Here's what to buy in Florence: leather, fashion, shoes, marbleized paper, hand-embroidered linens, artisan craft goods, Tuscan wines, jewelry, pietre dure (known also as "Florentine mosaic," inlaid semiprecious stones), and antiques.
Art & Antiques
The antiques business is clustered where the artisans have always lived and worked: the Oltrarno. Dealers' shops line Via Maggio, but the entire district is packed with venerable chunks of the past. On "this side" of the river, Borgo Ognissanti has the highest concentration of aging furniture and art collectibles.
The large showrooms of Gallori-Turchi, Via Maggio 14r (tel. 055-282-279), specialize in furnishings, paintings, and weaponry (swords, lances, and pistols) from the 16th to 18th centuries. They also offer majolica and ceramic pieces and scads of hand-carved and inlaid wood. Nearby you'll find Guido Bartolozzi Antichità, Via Maggio 18r (tel. 055-215-602), under family management since 1887. This old-fashioned store concentrates on the 16th to 19th centuries. They might be offering a 17th-century Gobelin tapestry, an inlaid stone tabletop, or wood intarsia dressers from the 1700s. The quality is impeccable. For the serious collector who wants his or her own piece of Florence's cultural heritage, the refined showroom at Gianfranco Luzzetti, Borgo San Jacopo 28A (tel. 055-211-232), offers artwork and furniture from the 1400s to 1600s. They have a gorgeous collection of 16th-century Deruta ceramics and majolica, canvases by the likes of Vignale and Bilivert, and even a glazed terra-cotta altarpiece from the hand of Andrea della Robbia. Bring sacks of money.
You may never in your life have been inside anywhere quite like the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella, Via della Scala 16 (tel. 055-216-276), an old-style pharmacy, herbalist, bookstore, and even museum, opened in 1612 and still part of the Dominican convent attached to the church. In an atmosphere of subdued reverence, choose your favorite scents, soaps, remedies, and essences for your body, mind, child, or even pet dog.
Even the smaller bookshops in Florence these days have at least a few shelves devoted to English-language books. Feltrinelli International, Via Cavour 12 (tel. 055-219-524; www.lafeltrinelli.it), is one of the few of any size. For English-only reading, hit Paperback Exchange, Via delle Oche 4r (tel. 055-293-460; www.papex.it), the best for books in English, specializing in titles relating in some way to Florence and Italy. Much of their stock is used, and you can't beat the prices locally -- Italy is generally an expensive place to buy books. G. Vitello, Via dei Servi 94-96r (tel. 055-292-445), sells coffee table-worthy books on art and all things Italian at up to half off the price you'd pay in a regular bookstore.
La Botteghina del Ceramista, Via Guelfa 5r (tel. 055-287-367), is about the most reasonably priced city outlet for artisan ceramics. Daniela Viegi del Fiume deals in hand-painted ceramics from the best traditional artisans working in nearby Montelupo and the famed Umbrian ceramics center of Deruta.
If you can't make it to the Chianti workshop of Giuseppe Rampini, visit his classy showroom at Borgo Ognissanti 32-34 (right at Piazza Ognissanti; tel. 055-219-720; www.rampiniceramics.com).
For big-name production-line china and tablewares, visit Richard Ginori, Via Giulio Cesare 50 (tel. 055-420-49; www.richardginori1735.com). Colorful rims and whimsical designs fill this warehouselike salesroom of the firm that has sold Florence's finest china since 1735.
Florentine traditional "mosaics" are actually works of inlaid semiprecious stone called pietre dure. The creations of Ilio de Filippis and his army of apprentices at Pitti Mosaici, Piazza Pitti 23-24r (tel. 055-282-127; www.pittimosaici.com), reflect traditional techniques and artistry. Ilio's father was a pietre dure artist, and his grandfather was a sculptor. (The family workshop was founded in 1900.) There's another store at Via Guicciardini 80r.
