The words “happy hour” can be music to the ears of any budget traveler, but everyone knows things sound better in Italian. Yes, you might see the occasional sign in English declaring a bar has a “happy hour,” but you’re more likely to hear about “aperitivo” – and if you do hear about it, you should make a point to go.
“Aperitivo” in Italy typically involves buying a drink and thereby gaining access to a bar’s buffet table. Food offerings can range from simple bowls of pretzels and potato chips to tables overflowing with pasta, vegetables, pizza, sandwiches and salads. In short, it’s absolutely possible to turn aperitivo into a meal – even though the Italians don’t usually do that.
Italian cities like Milan and Rome may have been the pioneers of aperitivo, but Florence is now home to plenty of bars with great aperitivo buffets. This can be credited in part to the city’s university population, always eager to embrace new trends – not to mention always on the hunt for budget-friendly eats.
When you’re looking for aperitivo in Florence or anywhere else in Italy, there are a few things to keep in mind:
● Drinks aren’t cheap – While “happy hour” tends to mean there are cheap drink options, “aperitivo” drinks are about the same price as any other time (or, in some places, slightly more expensive). This is to make up for the fact that they’re giving away the food for free, so don’t assume you’re being ripped off just by looking at the drink menu. Budget-friendly beverages are the simpler ones – beer and wine – as opposed to mixed drinks, and you can always go for a non-alcoholic drink instead.
● Check out the buffet before sitting down – As mentioned, not all aperitivo bars provide the same goodies when it comes to the food, so before you take a seat and start ordering drinks, take a walk by the buffet to see what’s available.
● Italians leave room for dinner – Aperitivo for Italians is a midway stop between work and home, where they’ll have dinner later, so they don’t use aperitivo as an excuse to stuff themselves. You can turn aperitivo into dinner; just don’t act like a pig. Rather than going back for three or four helpings from one buffet, visit a few aperitivo bars in succession. You’ll get a dinner with plenty of variety for the price of a few drinks along the way.
There are aperitivo bars all over Florence; just keep in mind that the ones in the historic center – where most visitors spend their time – are likely to be crowded, but not necessarily with locals. To get a more local experience, head for the neighborhoods away from the tourist center (including around the university, where the bars cater to the student set).