Shopping in Florence: for foodies

by nicky.swallow

This walk is designed to inspire the foodies among you, which is not hard in Florence, a food and wine-lovers' dream where opportunities to shop for edible and drinkable goodies lurk on every corner.

Begin in front of the huge 1874 cast iron and glass building that houses the bustling Mercato Centrale (Via dell’Ariento, open Mon-Sat 7.30am-2pm). The Florentines tend to do their shopping first thing in the morning, so the earlier you get there, the more authentic the atmosphere will be. Step inside the main entrance and you will be immediately assailed by the vivid sights, smells and sounds of a busy working market.

The upper level is occupied by colourful ranks of stalls laden with seasonal fruit and veg, fresh herbs, dried pulses and spices and baskets brimming with dried fruit and nuts. Downstairs is more of a challenge and vegetarians may want to turn back when they see the likes of Oreste’s 1920s carved wood and wrought iron offal stall where the marble counter is always piled with lampredotto (cow’s intestines), tripe, zampa (pig’s trotter) and poppa (udder).

Much safer territory is to be found among the deli stalls and grocers. From the main entrance, turn right along the first aisle to the Perini Brothers’ spectacular gastronomia where, under ranks of hanging haunches of prosciutto, and strings of garlic and dried chillies, the glass counters are packed with cheeses, salami, olives, marinated vegetables, pasta sauces and toppings for crostini. There’s always a queue but you’ll be offered a plate of nibbles while you wait and if you want to take your purchases home, they’ll vacuum pack.

Other delis I use regularly include Stefano Conti’s stall (on the other side of the main entrance) selling a marvellous range of balsamic vinegars (aged from 10 to 100 years), olive oils, home-produced honeys, dried porcini mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes and the excellent Baroni's cheese stall just across the aisle.

Time to move on, but I would suggest a quick visit to the Casa del Vino, a wine bar that’s preserved its period carved wood, marble and glass interior, at Via dell’Ariento 16r (055 215609; There’s an excellent selection of wines here from all over Italy and prices are very reasonable. If you need refreshment, there’s a good choice by the glass and a selection of snacks.

A 10-minute walk will bring you to Via Tornabuoni and, at number 64r, Procacci (055 211656), a wonderfully atmospheric old grocer’s shop and bar, which is famous for being a purveyor of truffles. One of these earthy, musty tubers is the ultimate foodie gift; take it to someone you REALLY like or buy one for yourself and shave it over a plate of buttery, egg-y fresh taglierini.

From the stelle (stars) to the stalle (stables) as they say here; next stop is Orazio Nencioni’s tripe stand behind the Loggia del Porcellino in Via Por Santa Maria. Trippa and lampredotto is Florentine fast food, and these stands are popular local stop-offs for a snack or quick lunch. Stalls are laden with a series of bubbling cauldrons of unidentifiable cow’s innards; be brave and try a panino al lampredotto or a dish of Florentine-style tripe, which comes in a spicy tomato sauce.

Hidden away on a backstreet across Piazza della Signoria, ‘Ino (Via de’Georgofili 3-7r; 055 219208; is another good place for foodie gifts. The shelves of this contemporary sandwich bar/deli are laden with jars, tins, bottles and packets of goodies while the fresh food counter displays the makings of a great picnic. Cross the Ponte Vecchio and turn right into Borgo San Jacopo. Oenophiles will love Obsequium (Borgo San Jacopo 17; 055 216849); the selection of wines is by no means the best in town and prices are quite steep but the shop is a treasure trove of drink-themed gadgets and gizmos.

Five minutes walk west from here, in Via Santo Spirito, is another excellent gastronomia where you can also eat in. Elegant Olio e Convivium (Via Santo Spirito 4; 055 2658198; sells all sorts of tempting sweet and savoury goodies and has a fresh food takeaway counter but is particularly well-known for its wide selection of olive oils from all over Italy which you can taste before you buy.

More shopping

Visit my overview on Shopping in Florence or read my other guides: Shopping in Florence: fashion and shoes and Shopping in Florence: the Artisans.

