Italians enjoyed their first meal out for two months on Monday, as the country eased its lockdown restrictions, with bars, restaurants and cafes back in business and St Peter’s basilica in the Vatican open for visitors.

After a gruelling lockdown period during the coronavirus pandemic, Italians were once again able to sip cappuccino and cold beers – albeit at a physical distance from other customers.

“I haven’t worked for two and a half months. It’s a beautiful, exciting day,” Valentino Casanova, a barman in Caffe Canova in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo, told Reuters.

A handful of visitors, including nuns, queued up outside St Peter’s for the first time since 10 March. Police officers wearing face masks checked temperatures before allowing them to enter. Masses in churches across Rome also resumed. Worshippers sat apart on disinfected pews.

In Venice gondoliers wearing face masks ferried passengers along the Grand Canal, while mothers with small children sat in cafes overlooking the Rialto. Clients in Milan got their hair done, while local markets in the city of Salerno reopened.

The prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, described the ending of national curbs as a “calculated risk”. Italy

was the first European country to go into full lockdown, more than two months ago. It is now returning to a semi-normality, after nearly 32,000 deaths. Its economy has shrunk by 10%.

Other European countries followed suit on Monday. Spain indicated that it would allow tourists to return from the end of June and Poland allowed restaurants to reopen as part of its third phase of lockdown easing. Greece welcomed the first visitors back to the Acropolis.

Workers in masks and plastic face shields stood around the archaeological site in Athens, reminding people to keep apart as they entered through turnstiles. The country has recorded only 156 deaths from Covid-19.

The president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, visited the Acropolis on Monday. She hailed it as “a world monument that continues to inspire with its marbles shining under the sun”.

In Spain, almost three-quarters of the country progressed to the second phase of lockdown de-escalation. Millions of people were able to meet up in groups of up to 10, and to have a drink or a meal on cafe or restaurant terraces. In Valencia masked waiters laid out tables overlooking the municipal beach.

The transport minister, José Luis Ábalos, said the country would end two-week quarantine restrictions at the end of June, and would fully reopen its borders. The move would take place at the same time internal travel restrictions were phased out.

“From late June, we’ll start the tourism activity, I hope,” Ábalos said. “We must make Spain an attractive country from the health point of view.”

The Madrid region and the Barcelona metropolitan area remain in the preliminary phase of what the government has called “the transition towards the new normality”.

The health ministry said that despite “huge progress” in and around the capital, the region would not yet be able to join the 70% of the country in the next phase. People in Barcelona and parts of the Castilla y Léon region will also remain in the so-called phase zero for the time being.

Churches and cathedrals in some areas of Spain have been open and operating at the required 30% capacity for a week, but the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most visited tourist attraction, remains closed.

Spain’s overnight death toll from coronavirus was 59 on Monday, the lowest figure in two months, the government said. The cumulative total rose to 27,709, with 231,350 confirmed cases of the virus.

Over the weekend the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said his Socialist-led coalition would be seeking a final, month-long extension of the state of emergency that underpins one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe.

A bar terrace in Valencia, Spain.

Meanwhile, Ireland took a cautious step on Monday towards easing its lockdown by allowing some businesses to reopen and up to four people from different households to meet as long as they respected physical distancing.

Gardening centres, hardware stores, bicycle repair shops and outdoor construction are among the handful of sectors cranking back to life, in the first phase of a five-stage plan to lift restrictions spread out over three-week intervals, with the fifth and final phase due to start on 10 August.

“We all need to approach the coming days with care and caution, and to show some collective cop-on,” said Simon Harris, the health minister, using an Irish term for common sense. “We want the shops to stay open, so there’s no need to rush down to your local DIY centre or garden shop today.”

On Sunday the country reported 64 new cases of Covid-19, the lowest daily figure since mid-March. Testing and contact tracing has expanded, bolstering confidence in the ability to monitor and contain outbreaks.