Coming from American (or Canada) you are likely used to having abundant, cheap soft drinks available at every turn. Soda, especially cola, but all kinds are everywhere. Every gas station, every restaurant. They come in huge sizes and cost next to nothing. It is a staple of American culture. Arriving in Europe a lot of Americans will go into “soda shock” because, quite simply, there isn’t any.
Okay, that is a bit dramatic. There is soda available everywhere in Europe but not anything like there is in North America. Soda selection is small, the sizes served are very small and always come from bottles not from a fountain and the price is absurd. Europeans do drink soda but in very small quantities and as a special treat – not as a regular component of their fluid intakes.
You may think that you will just hit the grocery store and pick up cans or a two litre of soda to meet your needs. But even in a grocery store a two litre of Coke or Pepsi that might cost you as little as eighty nine cents back in the States might set you back three Euro (think four dollars) in Europe. Doable, but a large expense and that is just the grocery store price.
And don’t expect free refills. That is unheard of in Europe since drinks come from bottles, not from a fountain.
I’ve asked Europeans about this and they feel that it is simply a cultural thing – prices are high because Europeans don’t drink the stuff. In Europe people drink water, beer, wine, tea and coffee primarily. Soda just is not a natural part of the diet. Considering that beer and wine and available to almost all Europeans by the age of sixteen the cultural introduction to soft drinks that happens so strongly during the teenage years in American just doesn’t exist in Europe.
Traveling with kids who are accustomed to drinking soda regularly might be tough. I highly recommend working on cutting the habit a bit before traveling so that the lack of soda is not part of the culture shock experiences when stepping off of the plane. For kids this most likely means moving to drinking mostly water. Thankfully tap water is clean and safe in Europe. When we travel, even with the one year old, we use tap water everywhere without concern. If anything, European tap water is better than water in most of the US. And just like in the US, bottled water is ubiquitous so if you do not want to risk tap water you always have options. Bottled water is probably more common in Europe than in the US and you must be careful because in restaurants it is bottled water by default, not tap.
Another important note about soda: if you do want soda and are used to drinking diet in the US, it is called light in Europe. So a Diet Coke at home is a Coca Light in Europe. Weird, I know.
In addition to different names, the selection of soft drinks in Europe is a little different. The US has a much broader selection and some drinks rare in the US, like Fanta, are quite popular in Europe.
If you feel that soft drinks are a requirement, feel free to order them. They are available. But be prepared for a lot of differences especially around how much you will pay. Americans are so accustomed to using soft drinks as the cheapest step up from tap water than having this role be replaced with beer in Europe can be pretty surprising.
For adults traveling in Europe consider moving your soda habit to beer and wine to be “native” for your trip. This allows you to save money compared to soda, experience local specialties wherever you travel and experience European life a bit more up close and personally.