Traveling? Relocating? Studying in Italy for a term? 

If you’re thinking of visiting or moving to il bel Paese tune in and get a head-start: valid accurate and absolutely vital information about the Drinking Age in Italy follows below!

I’ll take you through the dos and don’ts of Italy’s drinking culture, tell you the pure unabridged truth about laws and rules and fill you in on what you need to know to latch on to Italian lifestyle and partake in the Italians’ habits, traditions and customs.

What is the legal Drinking Age in Italy?

(you will be surprised…)

The law states:

1 – It is against the law (Legge 04/18/2017) to sell and/or serve alcoholic beverages to persons under 16 years old; consequently it is forbidden to purchase alcoholic beverages if you are younger than 16.

2 –  A restaurant owner/bartender/vendor who sells or serves alcohol to teens aged below 16 or to any person suffering from mental disabilities is punished with a fine and/or imprisoned. There is no punishment for the minor.

Startling, huh? The drinking age limit in Italy is significantly lower than in the US and most other countries. But the substantial difference with most countries’ legislation is that, according to Italian law, it is unlawful to sell alcohol to minors but it is not actually unlawful to drink if you are not 16 yet. Hence, there is no legal age in Italy to drink.

So, a foreigner might think, why is it that Italian teenagers and young adults don’t have an enormous drinking problem?

It’s all a question of mindset, lifestyle and heritage. In one word: local culture.

La cultura del buon bere (con moderazione)

drinking culture italy

Which very simply means the culture of drinking well (moderately)

I think it’s genetic, and geographic: most Italian regions are covered by vineyards. The Italians – today, yesterday, 100 years ago – have grown up with wine. Wine at the table, casks in the cellar, grapes to pick and grappa to distill. 

A favorite classic Tuscan afternoon snack for children used to be a slice of bread with a spoonful of red wine and a spoonful of sugar – much healthier than supermarket-bought packaged cookies!

So, there’s no real drinking age in Italy. There’s wine for lunch and for dinner, sparkling wine for birthdays, sweet wine with dessert, and it’s served to everybody sitting at the table. 

But, and this is the crux, everyone drinks moderately. You have 1 glass, 2 glasses, teens have some, children have a sip, and grandma wets baby’s lips with her finger for a toast… Everyone has some. Moderately.

The bottom line is that, in Italy, drinking is not considered poor behaviour. It is socially accepted, goes with a series of activities and as such is a part of everyday life

On the other hand getting drunk is frowned upon, public intoxication and drunkenness with disorderly conduct are shameful and punished by law, as is DUI (drinking under the influence).

And this is why there is no major teen/youngster drinking issue: it’s normal, it’s not forbidden, you get a glass of bubbly for dad’s birthday so… what’s the big deal about it?

Come, Dove, Quando – How, Where and When to drink in Italy

The drinking age in Italy is basically left to each person’s and family’s prudence and wisdom. The same is true for drinking etiquette. In fact there is no limiting legislation on drinking in public, outdoors, on the beach, sitting on a fountain, in a park etc… again, it is left to common sense and local customary behavior.

drinking at the bar

How, where and when do Italians drink?

Follow our insider tips and live La Dolce Vita!

  • Al bar – at the bar/cafè. You can have a glass of wine, a craft beer, a cocktail, a glass of liqueur in virtually all bars and cafés in Italy at any time of the day. Obviously some places are more specialized in drinks and you’ll have a better selection, so you need to find your way around first. Clearly it is not normal to have a gin tonic at 10.00AM. What is customary, traditional and very friendly and fun is l’aperitivo, i.e. meeting friends for a pre-dinner (sometimes pre-lunch), drink with a snack. Staple Italian drinks for an aperitivo are Aperol Spritz, Americano, Negroni, White Wine and Prosecco. There are numerous bars specialized in aperitivi where you get a full spread of snacks, tidbits, cheeses, cured meats etc.. for free. 
  • Al ristorante – at the restaurant. All Italian restaurants, trattorie and osterie have wine on the menu. Fancier/more specialized joints will give you a wine list. After a nice dinner  you can enjoy a dessert wine, like Moscato or Passito di Pantelleria, or a digestivo (digestive drink). Very popular this can be a herb-infused liqueur, or a fruit one, such as Nocino or Limoncello.
  • Al locale e in discoteca – after dinner, in the evening and during the night you’ll find cocktails, beer, prosecco and some wines at the pub, club or disco. Usually you pay for each drink at the pub or club, whereas your disco entrance ticket generally includes 1 drink. Many bars, cafés and restaurants have outdoor seating where you can freely and comfortably enjoy your wine or drink.
  • All’alimentari – You can buy wine, beer, and liqueurs at supermarkets and alimentari – grocery shops. Or go to an enoteca if you are looking for a great selection of really good quality wines, prosecco or champagne

Remember to cheer!

cin cin italian drinking cheers

Raise your glass, do not clink and look into the eyes of the person/persons you are drinking with. You can say cin cin (pron: chin chin) a te/a voi (here’s to you) or salute (kind of vintage-sounding..it means to your good health).

Always drink moderately, respect those around you, and behave decently and politely.

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