What Is the Drinking Age in Italy? You’ll Be Surprised to Know!

By Alice Ross | FOOD & DRINK

Aug 23
drinking age in italy

When travelling to Italy, it's not easy to miss the party since most major cities like to enjoy la dolce vita and live it up. However, you have to know that drinking in Italy isn't the same as in most other countries in the world. And more importantly, it's essential to know the answer to the question, "What is the legal drinking age in Italy?".

The reason I say this is that Italians are not really a nation of what you might consider "drinkers" – at least not to the same extent as in America and other countries in Europe.

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The thing about Italy is that drinking is often an accompaniment to certain activities, and getting drunk is usually frowned upon. Public intoxication brings shame not only to yourself but also to your family. This is quite different from Anglo-Saxon cultures, where this kind of behavior can sometimes even earn you admiration and respect from the people around you. But for many travelers visiting Italy, the first question they need to answer is, “What is the drinking age in Italy?”

What is the drinking age in Italy

Drinking age in italy

You may be surprised to know that the legal drinking age in the country is 16 years old, which is probably the youngest drinking age in the world. That’s slightly younger than the lawful age set by many countries.

Moreover, there is no heavy penalty for teens drinking under 16 years old. It’s socially acceptable to drink alcohol as long as you are with your parents. The law is rarely enforced. When it comes to minors' drinking, Italy is a liberal country. There are many minors in the country who commonly enjoy alcohol, especially on special occasions. It is a part of the country's cultural practice, and this relaxed approach is totally normal in Italy.

a cup of wine

According to the Italian penal code, a restaurant owner or bartender can be jailed for serving alcohol to customers aged below 16, as well as to people suffering from mental disabilities. Some restaurants and establishments may indeed refuse to serve minors even if they are with their parents, although not all.

Of course, this is fairly different from other countries like the United States, where minors are not given such leeway to drink alcohol. There’s not a big cultural tradition, at least in the past years, of minors drinking alcohol for the sake of pleasure, as a generally accepted thing. In Italy, on the other hand, this is very different. There are rules to protect minors, but otherwise, drinking is seen as more of a social activity than an offense.

Buying alcohol for minors

wine

As the legal drinking age in Italy is 16, locals under that age are also not allowed to purchase alcohol in Italy. Even though it’s prohibited for minors to purchase alcohol in the country, it may happen, as in some cases sellers may not care enough to check customers' age. Unlike in America, fake IDs are not common in Italy. Usually, minors' parents buy alcohol and let them drink at home, so it’s not very necessary.

However, you still have to keep in mind that although minors don't incur any direct penalties or illegal charges for drinking alcoholic in public, if they get caught drinking alcohol, they still need to be identified by the authorities and, preferably, bought to their parents.

Drinking customs in Italy

young drinking age in italy

Beyond the legal drinking age in Italy, there are a few other things that are useful to know to help you blend in and enjoy the local culture:

  • To clink glasses or to cheer, you can say “Salute," "Buona fortuna," or "Cin cin" (pronounced "chin chin").
  • As a general rule of etiquette, look in the eyes of the person you are drinking with when you have to clink glasses during a toast. This custom is related to earning trust, and manifests in different forms in a lot of countries. Generally, however, it is considered to be a superstition. In Italy as well in Germany, failing to do it may attract bad luck. Meanwhile, in countries like Spain and France, it is believed to bring bad sex.
  • If you are staying in Italy for a while, you need to get used to aperitivo. In this country, drinking always goes hand-in-hand with having a meal. Italians love gathering in bars for a quick drink and a snack before having proper dinner. A popular aperitivo drink is Aperol Spritz, a bright orange mix of aperol, prosecco, soda, and orange. This colorful, refreshing cocktail is such a success that it is now on the menu of many bars worldwide.
  • In the same way, a digestivo or digestive drink is normally served after a nice meal. These are normally made of herb-infused liqueurs recognized for their digestive elements. As such, drinking them is a great way to end a rich meal. Common digestives include Nocino, Limoncello, and Galliano. A great alternative to the normal liqueur-based digestivo is a dessert wine such as the Moscato d'Asti.

What to drink in Italy

Italian drinks play an important role in Italian culture. Everyone, all over the world, enjoys Italian food. After all, who could resist spicy, crispy crostini, a wickedly rich plate of pasta, and of course, a large slice of freshly baked pizza? But another interesting question is, what are the signature traditional ltalian drinks?

Since you already have the answer to the question what is the drinking age in Italy, the next thing you may want to know is what drinks you should choose. If you have not been to Italy before, it might be hard to tempt you away from the many delicious wines. But anyone who has experienced this 
beautiful country knows that just like their food, Italians take their drinks very seriously. Therefore, there are many great concoctions to try.

a cup of wine with lemon

In Italy, every meal is considered a social event that can last for hours. It is normal to start the meal with an aperitif that helps to whet the appetite. Aperitives can be cocktails, wine, liqueurs, and any Italian mixed alcoholic drinks for adults, or Italian non-alcoholic drinks for minors. Bellini is one of the most popular cocktails you can try in Italy. It is a mixture of champagne and peach puree.

Another one you must add to your list of Italian drinks is Campari. With 25% alcohol content, it is normally enjoyed with wine, soda water, or cocktails. If you love citrusy flavors, then make sure to try out Limoncello, a famous lemon-based drink from Southern Italy.

When dinner is served, the wine starts to pour. If you want to try the most popular Italian wine, then go for Chianti. Initially, this wine originating from Tuscany was made from white grapes. However, throughout the years, it turned into a delicious red wine. It is normally consumed with red meat or creamy pasta. If you opt for a lighter meal, for instance fish or seafood, then a dry white wine like Pinot Grigio will work perfectly. Lastly, a must-try sparkling wine option is Asti Spumante.

drinking age in Italy for wine

Another drink Italy is well known for is coffee. However, if you want to try something more adventurous, then you may want to spike it with a drop of alcohol. Most of the time, this is done with nut liqueur or cognac, but Bailey's and Vov are also common.

Tempted to go enjoy aperitivo on a plaza in Italy after reading this? Start planning your trip to Italy with one of our favorite guidebooks: 


As you can see, the legal drinking age in Italy is different from the lawful age in most parts of the world. Here, the drinking culture considers the enjoyment of alcohol a part of the culture rather than an offense - as long, of course, as it is done in moderation. However, as a traveler to Italy, you must follow the law even if the regulations related to the drinking age in Italy are not as strict as in other countries like America. Anyway, drinking is not really necessary for people to have fun!

So, what do you think about the drinking culture in Italy? How does it compare to your country's? Let us know in a comment below!

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Alice Ross, a long-term traveler who left the corporate world to travel the world. I chose to live life on my own phase and live day by day while immersing myself in new experiences, new knowledge, and new people in a different walk of life I met along the way.

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