Offbeat boozing: 8 of the best cities for bar crawls

Bar crawls have a notorious reputation as the vehicles for setting groups of increasingly giddy drinkers loose on the streets of a new city, typically while sporting a variety of questionable, crude and, at times, inspired fancy dress costumes. 

But congregating in public houses and bars is a tradition long held the world over and indulging in such adventures can not only get you off the beaten track, but help you get under the skin of a destination and through some doors – both cultural and literal – that you might not have walked through otherwise. Read on for our round-up of eight offbeat bar crawls in some unexpected cities.

Leuven's Oude Markt is built for bar crawling. Have you got the stamina? © JanOpDeKamp / Toerisme Leuven

The longest bar crawl in the world – Leuven, Belgium

While the masses are holed up in Brussels or Antwerp, head to Leuven – the country’s largest student town and the birthplace of Stella Artois. Being such a tiny place, the nightlife here is concentrated around the chocolate-box Oude Markt, where you’ll find over 40 bars situated back to back, thus giving rise to the world’s longest – and easiest – bar crawl.

As you hop from bar to bar to bar (to bar to bar to bar… ad infinitum, it seems) there’s something for everyone with stylish, quirky spots brushing shoulders with ‘Rock Bars’ and art-inspired pubs, to venues decked out in neon lights that host late-night DJs. As long as you can walk in a straight-ish line, you really can’t go wrong!

Attempting to recognise your friends in a gaggle of Santas once your beer goggles are on is a great way to meet new people! © SantaFest

SantaFest – Wollongong, Australia

Just 80km south of Sydney lies the laid-back, lesser-visited Wollongong (try spelling that after a few bevvies). Boasting dozens of flawless beaches, this town embodies a mellow coastal life and, though small in stature, is home to a spirited bar scene that could rival Australia’s bigger, brassier cities. In a surprising twist, it is also home to the world’s longest-running Santa Claus Pub Crawl.

What started as a couple of mates trying to raise some Christmas cheer has ballooned into the huge, all-day charity event known today as SantaFest, with free shuttle buses between pubs, movie screenings and carol concerts. Taking place in mid-December, tickets range from AUS$33-$45 and, with 11,000 people set to turn out this year, they’re sure to smash the AUS$153,000 raised for charity in 2018.

London's Pantomime Horse Race will have a 'Star Wars' theme this year © Pantomime Horse Race

Pantomime Horse Race – London, England

With a pub every few feet and a compelling drinking culture, London is no stranger to a good knees-up. You may be familiar with the Monopoly Board Bar Crawl, a gruelling slog covering 26 iconic spots in London, but the biggest event by far is the city’s annual Pantomime Horse Race.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019, this year's Star Wars–themed event on 15 December promises to be the biggest yet. Expect over 30 pantomime horses in fancy dress (Chewbacca panto horse, anyone?) racing across seven intergalactic pit stops, as well a huge pre-race event at Devonport House. There will be processions, ‘Strictly Neigh Dancing’ panto horse dance-offs and celebrity guests, before a massive after-race show with more A-list appearances and a U2 tribute band. This year the event hopes to raise over £50,000 for various charities including Help Rosie Walk, Make a Wish Foundation UK and Harpenden Riding for the Disabled. As if that wasn’t epic enough, a twin race will be happening in Chicago on the same day.

Glasgow's circular subway system should limit the opportunities to get lost on this iconic pub crawl... © AL Robinson / Shutterstock

Subcrawl – Glasgow, Scotland

Swap your libations from stirred to shaken and test your mettle (read: liver functions) on Glasgow’s infamous Subcrawl. The idea is simple: drinkers will ride the city’s iconic circular subway (the third-oldest underground system in the world, if any of you booze fans are also partial to a fun transport fact) stopping for a pint at each of the line’s 15 stations. There’s no official organisation behind this feat of endurance, but the internet is rife with maps of the 15 designated pubs. Fancy dress is highly encouraged, while sitting down between stops is a big no-no, but after 15 pints (that’s 45 units), it’s not like anyone will know which way’s up.

Head to Savannah if you like a side of scary with your pint © Ghost City Tours

Haunted Pub Crawl – Savannah, USA

If you’re looking to chase your drinks with a shot of haunted happenings, forget New Orleans and make for Savannah, Georgia instead. With neighbouring student-drinking town Charleston absorbing the masses, you’re free to soak up the storied past of this culture-rich city in relative peace. And what better way to conduct your explorations than on a Ghost City Tours Haunted Pub Crawl. Under the cover of night, this two-hour walking tour will take you into some of the city’s creepiest and most haunted pubs and bars.

Drinks can legally be carried on the streets in Savannah, ideal for those in need of a bit of Dutch courage. The city is also known for its incredible Southern cooking and soul food, so round your crawl off with a plate of fried and battered goodness – there’s a reason Savannah is known as the ‘Hostess City of the South'.

Get under the skin of Guadalajara with a tour of its cantinas © Luis Alvarado Alvarado / Shutterstock

Mexican cantina tour – Guadalajara, Mexico

Considered to be the birthplace of mariachi music, wide-brimmed sombreros and tequila, Guadalajara feels about as Mexican as you can get. And there’s no better way to get a taste of this culture than on a cantina tour. These cosy drinking holes sprang up across the city as a result of 19th-century industrialisation and stand at a crossroads between historic and modern Mexico. In the past, workmen would frequent these spots to socialise, drink and snack on botanas (appetisers). Today, Local Adventura offer tours to explore these boltholes and sample typical Mexican food and drinks like torta ahogada (a ‘drowned’ sub/sandwich local to Jalisco state), tostadas (toasted or deep-fried tortillas), tequila and micheladas (Mexican beer with lime, spices and tomato juice).

Tokyo's izakaya are the best places to try sake and local liquor © Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock

Izakaya bar tour – Tokyo, Japan

Though often referred to as ‘Japanese gastropubs’, izakaya are more like Spanish tapas bars where punters can chase their booze with complementary side dishes and snack plates. Izakaya have been frequented by locals since the 1600s and remain an integral part of casual, after-work socialising. Hidden in Tokyo’s backstreets and narrow alleyways, a guided tour will not only help you find the front door, but also better acquaint you with the etiquette of these spots. On arrival you’ll be offered a hot towel and should kick-off with a round of beers before splitting a few traditional dishes like edamame, salads, hiyayakko (chilled tofu), tsukemono pickles, sashimi, yakitori (chicken skewers) and tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette). Round your evening out with sake and a variety of local liquors.

If you're pushed for time, head to Epcot to experience drinking around the world...kind of © Robert Noel de Tilly / Shutterstock

Drinking Around the World – Bay Lake, Florida, USA

Is it your dream to bar crawl across the whole world? What if we told you there was a place where you could achieve that hefty dream in just one day? Naturally, such a magical idea could only be inspired by none other than Walt Disney. Visit the World Showcase at Epcot theme park in Florida and visit ‘Drinking Around the World’ at the 11 themed pavilions. Stop off in Morocco for Moroccaritas (a cocktail of vodka, lemon, lime juice and triple sec), the UK for a pint at the Rose & Crown pub and Japan for a huge selection of spirits at their Sake Bar. Authenticity may not be the name of the game in a bar crawl that consists of 11 ‘fake’ countries, but after as many tipples, you could truly be anywhere in the world.

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