Recently I was chatting to a fellow travel aficionado and happened to mention that food and booze had begun to dictate my travels somewhat. Now admitting that you travel to eat is perfectly acceptable, but letting slip that you wander the world to sample local liquor, micro-brewed beers and seek out offbeat vineyards tends to raise eyebrows.
The travel snobs look down on you, believing that you’re missing out on experiences like museums and old buildings while you’re getting drunk in some pub. But what’s a pub if not an old building? And anyway, when you’re travelling, every day feels like a Saturday, so why shouldn’t you experience the odd Saturday night here and there as well? Luckily there are places where you can guiltlessly get completely drunk and claim it was in the name of culture.
Here are 10 boozy destinations where pubs are as important as museums:
1 – Dublin
King of the party cities, Dublin has it all. Start your cultural encounter with an aperitif at the old Jameson distillery, first swotting up on the history and science bit of whisky before ending with a tasting. Once marketed as ‘a meal in a glass’, Guinness just has to be your main course, whether you learn about it at the Brewery Museum or in one of the city’s 1,000 or so pubs. And what better way to finish off your liquid banquet than with a glass or three of Bailey Irish Cream?
Once you’ve decided which local tipple best suits your taste buds head to Dublin’s ever-popular and fabulously-named Temple Bar district. These days the city has developed a kind of legendary status among backpackers, weekenders and party lovers everywhere and getting drunk in Dublin has become a rite of passage. Just make sure you leave a couple of spare days so you can explore the rest of the city once the hangover has worn off!
2 – The Caribbean
White sand, hot sun and turquoise ocean – a combination that really makes you want to get slowly drunk throughout the afternoon. And of course in the Caribbean you can add locally produced rum to the mix and you get the perfect combination. Barbados is credited with inventing rum but it doesn’t really matter which island you head to – Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic – they all serve up local versions of this sweet liquor.
Your most taxing activity in the super-laid back Caribbean will be deciding how to take your rum. Will it be white, gold or dark? Simply served with ice, lime and a splash of Coca Cola or whipped up into one of the scores of elaborate cocktails favoured by tourists on whirlwind visits to the islands? One thing’s for sure – no-one can accuse you of failing to experience Caribbean culture as you sip rum on a beach while listening to some calypso or reggae tunes.
3 – Stellenbosch, South Africa
There are loads of places in the world where getting gradually tipsy on wine is considered a must for travellers: Bordeaux, the Napa Valley, Rioja and Niagara all spring to mind. But budget travellers will love Stellenbosch for its picturesque whitewashed buildings, its hundreds of wine estates and most of all, for its reasonable prices.
Most vineyards charge a token R15 (less than $2) for a tasting session, usually allowing you to sample half a dozen wines. Some places offer cellar tours, others will walk you through the vineyard; some have divine restaurants and others offer cheese boards while you sip. Once you’ve sampled a few dozen vintages, grab a reasonably priced bottle of your favourite and continue your cultural encounter back at the hostel or hotel.
4 – The Trans-Siberian Express, Russia
It’s perhaps the most famous train trip in the world, offering the chance to stay on board from five to nine days, watching Russia go by as you lie on your bunk. But when the scenery begins to get monotonous and you’ve finished the 1000-plus demanding pages of War and Peace, what else is there to do? Well, presuming you’re not hopping off in random towns along the way, there’s really only one option: drink. And what are you supposed to drink? Well, vodka of course.
Grab a couple of bottles before you board and use them as an in with your Russian co-passengers (but be aware that they might repay your kindness with a tin of overpoweringly pungent fish). Even the staunchest travel snob couldn’t deny that vodka goes hand in hand with Tolstoy and chess on a Trans-Siberian trip. I might even go as far as to say that you’re neglecting your duties as a cultured traveller if you don’t drink at least one tot of vodka on board…
5 – The Scottish Highlands
Other than endless hikes and hours spent admiring the rolling landscape, there’s not a huge amount to do in Scotland’s Highlands. Except for whisky that is. While single malt might not have been invented here, many people would argue that it was perfected in Scotland’s weather-beaten north and the drink is revered with such passion it would be rude not to partake.
If in doubt about whether it’s acceptable to be sipping such a strong beverage in the middle of the day, just blame the weather. Hiking in the hills in Scotland’s short summer months is thirsty work; visiting in winter means you’ll need a tot or two to keep out the cold. And anyway, saying no to whisky in Scotland is tantamount to treason.
