Mercato Centrale, also referred to as San Lorenzo Market or Mercato di San Lorenzo, is Florence's historic food and produce market. It has long been a destination for Florentines and tourists alike to delight in the covered market's fresh, colorful offerings of fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses and other food staples, mostly from the Tuscany region. Thanks to a recent redevelopment of its top floor, it's now a foodie destination for lovers of street food and gourmet cuisine.
For visitors to Florence, the market is a must-see destination and a great place to appreciate the energy, chaos, and spectacle of an authentic Italian market. Here, we share the history of the market and the highlights of what to see, including where to find the makings for a gourmet picnic and which food stalls to hit on the top-floor food hall.
Mercato Centrale Location and Hours
The market is equidistant from Santa Maria Novella train station and San Lorenzo Church. The main entrance is on Via dell'Ariento. The food hall is open daily (except Christmas) from 8 a.m. to midnight. The downstairs market is open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. See the Mercato Centrale website for more information.
Mercato Centrale is in a 1870s building designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, the same architect who designed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan's famous shopping arcade. In Florence, he created a beautiful building with a soaring glass and wrought-iron ceiling and airy interiors. Covered arcades surround all four sides of the market, originally intended to protect shoppers and vendors from inclement weather.
For more than a century, the indoor space was a bustling daily food market. Typically, market stalls would (and to an extent still do) specialize in one food type. There would be vendors who only sold cheese, bread, vegetables or salami, as well as fishmongers and butchers. Florentine shoppers, mostly women, could move from stall to stall and purchase whatever they needed for the day's cooking.
But shopping habits changed in the late 20th century with the emergence of grocery stores and supermarkets that allowed shoppers to find everything in one place. As well, the tourist boom in Florence and the 21st-century advent of Airbnb and similar vacation rentals meant that there were fewer Florentines to actually shop in the market. The market survived but without the level of commerce it once enjoyed.
Then in 2014, Mercato Centrale was born on the top floor of the indoor market. Managed by the same group that runs Mercato Centrale in Rome, the gourmet food hall is a private enterprise which leases food stalls with full kitchens to premium purveyors of Italian and international cuisine. The upstairs development breathed life back into the downstairs market, as tourists and locals started returning.
Today, the Mercato di San Lorenzo and Mercato Centrale form one of the top places in Florence to taste local specialties, shop for foodstuffs and souvenirs to take home, or grocery shop for a DIY Italian feast. Mercato Centrale is also one of the best places in Florence to have lunch—everyone in your party can choose something different to eat and sit together at long tables. It's also a place to find a quick, affordable meal during a long day of sightseeing.
Ground Floor Highlights
Make sure you have lots of memory and battery juice in your phone or camera for taking photos of the colorfully displayed produce, salamis, and cheeses on this floor. Some of the top market vendors and purveyors include:
- Baroni: Parmigiano, goat cheese, sheep cheese, buffalo mozzarella, and just about every other kind of cheese, plus wine and cured meats
- Perini: High-quality salami, prosciutto, and other cold-cuts, plus gourmet cheese and panini (sandwiches) to go
- Da Nerbone: Bollito (boiled meat) sandwiches, tripe stew, and wine by the glass
- Enoteca-Salumeria Lombardi: Overflowing tagliere (cutting boards) of cured meats, cheese, olives and more
- Pany da Lory: Crusty, flavorful sweet and salty baked specialties of the Alto Adige region
First Floor Highlights
Remember that in Italy, the first floor is what people in the U.S. would consider the second floor. If you're eating with other people, it makes sense for one person to hold a table while the others go order what they want to eat. Lunchtime, in particular, is very busy here, so try to arrive before 12:30 p.m. to snag a table and avoid a long wait. Keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times. Table service is available at the restaurant, Tosca. Here are some of the best spots to hit in the Mercato Centrale food hall.
- Savini Tartufi (Truffles): If you carve the pungent truffles, you'll be in fungi heaven. Try the tagiolini topped with shaved black truffles.
- La Toraia di Enrico Lagorio: Satisfy that hamburger craving with one of Lagorio's massive burgers, made with Tuscan-bred Chianina beef. Or try his rotisserie chicken at the next stall.
- La Pasta Fresca di Raimondo Mendolia: Pick your pasta and pick your sauce for a mix-and-match option that's great for kids (and other picky eaters).
- La Frittura di Valeria Rugi: Head here for delectable fried tidbits, including must-try fried sage and fried polenta.
- Il Gelato di Cristian Beduschi. For gelato made from ingredients sourced all over the world, plus novelty ice cream bars and confections.
San Lorenzo Outdoor Market
Mercato Centrale is part of the larger San Lorenzo Market, an outdoor market for leather goods, souvenirs, clothing, and gadgets, with a few street food stands mixed in. The market weaves around three sides of the indoor market, and is almost always packed with tourists. Keep a firm hand on your valuables here. If you plan on making a purchase like a leather jacket or purse, take your time picking something out—there is a wide range of styles, price points, and quality here. One rule endures: If you buy cheap, you will get cheaply made goods that probably weren't made in Italy.
A Market Tour
For an immersive look of the indoor and outdoor sections on Mercato Centrale and the artisans of San Lorenzo Market, consider a market tour with Judy Witts Francini, a San Francisco native who for decades has led market and cooking tours in and around Florence.