Toast to adventure the legal way while traveling abroad
Although some U.S. citizens may think of "Europe" as a homogeneous place – after all, most nations use the same currency – every European country has its own laws. As such, every country has different rules regarding minimum drinking ages. If you can legally drink in the U.S., buying alcohol in a store or bar should be no problem during a trip to Paris or Madrid, as the minimum legal drinking age everywhere is 21. However, it still pays to familiarize yourself with the alcohol policies and public health guidelines of any country you plan to explore with a beer in your hand.
The U.S. vs. Europe
Consumption of alcohol is regulated around the world. The United States prohibits alcohol consumption for anyone under 21, whereas laws in many European countries differentiate alcohol use between consuming it and buying it. For instance, in the United Kingdom (which encompasses England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), 16- and 17-year-olds may legally drink beer, wine or cider only with meals and only when it's purchased by an adult present while they drink. Adults must also accompany young people under 16 in retailers where alcohol sales is the central objective, think pubs and bars, rather than supermarkets. Though, it's legal for adults to buy alcohol for children older than 4 to drink at home!
Drinking in Europe
In most places in Europe, you can purchase and consumer alcohol of any kind starting at 18 years of age. Many countries allow minors to drink alcohol, with 18 as the minimum age to purchase. Northern countries Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway have similar laws regarding underage drinking. In Finland and Sweden, adolescents can begin purchasing alcohol at 18, but you must be 20 in Sweden to buy anything with an alcohol content above 3.5 percent.
Denmark, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland allow purchase of 1.2 percent distilled alcohol at 16 years old– specifically, Germany and Switzerland, allow 16- and 17-year-olds to consume alcoholic drinks like beer and wine, but you must be 18 to drink spirits. Neighbors France and Italy, have a drinking age of 18. It's legal for young adults over 16 to drink in Spain, except in the region of Asturias, where the drinking age is 18. Similarly, Austria’s alcohol regulation is decided regionally so it changes as you travel throughout the country.
It's little nuances like this that make it important to research the liquor laws in each country you plan to visit if you're under 21 or traveling with a minor.
How to drink safely in Europe
Getting drunk in a foreign country can be dangerous, especially in club and bar settings that emphasizes heavy drinking. It's easy to feel safe when you're in a loud bar and feeling the thrill of adventure, but that feeling wears off quickly when you step onto a darkened street in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Alcohol consumption decreases your overall awareness and you could end up in an unsafe situation. Your best bet is to stick close to your hotel and visit bars, clubs and pubs that are recommended by hotel staff. They know which venues are safe for tourists. Another option? Enjoy the local culture by eating dinner out, then pick up a small bottle of something to sample in the safety of your hotel.
If you do feel prepared to venture into a bar or club, travel with people you trust and stick with them throughout the night. Drink slowly, as some foreign alcohol brands are bracingly strong, and monitor your state of intoxication closely while you're in a foreign place. Make an effort to branch out from your usual light beer or gin-and-tonic in favor of trying a local specialty. Get a recommendation from the bartender if you're not sure what to order; many speak English, but you can also use a translation app to communicate simple messages. As always, ensure you’re aware of and above the appropriate age limit set by that country.