Crawling Towards Aperitivo in Milan

During our epic 2002 adventure in northern Italy, we foolishly skipped right past Milan on our way from Verona to Lake Como. Now here I am, years later and dear friends with a woman who loves Milan so much that she plans to live there someday. So, since I can offer you little on this exciting, glamorous city, I’ll simply let Jessica Spiegel of WhyGo Italy do the job for me.


Photo by Ralph Bodenner

While the notorious “pub crawl” often ends in an uncouth level of volume or undignified sidewalk-vomiting (or even both), it remains a popular way for traveling night owls to simultaneously explore and enjoy the local tipple. 

However, if you’re not interested in drinking for the sake of drinking (read: are over the age of 25) but you do like the idea of enjoying cocktails in local hotspots to begin an evening in an exceptionally chic city, then Milan has the perfect solution for you:


Literally translated, aperitivo simply means a drink consumed before a meal that’s intended to stimulate the appetite. In Milan, aperitivo is akin to an American happy hour in that it involves both food and drink, but the food — and the deals — are often better.

In the early evening, bars around the city fill up with Milanese enjoying a cocktail with coworkers or friends before either going out for dinner or going home to eat with family. Once drinks have been purchased, bars will provide a selection of snacks that are otherwise free of charge. These spreads range from the pedestrian (communal bowls of potato chips, pretzels and peanuts on the bar) to the elaborate (buffet-style feasts of pasta, salad, meat and pizza).

If you’d like to incorporate an aperitivo-crawl into your next visit to Italy’s most fashionable city, here are some tidbits you’ll need to know:

Photo by Valentina_A

Aperitivo Neighborhoods

There are several neighborhoods in Milan that are known for having a great selection of aperitivo bars, and a few bars that are high on the trendy scale. An aperitivo-crawl just about anywhere in Milan can be an elegant and budget-friendly way to spend an evening, but if you don’t care so much about the cost then including one of the fancier bars is a fun way to take your aperitivo evening to the next level.

Note that if you’re planning to make the aperitivo spread your evening meal, you should either scout out the buffet offerings before sitting down and ordering a drink or specifically seek out highly-recommended aperitivo bars that are noted for their food (some listed in the resources below).

  • Corso Sempione – This tree-lined boulevard lies on the opposite side of the Parco Sempione, behind the Castello Sforzesco, so it’s got plenty of greenery around to add to the romantic atmosphere. There are bars up and down the street just outside the park, and in good weather they all have tables outside. They fill up fast, so you may need to stop at a few bars before you find an open seat.
  • Navigli – To the south of the city center of Milan, there are a few canals (yes, canals) that run through what used to be a more rundown neighborhood where struggling artists had their apartments and studios. Today, the Navigli is increasingly expensive (there are still artists around, but only the successful ones can afford the rent) and a well-known area for nightlife in general, including aperitivo.
  • Corso Como – Normally the neighborhoods close to train stations are the ones travelers are advised to stay away from, but Stazione Garibaldi to the north of Milan’s city center is only a secondary station and home to one of the most chic streets in Milan – Corso Como. It’s a very short, pedestrian-only street with several aperitivo options, but most who venture this way for aperitivo are headed for Corso Como 10 – both an incredibly expensive shop and a tough-to-get-into bar. This is a “see and be seen” type of place, so you’re paying (dearly) for the vibe and location.
  • Brera – Shoppers will know about the Brera neighborhood by day (there are many boutiques in the Brera, plus it’s right next door to the designer-heavy Quadrilatero d’Oro), and by night there are some great aperitivo bar options here. It also happens to be one of the prettier neighborhoods in Milan (if you ask me), so it’s pleasant for an evening stroll, too (even if it’s a bit small).

Photo by Federica Piersimoni

Aperitivo Tips

  • With the bigger buffets, it’s easy to turn aperitivo into dinner – and you wouldn’t be the first traveler to do so – but the Milanese don’t gorge themselves on aperitivo snacks. They’re eating a bit to go with their drinks so that they don’t get drunk, but they’re still intending to eat a full dinner somewhere else. In other words, if you’re thinking of doing a DIY aperitivo-crawl in Milan for dinner, don’t be over-zealous about piling food on your plates every time you head for the buffet table.
  • While “happy hour” in the United States means both the drinks and the food are discounted, in Milan aperitivo means the food is free but the drinks often cost more than they do normally (in order to pay for the food). The cost of a drink varies substantially from one bar to the next, sometimes having to do more with location than with the food offered, so if you’re planning to have multiple drinks at each aperitivo stop you might want to consult a price list first. Otherwise, note that wine is usually much cheaper than a mixed drink no matter the location.
  • If you’re a tee-totaller or just not interested in having an alcoholic beverage at every stop, never fear – there are generally non-alcoholic drinks available. You can get sodas or fruit juices served relatively plainly, or you can ask the waiter if there’s a non-alcoholic cocktail option – essentially a “mocktail.” The Italian word for non-alcoholic is analcolico, pronounced an|al|KO|lee|ko, but the English word “cocktail” is recognized in Italy (provided it’s said with a bit of an Italian accent!).
  • There are traditional aperitivo drinks that are known for being appetite stimulants (including bitters like Campari), and these remain popular aperitivo choices in Milan, but these days if you’re in a bar with a well-stocked liquor cabinet, you can get pretty much any cocktail you’d like. Common aperitivo cocktails include the Negroni and the Spritz.

Photo by s2s

Other Resources

  • It’s less user-friendly to sort through (and not terribly up-to-date), but the “aperitivo” section of the La Bella Città blog has several reviews of aperitivo bars.
  • Checking forums like Chowhound for their aperitivo suggestions is a good idea, especially if you find threads with recent updates.
About the Author: Jessica Spiegel is a Portland-based travel writer for the BootsnAll Travel Network, the RTW travel resource.
She writes the WhyGo Italy travel guide, is in love with both Venice and Naples, but happily imagines settling down in Milan.
She’ll help you figure out whatever you need for your Italy trip, from booking Italian train tickets online to finding cheap airfare to Italy.
Follow her on Twitter @andiamo.


See also


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