6 – Tequila, Mexico
No prizes for guessing which drink you’ll find in this western Mexico town. It’s a curious beverage: few people seem to drink tequila because they actually enjoy it, though everyone’s downed a shot at some point during their university career. The town of Tequila has a few attractions – the National Museum of Tequila, the Tequila Express train, agave fields and Tequila distilleries: you get the picture.
There’s really only one reason to visit this out of the way pueblo – to read about, learn about, then drink lots of the world’s number one shot in the town that gave it its name. And perhaps to sing that much covered and mostly instrumental song bearing the town’s name, which is bound to lodge itself securely in your head throughout your stay.
7 – Any small town, South Korea
South Korea is not exactly renowned for its famous beverages like other places on this list, but it belongs here just the same. Booze is big in Korea; more specifically beer and the national drink, soju (a rice-based liquor best described as ‘vodka lite’). If you leave the country without getting drunk with a bunch of locals, you haven’t really seen South Korea. But getting drunk here is not easy. Don’t get me wrong – alcohol is cheap and available day and night in any corner store or gas station; getting hold of it is not the tough part.
The tricky bit is knowing how to drink it without breaking the country’s strict code of alcoholic etiquette. But if you show respect to your elders, fill their glasses first and never serve yourself you’ll be moving along the right lines. One more thing – ‘kombei’ might translate as ‘cheers’, but it really means ‘down in one’. If you say it, get ready to drink, and quick – Koreans can really put away the soju!
8 – Belgium, Bavaria or the Czech Republic
Picking a place to envelope yourself in beer culture is not easy, though Europe would be a good place to start your schooling. Bavaria is an obvious choice, famous for its unrivalled homage to the amber ale, Oktoberfest, and for proudly using only natural ingredients in its brews. Enjoy huge steins of foamy pilsner in a Munich beer garden or opt for a smaller town in the fairy-tale countryside.
Moving east, Prague has now become the home of raucous bachelor parties from the UK, but that doesn’t stop the beer being fabulous. Sample the original ‘king of beers’ (Budvar), a world-favourite Pilsner Urquell or one of hundreds of local brews – just try to get there midweek if you want to avoid vomiting Brits unused to the strength of Czech beers.
But perhaps the best place to get your beer-head on is Belgium. Their beer menus read like novels, featuring a cast that includes everything from raspberry flavoured wheat beers to heavy ales still brewed by Trappist monks. And since Belgium has a (not necessarily warranted) reputation for being utterly dull, why not focus all your attention on the one thing it’s truly famous for?
9 – The West Country, England
The UK has plenty of options for ‘cultural drinking’, since booze is a crucial part of the nation’s leisure life. You might opt for lager in a late night bar, real ale in a country pub or whisky in the Gaelic regions. Or for a very local and longstanding tradition you could head to southwestern England to sample some cider.
One thing should be cleared up straight away – apple cider in England is not the drink you might nostalgically love – a family beverage served warm at Christmas. Across the pond it’s a potent brew that’s been made in the West Country for at least a thousand years. Try to steer clear of the mass produced brands and opt instead for ‘real cider’, also known as scrumpy. Just be warned that it can be pretty strong stuff and don’t worry if your pint is cloudy – that’s a sign of a fine brew.
10 – Anywhere in Australia
Now there’s simply loads to do in Australia: adrenaline sports, paradise beaches, encounters with ancient culture, wildlife adventures…But there’s nothing, simply nothing that’s closer to an Aussie’s heart than an ice cold stubby at the end of a hot day (or the beginning or middle for that matter).
Perpetually cheerful, Aussies have big hearts and an even bigger appetite for beer, so it would be weird (and who knows, maybe even offensive?) to travel around without indulging in one of the nation’s top pastimes. Even the weakest, cheapest lager (and there are plenty of those) tastes good when the sun shines enough and no travel snob on earth could find fault with a backpacker enjoying a few beers while travelling down under.
Read more about drinking on your travels:
- 7 Great Beer and Wine Festivals Around the World
- The Best German Style Beer Halls Outside of Germany
- California Wine Country: Planning a Cheap Trip Yourself
- How to Get Drunk Around the World: 5 Countries and Their Drinking Rules
Read about author Lucy Corne and check out her other BootsnAll articles.