience superior, authentic gelato on your Italian adventure. And these are tips you can refer to no matter where in Italy you are travelling! So here are my top tips, based on own my experience, on how to taste the best gelato in Italy. And if you’re heading to Verona, Trento, Genoa, Rome or Palermo, I have some gelateria recommendations for you at the end of this post!
Please note: Before we begin, a couple of things. Yes, gelato is produced differently to ice cream and you can Google how because I’m not Wikipedia. And feel free to order your gelato in either a cup or a cone. I usually opt for a cup if a) it has the logo of the gelateria on the shop and I can spread the love on Instagram and b) I think it will melt really fast! And gelato does melt faster than ice cream, FYI.
How to Find the Best Gelato in Italy
1. Avoid fluffed-up gelato with elaborate garnishes
As a general rule (which tbh, most of these tips are just ‘general rules’, there are always exceptions), if the gelato is piled really high, it ain’t great. Think of it this way: the best gelaterias in Italy have great reputations and don’t need to use any gimmicks to entice potential customers into their shop. So, if you see huge clouds of overflowing gelato with an assortment of oreo cookies, strawberries or whole fricking bars of Kinder Bueno scattered over the top, it might not taste as good as it looks.
Also, really good gelato doesn’t ‘hold’ a fluffed-up, billowing shape very well. It’s really dense, so it would just sink.
However, a few crumbled pistachio pieces or chocolate shavings is a non-issue. Loads of fantastic gelaterias will add a bit of embellishment to their gelato, but just not in an over-the-top way.
2. Look for natural coloured gelato, no artificial colours
And while we’re on the subject of what good gelato looks like, be aware of the pistachio flavour gelato looking bright green or a bright yellow banana flavour. Artificial colours have obviously been added to these flavours to give them such a vibrant colour and maybe some other artificial ingredients, too. There’s just no need for it, good gelato doesn’t need pimping.
Pistachio should be an olive green colour, and banana will just look creamy or maybe even a murky brown.
3. Or better yet, choose gelato hidden behind silver lids
If you can’t even see the gelato, then you’re onto a winner! Think about it: if the gelato was produced in a back kitchen in silver tubs, then it makes sense that the gelateria would just use the silver tubs with lids to serve them in. Then it’s easy to swap them out should they get low on one flavour.
If the gelato was made off-site and bought-in, this wouldn’t be a practical way of making and transporting gelato. It would probably be made in huge plastic tubs and then scooped out into another plastic display tub.
Not all good gelaterias will serve gelato in these silver tubs so you can’t see the gelato until they scoop it out, but I’ve never stumbled across a bad gelateria that does.
4. The best gelato in Italy is homemade – so watch out for signs
Is there clearly a kitchen somewhere in the building? Maybe behind the shop/display counter or off in a door somewhere?
It’s going to be fresher and taste better if the gelato is made on-site. Plus, it’s more likely that you’re supporting a small family business if it’s homemade than a corporation if it’s delivered in bulk in the morning.
5. Choose traditional Italian gelato flavours and toppings
There’s nothing wrong with ordering whatever flavours are on offer! I’m partial to oreo/cookies and cream-flavoured gelato myself. My go-to flavours are pistachio, crema, latte (milk), tiramisu, coffee, banana and caramel. You may notice these are all neutral-coloured flavours which aren’t by accident – I once bought chocolate gelato and it melted SO fast that my t-shirt, dress and even camera were covered in it and I am now scarred for life.
If you want to choose traditional flavours, then nut flavours like pistachio, nocciola (hazelnut) or bacio (chocolate and hazelnut) are great go-to’s. The Italians love Nutella (obvi) so you may see Nutella-flavoured gelato on offer, or just a spoonful of Nutella as a topping!
Great traditional fruit flavours to try are limone (lemon) and fragola (strawberry, but more tart than you’ve tasted before) which are in season during spring. Melons are in season in summer and oranges and pomegranates are best in winter.
A classic Italian chocolatey gelato flavour is stracciatella, which is essentially a plain creamy base with chunks of dark chocolate. I’m not a fan because I really don’t like dark chocolate. Tiramisu (a classic Italian dessert) and Caffe (coffee) flavours are also winners.
