What Is the Drinking Age in England?

By Emily Zemler; Updated August 11, 2017

How to properly and legally imbibe at the pubs

What Is the Drinking Age in England?

The Brits love a good drink, especially a pint of beer or a gin and tonic. They also have lower minimum ages for drinking alcohol than in the United States, although there are many qualifiers. When visiting the U.K., be aware of the basic rules of imbibing and how old you need to be to drink certain types of booze.

How old do you have to be to drink in England?

England has different laws regarding minimum age and drinking alcohol, depending on where and what you buy, where you drink it and who buys it:

  • You must be 18 years old to buy alcohol in a bar or shop. It is also not legal for anyone else to purchase alcohol for those under 18 to drink in a public place. Adults may buy alcohol for children to drink in private at home. 
  • Teens ages 16 and 17 may drink wine, beer or cider with a meal at a public establishment if purchased by an accompanying adult. Those under 18 may not drink spirits, like whiskey or rum, even if accompanying a meal. 
  • Anyone under 18 may not drink alcohol in an outdoor public place, such as a park or on the street. Police can confiscate alcohol consumed by minors in those circumstances.
  • Those under 16 may enter a pub or bar if accompanied by an adult, but may not drink alcohol. 
  • It is illegal to give alcohol to children under the age of 5. 

How old do you have to be to serve alcohol in England?

Those ages 16 or 17 may serve alcohol in a restaurant if the license holder or bar manager has approved the sale. Some areas restrict these sales to sealed bottles of alcohol. If your server looks under 18 when you are dining or drinking out in England, it is likely perfectly legal.

Where can you drink alcohol in England?

The most popular place to grab a drink is a pub, which usually serve pints of beer, wine by the glass and spirits. Many pubs now also offer prosecco, often on tap. You can also drink in a bar, club or restaurant, as well as many coffee shops. London is well-known for its many high-end cocktail bars, which are usually found in the fancy hotels.

It is illegal in some areas to carry or drink alcohol on the street, but many Brits do it anyway. Police can confiscate open bottles or pints if you carry them on the street, so be sure to know the rules in the area where you're traveling. It's common practice to stand directly outside a pub with a pint on a sunny day or warm evening, especially in cities like London.

What is the drinking culture like?

Brits drink frequently, and it's part of the culture to head to the pub every day after work (or even sometimes during lunch hour). Pubs are often most crowded around 5 p.m. when everyone leaves the office. The English can put down more than a few drinks, but you shouldn't feel pressured to keep up. Most people, especially in cities, go out on the early side during the weekdays. Bars and pubs typically close by midnight, even on weekends, so everyone gets their drinks in as quickly as possible before then.

Don't forget to grab a bite to eat between pints, which you can do in the pubs (fish and chips, anyone?) or at a local eatery. Kebab shops and late-night Indian food joints are popular options after the bars shut in the evenings. Be sure to try the local on-tap beers or one of the many delicious British gins while in the country.

About the Author

Emily Zemler