Is there anything more idyllic than overlooking a piazza with a glass of wine in hand in an Italian city that seems right from a postcard? We would argue not much except that, maybe instead of wine, you'd enjoy a classic Italian cocktail.
When it comes to Italian cocktails, there are so many good ones, it’d be a waste to travel to Italy and only order wine. Yes, wine is the foolproof option, but if you want to get authentic, order a classic Italian cocktail, preferably during aperitivo. In case you haven't taken part, aperitivo is like happy hour but so much better because the price of the cocktail often includes a few small plates of rather delicious food.
Here the ten classic cocktails drinks you must try when you travel to Italy:
The Milano-Torino Cocktail
We’re starting off with this super classic Italian cocktail that was created at the famous Camparino bar in Milan (where we love to go during our Milan group trips!) back in the 1800s. This drink is like the grandfather of Italian cocktails because it led to variations we know as the Americano (where soda water is added) and the Negroni (where gin is added).
The basic Milano-Torino cocktail recipe is equal parts Campari and sweet red vermouth served in a rocks glass with orange. As for the name, it’s a nod to the cities from which the main ingredients hail: Milan for the Campari and Turin for the Martini & Rossi sweet red vermouth.
The Americano Cocktail
Some people argue that the Milano-Torino and the Americano are the same cocktail, while others say the Americano is its own thing. The reason it’s confusing? Because the Americano cocktail is essentially a Milano-Torino that's served in a tall glass with a good amount of soda water!
Considered the precursor to the Negroni, this is a lighter cocktail that's a go-to in the hot summer heat. It’s named the “Americano” because it was the drink of choice of Americans during the Prohibition era, but we assure you that, despite the name, this is one of the most classic Italian cocktails.
The Negroni Cocktail
The story goes that back in 1919 the Count Negroni (yes, that was his real name!) asked a bartender at the Caffe Casoni in Florence to make an Americano cocktail with gin instead of soda water. To this day, a classic Negroni cocktail is equal parts gin, sweet red vermouth, and Campari served on the rocks and garnished with an orange peel.
This cocktail is all parts alcohol so it's not for the faint of heart, but it doesn’t get more Florentine than sipping on an ice cold Negroni pre-dinner.
Il Cardinale Cocktail
The story goes that this drink was created by a cardinal in Rome, who asked the bartender to mix him a twist on the Negroni cocktail but made with dry vermouth instead of the usual sweet red vermouth. This classic Italian cocktail quickly became a hit with other patrons and was christened “The Cardinal” (Il Cardinale). Order this drink when you're in Rome as it is most popular in the city where it was invented.
The Gin and It Cocktail
A Gin and It (pronounced “eat”) cocktail is an Italian take on the popular Gin and French. The “It” part of the cocktail is in reference to the sweet red vermouth that is mixed with gin and served as a pre-dinner cocktail. True, this is a lesser-known cocktail, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a barman in Italy who doesn’t know how to make it. Order one and you can give yourself kudos for getting a drink that hardly any non-Italians even know exists.
The Negroni Sbagliato Cocktail
Legend has it that the Negroni Sbagliato cocktail was created in Milan in 1972 at Bar Basso, when the bartender, Mirko Stocchetto, mistakenly added sparkling wine instead of gin while making a Negroni. The name came about because the word “sbagliato” means mistake in Italian. This error was good news for the rest of the world though as this cocktail still provides the bitter taste of a Negroni, but with a lighter aftertaste.
The Garibaldi Cocktail
Most people are surprised to learn that Italy was not unified as a country until 1871. At that time, Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian General and politician helped unify the country so the Garibaldi cocktail was created in his honor. The cocktail's two main ingredients are mixed in a 1:1 ratio and each come from the north and the south to represent the country's unification. Representing the north is Campari and orange juice represents the south since orange trees are plentiful there.
The Spritz Cocktail
The Aperol Spritz is probably one of the most popular drinks in Italy having recently become a sort icon for classic Italian cocktails. But the Spritz is not so much one distinct drink as it is a family of cocktails that are all made with wine, soda water, and some kind of bitter liquor known as amari.
Depending where you are in italy, a Spritz cocktail might be served in a variety of glasses, a variety of wines (sometimes sparkling sometimes flat), or with a variety of bitter liquors. An Aperol Spritz is probably the most common throughout Italy, but it could be made with the artichoke-based Venetian liquor known a Cynar or other bitter liquers like Ramazzoti or Campari. In Venice, it is sometimes made with Select, which gives it a distinct reddish hue and many locals make it with still wine instead of bubbles.
Bottom line is you should make it easier on the bartender and always specify the bitter liquor you want in your Spritz.
The Bellini Cocktail
For something a little lighter and a touch sweeter, give the classic Bellini cocktail a try. Created in the 1940s by bartender Giuseppe Cardini at his famous Harry's Bar in Venice, the classic Bellini is made by mixing Prosecco with peach puree. A well-made Bellini cocktail is both sweet and satisfying and, since it doesn’t contain any hard alcohol, it’s also a lot easier to drink than many other classic Italian cocktails.
The Sgroppino al Limone Cocktail
In addition to the Bellini and the Spritz, another classic Italian cocktail from Venice is the sgroppino. The sgroppino al limone (the most popular version) is a Venetian drink made from lemon sorbet, ice-cold vodka, and Prosecco and the first record of this drink goes all the way back to 1528. The name comes from the Venetian word, “sgropare” which means to loosen. It was created with the idea of drinking it between courses in order to cleanse the palate for the next course and often served to the aristocratic and nobility.
Some bartenders in different parts of Italy will make it with milk or gelato (this is popular in Florence) or use other flavors of sorbet. In Sicily it is often served with granita (a kind of Italian ice slushy) and just vodka. Sometimes, it will come free after a meal, or be offered on the dessert or after dinner drink menu.
So there you have it -- our list of cocktails you must try when you travel to Italy. Got any others we forgot? Let us know in the comments!
Need help planning your Italy itinerary? We specialize in just that! Read about our concierge and itinerary planning services, send us an email at email@example.com, or fill out this quick survey and we'll get right back to you!
Connect With Salt & Wind
- Travel on our next Salt & Wind trip or have us help plan your next vacation!
- Shop our Mexico store for travel-inspired gifts
- Stay in the know and sign up for our newsletter
- Join the Salt & Wind Facebook Group for food and travel advice
More Italy On Salt & Wind
- Why You Should Visit Lake Garda's Town Of Sirmione
- One Perfect Day: 24 Hours in Milan
- 10 Things We Love About The Salt & Wind Italy Trip
Opening photo by Christine Davis