When in Italy... aperitivo is mandatory! Just what is an aperitivo anyway? Well, it’s a social pre meal drink that you’ll find in bars throughout Italy. It’s a great way to restore a few calories after a long day of sightseeing, and also to get chatting to locals and perhaps even brushing up on your Italian skills. However, if that’s not for you, you can just sit and people watch with your drink and some finger food – you might still learn some Italian hand gestures watching from afar!
In this article, we’re going to explain to your everything you need to know about Italian aperitivo, so that you can blend in with the locals without making any tourist faux pas! Sounds good, right?
If you wish to discover more about local social (and culinary) Italian tradition, check our food & wine and nightlife activities all over Italy.
1. What time is aperitivo?
Well, aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink meant to whet your appetite for your evening meal. Since Italians normally have lunch at around 1 or 2pm, you’ll find aperitive starting from around 6.30pm and lasting until about 9pm. That’s two and a half hours for you to enjoy discounted drinks, and delicious Italian snacks – what could be better?!
Dinner is normally eaten about 8 or 9pm, but you might find that you’ve accidentally eaten too much at the aperitivo and are going to have to forego that mouth-watering pizza or rich pasta dish. Don’t worry, it happens! And there’s always the next day.
If you do find yourself at an aperitivo in southern Italy, you may notice that it starts a little later than 6.30pm. That’s normal – don’t go banging on the door if the food isn’t laid out, it’ll come eventually!
Try our small group tour in Rome, in Trastevere and Ghetto area, with aperitivo included! It departs at 4:30 pm, ending just in time for tha happy hour!
2. Where is it?
Aperitivi are more popular and easier to find in the north of Italy, however that’s not to say that they don’t exist in the south. Milan is considered to be the best place for aperitivo in the country, (so that’s one more reason to go, then). This is because of bars with buzzing atmospheres, and a wide range of drink and food options.
The biggest cities like Rome, Florence, and Naples all have growing scenes, where you can find the perfect places especially in bars with outdoors seatings, perhaps during spring or summer. Aperitivo is very popular also in locations by the sea, where you will find many bars offering deals to enjpoy a glass of wine or a cocktail on the beach or with a panoramic view on the sea. Wherever you go, it’s a pretty special way to watch the sunset!
For an exclusive experience, check our private gondola tour in Venice with aperitivo!
3. What to drink
A nice, cold can of coca-cola! But only if you want to upset the waiter. The traditional drinks served during an aperitivo are sometimes cocktails, usually bitter in taste, making them the perfect pairing with a salty snack. Aperol Spritz is a popular option, as is a Campari. The Milanese have even replaced the original aperitivo creation story with one that includes Gaspare Campari, the inventor of – yes, that’s right you guessed it! Campari!
If you don’t want a cocktail, don’t worry. Prosecco, artisanal beer, or wine are also excellent choices for your pre-dinner drinks.
Aperitivo is not the same as a happy hour, however during this time drinks are usually discounted, especially when you take into account that you’ll get some food too! For the most part, you’ll find that aperitivo prices are fixed, no matter what you drink. So, if you’re ordering a small soft drink, you might not be getting the best bang for your buck!
4. What to eat
So, you’ve picked your drink, and you’ve handed over your cash. It’s time to eat! There are two important things to know – if you’re handed a plate, then you’re probably at a buffet style aperitivo. You can confirm this by searching for a table laden with food. If you don’t see one of those, and you haven’t been handed a plate, then you’ll have your food brought out to you with your drink. Both options are pretty great, right?
The idea of aperitivo, especially the buffet style is not to fill up on as much food as possible. Remember, it’s intended to whet your appetite, not destroy it! Young Italians and tourists often use this time to stock up instead of dinner, and while it’s socially acceptable, it’s not the point of aperitivo, even if you are on a tight budget.
If in doubt, look at what the locals are doing. You don’t want to look like a rude tourist because you’re filling your plate to the brim or trying to have 3 plates of food to one drink. Generally, it’s one plate of food per drink. If you want another plate of food, but another drink. It’s that easy!
You will also find many bars where the aperitivo comes with 1 drink and 1 kind of plate included, such as typical salami and cheeses (red wine is highly recommended in that case) or mixed appetizers. If you wish to eat lightly, you can just enjoy your drink with some olives or chips!
To discover more about the birthplace of aperitivo, Milan, check our food & wine tour in Milan, with artisanal beer tasting and local food deli.
5. And most important of all, don’t rush!
An aperitivo is more than just a drink and a chance to stock up on ‘free’ food. Take your time even when you’re choosing the bar – do you want to be in a quaint piazza watching the world go by, or a glitzy rooftop bar? The atmosphere is one of the key parts of an aperitivo so make sure you find one that suits you. The bars really fill up between 7 and 9, so why not have a stroll around and get a feel of the crowd and the bar from outside before making your choice?
If you get your choice of bar right, then you have a great opportunity to spend quality time with friends, enjoy the cool evening air and the sunset, and simply drink in the relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Taking your time with every aspect of aperitivo is sure to mean that you’ll end up enjoying yourself more.