We headed to Rome a few years ago to watch a six-nations rugby match between Italy and Scotland and were amazed at the number of younger people drinking in restaurants. It got me wondering – what’s the drinking age in Italy?
The drinking age in Italy is 18 years old for purchasing alcohol. There is no penalty for a minor seen drinking alcohol, only for a retailer or restaurant if they sell to an under 18. It is generally accepted that a minor with family member can drink a small amount of alcohol, as long as they are not drunk.
I’ve had a look at all the drinking laws in Italy and put all my research in this article for anyone who’s interested – also with a bonus section on some of the best drinks to try while you’re in Italy.
What’s the Legal Drinking Age in Italy?
The legal drinking age in Italy is 18 for sales both on and off premises (from restaurants and shops).
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Legal Drinking Age in Italy With Parents
Legally, the drinking age is 18, there is nothing in the law about being able to drink alcohol at a younger age if accompanied by your parents.
However, in my experience, if someone over 16 is enjoying a wine or beer with mum or dad at a restaurant, most owners will turn a blind eye (as I’m sure happened to them when they were younger!).
Do They ID You for Alcohol in Italy?
The official line is that whoever sells alcohol in Italy has an obligation to ask the buyer at the time of purchase for ID, unless it is clear that the person purchasing is above 18.
The laws in Italy are designed to punish the person selling, not the person purchasing, so retailers and restaurants should be strict with these rules, as it is them that are liable for the sale of alcohol to minors, and could face up to a €1,000 fine or in extreme cases, imprisonment.
The exact wording in Italian law on the obligation of vendors to check for ID is below:
1. Anyone who sells alcoholic beverages has the obligation to ask the buyer, at the time of purchase, the production of an identity document, except in cases where the greater age of the buyer is evident.
Drinking Age for US Citizens in Italy?
Given the drinking age in the United States is 21, is it still legal for a citizen travelling on an American passport to drink in Italy?
Yes, it is legal for US citizens under 21 but over 18 to drink in Italy.
When travelling, the local laws of the country you are in are what apply, not the laws of your country of residence, so a US resident under 21 but over 18 will be allowed to purchase and drink alcohol in Italy.
Drink Drive Limits in Italy
As this article is probably going to be read by younger readers, it is also worth paying attention to the drink driving laws, as there are different limits for young drivers (under 21).
The drink-driving limit in Italy is 0.5 g/l but for young drivers (under 21) it is set at 0.0 g/l – which means you cannot have any alcohol in your bloodstream and drive, so be careful. This rule is also applicable to novice drivers – those who have held a license for less than three years.- and professional drivers.
Can You Drink Alcohol in Public in Italy?
Yes, it is legal to drink in public in Italy, there are no laws that specifically prevent it.
…many cities have local laws to try and crack down on binge drinking and disorderly behaviour.
For example, pre-pandemic Rome stopped anyone drinking from a glass container after 10pm and banned any public drinking after 11pm.
Venice cracked down on tourist drinking by banning public alcohol consumption after 7pm.
So, as ever when travelling, respect local laws, be sensible and your afternoon picnic with a bottle of chianti is unlikely to get you into trouble.
Penalties for Selling Alcohol to Minors
I translated this page to get the exact rules on selling alcohol to minors, which you can see below.
2. Unless the fact constitutes a crime, the pecuniary administrative sanction from 250 to 1,000 euros to anyone sells alcoholic beverages to those under the age of eighteen. If the fact is committed more than once, the administrative sanction is applied pecuniary from 500 to 2,000 euros with the suspension of the activity for three months".
Italian Drinking Customs
Here are a few Italian drinking customs to be aware of when in Italy:
- When clinking glasses in Italy after a toast, it is tradition to maintain eye contact with the person you’re clinking with as it builds trust
- When clinking say ‘cin cin’ (chin-chin) or salute (sah-loo-tey)
- If you are invited for an aperetivo before dinner, it usually consists of a small drink and a selection of appetisers at a bar
- After a meal, many Italians also have a digestivo, an alcoholic drink designed to aid digestion such as limoncello or amaro
Famous Alcoholic Drinks of Italy
There are lots of famous alcoholic drinks from all categories produced in Italy.
Italy has all bases covered when it comes to wine.
For red, there is Chianti from Tuscany, Barolo from Piedmont and my personal favourite Sangiovese which is produced in most of central Italy.
For white – well I’m sure you’ve heard of Pinot Grigio. Technically this wine started in France (Pinot Gris) but the biggest growing area in the world is northern Italy, where over half the world’s supply is grown.
For sparkling, we have Prosecco, which legally has to be produced in Italy to be given this name.
There are a number of cocktails which started in Italy that are now famous around the globe.
Aperol Spritz is one of my wife’s favourite summer refreshers, made with Aperol, Prosecco and some soda water.
Bellini is another Prosecco-based cocktail, and a simple one at that, made up of just Prosecco and peach puree.
Campari Soda is another Italian classic made up of (you guessed it!) the Campari liquor and sparkling soda water.
Limoncello is a staple of our Christmas and my father-in-law makes his own. It’s a lemon-flavoured liquor, often enjoyed at the end of a meal.
Amaretto is one of the first spirits I warmed to when I was young because it tasted exactly like my favourite sweet treat, marzipan!
Peroni is probably the most famous Italian beer outside Italy, its silver-labelled bottles being sold at Italian restaurants worldwide. Can I make a personal endorsement for Peroni Rossa though? I’ve rarely seen it outside Italy, but it is gorgeous! I remember sipping this on a warm day in a small bar in Florence and being blown away. Darker and stronger than regular Peroni, I’d highly recommend having a glass if you see it on tap while you’re in Italy.
What are the Strongest Alcohols in Italy?
Not for the beginner drinkers, there are some pretty powerful spirits in Italy:
- Gocce Imperiali (90% proof) – the liquor of Cistercian monks
- Centerbe (72% proof) – a liquor of Italian herbs
- Grappa (up to 60%) – made with the leftover parts of grapes after they’ve been pressed for wine
What Are the Legal Drinking Ages in the Rest of the EU?
Italy is typical of the rest of the European Union, with 19 of the 27 member states setting the drinking age at 18.
The only exceptions to this are:
- Austria (alcohol laws are set at a local level and are set at either 16 or 18 depending on the region)
- Belgium (16 for alcohol below 1.2%, 18 for alcohol above 1.2%)
- Cyprus (legal age is 17)
- Denmark (16 for alcohol below 1.2%, 18 for alcohol above 1.2%)
- Germany (16 for alcohol below 1.2%, 18 for alcohol above 1.2%)
- Luxembourg (legal age is 16)
- Malta (legal age is 17)
- Sweden (18 for alcohol below 3.5%, 20 for alcohol above 3.5%)