Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, has a long history of being a center for culture and craft. If there are any doubts, one just needs to look around at the impressive architecture and the abundance of art found in the city's museums, galleries, administrative buildings--and, really, just about anywhere. Less obvious, however, are the artisans whose studios and shops can sometimes get overlooked amidst the big designer stores or hidden behind humble storefronts.
The following list highlights my favorite artisanal shops in Florence, offering everything from leather sandals to shampoo, from silver to marbled paper. Part of being a responsible traveler is to make sure your converted dollars are being used to support the local economy, seeking out souvenirs made by artisans and historical purveyors of artisanal products rather than poor-quality trinkets imported from other countries. Go ahead and shop your heart out at any of these. Not only will you feel good for helping to sustain long-lived traditions, but you will be getting superior products made with skill and passion.
A couple of things to keep in mind: 1) It is common courtesy to say buongiorno (good day) upon entering a shop and grazie, arrivederci when leaving. 2) In general, street numbers in red are for businesses, often followed by an "r" for rosso (red); those in black are residences. Most of the shops below follow this rule.
1. Madova | Leather gloves of your dreams
Since 1919, Madova has been producing buttery-soft leather gloves in a rainbow of colors and styles. The exceptionally expert staff can measure your hand a vista (by sight).
Via de' Guicciardini 1R | Mon - Sat 9:30 am - 7:30 pm | Closed Sun and Sat in August
2. Pampaloni | Inspired silver
Gianfranco Pamaploni is the third-generation of his family to create striking silver trays, cutlery, candelabras, trays, jewelry and much more. With a piece in the collection of New York's MoMA and other creations inspired by drawings from Florence's Uffizi Gallery, you will find something truly special.
Via Porta Rossa 99R | Mon - Sat 10 am - 1:30 pm + 3pm - 7:30 pm | Closed Sun
3. Giulio Giannini & Figlio | Decorative papers and bound books
Marbled paper pencils, printed notebooks, and gorgeous bookplates are just a few beautiful souvenirs (which take up very little of your precious luggage space) that you can get at this family-run shop in business since 1856.
Piazza de'Pitti 37R | Mon - Sat 10 am - 7:30 pm; Sun 11 am - 6:30 pm
4. Bizzarri | Curated collection of spices, essences and elixirs
The dark wooden cabinets and apothecary jars full of spices, essences and extracts that greet you upon entering Bizzarri make you feel like you just walked into more of a 19th century cabinet of curiosities than a shop. Treat yourself to a small glass bottle of your favorite scent that they will prepare for you with a handwritten label.
Via Della Condotta 32 R | Mon - Fri 9:30 am - 1 pm + 4 pm - 7:30 pm; Sat 9:30 am - 1pm | Closed Sun + August
5. Francesco da Firenze | Handmade leather sandals + shoes
This father-and-son-run workshop makes and sells classic leather sandals, shoes, mules for both men and women. You can also make a custom order, which can take a few days for a pair of sandals or over a month for something more elaborate.
Via Santo Spirito 62R | Mon - Sat 9 am - 1pm + 3:30 pm - 7:30 pm | Closed Sun
6. Farmacia SS. Annunziata | Fine skin and hair-care products
In a beautiful vaulted shop, Farmacia SS. Annunziata offers an exclusive line of skin and hair-care products, some made using original 16th century formulas from the pharmacy's founding herbalist and chemist Vincenzo Brunetti. The elegantly-packaged soaps, lotions, shampoos, aftershaves, perfumes, etc. make perfect gifts.
Via dei Servi 80R | Mon - Fri 9 am - 1 pm + 4 pm - 7:30 pm; Sat 9 am - 1 pm | Closed Sun + August
7. Bronzista Baldini | Decorative Bronze Work
Here you can find a vast assortment of beautiful bronze work made by Andrea Fontoni in his workshop in the back of the store, which dates back to 1920. Doorknobs in the shape of pomegranates, ornate keyhole plates, cabinet handles, sconces and other intricate, 16th-century-inspired designs await you.
Via Palazzuolo 101/103R | Mon - Fri 9 am - 1 pm + 3 pm - 7pm | Closed Sat + Sun
8. Antico Setificio Fiorentino | Fabrics fit for royalty
Though you need an appointment, it is well-worth the effort to step foot in one of the last silk manufacturing workshops in the world. Prices can be steep for some services, but the silk scarves, silk-covered boxes, jewelry cases, photo albums, bags and tassels won't break the bank.
Via L. Bartolini 4 | Mon - Fri by appointment +39 055 213861 | Closed Sat, Sun + August
9. Zecchi | Art supplies of the Renaissance
Since 1915, Zecchi has been the main supplier of materials and tools for artists and art restoration work done in Florence, carrying beautifully vibrant dry pigments, paintbrushes, classic artist smocks, as well as their own line of pastels, acrylic paints and pencils.
Via dello Studio 19R | Mon 3:30 pm - 7:30 pm; Tue - Sat 8:30 am - 12:30pm + 3:30 pm - 7:30 pm | Closed Sun + August
10. Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella | Pharmacy of Caterina Medici
As early as 1221, the Dominican fathers of Santa Maria Novella created herbal concoctions from their courtyard garden for the monastery's infirmary. A few centuries later they opened their doors to the public, becoming one of the oldest pharmacy's in the world. A visit to this stunning, frescoed, 17th-century complex, supplying everything from perfumes to anti-fainting elixirs to hand creams, is a Florentine must.
Via della Scala 16 | Mon - Sun 9 am - 8 pm