What is an Aperitivo in Italy?

Wine and aperitivo in Cefalu Sicily

One of the things that I really cherish about my life in Italy are the small social interactions that revolve around food. This can mean shopping at a local market to interact with the vendors, making small talk with the barista over a morning caffè, and of course, sitting down for an aperitivo. Aperitivo in Italy is an aperitif drink, but it is about more than getting a buzz (and does not even need to be alcoholic!)

More than just the Italian equivalent of happy hour, aperitivo is that blissful moment between the end of work and the business of dinner. It is a time to catch up with friends, enjoy a well-earned cocktail, and simply reflect on the day and future plans. The Italian aperitivo is about recognizing that the productive part of the day is done. Is the delineation between your work obligations and your personal time. Aperitivo is usually available from about 5 pm to 8 pm. After 8, it is time to start thinking about a real meal.

Almost any coffee bar will serve aperitivo before closing at dinner time. You can also find fancier aperitivo options at cocktail bars, which begin to open at this sunset hour. Some bars will become known for their aperitivo food options, while others are eternally popular for their settings (think a canal-side spritz in Venice, or drinks overlooking the rooftops of Rome). 

two red spritz cocktails on the edge of a rooftop in Rome with a bowl of green olives

Meaning of Apertivio

Aperitivo refers to an early evening drink that is meant to “open the appetite.” Often made with bitter liquors because an aperitivo is meant to prime your stomach for dinner – the main event. Aperitivo does not mean “happy hour” but the timing of the drinks are similar in both cases.

But don’t expect happy hour prices! Drinks served for aperitivo in Italy can often be a little bit MORE expensive rather than less. This is because of the food that accompanies the drink. You can’t really be expected to whet your appetite without a few snacks, now can you?

What to Order 

What to OrderWhat to order for your aperitivo is ultimately a question of personal choice. The most iconic Italian aperitivo is the spritz. This bold red drink is made with either Campari or Aperol (which is slightly sweeter and has a brighter appearance), plus white wine, and topped with fizzy water. The last ingredient is a “spritz” that gives the drink its name.

The most traditional Italian drink is actually vermouth – a fortified wine flavored with herbs.

However, these days you can truly order any drink for aperitivo, and don’t need to stick to the traditionally bitter cocktails. Prosecco, wine, and beer are all common drinks when out before dinner. (Though don’t plan to order wine if you are out AFTER dinner. That tends to strike locals as odd because wine is something to be enjoyed with food).

Check the menu because different drinks sometimes lead to different prices for your aperitivo deal. (e.g. house wine is often one price, while cocktails come in at €1-€2 more on average).

For non-alcoholic options, crodino is a bitter drink without the buzz of a spritz (and much nicer than chinotto, if you ask me). You can also request a cocktail anacoholico (without alcohol). The bartender might ask if you want bitter or sweet, and then propose something that they can mix in house. This is what I usually do when I’m pregnant because I want more variety of flavors while still taking part in the social occasion. 

Prices will depend on the location and how elaborate the included food options are. The most average price in Rome is about €10 for a drink and aperitivo snacks. However, you can find this as low as €5 if you order a simple drink like a beer and the bar serves a small bowl of peanuts or chips.

If you want to recreate aperitivo at home, I love the awesome design and interesting recipes in the book Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Cocktail. You can also learn a lot more about the meaning of Aperitivo, the history of the tradition, and tips on how to make your own with these virtual classes + save 15% with the code ROMENOW:



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