Whether you have a weekend, or more days to spend in Florence, you should not miss the bustling food scene, the gastronomic goldmine that is the Mercato Centrale Florence. A few streets down from the Basilica di San Lorenzo and only 900 meters from Santa Maria Novella train station, you can spend a whole morning or afternoon here browsing and tasting all types of delicious foods.
Placed centrally in San Lorenzo Square, you’ll find yourself confronted with a structure of iron and glass. Beloved by locals, the market has now become a popular place to visit for tourists too, who go there to check out the colorful stalls, taste the best dishes of Italian and international cuisine, and just hang out, much like we Italians do!
As suggested by their official website, this is an “ideal marketplace of taste”. Read on for a curated and comprehensive guide to Florence’s most iconic food market.
You should also read my post The Best Food In Florence.
The History Of The Mercato Centrale Florence
During Florence’s reign as the country’s capital (which truth be told didn’t last very long), the San Lorenzo district initiated the construction of a market that would serve its community and be enjoyed by people worldwide. Opened in 1874 but only fully functioning in 1881, when local shops finally moved there, with an impressive horticultural show, its structure was built by Giuseppe Mengoni who also designed the Vittorio Emanuele II gallery in Milan.
The architectural style will remind you of other magnificent European buildings – surely of some you may have seen in Paris. Covered arcades surrounding all four sides of the market are deliberate design choices that are intended to protect shoppers from inclement weather.
For more than a century, part of the indoor space has remained a daily food market, with stalls selling the necessities to stock an Italian fridge and pantry. It has now transformed into a cultural hub, with a gastro food court and events each month.
The Mercato Centrale identity has expanded its reach with time. With the original built in Florence, it has had further openings at Rome’s Termini railway station, in Torino and most recently in Milan.
Finally, let’s see all the things that will make you want to visit.
What To Do In The Mercato Centrale Florence
Shopping in the Mercato di San Lorenzo
You may be confused – why am I suddenly talking about the Mercato di San Lorenzo in a post about the Mercato Centrale? Because that’s its actual name! San Lorenzo Market, as it is also called, is made of two clearly different areas. There’s an indoor / covered area that is the food market (where you can buy groceries but also have all sorts of meals); and an outdoor area in the three streets around it.
The outer area is perfect if you want to buy souvenirs to take home: energetic vendors retail leather goods, clothing, pottery, notebooks and various gadgets. You can go there either before or after having had a bite in the indoor market.
Get your groceries in the Mercato Centrale Florence produce section
Inside on the ground floor, you can find all the Italian staples: fresh fruit and vegetables, gourmet oils, vinegar, cheeses and proteins (all the animal parts you can think of!). From fishmongers to specialty shops, there are so many ingredients, so many produce you can try that it will make your head spin. Many of them offer free samples!
You can take home with you sauces of Italian tradition, both fresh or preserved. Baroni and Perini are one of the many market vendors that sell Italian cheeses: Parmigiano, goat cheese, and buffalo mozzarella, and other cheeses that are local to the region. Here you will learn to understand the Italian way of living, whereby consuming simple, fresh and locally produced food is fundamental to a Mediterranean diet.
The food stalls, passed on from father to son for generations, continue to be frequented by Florentine residents. Spend some time checking out the many stalls, take in all the colors, the aromas, and even the noise. It’s quite an experience!
Just try to head to the food market as early as possible – I recommend around 10:00 am. By 12:00 pm, tourists arrive and the aisles get very busy, making it difficult to explore.
If you are staying in an Airbnb apartment and you want to rustle up an Italian dish, Mercato Centrale’s ground floor is the place to buy your produce. The market also has international shipping services, so you can bring a slice of Mercato Centrale home with you.
Dine in a Gastro-Exhibition Space
In early 2014, Mercato Centrale’s second floor reopened right above the covered area of the Mercato di San Lorenzo after a stylish makeover. Restaurateur Umberto Montano launched this project that would render the marketplace a site where history meets modernity to combine grace with impact.
Go upstairs to find a replica of Michelangelo’s statue of David – just don’t expect the same as the original: this one is very colorful!
