Eat for free in Rome

Free stuzicchini-Italian snacks-laid out on a bar at the apertivo hour
Free stuzzichini—Italian snacks—laid out on a bar at the aperitivo hour.

Bar hopping for free stuzzichini (snacks) and canapés during the aperitivo Happy Hour

Aperitivi ("aperitifs") is a simple idea: basically, it's Happy Hour with free nosh. During the daily see-and-be-seen passeggiata strolling hour between the end of the workday and the start of dinner, many bars and cafes in town will lay out stuzzichini (little snacks) to draw in patrons.

It usually runs from 5pm to 7pm or so, though increasingly they are starting later (around 7pm) and/or lasting longer.

This phenomenon started in Northern Italy (most people say in Milan, but I swear I encountered it in Turin years before I saw it in Milano), but happily has recently spread to Rome and other Italian cities as well.

What is there to eat during the stuzzichini aperitivo hour?

In some cases, the fare is just basic bar snacks (olives, nuts, and salty crunchy things in the chips/crisps family), but an increasing number of downtown bars—especially trendy ones—load down the bar or long tables with dozens upon dozens of mouth-watering canapés, tapas, and tidbits.

You'll find trays piled high with salamis and cheeses, tiny pizzas, various pates and cured meats atop rounds of bread, arancini (fried rice balls gooey with mozzarella, bits of grilled meat, and peas), grilled veggies, stuffed frittate (a cross between an omlette and a quiche), pretty much any kind of food you can spear on a toothpick, and all sorts of pastries, tortes, and cookies. Bar-hop your way from one cafe to another and you can easily make a full meal out of it.

Best of all, it's all absolutely free. I mean, they expect you to order drinks as well, but no one slaps your hand away from the food platters if you're not holding a glass in the other hand.

I do, however, "splurge." I order something to drink at each bar to accompany my stuzzichini, rending my meal, technically, not free. When I have wine and snacks at one bar, wine and snacks at a second one, espresso and desserts at a third, I'm stuffed—and all dinner cost me was about €5–€8 in vino and coffee.

How to find stuzzichini bars

The best and latest hotspots for snacking in any Italian city change regularly. I find pretty good luck just wandering the downtown streets in search of crowded bars. However, you can find lists of good snacking cafes at the following websites:

  • - Nightlife blog with a hastag for apperitivi.
  • ( - Lightly defunct network of dining/nightlife guides to 16 European cities, including Rome. That link should take you directly to the aperitivo section, but in case they change it: within the city guide, click on "Venues", then, under category, select "Aperitivi" (filed under the "bere" section).
  • Notti da Leon ( - Good database of eateries, bars, and nightlife around Rome, with hundreds of locali ("spots") under aperitivi—though only the first handful have user reviews that say anything more about a given place than the name and address.
  • QuiRoma ( - Short list of aperitivi bars.
  • RomaExplorer ( - Short list.


Tips & links

General dining tips
  • "Pane e coperto" is not a scam: Nearly all Italian restaurants have an unavoidable pane e coperto ("bread and cover" charge) of anything from €1 to €15—though most often €2 to €5—per person that is automatically added onto your bill. This is perfectly normal and perfectly legal (though a few trendy restaurants make a big deal about not charging it).
  • Find out if service (tip) is included: Don't double-tip by accident. If the menu has a line—usually near the bottom of the front or back—that says "servizio" with either a percentage, an amount, or the word "incluso" after it, that means the tip is automatically included in the price. (If it says "servizio non incluso," tip is, obviously, not included.)

    Even if the menu doesn't say it, ask É incluso il servizio? (ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo)—"Is service included?" If not, tip accordingly (10%–15% is standard).

    Don't be stingy about tipping, though. If il servizio is, indeed, already included but the service was particularly good, it's customary to round up the bill or leave €1 per person extra—just to show you noticed and that you appreciated the effort.
  • Tourist menus: The concept of a bargain prix-fixe menu is not popular in Italy. Some restaurants do offer a menu turistico ("tourist menu"), which can cost from €8 to €20 and usually entails a choice from among two or three basic first courses (read: different pasta shapes, all in plain tomato sauce), a second course of roast chicken or a veal cutlet, and some water or wine and bread. With very few exceptions, tourist menus tend to live up to their name, appearing only at the sort of tourist-pandering restaurants that the locals wisely steer clear of.

    However, a menu à prezzo fisso ("fixed-price menu") is often a pretty good deal, usually offering a bit more choice than a tourist menu.

    Then—especially at nicer (and pricier) restaurants—there is the menu degustazione ("tasting menu"), usually far more expensive (anywhere from €25 to €110) that is a showcase of the chef's best, or of regional specialties, and can make for an excellent way to sample the kitchen's top dishes.
  • Book ahead: For restaurants that I am truly eager to try, I go ahead and book a table—at least at dinner. I find that a corollary of Murphy's Law seems to apply. If you prudently book ahead, you are likely to show up to a half-empty restaurant and feel a bit like a fool for having worried about finding a table. If, on the other hand, you just show up at the door expecting to find a free table, the place will inevitably be packed and its bookings full for the evening.
Culinary tours of Rome
Italian dining phrases
English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a restaurant un ristorante oon rees toh-RAHN-tay
...a casual restaurant una trattoria
oo-nah trah-toar-RHEE-yah
oon ohst-air-EE-yah
I would like to reserve... Vorrei prenotare... voar-RAY pray-note-ARE-eh
a table for two una tavola per due oo-nah TAH-voal-lah pair DOO-way
...for 7pm per le sette pair lay SET-tay
...for 7:30pm per le sette e mezzo pair lay SET-tay eh MET-tzoh
...for 8pm per le otto pair lay OH-toh
I would like Vorrei... voar-RAY
...some (of) un pó (di) oon POH (dee)
...this questo KWAY-sto
...that quello KWEL-loh
chicken pollo POL-loh
steak bistecca bee-STEAK-ah
veal vitello vee-TEL-oh
fish pesce PEH-shay
meat carne KAR-neh
I am vegetarian sono vegetariano SO-no veg-eh-tair-ee-YAH-no
side dish [veggies always come seperately] cotorno kon-TOR-no
dessert dolce DOAL-chay
and e ay
...a glass of un bicchiere di oon bee-key-YAIR-eh dee
...a bottle of una bottiglia di oo-na boh-TEEL-ya dee
...a half-liter of mezzo litro di MET-tzoh LEE-tro dee
...fizzy water acqua gassata AH-kwah gah-SAHT-tah
...still water acqua non gassata AH-kwah noan gah-SAHT-tah wine vino rosso VEE-noh ROH-so
...white wine vino bianco VEE-noh bee-YAHN-koh birra BEER-a
Check, please Il conto, per favore eel COAN-toh pair fah-VOAR-eh
Is service included? É incluso il servizio? ay een-CLOU-so eel sair-VEET-zee-yo

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