So hopefully you’ve read part 1 of my ultimate guide to Florence, which went a bit wild in setting out my absolute best top tips for sights in this amazing city. By now you’re shattered right? Time for wine, right? Thankfully, as well as being full of mind blowing historic monuments and works of art, Florence also knows how to feed your appetite. Here’s where to do it…
There’s no doubt that Florence is a city for tourists. In the historic centre there is a bit of a dearth of good quality wine bars, probably because the focus here is on slightly overpriced pizza and pasta in a reasonably high pressure sales situation. For a much more relaxed outing, head to the south side of the Arno river. Here, only minutes away from the centre, you’ll find a much more friendly and down to earth offering of bars and enotece.
Located on Via di Santo Spirito just by the Ponte Alla Carraia, Il Santino is a tiny wine bar-cum-charcuterie that offers an outstanding selection of wine and cicchetti. A disclaimer – the food offering is distinctly meat and fish focused, with a good dash of smelly cheese thrown in for good measure, so if you’re after a genuine vegan experience then this is not the place for you. However here you can get an excellent bottle of wine for less than €20, though best to arrive early to guarantee yourself one of the few tables that are available. From around 5pm at the weekend this place gets pretty busy, though it’s definitely on the relaxed rather than raucous side; think hipsters with dogs rather than drunken tourists.
Le Volpi e L’Uva
Le Volpi e L‘Uva holds a very special place in my heart as it was where we had our first glass of wine after arriving in the city. It’s tucked away in a small square just by the southern end of the Ponte Vecchio so feels pretty calm and out the way, even though there are rarely many empty tables.
Like Il Santino, it’s on the small side, though has a lovely little terrace out the front in summer; this is a wonderful location to enjoy a glass (or bottle, who am I kidding) of Vernaccia and enjoy the late afternoon warmth. There is an excellent menu of wines by the glass too, probably the most comprehensive in the city, all at excellent prices, and cicchetti are also available, including some vegan options such as mushrooms on toast and olives.
If you’re looking for a good night, then you can’t go wrong by starting at Piazza Santo Spirito in Oltrarno as the square and the surrounding streets are packed with bars and restaurants.
My favourite is Volume Bar, located on the north east corner of the square. The bar has a cute retro vibe and does a mean Aperol Spritz, though is absolutely worth a visit just to experience the wonder that is “Aperitivo”, a uniquely Florentine experience where you basically turn up to a bar and get fed for free.
Grab a table or a spot at the bar in the early evening and order some drinks and within minutes you’ll have a pretty hefty sized platter of snacks placed down in front of you. Even better, Aperitivo is usually entirely vegan, consisting of olives, breads, crisps and various tips and pickles. Granted, it’s not enough to fill you up, but I’m assuming by this point you’re a few glasses of wine in so can be an absolute life saver.
For a city famous for its wine, there’s a growing craft beer movement in Florence. For the best selection of local and regional beers, head to King Grizzly which is wonderfully located just minutes south of the Duomo. It’s pretty dark and dingy, but if you’re a fan of nu-metal (and who isn’t) and excellent and often surprising beer from Italian breweries such as L’Olmaia, Etnia, CRAK & Vetra then this is the place for you.
Italy has one of the highest vegan populations (as a percentage of total population) in Europe, so it’s no surprise that a university city such as Florence has such a good range of meat free dining options. As such, there is absolutely no chance of vegans going hungry here; aside from the options below, most decent sized supermarkets will have a pretty good vegan section, and if all else fails, just head to the nearest pizzeria and order a pizza marinara (tomato, garlic & oregano) or a vegetarian pizza “senza formaggio”. Worst case scenario, you’ll eat a heck of a lot of pizza, which sounds like a pretty good time to me.
Gustapizza is the king of Florentine pizza joints, and Guy Fieri agrees. It’s not a fancy joint in any way shape or form – pizzas are served on cardboard plates with a pack of plastic cutlery and the wine comes in plastic cups – but this is where you go for the best sourdough pizza in the city. There’s pretty much always a queue but service is speedy so it moves quickly, and anyway it’s definitely worth the wait. The pizza marinara is spectacular; a chewy base with a good chunky crust, with tomato sauce absolutely doused in garlic and olive oil, and all for only €5 (no cards – this place is cash only!). If there are no seats available then get your pizza to go and eat al fresco in nearby Piazza Santo Spirito.
