Traditional Italian Desserts: 5 Favorite Sweet Treats in Italy

July 10, 2023

Here at Walks of Italy, we have quite the sweet tooth—and that’s one of the reasons why we love Italy! Although pizza and pasta get most of the attention, Italy’s cookies, cakes, and desserts are pretty delicious, too. No matter where you’re traveling, there are plenty of traditional Italian desserts and sweets for you to indulge in.

Here are just five of our favorite Italian sweets, or dolci!

One of the sweet Italian Christmas breads

Panforte, a Christmas sweet, hails from the Tuscan city of Siena.


Whether it’s the heat of summer or the dead of winter, we always like the excuse to go for a gelato. And no, gelato isn’t just “ice cream.” It has way less butterfat (4 to 8 percent, compared to 14 percent for American ice cream), meaning it freezes less solidly than ice cream and melts in your mouth faster. And it’s not whipped with air and water, as with ice cream elsewhere, so it’s more flavorful. (Here’s more on what gelato really is).

Want to try the best of Italian gelato? Then just make sure you choose your gelateria carefully. Unfortunately, many places these days do “pump up” their gelato with air and water, giving it that fluffy, hilly, swirly look. And lots of places also use artificial powders and flavorings.

So avoid gelaterias selling gelato that looks too fluffy or too bright. To help, here some of our favorite gelaterias in Italy!

Eating gelato by a bridge in Florence, Italy

Gelato is a favorite year-round treat. Photograph by Catherine Rogliano


Cannoli alone are a reason to head to Sicily… or at least to a good Sicilian bakery in Italy! Tube-shaped shells are fried to a delicious crisp, then filled with creamy ricotta.

The sign of a top-notch bakery? When all you see in the display case are the shells themselves, and they’re only filled with ricotta when you actually order one. Often, you’ll also be asked if you want the ends dipped in chocolate chips, candied fruit, or pistachios. We don’t think you can go wrong with any of the options!

Just remember, when you’re ordering, that the singular of cannoli is cannolo—so, no, you never order “one cannoli.” 

Great Sicilian sweet

A cannolo, everyone’s favorite Sicilian pastry!


As for almost all food in Italy, there’s a time and place to eat panettone: at Christmastime, and–ideally—in northern Italy, particularly Milan. But although it’s from the north, the curious have ample opportunity to try this sweet, dome-shaped bread loaf in other parts of the country, as the tradition has spread from region to region.

Usually studded with raisins and candied citrus peels, panettone takes several days to make since, like sourdough, it must be cured. Here are 6 Christmas cakes in Italy we love, including panettone!

An Italian Christmas treat

Panettone is one of the most traditional Italian desserts – especially at Christmas.


The ultimate pastry symbol of Naples and the south—and, some would say, of the entire Italian mainland—sfogliatelle (pronounced “sfo-ylee-a-TELL-eeh”) are every bit as delicious as they are famous. Made up of leaves of thin, crispy dough, filled with semi-sweet ricotta mixture, these pastries alone are a reason to visit Naples.

For a taste of the best, we especially love Pasticceria Attanasio, one of 3 fantastic food stops you can make right near the Naples train station.

Sfogliatella, a traditional italian desserts, on a plate with powdered sugar

Sfogliatella, a beloved pastry around Italy.


The name of this dessert literally means “pick-me-up,” and that’s exactly what tiramisu is: a dessert made with coffee and cocoa. It’s generally made with layers of coffee-soaked biscuits (or even pieces of cake, like panettone) and a sweetened mascarpone. 

Interestingly, although it was invented in Italy (food historians think it was first created at a restaurant in Treviso in the 1960s), it remained virtually unknown throughout Italy all the way until the 1990s… when it became wildly popular in the United States! Only then did most Italian restaurants in Italy start adding it to their own menus. Today, you can find it as an option for dolci on almost every restaurant menu in Italy.

Italy’s most famous dessert!


by Walks of Italy

View more by Walks ›

Follow us

Stay up to date with travel tips, local insights and all things Italy on our social channels!

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get curated Italy travel tips delivered to your inbox!

Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now