There’s nothing better than stumbling upon overflowing food stalls, foreign banter and throngs of people selling and buying the best local products.
Whether a market spreads across an entire town square or holes up in the shade of some side street, markets are one of, if not, the best opportunity for a local travel experience, especially in Tuscany.
Tuscan markets consume an entire town centre with local spices, meats, cheeses, produce, clothes, and everything else you could ever need. And this happens every day, every week breathing life into Tuscany’s many villages and cities.
While for the locals it’s a weekly staple, for tourists, it’s a sensory and cultural overload. Pushed into the throng of locals, your nose will immediately explode with smells from the stall hanging cured meats inches from your face. And you’ll literally taste the plumes of spices erupting into a volcano of intense flavour from the barrels lining the market’s main hub. As you navigate through the organized chaos of stalls, wagons and trucks, your ears will perk at the Italian and loud laughter vibrating from the city’s walls.
And when you pay for that loaf of bread, bundle of tomatoes and hunk of mozzarella cheese, you’ll brush hands with a friendly local as you pay them with euros and they give you a true Tuscan experience.
So, when are the open-air markets?
When it comes to time of day, most markets across Tuscany setup and shut down around the same times. Stalls will be fully ready for the day’s splendour around 6 am, and the last sale will come close to 1:30 pm so the vendors can avoid the worst of the scorching Tuscan sun and relax from the morning’s hustle and bustle.
Although the time is generally standard in this central Italian region, the days when the markets are actually held vary, which is good news because if you really want to get your Tuscan markets fix and see much of the rolling expanse of this picturesque destination then you can market hop for all seven days of the week!
And don’t worry, Italian dedication to tradition applies to their farmer’s markets as well so you won’t show up in Siena on Wednesday with no market to explore. Most cities and quaint towns alike have stuck to the same day of the week since the markets grew from the local roots.
For instance, the most popular and town encompassing markets in Prato happen on Monday, while Chiusi, Monte Argentario and San Miniato markets follow on Tuesday. Siena, Pisa, Lucca and Massa Marittima all open shop on Wednesdays. Then Thursdays are for Montepulciano and San Gimignano vendors. And before the biggest market day of the week, Friday’s are reserved for Montalcino and Pienza product.
But Saturday’s are by far the most popular day of the week for your market fix. Arezzo, Cortona, Fisole, Lucca, Pisa and Voltera all transform their narrow streets into a fortress of stalls, smells and sales for the weekend crowd.
And while these markets are standard fare throughout the week, you still have the opportunity to stumble upon other markets selling speciality and seasonal goods throughout the year in Tuscany. Plus, popular places like Tuscany’s capital, Florence, have markets weaving in and out of the alleys every day of the week.
Essentially, it’s pretty hard to miss out on the markets because they’re everywhere.
And what should you expect from these markets?
While there are so many farmers’ markets sprinkled across Tuscany, and all of Italy, these are some of the Tuscan finds worth adding to your bucket-list:
In typical Italian fashion, Arezzo, a city in eastern Tuscany, offers a whole host of markets to choose from. The two most popular amongst locals and tourists alike are Mercatale of Valtiberina and Mercato Coperto.
Mercatale of Valtiberina only comes around every 3rd Saturday of the month in the Piazza Torre di Berta, Sansepolcro, but for that one day, Arezzo and the sand washed plaza explode with activity, colour and culture.
Staying in and around Arezzo for a few days, but missing out on Mercatale of Valtiberina? That’s okay because the mercato coperto is open from Monday to Saturday. While it doesn’t follow the tradition of the other open-air markets, this indoor market is protected from the elements so you can focus on the task at hand: finding the best daily offerings of wine, olive oil and vegetables.
In the centre of Tuscany, you will find the wind of the Carrione River and the sweet smells of Mercato delle Erbe and Coldiretti, Mercato di produttori.
Every Saturday, you can peruse the gorgeous Piazza delle Erbe as Mercato delle Erbe stands tall greeting its guests to natural and sustainable fare as this open-air market boasts only organic products.
And for a more traditional Italian treat, the Piazza Duomo is swung into motion every Wednesday for the Coldiretti, Mercato di produttori.
Both are great options but expect higher prices and more speciality items within Mercato delle Erbe.
When you think of Tuscan markets, your head should travel immediately to Florence. As there is not a day of the week where this capital city doesn’t have throngs of people lugging fresh produce and meat from vendor to vendor. It’s organized chaos, and an essential experience to your Tuscan holiday.
It’s almost hard to narrow down all of the best markets because each one offers something for everyone.
Mercatale di Firenze is a monthly affair that sets up right in the centre of Florence running the expanse of Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza del Carmine and Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Usually this occurs on just the first Saturday of each month, but if not all of the goods are sold or its busy holiday season then Mercatale di Firenze will continue to run its course into Sunday.
