Drinking in public

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Engraving of a street scene by William Hogarth, c. 1751, showing traders consuming beer in public.

Social customs and laws concerning drinking alcohol in public vary significantly around the world. "Public" in this context refers to outdoor spaces such as roads, walkways or parks, or in a moving vehicle. Drinking in bars, restaurants, stadiums, and other such establishments, for example, is not generally considered to be "in public" even though those establishments are open to the general public. In some countries, such as India and Sri Lanka, as well as in larger regions, such as the Muslim world, public drinking is almost universally condemned or outlawed, while in other countries, such as Portugal, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan and China, public drinking and public intoxication is socially acceptable, although may not be entirely legal.


Opponents of drinking in public (such as religious organizations or governmental agencies) argue that it encourages overconsumption of alcohol and binge drinking, rowdiness and violence, and propose that people should instead drink at private businesses such as public houses, bars or clubs, where a bartender may prevent overconsumption and where rowdiness can be better controlled by the fact that one is sitting down and security or bouncers may be present.[1] Alternatively, adults may drink at home. Opponents of normalizing the public consumption of alcohol are also concerned about the risks associated with public inebriation such as broken bottles on the street and aggressive behavior while intoxicated.[citation needed]

Proponents[who?] of the right to drink in public argue that it does not itself cause problems and rather that it is social problems that cause over-consumption and violence, pointing to countries that allow drinking in public but have low levels of associated overconsumption and violence. Proponents further argue that drinking in public helps normalize attitudes towards drinking and build a healthier drinking culture.

By country[edit]


Although details and penalties vary from state to state, drinking in public places directly outside licensed premises (and also in council-designated no alcohol zones[2]) is illegal. Generally, possession of an open container of alcohol is sufficient proof of public drinking.

In New South Wales, drinking in public is legal unless an area is declared to be an alcohol-free zone.[3] In New South Wales, council rangers and authorised staff are allowed to use their discretion to confiscate and tip-out open containers in public streets in officially designated alcohol free zones within their own council boundaries; but not arrest nor issue fines/infringements for this purpose, leading many to turn a 'blind eye' to these infractions to avoid conflict and fights.[4]


In Austria, the possession and consumption of open containers of alcohol is legal all throughout the country by people of the legal drinking age. In Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland the legal drinking age starts with 16 years. In the other states the legal drinking age depends on the beverage in question: 16 for beer and wine and 18 for distilled spirits and mixed drinks. In Carinthia teenagers between 16 and 18 are further restricted to a blood alcohol level below 0.05.[5]

Some cities, like Graz in Styria or Klagenfurt in Carinthia, limit public consumption of alcohol in specific areas.[citation needed]


Having an open container is legal in Brazil. Drinking publicly is legal and socially accepted. However DUI laws have been enforced for the past 10 years and offenders may be arrested and lose their license. Being intoxicated in public is not an offense, and unless people were disturbed, the individual can't be arrested. However it's common practice law officers conduct intoxicated individuals to a police station or take them home to avoid any further problem caused by the individual.[citation needed]


In Canada, with the exception of Quebec, possession of open containers of alcohol in public is generally a violation of provincial acts and municipal bylaws. Open liquor is not permitted except in private residences or on licensed premises. Open liquor is also illegal in parts of national and provincial parks, though this prohibition may not apply to campsites, as it is a temporary residence. For instance, Ontario Provincial Parks allow alcohol [6] on campsites only.

In British Columbia and in Ontario, the penalty for possession of an open container or consumption of liquor in a public place is a fine (as per the Liquor Licence Act, ssec 31(2)). Those caught by law enforcement officers are forced to pour out the alcoholic beverage, after which offenders are sometimes issued a verbal warning instead of a monetary penalty.[citation needed]

In Quebec, laws on the consumption of alcohol in public are more relaxed than in the rest of Canada. Most notably, alcohol may be consumed in public parks during a meal.[7]


Drinking in public is illegal in Chile, though it is tolerated during New Year's Eve.[citation needed]


Drinking in public is most commonly accepted.


Public consumption of alcohol beverages is accepted and legal.[citation needed]

Czech Republic[edit]

In the Czech Republic, drinking in public is generally legal, but each community is entitled to restrict public drinking by ordinance.[8] As a result of this some, towns and cities have forbidden drinking in public in order to prevent people from disorderly conduct and begging.


