Tourists to the Renaissance capital might well believe that visiting art galleries and museums is the only way to achieve the ultimate cultural experience. But from markets stuffed full with delectable local produce to boutique jewelery outfits creating striking wares of Murano glass, shopping delivers a different kind of insight into local life and the city’s arts and design heritage.
Below our experts share their guide to the best shopping in Florence… and for further inspiration, see our guides dedicated to the city’s best hotels, restaurants, attractions, bars and nightlife, plus how to spend a weekend in Florence.
Duomo, Piazza della Signoria and San Marco
Angela Caputi’s costume jewelery business is inspired by the glamor days of 1940s and 1950s Hollywood. She can still be found in her flagship studio-shop in the Oltrarno (Via Santo Spirito 58r) working on an ever-evolving collection of exuberant, chunky, unique pieces in locally-produced resin, plastic and crystal that are made in-house by. a team of artisans. Some (the ‘tortoiseshell’ collection, for example) are timeless classics while others are more whacky and of the moment; a Christmas collection, for example, will feature glowing red, green and gold beads while summertime may bring ocean and coral-inspired designs.
The Florence outlet of Oscar Farinetti’s gastro-fest Eataly lies a few steps north of the Duomo, three floors stuffed with the very best that Italy has to offer by way of food and drink. Drool over freshly-baked breads, pizza and focaccias, some 150 varieties of ‘salumi’ (salame, prosciutto etc.), 200 different cheeses, olive oils and aged aceto balsamico from Modena, not to mention a wine shop stocking around 700 labels, cookery books and kitchen gadgets you must have. Hungry? There’s a café and several different restaurants, and there’s also a regular program of wine tastings, cookery lessons and pizza-making for children.
Santa Croce and the East
Scuola del Cuoio
A 13th-century church is a rather unexpected location for a leather school, but this Florentine institution was founded just after the Second World War by the Franciscan monks and the local Gori family with the purpose of teaching war orphans a trade. Although students of the school now come from all over the world, they are still taught the centuries-old trade of leather work by established master artisans, and visitors can watch them at work. And the results – finely-fashioned and delightfully colored bags, jackets, and accessories at competitive prices.
Master perfumer Sileno Cheloni’s only outlet is housed in the vaulted erstwhile stables of an imposing 15th-century palazzo just off Piazza Santa Croce. Cheloni creates his fragrances in a laboratory at the back of the shop while his scented candles, body care range and home fragrances – all beautifully laid out on antique cabites and tables – are sold in two elegant adjoining rooms. A blend of up to 1,000 different raw materials go into each of his bespoke perfumes, but for something truly unique, you can book an appointment to make a personalized scent – a truly fascinating process.
Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio
Gallery: Magical fairytale cabins we would love to stay in (Lovemoney)
The San Lorenzo market is a bit of a tourist souk, but the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio has an authentic, neighborhood feel to it. Florentines come here to do their daily shopping, grab a coffee, and chew over the local politics. Inside are meat, poultry and fish stalls, delis selling a tempting selection of cheeses, prosciutto, salad and other goodies while outside, stalls groaning with fresh fruit and vegetables rub shoulders with vendors selling clothing, household goods and flowers. For a budget lunch after your shopping, join the queue for a formica-topped table at Rocco’s tiny trattoria inside the market building.
Address: Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti Opening hours: Mon-Sat, 7am-2pm
Santa Maria Novella, San Lorenzo and the west
Officina Profumeria Santa Maria Novella
It may be a global brand these days, but Florence is home to the original Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, a splendid 13th-century frescoed chapel that houses one of the oldest herbal pharmacies in the world. A heady mix of spices, earthy herbs and fragrant flowers hits you as you enter the main shop where mahogany and glass cabinets are overflowing with ‘the best soaps in the world’ (the rose is particularly wonderful), lotions and potions of all kinds plus. more eclectic herbal remedies such as ‘anti-hysteria’ smelling salts. A great spot for presents!
All that glitters is not gold, but in the case of Ornella Aprosio’s bead jewelery, it’s no less covetable for that. Everything you see in this gorgeous shop is made up of miniscule beads, either Murano glass or Bohemian crystal, following a tradition that dates back to the latter 16th century. Aprosio’s designs (bracelets, earrings, necklaces, brooches, belts and evening bags) range from classic pieces (a pair of simple sphere earrings or a single bangle) to some extraordinarily intricate designs such as a shimmering beetle complete with beaded antennae and wings.
While the ground floor of the 19th-century glass and iron structure that is Florence’s main produce market houses the stalls where the locals do their shopping, the first floor has been converted into a spectacular food hall showcasing the very best food and drink that Italy has. to offer. Come here to gorge on freshly made mozzarella, fresh pasta with truffles, Sicilian arancini, and Neapolitan pizza, while sipping on craft beers, Tuscan wines and frothy cappuccinos. This is a great evening venue too with regular live music and other fun events to attend.
Price: Free entrance; food and drinks £-££
The tradition of paper marbling and book binding in Florence dates back centuries, but it is still a thriving art in the city, and these unique papers and leather-bound volumes make great presents. Canadian Erin Ciulla is one of a new generation of artisans; she works within the context of a traditional artisan bottega, occupying the ground floor of a grand palazzo, producing exquisite diaries, albums and picture frames using centuries-old techniques. She also has an eye for more eccentric designs and modern materials using wood, elastic and even the inner tubes of bicycles.
If you’re looking to treat yourself to the perfect pair of gloves, this diminutive, no-frills little shop just south of the Ponte Vecchio is the place to head for. Wooden shelves and slim drawers are teeming with packets of enticing-looking handwear; if what you want isn’t in the shop, someone will slip out the back to the on-site factory to see if they can find it there. The exquisitely-fashioned, comfortable gloves for both men and women come in a vast variety of colors and styles in the softest leather imaginable, with some lined in fine wool, silk or cashmere.
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