While San Lorenzo Market is a unique experience for tourists as its open daily for those who want to purchase leather jackets and bags that are all made in the heart of Italy. You can find this fashionable choice in Piazza di San Lorenzo.
Or after a busy day of translating Italian and lugging around various fruits and vegetables, unwind at Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio where you can shop then take a relaxing seat at one of the restaurants connected to the bustling shopping centre. Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio is a staple from Monday to Saturday in Piazza Ghiberti and Piazza Sant’Ambrogio.
Florence’s streets are all the more beautiful and brighter with the various markets that are woven into the city’s soul.
Nestled at the foot of the Apuan Alps, Lucca welcomes tourists to meander through its farmers markets as the looming mountains watch from above – a truly magical experience.
Come to Lucca for the history and postcard views but stay for the Mercato Contadino farmers’ market. A Saturday morning staple for all who wander.
The welcoming white umbrellas flap in the wind to call all who wander to this Saturday morning staple with fair prices and authentic ingredients for your tortellini in brodo dinner.
When people say the Leaning Tower of Pisa is this Tuscan city’s only attraction, they clearly haven’t been to a Pisa market where the vendors practically throw food, clothes and antiquities into your bag. You’ll certainly make good use of your euros here.
First stop is Mercato delle Vettovaglie, the most traditional and popular market lining Pisa’s streets. The square of Vettovaglie is the pulse of this market, but the action flows beneath the city’s arches and side streets as well. Here you can buy from the farmers of the Province, and vibrant flowers to decorate your table as you decorate your plate with Italian beauty. Better yet, Mercato delle Vettovaglie is open daily, and opened later than most.
Pisa also has some of the best speciality markets, including flea, antique and Christmas.
Be sure to be in this famous Tuscan region during the second weekend of the month for one of the most impressive antique markets in all of Italy. Piazza dei Cavalieri, a large square with touches of Napoleon, is the perfect place to buy weird knick knacks and get lost in the paintings, books and swirling colours. Ponte di Mezzo is also another can’t miss antique market experience within the lulling hills of Tuscany.
And if you’re spending the holidays in Tuscany, be sure to visit Palazzo dei Congressi for Pisa’s Christmas market. This very Christmas market is one of the reasons why Europe gets travellers every year looking to explore each country’s biggest and best holiday experience. And the festive feel of this market is a treat for the whole family, as the stalls are brimming with gifts, crafts and Christmas delicacies that are best enjoyed around swirls of red, green and tufts of snow.
Pisa certainly has a maze of markets to get lost in.
The medieval corridors of Siena immediately brighten when its multitude of markets awaken every week for vendors to sell, locals to buy and tourists to marvel.
You can find the most popular city market in La Lizza, a colour-washed corridor brightened with stalls and street vendors. Here you can collect clothes, bags, flowers, fresh produce and authentic street food every Wednesday. This is one of the largest markets in all of Tuscany and is very locally focused even as it continues to gain popularity with travellers.
And Siena is also home to a relatively new market concept run by Campagna Amica that brings together farmers and agritourist producers to markets around Italy. You can find this evolving scene in a very local area known as Paolo Frajese. Expect speciality products, seasonal foods and fresh pasta.
Although Siena’s markets continue to evolve and progress into modernity, they are still quintessential Italy, and you’re missing out if you choose to skip exploring this city’s gems.
How does one navigate Tuscany’s many markets?
Being a visitor to a foreign country comes with a lot of responsibility, and when it comes to Tuscany’s markets Italians take a lot of pride in their local production that needs to be respected.
So, here are some ways to enjoy these markets for every ounce of fish, cheese, honey, olive oil and everything else you fancy.
Bargaining for food items may be commonplace in Southeast Asia, but visitors should be wary of doing so in Italy. Although it is possible to politely ask for a discount on non-food items that you’re buying in excess, like clothes, accessories, postcards, etc.
Do not ever touch the produce without permission. For many vendors they have literally gardened, harvested and processed the very rainbow of vegetables and fruits you are frothing at the mouth over. Plus, it’s more sanitary this way.
Afraid your favourite sultry cheese or Chianti wine will be sold out? Chances are it probably will so get to the markets early for the best options and the peak excitement of the vendors ready for the day’s spoils.
And the best kept secret for navigating the chaos of Tuscan markets is waking up just a little bit early and getting to the market 10 to 15 minutes before the market officially opens. This way you can personally meet the various sellers, translate as need, scope out the day’s treasures and potentially purchase the best products of the day before anyone else. Usually vendors won’t mind the occasional early bird because they want to sell all their worms anyways.
To discover more about Tuscany and the rest of your Italian holiday, check out Italian Breaks for where to go, where to stay and what to do.