Swedish Drinking In Bar

Swedish drinking culture and the legal drinking age in Sweden

The Nordic countries have several similarities in a cultural aspect. The Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have close linguistic ties, for example, and each nation has a strong emphasis on equality and welfare for its citizens. But when it comes to approaches to alcohol, each country is pretty different. So, what’s the Swedish drinking culture like?

Denmark has the least restrictive alcohol laws, and you can readily find beer and wine in almost every supermarket throughout the country. Contrastingly, alcohol only became legal again in Iceland in 1989.

Sweden has legalized alcohol for much longer than that, but the country is by no means as outgoing with its tipple and booze compared to Denmark. Having said that, you will notice a difference in mentality depending on whether you’re in Northern Sweden or the south.

So, what exactly is Swedish drinking culture like? Is social drinking in Sweden commonplace, and what are the drinking laws in Sweden? Let’s find out…

Is alcohol illegal in Sweden?

Alcohol is legal throughout Sweden, and the country has several alcohol brands popular domestically and further afield. However, the industry is heavily regulated.

Places to purchase alcohol in Sweden are somewhat limited compared to places like Great Britain and the United States. Supermarkets cannot sell drinks with an alcohol content percentage higher than 3.5%.

Because of the alcohol policy in Scandinavia’s largest country, you will have to contend with high prices. The largest chunk of costs you’ll incur for drinks you buy is due to heavy taxes rather than the price of the drink itself.

Many Swedes travel to other countries in the European Union to buy their alcohol; the ferry between Helsingør in Denmark to Helsingborg regularly features Swedes purchasing tax-free booze.

And if you ever find yourself in the center of Copenhagen on the weekend, you’ll probably hear many people speaking Swedish.

Further afield, Germany, Poland, and Estonia are viable options by ferry.

What is the legal drinking age in Sweden?

To purchase alcohol legally in Sweden, you must be at least 18 years old. Once you hit that age, you can buy drinks from a restaurant; the legal drinking age to purchase alcohol from Systembolaget (more on that in a moment) is 20.

However, if you plan to head on a night out, you’ll often have to be older. Some bars and nightclubs impose an age limit of 20, with some even pushing it as high as 25. Your best bet is to check before you go out.

Buying Alcohol In Sweden

Why is alcohol in Sweden so restricted?

One simple idea behind restricting alcohol sales in Sweden is to avoid significant social problems and stop people from developing an unhealthy relationship with it. Despite being one of the world’s most developed countries, the country’s climate — especially in the northern parts — is harsh.

However, on a deeper level, Sweden’s alcohol restrictions are a little more complicated to understand. Much of the modern-day limits come from the Temperance Movement, which was particularly prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The movement was influential in restricting alcohol sales throughout the country, and its legacy was still clear in the 1990s when the country still had a nationalized alcohol system.

When Sweden joined the EU in 1995, however, alcohol companies were allowed to make money on their sales.

Coffee bans have taken place in Sweden in the past, but considering how much the average Swede drinks yearly, something similar happening again is highly unlikely anytime soon.

Swedish Drinking Culture

Where can you buy alcohol in Sweden?

While you’ll need to plan your alcohol purchases in Sweden a little more carefully, you can still buy drinks in the country. In almost every circumstance, you’ll head to a Systembolaget store.

The state runs Systembolaget, and you’ll find its stores dotted throughout the country. In these liquor stores, you can buy standard Swedish beer and numerous brands from several other countries. You can also purchase spirits and wine from domestic brands and those produced further afield.

Systembolaget stores have somewhat confusing opening times. Weekday opening times normally vary from 10:00 to 19:00 or 20:00, depending on where you go. On Saturdays, shops usually close at around 15:00 — and they might shut even earlier on certain days like New Year’s Eve.

Systembolaget is closed on Sunday.

While it’s a little irritating that you can’t buy alcohol from supermarkets in Sweden, the good news is that Systembolaget usually has an excellent selection of drinks.

