Aperitivo – what it is, how to order it, typical aperitivo drinks, and more
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What Is Aperitivo?
In your home country, you may be used to eating dinner a little earlier than we do in Italy.
Italians typically start dinner around 8:00pm (or even 9:00pm in Southern Italy).
So what do you do with all that time from lunch to dinner? Don’t you get really hungry? That’s where aperitivo, or ‘aperitif time’ comes in. It’s the perfect moment for relaxation, conviviality and taking the edge off your hunger before the main event – dinner!
It’s a real ritual, and enjoying a true aperitivo italiano is a must on a trip to Italy.
What Time Is Aperitivo?
Imagine the scene – you’ve just come out of work after a hard day. Where do you head? Straight home? Of course not, don’t be so boring! You’ll join your colleagues (or your friends outside work if your colleagues are a real pain) for an aperitivo.
7:00pm is aperitivo golden hour kick-off time, although you can do it a little earlier or a little later. It’s the time when you’re hungry and longing for a drink to help you relax after all that hard work at the office.
While you’re visiting Italy, you won’t be at the office, but after a busy day exploring, you’ll still need a little something before dinner.
How long it goes on is up to you. A quick drink before moving on to that great restaurant or winding your weary way home (30 minutes)? Or maybe you’ll continue snacking and sipping, and it’ll take the place of a ‘proper’ dinner entirely (yup, it’s 9 o’clock and we’re still propping up the bar!).
Aperitivo is, of course, the literal translation of the English ‘aperitif’ or French ‘apéritif’ – a pre-dinner drink.
‘Cocktail hour’ might be another way to say it, but while there are some classic pre-dinner cocktails (more about that below) an aperitivo italiano is often something that’s a little lighter on the alcohol.
The root of the word is the Latin aperire (to open) and the modern Italian is aprire…you’re literally ‘opening your stomach’ for all the delights to come!
Is it the same thing as a ‘happy hour? Well, not in the strict sense. A happy hour in other countries often implies that you get a two-for-one deal on your booze, whereas in Italy that’s not usually the case. In fact, some drinks at aperitivo may be more expensive than at other times of the day, but that’s because there are snacks included…more below.
But are you happy at aperitivo time? For sure! So there’s a definite link there!
How To Pronounce Aperitivo
Aperitivo is pronounced ah-peh-ree-TEE-voh.
Listen to it here:
The Difference Between Aperitivo and Digestivo
Here in Italy we not only enjoy our pre-dinner drinks, but there’s an extra special place in our hearts for after-dinner drinks too. That’s where the digestivo comes in. After all, it’s only natural to want to ‘digest’ that wonderful dinner you’ve eaten. The digestive is usually a herb-based liqueur (although it might also be a more international whisky or brandy).
Homebrewing is a widespread hobby and artform and every Italian family worth its salt will have a family member who’s an expert at producing some kind of plant-based digestivo. This deserves a whole article on its own, so we’ll save it for another day, but I’ll just mention in passing that some of the most popular Italian after-dinner drinks are amari (literally ‘bitters’) like Amaro Del Capo, Montenegro, and Braulio (a herbal liqueur from the Valtellina region in Italy).
You may be surprised to learn that Jägermeister is also a very popular after-dinner digestivo in Italy. Forget misspent youth and headache-inducing Jaeger-bombs…it’s meant to be sipped and enjoyed slowly (and you generally only drink one!).
Of course, another popular Italian digestivo is grappa (a grape skin distillate). It’s the perfect use for marc, which is left after grapes have been crushed to make wine. In Italy, nothing goes to waste.
What To Drink At Aperitivo
Aperol Spritz – A Classic Italian Aperitivo
The most popular aperitivo italiano is undoubtedly Aperol Spritz. Ever been to Italy and seen those ubiquitous orange drinks on tables in Italian squares? Yes, that’s Aperol Spritz. Aperol is an Italian bitter with a secret recipe that includes gentian (a bright blue flower widespread in the Italian Alps), rhubarb, and cinchona. It’s the ideal blend of bitter-sweet flavors.
