While it might seem like a crazy idea to visit Italy (a country filled with gluten) if you have celiac disease, it's actually the opposite!
This gluten-free travel guide to Italy will show you why Italy is one of the best destinations to visit with celiac disease, and how to find DELICIOUS, mouthwatering, and scrumptious SAFE gluten-free food!
This gluten-free travel guide to Italy may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure page for more information. Thanks! Guide last updated April 2023 Please double-check current travel restrictions and COVID protocols for visiting Italy.
I truly believe Italy to be one of the best places to vacation if you have celiac disease.
Having visited here both pre and post celiac diagnosis, I can tell you honestly I don't feel I missed out on anything from my gluten eating days. So if you've been dreaming about visiting Italy, but felt heartbroken it wouldn't be an option for you with celiac disease, think AGAIN!
In this guide, I'm sharing WHY Italy is such a great place for celiacs to visit, how to easily find celiac safe restaurants, avoid cross-contact, and be best understood if you don't speak Italian. Plus, I'm sharing my TOP restaurant recommendations for some of the big cities in Italy - where you likely to find the MOST gluten-free food!
I'm drooling just thinking about the food - let's go!
Italy: A Gluten-Free Travel Guide For Celiacs
NOTE & DISCLAIMER
Everyone’s experience with celiac disease is different. Dedicated gluten-free facilities are usually the safest places to go, and you’ll see those listed here. For non-dedicated facilities and restaurants, I only recommend places I have visited or where clear protocols are in place for celiac diners. Italy has strong protocols in place.
My experience is not your experience. This gluten-free travel guide to Italy is just that: a guide. It is a list of suggestions to point you in the right direction. Restaurants can change. Use your own judgment and only eat where you feel safe doing so.
- Italy: A Gluten-Free Travel Guide For Celiacs
- Celiac Disease in Italy
- My Experience Pre & Post Celiac
- The AIC Mobile App: Your New Gluten-Free BFF
- Favorite AIC Restaurants
- Italian Gluten-Free Restaurant Card: Senza Glutine
- Contact your host about about senza glutine
- Ask about gluten-free options in airport lounges
- McDonald's is a safe gluten-free option
- Try the gluten-free products in Italian stores
- Take an Italian gluten-free cooking class
- Enjoy every minute (and every bite!) of your gluten-free food in Italy!
- Looking for more gluten-free travel posts?
Celiac Disease in Italy
Just like the United States - 1 out of 100 Italians has celiac disease. But as a smaller country where food is such an important part of their culture, Italians take it seriously.
As a society, food is integral to Italian culture, community, and family life. Italians have gone to great lengths to make sure those with celiac disease do not miss out on the importance of sharing food with friends and family. After a national celiac disease screening in 2005 brought the disease to everyone's attention, Italy began to step up its game. Italian gluten-free companies created high-quality gluten-free products, and even school children were screened for the disease. Today, the Italian government provides grocery vouchers for patients at up to 140 euros per month.
If you're visiting Italy with celiac disease, you'll likely be impressed with the amount of awareness in Italy - especially in large cities. Thanks to The Associazione Italiana Celiachia or the Italian Celiac Association, restaurants have learned proper protocols and procedures to ensure safe dining experiences for gluten-free diners, and the laws are strict.
One restaurant owner in Capri, Italy in 2019 told me personally that in order to even advertise a gluten-free menu in his establishment, he needed to have a dedicated kitchen space just for preparing gluten-free food, or he would get in big trouble. The owner added that members of his family have the disease, so he understands how serious it is. Now THAT'S the kind of dedication I'm talking about! (Restaurants in America - pay attention!)
My Experience Pre & Post Celiac
I was very fortunate to visit Italy as a teenager. While it was gloriously delicious, it was also filled with so much gluten (even though I had no clue back then what gluten even was!) Pizza. Pasta. Bread. Calzones. Cereal.
And, in a cruel twist of fate, less than a year after my last trip to Italy, I woke up one morning to the news that I had celiac disease.
After the shock of my new diet wore off, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
“Thank goodness I went to Italy when I did. There’s no way I could eat anything there now.”
I was wrong.
In May of 2019, Dylan and I spent the month of May exploring Italy on our trip around the world. I then returned to Italy in May of 2022 for 2.5 weeks.
It. was. an. absolute. dream.
I never got sick or "glutened" in Italy (not once) and I enjoyed all of the tasty pizza, pasta, and gelato I remembered from my pre-celiac days. It was so welcoming to feel so included in the food culture of Italy. I felt like I was just a normal person without any dietary restrictions at all because it felt so EASY to navigate it with celiac disease.
The AIC Mobile App: Your New Gluten-Free BFF
While there are dedicated gluten-free facilities in Italy, you're more likely to find restaurants that have approval from the AIC. The AIC - the Italian Celiac Association, has done wonders for the Italian celiac community. And you get to reap the benefits as a visitor and eat gluten-free dishes all over the country!
The AIC has created a smartphone application which lists restaurants that are approved by the AIC for celiac diners. The cost is $2.99 for 2 weeks to access their database of venues, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, and products. You can extend it once for another two weeks, but beyond that you'll need to contact one of the local chapters of the AIC for longer access.
