Florence for foodies
Merchants at Florence's San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale sell the best of the region’s meats, cheese, fruits, vegetables and oils. (Richard I'Anson/LPI/Getty)
Florence’s magnificent museums offer plenty of food for the soul. But battling through the crowds to see the city’s artistic treasures is not something to tackle on an empty stomach. Thankfully, from market food to Michelin-star restaurants, Florence is full of delicious eateries for every budget.
First, forgo the breakfast buffet and instead have an espresso at the bar. This northern Italian city has no shortage of cafes where you can soak up the atmosphere and fuel up on caffeine, but one of the most popular and authentic is Gilli in the Piazza della Repubblica, where you can sip your coffee underneath chandeliers and frescoes. Just remember: never sit down (it will cost more), pay for your coffee separately (then hand the receipt to the barista) and never have a cappuccino past 11 am (it is just not the way things are done).
Once you get a hunger, those hankering for an affordable taste of authentic local cuisine should head to the Piazza del Mercato Centrale, where merchants at the Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo sell the best of the region’s meats, cheese, fruits, vegetables and oils at reasonable prices from Monday to Saturday. Tucked in the far corner of the market is Da Nerbone, which offers one of the most inexpensive Tuscan meals you can have – a glass of chianti and a bowl of risotto will cost less than five euros. Their boiled beef sandwiches served on crusty rolls are popular with the hordes of international art students, but you are also likely to rub elbows with locals at one of the communal tables.
Another affordable place to grab a quick bite is La Boulangerie Il Rifrullo, a panini and espresso bar just a short walk from the Duomo that serves hearty salads for less than 10 euros. A slightly more expensive option is Ino, located just around the corner from the Uffizi gallery. Smelling of truffles, the sandwich shop offers gourmet paninis made with locally-sourced Tuscan ingredients.
Of course, one of the greatest indulgences in Florence – especially as the weather gets warmer – is its abundance of gelatarias serving cups and cones of mouth-watering gelato. There is always a queue outside the well-known Italian chain GROM, but a less commercial option is Perche No!, a 70-year-old artisanal gelato shop located between the Duomo and the Piazza Dell Signoria. The seasonal flavours include lavender, rose and fresh mint alongside the Italian favourites of pistachio and stracciatella (the Italian version of chocolate chip). The best part? You can add a scoop of tiramisu to your gelato cup.
Come late afternoon, apertivo time begins. A great Italian tradition (and standard at most bars), the apertivo happy hour involves paying a slightly elevated price for your drink in exchange for a heaving buffet of chips, panini, pasta, snacks, olives and salad – almost negating the need to have dinner at all.
But if the apertivo does not fill you up, head over the Arno River to the Oltrarno. Traditionally a working class district, today students and young people can often be found consuming take away from Gusta Pizza on the steps of the church in the Piazza Santo Spirito. For something more sophisticated, Zoe, located along the marked path to the Piazza Michelangelo, serves modern Italian fare including fresh salads, Italian-style hamburgers and grilled vegetables to a local crowd.
For a proper Florentine steak, try All’antico Ristoro Di’Cambi in the San Frediano neighbourhood. An old wine shop, it also offers traditional dishes such as lambredotto (cow’s stomach) and tripe. A short walk away in the same neighbourhood, Osteria Personale is one of the area’s hottest new openings. Here, the chef serves up modern Italian cuisine, such as raw squid ribbons with chickpea cream flavoured with sage. And following in the tradition of Tuscan cuisine, there is no pasta on the menu.
Back over the river and with three Michelin stars, Enoteca Pinchiorri is considered one of the best in Florence for modern Italian cuisine – but book ahead. Dishes include short paccheri pasta with chickpeas, red shrimp and cardamom powder, alongside signature dishes like grilled, marinated partridge with cabbage, celeriac and herbs.
During the summer months, head to one of the city’s rooftop bars to drink in the view. Dress up for the Sky Lounge bar, which perches on the roof of the medieval Consorti Tower, overlooking the Ponte Vecchio to the Tuscan hills. The newly opened, glass-enclosed top-floor Se.Sto lounge bar and restaurant at the Westin Excelsior hotel sits right on the Arno River. With two outdoor terraces, it is the perfect option for a high-end night out.