My Guide to Markets in Florence
If you don’t know already, I’m a major foodie. Feeding myself the best possible meal at all times is just about all I can think about. Therefore, when I go on vacation, relaxing tends to be difficult. I drag my (thankfully also market-loving man) all around our new destination in an attempt to uncover the best affordable gastronomy of that place.
I lived in Florence for a year when I was 19. Smitten, I was. How could you not be? Wandering the cobbled streets with paints and brushes in your bag as a young adult trying to find yourself is as free as you’re ever going to be. See some street portraits in Florence I took that year. When I was invited to Prato by CCT SeeCity last month I couldn’t help but make a quick 24 hour stop in Florence.
Now, shame on you if you can only find 24 hours for this Renaissance city. You’ll need at least 4 days to go to a few of its museums. You’ll see many of the real artworks you see on postcards, in textbooks and on posters all around the world. The David- that lovely man, is also worth it. Perhaps I’ll write a must-do in Florence guide. But for now, let’s talk markets in Florence.
These are the largest and most frequent markets you’d want to visit in Florence. How many can you fit in during your stay? Have you ever eaten at any of these? Let me know in the comments below.
Mercato Sant’ Ambrogio Market – The Local’s Market
This is a true market where you’ll find good prices and only locals shopping. You may be one of only a few foreigners. Dare to have a naughty glass of wine before midday. You’ll get some respect. If you go here regularly, you’ll find that the prices will drop for you.
Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti 44/r, 50122, Florence, Italy (across from the market)
Marco, the owner of this tiny panini shop insists on having a glass of wine with your sandwich. Here, you’ll find delicious panini served on vintage plates for 4 euros. You can play pin the tail on the wild boar, rather than the donkey as well as try all manner of curious meats…such as donkey.
The menu changes every day and, if you don’t get here early enough, you might find yourself standing on the street while you eat. However, if you’re looking for traditional quality ingredients as well as interesting combinations, this is your absolute best choice.
Stracotto di Ciuco coi Broccoli (donkey and broccoli)
Aristi coi Ciliegihi (pork loin with spicy cherry tomatoes)
Piazza Ciompi – The Flea Market
Very close to Sant’Ambrogio market, this piazza holds the flea market of Florence. It’s quiet and the stalls have been picked through. The best is to go on the last Sunday of the month where the market expands to fill the square as well as the surrounding streets. Particularly fun if you’re a fan of vintage postcards like me.
Open 9am-7pm Monday to Saturday
Mercato Centrale – Rustic and Chic
The most visited market of Florence.
The Ground Level
As soon as you walk into this market you’ll find vegetable producers, butchers, fish mongers, wine merchants as well as rustic eateries. You’ll find gourmet souvenirs such as dried porcini mushrooms from the nearby hills, sun-dried tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. If you’re flying home, don’t be afraid to ask for your purchases to be shrink wrapped.
Where to Eat
There’s a take out pasta place that’s fantastic. They have tasters to entice you. I tasted melt in your mouth ricotta and lemon ravioli. I noticed an American woman asking for the vendor to mix 2 sauces together for her pasta. What you have to appreciate about the real Italian cooking, is that it’s simple. The beauty is the simplicity. Just pesto on your pasta? Just olive oil and clams? Perfection. It’s hard for us North Americans to embrace this as our version of Italian cooking is add as many ingredients as possible so that in fact, you don’t really taste anything anymore. It depends of course on what you’re used to. I believe to really know good food, you have to train your palate.
If you’re an admirer of rustic eating, try da Nerbone. There, you can find Tuscan specialties such as peppery beef stew (peposo) and grilled artichokes accompanied with large carafes of red chianti wine. You’ll notice the overflowing pile of those typical chianti bottles wrapped in straw behind the stall. I couldn’t help myself from ordering numerous plates in an effort to try all the specialties. This is rustic simple deliciousness. Even the soup smelled amazing. You’ll eat at communal tables and be able to take in the lively atmosphere.
What we ate:
Braciole alla Livornese
Lampredotto a Porri
Peposo con le Olive
The Upper Level – A Gourmet Food Court
Ascending the stairs of Mercato Centrale you’ll be affronted by a completely different kind of market. The upper level is where the vegetable stalls once congregated. Since I’ve been back to Florence, it has been transformed into a chic street food market. Think Eataly if you live in New York. A lot of Florentines don’t like this food court. It’s lost the traditional rustic quality of a market. Some people just can’t understand drinking wine out of beautiful wine glasses while eating off paper plates. Someone actually complained to me about this.
At first, I too was unimpressed. The new design is almost too perfect. The congruous style of the handwritten menus and cute drawings is as chic hipster as you can get. I would expect a food court like this to be in London or Berlin.
As a matter of fact, this market is just unfair. There’s pizza piled high with artichokes, buffalo mozzarella topped with shavings of black truffle, tresses of tomatoes and garlic, prosciutto arranged like flowers, cute hand-drawn fish charts and wooden crates heavy with flour-encrusted bread. You’ll see foccaccina con pomodoro with a single succulent olive placed on top, barrels full of Chianti-stained corks, apricots sunk into crispy brioche, fresh pasta of brown, black, gold and olive green arranged into looped segments. There’s even a lampredotto bar. Should I go on? If this is “street food chic” then I’ll have it.
We spent an indulgent afternoon sipping generous chianti and sampling food. If you like the overall modernised look of this market or not, there’s one thing that can’t be disputed… The food is delicious. I had the best plate of pasta during our entire stay in Italy. Whether it’s barbecued squid or a tripe sandwich, you can find a delicious and affordable meal here.
7 days a week
San Lorenzo market – Leather Goods market in Florence
The San Lorenzo market actually comprises the interior food market of Mercato Centrale as well as the surrounding leather merchants. These outdoor stalls run from the Church of San Lorenzo along Via Ariento all the way to Via Nazionale.
You’ll find beautiful leather bags, purses, books, and souvenirs. If you fall in love with something, be prepared to barter.
Open 9am to 7pm Tuesday to Saturday.
Piazza della Repubblica – a great find
We quite literally stumbled upon this market at dusk. Everyone I asked seemed to have no idea as to when it was on but said instead it was something for the holidays. However, this was at the end of October. Therefore, I provide you with a few photos here in the hope that you’ll also be as lucky!
In any case, this gorgeous piazza is worth visiting if not for the beautiful buildings, then for the people watching. It’s here that you’ll find groups of retired men reminiscing and women with black curly hair and pointed high heels walking with purpose.
Mercato Porcellino (Mercato Nuovo) – For a Souvenir
This market has sold many different types of products throughout the centuries. It was the center of town and hence where all the action and gossip occurred. In the Renaissance, it was a silk and gold market for the wealthy.
It’s called Porcellino market for its bronze statue of a wild boar. Apparently, it’s good luck if you rub his nose. A tourist must while in Florence.
Today, the market is a leather and souvenir market. I found the products to be slightly different and more original than the San Lorenzo market. Also, the smaller size is a lot less overwhelming.
Open 9am-7pm Tuesday to Sunday.
Mercato Natale – Piazza Santa Croce Christmas Market
When I was living in Florence as a student I found this market to be magical. After living for some time in a city that is so very Italian, this German Christmas market is a breath of fresh air. Also, we all know that nobody does Christmas better than the Germans.
Every year, stallholders from the German town of Heidelberg occupy the Piazza Santa Croce to start the holiday season. You can find handmade wooden toys, German specialty products and of course German sausages and sauerkraut. I recommend going in the evening and sipping on mulled wine as you wander the square. Lovely.
30 Nov -18 Dec