Having lunch in the Mercato di San Lorenzo upper floor is quite an experience. Yes, there are many tourists around – but locals go there too as it’s easy to find good, tasty and actually affordable food in a city that’s getting more and more expensive. My friend and had a fantastic, massive portion of freshly prepared pasta, accompanied by a glass of crispy prosecco from the next door place. Just grab a seat in one of the tables in the middle – there’s plenty of space, and nobody minds if you seat next to them.
The locale attracts all long-time and new-age foodies. There are 12 well known artisan food makers. The food on offer is varied – from local Lampredotto, to Sicilian specialties and even Chinese dumplings. For freshly made pasta go Raimondo Mendolia – that’s actually where we ate. Depending on the season (remember, food in Italy is a seasonal affair) you can also try the zucchini flowers and artichokes from Il Fritto e Le Polpette.
For quenching your thirst, you can drink Italian’s much-loved Birra Ichnusa (my favorite, as it’s from Sardinia) or wine from a comprehensive selection at the Enoteca by Chianti Classico. If you’re not in the mood for an alcoholic beverage, you can enjoy a classic espresso from a café bar. The bar and brewery are centrally located in the complex.
If you love bread as much as I do (which is a lot) head to Il Pane e la Pasticceria. It’s a feast of baguettes, focaccias, and the most delicious French pastries all baked by French baker and Bakery World Cup champion David Bedu. Yeah, it’s not strictly Italian but who cares? The choux and the eclairs are delicious and you’ll surely appreciate them. Take your time to browse the wide selection of what’s on offer, and opt to eat in or takeaway.
Il Vegetariano e il Vegano is a place I recommend if you prefer meat-free options and if you observe a plant-base and dairy-free lifestyle. I am lactose intolerant, so I often have vegan options and find them delicious!
If the buzz of the second floor is too much for you to take and would rather go somewhere quieter, go to the third floor where you’ll find a balcony overlooking the center of the market. If there is a lot of wait time, you can choose to order online on Zerofila.
Partake in a cooking class
One of the most fun things to do at Mercato Centrale Florence is attending a cooking class. You can enroll in one organized by the Lorenzo de’ Medici cooking school – they have option for classes in English and Italian. The website of the market explains how the classes work, and what you can expect from them.
There is also a wine school (can’t think of a better subject to study!) and a bookshop on the mezzanine level.
Stay for an evening event or watch a soccer game
The second-floor space is occupied by community events put on a few evenings each month. There are workshops, poetry readings, and themed events around public holidays (for example in October there is a Halloween event for children).
Football matches are broadcasted regularly, so you will not miss out on your favorite Italian team scoring. There are even live music bands, from jazz to funky beats performing as you enjoy a delicious meal. Mercato Centrale has it all!
Mercato Centrale Florence opening hours
The market is open daily from 9:00 am. It closes at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 11:00 pm Sunday to Thursday. It is perfect if you want to dine late like we do here in Italy, as well as have some wine as the sun sets late in the summer.
Yes, there are guided tours that go to the Mercato di San Lorenzo. Actually, the market tours usually finish with a cooking class – so you literally buy the produce you need to prepare a delicious Italian style meal.
I recommend this 5.5-Hour Italian Food Market & Cooking Experience – it’s actually quite long, but I doubt you’ll get bored!
How to get there
Well, it is called centrale for a reason! It is very central, and you will literally bump into it at some point during your exploration of Florence.
The main entrance of the market is on Via dell’Ariento. Buses 1, 6, 11, 12, 14, 17, 20, 22, 23, 36, 37, C2, C4 all stop close to it. If you are walking, you will find it a few minutes from the Cathedral, Piazza San Marco and Fortezza da Basso.
If you are traveling to Florence, these other posts will be useful:
- How To Get From Rome To Florence
- The Best Things To Do In Florence
- The Perfect 3 Days In Florence Itinerary
- How To Get Boboli Gardens Tickets
- How To Get Tickets To Pitti Palace
- How To Get Tickets To The Uffizi Gallery
- How To Get Galleria Dell’Accademia Tickets
- How To Get Palazzo Vecchio Tickets
- A Guide To Visiting Giotto’s Bell Tower
- How To Make The Most Of One Day In Florence
- How To Make The Most Of Florence At Night
- 13 Best Day Trips From Florence
- A Perfect Day Trip From Rome To Florence