Veg & Veg at Mercato Centrale
If you’re self catering then a trip to Mercato Centrale is an absolute requirement, to pick up excellent fresh local produce – if you’re lucky and in town in autumn then be prepared to be delighted by the amazing mushrooms on offer. Beyond the traditional ground floor market there’s an amazing food court up on the first floor, but this is not your standard shopping centre food court, this is gourmet! There’s an amazing selection of super high quality offerings up here, including a bar and a chef school.
Florentine cuisine is pretty much based on meat, fish and cheese however, so there are very few vegan friendly options here, with the exception of Veg & Veg. This stall is located in the far corner of the food court from the main entrance and serves a neat little selection of vegetarian burgers and soups, all of which can usually be made vegan with some minor modifications and substitutions. As far as veggie burgers go, it’s pretty standard stuff, though there’s a really good focus on fresh ingredients rather than a generic patty & sauces.
Top marks go to the sautéed potatoes, which are deliciously greasy and are the absolute perfect hangover food (yes speaking from experience but whatever)!
Berbere is a very hip pizzeria out at the western edge of Oltrarno that serves excellent sourdough pizzas. There’s a pretty decent extensive menu with a really nice selection of toppings so you can customise your marinara with a little more than the grilled vegetables you’ll get pretty everywhere else. There’s also a pretty decent drinks menu, including some good local craft beers.
i’Tosto is a tiny little toastie shop mere metres away from the Duomo. It’s a bit of a strange concept, but there is a vegan option (grilled vegetables and soy cheese) on the menu. Nothing mind-blowing here, but the excellent location means it’s a great option for a quick pitstop in between sight seeing.
5 e Cinque
When we stayed at Soprarno Suites we walked through this very pretty little piazza every day. We’d always pay particularly attention to a small restaurant in the corner – 5 e Cinque – which always seemed to be closed but had a wonderful looking vegetarian menu based around traditional Italian and Tuscan fare.
Thankfully the hotel managed to book us a table (the hours aren’t that weird, I guess we just had bad timing) and boy was it everything we had hoped for. 5 e Cinque has the feeling of a village trattoria and the incredibly friendly owner was on hand to help with everything we needed, including translating the menu, letting us know which options were vegan, and even having a light hearted discussion about British politics. We honestly felt like part of the family here, and the food was absolutely delicious.
Brac is the type of restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place in East London, so of course we felt very much at home here. Technically it’s also a bookshop which means you eat your dinner in a room lined with bookshelves, which to be honest made me a little nervous (we drank lots of red wine) but there’s a really nice cool vibe here.
The menu (all vegetarian with some vegan options clearly labelled) is based around a “plata unita” concept, which means you pick 1 salad, 1 pasta/rice dish and 1 entree, all of which comes to you together on a single plate. It’s a wonderful way to try a good mix of food, and the addition of the salad made me feel a bit more healthy so a win-win. The food is delicious, super fresh and tasty, and a big thumbs up in particular to the seitan masala which might be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. There’s also a good wine and beer selection and vegan chocolate and pear cake for pudding.
and finally…Vegan Gelato!
Would a guide to eating in Italy be complete without a section on ice cream? No way! In Florence you can’t turn a corner without seeing a gelato shop, and thankfully many outlets across the city have at least one vegan/soya option. My favourite (I’ve tried I lot) are Edoardo, located just behind the Duomo, which does great naturally flavoured ice creams, and Perche No?, which is gloriously vintage and has probably the best vegan chocolate and hazelnut gelati in the city.
So there you go (or “ecco!” to be molto autentico) – my ultimate guide to pretty much everything you can do in Florence. Of course, this list is no way exhaustive and I’d be really excited to hear your top tips and feedback. It’s also worth mentioning that Florence is located in one of the most beautiful (and gastronomic) regions in Europe and if you are lucky enough to find yourself in this part of the world with a bit of time to spare then I can’t suggest enough that you venture outside the city and discover some of what the region has to offer; from the vineyards of Chianti to the hill towns of Tuscany and mine-scarred marble mountains of the Apuan Alps.