How to properly and legally imbibe at the pubs

The Brits love a good alcoholic beverage, especially a pint of beer or a gin and tonic. They also have lower minimum drinking age for consuming alcohol than in the United States, although there are many qualifiers American citizens are unfamiliar with. When visiting the U.K., be aware of the basic rules of imbibing and how old you need to be to drink certain types of booze.

What is the legal drinking age in England?

England has different laws regarding minimum age and drinking alcohol, depending on where and what you buy, where you drink it and who buys it:

  • You must be 18 years old to buy alcohol in a bar or shop. It is also not legal for anyone else to purchase alcohol for those under 18 to drink in a public place. Adults may buy alcohol for children to drink in private at home.
  • Young adults, 16 year olds and 17 year olds, may consume alcoholic drinks such as a glass of wine, beer or cider with a meal at a public establishment if purchased by an accompanying adult. Those under 18 may not drink spirits, like whiskey or rum, even if accompanying a meal.
  • Adolescents under the legal drinking age of 18 may not drink alcohol in an outdoor public place, such as a park or on the street. Police can confiscate alcohol consumed by minors in those circumstances.
  • Those under 16 may enter a licensed premise, such as a pub or bar, if accompanied by an adult, but may not drink alcohol.
  • It is illegal to give alcohol to children under the age of 5.
  • According to, in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), it is illegal to…
    • to buy or try to buy alcohol
    • to drink alcohol in licensed premises (such as a pub or restaurant)
    • for an adult to buy or try to buy alcohol for you
    • for someone to sell you alcohol

If an underage person is caught purchasing or consuming alcohol, they may be issued a warning or a fine. Penalties are much worse for an adult caught selling or supplying alcohol to an underage person, as they may be fined or even imprisoned.

How old do you have to be to serve alcohol in England?

Those ages 16 or 17 may serve alcohol in a restaurant if the license holder or bar manager has approved the sale. Some areas restrict these sales to sealed bottles of alcohol. If your server looks under 18 when you are dining or drinking out in England, it is likely perfectly legal.

Where can you drink alcohol in England?

The most popular place to grab a drink is a pub, which usually serve pints of beer, wine by the glass and spirits. Many pubs now also offer Prosecco, often on tap. You can also drink in a bar, club or restaurant, as well as many coffee shops. London is well-known for its many high-end cocktail bars, which are usually found in the fancy hotels.

It is illegal in some areas to carry or drink alcohol on the street, but many Brits do it anyway. Police can confiscate open bottles or pints if you carry them on the street, so be sure to know the rules in the area where you're traveling. It's common practice to stand directly outside a pub with a pint on a sunny day or warm evening, especially in cities like London.

What is the drinking culture like?

Brits drink frequently, and it's part of the culture to head to the pub every day after work (or even sometimes during lunch hour). Pubs are often most crowded around 5 p.m. when everyone leaves the office. The English can put down more than a few drinks, but you shouldn't feel pressured to keep up. Most people, especially in cities, go out on the early side during the weekdays. Bars and pubs typically close by midnight, even on weekends, so prepare to head home around then. Be sure to try the local on-tap beers or one of the many delicious British gins while in the country.

Most importantly, don't forget to grab a bite to eat between sips, which you can do in the pubs (fish and chips, anyone?) or at a local eatery. Kebab shops and late-night Indian food joints are popular options after the bars shut in the evenings.

If you're worried about someone's drinking or even your own, you can also call England’s free national alcohol helpline called ‌Drinkline‌. Calls are in complete confidence at the phone number 0300 123 1110 (available weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm).

There are many organizations in England that offer help to young people who are struggling with alcohol abuse. These organizations can provide counseling, support groups, and other resources to help young people overcome their addiction. Browse online to find the best organizations in England for your situation.