6. Ask for tasters if you want but don’t take the p*ss
This might be a little controversial, but you don’t have to agree with me.
If I’m honest, I would sooner spend €€€ on a scoop of every flavour than ask for a single taster in an Italian gelateria. I know that asking for tasters is totally accepted in American ice cream shops, but I just don’t think it’s the same in Italy. I could never ask for a taster in an Italian gelateria if they don’t specifically have a sign saying they offer them. And I definitely wouldn’t ask for more than one. And frankly, I would sooner die than ask for a taster and then not even purchase something afterwards.
That might be just me, but here is my reasoning.
America (or somewhere else) is not known for ice cream, and there are often tonnes of weird-ass flavours. I’m not going to order a whole scoop of ‘blue cheese’ or ‘brown bread’ flavour ice cream without tasting that sh*t first. But if I walk into an Italian gelateria, and it’s got all the makings of a good gelateria, there’s no way I’m gonna be like “hey, can I get a taster of chocolate gelato?” Lol, it’s gonna taste like chocolate gelato. Either you like chocolate gelato and you want to eat a scoop or you don’t. No need to chip into the profits of what is usually a small, family business and hold up the queue, pal.
But if you do insist on tasting a flavour to assess the quality of a gelateria… Try the pistachio. Or a crazy flavour, if they happen to serve one. Pistachio is (generally) the most expensive flavour to make and might be where some gelaterias would skimp on quality.
7. Most gelaterias will let you pick two flavours in a small size
This isn’t true for every gelateria, especially if you’re buying gelato in a super-pricey town on the Italian Riviera (I’m looking at you, Portofino!) but the vast majority of gelaterias will assume you want two flavours of gelato if you order a small. Which is great! Who doesn’t want to try more flavours? Some will even think they’ve misunderstood you if you don’t order at least two flavours. But obviously, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.
Some gelaterias will have a handy sign explaining how many flavours you’re allowed to order per size of gelato. For most places, it’s small (piccolo) = two flavours, medium (medio) = three flavours, large (grande) = four flavours.
But another word of advice, don’t ever order a large. Instead, get a small gelato in two gelaterias so you can try different gelato!
8. But ALWAYS choose the gelateria’s signature crema flavour
This is a top tip to finding the best gelato in Italy I’ve not read anywhere else, and I only just realised it recently. Crema is usually Italy’s ‘plain’ gelato with no flavouring added to the base ingredients. But sometimes, gelaterias will serve a ‘house’ crema named after the gelateria. In my experience, it’s a crema gelato with some delicious added extra like a selection of nuts, biscuit or syrup.
It’s usually the most INSANELY delicious thing I’ve eaten. Think about it, the gelateria is actively trying to make this crema their signature gelato, the best flavour they make. It’s a sure thing and so far, it’s not failed me yet.
9. ‘Off the beaten path’ Italian gelaterias aren’t necessarily the best
It really irks me when travellers make themselves seem more interesting and adventurous when they say things akin to “ohhh, the best gelateria in Rome is down this tiny side street about 5682km east of the Trevi fountain. It doesn’t have a name, just a line of hieroglyphics above the door and you pay with the blood of your firstborn but it’s just the best gelato everrrr…” or, you know, something like that.
Let’s stick with the Trevi Fountain as an example. It’s an extremely popular tourist attraction in Rome with probably 15 gelaterias in close proximity. I’d say some of those are bad, but I’ve personally sampled an exceptionally good one. Proximity to landmarks isn’t an automatic tell-tale sign of gelato quality! That just seems so silly to me. But all of these other tips on where to find the best gelato in Italy will help you find quality! *wink emoji*
And as much as I adore gelato, I can’t be traipsing around weird neighbourhoods away from all the sites just for what might be a great gelateria. Your girl has got filming locations to scout out, pal. And I’m sure you have other things to be doing, too!
