It is said by many that Italy boasts the best gelato in the world. The Italians do it best! And Florence has no shortage of gelaterias. It is said that gelato was actually invented in Florence. Any time I ask a local what the best gelato in Florence is, I get a different answer! I’ve taken many food tours in Florence, and each different guide will tell me that THIS is the best gelateria. Truth be told, I’ve rarely had bad gelato in Florence. But I’m going to give you some tips given to me by locals on how to find the best gelato in Florence.
What we'll be talking about
- Gelato 101
- A little gelato history
- What is the difference between gelato and ice cream?
- What is gelato made of?
- Does gelato have dairy?
- Does gelato have eggs?
- How is gelato made?
- How do you find good authentic gelato in Italy?
- What are the best gelato flavors in Italy?
- How much does gelato cost in Florence?
- The Best Gelato in Florence Italy
- Looking for More Information About Florence?
Before you go to Italy and eat ALL the gelato, let’s get you educated on this very important subject! You don’t just want to go eating any old gelato. I mean even with those 30K steps, you don’t want to be wasting calories on bad gelato. It’s just bad practice and has the potential to completely ruin your trip to Italy! So let’s learn a little bit about gelato!
A little gelato history
Cool treats have dated all the way back to biblical times and it’s a good thing it was so hot in the desert as it may have never been invented if everyone had air conditioning. It is thought that the Chinese taught the Arabs how to mix snow with syrups to combine a tasty treat, the first crude version of sorbetto.
Arab traders then passed down this skill to the Venetians in the middle ages. The Venetians then passed this on to the people in the south of Italy and we now have the true birth of sorbetto on the island of Sicily. Sorbetto comes from the Arabic, scherbet (sweet snow) or from the Turkish, chorbet (to sip), and was made with sugar, fruit juices, and snow (I don’t know where they got snow in Sicily…this is all hearsay by the way).
It’s unclear how sorbetto morphed into gelato by adding dairy, but sometime in the 1500s, Bernardo Buontalenti, a Florentine, brought gelato to the court of Caterina Dei Medici, and a star was born and the art of gelato-making spread like wildfire across the European continent! The first person to sell gelato from Italy to the public, Francesco Procopio Dei Coltelli, actually opened a cafe in Paris called Café Procope, and now gelato is sold all over the world!
Now Italians consume over 4 kilograms of gelato each year! Can you blame them? I think my personal average might be even higher!
Gelato means frozen in Italian, but don’t worry, everyone will know you mean ice cream if you say it!
What is the difference between gelato and ice cream?
Gelato versus ice cream: what’s the difference? Many people who visit Italy think that gelato and ice cream are the same thing, but guess what, they’re not. The difference between gelato vs. ice cream is that gelato has less air than ice cream making it denser. It also has less milk fat, which can coat the tongue and dull the taste buds. Many people think that this is why gelato, which contains less cream and is churned slower, tastes better than ice cream.
It can be said that ice cream is fat and fluffy (more fat and more air) and gelato is dense and intense (less air and more flavor). And while ice cream contains eggs, gelato usually does not.
What is gelato made of?
Most gelato starts with the same base which contains milk and sugar. It is slowly churned in a gelato maker while other flavors are added. Good gelato ingredients should be fresh, with no chemicals added.
Does gelato have dairy?
Gelato contains dairy. Sorbetto does not. Sorbetto is made with a water, sugar, and fruit base, but is made the same way as gelato. So anyone who is lactose intolerant should stick to sorbetto. It’s actually my personal favorite since I love fruit so much!
Does gelato have eggs?
Not usually! While most ice cream is made with egg yolks, gelato is usually not made with eggs at all.
How is gelato made?
There are several ways to make gelato, but almost all gelato shops will have a gelato machine. There are processes called Hot Press, Cold Press, and Sprint methods.
If you can find out which kind of process a gelato shop uses, it will give you a good idea of how good the gelato will be. Avoid gelato from places that use the Sprint method, as this uses a mix and allows for little experimentation and customization. Most touristy gelato places in Italy will use the Sprint process. You can read all about the different gelato processes here.
