Aside from the Papal conclave, there is no more sacrosanct ritual in Italy than the aperitivo. Akin to the French apéritif, in theory it’s a light, pre-dinner drink to prepare the stomach for the big meal to follow; in practice, it’s a social occasion to meet friends, flirt with strangers: to see and be seen. Your tipple shouldn’t be too heavy, like a whiskey or limoncello––that would be a digestivo. Think instead of prosecco, a Negroni, or the classic Aperol Spritz.
Traditionally an aperitivo has just come with a small snack of chips or nuts, but in recent years, Roman establishments have started an arms race with northern gastronomic centers like Bologna and Milan. In some places expect a massive buffet of meats, cheese and baked treats. A budget-conscious traveler can often stretch this pre-dinner snack into a full meal. Almost any bar in town will serve you a Campari & Soda or a Gin Fizz, but here we’ve collected our favorite spots for people-watching or buffet-sampling.
Some of these bars are also featured in our guide to the most Romantic things to do in Rome. This is just a small selection of where to get the best drinks at aperitivo time in Rome; take one of our Tours of Rome and we’re sure your guide will have their own list!
1. Freni e Frizioni
Probably Rome’s most well-known aperitivo spot (to locals at least), this river-side bar in Trastevere was once an auto-garage–the name means “brakes and clutches”. Their absolutely massive aperitivo buffet attracts a huge number of students looking for a cheap meal, as well as a crowd of older types looking for a lively atmosphere. They’ve got a list of their own inventive cocktails, but when it’s packed you’re better off sticking to their (surprisingly cheap) long drinks.
Via del Politeama 4/6 (Trastevere)
2. Hotel Minerva Roof Garden
For a more upper-level experience, head to the top floor of the ritzy Hotel Minerva (open even to non-guests). With impeccably-prepared classic cocktails and stiff but elegant service, it’s always a wonderful experience. The real draw is the view; right across the piazza is the dome of the Pantheon, and there really is no better place to admire this triumph of Roman architecture, especially with a Negroni in hand. Expect a roof-top panorama––and prices just as high.
Piazza della Minerva 69 (Centro Storico)
3. Lungo il Tevere
Trastevere, Rome’s night-life hub, is already packed with tons of bars, but in the summer months it gains even more. The giant walls along the Tiber River were built in the late nineteenth century to reign in the floodwaters that rise like clockwork every spring. The summer’s always safe though, so restauranteurs take advantage of the extra real-estate with a bars, restaurants and fried-fish stands. On a hot summer’s evening, with a cooling breeze rising off the water, it’s the best aperitivo in Rome.
Lungotevere Raffaello Sanzio (Trastevere, stairs down at Ponte Sisto and Ponte Garibaldi)
4. Pasticceria Linari
For some, finding the best aperitivo is all about the drinks; for others, it’s all about the aperitivo buffet. This place has both. At the heart of Rome’s residential (and increasingly gentrified) Testaccio neighborhood, Linari is the nightly stop for all the locals. You’ll find all the old grannies gossiping with their friends and teenagers trying to flirt with their schoolmates. They’re all drawn by the amazing buffet: during the day, this spot is a top-notch bakery, so their little bites are the tastiest around.
Via Nicola Zabaglia 9 (Testaccio)
5. Caffè Farnese
If you want relief from the crowded Campo de’ Fiori, head one block south to the beatific Piazza Farnese. The bartenders in this old-style cafè know their way around an Aperol Spritz, but the real joy isn’t in your glass––it’s across the square. The enormous Palazzo Farnese was designed, in part by Michelangelo, who added its impressive upper cornice. Visitors can never agree whether the facade is colored pink, yellow or auburn, but as you sip your aperitivo the setting sun will reveal that it is all of them in turn.
Via dei Baullari 106 / Piazza Farnese (Centro Storico)
6. Il Siciliano (a.k.a Bar San Cosimato)
This triangular square to the south of the main part of Trastevere is off the main tourist-track. Home of a daily vegetable market and a large playground, you’ll sip your aperitivo to the sounds of kids playing and locals buying flowers. The bar is home to the most bountiful aperitivo buffet we’ve yet found in Rome: little pizzas, fresh mozzarella, and plenty of little baked snacks. There’s a small surcharge for the food, but you can definitely make a full meal out of it.
Piazza di San Cosimato 61 (Trastevere)
7. Salotto 42
One of the best aperitivo bars in Rome’s historic center, this atmospheric bar is directly across from the remains of the ancient Temple of Hadrian. The clientele alternates between well-heeled and hipster, but everyone is there to enjoy the piazza and their excellent cocktails. This is definitely a place to see and be seen, which ultimately is the true meaning of the Italian aperitivo.
Piazza di Pietra 42 (Centro Storico)
8. Ombre Rosse
This shady (in terms of light, not atmosphere) bar off of Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere is always packed, never more so than when they have live music. The cocktails are excellent, but the buffet can be underwhelming; people come for the atmosphere and their artisanal flatbreads. Even though it’s in the heart of the tourist district, there’s plenty of local color to be found.
Piazza di Sant’Egidio 12-13 (Trastevere)
9. Scholar's Lounge Irish Pub
You may find it strange to find an Irish pub on a list of Rome’s best aperitivo spots, but this boisterous bar at Rome’s epicenter is a fantastic place to grab a drink after a long day of sightseeing. The spiritual home of Rome’s expat community for over a decade, it’s the ideal spot if you’re craving company. Expect to meet (in this order) a UN employee, a freelance translator, and a study-abroad student. Order a Guinness and enjoy an aperitivo, Irish style.
Via del Plebescito 101
10. Castel Sant'Angelo
You might be surprised to find that this old papal fortress has its own bar, but that’s just one of the wonders of this must-see attraction in Rome. Ascending through ancient Roman tombs and Renaissance staterooms, you reach this aperitivo spot right along the old parapets. With an unbeatable view of St. Peter’s Basilica, you can enjoy one of best aperitivo bars in Rome alongside a glorious sunset being the Vatican. It’s the perfect way to grab a drink after a long day of exploring Rome’s many artistic wonders.
Lungotevere Castello 50 (you can’t miss it!)
What is the definition of aperitivo?
The Italian aperitif is a light, pre-dinner drink meant to line the stomach and prepare you for a big hearty Italian dinner. Aperitivo also refers to the practice of going out for a drink with friends in the early evening; bars often offer huge buffets, or at least some snacks.
What are the traditional aperitivo drinks?
Your aperitivo should be light and perhaps bubbly. Stick with clear spirits like gin or vodka, or white wine or prosecco. Classic aperitivo cocktails include: Aperol Spritz, Campari & Soda, Gin & Tonic and the Negroni. Avoid dark spirits like whiskey or syrupy liqueurs like amaro or limoncello: those are digestivi (after-dinner drinks.)