Alcohol In Norway

Drinking in Norway: Everything you need to know about alcohol in Norway, and the legal drinking age

Drinking is a big part of many Western countries, and Scandinavians are known for being partial to a party or two. Considering its notoriously high prices, can you find much of a culture surrounding alcohol in Norway?

In short, yes — you can. Norwegians are typically shy in everyday life, but alcohol is the perfect social lubricant. The best way to mingle with the locals is at a pub, bar, or house party — and major cities in Norway have a relatively vibrant nightlife scene.

But before you grab a beer and join the fun, learning about drinking in Norway is a good idea. This article will tell you everything you need to know about Norwegian drinking culture, from which types of alcohol you can buy to how you can toast with Norwegians in their local language.

You’ll also learn about the darker side of alcohol in Norway — such as whether the country has a high alcoholism rate. And so, without further ado, let’s hop in.

Is alcohol illegal in Norway?

While alcohol bans have taken place in Norway before, you can buy beverages of this kind in the country today. However, drinking laws in Norway are nowhere near as lenient as in Denmark; the country’s sales model mimics Sweden, and Finland instead.

Between 1917 and 1923, you could not buy fortified wine in Norway. Meanwhile, liquor was illegal from 1917 until 1927. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Norwegian government took measures to limit alcohol sales; in late 2021, you could not buy any alcoholic beverages in bars or restaurants. 

Alcohol In Norway

What are the drinking laws in Norway?

Norway has strict laws related to alcohol, and knowing them before you visit or move here is a must. One of the most important to remember is driving; you are not allowed to drive any vehicle if you have more than 0.02% alcohol in your bloodstream.

If you’re found to have driven under the influence of alcohol, you can expect harsh punishment. At the very least, you will receive a criminal record and get fined the equivalent of your salary for one month.

For more serious offenses, you might face time in jail. We should also note that the laws surrounding drunk driving don’t apply only to cars, trucks, and boats; you could also get in trouble for using a motorized lawn mower under the influence of alcohol.

If you plan to drink, we recommend leaving your car at home. Norwegian public transport is excellent in the big cities, and you’ll find plenty of taxis to get you home safely. In addition to driving, you should also consider various other laws related to drinking in Norway; we’ll mention some below.

Buying alcohol from supermarkets

Depending on where in the US you’re from, you might be used to alcohol sales in grocery stores. And if you’ve spent any period in the UK or many other European countries, the same is true.

What about Norway, though? Can you buy alcohol in supermarkets here? In short, yes — but the answer is a little more complex when we break things down.

If you want to purchase alcohol from a Norwegian supermarket, you can only buy drinks up to 4.75% percentage-wise. Moreover, many grocery stores have limits on how long they can permit alcohol sales each day. On weekdays, you can buy drinks until 20:00; on Saturdays, you can only purchase alcohol until 18:00.

You cannot buy alcohol from Norwegian grocery stores on Sundays.

When looking for beer or cider drinks, you shouldn’t have issues purchasing alcohol from a Norwegian supermarket. However, you’ll need to check opening times in advance to avoid disappointment.

Buying alcohol from the wine monopoly

The country’s government strictly controls alcohol in Norway. Many Norwegians use Vinmonopolet, the state-run liquor store, to purchase their tipple and booze. While it’s still expensive, doing so will impact your wallet much less than waiting until you get to a bar or nightclub.

Vinmonopolet sells alcoholic drinks of all kinds, and you’ll need to get everything higher than 4.7% in volume from one of these stores. You can find various Norwegian beer brands, plus others from elsewhere in the world.

Moreover, Vinnmonopolet sells red and white wine — plus multiple types of liquor.

You’ll find Vinmonoplet stores throughout the country, including in all of the big cities. Downtown Oslo has multiple stores, and the same is true for Bergen. Opening times vary; you can visit from 10:00 to 18:00 from Monday to Friday, while stores close at 16:00 on Saturday and are shut all day Sunday.

On public holidays, you might have to deal with reduced opening hours. So, it’s worth keeping that in mind if you plan to visit Norway around those periods of the year.

Alcohol In Norway

What is the legal drinking age in Norway?

Drinking in Norway is especially popular with the younger generations, but the drinking age in Norway is a little more complex than in some of the other Nordic countries. If you want to buy beer and wine, you must be at least 18 years old; this is higher than Denmark (16) but lower than Iceland (20).

Buying spirits is perhaps where many youngsters visiting Norway get confused. To buy drinks like vodka and gin, you need to be at least 20 years old.

While alcohol in Norway is technically legal to consume once you turn 18, you’ll often find that you cannot enter a nightclub at that age. Many bars and clubs only allow people aged 20 and above, so you’ll need to keep that in mind if you’re younger and want to go on a night out in Norway.

Can you drink in public in Norway?

When the sun’s out, many people enjoy nothing more than grabbing a couple of drinks and sitting in the sun. And with so much natural beauty surrounding you, it’s understandable if you want to give that a shot when you visit Norway.

Unfortunately, you’re going to be disappointed if those were your plans.

