Alcohol in Sweden - Skål
Buying alcohol in Sweden is not as simple as it is in many other countries. You can’t buy alcohol at any store or at any hour. If you’re visiting from abroad it might be good to know how the Swedish Systembolaget works - because if you actually know the rules, it’s not as complicated as it may seem at first.
If you want to buy alcohol in Sweden you have to visit Systembolaget (by many Swedes it’s called just Systemet, or just Bolaget). Systembolaget is a government-owned chain of liquor stores and the only store that is allowed to sell alcohol with an alcohol percentage higher than 3.5. You can find light beers, light ciders and completely alcohol-free options at any convenient store or grocery store. But if you want to buy wine, liquor, and beer with a higher alcohol percentage than 3.5, you have to visit Systembolaget.
The biggest shock for people visiting from abroad is not usually Systembolaget in its self, but the stores very strict opening hours. The opening hours can vary by an hour or two from store to store, but usually they are open from 10 am to 6 pm on weekdays (some stores are open until 8 pm), 10 am to 2 pm or 3 pm on Saturdays, and closed on Sundays.
Systembolaget operates with strict rules on how the stores should look and how they should operate. For example, you will never find a discount at Systembolaget, none of the beers or ciders are refrigerated, and if you’re already drunk you are not allowed to buy alcohol. To buy alcohol from Systembolaget you have to be at least 20 years old and be able to show a proper ID card.
The staff at Systembolaget is usually very knowledgeable about what they sell, so if you’re looking for a specific wine for your dinner they are more than happy to help you.
Systembolaget is found in a lot of cities around the country. In central Stockholm, you will find around 25 stores.
If you’re visiting Sweden around any of the big holidays, it’s a good idea to get to Systembolaget early. When the store will be closed for a couple of days the lines are usually long. Keep that in mind if you’re spending Christmas, Midsummer or Easter in Stockholm.
Alcohol in restaurants and bars
Of course, you can still buy alcohol at restaurants, bars, night clubs and pubs all around the country. To buy alcohol at any of these establishments you have to be over 18 years old. Some places do set their own rules, meaning the age limit can be higher (but it can never be lower than 18 years old).
Even though the laws surrounding alcohol are pretty strict in Sweden, Swedes like to drink. On holidays like Christmas and Midsummer, it’s still popular to sing old drinking songs, called snapsvisor in Swedish. They are usually simple songs that are sung right before you say Skål, cheers, and drink. One popular snapsvisa is Helan går, ”Helan går, sjung hopp faderallan lallan lej, helan går, sjung hopp faderallan lej…”.