If you’re out and about, you’ll find numerous pubs in Sweden’s major cities; Stockholm’s Södermalm district is one such area. On top of that, you can also buy alcohol at bars and nightclubs — but expect to pay a premium.

Sweden has restaurants featuring several global cuisines, and you can usually purchase alcohol with your meal. You can also buy beverages at your hotel bar, but you’ll have to check for opening times as these vary.

What alcoholic drinks can you get in Sweden?

Alcohol in Sweden is more varied than you think, and you will probably find something that satisfies your taste buds. Below, we’ve outlined the different types of alcoholic beverages you can purchase in the country.

Beer

Beer is one of the most widespread drinks in Sweden, and it’s particularly popular among young adults. Falcon is a brand you will see almost everywhere, and it’s one of the more cost-effective options if your goal is to purely get drunk.

In Sweden, you’ll also find various other domestic brands — such as Norrlands Guld (another brand you’ll find in pretty much every pub, bar, and restaurant).

Imported alcohol in Sweden is pretty expensive. However, you’ll probably find your favorite beer from your homeland if you go to Systembolaget.

Denmark has a significant drinking culture, and you’ll probably try Christmas Beer (Juløl) at least once if you move there. Sweden has its own equivalent, known as “Julöl”; Jämtlands Bryggeri is one of the most popular brands in this respect.

Wine

When you think of wine, what’s the first country that comes to mind? We would imagine that France, Italy, and South Africa might have made your list. Sweden, on the other hand? Probably not. But believe it or not, the Swedes make their own wine — even if much of the terrain isn’t ideal for doing so most of the year.

Many of Sweden’s vineyards are in Southern Sweden, where the weather is more temperate. If you want to try foreign wine, though, you can find some of the best from across the world.

You can buy wine in Systembolaget stores, and you’ll also find drinks of this kind at several restaurants.

Craft beer

Craft beer is a somewhat new revolution, and it has especially taken a stronghold in Denmark. And despite Sweden’s alcohol policy not being as free as its neighbors to the south, craft beer is growing in popularity in this part of the world.

Throughout Sweden, you will find hundreds of microbreweries. The region around Gothenburg is particularly prominent in this respect, and you’ll also find a variety in the northwest of the country.

Craft beer in Sweden ranges in alcohol percentages and tastes; you’ll also find international brands like Mikkeller in major cities.

In addition to several other craft beers, you’ll also find Indian Pale Ale (IPA) throughout Sweden.

Cider

Sweden is the birthplace of some of the planet’s biggest cider brands. If you’ve ever been to a British beer garden in the summer, you’ll almost certainly have heard of Kopparberg. The company’s drinks don’t really taste like alcohol, and they’re typically on the sweet side; the brewery has been around since 1882.

Another Swedish cider brand you might be familiar with is Rekorderlig. Like Kopparberg, these drinks have become popular throughout Europe; the brewery that makes Rekorderlig’s ciders today is the Åbro Brewery.

Unlike Kopparberg, this brand isn’t particularly old and has only been around since 1996.

Spirits

Spirits and snaps in Sweden are usually consumed on special occasions rather than on your average night out — though you might notice groups of friends getting shots of the stuff in a nightclub. You’ll typically find spirits in Systembolaget stores, and Akvavit is particularly popular — as it is elsewhere in the Nordics.

You’ll also find Bäska Droppar in liquor stores throughout the country, which is popular among Swedes and somewhat resembles Malört — which you might be familiar with if you’re from the US.

Drinking In Malmo

What are the drinking laws in Sweden for public intoxication?

Public drinking laws vary in the Nordic countries. While you’re allowed to do so in Denmark (as long as you aren’t being a nuisance), you cannot in Finland or Norway.

So, what about Sweden?

Drinking in Sweden is prohibited if you do so in a public place. If a police officer catches you, you might receive a fine — and in any instance, you will almost certainly have your drink taken away from you.

If you think that being surrounded by other drunk people on the weekend will save you, we’ve got some bad news: it won’t. So, you’re better off finishing that final can or bottle at your apartment before heading out.