Like all Nordic countries apart from Denmark, you cannot drink in public spaces when in Norway. You should also note that even if you consume alcohol on your apartment balcony, you’re theoretically breaking the law.

Many Norwegian bars and restaurants offer outdoor seating areas; if you buy your drinks from there, you can — of course — consume your alcohol in those designated spots.

Alcohol In Norway

Is alcohol illegal in Svalbard?

For many people, Svalbard is as close as they’ll ever get to the North Pole. The remote archipelago in the far north is officially a Norwegian territory, but it has different laws from the mainland.

For example, it’s a visa-free zone, and anyone can move here — though you’ll have to meet technicalities like financially supporting yourself.

Alcohol laws in Svalbard are different from Norway, and you might find them pretty complex. You’ll need to fly from mainland Norway to reach Svalbard, and you can bring alcohol with you in some cases — such as for short stays.

If you live in Svalbard, the laws differ massively. All residents of the archipelago cannot exceed a monthly purchasing quota. Rules include not being able to buy more than two bottles of liquor per month, and you can only purchase 24 cans or half bottles of beer (up to 4.75% in alcohol volume) during the same time period.

Residents of Svalbard are not allowed to bring alcohol from mainland Norway to the island.

Alcohol In Norway

Is drinking popular in Norway?

Now that you’ve got a better idea of Norway’s alcohol laws and how old you need to be before purchasing specific beverages, you’re ready to learn more about the drinking culture in Norway. Below, we’ll identify Norwegian drinking culture in various subsections.

House parties

If you make friends with a Norwegian, you’ll almost inevitably get invited to a house party at least once. Many people in Norway hang out with their friends on weekends in such a manner, and it’s a prerequisite for most nights out in the country.

When you go to a Norwegian house party, you will typically need to bring your own drinks with you. The host sometimes provides food, but this largely depends on the person. You’ll get standard snacks like potato chips and nuts to satisfy your hunger and line your stomach.

If it’s going to be noisy, tenants will usually inform the neighbors in advance. You’re usually advised not to make loud noises from 22:00 to 07:00, so you might get your party cut short if you irritate others in your building.

Are pubs popular in Norway?

Drinking culture in many European countries, such as the UK, circles around pub culture. But while you will find establishments of this kind in Norway, Norwegians don’t frequent them anywhere near as much as many Brits.

You will find various pubs throughout Norway, including several in Oslo. But rather than going there early in the evening, you’ll typically head out a little later. Alcohol in Norwegian pubs is also incredibly expensive, so you should probably look for alternative hobbies if that’s your current go-to.

Christmas

Christmas is one of the most eagerly-anticipated holidays on the Norwegian calendar, and visiting around this time is guaranteed to be a cozy experience. When in Norway around Christmas, you might notice juløl (Christmas beer) in pubs and liquor stores throughout the country.

Christmas beer is popular in the other Scandinavian countries, too; in Denmark, the start of the festive season is typically marked by J-Dag in November.

During the Christmas season, mulled wine — known locally as gløgg — is also popular in Norway. You’ll find it in Christmas markets throughout the country.

The Norwegians take their Christmas Dinner very seriously, and alcohol is usually a common fixture at the dinner table. Again, Norway takes inspiration from some of the other Scandinavian countries in this respect; you’ll find aquavit to help you wash down your gluttons.

Easter

Easter is another popular holiday in Norway, and much of the country still hasn’t put on its spring coat at this time of year. Many Norwegians go on vacation to their cabins during the Easter period, and the main day is typically marked with a big lunch.

At the Easter lunch, many Norwegians will consume an Easter beer to go with their food. The lunch is very similar to what you might find in the UK, with lamb, potatoes, and vegetables often on the menu.

17th May

17th May is a day that Norwegians hold close to their heart, and the country really puts on a show for its national day. It marks the signing of the Norwegian constitution in 1814, which is when the country officially became an independent nation and separated from Denmark.

On 17. mai, you will find Norwegians dressed in traditional clothing and festivities in every town and city across the country. Aquavit is a pretty popular drink on this day, and you’ll almost certainly receive it if you’re invited to party with a Norwegian.

Generally speaking, alcohol of all kinds are pretty popular on 17th May. It’s a time to let loose and celebrate, so bring whatever you like (just make sure you buy it in advance!).

Festivals

Norway has a short summer season, but the Norwegians do a very good job at soaking up as much sun as possible. Days are long and — if you go to the Arctic — never-ending. The calendar fills up with several exciting events from late May to August, including several music festivals and concerts.

Norwegians celebrate festivals in style, and alcohol is a frequent companion for such events. Some people will drink beforehand, while others will have a couple of drinks at the event as well.

Nightlife in Norway: What does a night out in Norway look like? 

Despite the high cost of alcohol in Norway, the country has a vibrant nightlife scene in its big cities. Oslo and Tromsø particularly excel in this respect; the latter has the most pubs per capita in Scandinavia.

A night out in Norway does not typically involve going straight to a bar or club, and many Norwegians don’t head *out* out until late. Usually, you’ll begin the night by going out for food or having drinks at a friend’s apartment.

