Licensing laws govern various aspects of the sale of alcohol across the UK, which may include when it can be sold, who can sell it, how strong it can be and whether it must have a minimum price. England and Wales have different licensing laws than Scotland, meaning the rules pertaining to the sales of alcohol are different North of the border. This includes when you can buy alcohol in Scotland.


Are There Rules for When You Can Buy Alcohol in Scotland?

The main set of rules pertaining to when you can buy alcohol in Scotland are laid down in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005. According to the Scottish Government, the Act aims to balance the rights of the majority of people who drink responsibly against the need to protect local communities from nuisance and crime associated with the misuse of alcohol.1 This includes the times at which alcohol can be sold.

There are also a number of other pieces of legislation that impact the sale and licensing of alcohol in Scotland.

These include:

  • Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act 2010
  • Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010
  • Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012
  • Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015


What Time Can I Buy Alcohol in Scotland?

The short answer is that you can buy alcohol from off-licence premises in Scotland from 10am to 10pm, meaning there is a 12-hour window. This applies on Sundays as well.

While it used to be the case that you couldn’t buy alcohol after 12.30pm (i.e. 12.30 in the afternoon) in Scotland, you can now purchase it from 10am to 10pm on any day of the week. Some shops and chains will have their own hours imposing further restrictions however.

Off-licence premises refers to anywhere that sells alcohol for consumption off the premises, including large supermarkets like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons as well as specialist off-licences that specialise in alcohol, smaller grocery stores, corner shops, garages etc.

You might have heard of 24-hour drink delivery service (sometimes referred to as ‘dial-a-drink’ or similar) but these are actually illegal.

Licensed premises such as pubs, bars and restaurants can sell alcohol to be consumed on the premises according to the terms of their licences. Pubs will typically stop serving at 11pm and clubs and bars at 2am, but some premises may be open later. There is also a window of 15 minutes (known as ‘drinking up time’) for customers to finish their drinks after the licensed hours.

This allows you to buy a drink right up to the cut-off point and stay on the premises to drink it. Hotels, airports and some other venues may even have 24-hour alcohol service for drinks consumed on the premises and any licensed premises can apply for an extension. It is not always guaranteed that this will be granted though.


The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005

The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, also known simply as ‘the 2005 act’, is the primary piece of legislation governing the sale of alcohol in Scotland. It is a complex piece of legislation and is supported and amended by numerous later orders and acts.

The legislation sets out five ‘licensing objectives’, which are considered to be the main, equally-weighted principles on which it is based. These are also intended to provide a foundation for individual Scottish licensing boards to base their own local licensing policies on.

These 5 objectives are:

  • Preventing crime and disorder
  • Securing public safety
  • Preventing public nuisance
  • Protecting and improving public health
  • Protecting children from harm.


Drinking Laws in the Rest of the UK

In theory, off-licence stores in England and Wales can sell alcohol for 24 hours through Monday to Saturday. In reality, even many stores that are open 24 hours are not licensed to sell alcohol all night. This is because each shop is licensed individually by the local council where it is situated.

In 2003 a somewhat controversial Licensing Act was passed in England and Wales that abolished fixed closing times for bars and nightclubs, allowing them to open for 24-hours if they were licensed to do so. This was commonly known as ’24-hour drinking’. Local councils still had to agree to a 24-hour license though, and factors such as impact on local businesses and residents could be taken into account. In England and Wales, around 700 pubs, bars and nightclubs are licensed to sell alcohol 24-hours a day. Around 3,200 hotel bars were also licensed to serve alcohol for consumption on the premises around the clock.3

Sunday trading laws in England & Wales also restrict large supermarkets to opening for a maximum of six continuous hours on Sunday. These must be between the hours of 10am-6pm, with most going for the opening hours of 10am-4pm.

In Northern Ireland, off-licence premises can typically sell alcohol from 8am to 11pm and licensed premises like pubs can serve from 11.30am to 11pm.


Can I Drink Alcohol on the Street?

By-laws can prohibit you from drinking in public places in Scotland. As of 2022, local authorities across Scotland have introduced by-laws prohibiting alcohol consumption in designated public places in more than 480 towns and villages, as well as built up areas within the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Some ban any drinking at any time while others amount to a ban at specified times or on specified days.4


Our Services

If you’re finding yourself drinking at all hours of the day, or feel anxious when you do not have access to alcohol, you might have a problem that needs to be addressed. Excessive alcohol consumption can be very harmful – on average, every adult in Scotland is drinking 36% more than the UK-wide lower-risk guidelines of 14 units per week and higher-risk drinking causes around 686 hospital admissions and 22 deaths every week.5

If you think you might have an alcohol addiction, it’s always best to seek professional advice, so contact us today to see how we can help. Our private drug and alcohol rehab centre in Scotland offers world-class addiction treatment and therapies to get you back on track.







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