Forget art. Put your trust in ice cream.— Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love
A medieval city considered the jewel in Tuscany’s crown, Florence purports to offer something for everyone. It has cultivated sculptors and writers, politicians and poets, philosophers and painters, scientists and saints; during the Renaissance, the city became home to some of the greatest thinkers of the time. It is a city known for its innovation, its history, and its cultural contributions. It is the birthplace of Dante, Da Vinci, and Bernardo Buontalenti… a jack-of-all-trades with a very sweet legacy.
You see, Buontalenti is generally considered the inventor of modern day gelato, and the very first scoop of his frozen dessert was served all the way back in 1559 at a Medici banquet in Florence.
Though millions enjoy the fruits of Buontalenti’s genius to this day, it seems the man behind Italy’s sweetest culinary contribution has largely been forgotten. Wanting to honor his invention in the best possible way, Tony & I decided that in order to pay tribute to Buontalenti and to the innovative spirit of Florence itself, we would have to track down the city’s very best gelato. Some people museum hop in Florence, but us? We would do a gelato crawl instead!
We dubbed our purely-academic-not-at-all-gluttonous endeavor the “Alotto Gelato” crawl. We scoured the internet and guidebooks to come up with a list of the purported best gelaterias in the city and culled it down to half a dozen of the best shops. And then, over the course of three days, we proceeded to eat at all of them in our search for the frozen crème de la crème. Because this was clearly a selfless, altruistic act, we took copious notes so that 20YH readers could reap the rewards of our research. You’re welcome.
Despite the importance of our task, the Alotto Gelato crawl had a rather ignoble start: We stumbled upon La Sorbettiera completely by accident while prowling the area near south of the Arno for dinner. Not being able to locate the restaurant we were looking for, we found this gelato shop instead. We took the fact that a steady stream of locals kept frequenting the joint as a good sign and followed suit, ordering up a small cup of strawberry and salted caramel gelato. It came with a crispy waffle biscuit, which was a nice little bonus.
Taste: As for the gelato itself, the flavors were both quite good. They were fairly bright & well-defined and didn’t have an artificial tinge to them. However, we did think that, on the whole, the flavors were a bit muted: This was good for the salted caramel which wasn’t overly sweet, but it also meant that the strawberry wasn’t exactly like biting into a fresh berry either. The flavors just felt a bit muffled, perhaps by the cream, and didn’t ring out with the intensity we would have hoped for.
Texture: La Sorbettiera’s gelato was pleasantly smooth and velvety—even the strawberries were well incorporated (no chunks here!). That said, it didn’t have the elasticity that we personally believe sets gelato apart from regular ice cream.
Cost: €2 for 2 small scoops. The price is average for gelato in Florence, but we did feel the servings were quite small as well.
Overall grade: 4/5. You could certainly do far worse than indulge your sweet tooth at La Sorbettiera. It is not exactly in the center of historic Florence, so you’d have to go out of your way to visit, but it’s not so far out of the way that a detour for gelato would be a hassle.
Gelateria La Carraia
Our next stop on the gelato trail was Gelateria La Carraia, on the southwest corner of the Carraia bridge. Although we acknowledged that a truly scientific test would require us to order the same flavors at each of the establishments, we decided to hell with that and just went with what sounded good; in this case, scoops of cherry and cheese cake.
Taste: The flavor of the gelato at La Carraia was absolutely sublime. The cheesecake had an authentic tang to it, just slightly sharp, in the way good cheesecakes are. The cherry was also very nice, just a little bit sour and not overly sweet. The two flavors paired nicely together, and both were satisfyingly rich, though not so sweet as to be heavy or overwhelming.
Texture: La Carraia’s gelato was incredibly creamy and quite dense—the small serving was quite generous and filling. It was smooth and had a decent amount of elasticity to it (almost taffy-like), which was impressive.
Cost: €1,50 for 2 small scoops. The cheapest gelato we found in Florence & remarkably good value given the location and the low price!
Overall: 4.5/5. Gelateria La Carraia was one of our very favorite stops on the crawl and delivers a supremely satisfying cup of gelato. The flavors were bold, the texture practically perfect, and the price unbeatable. Many locals consider this to be Florence’s best gelato shop, and it’s hard to disagree with them!
Tucked away in the winding lanes near Santa Croce Basilica sits Vivoli, a gelato shop and café. Service here was a bit gruff and we felt hard pressed to quickly pick our flavors given the vast assortment on offer, but we wound up settling on pear & mascarpone.
Taste: Both scoops had strong, clear flavors that were very pleasing on the palate and had the exact right amount of sweetness. The pear in particular tasted exactly like biting into a ripe, juicy pear; no artificial flavors here!
Texture: The gelato at Vivaldi is definitely fluffier and less dense than at the other shops we tried. If you’re looking for a lighter cup, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did make us wonder if the gelato here is whipped or injected with air. We also noticed that the pear gelato had a grittiness to it, and in general we felt like the gelato here had an icy quality to it. Consequently, the ice cream didn’t have the silkiness we would have preferred.
