What to Expect When You Go to a Bar in Italy

A bar in Rome, Italy
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A bar in Italy is a business establishment in which patrons can purchase coffee drinks, wine and liquor, soft drinks, and usually morning pastries and/or sandwiches called panini (un panino is one sandwich, two sandwiches are due panini). In larger bars, many flavors of Italy's famous gelato, or ice cream (really more ice milk) may be served.

Bar Atmosphere

An Italian bar is the center of social life in Italy, not a place to consume large amounts of alcohol.

People of all ages can go to the bar; there are no age restrictions. You may see groups of Italians playing cards, watching TV, or just gathering together to talk.

Italians may visit their local bar several times in the morning for coffee and again in the early evening for an aperitivo or cocktail before dinner. The typical Italian breakfast is a cappuccino or espresso and cornetto often had in a bar. Stopping in for a coffee on the way to do an errand or when you're going somewhere with your friends is common in Italy.

At bars in larger cities, and especially ones near tourist centers, it will cost more to sit at a table, and often even more if the table is outside than it will be to stand at the bar because you will also pay for service. Prices are posted—al banco meaning the price for consuming a beverage at the bar or alla tavola meaning the price at the table. Smaller town bars often do not levy table charges.

If you want to sit outside in a piazza to have a coffee, plan to spend some time enjoying the atmosphere. Once you've ordered something, you can stay as long as you want without having to order something else. If all you want is a quick drink, you're better off going inside where you'll pay less.

The coffee drink you order at home may be different from what you'll get in Italy.

Historic Italian Bars and Coffee Houses

Some bars or cafes in Italy are beautifully decorated and going inside is a pleasure. For example, Caffe Delle Carrozze in Chiavari has a beautifully carved marble bar. They have a fantastic house coffee, too.

The city of Turin was one of the first Italian cities to embrace cafe life and there are several historic coffee houses that are nice to visit.