Aperitivo in Milan: Italy’s greatest creation

Last month, I embarked on an epic mission to see 4 Italian cities in 7 days, one of them being Milan. As Italy’s second largest city, you won’t run out of things to do, as Milan is full of fashion and design gems such as Milano Design Week.

However, what many people have yet to discover is the expansive scene of Aperitivo. Aperitivos aren’t exclusive to Milan, but the city is considered to have the best well-known ones, with a variety of selections.

What is aperitivo?

Aperitivo is essentially an Italian version happy hour. It derives from the word “apertif”, an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate your appetite.

While the direct origins of aperitivo aren’t exactly known, coming together as a family and socialising as a community are important to Italians, so aperitivo provides a real glimpse into the social norms of Italy. Any new friends or acquaintances you’ll make will view aperitivo as the perfect time to meet up.

The picture above is a spritz. A spritz is an alcoholic drink commonly associated with apertivo. It consists of prosecco, aperol, and a splash of soda water. The aperol (from orange bitters) gives it that distinct colour and flavour.

Sounds lit. What time does it start?

Aperitivo usually starts at 6pm and ends at 10pm, sometimes later.

But the way my bank account is set up… Is it expensive?

Not really. Most establishments – in Milan anyway – will charge you €7-12 (£6-11/$8-14) for entry, which includes a complementary drink and a buffet. In some cases, the buffet is so large that you can skip dinner later! So you will save money in the end.

During my experience, it cost €10 (£9/$12) per person. If you care to buy another drink, it’ll depend on the size and type, just like any other bar. It can range anywhere from €6-10 (£5-9/$7-12) 12per drink.

That’s good to hear. So where are the best places to go in Milan?

My personal favourite is StraRipa Bar Arts & Friends in Navigli. It’s a bar, club and restaurant rolled into one.

If you want to combine an art gallery experience with your aperitivo then this is your place, as the walls are filled with mosaic art and various paintings. Also, there are televisions playing Europop and American top 40 music videos. The atmosphere gives off that cool hipster vibe.

There are plenty of establishments in the Navigli District if you want to have a couple of places to choose from. The lively area of Southwest Milan includes a populated strip along the Navigliano Canal Grande called Ripa di Porta Ticinese. It is situated on the south side of the canal between Via Valencia on the west and Viale Gorizia on the east.

Viale Gorizia is at the mouth of a canal called Darsena. As a bonus tip, start or end your night at the Darsena, which sets you up to see the whole of Navigli.

Combined with the Venetian atmosphere, you would be missing out if you didn’t check this Milano strip.

How was your experience?

Choosing an establishment was pretty overwhelming at first due to the number of options I had. Like any other touristy city, Servers will be lined up at the entrance of each bar, enticing you to come in.

Be confident and ask to check out what food they are offering for the price! If you get nervous, there are chalkboard signs outside that states the price and the duration of aperitivo.

After I chose StraRipa Bar, I was seated inside because the place was so crowded. I informed the server that I was there for aperitivo. While you don’t need to do this, we wanted to make sure there was no confusion. I got one complementary drink with my entry fee, which was a rum and coke. However, it can be any drink that’s on the menu. If you click here, you can see video demonstrations of the bartenders making specialty house cocktails.

I then proceeded to the buffet, where there were about 15 options to choose from: antipasti (cold pasta salads), meats, potatoes, mixed vegetables, bread, desserts…

By the time I loaded my plate grabbed some food, my drink was already on the table.

When it came to paying the bill, the servers’ persuasive skills became A1. They tried exceedingly hard to get me to stay at the venue (i.e. they wanted me to buy extra drinks).

For your experience, it’s important to know a few additional things: the plates are really small, so be prepared to constantly walk back up to get more food. Since it’s Italy, you will need to flag your server down to ask for the bill. And last of all, try to get seated outside while experiencing aperitivo to view the action on the strip, the locals enjoying themselves and the beauty of the area.

I had a great experience overall, so I have no doubt that you will too. Although I chose StraRipa bar, I am 100% confident that no matter where you choose. You’ll have an equally amazing time as long as there are a variety of buffet options, has a reasonable price (nothing over €12 (£11/$14) per person) and has a good selection of aperitif (wines, draft beer, unique cocktails, etc).

How do I get to Navigli?

I’m going to assume you’ll travel from central Milan (near the Duomo Cathedral). You can go to a taxi stand right in front of the cathedral (ride in official white sedans) and get to Navigli for €9-11 (£8-10/$10-13). If you cannot find a taxi stand or hail an available one on the street, download the free mytaxi app. mytaxi uses uber-like technology with GPS to connect riders with drivers.

Option 2 is the metro subway. It’s fast, frequent and for €1.50 (£1/$2), pretty cheap. Look for stairways going down with a big ‘M’ sign above. Once you’re in the station, follow more signs to the M1 Red line (Rho Fiera or Bisceglie). Take the train two stops to Cadorna then transfer to the M2 Green line (Assago Forum). Exit 3 stops later at Porta Genova FS. This stop is 2 blocks north of the canal along Via Valenza.

Option 3 is €1.50 (£1/$2) as well and gives you the chance to ride Milan’s historic trams. This is the more scenic route and if you aren’t in a rush, it can be very romantic too. From Duomo Cathedral, walk 1 block south on Via Giuseppe Mazzini to Via Dogana. On the southwest side of that corner is a tram stop for a half-dozen lines. Take #9 (Staz Genova) and exit at stop Via Vigevano & Via Gorizia, which is the mouth of the canal at Darsena (mentioned above!). It is about a 15 minute ride.

I surely will be going back to this beautiful country, and I plan to have a lot more experiences with aperitivo while I’m at it.

Do you have a favorite spot in Italy for Apertivo? If so, comment below!

Kevin Marshall Pinkney

Kevin Marshall Pinkney is an actor and the founder of The Urban Migrator, a blog aimed at new residents who have moved into a new city. The Urban Migrator looks into neighbourhoods, transportation, culture, politics, and other social issues that are unique to each place. Kevin’s love for exploring cities came at a young age during interactive summer camps in his hometown of Chicago. Instead of regular camp field trips like the zoo, beach, or museum, they would visit city hall, newsrooms, bus barns- places to see the inner workings of a city tick. It is this foundation that fuels Kevin’s passion for The Urban Migrator today.