For many around the world, the first thing that comes to mind when you mention Munich is beer. It’s not too surprising that beer festivals in Munich are a big deal. The region is home to so many wonderful breweries and Bavaria famous for the Reinheitsgebot (a law mandating the purity of beer and its ingredients). Attending a Munich beer festival is a great way to experience some Bavarian traditions; in all reality, they are considered a Volksfest in Germany and less so a beer festival.
Each season of the year has its own style of beer. Each brewery has its own secrets. And, of course, every person has taste preferences. As a result of all of those things, each of the beer festivals in Munich have its own specialty.
It’s also worth noting that Munich beer festivals are family-friendly. Sure, things get a bit…rowdy, shall we say…later in the evening. But daytime hours are usually full of families. It’s not just about the beer. Take my word as someone who doesn’t drink beer.
If you can’t attend any of these Munich beer festivals, simply look across Bavaria. Seemingly every town and village of a certain size will hold a Volksfest or two throughout the year. These will be smaller but you’ll be rubbing elbows with locals for a much more authentic experience.
Starkbierfest (Strong Beer Festival)
At the beginning of each year, during the cold winter, as the people of Munich await the opening of their favorite Biergarten, there is Starkbierfest to keep them warm.
The beer festival was established thanks to the Bavarian monks. It is said that the monks, who were fasting in the lead-up to Easter, would only consume calorie-rich Starkbier. The name is not so much for the drink’s high alcohol content (although that is also true), but due to its rich consistency.
Because it takes place during late winter and isn’t as well known, Starkbierfest sees fewer tourists and more locals. One of the most overlooked beer festivals in Munich, it gives you a real taste of the city.
Of course, each of the breweries in Munich and the surrounding region have its own Starkbier. Paulaner’s is called Salvator, Augustiner’s is Maximator, and Ayinger‘s Celebrator. If you’re unsure if a beer is a strong brew, the -tor ending is a good hint.
Across the region during Lent, the breweries all have their own Starkbierfest celebrations. The fest is generally more modest than the warm-weather outdoor beer festivals that are so well known. Paulaner’s Nockherberg Starkbierfest is perhaps the city’s best-known.
Generally at Starkbierfest, you can expect lots of free-flowing strong beer and delicious Bavarian food while bands play pop or traditional music. Each brewery has its own setup for the beer festival. Reservations may be required depending on which one you attend.
From my experience at Nockherberg, the festivities don’t start until late afternoon. If you arrive early and on a weekday, there is usually no difficulty in getting a seat without a reservation. There is a fee to enter but the money is applied to your drink. So you pay to get in and then get a “free” beer.
Frühlingsfest (Munich Spring Festival)
If you want to attend Oktoberfest but aren’t a fan of the big crowds or just wanted to save a little money, München Frühlingsfest is the Munich beer festival for you. As the city awakens with warmer temperatures and flowers coming into bloom, the Theresienwiese gets ready to party.
The spring festival is the most Oktoberfest-like of the beer festivals in Munich. It features food and drinks “tents” as well as carnival rides and games. But it’s smaller. Think of a miniature Oktoberfest.
Like Oktoberfest, there is no admission fee for this Munich beer festival. But reservations are not required for a seat in one of the tents but may be necessary. This is especially true on opening day and on weekends. On weekdays, you are likely to find the fairgrounds rather empty and not all of the rides and games operating.
In addition to the traditional parade opening and closing, there are also events on the unused part of the Wiesn. Fireworks, Bavaria’s largest flea market, and a huge car show are among the special activities.
Because the Munich Frühlingsfest takes place right as crowds of tourists begin to descend upon the city, it is not a fully local affair. But there aren’t enough tourists to make it feel as though the locals are outnumbered. In that way, matched with the outdoor setting, the spring fest feels like the most genuine of the beer festivals in Munich.
You have probably already seen countless images from Oktoberfest. Long wooden Biergarten tables lined with revelers, each with a liter of beer in hand, dancing, and singing.
Without a doubt, Oktoberfest is the most famous beer festival in Munich. Indeed, of the beer festivals in the world. It’s the largest, too.
Originally, Oktoberfest was to celebrate and commemorate the 1810 marriage of King Ludwig I and Therese Charlotte Luise of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Today, it takes part for 16 days from the end of September into the beginning of October.
Munich has kept up the tradition annually on the Theresienwiese under the shadow of the Mama Bavaria statue.
As far as the beer festivals in Munich go, there are many similarities between Oktoberfest and the Munich spring festival. For one, both festivals are kicked off with a parade through the streets to the fairgrounds. Dozens of horses are also on hand to pull each brewery’s cart, ceremonially, to the Wiesn.
The festival is then officially opened with the tapping of a beer keg and the pronouncement of “O’zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!”). Oktoberfest covers the Wiesn in beer “tents” serving each of the city’s breweries, carnival rides, and food and souvenir stands.
There are also moments full of Bavarian tradition at this and the other Munich beer festivals. There are additional parades of local organizations in their traditional clothing as well as dance performances.
Tips for Attending Oktoberfest
There is no fee to attend the Oktoberfest Munich. Anyone can stroll the grounds of the Munich beer festival, enjoying the sights and sounds. And maybe a beverage or two.
However, getting a seat in one of the tents can be more challenging. A reservation is not required for every seat, but usually, demand is higher than the number of free seats available. To guarantee yourself a seat, you need to make a reservation. Each tent manages its own seats so plan ahead!
And it’s not just physically going to these Munich beer festivals that is challenging. Munich hotel rates increase to match the demand.
Other Nearby Beer Festivals
There are other smaller beer festivals throughout the year across Bavaria. For example, in autumn in the weeks after Oktoberfest, Ayinger Bräu-Kirta is held by the Ayinger brewery. By venturing outside of Munich, you not only get to attend a beer festival but you also get to experience some local Bavarian tradition!
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All photos, as well as all opinions, are my own.