In a 2012 GQ article, Padua, Italy, was named the “public drinking capital of the world”—a designation that helps explain what it’s like to arrive in the city’s center around 6 p.m., when the entire population floods its piazzas.

In Padua, and throughout Italy, this golden-hour ritual, aperitivo, is a daily occurrence (twice daily on the weekends) that typically combines an Aperol Spritz—the combination of three parts Prosecco, followed by two parts Aperol and one splash soda water—snacks piled high, a picturesque square and, most importantly, the end of the workday. It’s more than the sum of its parts, though—it’s a culturally imperative bow to relaxation, spritz in hand. And as soon as the first signs of warmer weather arrive, Paduans take those spritzes to the cobblestone streets.

The city’s three central piazzas—Piazza dei Signori, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Frutta, located to the north, south and west, respectively, of the covered food market—are lined with cafés (often referred to as “bars” in Italy) and restaurants, all with outdoor seating. At the more well-established venues, seats are hard to come by, but that doesn’t stop anyone from ordering directly from the bar and standing outside—particularly the city’s thousands of university students.

The various cafés distinguish themselves in terms of quality and cost—an Aperol Spritz will run you anywhere from two to six euro—and with their aperitivo food options. Bar Nazionale, located in Piazza delle Erbe, serves legendary toasted tramezzini (sopressa, fontina and raw red cabbage is the local favorite). Next door, at Canaja, you will be asked which vermouth you prefer in your Americano and served an Aperol Spritz made with DOCG Prosecco.

At the iconic Caffè Pedrocchi, a historic café located across from the main university building, bartenders have been serving the city’s culturati since 1831. The three sprawling rooms on the ground floor—colored white, red and green after the Italian flag—are a welcome setting for a preprandial drink. Bartenders prepare classic cocktails and a few house signatures, served with a mixed plate of simple aperitivo bites like salatini, savory snacks made with a puff-pastry base—a step up from a bowl of potato chips, but short of Milan-style abundance.

In places like Corte Sconta, a Venetian-style wine bar located in Padua’s Jewish ghetto, the bar attracts a true cross-section of the population, all lured by the easy-going atmosphere, no-nonsense crostini and wide selection of regional wines. The variation from this iconic hangout is free-form: Aperol is poured on ice and topped with sparkling wine from a bar hose—a wholly respectable spritz, made with a splash of Italian non-conformist spirit.

Aperitivo Hour in Padua

The Itinerary

Canaja | Piazza delle Erbe, 39
Go for: A spritz al fresco served amid Padua’s daily fruit and vegetable market, and an above-average selection of vermouth.

Corte Sconta | Via dell’Arco, 9
Go for: An array of crostini and other cicchetti to enjoy at the counter or gathered outside in the street.

Enotavola Pino | Via dell’Arco, 37
Go for: A seafood restaurant with a bar area just down the street from Corte Sconta, where plates of mortadella are served with your spirtz.

La Yarda | Via Dondi dall’Orologio, 1
Go for: Over 26 variations on the spritz, with Bob Marley playing in the background.

Caffè Pedrocchi | Via VIII Febbraio, 15
Go for: A spritz with a side of local history.

Gran Caffè Diemme | Piazza dei Signori, 10
Go for: Padua’s best cocktails and a generous selection of natural wines.