Tap water in Italy is safe to drink despite the growing number of Italians drinking bottled water at home and in restaurants. Insight for travelers on drinking tap vs bottled water for your next trip to Italy from native Italians and an American now living in Italy.
Tap water in Italy is indeed safe to drink. The same goes for water from public fountains. Outside of natural bodies of water, decorative fountains, or areas with signs that read “acqua non potabile” (non-potable) tap water in Italy is safe to drink. Non-potable water basically means the water has not been treated to meet the drinking water standards set forth by the European Union for all Member states. For over 30 years, most people in Italy and more broadly the European Union have enjoyed high-quality drinking water thanks to EU legislation on drinking water quality.
Tourists however can be forgiven for wondering if the water is safe to drink given the amount of bottled water consumed in Italy. In 2021 the Statista Consumer Market Outlook ranked Italy as fifth in the world with a sales volume of 174 liters per capita of bottled water. As an American living in Italy I wondered, if tap water is safe to drink, what’s with all the bottles?
Why Italians Drink Bottled Water
After growing exceedingly aware of the cultural acceptance of drinking bottled water in Italy, I did a bit of research. Here are the top seven reasons Italians prefer to drink bottled water over tap water in no particular order.
- Historical phobias over water contamination.
- Marketing campaigns promoting the health benefits of bottled water.
- Feeling of Luxury.
- Habit and convenience.
- Bottled water is relatively cheap in Italy.
- Restaurants make money from bottled water.
To give a bit more insight, the following video is from an Italian language teacher who shares a native Italian perspective on why Italians drink so much bottled water.
Ordering Tap Water in Italy
Despite tap water being safe to drink, it’s not offered in restaurants across Italy. Here, waiters often start the conversation with guests by asking “l’aqua naturale or frizzante?” meaning still or sparkling water. It’s more of an assumption. Which type of bottled water, rather than a question of desire to purchase bottled water.
There are a few recognized reasons why restaurants in Italy push bottled water. The first is regional variation in the taste of tap water across Italy.
“Visitors arriving in cities or coastal regions will no doubt find the taste of the water a lot less pleasant. Hence waiters’ concerned expressions, warnings, and insistance on bringing bottled water in many areas of the country. Even at the simplest cafe or motorway service station, if you ask for a glass of water (which is common, and should be free) with your coffee, they’ll pour it from a bottle and not the tap. Usually into a plastic cup.”The local.it
The second reason bottled water is offered in restaurants in Italy? Italian hospitality means giving guests the best that is available. In Italy, the cultural assumption is that bottled water is the best.
“The growing foodservice channel is a major driving factor for the sales value of bottled water, as foodservice occupies more than 60% of the market share, due to high product prices in this channel. Additionally, bottled water in Italian restaurants is associated with premiumization, and it is known to be five times costlier in foodservice outlets than in supermarkets.”Mordor Intelligence
Lastly, and perhaps least openly discussed, bottled water is a money maker in Italy. Restaurants have come to easily count on a bottle of water or two per table. This adds anywhere from three to six Euros per check.
Despite the fact that tap water is safe to drink in Italy, bottled water has become a cultural habit. Thankfully, at nearly 80% Italy has the highest percentage of overall waste recycling of any European nation.
Tourists wishing to opt out of the bottled water buy-in at restaurants in Italy can simply ask for “acqua di rubinetto” or regular old tap water. When in Rome will you bottle or tap it?
But I once saw a large dog literally put its mouth on the faucet… 😅😅 It was the owners carelessness 🙄 but still
Once I realized those water fountains were indeed water fountains meant for drinking, I always make sure to stop at one whenever I’m doing my running workout out on the streets!
Same here! I saw a local woman in my Alps town come out of her house, fill her water bottle from one of our fountains and go back inside! I had a huh moment. Although no dogs shared the fountain that day! Thankfully. 😉
The reason bottled water even exists and has its own culture : Nestle propoganda! Makes me want to rip my hair out!
I hear you! On a trip through Southern India, our tour company provided bottles of water for the guests. After nearly two weeks there for a family of four, the number of bottles we went through alone was horrifying! With the weather we had to hydrate but souvenir refillable water bottles advertising the tour company with a giant water bottle in the back of the van would have been for better for the environment.
Wow! That’s so crazy! I admit though that on road trips, sometimes bottled water is useful, but I hate that BPA taste that it gets from leaving it in the car. Also, I do understand that in California, you should have a stash of them for earthquakes. I also understand some places genuinely do not have clean water, like Houston or LA and you need to buy water. I remember travelling to LA and my mother explicitly told me not to drink the tap water! Apart from that, I don’t see any other practical use for bottled water, so Nestle can go to hell!