The best gelato in Florence

Festival del Gelato is a gelateria in central Florence
Festival del Gelato is a gelateria in central Florence. (Phot by kim)

Where to get the best ice cream go in Florence

Florence makes some of the world's best ice cream, called gelato, and no visit is complete without indulging.

Gelato is a Florentine institution—a creamy, sweet, flavorful food item on a different level entirely from what Americans call "ice cream."

Fine Florentine gelato is a craft taken seriously by all except the tourist-pandering spots around major attractions that serve air-fluffed bland "vanilla" and nuclear-waste pistachio so artificially green it glows.

The best gelaterie in Florence

Tips & links

Gelato tips & ettiquette
  • Don't call it ice cream. First thing to know, to call gelato "ice cream" is insulting to gelato and unfair to ice cream. Gelato is much richer, smoother, and more flavorful than ice cream.

    It is churned, not whipped (as is most traditional American ice cream), so it is far denser, giving it a richer mouth feel. Gelato also is not as laden with sugar and cream, so the subtle tastes of its flavoring comes through much better than in ice cream.
  • How to pick a parlor
    The gelato shops listed here are far from the only good ones in town. Ice cream abounds across Italy, and most of it is excellent. There are a few markers of a good gelateria, including details to look for in a few flavors, even if you don't like them—because if they cheat on the banana, they'll cheat on the one you want, too:
    • A sign proclaiming produzione propria (homemade)
    • Banana that is gray (if it's yellow, they're using dye)
    • Pistacchio that is pale, grayish -green (bright green: dye again)
  • Get it at a gelateria: Second thing to know, gelato is something you go out for at a special parlor called a gelateria, and most of it is consumed during the early evening passeggiata stroll—not that gelaterie aren't equally busy during the heat of midday, or late at night...

    I mention this because, unlike in America, gelato is not typically eaten after a meal—or at least you typically don't order it at the restaurant.

    Restaurants often do offer "gelato" on their dessert menus, but this is almost always of the pre-packaged variety. This is fine (I'm partial to a tartufo, a Gobstopper-like sphere of vanilla, chocolate, and fudge dusted with cocoa) but it's not real gelato.
  • Gelateria etiquette: At Florentine gelaterie, just like at bars and cafes, don't just saunter up to the bar and order two scoops of cioccolato or an espresso. First go to the cashier, order what you want, and pay for it.

    Prices are fairly standardized, with the smallest serving at around 1.50€ or 2€ and prices going up in 0.50€ increments for six or eight sizes. A warning: Gelato is denser than ice cream and richer than it looks.

    Once you have paid, take the receipt to the gelato counter where you can order your coppa (cup) or cono (cone) of gelato, putting the receipt down with a small coin as a tip.
  • Cram in as many flavors as you can think of: Third thing to know, you pay by the size of the coppa (cup) or cono (cone), not by the scoop. That means you can (and are encouraged to) squeeze two or even three flavors into even the smallest cup.

    Italians taught me that even unusual pairs go great together; a personal favorite: cioccolato e limone (chocolate gelato and lemon sorbetto). No, really; try it.

    There's also a concoction called semifreddo, somewhere on the far side of the mousse family, in which standard Italian desserts like tiramisu are creamed with milk and then partially frozen.

    (Also most Italians order by the cup; the cone is a fun—if messy—American addition to the options, but not too popular).
Culinary tours of Florence
General dining tips
  • "Pane e coperto" is not a scam: Nearly all Italian restaurants have an unavoidable pane e coperto ("bread and cover" charge) of anything from €1 to €15—though most often €2 to €5—per person that is automatically added onto your bill. This is perfectly normal and perfectly legal (though a few trendy restaurants make a big deal about not charging it).
  • Find out if service (tip) is included: Don't double-tip by accident. If the menu has a line—usually near the bottom of the front or back—that says "servizio" with either a percentage, an amount, or the word "incluso" after it, that means the tip is automatically included in the price. (If it says "servizio non incluso," tip is, obviously, not included.)

    Even if the menu doesn't say it, ask É incluso il servizio? (ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo)—"Is service included?" If not, tip accordingly (10%–15% is standard).

    Don't be stingy about tipping, though. If il servizio is, indeed, already included but the service was particularly good, it's customary to round up the bill or leave €1 per person extra—just to show you noticed and that you appreciated the effort.
  • Tourist menus: The concept of a bargain prix-fixe menu is not popular in Italy. Some restaurants do offer a menu turistico ("tourist menu"), which can cost from €8 to €20 and usually entails a choice from among two or three basic first courses (read: different pasta shapes, all in plain tomato sauce), a second course of roast chicken or a veal cutlet, and some water or wine and bread. With very few exceptions, tourist menus tend to live up to their name, appearing only at the sort of tourist-pandering restaurants that the locals wisely steer clear of.

    However, a menu à prezzo fisso ("fixed-price menu") is often a pretty good deal, usually offering a bit more choice than a tourist menu.

    Then—especially at nicer (and pricier) restaurants—there is the menu degustazione ("tasting menu"), usually far more expensive (anywhere from €25 to €110) that is a showcase of the chef's best, or of regional specialties, and can make for an excellent way to sample the kitchen's top dishes.
  • Book ahead: For restaurants that I am truly eager to try, I go ahead and book a table—at least at dinner. I find that a corollary of Murphy's Law seems to apply. If you prudently book ahead, you are likely to show up to a half-empty restaurant and feel a bit like a fool for having worried about finding a table. If, on the other hand, you just show up at the door expecting to find a free table, the place will inevitably be packed and its bookings full for the evening.
Italian dining phrases
English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a restaurant un ristorante oon rees toh-RAHN-tay
...a casual restaurant una trattoria
oo-nah trah-toar-RHEE-yah
oon ohst-air-EE-yah
I would like to reserve... Vorrei prenotare... voar-RAY pray-note-ARE-eh
a table for two una tavola per due oo-nah TAH-voal-lah pair DOO-way
...for 7pm per le sette pair lay SET-tay
...for 7:30pm per le sette e mezzo pair lay SET-tay eh MET-tzoh
...for 8pm per le otto pair lay OH-toh
I would like Vorrei... voar-RAY
...some (of) un pó (di) oon POH (dee)
...this questo KWAY-sto
...that quello KWEL-loh
chicken pollo POL-loh
steak bistecca bee-STEAK-ah
veal vitello vee-TEL-oh
fish pesce PEH-shay
meat carne KAR-neh
I am vegetarian sono vegetariano SO-no veg-eh-tair-ee-YAH-no
side dish [veggies always come seperately] cotorno kon-TOR-no
dessert dolce DOAL-chay
and e ay
...a glass of un bicchiere di oon bee-key-YAIR-eh dee
...a bottle of una bottiglia di oo-na boh-TEEL-ya dee
...a half-liter of mezzo litro di MET-tzoh LEE-tro dee
...fizzy water acqua gassata AH-kwah gah-SAHT-tah
...still water acqua non gassata AH-kwah noan gah-SAHT-tah wine vino rosso VEE-noh ROH-so
...white wine vino bianco VEE-noh bee-YAHN-koh birra BEER-a
Check, please Il conto, per favore eel COAN-toh pair fah-VOAR-eh
Is service included? É incluso il servizio? ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo

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