Last updated on October 26th, 2023
Wondering what we eat for breakfast in Italy?
Curious if you’ll find oatmeal here? Or, if you’ll be stuck eating pasta for breakfast? Let’s take a look at what is a typical breakfast in Italy.
I have been eating breakfast in Italy for over 15 years now, and I’m a total convert to the Italian breakfast, which may be quite different from the breakfast you eat at home.
Let’s look at:
- what is a typical Italian breakfast in Italy
- what do people in Italy eat for breakfast
- how, what and where Italians eat and drink at breakfast
- key differences in breakfast between the Italian regions
- eating breakfast in Italy as a tourist
- basic Italian breakfast vocabulary and tips
And don’t worry, if you have ever felt overwhelmed by the idea of walking into an Italian bar and ordering breakfast, you are not alone! We have all felt that way (I certainly have) but don’t worry, with the right vocab, a few tips and a clear plan of action, you will find yourself enjoying colazione side-by-side Italians in no time!
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How to Say Breakfast in Italian
Breakfast in Italian is colazione.
Colazione is pronounced koh-lah-tzeeoh-neh.
A Very Short History of Italian Breakfast
Before the 5th-century, lunch was called colazione but when the concept of eating something in the morning before starting the day was introduced, it was called colazione and thus, lunch was changed to seconda colazione.
Today, the term seconda colazione can refer to pranzo (lunch) but more commonly, Italians use it to indicate literally a second breakfast or a mid-morning snack – really anything that comes after their first morning coffee. Colazione or seconda colazione used to signify lunch is considered old-fashioned, but you may hear it occasionally.
It can be confusing though when someone invites you to colazione and they actually mean lunch and you show up at 9:00 am expecting a coffee and piece of cake. Trust me, I’ve made that mistake!
Typical Italian Breakfast – For Italians
Breakfast in Italy are quite simple, usually something small and sweet. Where it gets complicated is WHERE they are actually having their breakfast. Italians will either have their Italian breakfast at home (more leisurely or very quickly) or at a bar, either standing or sitting.
A typical breakfast in Italy at home is usually a quick affair, just enough time to eat and be out the door, including either espresso or a cappuccino with a couple of bites of something sweet. This may be bread or pre-toasted bread with Nutella or jam, a couple of cookies, a pre-packaged small pastry, a leftover slice of ciambella (cake) or more recently, cereal with yogurt and fruit.
Sometimes breakfast is more leisurely on the weekends, but it’s always going to be very simple, sweet and carb heavy. Fruit is also commonly offered, especially to children at home, as fresh fruits play a large role in the Italian diet.
Many Italians will just prendere un caffè e via, meaning they will just grab a quick coffee and be off! This is true for many older generations as they grew up eating very little for breakfast, perhaps an espresso and maybe two small cookies. Others will have a coffee quickly at home, and then stop at a bar for a proper breakfast with another coffee and a sweet pastry.
Breakfast in Italy at the bar is either served al banco, at the counter, or al tavolo, sitting down. Depending on where you are, there may be a surcharge for table service and the prices will be higher. Sitting down, you can assume each item will cost at least 1.50€ more than the bar price. This is typical of bars in the center of town or high-end bars. More casual places will not charge you for table service but rather, you can order your coffee at the bar, ask for a tray and bring it to a table to enjoy at your leisure.
Italians who have their breakfast al banco (which is the most common way to eat breakfast in Italy) do so quickly. They order what they want, eat it and they are on their way. It’s not a place to socialize, although some Italians have a breakfast routine at the bar and meet the same people daily. It’s a 5-10 minute affair for most, depending on how crowded the bar is at the time.
Another Italian breakfast tradition is to skim the paper as you have your coffee and pastry. All bars will have an assortment of newspapers to sfogliare (browse) as you sip your mid-morning coffee. This is somewhat of a dying tradition – the Italians who you see doing this are often older, and you know what they say, old habits die hard. These guys have been refining their breakfast bar routine for decades.
