Aperitivo in Italy: A First Timer’s Guide

When I lived in Florence, one of my first discoveries was aperitivo. Recommended to me by some locals I had only just met, it was a budget-friendly way for me to have a drink and get something in my stomach before dinner or a night out. The Italians treat is as a way to relax with a drink after work and to quell any hunger before dinner (which typically doesn’t start till 9).

Aperitivo is a bit like happy hour, but without the discounted drinks and with much more than crisps and peanuts to munch on. As a visitor to Italy, aperitivo is great for when you’d like to have a bit of a snack and a drink before late evening dinner plans or if you’ve had a heavy lunch and just want a few nibbles before turning in.

Where to find aperitivo

Aperitivo is hosted in bars and lounges and usually occurs between the hours of 7 and 9 in the evening. Milan is often considered to have the best aperitivo culture in Italy, but bars in other cities have started to offer it more and more. If you’re in southern Italy, it will be fairly hard to find a quality aperitivo spot.

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The Drinks

Depending on the bar you’re in, you’ll most likely have a choice of beer, wine, or cocktail for your drink. The Italians most often will order wine (surprise, surprise) and it’s fairly popular to drink something that contains bitter alcohols, such as a Negroni, Spritz, or Americano. In the end, what you drink is your choice!

The cost of aperitivo can vary as well. Some bars will only charge you the everyday cost of your drink, some will have a small supplemental cost, and some will have a special aperitivo menu with designated prices. The best aperitivos I’ve taken part in have ranged from €5 to €12 and will typically only be more than that if you’ve got a great view to go along with your snacks.

Most often, you’ll be required to pay for each drink that you purchase right when it arrives to your table, so if there’s a group of you, paying in rounds (if you plan on consuming more than one drink) will make everyone’s lives a bit easier.

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The Food

This varies widely by bar—some will offer not much more than olives and crisps, some will have a rather large buffet containing an assortment of bruschetta, pasta dishes, and various Italian meats. Even if the bar you’ve chosen has a large spread on offer, just be aware that aperitivo is not meant to replace dinner—so consider skipping seconds if you’ve only ordered one drink!

Where to get aperitivo

Milan has so many options that it’s almost too much to list, but Sara Rosso of Ms. Adventures in Italy threw together a great bunch of recommendations, and Fodor’s has a top ten list of aperitivo spots in Rome to try.

Some of my favourite aperitivo spots in Florence include:
  • Kitch and Kitch 2. Both locations have quite possibly the largest buffet I’ve ever seen.
  • Colle Bereto. This is where the posh Italians go for a drink after work, and it helps that their aperitivo food is great as well.
  • Grand Hotel Baglioni. The rooftop terrace is the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine with views of Brunelleschi’s Dome.

It’s fairly easy to find aperitivo in most of the cities in Italy, so if you can’t get to one of the above recommendations, just keep your eyes peeled!

Have you tried aperitivo before? Do you have any recommendations to add? Let us know in the comments.

Photo Sources: Matteo Paciotti | Photography  via Flickr, dwarfadam  via Flickr , Fabio via Flickr
  • Sean Cansdale

    My Partner has coeliac disease (allergic to gluten) which limits her choice of food so when choosing to go abroad we have to carefully consider the local cuisine. Do you know if they provide gluten free food at aperitivos? also what is the general feel for gluten free food in Italy?

    • Jessica Dante

      Great question Sean. The amount of gluten-free food at aperitivos varies of course depending on what the bar decides to serve. But the great thing about Italy is that even though it’s a country that loves its breads and pasta, it’s fairly easy to find gluten-free options. Most often, all you have to do is ask your server for the gluten-free options and he’ll either present you with an alternative menu or let you know that any of their dishes can be made gluten-free. Some may say that it’s easier to eat gluten-free in Italy than in the UK!

    • http://ciao.citalia.com Jessica Dante

      Great question Sean. The amount of gluten-free food at aperitivos varies of course depending on what the bar decides to serve. But the great thing about Italy is that even though it’s a country that loves its breads and pasta, it’s fairly easy to find gluten-free options. Most often, all you have to do is ask your server for the gluten-free options and he’ll either present you with an alternative menu or let you know that any of their dishes can be made gluten-free. Some may say that it’s easier to eat gluten-free in Italy than in the UK!

  • https://rental24h.com/italy Rental Italy

    Pretty interesting article, thanks! Having a dinner at 9pm or later may seem weird for most of people (especially if, you’re trying not to eat after 6pm, which is more like a morning for Italians). So, apperitivo could be the only way to void staying hungry for tourists.

    • Laura Weeden

      Agreed, aperitivo is a great way to keep hunger at bay until a late Italian dinner! Thanks for your comment.