Shopping in Florence is a historian’s delight. Artisans practice crafts perfected over centuries. You can stop by their workshops and see them in action. At numerous markets throughout the city, vendors honor their city’s past selling at outdoor stalls as merchants did long ago. Stores that have been around for ages offer timeless treasures. Shopkeepers sell marbled paper, ceramics, leather, and mosaics—products for which the city is famous. Florentine artists set up shop in piazzas throughout town. Savvy shoppers may purchase a work of art from the next Michelangelo.
With stores and markets integrated into the fabric of the old city, shopping is easy to fit into a day of sightseeing at Florence attractions. Although I’m not a big fan of shopping in general, I find that it is a great thing to do in Florence; it allows me to intermingle with locals, see skilled artisans at work, and participate in the culture and heritage of the city. Here are my recommendations for your next Florentine shopping excursion.
Florence’s markets tickle my fancy. Florentines offer up an array of merchandise at any of the numerous markets throughout the city. Some bazaars are known for their food, while others specialize in antiques. Merchants sell trinkets to take home as souvenirs, as well as the everyday essentials needed by locals.
The open-air San Lorenzo market is located a few minute’s walk from the Duomo in the heart of historic Florence. Vendors sell touristy tchotchkes and specialize in the quintessential products of the region. For food and wine, step into the indoor market—Mercato Centrale (Central Market), which is located in a large building nearby. Historic Food Markets in Florence
Near Palazzo Vecchio under a historic loggia, the Mercato Nuovo (New Market) features souvenirs of the same variety as San Lorenzo. But it has something special…a bronze boar fountain. Legend has it that if you rub the pig’s nose it will bring you fortune. I’ve rubbed il Porcellino over and over while hubby has even hugged it…sadly, we are still waiting. I’m not giving up though—I’ve seen the power of Italian legends, as every time I’ve thrown a coin in Rome’s Trevi Fountain I have indeed returned.
Mercato Sant’Ambrogio, located not too far from the church of Santa Croce, has prices and goods more suited to locals. 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 main building 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 held up for a couple of years. At the indoor food market, 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.
I was very lucky the day I visited Santo Spirito’s market and found their monthly antique and flea market going on. There is generally a local market with products to meet local resident’s needs, but on the second Sunday treasures abound. I rifled through collections of ancient coins, stared at fine artwork, and delighted over old items of all different styles.
There are many good leather shops around town. Some specialize in leather jackets, some in gloves (look at Madova Gloves on via Guicciardini), and many feature purses. My favorite experiences though are when I can see products being made, so I like going to the Leather School (Scuola del Cuoio) at Basilica di Santa Croce. Behind the church, artisans make magic out of bolts of leather. Upstairs are rooms filled with leather goods. Their purses are exquisite and remind one of some of the designs from the finest fashion houses. I purchased a leather and silver bracelet which adorns my wrist quite frequently.
Across the Arno River in the Oltrarno area, there are many more workshops. Although I can’t yet afford a major piece, I enjoy seeing the mosaic furniture at Pitti Mosaici (across from Pitti Palace). Using the technique of pietre dure, little stones are fitted like a puzzle and laid into beautiful, colorful shapes. Their mosaic-topped tables are phenomenal (and expensive…beauty isn’t cheap). Even if you can’t afford to take one home, you can watch artisans at work in the studio and marvel at the skill needed to create such intricate works of art. In the Centro Storico area, Scarpelli Mosaici has some neat pieces.
For beauty products, I love Santa Maria Novella—the oldest pharmacy around. This historic apothecary located in gorgeous Renaissance digs has fabulous soaps, creams, and waters. You can read more about it and my favorite perfume store, AquaFlor, in my post, “Italian Beauty.” For beauty steals that are easier on the pocketbook, you’ll want to stop by Biffoli on Piazza del Duomo. Here you’ll find soaps, face creams, lotions, perfumes, and other beauty products at a fraction of the price of some of the costlier brands. Another favorite apothecary is Antica Erboristeria San Simone.
Florence’s artisans craft their products using age-old techniques. Some workshops are open to the public and you can watch skilled crafters practice their trade. At bookbinder and paper maker Alberto Cozzi, the company still uses the practices from when they opened in 1908 to handcraft their gorgeous marbled paper. Picking up stationary here will be a treat. Another place for writers or papyrophiles is Signum. There are a couple locations around Florence; they specialize in many various materials for scribes. Their journals are lovely and their globes are pretty neat, too.
The goldsmiths on Ponte Vecchio have actual shops, but something about that old bridge reminds me of a market. Musicians play, itinerant salespeople try to coerce tourists into buying their object of the day, and artists sell prints of the city and its most famous sites. The prices for jewelry here are a little inflated, but the ambience is priceless. There are jewelers like Alessandro Dari in the San Niccolo area who are doing really unique designs. Pestelli on Borgo SS Apostoli has some neat pieces at reasonable prices. Stores like Mio Concept Store, which features various types of art and goods from Florentine artists, also offer some really great jewelry.
For haute couture and some of the finest stores around, stroll along via Tornabuoni. This is the place to buy high fashion. It’s also an area I would trust for leather. You’ll pay more than from a street market, but you’ll find the quality of leather goods the city is known for. Other good shopping streets are via della Vigna Nuova and via della Spada in the Centro Storico and Borgo San Jacopo in the Oltrarno.
For modern art, head over to Clet Abraham’s studio in San Niccolo. There you can buy stickers and such of his famous street sign art that is featured all over Florence. For prints and etchings, visit L’Ippogrifo in the Oltrarno. While you’re on that side of the Arno, you may want to stop by Anita Russo’s studio to see her collection of ceramics or stop by Studio Galleria Romanelli for marble sculptures ranging from small to grand.
You’ll find it quite easy to buy mementos of your Tuscan trip in Florence and just as easy to see craftsmen plying their trade. In the Oltrarno, it’s quite easy to peer through a window and see an artist restoring a painting or tooling a fine leather box. In the Centro Storico, you can peek in the window of the Duomo’s workshop and see fine marble statues being lovingly repaired.
Shops, markets, and itinerant merchants abound in Florence. Whether you’re crossing the Ponte Vecchio, visiting a landmark, or hanging out in a piazza, shopping opportunities are rife. Remember that prices are often soft at markets, so don’t be afraid to propose a little lower price. Also, I always double-check that my Italian treasures are actually made in Italy. I hope you have fun shopping in Florence and witnessing vendors pay homage to the city’s history. If you’ve been, post a comment and share your favorite shopping place or most treasured purchase. I would love to hear about great places to go next time!
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