When learning about Denmark, one of the first things you might hear about is the Danish drinking culture. In Denmark, alcohol is said to play a big role in social activities. The many Danish beer brands and breweries offer a variety of beers for every taste. Popular after-work and after-study activities are going to a bar and talking over a glass or two, and young Danes are known for their wild partying habits.

Why does alcohol play such a big role in many Danes’ lives, what traditions is Danish drinking culture tied to, and is alcohol necessary to have fun in Denmark? Keep reading to find out more!

The popularity of alcohol in Denmark

Young people partying as an illustration for Danish drinking culture.

It’s hard to deny that alcoholic drinks are popular in Denmark. Even though the total amount of pure alcohol consumed has dropped quite a lot within the last couple of years, Denmark still has one of the highest consumption rates in Europe1). Also, young Danes start drinking alcohol earlier than youngsters in other countries2).

As opposed to Sweden and Norway, it’s quite easy to get your hands on alcoholic drinks in Denmark. You can buy everything from light beers to vodka at regular supermarkets, rather than dedicated shops that hold the monopoly over high-percentage alcohol. In many other countries, buying any type of alcohol is illegal if you are under 18 years old. In the US, you have to be 21 to buy alcoholic beverages. In Denmark, it is legal to buy beer, wine, and the likes from the age of 16, and higher-percentage drinks from the age of 18. However, many Danes report having tried alcohol before turning 16. In addition, people are allowed to drink alcohol in public places, which is illegal in many countries, too!

Traditions connected to Danish drinking culture

There are a few fixed events in many Danes’ lives that tend to involve quite a bit of drinking.

When Danes graduate high school, what follows is the so-called studentertid (student time). This is a period where a lot of partying happens, usually over the course of a month in summer. The new students drive around in rented trucks while wearing their studenterhue (student hats), complete challenges (that usually involve – you guessed it – drinking a lot of alcohol), visiting each other’s homes, skinny-dipping, … the list goes on. It is often the parents that sponsor food and drinks when it’s their youngster’s turn to host the freshly-graduated flock. Since legal drinking age is quite low, Danish teens also tend to party a lot before that time, while they are still in school.

Before Christmas every year, Danes of all ages like to have a julefrokost. This translates to “Christmas lunch”. It is an opportunity to gather and spend some hours of hygge with friends, family, coworkers – you’ll probably find yourself attending one for each of your social circles. In many cases, it is basically a Christmas-themed all-day party. Lots of traditional dishes are eaten, such as flæskesteg (roast pork), brunede kartofler (caramelized potatoes), risalamande (rice pudding with almonds), and other delicacies. But (importantly), lots of beer, gløgg, and snaps are consumed. At these events, people usually end up pretty drunk – regardless of age, authority position in the office, or other factors.

Also in connection with Christmas, there is the so-called J-dag (J-day) in early November. This is the day where Danish breweries start the sale of their special Christmas beer (Julebryg). Many take this occasion to buy it in bars and shops the day it comes out – often in large quantities.

During university studies, frequently meeting up to drink a beer together after lessons is also common practice. Especially in connection with fredagsbarer (Friday bars). Each department at a university usually has its own fredagsbar, where students meet on Fridays for chats over a beer or two. And people just starting out in their studies often go on cabin or camping trips with their new study buddies at the beginning of the semester. This is called rusuge (rush week) – lots of drinking tends to be involved here, too.

And while we’re in the domain of student life, let’s not forget the yearly tradition of the kapsejlads at Aarhus University. It’s a boat race with a twist: member by member, teams from each university faculty row their boats across one of the lakes at the uni park, get out of their boats, chug a beer on the other side, spin around 10 times, run back to their boats and sail back to the starting point. And who is the winner? The team who is the fastest at rowing AND chugging, of course!

Danish drinking culture – lots of fun or problematic?

What you may have picked up on by now is the big social aspect of Danish drinking culture. It seems pretty clear that drinking alcohol, especially beer, is a symbol of being together and relaxing in Denmark. It is not uncommon in many countries for alcohol to be a part of social gatherings and contribute to a fun and relaxed evening. Still, for some, it may seem excessive and make it seem like having fun and being social is tied to alcohol.

So if you’re an international not used to this kind of drinking culture, you don’t drink alcohol at all, or just aren’t a big beer person, this means that you might find yourself being the only one not drinking. And after a couple of hours, you might be the only sober one. This may be absolutely fine with some people, but for others, it may feel pretty lonely.

Of course, besides the fact that being intoxicated often – and at a young age – can bear a lot of health risks, alcohol playing such an important role in many people’s social lives can make life a little more difficult if your drinking habits differ from the norm.

Balance is key!

So, whether Danish drinking culture is a positive or a negative part of your Denmark experience depends on what your own attitude towards alcohol is. What may seem like heaven for a beer enthusiast, may be hard to get used to for others. But one thing is for sure: when you’re good company, it should not matter if you drink or not – it’s about enjoying time together and being refreshed, mentally and physically!

Whether you like a beer every once in a while or not, we hope you get to experience a real Danish julefrokost and spend some fun evenings at the student bar! And for those who aren’t that much into beer, but do like a glass of wine, we’ve got some good news, too: it seems that wine is getting more popular in Denmark these days, and people are starting to opt for a glass of wine more often!