One reason that the Italian breakfast tradition has withstood the tests of time is the low cost. A breakfast al banco should not cost more than 3.00€, assuming you order a pastry and a cappuccino. If you order a coffee, it might only cost 2.50€.
Italian Breakfast Beverages
Most Italians drink coffee for breakfast in some form or another, including caffè (espresso), with or without milk, cappuccino or caffèlatte. Some people drink tè, tea or caffè d’orzo, a barley drink similar to coffee but without caffeine. And don’t miss Coffee In Italy – Types & How To Order + Printable Coffee Checklist and 40+ Ways to Drink Coffee in Italy + Pronunciations for more info!
Children typically drink a cup of milk at breakfast whether at a bar or at home. In addition, Italians and children alike love juice so it’s very common to start the day with succo (juice) or una spremuta (freshly-squeezed orange juice), especially in the winter when the oranges are in-season.
Regional Differences in Italian Breakfast
Breakfast Italy tradition of something small and sweet is pretty widespread no matter where you are in Italy. The breakfast bar tradition is also common country-wide. This being said, there are regional breakfast specialties and differences, especially when eating breakfast at home.
It’s pretty difficult to identify each and every difference between the regions, but some generalizations and trends can be identified.
Firstly, in northern Italy, breakfast tends to be a bit heavier and can include savory items. This is because of the Germanic-Austrian influence. Porridges, yogurts, cheeses, dark breads, nuts and dried fruits are not uncommon in places like Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige.
Central and Southern Italian regions tend to follow the typical Italian breakfast formula of having something small for breakfast, many times out at the bar. In very warm climates such as Sicily, it’s tradition to have a granita e brioche (shaved ice and a pastry) with your coffee!
Each region has their own specialty items for breakfast, which is also dependent on the time of year. For example, during Carnival in Tuscany, you can order schiacciata alla fiorentina at the bar with your coffee or in the fall during the grape harvest, schiacciata all’uva (focaccia with grapes). In Rome, a common breakfast item is maritozzi while in Naples, sfogliatella is a popular choice in the morning. These are just a few examples.
Breakfast in Italy for Travelers – At the Hotel
If you are staying at a hotel, your breakfast choices will typically be varied to cater to a diverse international market. The breakfast buffet will have a large array of Italian sweet treats such as cakes and pastries, but there will also often be a hot bar with things like eggs and bacon. Cereal, milk, yogurt, fresh fruit and various breads accompanied by meats and cheeses are also typically available. While this is certainly great for travelers who like to stick to their routine, it’s not a traditional Italian breakfast.
As a local, I urge you to step outside the hotel and order a seconda colazione al bar (a mid-morning snack or second breakfast) to get a true taste of Italian breakfast and culture. I think there is no better way to experience Italy than at the bar, as you will find yourself knee-deep in a steadfast and true Italian tradition and way of life – the bar life!
Breakfast in Italy for Travelers – At the Bar
As I said, I think the best way to dive into Italian culture is to head to the bar and order your breakfast al banco. Most Italian bars are going to have a pretty decent Italian breakfast offering. If they don’t have a bakery on-site, the pastries are delivered fresh daily and the coffee is always going to be pretty good.
If you are staying at an apartment, a simple B&B, a hostel, or renting a home, check out your neighborhood for a bar that looks good to you or simply ask for a local’s recommendation. You can be sure every Italian has their go-to spot, so it’s worth asking around if you want to get the low down on the best place in your neighborhood.
Many B&Bs in Italy outsource the breakfast for their tenants. They will hand you a buono or voucher to have breakfast at a bar nearby. Typically, it will include one hot beverage of your choice, a pastry and perhaps a juice.
