Where to Find the Best Gelato in Florence
But this heavenly creation is more than just a food staple; it’s an integral Italian pastime. As always in Italian culture, there’s a thin blurred line between the culinary and the social. And all year round, across the length and breadth of the country, Italy’s streets and piazzas are populated with people taking their evening walks (passeggiate) in the company of good friends and, just as importantly, good gelato.
Nowhere is this tradition more visible than in Florence. And for good reason – a lesser-known fact about the cradle of the renaissance is that it can also pride itself on being the cradle of gelato. Indeed, the creamy stuff of dreams was invented here in the 16th century by the architect, horticulturalist, party-planner, culinary innovator and presumably all-round great guy to have around, Bernardo Buontalenti.
It was after Bernardo Buontalenti that Florence’s best-loved flavor was named; a simple yet sensational treat made just from 60 percent cream, sugar, and egg yokes. But more important than Buontalenti’s flavorsome legacy was his philosophical legacy: identifying simplicity and authenticity as the essential ingredients for the perfect modern gelato.
Simplicity doesn’t mean that Florence is lacking when it comes to variety though. Such is the scope when it comes to selection that, ask any local where you can find the best in the city, and you’ll be hard pressed to find much agreement. What they will all agree on, though, is that not all gelaterie are born equal. And that for every quality artisan gelateria, there’s a tourist trap pushing a product that’s overpriced and artificial.
There’s a certain know-how when it comes to finding a good gelateria in Florence. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid places that display mountains of the stuff – the kind that’s been puffed up and styled to such a degree that it almost resembles Donald Trump’s hair. It’s sure to have either been frozen (which somewhat detracts from the flavor) or to have been packed full of additives (which completely detracts from the flavor).
When looking for fruity gelato, also try to steer clear of places where the color is different from that of the fruit used: if it’s lighter and cloudier, it’s sure to be saturated full of milk. But if you want to ensure your time in Florence is spent in the company of heavenly gelato, the best thing you can do is to take the advice of a seasoned gelato warrior and follow this guide. Believe me, you won’t go wrong!
1. Gelateria della Passera, Via Toscanella 15
You won’t find as much choice as you might in some of the city’s busier gelaterie in the center. They only offer around 20 different flavors at any given time, artistically advertised on a daily-updated blackboard inside. But any shortcoming in terms of choice is more than made up for by the taste.
Their staples are phenomenal: chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, and hazelnut being only a select few. But at this gelateria, it really pays to wander off-piste. Quite possibly the best gelato I’ve ever tasted is their Monna Lisa – a heavenly creation made from cream, apple sauce, orange blossom, cognac soaked raisins and walnuts. And that’s by no means their only standout invention; their divine crema ai 7 profumi – a rich cream, scented with cinnamon, star anise, cloves, orange and lemon zest, and bourbon vanilla – is a sensory experience not to be missed.
Most of their products are made from milk, but if you’re lactose free, fear not! Gelateria della Passera is one of a growing number of gelaterie that offer sorbetti (sorbets) made from nothing but pure, delicious fruit and sugar.
And if you fancy something more substantial beforehand, you can also treat yourself to some amazing cheese and pear ravioli at one of Florence’s best restaurants, 4 Leoni, which sits on the same piazza.
2. Gelateria dei Neri, Via dei Neri 9/10r
It’s easy to spot this gelateria from a distance, either because of the line snaking in from the street outside or the punters spilling out onto it, especially during high season. But don’t let that put you off. It’s for very good reason that Gelateria dei Neri continues to draw crowds of locals and tourists alike, and the service is always reliably fast.
Centrally situated in the Santa Croce district, Gelateria dei Neri remains one of Florence’s oldest and best gelaterie, serving up a tantalizing mix of traditional and pioneering gelatos and sorbets. There’s some space to eat inside, but when the weather’s warm it’s well worth taking a short walk up to the Ponte alle Grazie a few minutes away for its stunning views of the Ponte Vecchio.
I have the fortune (or misfortune, I haven’t decided yet) of living just two minutes away from Gelateria dei Neri. Suffice to say, therefore, I come here a lot – so often, in fact, that I’m probably chiefly responsible for paying the owner’s kids through college.
But with time comes experience, and after a couple of years I can confidently say that their caramello al burro salato (salted butter caramel), combined with the dark chocolate grezzo di modica and cheesecake, is enough to make you want to sell up, say goodbye to loved ones, and move to Florence indefinitely.
3. Il Sorriso, Via Erbosa 70
Il Sorriso, or “the smile” as it translates in English, is located a fair distance from the center, south of the river in the Gavinana district. But it more than merits the journey if you find yourself anywhere the area (taking in the stunning views at Piazzale Michelangelo, for example).
Il Sorriso produces only the freshest, highest quality artisan gelato, and is immensely popular among local Florentines who visit it en masse towards the end of the working day.
