Arriving at Florence airport, I waited among the other airline passengers at the luggage carousel noticing it was cleverly branded to look like a giant roulette wheel advertising a casino. The luggage tumbled down the red and black stripes as passengers picked up their bags and moved along.
“It’s sort of ironic,” I said to my partner, “a roulette wheel. You might get your luggage, but you might not.”
And as luck would have it, I didn’t. The last bags tumbled down and my partner waited patiently with me as that feeling settled in. The one when you just know that your luggage isn’t joining you for the next part of your holiday.
When you’re a regular traveller, losing luggage is bound to happen once or twice and in most cases, bags are reunited with their owners within a day or two. So with just a small amount of annoyance, we wait in the queue, file a missing luggage report and head to our hotel.
With just the days to enjoy Florence before we departed for a Greek Islands cruise, it was a tight squeeze to get the bag back. We informed the hotel concierge that the airline might be contacting them for delivery over the next few days and were told that with ‘that’ particular airline, don’t bet on it.
Our concierge advised we’d better go shopping as we weren’t likely we’d see our bags in the next three days. So rather than asking directions to the museums to marvel at the Renaissance masterpieces, we promptly asked for directions to the nearest shopping area and sighed a bit of relief that we had travel insurance, and a solid reason for extra shopping! Our concierge whipped out a map, happily telling us that Florence has an abundance of wonderful shopping, as he begins circling a variety of shops, all within a five minute walk from our hotel. We recognised the brands: Armani, Versace, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and politely stop his suggestions asking for something a bit more budget-friendly. While I knew our insurance would understand the situation, I wasn’t convinced they’d be quite that accommodating.
He furrowed his brow in concentration when I asked for something similar to an H&M, stating he was certain there was nothing of the like anywhere nearby. So we departed on a shopping adventure, still hopeful the luggage would arrive prior to our cruise departure.
What we discovered was indeed true; Florence is a shopper’s paradise. You’ll find everything from high-end fashion to hand stitched leather shoes and handbags, jewellery retailers, antique dealers, artwork and collectibles and of course, plenty of food and wine. So no matter what you find yourself shopping for in Florence, here’s where you can find pretty much anything.
Everyday clothing including casual clothes, swimsuits, socks and undies, etc can be found, but they’re a bit tricker to discover. Shops such as H&M and Zara do exist in the busier retail areas that feel more like a CBD and less like picturesque Florence. There are also multi-level department stores such as Coin and Rinascente in a few locations around the city centre but these can be tricky to find in some locations as they’re nestled into older buildings that don’t necessarily look like traditional shopping centres. You’ll find most international brand names and department stores near Via Calimala and the area near Piazza della Repubblica.
There are also shopping areas closer to the train station on the ‘other side of Florence’ or across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in an area called Oltrarno. It’s significantly less touristy and the closer you travel to the train station, the more you’ll find shops selling clothing, travel goods, toiletries and the like.
While you’re on that side of the city, it’s also a great spot to check out the Mercato Centrale, a multi-level market that’s been going strong since 1876, offering up the best range of local and fine produce, handmade gifts and more food than you could possibly imagine eating. True foodies should set aside several hours as there’s plenty to see, and more importantly eat.
The other half of Mercato Centrale or the San Lorenzo Market is outdoors and packed with everything from trinkets to leather goods. It’s more of a ‘cheap and cheerful’ tourist market open Tuesday to Saturday where you’ll find the usual tourist souvenirs or quirky items. This side of the bridge (around the Piazza di Santo Spirito) is also populated with several artisan workshops making handmade jewellery pieces, hand bound leather journals, mosaics made of Murano glass, personalised stationary items and more.
If you are keen to splurge, Italy truly is the home of high end fashion and luxury brands, particularly along Via Tornabuoni. Since the 14th century, this street has been the premier address for Florence’s wealthier families and prices reflect that. Even if you can’t afford to buy, window shopping along this street is not a bad way to spend a bit of time.
Florence in particular is known for leather goods handmade leather items are abundant, especially near Piazza Santa Croce. However, product quality as well as pricing varies significantly from shop to shop, so pay close attention to both to know exactly what you’re buying.
Most grocery stores (larger chain ones are called Conad) will carry a great selection of toiletry items but if you’re looking for something quite special, one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, Officina Profuma Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is located on Via della Scala. Sure it’s a mouthful to say, but this quaint shop, once operated by Dominican monks, sells perfumes and essences dating back hundreds of years. They also carry teas and luxury toiletries that make beautiful gifts.
It’s important to note that store hours can be a bit tricky. Many places offer ‘orario continuato’ or all day shopping, however many shops also close around midday before opening again around 4pm until the early evening.
So while we imagined Florence as viewing the Renaissance masterpieces in the galleries, standing in awe of Michalangelo’s David, eating gelati in the sunshine – sure we did get a bit of that. And while it may not have been the trip we expected, it was an experience we won’t forget.
By the way, the luggage was returned to us, 21 days post-cruise after our arrival home in Australia.
Feature image c/o BMclvr, Flickr
Want to experience the best of Florence? Explore our small group tours in Italy.