10. The best gelato in Italy is probably at the end of a queue
Yup, good things come to those who wait, am I right? I have absolutely no idea where exactly the best gelato in Italy is. Unless there is one selfless soul out there who has taken the burden upon themselves to taste every flavour of gelato in every gelateria in the country, no one can know.
But if you see somewhere with a bit of a queue or crowd, chances are it’s got something going for it. Could be that it’s just got a lot of hype on Tripadvisor or something. But better to be safe and try the gelato than sorry, eh?
11. Try some of the best gelatos I’ve tasted in these Italian cities…
I’m not saying these are the best gelaterias ever and the best gelato in Italy you’ll ever eat. But they are places I’ve actually visited and enjoyed in Rome, Genoa, Verona, Trento and Palermo, so it’s not an exhaustive list but it’s a good place to start.
The Best Gelato in Rome, Italy
- Il Gelato di San Crispino – This gelateria is often dragged because it was mentioned in Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir Eat Pray Love and it’s the touristy place by the Trevi Fountain I was talking about. Hey, it’s not the best but I think it’s good. Plus, they serve the gelato from metal tins and quite clearly make it on-site.
- Il Caruso – Great gelato but a bit out of the way. I saw a 40-something financier type in a sharp suit eating the face off of his much younger girlfriend right outside on a Friday at 16:00 while holding cones. I felt like it was a quintessential Roman scene.
- Old Bridge Gelateria – Got to be the best place to eat gelato in Vatican City (there aren’t many gelaterias in Vatican City anyway!). And others must agree because there’s always a queue. I think they have other locations in Rome, too.
The Best Gelato in Genoa, Italy
- Gelateria San Luca/ La Dolce Morella Gelataria – Tripadvisor says ‘Gelateria San Luca’ has closed, but it’s just changed names and the page hasn’t been updated. Fantastic gelato and I came back for more.
- Gelateria Profumo – But this gelateria serves the best gelato in Genoa. It’s down a side-street but still pretty central. The lady didn’t speak English very well but she served gelato from underneath silver lids (tick) and kept chatting to her friend making gelato in the kitchen (tick). And it was one of the best crema gelatos I’ve ever tasted (tick tick!).
- Antica Gelateria Amedeo – If you find yourself in the village of Boccadasse when you’re in Genoa, head here for gelato. Just don’t get the chocolate flavour, it melts very fast and you *may* get it all down yourself, even in a cup.
The Best Gelato in Verona, Italy
- Gelateria Ponte Pietra– The lady behind the counter was so friendly, and a gang of school kids were in here having gelato at lunchtime.
- Gelateria La Romana – If I were to die tomorrow, one of my biggest regrets would be not going back for a second cone of La Romana’s house crema flavour when I returned to Verona to catch my flight. Tip: get a cone, ask for melted chocolate at the bottom (they have white and milk chocolate on tap) and one of your flavours should be La Romana crema.
The Best Gelato in Trento, Italy
- GROM – This is actually a chain of gelaterias all over Italy, but I’d say if you have to eat gelato from a chain then there are far worse than GROM. See, I’m not a gelato snob. Venchi is also a good chain gelateria, I had some in Milan Central Station.
- La Gelateria – Beautiful gelato. I can’t remember it very well so it clearly isn’t ‘up’ there with my other earth-shattering gelato experiences, but I know it was good.
- Gelateria Cherry – Cherry was also good, and I remember they served vegan gelato, too.
The Best Gelato in Palermo, Sicily
- Antica Porta Terra – This is technically a small counter outside a restaurant in Cefalù, not Palermo, but I’m including it because it was great gelato. I ordered gelato in a brioche bun and it was 10/10 delish.
- Brioscià – A traditional way to eat gelato in Sicily is in a brioche bun, which is what this gelateria is named after. Excellent gelato, especially their own crema flavour. Went back for more.
- Gelateria La Kala – I visited this gelateria in Palermo at the end of this street food tour. Excellent gelato (pistachio and white chocolate, what a phenomenal flavour combo) in a brioche bun. By that point in the trip, I didn’t even try to eat it politely with a spoon.
And those are my top tips on how to find the best gelato in Italy! Have you been to Italy or would you add any more gelato tips? Let me know in the comments below!