Cost: €2,50 for a small serving. This is on the high end for gelato in Florence.
Overall: 4/5. The flavors were pure and true at Vivaldi, but the texture was a disappointment. This, paired with the fact that the ice cream was airier and the service as chilly as the gelato itself, made us feel that the slightly higher cost for a cup here wasn’t entirely worth it.
Touted as Florence’s oldest gelateria, we had high expectations for our scoops at Perché No?. The place has been serving up gelato since 1939, which we figured must be a mark of its quality. We ordered up a scoop of pistachio and a scoop of chocolate.
Taste: Although it’s pretty hard to get ice cream wrong, the flavors that we sampled at Perché No? just weren’t right. They were very mild and insipid, and the pistachio in particular was really disappointing and barely tasted like anything at all. We had been warned off of trying pistachio when its radioactive green (a sure sign that it uses artificial flavoring), but unfortunately our scoop here tasted as dull as it looked.
Texture: No real qualms on this front, the scoops we tried were pretty creamy, albeit not as lusciously smooth at some of the other shops we had tried.
Cost: €2 for a small 2-scoop cup.
Overall: 3/5. In English, Perche No? means “Why Not?”. Unfortunately, there’s a pretty big reason not to get gelato here: it’s just not very good! No amount of history, friendly service, or groovy “olde tyme ice cream shoppe” vibe can make up for that. Our least favorite gelato shop that we visited on our crawl, this shop is one you visit for the novelty factor, not for the ice cream itself.
Located just steps from the Duomo and part of a chain, Grom has all the makings of a tourist trap. We pushed our fears aside and went ahead and ordered a scoop of melon and a scoop of milk & mint anyway.
Taste: Absolute heaven! So pure, so clean. An explosion of flavor without the slightest hint of artifice. Each spoonful of both flavors made our tastebuds sing with joy.
Texture: Grom’s gelato defies all attempts at characterization. It’s perfectly creamy and dense, but also light. It looks like it will crumble but, in fact, it’s smooth without any kind of graininess, and showcases an impressive elasticity. It’s like frosting and whipped cream and gelato all rolled into one. Amazing.
Cost: €2,50 for a small cup. So, on the higher end of what gelato goes for in Florence. This is really the only downside we can see with respect to Grom.
Overall: 5/5. It’s definitely not the cheapest gelato joint in town, but it is so worth the extra euro. Every spoonful was a delight, the kind of gelato you pay attention to and savor, rather than mindlessly shovel into your mouth as you stroll around town. The menu changes monthly to reflect what’s in season, and although the selection isn’t huge, this shop seems to focus on quality rather than quantity. We loved Grom so much, we returned the following day and happily stood in line once more, this time ordering a raspberry granita. A much slushier treat, it was an icy delight, and wonderfully refreshing during the Tuscan heat.
Just a few blocks from L’Accademia where Michelangelo’s David is displayed, Carabé is right in the thick of things. It’s apparently famous for its granita and made-to-order cannolis, but how did its gelato compare? We ordered a scoop of almond and a scoop of lemon, and dug in!
Taste: We were worried by the vibrant, saturated colors we saw in Carabé’s freezer as such bright hues are generally a mark of artificial additives. We needn’t have worried, however, because the scoops we ordered were actually quite mild on our palates. I daresay they were actually kind of weak.
Texture: Although the almond gelato was quite natural (read: chunky), on the whole Carabé’s gelato was creamy and smooth. It was also the right combination of fluffy yet dense.
Cost: €2,10 for a small two-flavor cup. Slightly higher than average, but just barely.
Overall: 3.5/5. Eh, with Carabé’s bright colors, we expected gelato that would really pack a punch, but the flavors we ordered just didn’t deliver. Certainly one point in Carabé’s favor, however, is that they seemed to have the most authentic Italian flavors on offer… Maybe we just ordered poorly? Or maybe next time we should stick to the granita instead?
The Best Gelato in Florence: GROM!
If there can only be one best gelato shop in Florence, then we say that title belongs to Grom. Heck, since they’re a chain, they may just be one of the best shops in all of Italy! Their texture and flavors were flawless, and if anything could ruin ice cream for us in perpetuity, their scoops would be the ones to do it because they raise the bar so high. Do yourself a favor and grab yourself a scoop the next time you’re in Italy.
Eating six cups of gelato in half as many days may not have turned us into bona fide gelato experts, but we did learn that not all gelatos are created equal. That said, I tend to think that when it comes to gelato crawls, there are no losers, only winners. (Especially those of us doing the taste-testing!) Florence is so packed with gelato shops, it’s really no hardship to throw together an Alotto Gelato crawl of your very own, with the added bonus that it’s actually a pretty affordable indulgence as well: The whole thing only cost us €13,60 (~$17US), and was a great way to see the city (while eating our way through it). Although we are so selfless that we happily consumed all these decadent calories on your behalf, if you find yourself in Florence and wish to retrace our steps & proclaim your own “best gelato in Florence”, check out this map:
Tell Us: Have you ever done your own self-guided food tour of a city? Also, how much gelato is too much? (Is there such a thing?)