How to Order Breakfast In Italy – At the Bar
You may be overwhelmed when you initially walk into an Italian bar because they are loud, often very crowded in the morning and almost impossible to sort out any kind of line. The trick is to just step up to the register or nudge your way forward (or at least get in back of the herd of people bunched up by the register and try not to let too many people barge past you) and order with confidence. You can always ask Lei è in fila? Are you in line? to clarify if people are waiting or just hanging out, as they sometimes will do.
Ordering breakfast at the bar is pretty straightforward. Again, just push your way forward to the front of the line – don’t be shy! And, be sure to check out How To Order Coffee in Italy – Step-by-Step + Tips.
- Order and pay at the cash register first, Vorrei un cappuccino e una brioche, per favore (I would like a cappuccino and a pastry please) No need to specify which pastry because you will do this when you ask for it. Hang on to your receipt.
- Depending on the bar set up you may need to first take your receipt to the pastry counter and order that and then head over to the coffee counter. Put your receipt on the counter and say what you have ordered once you make eye contact. If you are having trouble try saying Mi scusi which should get their attention.
- Bring your pastry over to the coffee bar, if different, and order your coffee in the same fashion.
- Fix your coffee as you like it with sugar and milk that you will find on the counter. If you don’t see it, kindly ask Posso avere un po’ di zucchero/latte, per favore? (may I please have some sugar/milk please).
- Italians drink their coffee fairly quickly. You should too!
Heading to Florence? Check out where to get the Best Coffee in Florence!
Breakfast In Italy Vocabulary
- Colazione – breakfast (in general)
- Prima colazione – breakfast (what Italians refer to as the first time you in the morning, even if it’s just a coffee)
- Seconda colazione – mid-morning snack or referring to anything after your first morning coffee
- Fare colazione – to have breakfast
- Cappuccino – cappuccino
- Caffè – espresso
- Caffè doppio – double espresso
- Caffè d’orzo – barley coffee (caffeine-free)
- Caffèlatte – caffè latte
- Tè – tea
- Un po’ di latte da parte – milk on the side
- Latte – milk
- Latte di soia – soy milk
- Latte di avena – oat milk
- Caldo – hot
- Freddo – cold
- Brioche/cornetto – pastry/croissant
- vuota – plain
- con crema – with pastry cream
- con marmellata – with jam
- con cioccolato – with chocolate
- integrale – whole wheat
- vegano – vegan
- Ciambella – donut
- Biscotti – cookies
- Pane – bread
- Frutta – fruit
- Marmellata – jam
- Miele – honey
- Fette Biscottate – small pre-toasted bread slices
- Nutella – nutella
- Ceriali – cereal
- Yogurt – yogurt
- Succo – juice
- d’arancia – orange juice
- di pesca – peach juice
- di albicocca –apricot juice
- di mela – apple juice
- di pera – pear juice
- ace – citrus and carrot juice
- Spremuta – freshly-squeezed orange juice
- Scontrino – receipt
- Vassoio – tray
- Da portare via – take away
Breakfast In Italy FAQ
Generally speaking, yes, Italians won’t even be caught dead drinking a milk-based drink after about noon as they believe milk interferes with their digestion. You will never ever see an Italian drink a cappuccino after a meal.
No, eggs are enjoyed at lunch or dinner but not as a breakfast item.
Most kids eat pane nutella, bread (either toasted or not) with lots of nutella or a glass of milk and a handful of cookies.
They may take a coffee and pastry to go on occasion but generally they do not. The ‘to-go’ concept in Italy is not one that Italians have embarrassed. You will never see Italians eating or drinking their coffee on the go. If anything, they will bring it back up to their office to eat, which is most likely not more than a couple doors down, but this is not the norm.
People in Italy usually eat something small and sweet with a coffee beverage. They won’t have eggs or savory things at the prima colazione, meaning “first breakfast”. They may, have something small and savory later on for a seconda colazione or second breakfast mid-morning, but not always. A typical breakfast would be a couple of cookies with an espresso and a piece of fruit at home. At the bar, Italian breakfast would be made up of a small pastry and a coffee beverage.