After visiting the Uffizi Gallery, admiring the astonishing amount of artwork and Renaissance architecture in Florence and being awestruck by The David at the Academia, for many the next logical step is to go shopping! Drawing on a tradition rich in skilled craftsmanship, Florence is a natural choice for shopping, not only for high fashion, but also for the unique and one of a kind gifts and souvenirs.
Florence is a city of textiles and crafts, especially leather goods, where for centuries, the tanning of hides took place just across the river and today is still an area filled with local craftsmen who create high-quality goods from the finest leather. Before venturing to the artisan workshops, you may want to visit the city’s exclusive shopping district. Via Roma and Via dei Calzaiuoli bridge the iconic Duomo and the main square of Piazza della Signoria. On Via Roma, you will find high-end brands such as Miu Miu, Armani and Luisa via Roma. With a history that dates back to 1930, the latter is today home to the latest designs by luxury labels including Valentino and Fendi on its ground-floor showroom. Nearby, La Rinascente department store has six floors dedicated to fashion and homewares with a roof terrace ideal for a post-shopping drink or a midday espresso.
Since the 14th century, Via de’ Tornabuoni has housed beautiful, stately palaces of noble Florentine families such as Antinori and Strozzi and now you will find boutiques for Gucci, Prada, Pucci, Bvlgari, Valentino and Tod’s, to name a few. The elegant street is perfect for window-shopping. Be sure to stop into the cosmetic store Olfattorio Bar a Parfums at number 6 Via de’ Tornabuoni for a sensual experience and dive into the basement at Palazzo Spini Feroni, home to Ferragamo, for a history lesson in shoemaking since the 1920s.
Extending south from Via de’ Tornabuoni towards the river Arno, Via della Vigna Nuova offers a collection of clothing stores, ateliers, specialty stores, leather workshops and leather outlets.
Borgo Santi Apostoli is a quaint cobbled lane just off Via de’ Tornabuoni and there you will discover bold contemporary jewelry by local legendary designer Angela Caputi. Shoe brand Viajiyu is just across the street and offers a made-to-order philosophy; choose your style, color and trim and they will ship your custom-made pair of shoes anywhere in the world.
While such luxury purchases may be beyond the means of many, if there is one thing that visitors to Florence all set their shopping sights on is leather. The list of places for leather goods run the broad spectrum of luxury boutiques, to private workshops, to street bazaars. Florence and the surrounding area have held a reputation for quality leather production for hundreds of years; in fact by the 14th century, some 1,500 shoemakers were already working in the city. It was during this period that the export of leather goods from the city-state began, establishing the roots of the Tuscan international leather fashion industry that still thrives today.
A century ago, the Florentine leather industry was propelled to new heights. Guccio Gucci, son of a leather artisan, focused on designing fine leather luggage and accessories for the wealthy international clientele visiting Florence. He soon brought the leather goods to international fame and became one of the most recognized names in the fashion world.
Without doubt, a shopping journey to the San Lorenzo Market will be necessary for anyone who needs some retail therapy. The market is located on Via dell Ariento, a short walk north from the Duomo and is actually comprised of two separate markets. The indoor market is known as the Mercato Centrale and is home to all things food. The enormous two-level building was designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, the same architect who designed the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II in Milan.
The outdoor section of San Lorenzo lines the surroundings streets of Mercato Centrale. A visit to the outdoor section will have you filing between hundreds of stalls on either side of the street. Here vendors sell leather goods including bags, belts, wallets, gloves and jackets, plus stalls with pottery and souvenirs. Take your time looking around and make sure you have seen everything before you start spending. There are so many options that you can easily exhaust your budget before you have made it past the first row of vendors.
Even if you have seen every vendor at San Lorenzo, you are still not done. Next door is Mercato Nuovo, nestled under Renaissance-era arches, it brings you in contact with even more leatherwear. Locally, it is called Mercato Porcellino, named for the nearby bronze statue of a wild boar. It is good luck to rub the snout of the statue, but it takes more than luck when shopping the markets, it takes stamina. Fortify yourself with a double espresso at Mercato Centrale and get your negotiation skills ready! You should feel free to haggle; a good many of the products offered are marked up in price just for this purpose. The vendors may seem stiff on their initial prices, but patience pays off. Also note that many of the stall owners have small warehouses close by where they restock every night. If you are buying something that is quite specific, they may bring you back to their warehouse to show off their stock.
There is more shopping on the other side of the Arno River as well, so consider walking across the famous Ponte Vecchio, built in 1345 at the narrowest crossing of the river. In a 1593 decree by Ferdinando I de’ Medici, it required that only goldsmiths and jewelry dealers could operate on the bridge. Today there are 48 pocket-sized shops there and many of the goldsmiths have been in continuous operation for generations.
Once you have crossed the Arno you will be in the district of Oltrarno. For many decades, Florence was home to some of the most famous antique and collectible dealers in the world. You will find these dealers near Piazza Pitti on Via Maggio and Via de’ Fossi. Each of these streets are filled with important antique shops housing valuable artworks and collectibles. As you pass by the wonderful displays in the shop windows, you will be astonished by the museum quality pieces behind the glass.
Also in the Oltrarno district, Via dei Serragli is famous for its artisan workshops of leather goods. Here you can have customer-ordered clothing, from top to bottom, or in this case, from hats to shoes. For the latest contemporary designs, head to Santo Spirito, where unique artisanal pieces will delight all shoppers.
On Via di San Niccolò, the fine jewelry atelier of Alessandro Dari presents a fascinating mixture of museum-quality pieces and baubles that you can afford to take home. You will also find perfume master Sileno Cheloni who has opened his space, inviting shoppers to create their own perfume during a private sitting. Custom-made shoes by Stefano Bemer are also made by artisans within an old church workshop under the shadow of Torre San Niccolò.