As my regular readers know, I love traveling to historical spots that allow me to sample good food. Eat to live or live to eat? I’m definitely in the latter category. Engaging with a culture through its culinary delights is a great way to get to know a place and have an immersive travel experience.
Since I rented an apartment for this last holiday in Florence, I had access to a kitchen which meant that I could do more than just pick up goods for a picnic at the markets—I could really shop. No kitchen? Don’t worry—the two historic food markets I’m highlighting in this article offer plenty to taste and see for those staying in a hotel, too.
Mercato Centrale (also called Central Market and Mercato di San Lorenzo)
This industrial-looking building (shown above) dates from the 1870s when Florence was still Italy’s capital. Arches surround the exterior; the interior is spacious and bright. On the ground floor are various stalls featuring butchers, fruit and vegetable grocers, spice vendors, pasta purveyors, fish mongers, olive oil merchants, and much more. Foodie favorite—Da Nerbone—sells Florence’s famed lampredotto sandwiches. Lampredotto is made from the fourth stomach of the cow—it’s supposed to be a real delicacy—I would guess it’s at least three times better than the first stomach.
New restaurants meet old infrastructure upstairs. A soaring glass ceiling over the second-story of the market has been re-purposed as a modern food court. Brick oven pizzas, steaks, fish, salumi tastings, arancini, Chianti, meatball sandwiches, cannelonis, and lots of other food kiosks serve up various regional and Italian foods. There are plenty of seats, so big groups can pick & choose the type of meal that best suits them and then meet in the middle of the room. I love picking up a few different things—an arancino here, a meatball in a soft pillow of dough there, a pastry for dessert—and washing them down with a glass of fine wine.
Foodstuffs make great souvenirs and gifts to take home, but if you would like non-perishable items there is a street market outside Mercato Centrale that offers leather, journals, knick-knacks, and decorative items.
Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, located not too far from the church of Santa Croce, has decent prices and goods more suited suited to the tastes of locals than those of tourists. This means it offers up an authentic Florentine shopping experience. Much less famous than Mercato Centrale, Sant’Ambrogio market has its own charms. Surrounding the exterior of the market is a flea market where you can purchase leather goods, lingerie, jewelry, and home goods for very reasonable prices. We bought my husband a leather belt for 5€ that was of fairly good quality. The food market offers the same types of stalls of that of Mercato Centrale. Here you can pick up slices of salty prosciutto for a delicious panino and perfectly ripe fruit to accompany your sandwich.
Operating since 1873, Sant’Ambrogio Market is located in a happening neighborhood. There are lots of great eateries nearby, including famed Trattoria Cibreo. Additionally, there is an antiques/flea market in a nearby lot, Mercatino delle Puci, where various vendors offer historic house decorations, ephemera, prints, books, and much more.
For both markets, remember to bring a reusable bag, as you’re sure to find items to bring back with you. Happy shopping and buon appetito!