Drinking in public in Denmark is legal in general. The law forbids "disturbing of the public law and order". Thus general consumption is accepted. Several cafes have outdoor serving in the same zones.


In Finland, drinking in public is prohibited in built areas ("taajama"), at border crossings, or in vehicles in use for public transport such as buses or trams. The law does not apply to restaurants, pubs and other licensed premises, or to the interior of vehicles such as taxis or limousines that are in private use. Public parks or equivalent venues are also exempt, as long as the consumption of alcohol does not cause undue public disturbance.[9] While drinking on streets and public transport is technically illegal, in practice the authorities intervene only if a disturbance is being caused. Drinking in trains and buses is more strictly forbidden, while drinking on streets is socially accepted.

The definition of a built area depends on the definition of a locality, or "taajama" in Finnish, which is a cluster of buildings with no less than 200 inhabitants, where the buildings are no more than 200 meters apart.[10] This means that some areas within towns and cities may not fill the definition, making it legal to drink alcohol in public there, while some areas outside of towns and cities may have high enough population densities to be considered localities, therefore making public drinking illegal. Entering or leaving localities is marked by road signs along the major thoroughfares.


Public drinking in France is legal. It is illegal to sell alcohol to minors (under 18) so it is also illegal for minors to consume alcohol in public. However local laws may ban public drinking or the purchase of alcohol in certain areas or at certain times.[11]

Public intoxication is illegal in France and an intoxicated person may be detained by the police or gendarmes and placed in a secure room (possibly a holding cell) until sober. The maximum fine is 150 euros.[12]


During the warmer months, parks in Germany are popular locations for alcohol consumption

The possession of open containers of alcohol and drinking in public (street, park etc.) is legal for people of the legal drinking age (16 for beer and wine; 18 for distilled spirits). Many cities forbid or restrict the consumption of alcohol in public transit or inside train stations. For example, the city of Hamburg made drinking on public trains and buses illegal in 2011.[13] Deutsche Bahn forbids "excessive" consumption of alcohol in Berlin S-Bahn stations;[14] violations are considered a civil and not criminal matter.[15] Similarly, BVG excludes intoxicated passengers only if they threaten operational order or safety.[16] The rules on trains vary considerably; the north German Metronom Eisenbahngesellschaft banned alcohol consumption on its trains in 2009, while the Deutsche Bahn sells alcohol to travelers on its trains.[17] Many regional transit authorities that do not ban alcohol consumption in trains make efforts to contain disruptive behaviour, such as by providing additional dedicated trains for football (soccer) fans traveling to or from matches.[17]

Hong Kong[edit]

In Hong Kong, drinking alcoholic beverages in public is legal for adults over the age of 18.


In Hungary, drinking alcohol in public is generally not illegal, but some settlements have local laws banning public drinking with fines up to 5000Ft.[citation needed]


Alcohol traditionally was generally frowned upon in India by all religious entities. Drinking in public is quite unusual on the streets but on the contrary quite usual in some areas with a bar or wine store. There could be several people drinking in one corner on the street, but one may not openly carry and consume a bottle of alcohol on the streets.

Republic of Ireland[edit]

Sign in Celbridge, Ireland, declaring that public drinking is punishable by a fine.

The Republic of Ireland has no laws against public drinking, except that alcohol in a closed container cannot be consumed within 100 m (330 ft) of the off license where it was purchased. Some towns and cities have by-laws forbidding public drinking.[18][19]

The sale of alcohol in stores or off-license is illegal between the hours of 10:00 PM and 10:30 AM with the exception of Sunday morning, when the sale of alcohol is forbidden until 12:30 PM. The sale of alcohol in bars and pubs is prohibited after 3:00 AM and before 10:30 AM, with the exception of those with special licenses, which is rare. These bars are known locally as "early houses". The law prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Good Friday was changed in 2018,[20] much like the prohibition of alcohol sales on Saint Patricks' Day being lifted in the 1970s.

Hotels, airports and trains are exceptions to all of the above, and the sale of alcohol is legal all year round.

Under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, it is an offence for a person to be so drunk in a public place as to be a danger to oneself or others; to do so could lead to drink being confiscated by Gardaí (police) and a Class E fine (up to 500).


