The Guide to Italian Aperitivo and Drinks in Italy

March 27th, 2008 · Tags: Culture · Discovering Food · Food · Italy · Tips

If you have read my blog before, you know that I love aperitivo in Italy. Getting an aperitivo in a bar or hosting aperitivo at home, it’s one of my favorite things about living in Italy, especially in Milan which I proclaim the “Capital of Aperitivo in Italy.”

If you’ve ever wanted to know more about Italian aperitivo, or Italian aperitif in Italy, or to host one in your own home, this series is for you.

Today I’ll be talking about What is Aperitivo Italiano in Italy and Ordering an Aperitivo Drink in Italy.

What is Aperitivo Italiano in Italy

Note that aperitivo italiano is NOT a “Happy Hour” in the traditional sense. In fact, if I ever see an Italian bar advertising “Happy Hour,” I know it must cater to a lot of tourists. Aperitivo is best not translated while in Italy, and usually isn’t. One should practice saying, “Let’s go get an aperitivo” or “Prendiamo un aperitivo.” Happy Hour in the U.S. is a concept about getting a drink “discount” and drinks and/or appetizers are usually discounted or bundled together.

Not so in Italy. Aperitivo in Italy is plain and simply aperitivo: A pre-dinner drink, meant to “open” the palate and it gives you a chance to socialize, relax, and nibble as dinner approaches or is overlooked altogether. Aperitivo is more popular in the north of Italy, though you’ll find a form of it throughout Italy. Ask a local for the best aperitivo restaurant or bar to find the one in the town you’re in.

Drinks during aperitivo are not only not discounted, but often they have a supplement added to them to compensate for the refreshments being offered alongside. How much supplement will depend on the reputation and location of where you are. I’ve had an aperitivo with fresh mozzarella for 2.50euro and a cocktail with potato chips for 15 euro. Cocktails in general will be more expensive than the classic aperitivo drinks listed below, though some bars will charge you “a consumazione” and charge the same price for all drinks. A good aperitivo ranges from 6 to 10 euro and can be a good meal replacement if the buffet is plentiful.

A good rule of thumb for evening aperitivo is from 7-9pm. Lunch aperitivo can be offered from 12pm on and you can even find a mid-afternoon aperitivo. Make sure you check with your particular bar because there are some hours which will be “peak” offerings and potential buffets will be more plentiful, usually in the evening.

What is offered with your aperitivo drink really depends on the bar. A few olives and potato chips are the classic offering, though some get very elaborate with fresh pizza, fruit salads, roast, hot pasta, cold cuts like prosciutto and bresaola, fresh savoury pastries and even fresh mozzarella in some bars!

Ordering an Aperitivo Drink in Italy

Aperitivo drinks are divided into two categories: alcolici (alcoholic), and analcolici (non-alcoholic / “virgin”) drinks. Analcolici drinks can range from a soft drink like Coca Cola to delicious fruit juice cocktails (aperitivo analcolico alla frutta – pictured below) to a non-alcoholic bitter like Sanbitter.

Non-alcoholic Fruit Cocktail for Aperitivo Italiano in Italy

If the aperitivo’s liquor selection is extensive, a wide selection of cocktails will be available as aperitivo drinks and you can find anything from Manhattans to Cosmopolitans to Mojitos. For many Italians, Campari is their drink of choice for aperitivo, and it forms the base of many traditional Italian aperitivo drinks.

Here are some “traditional” aperitivo drinks based on bitter alcohols like Campari and Aperol: the Americano, the Spritz, and the Negroni.

A Negroni is gin, vermouth and Campari, and garnished with an orange peel as in my picture.

Negroni for Aperitivo Italiano in Italy

There are other ways to make a Negroni, too. A Negroni sbagliato (“wrong”) substitutes the gin with spumante brut (dry, sparkling white wine). Sometimes they can really get it wrong. When I ordered a Negroni sbagliato recently, I realized it was a Negroni sbagliato sbagliato as instead of spumante he had added vodka, which made it a Negroski.

The Americano starts out like the Negroni but instead of using gin, soda is added to the cocktail in a tall glass that lightens up the cocktail quite a bit.

Americano for Aperitivo Italiano in Italy

Many regions have their own aperitivo specialty (when I was in Palermo, Zibibbo was the drink to try) and a drink that is popular in the Veneto is starting to get popular elsewhere, too.

The Spritz. Soda, prosecco / sparkling white wine and usually Campari or Aperol make this aperitivo drink unique.

Spritz for Aperitivo Italiano in Italy

Wine is always an acceptable aperitivo drink, and sometimes much cheaper than a cocktail. If you like sweet or sparkling wines, aperitivo is the time to drink them: Prosecco (sparkling white wine), Spumante (a sweet or dry sparkling white wine), Fragolino (a sweet sparkling red wine), Brachetto (sweet, sparkling red wine) are all excellent aperitivo drinks.

Prosecco for Aperitivo Italiano in Italy

The Bellini, invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice, is a good choice if you like prosecco and peaches but it is not always widely available if the bar doesn’t stock peach juice or puree.

