Italy’s culinary culture is so deeply rooted and has influenced traditions all over the world. I wrote a very popular post about how to get an iced coffee in Italy, and I decided to continue the Italian beverage theme and write about Aperitivo! Aperitivo is an iconic Italian tradition that is an absolute must-do for travelers visiting Italy, whether for the first time or the hundredth time. This post will contain all you need to know to confidently take part in this famous Italian tradition!
What Is Aperitivo?
Aperitivo is a hundreds-of-years-old tradition in Italy that is basically like an Italian happy hour. Every evening, people gather at local bars to unwind with friends and family with some snacks and a couple of drinks. “Aperitivo” comes from the Italian word aprire which means to open. Essentially, the aperitivo is meant to open up both your palate and your social skills to enjoy a nice dinner, which makes it the perfect Italian happy hour.
While some bars offer their own take on aperitivo, some things are the same everywhere you go. There will always be snacks, there will always be a handful of iconic drinks served, and it will always take place around 6pm and onward. While the snacks are often included in the price of your drink, some bars in touristy areas will charge you separately for food and not tell you until the bill arrives. The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is simply to read the sign out front or ask the waiter if the food is included.
Aperitivo today is a mix of traditions from all over Italy over the years. Four of the most influential cities in the formation of the modern aperitivo are Turin, Venice, Rome, and Florence. While aperitivo is a must regardless of where you are in Italy, it’s even better in these cities!
What Time Is Aperitivo in Italy?
Aperitivo is meant to whet your appetite. You can think of it as an appetizer to dinner. Italians tend to eat dinner on the later side, too, around 7:30 or 8:00. For that reason, aperitivo happens around 6-9 depending on the bar. Most bars will have a sign up noting when their aperitivo is, but generally 6-9 is a good guess. Aperitivo happens every day of the week, too! While 6-9 is generally a good guess for what time aperitivo is in Italy, a bartender once told me “it’s always aperitivo in Italy, you just need to ask.”
What Should I Order at Aperitivo in Italy?
You can order anything you want at an aperitivo. After all, it is just a special Italian happy hour at a bar. If you want a beer, you can get a beer! You can also get a glass of wine, if that’s your thing.
However, I recommend not doing that. If you are going to celebrate an aperitivo for the first time, I recommend getting the traditional aperitivo drinks! These are the Negroni and the Aperol Spritz. Both of these are a bit of an acquired taste and are a little bitter, but you need to give them a try. Do it for the culture!
WHAT IS A NEGRONI?
A Negroni is one of the most traditional Italian cocktails, and it is even named after a former Italian noble! Negronis are made of gin, Campari, and vermouth with an orange garnish. Vermouth is a very bitter liquor, and Negronis are definitely an acquired taste. Still, they are pretty good once you get past the shock of the first sip!
WHAT IS AN APEROL SPRITZ?
In my opinion, the Aperol Spritz is much tastier than the Negroni. It is made of Prosecco, bitters, and club soda and served over ice. It also has a very unique flavor, but it is much less bitter and shocking than the Negroni. I recommend starting with this and then moving onto the Negroni if you want a second drink! If you don’t like the Aperol taste, consider getting either a Limoncello Spritz or Campari Spritz as your second drink instead.
Is the Food at Aperitivo Free?
When you go to aperitivo in Italy, you may be shocked to see that the waiters deliver a plate of snacks to your table. What is this about? Are they going to charge me for this? I didn’t order that!
The snacks that are delivered to your table are called cicchetti, and they are usually complementary while you enjoy your drinks. These may include nuts and crackers, meat platters, bruschetta, and more. Aperitivo food can be as simple as nuts or as fine as full pizzas.
Usually, bars raise the prices of their drinks at aperitivo time, and this is what covers the cost of the aperitivo food. If a beer is €4 during the day, it might rise to €5-6 during aperitivo. You still win out in this case, as the food is normally worth much more than just €2. These foods are meant to stimulate your appetite alongside the traditional drinks that you consume. Just try not to eat too much, or else you won’t have any room left for dinner!
While this is how things normally work, it isn’t always the case. One time at a bar in Naples, we assumed that the food would be brought to us for free. Now, this place was definitely touristy and located in a touristy part of the city. Still, we didn’t do our due diligence, and just assumed that the food would be included in the price of our €9 (!!!) drinks. Well, it wasn’t. We got charged an additional €30 for food, which was just absurd. I speak fluent Italian, too, so this was just how it worked there; we weren’t the target of any tourist trapping.
To avoid situations like this in the future, I have just always made sure to either ask before ordering or read the sign they have posted outside. In 90% of cases, the food is free. Just make sure you don’t find a bar that falls into the 10%.
Hopefully after reading this post you know a little more about Italian aperitivo and are confident attending one for the first time! The traditional drinks may be a bit unique, but I really recommend you give them a try. Do it for the culture! This Italian happy hour is simply one of the best experiences to be had in Italy, and you really don’t want to miss it.