“My advice for a beer lover going to Bavaria would be to not get overly fixated on Munich,” says Joe Stange, who co-hosts the “One More Road for the Beer” podcast about beer and travel. “It’s a beer-garden amusement park and worth seeing, for sure, but don’t miss Franconia — especially Upper Franconia, Bamberg, and the villages around it.”
The beer scene in Bavaria includes more than 800 breweries, spanning some of the world’s oldest names and ultra-modern craft stylists. To put it another way, think of Bavaria as a place that is just slightly smaller than South Carolina, but with almost as many breweries as California. Add in historic beer halls, taprooms, cellars and beer gardens, as well as history and culture — meaning art, music, and Disney-style castles — and Bavaria is one of Europe’s best candidates for a high-grade beercation.
With a little planning, you’ll get much more than just Oktoberfest out of your visit to the region, including several bucket-list, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
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Oktoberfest is one great party, but Munich is a dynamic city that is regularly ranked as the very best place to live in Germany. That means good stuff for visitors, too, from the amazing science and technology exhibits at the Deutsches Museum to fun neighborhoods like Glockenbachviertel.
For the city’s best non-Oktoberfest beer experiences, visit the history-laden Hofbräuhaus, taste wheat-beer-and-sausage paradise at Schneider Bräuhaus, and spend as much time as possible in Augustiner’s sprawling beer garden and taprooms. Then, head to the 40-tap craft bar Tap-House, or to Crew Republic’s taproom, where you can try local takes on American-style IPAs, imperial stouts, and other international styles.
“Trains are the best way to get around Germany,” says Mark Dredge, author of the forthcoming “A Brief History of Lager,” which naturally covers much of Bavaria’s beer tradition. In particular, he recommends buying the €25 Bayern Ticket, which includes unlimited, 24-hour travel on regional trains, buses, and metros in Bavaria. “That includes Bamberg, Nuremberg, and Munich, and can even get you all the way to Salzburg.”
To buy those tickets and others, get your phone set up with the DB Navigator app from Deutsche Bahn, the German railways company. Also recommended: the FlixBus app for affordable, efficient bus trips between cities. Both will let you search for connections and buy tickets within the app. For figuring out local bus and regional train schedules, Google Maps is generally quite reliable.
Plan on traveling with a pocketful of coins. For many local routes, you’ll need to buy your tickets from the driver or a vending machine.
WHERE TO GO
Home of smoky rauchbier and the self-described “capital city of beer,” Bamberg has enough eye-popping Baroque architecture and legendary breweries to justify a sojourn of several days, if not several weeks.
Start at moody Schlenkerla, continue on to neighborly Spezial, head across the street to Fässla, and then down the block or so to Mahrs. Along the way, you’ll want to visit Café Abseits, along with the four or five other great breweries in town, as well as their “cellars” just outside of town.
Additionally, the city’s tourism website lists 10 bike rental companies, which can be useful for exploring the entire region.
“Bamberg is a wonderful base for summertime biking,” Fred Waltman, who runs the extremely handy Franconia Beer Guide, says. “In three different directions you can ride along relatively flat, well-marked and maintained bike paths, most separated from automotive traffic. And with 70-odd breweries in the ‘county,’ or Landkreis, no matter which way you ride, you will have multiple choices.”
From April until October, beer lovers head to the city of Forchheim in Upper Franconia for its Bierkellersaison, or beer cellar season. (The region of Franconia is resolutely proud of its past, and while it is technically now part of the federal state of Bavaria, it is historically and culturally a different place, one where the blue and white flag of Bavaria is seen less often than the red and white flag of Franconia.)
Forchheim’s Kellerwald, or Cellar Forest, offers outdoor drinking at its finest, with 10 “cellars” selling beer and sausages under the shade of century-old chestnut trees. Be prepared to rate some rarities, too: Many cellars serve special brews you won’t find anywhere else.
Spend a few hours walking the Aufsess Brauereienweg, an 8.7-mile trek around a record-holding Franconian village. With four brauereien for just 1,500 inhabitants, Aufsess earned a Guinness World Record for the highest ratio of breweries per capita. (Save this bit of trivia for your friends in Portland, Maine.) The trail through the countryside is well marked, and stops include the charming tavern Kathi-Bräu, home to a one-of-a-kind dark lager served in heavy earthenware mugs in a hilltop beer garden.
Five Seidla Trail
Set around the villages of Gräfenberg and Weißenohe, northeast of Nuremberg, the Fünf-Seidla-Stieg connects five breweries along a 11-mile hiking trail, allowing visitors to stop for a mug — or a “seidla,” for locals — of beer every hour or so.
If that sounds like a bit much, bus services connect many of the destinations during the week, and there are plenty of inexpensive places to stay the night, including right at Lindenbräu, one of the participating breweries. Any blisters you pick up along the trail will fade after a few days, but the memory of the beautifully hoppy, bittersweet Kellerbier at charismatic Gasthof Seitz will stay with you forever.
With over 6 million visitors each year, Oktoberfest is certainly Bavaria’s biggest dance. But beyond the high-profile partying on Munich’s Wiesn (running Sept. 21 to Oct. 6, 2019), keep in mind that Bavaria is home to tons of alternative festivals that are also full of great beer, sausages, and visitors in traditional costumes, though with much smaller crowds.
Just before Oktoberfest comes Herbstfest, or Autumn Festival, in scenic Rosenheim, as does the similar Volksfest in Munich’s neighboring burg of Freising. Summertime beer festivals include Sandkerwa in Bamberg, the Bergkirchweih in Erlangen, Annafest in Forchheim, and the Kulmbacher Bierwoche, or “beer week,” in Kulmbach. The large-scale Franconian Beer Festival takes place in Nuremberg in June. As if you needed another reason to return.
WHERE TO STAY
“Many breweries also have guesthouses or small rooms and they can be some of the more affordable options in a town, so always look out for those,” Dredge says. Find breweries with available rooms at www.braugasthoefe.de.
It would be hard to find a hotel with a better location than Bamberg’s Hotel Nepomuk, which occupies an ancient timbered house overlooking — and set right in the middle of — the Regnitz river.
With multiple locations in Munich, Nuremberg, and around Germany, budget boutique chain Motel One offers modern style and furnishings at affordable prices.