Florence is one of the most amazing cities in Italy, full to bursting with art and history. As well as visiting its most famous attractions such as the Uffizi Gallery or the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, if you want to really get to know this beautiful city, we recommend that you also visit the historical cafes of Florence, which still jealously preserve traces of its ancient, cultured spirit. These are the veritable icing on the cake of the city of the lily, with its long tradition of culture, history and coffee lovers: in fact, the very first cafes actually date back to the 1730s.
Historical cafes in Piazza della Repubblica
Certain locations are inextricably linked to the city’s historical cafes: this is especially true of Piazza della Repubblica, where our journey through time starts, as we explore no less than three historical cafes.
Gilli, the oldest of them all
Of all the historical cafes in Florence, Gilli can rightfully claim to be the “most ancient”: it was opened in 1733 by a Swiss family, not far from the Duomo, in Via Calzaiuoli. It soon became the city’s drawing room and in 1860 it moved to bigger premises in Via degli Speziali. It was not until the 1920s that the bar occupied its current location in Piazza della Repubblica, where it became one of the favourite elegant literary cafes of the intellectuals and artists of the time, including Marinetti, Boccioni and Carrà.
And it was outside this bar that the famous photo named “American girl in Italy”, was taken by Ruth Orkin in 1951, capturing a scene in which a young American girl walks through a group of curious men, who watch her with obvious admiration.
Today, Florentines consider the coffee served at Gilli the best espresso in the city.
Le Giubbe Rosse, a hub for art and culture
In 1897 the Reininghaus brothers founded a distillery in Piazza Repubblica, which initially become famous for the scarlet jackets worn by its waiters. The Florentines, who found it difficult to pronounce the surname of its German founders, nicknamed the cafe, taking their inspiration from those bright uniforms.
In the early 1900s, Le Giubbe Rosse became a meeting place for intellectuals and artists, in particular the Florentine Futurists, following the publication of the Futurist Manifesto in 1909. Today it still contains pictures, photos, drawings and memories left here by writers and painters. Although it is currently closed for renovation, it is scheduled to reopen for business in April 2020.
Caffè Concerto Paszkowski and its ancient musical tradition
Caffè Concerto Paszkowski completes the trio of historical cafes of Florence located in the splendid setting of Piazza Repubblica. Founded in 1846 as Caffè Centrale, it was taken over by the Polish Paszkowski family in 1904. The cafe launched a musical tradition that has continued until the present day, also hosting a performance by a women’s orchestra at the beginning of the 20th century, a very rare event for that period of history.
Today the elegant Art Deco rooms with walls in fine wood of Caffè Concerto Paszkowski provide the backdrop for a range of musical performances, conventions and fashion shows. But above all, it is an essential stopping point for those who don’t want to miss out on an important piece of Florentine history. Or in fact Italian history: since 1991, the café has officially been recognised as a National Monument.
Rivoire, Piazza della Signoria
Supplier of the Royal House of Savoy, Enrico Rivoire of Turin chose the prestigious Lavison palace as the ideal location in which to open his “Steam Chocolate Factory” in 1872. We’re in the splendid Piazza della Signoria on the corner with Via Vacchereccia, and from here you have a beautiful view that includes Palazzo Vecchio.
Rivoire’s place was not just any old cafe: he brought with him the skill of his master chocolatiers, who helped make it a popular meeting house in the capital city of Tuscany. A tradition that has stood the test of time, since today the locals still flock here to stock up on the delicious specialities of Rivoire, including chocolate-coated candied lemon peel treats.
Caffè Michelangiolo, via Cavour
Opened in the mid-19th century in what was then known as Via Larga (and is today Via Cavour), Caffè Michelangiolo is also the rightful owner of a place in the list of the oldest cafes in Italy. It soon became a noisy meeting place for patriots and artists and is said to be the place from where the Macchiaioli revolutionised Italian painting with their artistic movement.
Today all that is left of Caffè Michelangiolo is the echo of times long gone. Its spaces have been renovated to host the Leonardo da Vinci Museum and a series of cultural exhibitions and events, linked to the cultural ferment that had distinguished it as one of the most mesmerising historical cafes of Florence.
Our tour of Italy on the trail of its historical cafes doesn’t stop here. Discover the oldest cafes of Bari where we’ll encounter yet another long-standing supplier of the Royal House of Savoy.