The restaurants listed will have strict protocols and training (click here to read about them), including but not limited to, dedicated kitchen spaces & cooking tools, (sometimes completely separate kitchens!), extensive gluten-free menus, and cognizant staff. This is very similar to the Gluten Intolerance Group's "Validated GF Safe Spot" you may see on Find Me Gluten Free. This means that cross-contact is something you really don't have to worry about AT ALL when dining in these restaurants. What luxury!
The menus at AIC approved restaurants were not one or two items, like so many restaurants here in the United States. In Italy, like Peperino Milano restaurant in Milan, the gluten-free menu was an entirely separate book. It had pages of appetizers, pasta, pizzas, risotto, meat dishes, desserts, and more. You will definitely have your fair share of choices. Just be mindful that small towns may be more challenging.
I used the AIC application on my iPhone for both trips post-celiac disease in Italy and found it to be extremely helpful to eat gluten-free in Italy. I especially appreciated the fact that it was a list of restaurants recommended specifically by the Italian Celiac Association. You can also use Find Me Gluten Free (which I have used in all of my travels abroad with celiac), but I much prefer a verification of safety from the Italian Celiac Association than a stranger on the internet.
Favorite AIC Restaurants
Below are some of my FAVORITE AIC Certified restaurants that I've been to in my celiac travels in Italy. Please note, this is not a comprehensive list, and there are MANY more of these available on the AIC Mobile App. Be sure to check out my celiac safe restaurant reels on Instagram for Milan and Florence!
La Soffitta Renovatio is just a few blocks from St. Peter's Square in Rome. The most insane pizzas and calzones that left me almost in tears they were so good. They also have pasta dishes, but I preferred the pizza!
Peperino: Neopolitan style pizzas in Milan, made gluten-free. They also have pizza fritta, which is like a calzone, and equally mouthwatering. Insane. Again, so good, I may have shed a tear. And they have lactose-free cheese options available!
Mister Pizza: Located in both Florence and Venice, another scrumptious option for pizza that is celiac safe. Their menus list allergens and they have lactose-free and vegan cheeses too.
Mama Eat: Locations in Rome, Naples, and Milan - drool-worthy pasta dishes, and their arancini appetizer was *chefs kiss*. They also have pizzas too!
Ciro & Sons: They have awesome pizzas as well, but I loved their pastas dishes! They came out with a sticker that said GF. Ravioli was unreal, as was the fettuccine with pesto.
For Gelato: GROM!
Grom gelato is everything. A chain gelato shop that is 100% gluten-free (even the cones) . You can find them everywhere in Italy! My favorite flavors are strawberry (fragola) and chocolate, with fresh whipped cream. Or maybe stracciatella. Everything is good.
Please be aware that many restaurants, hotels, and products in Italy use gluten-free wheat starch, which is safe for celiacs but would be unsafe for someone with a wheat allergy to consume. Click here to read more about this ingredient.
Italian Gluten-Free Restaurant Card: Senza Glutine
Language barriers can be one of the biggest challenges when traveling - especially when you have celiac disease. Be prepared for traveling to Italy with celiac disease with your best gluten-free travel tool: an Italian restaurant card!
As a former world language teacher, I can tell you that speaking with proper colloquialisms, grammar, and vocabulary makes a big difference in comprehension. A restaurant card properly translated into the local language allows your host, server, or chef to know what foods you can and cannot eat, and how the preparation of your food is critical to your health and safety, especially if you are traveling away from big cities or touristy areas, where people are most likely to speak English.
This Italian restaurant card from Jodi of Legal Nomads has been carefully written and translated by a local to be sure you are completely understood when eating in restaurants, cafes, or shops in Italy. Additionally, another more succinct but equally effective card can be found here from Equal Eats. I recommend both of these cards wholeheartedly.
If you choose to not bring a translated restaurant card (but I highly recommend you do!) you'll want to look for the words "senza glutine" or "celiaca/celiaco" on menus, windows, products, and in grocery stores, cafes, and restaurants. The words translate to "without gluten" and "celiac". You can also use your iPhone camera or Google translate to translate individual words.
Contact your host about about senza glutine
If you are staying at a hotel, guesthouse, or Airbnb in Italy, contact them beforehand about your dietary requirements to see if they can accommodate you. Our B&B in Capri called B&B Angelide was a small private room hosted by a lovely husband and wife duo. Their son has celiac disease, and they had a stocked kitchen with wonderful breakfast choices, including Schar gluten-free bread, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, and Italian gluten-free pastries.
Ask about gluten-free options in airport lounges
One of my favorite travel hacks & perks is the free access to the Priority Pass through my Chase Sapphire Credit Card. It allows Dylan and I to visit hundreds of airport lounges around the world for free. And when you're traveling, anything to make travel easier in the long run is a good investment. Learn more about how we've saved thousands of dollars with these travel hacks!
