Sipping a piping hot cup of excellent espresso in the company of centuries of history. This is the unique experience that awaits those who pay a visit to one of the historical Italian cafes, a string of true pearls that span the whole nation, from north to south.
We’re talking about close to a hundred real museums, full of spectacular decor, vintage memorabilia and delicious specialities just waiting to be tasted: let’s discover some of the oldest cafes in Italy together, where artists, politician and intellectuals have created the history of our beloved Belpaese since 1700.
The historical cafes of northern Italy
Let’s start in northern Italy. Milan, Turin and more: here are the places where you can experience the unmistakeable atmosphere of the north’s historical cafes.
Caffè Pasticceria Cova, Milan
Opened in 1817 as a literary café beside the Teatro alla Scala in the heart of Milan, Caffè Cova soon became a meeting place for the patriots of the Risorgimento. Its stylish interior also quickly won over the middle class and the nobles, as well as many historical characters who played key roles in the history of Italy: Giuseppe Mazzini, Giovanni Verga, Giuseppe Verdi, Arrigo Boito and many others.
Heavily damaged by the bombings during the Second World War, in 1950 Caffè Pasticceria Cova moved definitively to its new location in via Montenapoleone, where it has been ever since.
Al Bicerin, Turin
Established in 1763, this historical café owes its fame to the drink from which it takes its name, the bicerin: a delicious hot blend of chocolate, coffee and cream. Furnished exactly as it was back in the early 1800s, over the years famous names such as Italo Calvino, Silvio Pellico, Camillo Benso di Cavour and Giacomo Puccini have all pulled up a chair at Al Bicerin in Turin.
Caffè Florian, Venice
Dating back to 1720, Caffè Florian in Venice is acknowledged as the oldest Italian cafe. The spectacular interiors of the historical café in Piazza San Marco present a splendid mosaic floor and walls decorated with frescos and mirrors. Here the likes of Goldoni, Casanova and Canaletto have all stopped for a drink over the years.
Caffè Tommaseo, Trieste
Trieste has a number of historical cafes, including the oldest one, opened in 1830: its name is Caffè Tommaseo and it is located near Piazza Unità d’Italia. Inside, surrounded by its elegant décor featuring large mirrors, distinguished characters such as Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba and James Joyce have all graced its tables in the past.
Caffè Pedrocchi, Padua
Established in 1772, Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua was the venue of the episode that caused the first uprisings during the Risorgimento: a shot fired by a soldier of the Austrian Empire, the bullet hole still visible today in the white room. The many famous people who frequented this historical café have included Marinetti, D’Annunzio, Stendhal, Balzac and Eleonora Duse.
The oldest cafes in central and southern Italy
Our tour of Italy to discover the oldest historical Italian cafes continues in the centre and the south, where an array of true jewels await us.
Antico Caffè Greco, Rome
As we have seen in our overview of historical literary cafes, since 1760 Antico Caffè Greco in Rome has been the favourite meeting place of the city’s artists and intellectuals, who still come here today to savour the sight of over 300 works exhibited in the various rooms. And the sophisticated charm of this historical café is accompanied by a delicious coffee and a selection of sweet and savoury treats.
Caffè Gilli, Florence
Initially opened in via Calzaioli in 1733, Caffè Gilli in Florence soon became famous for its specialities, as well as for its impeccable coffee. The interior of the café, today in Piazza della Repubblica, evokes a majestic elegance, which oozes from its Art Deco frames, arches, frescos and wood panelling.
Gran Caffè Gambrinus, Naples
A point of reference in Piazza Plebiscito since 1860, today Gran Caffè Gambrinus in Naples still shines bright with the luxurious pomp and splendour that has always set it apart since the Belle Epoque: its marble, stuccos, bas-reliefs and frescos have charmed historical figures such as Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde and the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
Gran Caffè Renzelli, Cosenza
Founded in 1803, Gran Caffè Renzelli in Cosenza also provided the backdrop for several episodes linked to the history of Italy. Indeed, in 1844, it was here that the Cosenza uprisings against the Bourbons began and it was also here that the Bandiera brothers were taken so that they could be granted some food and drink before being shot.
So well done to the historical Italian cafes that work hard every day with passion to renew their reputation for quality and improve their services. Because managing a café or bar is anything but smooth and simple: if you’re thinking of opening one, discover how to open a bar with our tips.