Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
If you love cheap beer, steer clear of Oslo and head for Warsaw.
If you love cheap beer, steer clear of Oslo and head for Warsaw. That’s the wisdom to be gleaned from the GoEuro Beer Price Index, at least. This roundup of global beer prices ranks major tourist cities according to that most important of criteria: how much it costs to get wasted there. It’s actually just one building block in a newly released wider poll hunting down what is supposed to be the world’s ultimate fun city (Clue: it’s in Germany and its name rhymes with King Arthur’s wizard sidekick). The index throws up some predictable, mainly European names: beer prices sting in cities in Norway and Switzerland, but a bottle can cost little more than a Coke in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Look closely, however, and you’ll spot a limitation. The index is based on the cheapest 33cl (close to 12 oz.) beer you can buy in a store, not in a bar or restaurant. I don’t want to trash other people’s pleasures, but I find drinking a beer somewhere expressly designed to make that experience more enjoyable is that little bit more fun than downing it on some dank curb. It’s certainly what most visitors prefer. If you compare Go Euro’s store-based results to beer prices (for 33cl bottles of imported beer) listed for restaurants and bars on cost of living site Numbeo, the picture changes pretty radically.
Oslo is still up front, but now it’s way ahead of the crowd, at an eye-watering $10.31 per 33cl bottle. The bad news is that you’d probably be lucky to pay this price in Central Oslo, as cheaper, out-of-the-way bars in the suburbs help drag the average down. The prices are so high partly because Norway has the second-highest alcohol tax in the world (after Iceland), with $72 levied on each pure liter of alcohol. Also, wages are high and Norwegians are rich.
But in other ways, Osloers aren’t getting the worst deal. The highest proportional mark up for buying your beer on licensed premises rather than in a shop isn’t actually in Norway. That honor goes to Dublin, where an imported beer costs more than five times more in a bar. It’s true that high commercial rents in Dublin must push up bar prices, as do alcohol taxes (at 21 percent). Imported bottled beer is also considered a little fancier than basic draft in Ireland, and thus comes at a premium. Still, it seems like Dublin’s bar drinkers are getting a raw deal.
The cheaper end of the scale also gets shuffled about. Prague now pushes away Warsaw for the bottom spot, followed very closely by Budapest. Amsterdam’s bar prices, by contrast are now only just behind Tokyo’s, while Lisbon’s bar beer emerges as the cheapest in Western Europe. Winning a place on these bottom rungs of the ladder is a bittersweet success. While it might make your city attractive to visitors, they tend to be the sort that make their own sandwiches and pee on your doorstep. People in both Prague and Berlin are already groaning a little under the weight of their reputation as Europe’s most affordable spew buckets for budget travelers. Bearing this in mind, Lisbon might do well not to shout about its excellent beer bargains too loudly.