If you’re looking for a food adventure during a trip to Florence you’re in luck because the city of art is home to one of the coolest food markets in Italy. The Mercato Centrale is a two story indoor food market that is every foodie’s dream. Surrounding the food market is an open air fiera with shop keepers peddling typical Florentine wares like leather goods, and in the middle you’ll find a 19th century building that contains the Mercato Centrale. Both markets together make up the San Lorenzo market.
The architecture of the Mercato Centrale might look somewhat familiar because it was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, the architect who created the famous Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II shopping mall of Milano. The style of the Mercato Centrale is similar to the Galleria, albeit less grandiose, with glass ceilings and cast iron details. The design is beautiful, letting in tons of natural light and adding a majestic quality to something as simple as a market. Although it was originally built in the late 1800’s when Florence was the capital of Italy, the space was recently updated to house the Mercato Centrale in an effort to revitalize the San Lorenzo neighborhood.
Part of the lure of the Mercato Centrale is the idea of forwarding food as an experience. The chefs and vendors are there not only to sell food but to engage the public, answering questions and giving tips in a way that creates a conversation around Italian cuisine. Italians take pride in their food, eager to share their love for it and to make it accessible to everyone. If you’re the type of person looking to eat your way through Italy, (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?) a visit to the Mercato Centrale is a must.
The ground floor of the market is where you’ll find the vendors. A dizzying array of shops surrounds you on this floor. There are butchers selling meats and salumi, fresh seafood vendors, stalls with beautiful, colorful displays of fruits and vegetables, and my favorite – the formaggi or cheese stalls. You’ll find spices, salts blends, oils, fancy vinegar, dried herbs and mushrooms of wonderful variety, sundried tomatoes, honey…there are too many goods to name. You’ll even find candy stalls here.
The market is a great place to purchase fresh, quality foods. Get local meats and cheeses for quick lunches during your stay in Florence, or buy packaged items to take home as gifts. Even if you don’t intend to buy something, feel free to ask questions – the shop keepers are very friendly and informative. After all, learning about the foods you see is part of the fun of visiting a food market! Several of the vendors have tasting areas set up where you can sample goods such as olive oils, balsamic vinegar and cheeses. Keep an eye out for these tasting stations and take advantage of them!
Once you’ve spent some time enjoying the vendor stalls on the ground floor there’s no doubt you will have worked up an appetite. Time to visit the first floor where you’ll find a gourmet food court! Each stall is a feast for the eyes, offering freshly made artisan food. There’s a stall dedicated for each food type – one for meat, seafood, cheese, bread, pasta, pizza, etc..each serving Italian specialties or items specific to a region of Italy. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s even a wine tasting corner and a beer stand!
My favorite stall (aside from the cheese!) is the pastry stall, serving desserts of all kinds so you can top off your meal with something sweet. More of an ice cream person? Don’t worry, there’s a gelato stall! And don’t forget to stop at the coffee bar to have a mandatory post meal espresso.
The food court stalls encircle a main seating area where you can enjoy your food. Once seated, a waiter or waitress will come by to ask if you want a beverage, available to purchase directly from the staff on a per drink basis. There’s also a mezzanine floor where you can eat restaurant style from a menu, but be aware you can’t get all of the stall items this way.
The ground floor vendor market is open from 7am to 2pm. Our recommendation is to go in the morning, giving yourself plenty of time to browse and shop from the vendor stalls on the ground floor before making your way to the first floor just in time for lunch. The food court is open from 10am to midnight and can get quite busy during lunch. Expect a crowd and be excited to immerse yourself in the commotion!