The Legal Drinking Age in Italy: 2024

Drinking age in italy: Where food and wine are part of culture

Food and drink are part of Italy’s allure for visitors. If you are planning a family trip to il Bel Paese—especially if teenage children or grandchildren are part of the brood—you may be wondering about the legal drinking age in Italy and local drinking customs.    

The legal drinking age in Italy is currently 18 years old. 

Drinking and Culture in Italy

Food and wine have always been integral elements of Italian culture, closely linked to one another. Wines are produced in every one of Italy’s 20 regions, with a rich history of winemaking dating back to Roman times.

Italy is the largest wine-producing country, followed by Spain and France, making it an important sector of the Italian economy. 

And drinking a glass of wine, even with breakfast, is probably more common and socially acceptable in Italy than it is in the U.S. Moreover, the tradition of an after-work aperitivo has become firmly ingrained in Italian traditions.

Many tourists design their itineraries to include visits to wineries and wine tastings. During the fall harvest season, visitors to Italy often enjoy participating in wine harvests and festivals.

And for college-age people in Italy, “The ease of access to alcohol here—at low cost, outdoors and in family spaces—takes some getting used to,” writes M.L. Lanzillotta in Filter.

Rules Governing Drinking Age in Italy

A vineyard in Castellina in Chianti
A vineyard in Castellina in Chianti, Siena (credit: Jerome Levine)

In 2012, Health Minister Renato Balduzzi enacted a number of changes related to alcohol policies that are still in effect today:

  • The legal drinking age in Italy was raised to 18 years of age; it had been 16. 
  • Fines were enacted for selling alcohol to someone under the age of 18.
  • Serving alcohol to someone under the age of 16 became a criminal offense, punishable with a prison term of up to a year.

In general, the minimum age at which someone can legally consume alcoholic beverages varies from country to country and usually differs depending on where the drinking takes place. In Italy, as in most other countries in Europe, alcohol consumption at home is unregulated. 

In Italy, minors (anyone under the age of 18) are not able to legally purchase or consume alcohol in bars, restaurants, or even outdoors (although it is very unlikely for a restaurateur or server to  “card” someone who appears to be younger than that when they are drinking with their parents).  

It is always prudent for young people (and people who look young:-) to carry a photo ID in case proof of age is requested.  

Exceptions to the Rules

Family-bottled wine at La Vecchia Malga, our favorite specialty food store in Bologna, Emilia Romagna
Family-bottled wine at La Vecchia Malga, our favorite specialty food store in Bologna, Emilia Romagna (credit: Jerome Levine)

Alcoholic products are so ubiquitous and widely available across Italy (including at supermarkets and grocery stores, and even in vending machines) that drinking tends to be seductive—for visitors of all ages. 

Also, the cost of alcohol in Italy, especially wine, is relatively inexpensive when compared to that in the U.S. For example, a glass of Chianti is likely to be cheaper than a can of Coca-Cola.

In addition to the laws on the books nationally, some municipalities restrict hours when alcohol can be sold and consumed to reduce street noise and other nuisance behaviors associated with public drinking, especially among young people.

However, authorities generally don’t enforce these rules unless minors are found drunk in public or treat the transgressions as criminal offenses. Occasionally, local authorities will report problematic underage drinking to parents.

Also, prohibitions on alcohol sales and consumption do not apply when it is sold or served during large events such as fairs, carnivals, festivals, and markets. (For additional information about the legalities of alcohol sale and consumption in Italy, see the websites of Vademecum Italia, a law firm with offices in Rome and Turin.) 

Drinking and Driving in Italy

In 2023, Italy’s Transport Ministry strengthened its laws and enforcement efforts governing driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Fines for driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 to 0.05 can range from 500 to 2000 Euros.

Those under the age of 21 or who haven’t had a license for more than three years are totally prohibited from drinking alcohol and driving.  

Jail time has been doubled for those using drugs while driving from three to six months.

Changing Attitudes and Behavior

Wines (as opposed to beer and hard liquors, which include liqueurs) are the alcoholic drinks most commonly produced and consumed in Italy. Most drinking takes place at home, generally paired with meals. Binge drinking is uncommon.

There also has been a trend toward drinking mixed drinks with lower alcohol content, like the Aperol Spritz and some cocktails with vermouth. (One company is even making a non-alcoholic, gluten-free, low-calorie drink called Free AF Apero Spritz.)  

Efforts to reduce alcohol consumption in Italy always run up against the confluence of tradition and heavy marketing of alcohol by the industry. In 2000, the Italian government began to develop an official alcohol policy that resulted in a national plan in 2007 to try to limit alcohol consumption.

As a result, even with alcohol’s deep roots in Italian culture, adult per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages in Italy decreased from 12.4 liters in 1990 to 7.6 liters in 2014 (according to World Health Organization (WHO) data).

This led to marked decreases in four alcohol-related diseases: liver cirrhosis, cancer, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), and injury. 

 

 

Bottom line: Should You or Shouldn’t You Let Them Drink?

Table wine at Trattoria La Paloma in Orvieto, Umbria
Table wine at Trattoria La Paloma in Orvieto, Umbria (credit: Jerome Levine)

So, should you allow a family member under 18 to drink while traveling in Italy?

The answer will depend on your values and the maturity of your family member(s).

Even very young Italian children are often allowed to experience a sip of wine or a watered-down spritz at a family meal. 

In my opinion, when in Rome (proverbially), allowing a teen to taste wine at a restaurant would seem to be an introduction to Italian culture rather than a gateway to alcoholism.


Also on MoreTimeToTravel.com:

Book Review: Spritz, Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail

Interested in finding out the drinking age in other countries?

The Legal Drinking Age in Mexico: 2024

What is the Legal Drinking Age in Germany? 2024

The Legal Drinking Age in France: 2024


On YouTube: Love at first sip

Watch Brittany “sip” wine at her first communion  

 


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