What is counted as drinking and driving in Sweden?

Despite global names like Volvo, driving isn’t a huge part of many Swedes’ lives — especially if they live in a major city. Nonetheless, you should still keep the country’s drinking and driving laws in mind if you plan to buy or rent your own vehicle.

As mentioned by the Swedish Government’s website:

“In Sweden, driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, i.e. with a blood alcohol content of minimum 0.02 per cent or more, or a breath alcohol content of 0.10 milligrams per liter or more, is regarded as crime, regardless of whether the driver is involved in an accident or not.”  

“The crime is considered to be gross if the driver has a blood alcohol content of at least 1.0 milligrams per liter or a breath alcohol content of at least 0.50 milligrams per liter or if the driver otherwise has been considerably affected by alcohol or another substance or if the driving of the vehicle has constituted a considerable danger to the road safety.”

If you’re found guilty of drunk driving in Sweden, you could get a 4-6-month jail sentence alongside a fine. For serious breaches, you might find yourself in jail for two years. You can find more details on the Polisen website.

Laws on drinking and driving in Sweden are also applicable if you find yourself driving a boat.

Swedish Drinking Beer

What does a night out in Sweden look like?

If you move to Stockholm, you’ll probably find yourself with a network of friends eventually — and one of them might invite you on a night out once you’re close enough.

In Swedish drinking culture, nights out often follow a similar pattern. You’ll typically begin by drinking at someone’s apartment, which you might refer to as “pre-drinks” if you’re from the UK, or “pre-game” if you’re from across the Atlantic.

If you go to a Swedish nightclub, you’ll notice that the place is pretty much dead before midnight; this is the exact reason why. Eventually, you and your friends will — after waiting outside for ages in sub-zero temperatures — make your way into a club.

Nightclubs in Sweden often close early compared to other parts of the world, but you can still find a few in Stockholm that shut their doors at 3am or later.

Once the night is over, you’ll typically grab something to eat before crashing on your bed and regretting your decisions the following morning.

What are the rules related to nightclubs in Sweden?

As we mentioned earlier in this article, some Swedish bars and nightclubs will impose higher age limits. In all cases, you should bring a valid form of ID with you.

Bouncers at Swedish nightclubs can be a little strict, and you might get turned away if they deem you to be too drunk. Similarly, you might get thrown out of a club if they have a reason to believe you’ve had too much alcohol.

The decision isn’t always fair, but you’re better off cutting your losses in such instances and heading home.

Is drinking popular in Sweden?

As you’ve probably gathered by now, the Swedish drinking culture is unique, and some people might find it complicated to navigate. Below, we’ll talk about how drinking in Sweden varies depending on the occasion — along with some useful social norms to consider and more.

Parties

The drinking culture in Sweden focuses more on getting together as friends, and parties are pretty common. Besides pre-gaming on a weeknight, Swedes host parties and dinners for various other occasions throughout the year.

If you live in an apartment, you’ll usually receive a warning that a neighbor will host an event in advance — allowing you to make alternative arrangements if you don’t want to deal with the noise.

When you’re invited to a Swedish house party, make sure that you take your shoes off when entering and leave them by the front door. Don’t worry; everyone else will do likewise — so you’re not going to look weird.

If you’re in Sweden during the summer, you might find yourself at a crayfish party. As you might expect, this involves a lot of shellfish — and alcohol is usually served as well, both in the form of spirits and beer.

Easter

Easter is a big tradition in Sweden, and Easter lunches usually consist of salmon, herring, and potatoes — plus other delicacies. Alcohol is often on the menu, too, in the form of snaps.

Many Swedes retreat to their cabins during the Easter break.

Christmas

Christmas is one of Sweden’s most eagerly awaited holidays, and — like in the other Nordic countries – the Swedes usually celebrate it on December 24th. However, the build-up lasts for pretty much the entirety of December.