Where to stay

For suggestions on where to stay in Florence, see my Florence Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Florence page.


I moved to Florence in 1981 to play the viola in the opera orchestra; the contract was for 3 months, but inevitably, I stayed much longer. It was the food that got to me first. On a sunny Sunday in December a couple of weeks after I arrived, a colleague took me for a walk in the Chianti hills. In his backpack he had some rustic sausages, a loaf of saltless Tuscan  bread, a head of garlic, a flask of rough red wine and a bottle of his family's grass-green, freshly-pressed olive oil. In the incomparable, timeless setting of the Tuscan countryside, surrounded by vines and olive groves, he lit a fire, grilled the sausages and toasted the bread: he scraped garlic over the toast before dousing it with olive oil. It was all very romanitic, but I was much more interested in the bruschetta than in my colleague; I'd never tasted anything like it and knew that I had to have more, lots more.

Almost 30 years (and many bruschette) down the line, I no longer play music professionally and now divide my time between freelance travel writing and, as a nod to my musical past, running a chamber music festival in southern Tuscany ( Much of my writing has been based around various aspects of life in Florence and Tuscany, but I've also written (or made contributions to) travel guides to Naples, Milan, Venice, Turin and Cape Town for the AA, Frommer's, Time Out, Dorling Kindersley and Insideout. It's a great way to get to know the the heart and soul of a city providing a valid excuse for being very nosey and eating in as many restaurants as possible in a short space of time. I'm the Tuscany and Umbria editor for the Charming Small Hotel guides and the Italy editor of the Hotel Guru website ( Magazine work includes regular contributions to Condé Nast Traveller. 

Downtime is spent with my Florentine photographer partner in our olive grove just outside Florence where our 300 olive trees produce copious amounts of deliciously pungent olio extra vergine di oliva each year.

My Florence

Where I always grab a coffee: My local bar is Caffé Ricchi in Piazza Santo Spirito, one of the lovliest squares in the city. Daniele makes fantastic cappuccino and knows that I like mine steaming hot (not always a given in Italy) and not too milky. Bag a table on the terrace to watch the daily drama of life in the neighbourhood unfold. 

My favourite dining spot: family-run Da Ruggero, one of the few genuine old-style Florentine trattorie still in business.

Best for people watching: Florentine designer Roberto Cavalli's café (Via della Spada 10r), just off chic Via Tornabuoni, comes complete with  trademark faux animal skin pouffes and a never-ending procession of chattering, designer-clad Italians. 

My favourite stroll: The Oltrarno, which hugs the south bank of the river, is a lively, Bohemian neighbourhood characterised by grand palaces, quiet squares, narrow lanes lined with artisan workshops, a lively nightlife and a relative lack of tourists. Start at Porta San Niccolò to the east and work your way west sticking to the backstreets wherever possible.

The most breathtaking view: from the terrace in front of the church of San Miniato al Monte at sunset. You see the city laid out before you as, in the forground, the Arno turns to molten gold in the evening light.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: the nether reaches of the Boboli gardens best accessed through the Annalena entrance on Via Romana. 

Shopaholics beware!: the Tuesday morning market that is laid out along the north bank of the Arno in the Cascine park sells everything from plants and flowers, fresh produce, bargain-basement fashions, imitation Vuitton and Prada and, if you're lucky, the genuine article fresh off the back of a lorry. The Florentine signoras love it.  

Best new attraction: celebrated antiquarian Stefano Bardini bequeathed his extraordinary, eclectic collection of Renaissance and medieval paintings and sculpture, furniture, arms and armour, musical instruments and the decorative arts to the city of Florence on his death in 1922. After a torturously long restoration, grand Palazzo Bardini and its contents are once again open to the public (Piazza dei Mozzi 1). 

Don't leave without....seeing Domenico Ghirlandaio's sublime 1480 Last Supper housed in the refectory of the convent of Ognissanti (Borgo Ognissanti 42).