The best gelato in Florence comes with a side of history. Rumour has it that the gelato was invented here, likely in the 16th century courtesy of Catherine de’ Medici, whose illustrious family ruled the city for centuries.
The first flavoured ice cream might or might not have been the product of a culinary contest but, either way, Bernardo Buontalenti, a popular architect and alchemist, has been anointed one of the forefathers of the treat given the creamy concoction he came up with to please Tuscany’s Grand Duke.
Today, you can find gelato shops all over town while tackling the best things to do and visiting top-notch museums. But word to the wise: don’t be fooled by garish, colourful mounds of mass-produced sugar cream you’ll see in the main historical centre squares and shopping streets. Instead, walk a little further afield to discover destinations truly dedicated to the mastering of the art of gelato using only fresh, raw ingredients. Here, you’ll be able to ask questions and be part of passionate discussions about one of the country’s most renowned food offerings.
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Best gelato in Florence
Gelato has always been a family affair for Antonio, the passionate owner of La Sorbettiera in Piazza Tasso, a quiet square in the beloved San Frediano neighbourhood that mostly attracts locals, a meaningful choice for the owner. He got his start apprenticing in a gelato shop owned by his brother and sister-in-law at the age of 16 in Germany before continuing the sweet journey in Florence with wife Elisa. Their tiny outpost nestled in the square is an accumulation of their curious and worldly passion, a constant research into new flavours and combinations in 16 daily fresh offerings, all the while adhering to using the best raw materials money can buy. You’ll find a delicious blend of classic favourites such as Bronte pistachio, Antonio’s mouth-watering signature salted caramel and a rich “Catrame” 75% chocolate, also available in sorbet form. Also expect concoctions inspired by the couple’s two children and more exotic combinations: think turmeric and almond, gorgonzola and pine nuts.
A worthy detour from Mercato Centrale and the busy San Lorenzo neighbourhood is the bright and inviting artisanal gelateria run by young (newlywed) couple Alberto and Julia alongside Alberto’s sister Debora. Wanting to be part of the San Lorenzo neighbourhood’s own recent type of “renaissance,” the trio shops at the local market for fresh ingredients each morning to create the 16 daily flavours that bring together a lovely blend of locals and students. We love the cremino with hazelnut and Asian-inspired black milk tea and black sesame but, of course, you’ll also find the much sought-after classics such as tiramisu, pistachio and a chocolate concoction made with Chianti wine.
This historical, tiny gelateria with a funny name that translates to “why not” has been in operation since 1939, smack-dab in the centre of the city between Piazza Signoria and Piazza della Repubblica. There’s plenty on offer, from a selection of semifreddi (mousse-like desserts) to vegan-friendly gelato options and some made with soy milk. Although there is clearly much to appreciate, we’re quite partial to anything made with ginger, honey, sesame and the seasonal fruit flavours.
A well-respected institution in Florence since 2008, Carapina is the brainchild of Simone Bonini, who was tired of seeing the same old-school methods when it comes to presenting gelato. His gelateria – by Piazza Beccaria in the pretty, residential area of Piazza Oberdan – takes on a more modern and fresh appeal with elegant interiors and videos showcasing his gelato-making process. Of course, there are interesting flavours that always surprise within his 16 daily varieties. For those who are a tad more adventurous, the cheese-inspired gusti, made with pecorino, mozzarella di bufala and gorgonzola is the way to go. Lovers of the traditional can opt for the nocciola, fior di latte or dark chocolate fondente.
Next time you end up seeing a soccer game at the Florence stadium, make sure to pop by one Badiani, one of the city’s historic gelaterie. Now run by the Pomposi family, you’ll find this elegant, wood-lined space home for gelato, yes, but also fresh pastries and elaborate cakes, all of which are fiercely beloved by those residing in the area. Go for the signature “Buontalenti” trademark flavour, a cream concoction whose recipe is a closely-guarded secret.
With two locations in residential areas of the city – Statuto (now easily reachable by tram) and Piazza Beccaria – the old-school Gelateria De’ Medici is where many locals come for a sweet treat after lunch or dinner and often after-school runs. Although the staff respects tradition, it doesn’t shy away from more interesting combinations like gorgonzola and pear. Also ask about the eleborate cakes that can be personalized for any celebration.
A stone’s throw from the Gavinana area is the lovely old-school Gelateria Caminia, a family-owned business serving locals in the area since 1987 and purposely outside of the historical ring of the centre. The shop has been taken over by passionate young daughter Lavini, who first started serving scoops at the age of 16. She’s dedicated to keeping quality ingredients and natural flavours front and center and you’ll find more or less 36 varieties plus ice cream cakes made and the iconic crema caminia, a blend of cream, egg, sugar and milk, the most requested flavour.
Towards Sant’Ambrogio and just off Piazza Ciompi, Procopio is a friendly, shining star for those who are craving creamier flavours, especially the signature “follia del Propocopio.” You’ll also want to indulge on great takes of the classics, think lemon, pistachio and cremino with optional toppings and a truly decent selection of seasonal granite (we always go for the watermelon), plus options for frappe drinks.
Loosely translated as “the cellar of gelato,” we say skip the overpriced, mass-produced gelato on Ponte Vecchio and head over to this small shop close to the Arno serving natural, artisan-made ice cream in a lovely, fresh space. There’s always something new and exotic to try among the more typical flavours of Tahiti vanilla, pistachio, coffee and dark chocolate: go for the vin santo and cantuccini (a cool take on Tuscany’s sweet dessert wine served with almond cookies). We also love all of the delicious fruit flavours (ask for Acai berry if it’s on offer and tumeric with fig) that can also be made into smoothies.
It must be a divine gift from Michelangelo’s David (who is just down the road) for there to be a great gelato shop for close to 20 years near the Accademia gallery dedicated to well-made Sicilian flavours that always impress. We tend to go for the Bronte pistachio, dried fig, Malaga (a delicate rum-scented cream with soaked raisins) and seasonal fresh fruit sorbet. You also can’t miss the icy granite as the weather gets a little warmer, especially the mandarin and almond versions. Another hot tip? The staff serves cannoli that are filled on the spot.
A tiny gelateria always with a line, this destination takes its name from the square it calls home, one of the most charming places to stop, sit and enjoy life for a moment in the Oltrarno (the “other side of the river” neighbourhood). Owner Cinzia created a special slice of heaven on this corner of the city, where she offers high-quality, artisanal favourites such as coffee and pistachio and one of the loveliest mint/milk combinations you’ll ever taste. More exotic choices include the popular “profumi d’oriente,” made with fresh ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron and lemon. Also find milk-free sorbet options that are no less delicious than all the rest.
Undoubtedly one of the most historic and well-known gelaterie in the city, almost everyone who has ever visited Florence has been to Vivoli. The venue’s origins date back to 1926, making it a survivor of the war and the great Arno flood of 1966. The neon sign and old-school interiors (where, yes, there are seats) are still mainstays, as is the staff’s dedication to making the gelato daily along with a selection of fresh pastries and semifreddo desserts. It tends to get crowded and it’s a little pricier than you might expect but, for those who appreciate historic consistency, this place still churns out great treats. We love the amarena, lime and mint, saffron and the very Florentine zabaione (similar to eggnog).