Professore Agostino Dessi and his daughter Alice preside over the traditional Venetian Carnevale and Commedia dell'arte-style maskmaking at Alice Atelier, Via Faenza 72r (tel. 055-287-370; www.alicemasks.com). All masks are made using papier-mâché, leather, and ceramics according to 17th-century techniques, hand-painted with tempera, touched up with gold and silver leaf, and polished with French lacquer.
Florence's central branch of the national chain Coin, Via Calzaiuoli 56r (tel. 055-280-531; www.coin.it), is a stylish multifloored display case for upper-middle-class fashions -- a vaguely chic Macy's. La Rinascente, Piazza della Repubblica 2 (tel. 055-219-113; www.rinascente.it), is another of Italy's finer department stores. This six-floor store serves as an outlet for top designers (Versace, Zegna, Ferré, and so on). It also has areas set up to sell traditional Tuscan goods (terra-cotta, alabaster, olive oils, and wrought iron).
Fashion & Clothing
Although Italian fashion reached its pinnacle in the 1950s and 1960s, the country has remained at the forefront of both high (Armani, Gucci, Pucci, Ferragamo, just to name a few) and popular (evidenced by the spectacular success of Benetton in the 1980s) fashion. Florence plays second fiddle to Milan in today's Italian fashion scene, but the city has its own cadre of well-respected names, plus, of course, outlet shops of all the hot designers. The epicenter of the city's high fashion is Via de' Tornabuoni. Serious clothes shoppers should also consider visiting one of the outlet malls clustered around the city. Best of the bunch is The Mall (www.themall.it), a half-hour south-east of Florence in Leccio Reggello. Units include Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney, Gucci, Armani, Dior and about 20 others -- with steep discounts off last season's threads for women, men, and kids. With one day's notice, you can pre-book a shuttle bus to collect you from any Florence hotel (tel. 055-865-7775 or email email@example.com; 25€ per person), or take the train from Santa Maria Novella to Rignano sull'Arno and then a short cab ride.
For Men & Women -- Luisa Via Roma, Via Roma 19-21r (tel. 055-906-4116; www.luisaviaroma.com), is a famed gathering place for all the top names in avant-garde fashion, including Jean Paul Gaultier, Dolce & Gabbana, and Julien Macdonald. Men can hand over their wallets upstairs, and women can empty their purses on the ground floor. There's also an outlet store at Via Silvio Pellico 9 (tel. 055-217-826) and a professional online shopping setup.
Marchese Emilio Pucci's ancestors have been a powerful banking and mercantile family since the Renaissance, and in 1950 Marchese suddenly turned designer and shocked the fashion world with his flowing silks in outlandish colors. His women's silk clothing remained the rage into the early 1970s and had a renaissance in the 1990s club scene. Drop by the flagship store at Via dei Tornabuoni 20-22r (tel. 055-265-8082; www.pucci.com).
Then there's Giorgio Armani, Via Tornabuoni 48r (tel. 055-219-041; www.giorgioarmani.com), Florence's outlet for Italy's top fashion guru. The service and store are surprisingly not stratospherically chilly. The Emporio Armani branch at Piazza Strozzi 16r (tel. 055-284-315; www.emporioarmani.com) is the outlet for the more affordable designs. The merchandise is slightly inferior in workmanship and quality but considerably less expensive. The rest of the Via dei' Tornabuoni is fleshed out with the mainstays of Italian style, notably Salvatore Ferragamo (tel. 055-292-123; www.salvatoreferragamo.it) at 4r.
But the biggest name to walk out of Florence onto the international catwalk has to be Gucci, with the world flagship store at Via de' Tornabuoni 73r (tel. 055-264-011; www.gucci.com). This is where this Florentine fashion empire was started by saddlemaker Guccio Gucci in 1904. You enter through a phalanx of their trademark purses and bags. Forget the cheesy knockoffs sold on street corners around the world; the stock here is elegant.
Florence has caught the vintage fashion bug, and on the two floors of Pitti Vintage, Borgo degli Albizi 72r (tel. 055-234-4115; www.pittivintage.com), you'll find classic threads, stylish men's shirts and ties, and accessories for women such as silk scarves, 1980s bags, and haute couture dresses. Prices are fair and the welcome is friendly.