Japan has no laws forbidding public drinking, which is a common custom in cities and parks, particularly during local festivals (matsuri) and cherry blossom viewing (hanami) in spring. The legal drinking age in Japan is 20 years of age.[21]


There is no open container law in Laos.[citation needed] The legal age for drinking in public in Laos is 18, there is no age restriction on private residences.[22]


In Lithuania, drinking alcoholic beverages in public is illegal, prohibited and subject to fines.


Drinking in public is illegal in Mexico. The laws that sanction it are part of the regulation of each municipality, as can be seen in the case of Mexico City[23] and Monterrey[24].


While drinking in public is legal in general,[25] most city governments include laws in their local ordinance that cite certain public streets and locations in which it is forbidden to drink alcohol or carry open bottles and cans (except in restaurants, pubs, bars etc).[26] Furthermore, "public drunkenness", which refers to the act of behaving asocially or overly bothering others due to alcohol, is punishable anywhere.[27]

New Zealand[edit]

In New Zealand, public drinking is legal, although local authorities have power to pass bylaws declaring liquor-free zones, where liquor may be consumed on licensed premises and private property but not on the street or other public areas. Many towns now have such zones, usually covering their Central Business District. Consuming alcohol while driving a motor vehicle is legal, as long as the driver is not over the driver blood alcohol limit, and the alcohol is not consumed in a liquor-free zone.[28] Similarly, passengers of motor vehicles are allowed to consume alcohol as long as they are not in a liquor-free zone. Sale of alcohol to intoxicated persons is illegal. Under the Summary Offences Act 1981 it is an offence to drink alcohol in public transport, aeroplanes and taxis unless the vehicle is a licensed premises. Most commercial flights as well as many ferries and trains serve alcohol on board.


Drinking in public is illegal in Norway and subject to fines. In many cities the police will primarily react if the use of alcohol is causing trouble and drinking in parks is quite common. Most officers will ask the drinker to empty the bottle without further reactions.[29]


In Poland, since 2018 drinking in public is illegal as a general rule, and police take a strict approach to enforcement of the law. Municipal authorities may allow it in designated areas only.


According to the article 20.20 of the Offences Code of Russia, drinking in a place where it is forbidden by the federal law is punishable with a fine of 500 to 1500 rubles. The article 16 of the Federal Law #171-FZ "About the State Regulation of Production and Trade of Ethanol, Alcoholic and Ethanol-containing Products and about Restriction of Alcoholic Products Consumption (Drinking)" forbids drinking in almost all public places (including entrance halls, staircases and elevators of living buildings) except bars, restaurants or other similar establishments where it is permitted to sell alcoholic products for immediate consumption.


Drinking in public is legal in Singapore, however, consumption of alcohol in a public space or non-licensed premise is restricted from 10.30pm to 7am after the 2013 Little India riot. A permit will be required to consume alcohol during restricted hours in public places.[30] Sales are prohibited from supermarkets and convenience stores such as NTUC FairPrice, Giant Hypermarket, Sheng Siong, Cold Storage and 7-Eleven from 10.30pm to 7am.

The condition of carriage of alcohol is prohibited even between 10.30pm and 7am on SMRT Trains and SBS Transit services[citation needed].


In Slovakia, drinking alcoholic beverages in public is illegal in many cities

South Korea[edit]

In general, drinking in public is illegal if the drinker harms others while drinking in public. Harm is defined as using harsh language or stirring up loud noise while drinking or exercising bad drinking habits on others for no reason. Anyone reported or caught by city officials to be causing harm to others while drinking in public will be fined 100,000 won.

Since 2009, stricter laws are in force in some parts of the country that started with Seoul's Dongjak District, which designates city parks and bus stops as no drinking areas and any drinkers caught in these areas will be advised to stop drinking by city officials.[31]


Public drinking is only prohibited in some cities or parts of cities, regulated by local laws like in Barcelona.

The practice of botellón (Public binge drinking) is relatively popular among teenagers and young adults partly in response to rising drink prices at bars or clubs, and partly because more people can meet in one place.


Public drinking is regulated by municipalities in local ordinance, setting up zones where consumption of beverages containing more than 2.25% ABV is prohibited. These zones are usually located in city centres, around schools, churches and parks. Drinking in these zones usually result in the police confiscating any opened containers or a fine. If the person in question is also under 20 years of age, the police may confiscate all alcohol he or she is carrying. Only public spaces within these zones are regulated, excluding venues licensed to serve alcohol, and for example cars parked in the zone.


Public drinking in Switzerland is legal. Although Switzerland has a legal purchase age of 16 for beer and wine,[32] and 18 for spirits[33] (18 for both in Ticino), it is not illegal for a minor to consume alcohol in public by federal laws. But the cantons Aargau, Zürich, Solothurn and Bern[34] have laws which make it illegal to give alcohol to minors under the federal purchase age laws (exceptions are made for parents).

Furthermore, cantonal laws prohibit the consumption and/or sale of alcohol at the following public places:

United Kingdom[edit]

England and Wales[edit]

Drinking in public is legal in England and Wales – one may carry a drink from a public house down the street[citation needed] (though it is preferred that the user requests a plastic glass to avoid danger of breakage and because the taking of the glass could be considered an offence of theft as only the drink has been purchased), and one may purchase alcohol at an off-licence and immediately begin drinking it outside. Separately, one may drink on aeroplanes and on most National Rail train services, either purchasing alcohol on-board or consuming one's own.

In certain public places, it may be requested that people do not drink alcohol in that area. It is not illegal to drink in these areas, contrary to popular misconception,[36] but, in these areas, police may request the individual to stop drinking and potentially also surrender their alcohol, both open and closed containers. Police Officers can only request that alcohol is surrendered if the drinkers are acting antisocially or they have good reason to believe they are going to do so.[37] These are formally known as Designated Public Places Orders (DPPOs), and were allowed by The Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (CJPA); they are more popularly known as 'Controlled Drinking Zones' (CDZs).[36]

Following the election of Boris Johnson as mayor of London, the conditions of carriage on most modes of London public transportation (specifically those under the management of Transport for London - London Buses, London Underground, London Overground, Docklands Light Railway, Tramlink and more recently, the Emirates Air Line and TfL Rail) were updated to ban the carrying of open alcohol containers and the consumption of alcohol. This does not apply to non-Transport for London commuter services, including National Rail and Thames Clippers. This was supported by those who felt it would decrease antisocial behaviour, but opposed by those who argued that alcohol relieved the discomfort of a commute. The end of drinking on public transport was marked by some festivities.

Northern Ireland[edit]

The majority of Belfast is designated an alcohol-free area, with fines of up to £500.[38] Under the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, it is an offence to be drunk in a public place. Furthermore, under The Justice Act (NI) 2011, police can issue a fixed penalty notice to those over the age of 18 found intoxicated in a public place. On the 12th of July public holiday this law is relaxed, unless anti-social behaviour is undertaken.


The City of Edinburgh allows the consumption of alcohol in public places but under the Edinburgh by-law, anyone drinking in public would have to stop if asked by police.[39] In the Strathclyde region that includes Glasgow, the consumption of alcohol or possession of an open container of alcohol, in public places has been illegal since 1996. Breaking this law can mean a fine. This ban was enforced due to the increase in drink-related violent crime.[40] In the Perth & Kinross local authority the consumption of alcohol in public places is illegal in the following places: Alyth, Crieff, Kinross, Scone, Aberfeldy, Blairgowrie, Dunkeld & Birnam, Milnathort, Coupar Angus, Errol, Perth City. Drinking publicly in these areas is chargeable offence.[41] In St Andrews in Fife it is illegal to drink or even have an open drinks container on the street. On the spot fines can be handed out by the police. It is however legal to consume alcohol on any of the beaches in St Andrews.


In the UAE, it is against the law to be intoxicated and disorderly conduct can lead to arrest by police. Furthermore in Islam Muslims are not allowed to consume alcohol. Drunk driving is also banned, with severe penalties, including time in jail and demerit points added to the offenders' record.

United States[edit]

In the United States, open container laws are state laws, rather than federal laws; and they differ by state. There may also be local by-laws which further regulate the issue within a state. Drinking in public is illegal in most jurisdictions in the United States, with this ban usually extending to include drinking within a moving car (related to drunk driving laws).

Laws against drinking in public are known as open container laws, as the presence of an open container of alcohol is seen as evidence of drinking in public and is far easier to witness and prove than the act of drinking.

In some places and circumstances, public alcohol consumption is accepted. This includes such cities as New Orleans, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, the State of Wisconsin, certain college campuses, and around sporting events – notably at a tailgate party. Open containers of alcohol are often concealed in public, traditionally inside a brown paper bag, though this does not make them legal in jurisdictions where they are outlawed. If a law enforcement officer can detect that alcohol is being consumed, the violator may be cited or arrested.[42]

See also[edit]


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