A Bellini for Aperitivo Italiano in Italy

Do you like aperitivo Italiano? What’s your favorite drink?

Tomorrow: How to Host an Aperitivo Italiano at Home!

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41 Comments

41 responses so far ↓

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  • 1
    Peter // Mar 27, 2008 at 9:07 am

    I like the Bellini and the other Prosecco aperitivo. As for Campari, I’ve only ever seen it ordered on a flight.

    It seems to sit lonely, untouched in bars here.

  • 2
    Maryann // Mar 27, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Nice post, Sara. I’m looking forward to the next installment :)

  • 3
    nyc/caribbean ragazza // Mar 27, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    I think this series is very important!! Thank you.

    I am a big fan of prosecco and bellini.

  • 4
    JennDZ_The LeftoverQueen // Mar 27, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    I love this series! This sounds like such a wonderful and civilized thing to do. I can really understand why it is one of your favorite things to do in Italy! It would be mine too.

    A friend introduced me to Campari and Soda – I loved it, but could only remember the Campari part. I have been asking bar tenders for years, what goes good with Campari and they all shrug…so now I know! Thank you!

  • 5
    red // Mar 27, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Damnit, I’m only out of Italy a couple of days and already you have me missing the spritz.

  • 6
    Leanne // Mar 27, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    I love going for an aperitivo – my choice is normally prosecco!

  • 7
    Ceri // Mar 27, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Prosecco for me….is that a picture of mine in Corso Como?????

  • 8
    Ms. Adventures in Italy // Mar 27, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    @Ceri, you’re correct!! And finally Emma got to do her hand modeling :)

    I felt in the spirit and had an Aperol aperitivo tonight. :)

  • 9
    Ceri // Mar 28, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Well its a cold beer for me now I am back in the UK!!!

  • 10
    carrieitly // Mar 28, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Campari with a dash of a sparkly orange soda… just a touch, still want it a little bitter!

  • 11
    Beatriz // Mar 28, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Great post Sara. I love aperitivo, spritz is my favorite, but I have not tried many others. Now, I know what to order. Thanks.

  • 12
    Linda // Mar 30, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I love, love, love Milanese aperitivi too and try go out for them as much as I can, ankle biters permitting. I’m partial to margaritas but proseccos are a favourite too. And we found a cool Spanish bar near work that served a cocktail called La Puta Madre (pardon my Spanish!) with cranberry juice, vodka, triple sec, lemon juice and rum.

  • 13
    Labelga // Apr 1, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Very enjoyable posts to read. I’ll be in Italy early May, too bad I miss the get together in April. Have fun at it.

  • 14
    Paola // Apr 1, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    We have happy hours, and they are usually after dinner and during weekedays. Bartender use them to attract people even during the working days, to fill up the place. Happy hour lasts from 1 to 3 hrs, usually from 19 to 21.
    In the beginning they started to offer discounted drinks and very often every day of the week was a different pick (i.e. monday, white wine, tuesday, beer, wednesday, negroni,…). Now I see in my area that most of the place offer a standard priced drink of your choice but unlimited buffet. This is good way to have aperitivo and fill up your stomach for as low as 5 euros. Very popular among the younger, those who don’t have a family to eat dinner with, students, and so on.

  • 15
    FlaNboyantEats // Apr 3, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    you make me want to move to Italy. I haven’t been in so long, it’d be great to go back.

    I enjoy reading your blog :)

  • 16
    Michele // Sep 23, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    thanks for the tips. heading to venice and rome for the first time and love your blog for the advice its giving.

  • 17
    Christine Ricci // Dec 9, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Welcome to my club! Aperitivo is the most enjoyable aspect of living in Italy (as you can see on my profile). Cin cin!

  • 18
    chuck Harris // May 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    I have been looking for an Italian Liquor for some time. It is called China. My wife had it many years ago and would love to find it again. If you know where this can be found besides going to Italy I would greatly apprieciate it.

  • 19
    Barbara // Jul 25, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Mmm. These aperitivo’s look wonderful. I’m a fan of the digestive myself — grappa, sambuca, anice, averna, limoncello. There seem to be so many!

  • 20
    Marbella // Sep 12, 2009 at 3:08 am

    Chuck Harris, don’t know if you’ll see this but could you be thinking of Cynar? Pronounced ‘chee-nar’? Thinking that it might sound like China. Very bitter and made from artichokes

  • 21
    karla janet // Sep 15, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    wow! your pictures are beatiful. actually i´m studing lengue inglese e italiano, and with you pictures, i discovered that i´m very interested in the italian culture. i think that you are an awesome photograper. i´m mexican girl, so i wait that you can understand my english. look!!

  • 22
    Brianne // Oct 6, 2009 at 3:11 am

    Just wanted to say that after spending a lot of time in Italy, I became very accustomed to the “aperitivo” (anche l’aperitino tra le donne!). My few American friends and I also coined a new verb, Prossecare. Io prosecco, tu prossechi, ecc. (Prosecchiamo!) It can be reflexive… mi sono proseccata tutta la notte! Great fun. Love prosecco,

  • 23
    flourish // Jan 19, 2010 at 10:48 am

    i love your drinks

  • 24
    Frog Hollow Farm Girl // Feb 5, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Hi, I just found your delightful website. My goal in life is to live in Florence for a year. Anyway, aperitivo is one of my absolutely favorite things in Italy. We discovered an aperitivo bar by accident one day and I wanted to stay there forever, gnoshing on all of the delicious little bites and drinking proseco. Thank you for putting together such a wonderful guideline for doing this at home. I can’t wait to try it!

