Where to eat in Florence without falling foul of its snacking ban

As Florence introduced a new ban on eating in public on some of the busiest streets in its historic centre, The Local asked Florentine food experts where to go for affordable, authentic eats that won't get you nabbed by the "panino police".

Where to eat in Florence without falling foul of its snacking ban
One of Florence's famous lampredotto stands, serving stomach sandwiches. Photo: Eric Parker/Flickr - CC BY-NC 2.0

The city's move to fine people caught picnicking is a bid to tackle crowding and littering on four central streets: Piazzale degli Uffizi, Piazza del Grano, Via della Ninna and Via de' Neri, home to one of Florence's most popular sandwich shops and a victim of its own success.

“Neri has become awash with tourists over the past three years, part of the 'Trip Advisor effect',” says Nardia Plumridge, author of the Lost in Florence blog and an upcoming guidebook of the same name. 

“The once small hole-in-the-wall panini joint, All'Antico Vinaio, started receiving rave reviews and then the throngs of hungry diners followed… Now this once quaint street is littered – excuse the pun – with sandwich shops all selling take-away food. So, it isn’t any surprise this issue of where to eat, overcrowding and rubbish has the council acting.”

But in a city famous for its street cuisine, it's no wonder either that visitors are keen to try Florence's original fast food – like schiacciata (salty flat bread, great on its own or in sandwiches), trippa (slow-cooked tripe with tomatoes, served to go in a bread roll) and lampredotto, the city's signature sandwich filling made from the fourth stomach of a cow and garnished with fresh, salty green sauce.

Lampredotto. Photo: Oded Tshesly

And besides, sometimes you just don't feel like sitting down for a restaurant meal – especially if you're on a budget, eating solo, or simply not that hungry.

So where's someone to go for a quick, casual and affordable Florentine meal, without getting in anyone's way?

Option 1: A moveable feast

“The concept of actually urban picnicking in the streets is a new thing, probably brought on by mass tourism and a lack of free space to sit and relax for the many hordes of people who pass through this Renaissance city and invariably get hungry,” says Georgette Jupe, who blogs as Girl in Florence and is the editor of Italy Magazine.

But that doesn't mean that Florentines don't eat on the street. They just do it differently: from chioschi, or street food carts.

“After living in Florence for over 11 years, I am used to street food being the odd lampredotto cart parked ambiguously on a crowded street corner or small square, as workers line up to eat their traditional broth-dunked panini with green sauce directly at the cart itself before heading off to return to work,” Jupe says.

A Florentine food cart. Photo: Fabio Venni/Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0

“Nearby my house, people often vie for a panino co' i' lampredotto at the Trippaio di San Frediano, a local institution and mercifully he has a few chairs to ensure that you aren’t offending the world by standing and eating in the middle of the street.

“Or if you aren’t afraid of distance, try the much-beloved Aurelio near Rifredi in Piazza Bernardo Tanucci, serving up, yes, lampredotto but also other Tuscan favourites: bollito [boiled beef sandwich], trippa, peposo [peppery beef stew]. He has a cult following with many of my Italian friends.”

Meanwhile Rome-based gourmand Oded Tshesly gets his lampredotto fix at Lupen e Margo or Orazio Nencioni when he's in Florence. For less adventurous visitors, he advises ordering a bollito – a similar deal but with beef instead of innards.

Option 2: Seek out a seat

Part of the problem with All'Antico Vinaio et al on the Via de' Neri is the limited space, but there are such things as sandwich shops with seats. 

Plumridge recommends Ino, a “quality panino stop just behind the Uffizi Gallery with tasty fillings, many laced with truffles, which you can eat within their store on stools. Wine is served by the glass to wash it all down.”

“I'd suggest Schiacciavino near Santa Croce,” says Coral Sisk, a culinary tour guide of Florence and creator of the Curious Appetite blog. “They have some seating and they do the oily, salty flatbread schiacciata panini stuffed with options of marinated vegetables, meats, cheeses and fresh vegetables and a higher quality selection of wines.”

Another of her panino picks is Panificio Brunori on Borgo Pinti: “You have to look closely for this one as there are not clearly marked signs. It is a great family-run bakery and they make fresh sandwiches to order for under a fiver with a short menu from their in-house baked bread. The sesame roll is soft and a delicious carrier for most fillings, especially their fennel salumi finocchiona.

Baked goods from Panificio Brunori. Photo: Jonathan Austen/Facebook

SandwiChic near the Accademia is a step up in quality for what I'd deem more artisanal panini, meaning the sauces are all in-house prepared, whole ingredients like meats and cheeses from small producers (including IGP-quality mortadella and Pienza pecorino), they play nice music inside and have a few seats too.

