Europe Doesn’t Need Diet Coke

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Travelers from the U.S. have been pouring into Europe all summer despite crowds and climate catastrophes. Inured to water discourse and heading toward the fall, an ostensibly cooler season, the quick-burning European travel topic du jour has shifted. Some are now lamenting that many European countries have a slightly different version of Diet Coke labeled Coke Light, with different sweeteners and subtly different flavors across transnational markets. Its branding is identical to Diet Coke’s in the States, except the use of “light” instead of “diet,” which doesn’t translate to “sugar free” in Europe.

There’s been chatter for years among travelers that Diet Coke and Coke Light are not the same, and some from the U.S. have strong preferences. A recent, extreme case presented itself when former Real Housewife Jill Zarin “smuggled” a suitcase full of Diet Coke into Europe. “It’s not a bad thing, it just is,” she quipped on her daughter’s TikTok. “I’m used to Diet Coke. That’s what I like. That’s what I drink.” Several cans of it exploded in her bag en route.

No matter how many extra checked bags a person’s status can get them, putting cans or bottles of liquid into a pressurized environment subject to temperature fluctuations and hours of jostling seems like a bad plan. And while it’s true that Diet Coke can be found in Europe, it is not readily available. So instead of spending your trip scouring specialty shops or lugging over a cache of Diet Coke from home, below are recommendations for a few can’t-miss European diet sodas. Who knows, one of these might even become your new diet soda of choice.

“Altercola”

If you like cola but aren’t a fan of the specific Coca-Cola product available where you’re traveling, keep your eyes peeled for alternatives, often in cafes, restaurants, or the fridge case in a convenience store. In Switzerland, try Vivi Kola, with strong vanilla notes. Germany is dominated by Fritz, which offers both a basic diet version (“ohne zucker,” without sugar) and a newer bottle called Superzero; Fritz has a big enough footprint that you might find it elsewhere in northern and central Europe. In Italy, there’s a diet version of Molecola, “senza zucchero” (again, without sugar). In France, find diet Breizh Cola, from Brittany, including at the buckwheat crepes specialist chain Breizh Café in Paris.

Grapefruit sodas

Coke’s Fanta fruit soda brand comes in dozens of flavors for global markets, so it’s always worth seeing what’s available locally in diet. Crisp grapefruit versions are worth seeking out, such as Pomelo in the Netherlands, Agrumes in France, or pineapple and grapefruit in the U.K., once a standalone soda called Lilt, and recently rebranded. But grapefruit sodas in Europe aren’t limited to Fanta; in France, for example, also try the Schweppes version.

Schwip Schwap Zero on a table with a glass. Photo by Jonas Walzberg/picture alliance via Getty Images

Spezi

One motto of the Coca-Cola version of the German staple Spezi, Mezzo Mix and Mezzo Mix Zero, is “cola küsst orange,” or “cola kisses orange,” a nice description of what’s basically a blend of Coke and Fanta. I prefer the Pepsi version, Schwip Schwap, also available in diet. The most delightful branding, however, is that of Paulaner Spezi, sold in a 1970s retro glass bottle by the Munich brewer.

Not moved by those wider categories? If you’re willing to venture farther from Diet Coke, try these country-specific one-offs:

Lime Barr sodas on a shelf.

Barr Bubblegum

Barr makes low- and no-sugar sodas in the U.K., but you’ll have to check the can closely before drinking to see whether it’s fully sugar free; they’re not obviously marked. My current favorite is their bubblegum flavor, which is Windex blue, sweet, slightly fruity, and 59 pence (75 cents) a can.

Rivella Blau

The Swiss national soda, Rivella, might be the oddest on this list: Made from whey, it has an herbal note that ginger ale fans might like. Rivella Blau (with the blue label) is the sugar-free version, but there’s also a new-ish lower-sugar version called Refresh. Also available in the Netherlands.

Almdudler

This strong herbal soda leans into its Alpine branding with a pair of blonds in traditional garb on the packaging — one sports a dirndl — and a name that evokes the mountain landscape. (“Alm” derives from the same origin as “Alps.”) Sometimes called Austria’s national beverage, get it in Zuckerfrei (sugar free) or Leicht (light), which has 60 percent less sugar.

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