    Ciao!

  • 25
    Stefano Baroni // Apr 2, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Man, it’s the thing I miss most when I get back to Perth Oz from my time in Viareggio inToscana where the “real” Carnevale is held every year! The aperitivi are awesome and I wouldn’t even bother asking Bar people to make them here! My favourite is Spritz with Aperol but the Negroni also goes down well! Cheers or Cin Cin!!!

  • 26
    Andrea Santucci // Aug 24, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Wow, this is quite the awesome guide for travelers looking to enjoy some of the more social traditions in Italy. I especially like how you’ve broken each of the drinks down. Have you hosted many aperitivo events yourself? If so, what are your offerings of choice (drinks as well as food)? And also, would you recommend different drinks for different occasions or times of year? I think that information would be especially useful for those looking to host their own aperitivo!

    Thanks for the great information. Makes me glow with pride at for one of my favorite traditions here in Rome!

  • 27
    Pastafarian High Priest // Oct 13, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    Dunno. Here in the backwater of nowhere, 20km from Venice, plenty of bars advertise “happy hours”, and they cannot possibly cater to tourists, as we hardly have any kind of sentient life forms here, much less tourists.
    Niiiiiiiiiice blog, anyway.
    Will come back soon and often.

    P.s.: one thing has me wondering: you write from the perspective of a foreigner living in Eye-taly, but your name is quite Italian sounding.
    Ancestors? :)

  • 28
    kyara // Nov 8, 2010 at 9:49 am

    please put none alcoholic for kids

  • 29
    Ms. Adventures in Italy // Nov 8, 2010 at 10:37 am

    @kyara, I talk about non-alcoholic drinks right after “Ordering an Aperitivo Drink in Italy”

  • 30
    Happy-go-lucky // Dec 22, 2010 at 1:31 am

    I have been drinking prosecco with a bit of Campari for years, but never knew it was called a spritz. In Parma it was called a Garibaldi, the Campari red linked with the red shirts Garibaldi made famous, I suppose. Call it what you will, it is a choice aperitivo. A wonderful aperitivo spot I had a few weeks ago was in Chiavari, Liguria at Enoteca Bisson. On one Sunday each month they have quite a nice antiques market: to sit in this sprawling establishment, with an array of tidbits, is quite special.

  • 31
    Charlie Hudson // Sep 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Another wonderful post that brings back such memories. You do a great service for those who may not be familiar with customs like aperitivos. It’s nice to “order like a local” instead of sticking with something safe like opening with a glass of wine. Plus, your posts help reinforce the concept of leisurely dining; dining as a form of entertainment.

  • 32
    Lisa // Oct 17, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Please help. My Nanna adores an Italian drink that sounds like Pontimace, but I’m not sure of the spelling so I can track her a bottle down…..

  • 33
    Ms. Adventures in Italy // Oct 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    @Lisa – that sounds like Punt e Mes from Branca Distilleries http://www.puntemes.com/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punt_e_Mes

  • 34
    Lucy // Dec 17, 2011 at 7:00 am

    I miss Italy. I lived there for a short time and one of my favourite things about the country were the ‘knock-off’ drinks as we’d call them in Australia. My regular was the Campari Spritz, although I really enjoy Negronis. Just before I left, a friend introduced me to an artichoke liquour, I think called Cynar (correct me if I’m wrong). It was more bitter than Campari. It too is great in a Spritz.

  • 35
    drink a drink // Jan 18, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    What a nice and complete guide to italian aperitivo! :)

  • 36
    Ana // Jun 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Garibaldi is the best aperitivo drink!!

  • 37
    Fabio Bongianni // Aug 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Very informative guide on the aperitivo. Milan trul is the king ot the aperitivo. Here in Rome we have a few great places, my personal fave is Freni E Friziono. Great buffet!

  • 38
    Fabio Bongianni // Aug 1, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Very informative guide on the aperitivo. Milan trul is the king of the aperitivo. Here in Rome we have a few great places, my personal fave is Freni E Friziono. Great buffet!

  • 39
    Nick // Mar 11, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    Awesome guide… Ones manhood can be questioned if you ordered some of these drinks in the States. Not a problem here in Italy… I rock a big bowl goblet of bright orange Aperol spritz. They are tasty!

  • 40
    Ms. Adventures in Italy // Mar 11, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    @Nick – I didn’t even think of the manhood angle for outside of the US – I guess the bright orange could be a turnoff but I’ve seen people drink worse. And it’s definitely tasty :)

  • 41
    Nick // Mar 11, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    Haha… I have definitely seen worse too! There are “man laws”… a funny old video: http://youtu.be/dAXk8h1iHAw

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