Before visiting Italy for the first time I’d heard plenty of whispering/rumours about how important drinking culture is to the overall Italian way of life. The moment I landed in Milan, I started to notice evidence everywhere that this is true!
Whether seeing people head out for pre-dinner drinks, or pop into their local café for a quick morning coffee, it was pretty evident that Italians have a special approach to enjoying the smaller things in life. And I soon learned that there are also quite a few rules in Italy for proper drinking culture—which are important to follow if you’re looking to drink like a local. Know before you go by checking out these morning to night drinking guidelines that I picked up while in Italy:
Morning: Always start with coffee
I’m already something of a coffee addict, so this definitely wasn’t a difficult adjustment to make, and there’s nothing I enjoyed more than hanging out at the cafes with the locals. Morning is the only time of day where it’s pretty much a free-for-all as far as what sorts of coffee you can order. You can have a plain espresso, or go for something with milk in it-like a cappuccino or a café latte. Mornings are actually the only time where it’s considered acceptable in Italian culture to have milk in your coffee, so if you like your lattes and other milky drinks, get your fix early!
It’s also good to note that café lattes in Italy are a bit different from lattes I’ve had anywhere else. In Italy lattes have a lot more milk and a lot less coffee. Latte actually means ‘milk’ in Italian, so you’ll pretty much wind up with a glass of hot milk and a drop of coffee in it. If you want something similar but with more coffee, a cappuccino or a macchiato might be more your style.
Afternoon: Hold the beer, bring the coffee
It’s no secret that Italians love their beers and wines, and on the weekends it’s not uncommon to find locals chilling out at a bar and having a beer well before lunchtime. However, something I noticed (and found a little surprising) was that on weekdays working Italians don’t tend to drink during their lunch breaks. Pretty much everyone sticks to water and ends the meal with a shot of espresso.
Now, as for that espresso, if you want to partake in the Italian tradition of polishing off your lunch or dinner with coffee, don’t bother ordering an espresso. It’s actually taken for granted that when you ask for a coffee at the end of a meal you’ll end up with that espresso shot. If you’re keen to have the flavour without the caffeine, you can also order a decaffeinated coffee. Avoid ordering any coffee drinks with milk in them as this will raise a few eyebrows and is a bit of a no-no in Italian drinking culture. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to the powerful punch of that little shot in no time at all!
Evening: Bring on the Aperol Spritz
The pre-dinner aperitivo (or aperitif) is something of an institution in Italy, and you won’t want to miss out on this wonderful tradition! People often describe it as a sort of happy hour, but it’s really so much more than that. The aperitivo is designed to whet your appetite in preparation for dinner. Usually aperitivo takes place between 7-9pm when locals hit the streets to relax at bars and cafes with beverages and finger food.
Probably the most common aperitivo drinks I noticed were the famous Italian Aperol Spritz (an orange, wine-based cocktail that’s both sweet and refreshing) or beer. These are always accompanied with complimentary snacks like a basket of chips, olives, or bread with cold meats. The aperitivo quickly became one of my favorite parts of the day as it gave me a chance to kick back and relax after a long day of sightseeing!
Night: There are no rules
Come nightfall it’s time to let your hair down and get really crazy! Just kidding, but there’s not really any specific rules to drinking with dinner. Wine, both red and white, are common dinner beverages, as is beer. Most restaurants offer house wines and you can order these by the carafe or the glass. I’d recommend asking your waiter for their house wine if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the wine list, or simply don’t know what to get. I never had bad wine in Italy, and a carafe (with around 4 glasses of wine in it) was a bargain at 3 Euros.
That being said, don’t be afraid to mix it up a little by trying interesting local cocktails too! A lot of bars have their own unique take on the typical alcoholic drinks and you can’t go wrong by asking your server for recommendations. Italians also tend to be boisterous drinkers, so it’s nice to know you don’t have to maintain a reserved nature when you head out on the town for a couple drinks!