Don't forget that gluten-free choices may also be available inside airport lounges, especially in Italy. In other lounges around the globe, I would ask specifically about the foods that were safe to eat or stick to naturally gluten-free choices, like fruit and cheese. However, in the Milan airport, there were gluten-free snacks laid out especially for celiacs!
It never hurts to ask questions - so don't forget to inquire everywhere you visit in your travels around Italy. Even airports!
McDonald's is a safe gluten-free option
You read that correctly - you CAN eat McDonald's in Italy.
McDonald's and Schar have collaborated and now offer gluten-free cheeseburgers at locations throughout Italy. The burgers come specially sealed in plastic bags (boo plastic, but I appreciate the protection against cross-contact) inside a gluten-free container. You can choose to eat the French fries too (They are gluten-free, and list no gluten/wheat in their allergen statement on the McDonalds Italy website here), but there is always a chance of cross-contact so eat at your own risk. Their burgers are the only 100% gluten-free item. Be sure to check the ingredients, ask questions, and only do what makes you feel safe.
Why did I eat McDonalds in Italy? Because I COULD! And if you want to have the option to grab something easy, quick, and you KNOW is 100% safe, it's a no brainer.
Fast food is usually off the table (literally) when you have celiac disease, so it was a rare treat to be able to have it. And obviously I didn't eat here every day, but it made life simpler when we were busy on travel days.
My verdict on the burger: I'd give it a solid 7.5 out of 10 stars - the fact that it is microwaved makes the texture not ideal, but still good. And if I can have McDonald's, I'm doing it. You do you!
Try the gluten-free products in Italian stores
The gluten-free products in Europe, in my experience, are ten times better than the products available to us in the United States. Whether it's their commitment to creating a product everyone will enjoy, their use of better ingredients, or maybe just an extra ounce of love, the gluten-free groceries are top-notch. And in Italy, you'll find no shortage of variety of new things to try - especially from Schaer - the EU version of Schar (also availble in the USA). I love their Petit Biscuit cookies - gluten-free tea cookies. Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee!
Try Carrefour, Spar, Conad, Coop, Despar, Lidl, or Aldi for supermarkets with gluten-free products.
In grocery stores in Italy, I had NO trouble locating gluten-free bread, pasta, crackers, cookies, snacks, cereal, or pastries. There were usually aisles or sections dedicated to items "senza glutine".
I recommend visiting a grocery store when you arrive to stock up on snacks and easy meal accessories, like GF bread for sandwiches in case you decide to have a picnic lunch, some fresh fruit, veggies, potato chips, or whatever else you prefer.
If you can't find anything in the supermarket, check the pharmacy. In Capri, I found gluten-free pasta and bread right by the sunscreen and makeup of a local pharmacy! Gluten-free products are also common inside pharmacies in Italy.
Take an Italian gluten-free cooking class
As with any culture or new destination, taking a cooking class is the best way to learn about ingredients, flavors, spices, and how their food all comes together. It also helps you understand the components of what goes into Italian dishes, making you more cognizant of how to eat gluten-free in Italy, and a wiser celiac traveler.
If you've always dreamed of learning how to make pasta from scratch, or what goes into a true Tuscan bolognese, fear not! There are gluten-free cooking classes available in Italy so you don't miss out on this special experience.
In Tuscany, there are gluten-free cooking classes that range from one day to week-long courses. Gluten-Free Florence offers cooking classes with lunch, and others can be found online. And then my friend Catalin from Celiac in Italy also has virtual gluten-free pasta making classes, which I've done with my Gluten-Free Support Group. SO much fun and easier than you think to make homemade gluten-free pasta (and you don't even need a pasta machine!)
It's all possible! With a little research, you'll discover that cooking classes aren't off the table due to gluten.
We took a cooking class at Agriturismo Diacceroni with my parents in 2019. Our chef, Francesca, was very strict but so friendly! My Dad and I stayed in the kitchen and made Tuscan bolognese, while Dylan and my Mom worked in the dining room making fresh pasta. Later that evening, we got to eat all our hard work - mine on special gluten-free pasta, cooked separately and safely, just for me!
Enjoy every minute (and every bite!) of your gluten-free food in Italy!
The best piece of advice that I can offer to accompany this gluten-free travel guide to Italy is simple: Enjoy every bite and every MOMENT in this heavenly travel destination for celiacs!
Having the chance to taste authentic gnocchi with pesto, penne with ragu bolognese, fresh mozzarella on a Margherita pizza, or even chocolate gelato - all gluten-free, is such a blessing. Be grateful for this experience and that you are included in such a key element of Italian culture - enjoying food with friends and family.
When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I thought my travels to Italy were over.
I never imagined that in ten years time, I would be back, sampling all of my favorite meals, and enjoying the wonderful tastes, flavors, and mouthwatering dishes of Italy - just without the gluten.
I am grateful that today, celiacs and gluten-free travelers are able to eat gluten-free in Italy - and do so safely. And with this gluten-free travel guide, you can do just that!
Looking for more gluten-free travel posts?
Have you ever been to Italy as a celiac?
What was your experience like?
Let me know in the comments if this gluten-free travel guide to Italy was helpful for you!