How do you find good authentic gelato in Italy?
Italy is full of gelato, but not all gelato shops in Italy are created equal! Be sure you know how to find authentic Italian gelato that will knock your socks off! Here are a few tips to help you find the best Italian gelato:
- Avoid mountains of brightly colored gelato
- Look for gelato in stainless steel tubs with lids. You should have to read the best Italian gelato flavors, not see them!
- Look for signs that say gelato in casa, fatto in casa, or gelato artigianale. These words all mean that it is homemade, made in house, and artisanal. But beware, some shops will advertise this when it’s not actually true!
- Look for muted colors. Bananas are not bright yellow, so banana gelato should not be bright yellow either, but closer to white.
- Taste test the gelato: As for un assaggio (taste) of pistachio gelato. Pistachio gelato is the most expensive gelato to produce if done correctly. If the gelato shop is cutting corners you’ll be able to taste it in their pistachio gelato. If they’re using real pistachios, you’re good to go! If it looks too bright and doesn’t taste quite right, then walk away. Using real pistachios is a sign that this gelateria is committed to making real gelato with quality ingredients, even at the expense of making a little less.
What are the best gelato flavors in Italy?
There are a wide range of flavors of gelato in Italy, and they are all pretty dang amazing! Here are some of the Italian gelato flavors you’ll find in most gelaterie:
- cioccolato fondente Amazing dark chocolate! If you’re looking for regular chocolate, try cioccolato al latte.
- Nutella If you know, you know! Delectable milk chocolate hazelnut!
- bacio Very similar to Nutella, but usually with actual hazelnuts.
- pistacchio Like I mentioned above, be sure you try this one before trying anything else! Pistacchio is the most expensive gelato to make and is delicious if done right!
- mandorla Almond flavored gelato
- nocciola It’s Nutella, minus the chocolate…ok, so just hazelnuts, but it’s still so yummy and almost always found at any gelateria.
- fior di latte This is the base for any gelato; just creamy, sweet gelato with no added flavors.
- cocco A classic, creamy, coconut gelato.
- amarena fior di latte with cherries. yum!
- fragola Strawberry gelato can be found at almost any gelateria and is one of the most classic gelato in Italy! Remember to find a fragola that is not hot pink, or light pink, but actual strawberry colored!
- lampone Rich and delicious raspberry!
- limone Lemon, I love this one on a hot day! Again, be sure you find one that is not neon yellow.
- fico Fig Gelato. This is one of my favorites, but it is harder to find, but if you’re in Italy in the summer, you might get lucky. The best fig gelato I’ve ever had was at Gelato del Teatro, which you’ll read about below!
- frutti di bosco technically this means fruits of the forest, but this berry gelato usually contains blueberries and blackberries.
- mela Apple. This one is really yummy. I especially love mela verde (green apple).
- stracciatella This is probably my kids’ favorite. It’s just fior di latte mixed with hardened chocolate sauce. Sort of like chocolate chip ice cream!
- ananas Pineapple. So good on a hot day!
- mango I’ll let you figure this one out.
- pompelmo This is my absolute favorite sorbetto in Italy, but it’s hard to find. I’ve had it at Gelateria Santa Trinita in Florence. If you see it, try it!
How much does gelato cost in Florence?
The answer to this questions will vary from city to city, and from gelateria to gelateria. I would plan anywhere from €2 to €6, although I would say that the average is €3. Be sure you know the cost before ordering. There may be many options, but you can say, “I’d like a €3 cone please.” I’ve read many articles that tell you to order your cones and pay first and then pick your flavors. More often than not I have not found this to be true. Maybe I’m doing it wrong or maybe I have so many kids they think I look too frazzled to ask. I don’t know! Ask when you’re ready to order if they want you to pay upfront or not, then report back to me, please!
However you order gelato and however much it costs, be sure to budget a good chunk of cash for your gelato allowance while you’re in Italy!
