I was struggling to find an angle for my trip to Italy because there was so much delicious food everywhere I went. Delicious pasta in all sorts of shapes and sizes I’d never seen before, rustic food from nonnas who didn’t want to reveal their recipes, and cured meats that used everything from the back of the neck to the belly of the pig. But no matter how many weird and exciting things I ate, there was one thing I ate consistently—gelato. It’s not just because I have a sweet tooth, but it was the perfect thing to snack on, with one in almost every corner. It’s easy to have bad gelato and good gelato in Italy: you just need to research well, and map all the shops out on a map, rather than falling for shiny countertops and giant piles of soft, pillowy ice cream.
In Florence, however, I broke all my rules, and ate in almost every gelateria I could find, trying desperately to search for the best gelato. There were the standards Vivoli and Grom, but here were just a few of my favorites in the city.
Gelateria Carabe sets itself apart from its Florentine counterparts by serving the gelato typical in Sicily. It is much lighter, like a thick, sweet, milky granita, which they are famous for, too. The Sicilian school concentrates on the freshness of ingredients, which shouldn’t be masked by milk or cream or sugar. And since Sicily has a much warmer climate, their gelato has to be more refreshing. Carabe, which has been around since 1989, is still run by the original owners, who come in early, and ensure that their gelato and granita are made fresh every day.
This makes the selection a little more limited, but truly seasonal, and with care and great attention to detail. There is no easy way to describe the texture and taste of Carabe’s gelato—it’s as if intense flavors are packed into cold, incredibly soft layers of shaved, milky ice, that disappears almost immediately on your tongue. The lack of milk makes sure you taste the ingredient at its most pure—hazelnut and chestnut tasted so much like the nuts themselves, and creme and ricotta were distinct on their own. Their ices and granitas were superb as well, with the pineapple and strawberry bright and sunny.
Address: Via Ricasoli, 60/R, Firenze, Italy
2. La Carraia
Since La Carraia is located near a school, it has some of the cheapest gelato in Florence. Cups and cones can cost you around 5 euro, but here, you can easily be satisfied if you’ve only got a buck in your pocket. Their clientele is probably made of the luckiest kids on earth, because La Carraia’s take on the sweet is creamy and smooth. It may be a little far from the center, but it is worth the walk across the river; their rich fruit gelato is some of the best around. Their fruit is seasonal, and the gelato made of premium ingredients (lemons for example, are only sourced from Sicily), eliminating milk from the formula entirely, so what you get is an extremely concentrated version of the fruit in creamy gelato form. Their creamier gelato all stay true to the traditional formula, which is sometimes the best way to enjoy a true cup. Ricotta cheese with pear, marron glacé, crema, were all rich without ever being too sweet.
Gelateria La Carraia
Address: Piazza Mazario Sauro, 25 Firenze, Italy
3. La Strega Nocciola
Located just off Florence’s famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, La Strega Nocciola might be accused of being a tourist trap, but it is anything but. It is an artisan shop, and was the only one we saw in the city that covered their gelato, ensuring no air came into the mix. While their gelato is done in the Florentine style, because it is a little younger, La Strega Nocciola uses different storage techniques which they believe sets their gelato apart from traditional versions. They play with their flavors a lot more, too, but without going too wild.
If you’re one for modern takes, La Strega Nocciola is one place you shouldn’t miss, and sometimes, their gelato can be even better than more established gelaterias. Their chocolate was the thickest and creamiest we found, and there was an incredible crema and ginger that was punchy in all the right ways. Lavender was subtle and floral, and we even found that elusive Buontalenti flavor here, named after the guy rumoured to have started it all. Made with milk, egg yolks, heavy cream and just a pinch of nutmeg, it was one of the best cups I had on my whole trip.
La Strega Nocciola
Address: Via de Bardi, 51 Firenze, Italy
4. Santa Trinita
Out of all the gelaterias we visited in Florence, we kept coming back to Santa Trinita. The long line that seemed to occupy the tiny space every night spoke volumes about the place. Incredibly popular with the locals, it is just a stone’s throw away from the Ponte Vecchio, and is often considered the best in Florence, in spite of it being relatively new to the scene.
Santa Trinita offers sizes ranging from one tiny scoop to an incredibly daring giant cup, which you might just be tempted in getting once you’ve sampled all their flavors. They do classics here well, and make sure in labeling their gelato so you know where their ingredients are sourced from, like the Bronte pistachio. Though they pride themselves on maintaining a traditional process, Santa Trinita is known for experimenting a little with their flavors, too. This is the only place where you can get black sesame gelato in Florence, and purists might kill me for saying that their take might even be better than some I’ve had in Japan. It wasn’t overly sweet, and instead, tasted so nutty. If you’re looking for Buontalenti, it is rare, but they make theirs with mascarpone, adding an even richer note to the infamously creamy flavor.
Address: Piazza Frescobaldi, 11-12/r, Ponte Santa Trinita, Firenze, Italy