Cernacchino is a Florentine favorite, run by women with hearty, gut-busting, blue-collar fare like porchetta and lampredotto sandwiches and a neat selection of primi and secondi for cheap, filling, quick lunch plates. Seating is available inside as well, and it's and just a stone's throw from Piazza della Signoria.” 

Meanwhile itty-bitty Semel in Piazza Ghiberti may not have much room to sit, but being further out of the centre you're exempt from the no-eating-in-public rule. It's a favourite of Jupe's: “Mario’s gourmet panini and tiny glasses of wine are always the welcome treat after browsing Sant’Ambrogio’s market.”

Option 3: Adventure out of the centre

A short walk across the river takes you to Piazza San Spirito, “a leafy square which has GustapaninoTamerò for pasta and many more eateries offering a seated experience for a decent price,” says Plumridge. “Caffè Ricchi has inside seats in a cosy nook offering primi plates from €5.”

And if you're prepared to travel, you can take your panino with you for a more leisurely picnic. 

“If people have the patience, head over to the river past Ponte alla Grazie towards Ponte San Niccolò, as there is some green space and park-like areas to picnic along the river, but it's definitely outside the historical centre,” says Sisk.

“Otherwise, Cascine Park is big and spacious but it is a mission to walk to.

“There really should be more parks and green space in the centre: there is one little park area near Piazza Sant'Ambrogio but just bench seating – there isn't really a picnic culture in the city and most people pack into the car to go the countryside.”

Try venturing further down the River Arno to find more space in Florence. Photo: sakhanphotography/DepositPhotos

Wherever you go, mind your manners

But leaving town isn't really the point for the millions of visitors who flock to Florence's Unesco-listed historic centre, and nor should it have to be. So if you find yourself in the city's lovely heart, panino in hand, just show some consideration.

“It’s really about treating a place like you would want someone to treat your home,” Jupe tells The Local.

“Be mindful of those around you and when you can, get your panino to-go if there is no space to eat on-site and find a bench in Piazza San Firenze or in the park at Piazza Demidoff rather than eating in the street or under the Loggia dei Lanzi.

“Do not block storefronts and do not sit on curbs, or the steps of churches to eat; common sense prevails here. I know the city has a serious lack of public spaces to relax but apparently this is something they are working on. Make sure to throw away your trash, especially plastic bottles of water and the paper the panino comes in.”

That way neither Florence, its residents, your stomach or your pocket have to suffer. 

READ ALSO: Thirteen dialect words you need to know in Florence

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP


La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

From seeing Italy's best sights for free to avoiding crimes against Italian food, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

The cold weather and grey skies mean February is the month when I’m most tempted to stay at home and keep warm, preferably with an Italian hot chocolate. But it’s a shame to stay in when there’s so much to do and see in Italy, even at this time of year.

Carnival season officially kicks off this weekend, bringing much-needed colour and joy to towns and cities across Italy at what would otherwise be a pretty dull time of year. The most famous Carnival of all is of course in Venice, and this year’s edition promises a return to its former grand scale after three years of limited celebrations.

If you’re thinking of attending this year, here’s our quick guide to the events and what to expect:

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

Another reason to get out and about this weekend is Domenica al Museo or ‘free museum Sundays’, when museums and other sites open their doors ticket-free on the first Sunday of every month.

As admission to major historical monuments and museums in Italy often costs upwards of €15 per person, there are big savings to be made and the free Sundays scheme is understandably popular among both tourists and residents.

Free entry applies to hundreds of state-run museums, archaeological parks and monuments, including world-famous sites like the Colosseum, Pompeii, Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the Reggia di Caserta and Trieste’s Miramare Castle. See further details in our article:

What you need to know about Italy’s free museum Sundays

There is however at least one good reason to stay in and watch some Italian TV: The Sanremo Music Festival returns on Tuesday, February 7th, and it will likely be the main topic of conversation all week.

If you’re a fan of Eurovision, you’re pretty much guaranteed to love it. But some people don’t find the appeal of the show immediately obvious, to put it mildly.

So what is it about the festival that pulls together an entire nation, regardless of whether they fall into the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camp? We looked at just why this 73-year-old song contest is such an Italian institution.

Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?

In the latest international Italian food controversy, Italian media reacted with anger and dismay this week to a recipe published in the New York Times for ‘tomato carbonara’, which recommended adding tomato sugo along with the eggs, and replacing pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and parmesan – an adaptation which was described as “provocative”, “disgusting”, and a “declaration of war”.

For anyone who doesn’t want to traumatise their Italian dinner guests or risk sparking a diplomatic incident, here’s the classic recipe plus a look at the rules to follow when making a real Roman-style carbonara:

The ten unbreakable rules for making real pasta carbonara

However, you might be surprised to hear that adding cream – or tomato – to your carbonara recipe isn’t actually the worst food crime you could commit according to Italians.

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study revealed which of the most common international ‘adaptations’ are seen as most and least offensive.

RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]