A friend who’s made it her life’s work to sample every buontalenti in Florence tells me that Il Sorriso’s is the best. And despite the similarly off-the-beaten-track Badiani being widely accepted as holding that prestigious prize with their patented buontalenti, having tried Il Sorriso’s I can’t help but agree.
But that’s not all they excel in. All it takes is one taste of their biscottino to justify the journey there, not to mention their weirder but equally wonderful pinolo (pine nuts) flavor. And although I’m not normally a huge fan of pistachio, they were adamant that I try theirs, and I regret absolutely nothing.
The portions are also really generous. So much so that on a hot day you’ll be racing to make sure you’re gelato doesn’t spill over your cup and onto your hands, staining them a thick, sticky brown for the rest of the day. I know this because it’s precisely what happened to me when I first went. And it left me looking on enviously at five-year-old Italian children who, at such a tender age, have already mastered an art I never will.
4. Gelateria de’ Medici, Piazza Cesare Beccaria 7r
It’s fair to assume that the Medici would have been proud of the gelato produced at this phenomenal gelateria situated in the eastern outskirts of the city center, just a ten-minute walk from the Basilica of Santa Croce.
Gelateria de’ Medici boasts an impressive variety for an artisan gelateria, offering 44 flavors at any given time. But, unusually for such places in Florence, the variety does nothing to detract from the quality.
Put simply their signature flavor, crema de’ Medici, is to die for. No description can do it justice; you just have to try it. I will say though that it goes really well with their soft, creamy suprema and their cioccolato al gelsomino – a luxurious and quintessentially Florentine combination of chocolate and jasmine that dates back 300 years to the court of Cosimo III. And if you’re feeling a little more experimental, they do an amazing basil-flavored gelato.
The gelateria is pretty much completely unknown to tourists; the only reason I heard about it is because a former Florentine student suggested it. But I can’t recommend it highly enough. And if you don’t want to park yourself on the small grassy area outside, the vibrant surrounding Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood is brilliant to wander around.
5. Gelateria Santa Trinita, Piazza de’ Frescobaldi 8
As the first gelateria I tried in Florence when I was living nearby on the Via Maggio, Gelateria Santa Trinita will always hold a special place for me. It evokes memories of late night excursions undertaken in the name of getting my chocolaty gelato fix, and it evokes memories of overdoing it and then spending the rest of the night feeling slightly, if not sweetly, sick. Because, at 26, I still haven’t learned self-restraint.
Even if the gelato were lacking in flavor, the portions alone would be enough to earn this long-established gelateria a spot on our list. But their gelato is just phenomenal. Santa Trinita is their signature flavor, consisting of vanilla, mascarpone, and nutella, and it’s simply divine. But it’s not the only flavor worth trying.
Despite looking just like concrete, their quasi-oriental flavored sesamo nero (black sesame) is Santa Trinita’s absolute must, even if you only try before you buy. And if you don’t mind sacrificing the aesthetic quality of your gelato for a sensational taste, try it with their dark chocolate cioccolato fondente. Just not if you happen to be wearing all whites, then avoid at all costs.
Of all the gelaterie in Florence, Santa Trinita undoubtedly has the best views. Its panorama of the Ponte Vecchio is unrivalled, and believe me when I say that there are few things better in life than parking yourself on Santa Trinita bridge on a hot summers day and wolfing down a strawberries and cream combo.
6. Cantina del Gelato, Via dei Bardi 31
Just like the gelato they produce, Cantina del Gelato is intimate and understated from the outside but bursting with character from within. Situated just a stone’s throw from the River Arno directly across from the Uffizi Gallery, it’s a must-visit should (or rather when) you find yourself in the area.
Their signature gusto della cantina – a delicious blend of hazelnut, nutella, and candied almonds – is one nut to miss (apologies, couldn’t resist), and is available every day amongst their exquisite if not limited list of more traditional gelato and sorbet flavors: chocolate, buontalenti, pistachio, yoghurt, strawberry, and coffee.
But what really make this place stand out are its fruity flavors – made from the freshest seasonal ingredients – and its more unorthodox combos. Their whiskey and cinnamon flavor is full of spirit (I know, they’re just getting worse), their passion fruit is a perfect blend of sweet and acidic, and if you’re lucky enough to be there while they’re serving their unusual but delectable Gorgonzola and nuts gelato, seize the moment and try it. You won’t regret it.
And if you end up in the Sant’Ambrogio area to the east of the center, they have a second shop on the Borgo La Croce not far from Gelateria de’ Medici. Why not try both, you’re on holiday after all!
Finally, if you’re feeling brave enough, here are some useful Italian phrases for ordering your gelato like a local (and impressing those you’re with):
Vorrei… I’d like…
un conno (KOH-no) a cone
una coppa (KOH-pah) a cup
con uno gusto (GOO-sto) with one flavor
con due / tre / quattro gusti (GOO-stee) with two / three / four flavors
un attimino (a-tee-ME-no) per favore one moment please (while you decide)
grazie mille! Thanks a lot!
Written by: Alex Meddings