In the build-up to Christmas, you can find glögg (mulled wine) at Christmas markets throughout the country. On top of that, you will also find Akvavit at Christmas dinners.

Drinking during the week

In some cultures, it’s perfectly normal to have drinks during the week — whether that’s going out for lunch or meeting a friend. But in Sweden, people tend not to do that. You will also probably receive weird looks or frowns if you decide to do so.

The Swedish drinking culture is a little different from Southern Europe in this respect, where it’s not uncommon to have a glass of wine with lunch or dinner.

Does day drinking exist in Sweden?

Day drinking is popular in countries like the UK, and you’ll also see it in Denmark during the warmer months of the year. But is drinking popular in Sweden in this respect?

Again, Swedes tend not to drink during the day — though you will see terraces and the local pub somewhat busy during the summer months. Instead, people in Sweden tend to drink alcohol on Friday and Saturday nights — with the exception of special occasions and holidays.

“Vit månad”

One concept in Sweden that is pretty popular is “vit månad”, which translates to “white month” in English. Simply put, the term refers to a month where Swedes choose to have complete abstinence from alcohol for a whole month.

Vit månad is popular in Sweden for many reasons. Most of us know that alcohol can cause huge public health issues when consumed in large amounts, and stepping away from booze can help to give your body a break. It can also lead to physical changes, such as more muscle mass and higher testosterone levels.

Other cultures have a “vit månad” equivalent; in the UK, for example, many people participate in Dry January. However, you can take a “vit månad” whenever you want — and it’s usually for yourself rather than charity.

Swedish Drinking Culture In Stockholm

Do people drink a lot of alcohol in Sweden?

Despite restrictive laws in terms of purchasing drinks, alcohol is commonplace in Swedish society. Moreover, some Swedes drink a lot of alcohol.

As mentioned by Folkhälsomyndigheten (the public health authority) in March 2022, 81% of people in Sweden said that they had drunk alcohol in the past 12 months. Perhaps surprisingly, older people aged between 65 and 84 drink more than those from 16-29 years old.

If we look at people in the country aged 15 and above, the average Swede consumes 8.5 liters of alcohol per year. Typically speaking, men consume more than women.

Is there a drinking problem in Sweden?

Sweden’s state-run monopoly might give you the impression that the Swedish drinking culture has several heavy drinking problems. But is this true?

Karolinska Instituttet ran an in-depth study about alcohol in Sweden in 2015. Their research revealed that consumption was significantly higher than 20 years prior and that alcohol consumption in Sweden had risen since the country joined the EU.

The institute’s research discovered that around one million people in the country were at risk of developing social or medical problems. Moreover, 300,000 people had developed alcohol dependence — 50,000 of which were serious.

But what is the alcoholism rate in Sweden?

According to World Population Review, Sweden has an 11% alcoholism rate, which is higher than the UK (8%), Finland (9.1%), Norway (7.2%), and Denmark (7.5%). However, it is significantly lower than Russia (20.9%) and the US (13.9%).

Is there a Swedish drinking song?

Many countries have a drinking song, and Swedish culture is no different. The Swedish drinking toast is “skål!” (cheers!), and the song is helan går (the whole one goes down); you will hear it at most major parties and festivals you go to.

The song is sung at Easter, crayfish parties, and various other events.

Alcohol in Sweden is heavily regulated, but its population is still partial to a drink

Swedish drinking culture is quite different from the rest of the world, and it has a lot of differences even compared to the other countries in Northern Europe.

Swedes tend to drink a lot in bursts rather than spreading their consumption throughout the week, and the nightlife in many cities is lively — though it doesn’t start until late.

The sale of alcohol in Sweden is pretty restricted, and the high taxes on drinks means that you will pay more than if you went out in Denmark or Germany — though alcohol prices are still lower than in Norway and Iceland.

Sweden has a thriving food scene alongside its alcohol, and if you’re more interested in healthy activities, you’ll find plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants throughout the country. Why not read more about why it’s a great place to eat green and clean?

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