In the US, you might know of the latter as “pre-game”; it’s called “pre-drinks” in the UK.

Later in the evening, you’ll typically go to a bar or club. At some point, you’ll end up in a place that has a dancefloor to conclude the night; if you’re going out during the summer months, you might see the sunrise on your way home.

Drinking with meals in Norway

Dining in Norway is, you guessed it, quite taxing on the wallet. If you plan to date a Norwegian, you shouldn’t expect to visit one the first time you meet; it’s more reserved for special occasions.

When you do go out to dine in Norway, you might choose to have alcohol with your meal. Most restaurants will typically have an extensive drinks menu that contains a wide selection of red and white wine, plus numerous beers.

Alcohol is quite pricey in Norwegian restaurants, but you might find the purchase worthwhile if you’re out celebrating something big — such as getting a new job.

Alcohol In Norway

Do people drink a lot of alcohol in Norway?

In many ways, the Norwegian drinking culture is pretty structured. From Sunday to Thursday, many Norwegians do not consume alcohol; you can expect most pubs and bars to be virtually empty on these days.

Most Norwegians consume the bulk of their alcohol on Friday and Saturday evenings, and many go pretty hard. People in Norway are pretty good at handling their drinks compared to some other countries, but it’s not uncommon for them to consume significant levels of beer and wine on the weekend.

According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the average person in Norway drinks seven liters of alcohol per year. Disparities between genders are significant, with men consuming double what women do.

Despite many Norweigans’ tendency to binge drink, alcohol consumption in the country is lower than in most other Nordic countries. Moreover, people in Norway do not drink as heavily as some other nations in Europe; Brits drink 9.7 liters per year on average, for example.

What kinds of alcoholic drinks can you get in Norway?

When consuming alcohol in Norway, you’ll find several kinds of beverages available. Below is a brief explanation for each of them.

Beer

Many of the big global beers, such as Stella Artois and Heiniken, are widely available in Norway. You’ll find them in bars and clubs, in addition to liquor stores and — depending on the percentage — grocery stores throughout the country.

In addition to international brands, you’ll find various Norwegian beers.

Wine

While much of its land might not seem ideal for doing so, you will find places in Norway that produce wine. But beyond that, you’ll also find plenty of wines from all over the world in Norwegian restaurants and bars.

To purchase wine, you’ll either need to go to one of the above or visit one of the country’s monopoly stores. In those shops, you’ll find an even bigger selection.

Spirits

Spirits are popular, with aquavit being one of the most frequented choices. You’ll also find vodka, gin, and many more choices. Again, you’ll need to either go to a state-run store, bar, restaurant, or club to get these.

Craft beers

Craft beer has taken the world by storm in recent years, and Norway hasn’t shied away from getting involved. You’ll find several craft breweries across the country, such as Nøgne Ø and even one in Svalbard.

Other international brands, such as Mikkeller, have also made their way to Norway.

Alcohol In Norway

What is the rate of alcoholism in Norway?

While Norway has excellent living standards, it also has a very harsh climate. Winters are long, cold, and dark — with some parts of the country not seeing the sun for months on end. If you don’t have a support network, things can get challenging.

Considering how restrictive alcohol is in Norway, do the Norwegians have low alcoholism rates?

Norway has a relatively low percentage of people determined to be alcoholics, with a combined 7.2% when looking at men and women. Men are more likely to turn to alcoholism, with 10.6% of males in the country falling into this category — compared to just 3.8% of females.

With the exception of Iceland, Norway has the lowest alcoholism rates in the Nordics.

Percentages in the other countries are as follows:

  • Sweden: 11% combined (14.7% for men, 7.3% for women)
  • Denmark: 7.5% combined (10.9% for men, 4.2% for women)
  • Iceland: 4.4% (6.7% men, 2.2% women)
  • Finland: 9.1% combined (14.8% for men, 3.8% for women)

What’s the Norwegian drinking toast?

If you want to say “cheers” in Norwegian, you’ll say “skål!” (pronounced skol). The customs after that are identical to most other countries; tap everybody else’s glasses at the table before taking a sip.

Is there a Norwegian drinking song?

Norway has a drinking song called “Norges Skaal”, which translates to “Norway’s Toast” in English. Believe it or not, the song was actually written in Copenhagen; it’s been around since 1771.

In recent years, versions of the song have become global hits, including a chart-topper in the US.

Drinking in Norway is a big deal, even if it’s absurdly expensive

Drinking in Norway is popular with the locals, and many Norwegians drink their alcohol in bulk. However, consumption rates are lower than in other parts of the world — and alcoholism rates are also not particularly high. Buying alcohol in Norway is sometimes a restrictive experience, but the nightlife makes it worthwhile.

If you plan to move to Norway, you’ll probably notice that you change your approach to alcohol consumption; at the very least, you’ll likely limit it. The good thing is that you will become better at picking the right events to go to and enjoying a better experience.

Moving to Norway is sometimes difficult, especially if you aren’t prepared. Luckily, we’ve put together a full guide.

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