Sometimes travel introduces you to flavor. Sometimes it’s history. And sometimes, in the case of Italy’s beloved aperitivo, it’s a little bit of both.
Dining in Italy is almost always an experience above and beyond the meal, and aperitivo is no exception. Aperitivo is about unwinding after work, having a light snack and a drink to tide you over for (while not spoiling) dinner. In Florence, as is the case elsewhere in Italy, aperitivo is part of many a local’s daily rituals—and it’s an easy one for visitors to enjoy, too.
Before we get into the specifics of great aperitivo spots in Florence, however, it’s useful to have a little bit of context—particularly about Italy’s formative role in the modern tradition of aperitivo.
What Aperitivo Is in Florence — & (Perhaps More Importantly) Isn’t
It’s relatively easy to conflate aperitivo with the popular US “happy hour,” but, at best, they’re distant cousins.
Whereas happy hour is typically characterized by cheap well drinks and (sometimes) heavily discounted small meals, drinks during aperitivo are notably more costly than usual. Snacks from the often-sumptuous buffet, on the other hand, are free.
In Italy, aperitivo is meant simply to whet your appetite for dinner, which Italians eat later in the evening. (It should come as no surprise that “aperitivo” and “appetizer” are branches on the same etymological family tree.) The goal is not to overindulge, but rather to spend a little time socializing with friends at the end of the workday.
This isn’t to say that turning aperitivo into a meal is forbidden or impossible. Making a tour of several aperitivo bars is a sophisticated alternative to a pub crawl, and the people-watching can be fabulous. Just remember that you’ll be buying a (possibly overpriced) drink at each stop, and that piling food on multiple plates with your one beverage is frowned upon.
Italy’s Aperitivo Resume Dates Back to Ancient Rome
It went by another name then, but consuming certain foods and beverages specifically to stimulate one’s appetite was an Ancient Roman practice (which they adopted from Ancient Greece). Spiced wine was served along with breads, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables—a spread that wouldn’t look out of place today.
For the advent of modern aperitivo, though, we need to head north to Italy’s first capital.
In 1786, spiced wine went from being a luxury good to something every Italian could afford, thanks to a distiller in Turin. Antonio Benedetto Carpano’s blend of sweet white wine with a secret combination of herbs and spices was an immediate success called “vermouth.”
The word comes from the German word for “wormwood,” a common medicinal herb at the time that was part of Carpano’s secret blend—and the recipe for Carpano’s “Antica Formula” is unchanged to this day.
Historically, aperitivo drinks are herbal and light on the alcohol (remember, the point is not to get drunk), though modern options run the gamut from wine to fancy cocktails. And, of course, non-alcoholic drinks are available, too.
It’s also worth noting that aperitivo’s northern roots mean that northern Italian cities tend to have more plentiful aperitivo options than cities in the south (Milan, Turin, and Venice are especially good aperitivo destinations). But Florence has an important role to play in Italy’s aperitivo history, too—it’s where the Negroni, a staple on any good aperitivo drinks menu, was born.
Where to Go for Aperitivo in Florence
There are dozens of places around Florence where you can enjoy aperitivo. Here are a few of our favorites.
1. Caffè Gilli
While the bar that birthed the Negroni is consigned to history, a visit to Caffè Gilli is arguably the next best thing.
It’s the oldest cafe in the city (founded in 1733) and the man at the helm of the bar is the author of the definitive history of Florence’s signature drink. The current location on Piazza della Repubblica was opened in 1917.
Visit midday for coffee and something from the ever-so-tempting pastry case, and return in the evening for a Negroni.
2. Caffè Sant’Ambrogio
Located on Piazza Sant’Ambrogio (the square and bar are named for the 10th-century church overlooking both), Caffè Sant’Ambrogio (Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, 7r) is an aperitivo hotspot year-round. When the weather is nice, however, the lovely view of the church means outdoor seating is especially in demand.
Because this square isn’t as well-known as others in Florence, the crowd is more likely to be made up of locals. There isn’t the biggest variety of food options, but the extensive wine list more than makes up for that.
3. Procacci 1885
Procacci (Via de’ Tornabuoni, 64r) has two things going for it as an aperitivo destination. First, it’s a wine bar, so the selection of wines (including plenty of sparkling options) is exceptionally good. And second, many of the tasty panini are made with truffles.
As an added bonus, Procacci is also a purveyor of a variety of truffle products (along with other Italian gourmet goodies) you can savor at home.
4. Golden View Open Bar
When the view from your table is one of Florence’s top tourist attractions, you know the price tag will skyrocket accordingly. Such is the case with Golden View Open Bar, from which patrons can see the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio.
Aperitivo snacks are made in the Golden View restaurant, so if you aren’t up for a dinner splurge on site you can at least sample some of the flavors that way.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you probably already have Rivoire on your culinary radar. The beautiful cafe, which boasts an enviable view of the Palazzo Vecchio, is famous for its distinctive chocolates.
When the aperitivo hour rolls around, however, Rivoire serves up gorgeous cocktails and small bites. Another claim to fame: Rivoire is among the first places where the Negroni was served after its invention.
6. SE·STO on Arno
A rooftop bar is nearly always a nice idea in the summer—and when the views overlook a city like Florence, it’s an even better idea.
SE·STO on Arno, the rooftop restaurant and bar on the Westin Excelsior, is just as elegant as you’d expect from a luxury hotel. The “bar snacks” are high-end, the wine list is long, and the bartenders expertly pour traditional and signature cocktails alike.
7. Ditta Artigianale
The daytime draw of any of Ditta Artigianale’s locations is coffee—they’re passionate about the stuff. But when it comes to aperitivo, that same kind of passion gets applied to gin.
Choose from more than 150 different gins, including one distilled just for them near Florence using botanicals found in the region, plus a dozen different tonics.
Join us for aperitivo on our evening food tour in Florence! There’s no better way to discover the city’s incredible food and drink scene than by eating your way around the vibrant Oltrarno neighborhood in the company of fellow foodies.
Jessica fell in love with Italy on her first visit and has been channeling that affection into Italy travel guides for more than 15 years. She especially loves the stories food can tell us about a place. Living in often-rainy Portland, Oregon means Jessica is often in the mood for a steaming bowl of Tuscan ribollita. When not writing, she’s probably knitting.