A Night Out in the Cheapest and Priciest Cities to Drink
A new list names the places where you’ll pay the least and most for a beer. We asked locals what the drinking culture is like in each.
Conversion rates can be hard—especially when you’re a few beers in. But if you’ve ever stared at a check and thought, I must be doing the math wrong, you know the ugly truth of drinking on the road: beers have wildly different price tags in different places.
Now, we’re not saying you should choose your next vacation destination by the price of the beer. But we’re not saying it’s the worst idea, either. If you do consider the price of suds as part of your travel planning, GoEuro.com, a travel site that helps road warriors book rail, air and bus tickets, has released its 2016 Global Beer Price Index. The list sorts out the cheapest and most expensive cities for drinks.
Of course, cheap beer doesn’t always mean good beer. We wanted to know what beer culture was like in the cheapest and most expensive cities, so we asked locals to weigh in. Some of these cities have robust beer cultures, even if prices are low. Others, like Singapore, are expensive even though craft beer options are still limited. Here’s how the cities stack up.
#3. Cape Town, South Africa
When you go to a bar in Cape Town, you go to your kind of bar. “Bars are very niche and serve the city's clique culture. The result is the sensation of living in a thousand places at once,” says Benjamin Timm, a longtime local. “I would describe Cape Town as vibey, new, adventurous, and a little bit pretentious. The city is all about cashing in on global trends.” Gin is catching up to craft beer in popularity, but locally-produced and international brews remain the city’s staple. Despite Cape Town’s super-hip feel, prices are low. Timm says that for about 200 Rand ($15 US), you could expect to have a very fun night on the town.
#2. Kiev, Ukraine
Currently, Irish-themed bars are all the rage in Kiev, with warm wood interiors, cozy leather furnishings, and Guinness on tap. But, somewhat ironically, Guinness isn’t a particularly popular beer in Kiev—mainly because it’s much more expensive than local micros. Luckily, the native beers are quite good and very, very affordable. “You pay by the weight. A 1-liter bottle would cost you no more than 25 grivnas [about 99 cents] in Darnitsa's microbreweries,” says Arnaud Fournier, a student living in Kiev. An import costs double, which is still incredibly cheap for a liter of beer.
Perhaps best of all, local citizens and bartenders love welcoming foreign visitors. Fournier says that (non-Russian) guests almost always get either a steeply discounted or free first drink. Just watch out—Fournier says drinking like a Ukrainian will result in a massive hangover. The good news is that it won’t dent your wallet. You’d literally put yourself in a hospital trying to spend more than $50 on a night out.
#1. Bratislava, Slovakia
Slovakia’s neighbor, the Czech Republic, gets a lot more attention for its beer (and is quite smug about it—apparently, a Czech prime minister once boasted that Slovakian beers weren’t even fit for using to brush your teeth.) But things are changing. Microbrewers are popping up and experimenting with new flavors—you can even find the occasional IPA. Plus, things are cheap. Like, really cheap. A one-third liter bottle of beer (just under 12 ounces) costs 51 cents at the supermarket and $2.80 at a bar. Also, Bratislava is a beautiful, quiet city to stroll through. It has much of the charm of Prague without the Disney World feel of being jammed in a castle with thousands of other gawking humans.
The Most Expensive:
The craft beer scene is still young here, so you’ll have to go looking for it, especially if you want local stuff, not imports. The cocktail culture, however, is robust. Rooftop bars light up the skyline at night with young adults sipping high-end cocktails. In some spots, be ready to pay $15 to $20 for a single mixed drink. A beer, meanwhile, will set you back about $9.22.
#2. Hong Kong
“The bar scene in Hong Kong is massive—the industries here are varied, but finance, banking, and real estate are huge ones, which makes drinking a bit of way of life here,” says Suzannah Van Rooy, an expat living in Hong Kong. Van Rooy says that craft beers are in, but craft cocktails are even bigger. “It seems like every bar in all of Hong Kong is selling their own handcrafted cocktail with fresh-squeezed juices and hand-woven cotton candy and miniature dolphins swimming around in them. It's crazy what bars do to outshine one another here.” You’ll pay for those tiny dolphins, though. Van Rooy says you’ll spend between $40 and $65 dollars per person on a night out.
#1. Lausanne, Switzerland
You practically need to have a Swiss bank account to afford a second drink in Switzerland. In a list of 70 cities worldwide, Lausanne wasn't the only Swiss city, but it was ranked the most expensive to drink in. In fact, it out-priced Zurich, which came in fourth. This may be a bit surprising, since Zurich has more bankers, while Lausanne has more students, says Daniel Gutzwiller, a local. He admits that, yes, Lausanne is extremely pricey, but he says that you can count on obsessively good service and high-quality beer. You get lake and alpine views, too. Just, maybe skip dinner if you are planning a big night out. The average beer is more than $17. If you’re not watching it, your tab can run well above $100 in no time.