Here is the recipe for the perfect Aperol spritz:
Fill a wine glass with plenty of ice and just remember the 3-2-1 ratio:
- 3 parts prosecco
- 2 parts Aperol
- 1 part soda
Add an orange slice and you’re ready to go.
Italian Spritz Variations
Of course, there are plenty of ‘spritz’ variations. You can substitute Aperol with another Italian favorite, Campari, also made with herbs and fruit, dark red, and more alcoholic.
Fun Fact: Campari has created some of Italy’s most iconic artistic advertisements.
Real aperitivo aficionados will enjoy ‘Select’, the original Venetian spritz additive, with a vibrant red color like an Italian sunset. Rhubarb roots and juniper berries make this liqueur a real treat and although little known outside Venice, it’s been produced since 1920.
Of course, one thing that a spritz is not is a white wine spritzer (that’s just a wine and soda) and strangely enough, it’s not that commonly ordered in Italy. I had trouble even coming up with the name for it in Italian. I’ve heard it called a ‘sguazzone’ in the North-East of the country, but there may be other dialectal versions for the same thing. If it’s your poison perhaps it’s best to just call it what it is ‘vino bianco con soda’!
Learn how we say Cheers in Italian + Italian Toasting Rules!
Most Popular Italian Aperitivo Drinks
- Spritz – Aperol or Campari, prosecco, club soda, ice and slice of orange
- Americano – sweet vermouth, Campari, club soda, ice and slice of orange or lemon
- Negroni – gin, sweet vermouth, Campari and orange peel
- Negroni sbagliato – literally ‘a Negroni made wrong’ – prosecco, sweet vermouth and Campari
- Bellini – prosecco, peach puree
- Hugo – prosecco, soda, elderflower syrup, ice, slice of lime, mint
- A simple glass of red wine, white wine or beer
- Sparkling wine is another favorite. Prosecco is widespread but why not try a ‘metodo classico’, Italian champagne in all but name?
Non-Alcoholic Italian Aperitivo Drinks
- Sparkling water with lemon
- Aperol soda
- Campari soda
- Crodino – an orange, bitter aperitif but without alcohol
- Soda and syrup, like fiore di sambuca – elderflower
Is Food Is Served At Aperitivo?
Snacks, whether plentiful or small, are included with the price of your drink. No Italian likes drinking on an empty stomach.
Food to accompany your aperitivo varies widely. In some simple, local bars you may just get a few peanuts, a couple of olives and some chips.
Some bars, especially in Milan (Italy’s aperitivo capital), really go to town with a whole countertop of dishes. You can grab a plate and serve yourself from a selection of pastas, rice salads, frittatas, bite-size pizzas, vegetables, snacks and other delights.
A simple aperitivo becomes an apericena (aperitif + dinner). You generally pay a premium for your drink, because you’re basically getting dinner thrown in too! In fact, many restaurants are often up in arms because after eating so much at aperitivo time no one is going to have room for a sit-down meal in a restaurant afterward.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to choose the kind of aperitivo experience you prefer – lots of food or just a light snack. Here in Italy, we all have our favorite bars for that very reason, so you can have fun trying a few out!
How To Order An Aperitivo
To ask for your negroni:
Posso avere un negroni, per favore? May I have a negroni, please?
Or we can make it really simple…
Un negroni, per favore. A negroni, please.
To order other drinks, just replace ‘un negroni‘ with:
- un negroni sbagliato
- uno spritz (con Campari, con Aperol)
- un americano
- un bellini
- un hugo
- un bicchiere di vino rosso
- un bicchiere di vino bianco
- un prosecco
- un chinotto
- un crodino
- un’acqua naturale
- un’acqua frizzante
Use The Serving Utensils
Picking up snacks with your hands from the bar counter is generally frowned upon. Bars are careful to put serving utensils for hygiene reasons, as it is communal food after all, so no dipping your hands in the dish of peanuts guys, use the spoon!
Don’t Overfill Your Plate
And there’s no need to pile your plate to the heavens either. Try not to look like you’re starving – just take a few snacks, enjoy them and you can always go back up for a discrete second round.
Good To Know: Covid regulations have put some temporary brakes on the bar counters full of food. Right now you’ll get an individual plate with some snacks served alongside your drink.