For Women -- Loretta Caponi, Piazza Antinori 4r (tel. 055-213-668; www.lorettacaponi.com), is world famous for her high-quality intimates and embroidered linens made the old-fashioned way. Under Belle Epoque ceilings are nightgowns of all types, as well as underwear, bed, and bath linens of the highest caliber. There's also a section for the little ones in the back. There's another branch at Via delle Belle Donne 28r (tel. 055-211-074).
If you've got the financial clout of a small country, the place to buy your baubles is the Ponte Vecchio, famous for its gold- and silversmiths since the 16th century. The craftsmanship at the stalls is usually of a high quality, and so they seem to compete instead over who can charge the highest prices. Aprosio, Via Santo Spirito 11 (tel. 055-290-534; www.aprosio.it), is a glass and crystal jewelry designer without equal in the city. The store is arranged like a temple to creativity. Semiprecious stones are crafted into elaborate necklaces, classy earrings, and simple brooches at Tharros Bijoux, Via Condotta 2r (corner of Via de' Cerchi; tel. 055-284-126; www.tharros.com).
Florence is also a good place to root around for interesting costume jewelry. The audacious bijoux at Angela Caputi, Via Santo Spirito 58r (tel. 055-212-972; www.angelacaputi.com), aren't for the timid. Much of Angela's costume jewelry is at least oversize and bold and often pushes the flamboyance envelope. Tradition goes out the window at Falsi Gioelli, Via dei Tavolini 5r (tel. 055-293-296). Prepare to be assaulted by primary colors the minute you step into this funky "false" jeweler, where everything from hairbands and bracelets to necklaces and earrings in bright shades of acrylic is handmade on the premises. Items are inexpensive. There's another branch at Via de' Ginori 34r (tel. 055-287-237).
Leather, Accessories & Shoes
It has always been a buyers' market for leather in Florence, but these days it's tough to sort out the jackets mass-produced for tourists from the high-quality artisan work. The most fun you'll have leather shopping, without a doubt, is at the outdoor stalls of the San Lorenzo market, even if the market is rife with mediocre goods. Never accept the first price they throw at you; sometimes you can bargain them down to almost half the original asking price.
Our favorite spot, where we get to watch the artisans at work before buying, is at the Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School) of Santa Croce. It's around the back of the church: Enter through Santa Croce itself (right transept) or on Via San Giuseppe 5r (tel. 055-244-533; www.scuoladelcuoio.com). The very-fine-quality soft-leather merchandise isn't cheap.
In the imposing 13th-century Palazzo Spini-Feroni lording over Piazza Santa Trínita are the flagship store, museum, and home of Ferragamo, Via de' Tornabuoni 4-14r (tel. 055-292-123; www.ferragamo.it). Salvatore Ferragamo was the man who shod Hollywood in its most glamorous age and raised footwear to an art form. View some of Ferragamo's funkier shoes in the second-floor museum or slip on a pair yourself in the showrooms downstairs -- if you think your wallet can take the shock.
If you prefer to buy right from the cobbler, head across the Arno to Calzature Francesco da Firenze, Via Santo Spirito 62r (tel. 055-212-428), where handmade shoes run 120€ to 300€, and you can see the cobbler tap-tapping away on soles in the back room.
For more made-in-Florence accessorizing, head to Madova Gloves, Via Guicciardini 1r (tel. 055-239-6526; www.madova.com). Gloves are all they sell in this tiny shop, and they do them well. The grandchildren of the workshop's founders do a brisk business in brightly colored, supple leather gloves lined with cashmere and silk.
Somewhere in the center of the mercantile whirlwind of Florence hides the indoor Mercato Centrale food market (btw. Via dell'Ariento and Piazza del Mercato Centrale). Downstairs you'll find meat, cheese, dry goods, tripe, baccalà (dried salt cod), and a good cheap eatery, Nerbone. The upstairs is devoted to fruits and veggies -- a cornucopia of fat eggplants, long yellow peppers, artichokes, and peperoncini bunched into brilliant red bursts. In all, you couldn't ask for better picnic pickings. The market is open Monday through Saturday from 7am to 2pm (until 5pm Sat Sept-June).
As if two names weren't enough, the Mercato Nuovo, or della Paglia (Straw Market), is also known as Mercato del Porcellino or Mercato del Cinghiale because of the bronze wild boar statue at one end, cast by Pietro Tacca in the 17th century after an antique original now in the Uffizi. Pet the well-polished porcellino's snout to ensure a return trip to Florence. Most of the straw stalls disappeared by the 1960s. These days, the loggia hawks mainly tourist trinkets. Beware of pickpockets. It's open daily.
For more of a local flavor, head east beyond Santa Croce to find the daily flea market, the Mercato delle Pulci ★, in Piazza de' Ciompi, which specializes in a bit of everything, from costume jewelry, ornaments, and vintage buttons to silver, antique bric-a-brac, and yesteryear postcards. The nearby food market where Florentines shop (Mon-Sat), the Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio, is also home to one of the city's best cheap lunch spots, Da Rocco.
Florence's Famous Street Market -- The queen of Florentine markets is the daily San Lorenzo market, filling Piazza San Lorenzo, Via del Canto de' Nelli, Via dell'Ariento, and other side streets around the basilica. It's a wildly chaotic and colorful array of hundreds of stands hawking T-shirts, silk scarves, marbleized paper, souvenirs, and lots and lots of leather. However, almost all of the buyers here are tourists, and you'll find plenty of lemons among the occasional deals on quality goods. By all means have a browse -- San Lorenzo in full swing is quite a sight -- but it's not worth committing to half a day of picking through it all and fending off sales pitches. Note: Haggling is accepted, and even expected, at most of Florence's outdoor markets (but don't try it in stores). It's also an offense (punishable with a hefty fine) to knowingly buy counterfeit goods. And, yes, buying a "Rolex" for 20€ does count as knowingly.
Paper & Journals
Il Papiro, Via dei Tavolini 13r (tel. 055-213-823; www.ilpapirofirenze.it), is a small Tuscan chain of jewel box-size shops specializing in marbled and patterned paper, as plain gift-wrap sheets or as a covering for everything from pens and journals to letter openers or full desk sets. There are further branches at Via Cavour 49r (tel. 055-215-262), Piazza del Duomo 24r (tel. 055-281-628), Lungarno Acciaiuoli 42r (tel. 055-264-5613), and Via Porta Rossa 76r (tel. 055-216-593).
Scriptorium, Via dei Pucci 4 at Palazzo Pucci (tel. 055-211-804), is our favorite journal supplier, and one of the few fine stationery stores in Florence with little marbleized paper. Come here for hand-sewn notebooks, journals, and photo albums made of thick paper -- all bound in soft leather covers. With classical music or Gregorian chant playing in the background, you can also shop for calligraphy and signet wax sealing tools.
Bottega delle Stampe, Borgo San Jacopo 56r (tel. 055-295-396; www.bottegadellestampe.com), carries prints, historic maps, and engravings from the 1500s through the Liberty-style and Art Deco prints of the 1930s. You might dig out some Dürers here, or original Piranesis and plates from Diderot's 1700 Encyclopedia. There are also Florence views from the 16th to 19th centuries.
Since 1977, Florence's branch of national chain La Città del Sole, Via dello Studio 23r (tel. 055-277-6372; www.cittadelsole.it), has sold old-fashioned wooden brain teasers, construction kits, hand puppets, 3-D puzzles, science kits, and books. There's nary a video game in sight.
Wine & Liquors
The front room of Enoteca Alessi, Via dell'Oche 27-31r (tel. 055-214-966; www.enotecaalessi.it), sells boxed chocolates and other sweets, but in the back and in the large cellars, you can find everything from prime vintages to a simple-quality table wine.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.