Is it safe to drink tap water in Europe?

water filter jar, bottled water and glass on a table

It seems that whenever we travel to a country that we haven’t visited before, we have doubts about the safety of tap water in the destination, and like to resort to bottled water. If you don’t know the water purity in the destination, drinking bottled water is actually a wise decision. Only 10 countries in the world have perfectly clean tap water, but tap water in 50 countries has been analyzed as safe to drink.

To answer the initial question: Yes, it is safe to drink tap water in Europe, except in Eastern Europe. Let’s take a look at the details.

QS Supplies has put together an infographic that indicates which countries have safe tap water and where tap water should be avoided. The data for safety ranking comes from Yale University that maintains an EPI score (Environmental Performance Index) for tap water in the world’s countries.

Top 10 countries with clean tap water are:

  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Austria
  • Switzerland
  • Finland
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • United Kingdom

All top 10 countries are in Europe. Countries in North, Central and South Europe have a good tap water safety record, but if you travel east from Poland, Austria, or Hungary, you must be careful with what you drink.

Blue color in the infographic below indicates countries where tap water is safe. Europe, Saudi Arabia, North America, Costa Rica, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore have clean tap water.

tap water safe: world map by qs supplies
Source: QS Supplies (Creative Commons 4.0 license).

If you have traveled, for instance, in France or Spain (where tap water is safe to drink) you may have noticed that local people buy plenty of bottled water in supermarkets. Some of the world’s most recognized water brands, like Evian or Perrier are originally from France. Why don’t they trust their tap water? Usually the reason is taste. In Spain some people say they can taste chlorine in tap water and in France people say that tap water simply doesn’t taste good. Not everyone agrees with that, but still plenty of plastic bottles are transported from factories to stores in these countries.

About twenty years ago, I traveled to Nepal. During the long flight to Katmandu, I read a travel guidebook about the mountainous country and its capital. The book strongly advised to drink bottled water only, and always treating it before drinking. The recommended trick was to buy water purification tablets from a pharmacy and cleaning the water according to the instructions. Looks like nothing has changed since then because the local newspaper still warns that all water – in a bottle or out of a bottle – in Nepal is dirty.

It is the unfortunate situation in most of Asia, all of Africa and in most of Central and South America you can only trust bottled water. Never put tap water in your mouth in regions shown light brown in the map above, and buy only renowned brands of water (after checking that the bottle hasn’t been opened).

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