While Florence is recognized as a place where you can appreciate the work of great artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo, it’s also home to other masters of their craft: artisans.
Along the cobblestone streets of this Tuscan city, there is a variety of local makers, from bookbinders to leather tailors. In most cases, their skills have been passed down through decades of family traditions, and their work is a labor of love.
If you’re interested in discovering more than what you’ll find in museums and churches, and buying souvenirs that go beyond fridge magnets and snow globes, here are the best seven artisan shops in Florence that we’d recommend you visit.
1. La Casa Della Stampa Di Sarubbi Lorenzo
This antique print workshop is located on a tiny pedestrian street right off Pitti Palace. The walls are covered with handmade maps and landscapes of Florence, which look like they belong right in the hands of an old-world explorer. There are also prints of anatomical drawings of animals and sea life, which are based on 17th- and 18th-century documents.
If you want to bring a piece of this time capsule home with you, it’s easy — the pieces aren’t framed, so you can simply roll them up to bring back home or send them to your house by mail via poster tubes.
The artist, Sarubbi Lorenzo, usually restores old prints or paints new ones in the back of the room. He practices an art form called lithography, which involves hand-printing images from a stone or metal plate onto paper with black ink, and then painting the rest of the colors on with watercolor. You can watch him work and even ask him questions as you browse through his art.
Where: Sdrucciolo de’ Pitti, 11, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
2. Alberto Cozzi
If you’re lucky, you’ll walk into this stationery store while the artist, Riccardo Luci, is working on a new piece. He specializes in hand-marbling paper, which results in beautiful, intricate patterns.
The technique starts with preparing a mixture of thickened algae-water. The mixture sits for a few days in a tray, and when it’s ready, Riccardo dips a paintbrush into oil paint and splashes a variety of colors into the liquid. Then, he drags a tool of his choice (like a small comb or straw) through the dotted pigments to create arch-like, feathered, or swirling patterns. Once satisfied with the design, he carefully dips a piece of paper into the liquid to transfer the image onto it. The paper dries on a wooden board for hours before it’s ready to be used.
After watching this process, you’ll look at this store’s paper products, like journals and paper boxes, in a whole new light.
Founded by Alberto Cozzi in 1908, this store is now run by Cozzi’s four great-grandchildren: Riccardo, Massimo, Francesca, and Letizia. The techniques they use have been passed down for generations. In addition to hand-marbling paper, they also practice book-binding and use their great-grandfather’s original tools for stamping their leather books with gold-leaf foil.
Where: Via del Parione, 35, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
3. Officina Profumo — Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella Firenze
One of the world’s oldest pharmacies, the 400-year Officina Profumo is designed more like a museum than a shop. Though its roots are in herbal medicine and healing, the store’s focus today is on perfumes, cosmetics, and soap, and the word pharmacy in its name has become merely symbolic.
The store displays its wares alongside art pieces, 16th- and 17th-century pottery, and beneath intricately designed vaulted ceilings. Individual stations are spaced throughout the grand Sales Hall, which used to be a monastery chapel, with attendants behind them to help find the right scent for you.
Interestingly, there’s no advertising for this store. It’s hard to just walk by and discover it from the streets since it’s located down a long, inconspicuous hallway. Most people hear about this store from word of mouth, which has been effective enough to bring customers from all over the world.
Where: Via della Scala, 16, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
AquaFlor is a perfumery located in a Renaissance palace on a narrow street just around the corner from Florence’s famous cathedral, The Duomo. It’s a place that engages all your senses, with soaps displayed beautifully among the natural materials the scents are made from, and over 1,500 bottles of essences sitting in glass bottles on the wooden shelves.
If you want to do more than just shop, you can sign up for Aquaflor Experiences. You can make your own fragrance in a three-hour session with a professional perfumer for 1,500 euros ($1,684) or take a one-hour tour of the scent laboratory inside the store starting at 750 euros ($842). The store is typically open from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
Where: Borgo Santa Croce, 6, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
5. Osteria All’Antico Vinaio
You might not think of sandwich making as an artisanal craft, but you’ll be convinced once you’ve tried the paninis at Osteria All’ Antico Vinaio. Started by the Mazzanti family in the ‘90s, this small store combines the simple meats and cheeses of Tuscan cuisine with ingredients like truffle cream and spicy eggplant to make delicious and affordable sandwiches.
There are three shops on the same street, but there always seems to be a crowd outside each of them. The ambiance is lively, and you’ll often find the sandwich makers cracking jokes with each other and the customers as they slap a spread of cream onto bread.
The store is typically open from 10:00 AM to 10:30 PM, which means it’s ready to satisfy your sandwich cravings whether it’s for breakfast or a late-night snack.
Where: Via dei Neri, 74 R, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
6. Alessandro Dari Gioielli
Alessandro Dari Gioielli’s workshop is found on a small cobblestone street, just after you cross the Ponte alle Grazie bridge leading from the city center into the Oltrarno neighborhood. Though the artist works inside the space, it was officially recognized by Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage as a museum, and it’s open daily to the public from 10:30 AM to 7:30 PM.
When you step inside, the first thing you’ll notice is all the sounds: chimes and bells, an organ playing music, or the twinkle of a music box. Sometimes, you might even hear welding and firing — the sounds of Alessandro himself creating his next work of art.
With a background in sculpture, jewelry, and music, Alessandro creates decorative objects from gold. But you won’t find your typical earrings or necklaces here — the pieces all feel like the result of a mad scientist meeting a medieval alchemist. One of the pieces, an 18-karat gold sculptural necklace called Unicorn of the Abyss, looks like a unicorn trying to fight its way through an intricate tangle of coral.
Alessandro’s work has been displayed at the Pitti Palace and Fiesole Cathedral, and in 2006, he was nominated as an official artist of the Vatican, making ceremonial chalices for the church. His current collection features themed pieces around space and time and lights and shadows.
Where: Via di S. Niccolò, 115R, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
Of all the leather stores in Florence, Benheart stands out because of the way it combines traditional Italian craftsmanship with cooler, modern styles. Although it was opened quite recently, it has quickly made its mark throughout Italy (and Japan, as well, with its new store opening in Tokyo).
Benheart’s hand-made jackets, shoes, and bags reflect a deep attention to detail, with a richness in color that results from the technique of dying garments after they are assembled.
The story behind the store is also quite heartwarming. Several years ago, the founder Ben (whose full name is Hicham Ben’Mbarek) was struggling with a heart condition. He received a heart transplant, and during his recovery, he decided to partner with his friend Matteo to realize his dream of creating a leather goods store. To this day, the floors of the store are covered with children’s drawings, which were created by his kids and their classmates while he was in the hospital.
Where: Multiple locations throughout Florence