Paying For Your Aperitivo
When it comes to paying for your aperitivo, each bar has its own system.
Often, you’ll pay first at the counter then get your drink and take it to your table. Other bars will have a more formal table service where you’ll order your drinks and then get the check at the end. Some bars, especially very busy ones, may have the table service, but they’ll give you your check right away and you pay as soon as the drinks come to the table. Just watch what’s going on around you and, if in doubt, ask!
Where To Have Aperitivo
Here are some of our favorite places for apertivo:
Best Aperitivo in Florence
A seriously chic experience with perfectly hand-crafted cocktails containing 100% Italian-produced ingredients. Bartender Fabiano Fabiani not only serves exquisitely mixed drinks but will take you on a journey through Italian aperitivo history! The bar has a beautiful outdoor area with a view of Piazza San Pancrazio and the Marino Marini Museum.
See our post on the Best Things To Do In Florence + What To Skip!
Best Aperitivo in Venice
Osteria Al Squero
It’s a seriously thankless task trying to choose the best place for an aperitivo in Venice.
The city is the home of the spritz though perhaps (let’s whisper it) it’s not even really Italian in origin. The Veneto region of Italy was under the domination of the Austrian Empire in the early 19th century and Hapsburg soldiers used to love local wine with a little sparkling water, giving rise to the ‘spritz’ tradition.
Good To Know: Venice has its own traditional aperitivo snacks – cicchetti. They don’t come free, but they cost only one or two euros each. They are generally little slices of bread (like a tiny open sandwich) topped with all sorts of delights, especially octopus, sardines, or anything fishy. Get a few from the bar and, if it’s a nice evening, sit along the canal right opposite where Venice’s gondolas are built.
Best Aperitivo in Rome
A pretty hipster locale…you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported back in time to a 1920s speakeasy. Perfectly mixed drinks in a unique setting with its very own stuffed alligator. Careful how much you drink here – it’s also a tattoo parlor, so you might come out with more than you bargained for.
Best Aperitivo in Milan
We’re not sure if this bar is named after the owner’s favorite soccer team or where Robin Hood used to hang out, but in any case, it’s a little gem. Truly creative cocktails with Italian favorites and recipes from around the world. Don’t turn up in a big group – you won’t fit! And be prepared to join a line, but it’s well worth the wait.
The Brera district is also a lively place for an outdoor aperitivo.
Best Aperitivo in Naples
The South of Italy use to lag behind a little compared to the North when it comes to aperitivo, but not anymore. Try Barril, a peaceful oasis in the heart of Naples’ lively Chiaia district, offering great drinks and elegant finger food.
Aperitivo With Kids
I see plenty of families that take little ones along to aperitivo. But, if your kids can’t sit still, don’t go to aperitivo at a small indoor bar. Instead, choose an aperitivo location in a piazza or with space for the kids to run around.
We usually bring our kids out to have an apericena because we eat dinner early. Our kids usually order juice (pear and peach are favorites) and they love getting the little plates of nibbles.
Or, stop by the grocery store to buy aperitivo ingredients and have your own aperitivo at a park, a viewpoint, or even back at your hotel.
Aperitivo At Home
If you aren’t in Italy yet, you can still enjoy aperitivo at home with friends and family!
Just gather your desired aperitivo drink ingredients and some finger foods. Here are some easy to prepare favorites that are ‘in the rotation’ at our house:
At-Home Aperitivo Drinks
- Wine (red and/or white)
- Beer (Ichnusa, Peroni, Morretti, Menabrea, or Forst)
Easy to At-Home Aperitivo Food
- Grissini (breadsticks)
- Crackers and cheese (especially pecorino, parmigiano, or mozzarelline)
- Frittata cut into squares
- Sott’oli (literally, under oil) – sundried tomatoes, olives, little onions
- Sott’aceti (literally, under vinegar) – capers, mini pickles
- Rice salad (rice with tomatoes, salame, cubed cheese, olives)
- Lentil salad
Books About Aperitivo
Want to dive deeper into aperitivo? Check out these books on aperitivo culture in Italy and the classic aperitivo italiano, the spritz: