Reader question: Can you drink in public in Switzerland?
Keen for a drink in the park but can’t face another public nuisance charge? Here’s what you need to know about drinking in public in Switzerland.
The closure or restriction of bars and restaurants due to the pandemic forced people to get creative.
Parks, river banks and squares became a place where people could meet up and have a picnic or just an after-work beer - without a paper bag or a police patrol in sight.
While for people from English-speaking countries this may seem a little weird, drinking in public in Switzerland - like with much of continental Europe - was allowed well before the pandemic.
In fact, drinking in public in Switzerland is not only allowed but it is an important part of socialising.
Unless you’re hollering, littering and/or signing “it’s coming home” at the top of your lungs, drinking in public will not be looked down upon in Switzerland, i.e. it does not have the same social stigma it does in other places.
Is drinking in public legal in Switzerland?
Yes. Basically anyone who is allowed to drink is allowed to do it in public.
People aged 16 and over can drink beer and wine in public, while the age is 18 and over for spirits.
If you’re in the southern canton of Ticino, the age is 18 for all types of alcoholic drinks.
Technically speaking, it is not illegal for someone under 16 to drink in public in Switzerland, but it is of course illegal for them to buy it.
Several cantons including Aargau, Bern, Solothurn and Zurich have laws which prevent someone from providing alcohol to minors, although parents are given an exemption from these rules.
This means that if you want to give your 13-year-old a sip of beer to (hopefully) freak him out with the taste and send him towards a life of boring, predictable sobriety, you are allowed to do so in public.
Bars will often put drinks in takeaway containers if you want to get it to go, particularly if it’s in a glass container.
How does this work? Is it mayhem all the time?
Despite the freedom to drink, most Swiss public squares are actually more orderly than those you’d find in the UK, Australia or the United States.
A major reason for this is that while drinking may be allowed, Swiss authorities look to police the conduct rather than the drinking itself.
Public nuisance laws will be imposed quickly and you may be asked to move on if you’re becoming a bit of a pest.
Keep in mind that the same is likely to happen in most bars. The focus is not the drinking, but the conduct in question.
So there are no restrictions?
Switzerland has toyed with the idea of alcohol restrictions in public places before, but they have largely been ineffective.
Switzerland’s SRF news agency reports that the city of Chur put in place an alcohol ban in 2008, but it was not successful.
Urs Marti, a council representative from the city of Chur, said it had the effect of punishing the wrong people.
“The alcohol ban in open areas is difficult to put in place. You punish the wrong people when you hand out fines” he said.
The rule had been put in place to prevent noise, violence, littering, vandalism and anti-social behaviour.
Marti notes that each of those “can with other laws be targeted and minimised”.
Switzerland does have some restrictions regarding alcohol which mostly relate to where you can purchase alcohol and what you can purchase.
The sale of alcohol is prohibited or restricted at gas stations in some Swiss cantons, while the country’s Migros supermarket chain does not sell alcohol or tobacco.
There are also some restrictions on the sale of alcohol at gambling establishments, educational institutions and swimming and fitness centres.