The Munich Oktoberfest, Germany’s most infamous beer festival, has a place of prominence on many a traveler’s bucket list. And while it has earned the reputation of something everyone should do at least once, I was more than happy to cross it off my bucket list and move on to other festivals. Festivals where I didn’t have to stand in line for hours to get a drink or step over passed out tourists on my way to the bathroom only to come back and found I’d lost my seat at the table. My best drinking experiences in Germany were always the smaller wine and beer festivals where I could enjoy German beer much more quickly and at a fraction of the cost. That said, if you want the feel of Oktoberfest, but are hoping to steer clear of hoards of tourists and long lines to get into the beer tents, try these suggestions and get the best of both worlds.
First held in 1035, the Freimarkt wins the award for oldest fair in Germany. Held during the last two weeks in October, it’s the largest festival in Northern Germany and has the feel of a giant street party with nonstop music, dancing, and–of course–beer drinking.
Second in size only to Oktoberfest, the Canstatter Wasen–or just Wassen if you want to sound like a local– is held in Stuttgart from late September to early October. Although it’s not strictly considered a beer festival, there are plenty of beer and festivities to be found here. With carnival rides, beer tents, and plenty of delicious food, you’ll have ample opportunity to party hard.
Sometimes referred to as “Little Oktoberfest” the Munich Frühlingsfest (Spring Festival) is ideal for those who have their heart set on an Oktoberfest experience. Held from April to May, the Frühlingsfest is held on the same fairgrounds as its fall cousin and you’ll find the beer tents, carnival rides, and traditional German music bands that have made Oktoberfest so famous.
Every June, the small town of Erlangen becomes home to the biggest outdoor beer garden in Europe. Since 1755, people have been trucking up to the mountain to sit under oak trees and enjoy a cold one. Be part of the tradition and drink your beer in a setting far more spectacular than the inside of a tent. The daily festivities end at 11 pm, but Erlangen’s bars and nightclubs stay open well into the night.
Held in Straubing in mid-August, the Gäubodenvolksfest is the second largest beer festival in Bavaria. With plenty of carnival rides and an array of cultural events, this is the place to get the Bavarian flair that Oktoberfest has become famous for in a setting that’s a little more family friendly. It’s also a great place to get regional beers that aren’t available commercially.