The Best Gelato in Florence Italy
And now what you’ve all been waiting for. The best gelaterias in Florence (according to me). I’ve rounded up all my favorites here. Feel free to try them all, I won’t judge!
If you’re really serious about gelato, you can take a gelato cooking class in Florence!
Gelato Santa Trinita
This is one of my favorite gelato shops in Florence, mainly because they carry grapefruit gelato, which is my absolute favorite and difficult to find elsewhere! The lines here can get long due to its location along the Arno River. But rest assured, this gelato is legit and delicious! They have a large variety of flavors and the staff is friendly.
Gelato dei Neri
Lucky for us, this gelato spot was 2 doors away from our apartment for 3 weeks. We thought it was the best and also cheaper than most places. They also have a strawberry fruit flavor (and a few others) infused with wine for the grownups – that was my personal favorite. It’s a lovely local spot and the people were very patient while my girls practiced their Italian speaking to them.
Il Gelato di filo
Close to Piazzale Michelangelo Il Gelato di filo is a tiny gelato store that makes some of the freshest fruit-flavored gelatos in Florence. We loved their strawberry and lemon flavors but they are also known for cream-based and wine gelato. You can tell the ingredients are fresh from the tree or field.
Ask any native Florentine where the best gelateria in town is, and chances are good they’ll point you to a shop a little off the beaten path (read: away from the crush of tourists) called La Carraia. Located in the Oltrarno (literally, the other side of the Arno river) quarter, La Carraia has an ideally located corner shop right off the Ponte Alla Carraia.
They offer generous portions at reasonable prices of the richest, most creamy, and most flavorful gelato you could hope for. After you’ve ordered your gelato, you can enjoy the Arno River, including views of both the Ponte Santa Trinita (with its famous Quattro Stagioni statues), and the Ponte Vecchio. It’s also the perfect gateway to explore the sights south of the Arno River, including the Giardino di Boboli and Piazzale Michelangelo, and find little ateliers with excellent, reasonably priced art.
This tiny gelato shop in Montelupo Fiorentino makes some of the best gelato I have ever had in Italy. They don’t have a lot of flavors because they make the gelato in the back of their shop every day, so there are never leftovers and the ice cream is always fresh. The pistachio and the amarena are my two best flavors. The consistency of the gelato is soft and creamy, and the taste is so good! They only use natural ingredients to make gelato.
The name means why not – and when you’re faced with so many delicious flavors plus some fascinating gelato history, there’s no good reason not to stop in here while you’re in Florence. One of the oldest gelaterias in the city opened in 1939, it specializes in semifreddo – using cold water, sugar, and fruit flavorings, you can’t believe just how creamy it tastes.
There are always specials on the menu, such as ricotta and candied fruit, or a Ligurian rose version, as well as the only pistachio ice cream I have ever loved. Chocolate is still one of the best-sellers, along with lemon and blueberry in summer. As a bonus, they also do gelato-making courses around the corner.
Gelateria Della Passera
Thick, creamy gelato, beautiful flavors, an adorable storefront, and low prices: it’s hard to beat Gelateria Della Passera in Florence for a delicious scoop of gelato! Located in the (slightly) less-touristed Florentine neighborhood of Santo Spirito, we adore sneaking back to this little gelato shop during each of our visits to Florence for a quick treat. The small piazza nearby is perfect for enjoying a scoop of gelato in, and we love taking the opportunity to enjoy Florence’s best dessert far away from the more crowded parts of the city.
It’s the cutest little hidden chocolate and gelato shop that entices you to get in just by looking at its facade. I tried the classic vanilla flavor, and it was honestly the best gelato I had ever tasted! Since then, I’ve had many other gelatos, but nothing compares to my experience at Vestri.
I hope this helps you find a great gelato in Florence. It’s easy to do. Just follow my tips above, and try these great gelaterias and you’re sure to have a chilly, tasty win! If you find another great gelato in Florence, please let me know!
If you’re heading down south, be sure to check out the best gelato in Rome.
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