It might sound like a silly question, but we’ve all heard the horror stories: hardy travellers felled by gastroenteritis or chained to the toilet for weeks with the stomach bug from Hell.
Of course, in some countries the tap water is notorious – but in others, particularly in Europe, the risk that tap water poses to travellers may be less evident, especially when you see locals drinking it without problems. Just to make the situation more complicated, it only takes a cursory Google search to realise that the information out there can be quite contradictory when it comes to certain countries, with different sources recommending different things.
The fact is that for the most part, the tap water in Europe is drinkable at least from a local perspective. It’s the visiting travellers who might be affected in some of the slightly dodgier areas – but how likely this is depends entirely upon the microbiology of the water and the status of the drinker’s immune system.
So, for ease of use: here’s a handy list of where in Europe the tap water is safe to drink and where it isn’t, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – who fall at the conservative-bordering-on-hypochondriac end of the spectrum.
Countries where the tap water is safe to drink
- Czech Republic
- San Marino
- Vatican City
Countries where the tap water isn’t safe to drink
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
To be honest, I think a lot of the countries the CDC classes as ‘unsafe’ are perfectly fine – I’ve drunk tap water in Croatia, Slovakia and Hungary myself without any hideous consequences, and online research reveals many other travellers attesting to the safety of tap water in many of the other places on this list. However, if you want to play it super safe, then this is the list for you. Alternatively, do a little country-specific research, weigh up what people say, and make your own informed choice.
And don’t forget – it’s not just about drinking tap water. If you do think the tap water may pose a risk, then keep your mouth shut when showering, use bottled water to brush your teeth, and avoid ice cubes and unwashed/unpeeled raw fruit and veg.
Do you think the CDC’s list is right or wrong? Let us know in the comments below.