- Raise a glass to 10 of the best European beer festivals – from Oktoberfest to the Bruges Beer Festival
- Discover the best beer festivals in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, France, Croatia and the Czech Republic
- Where and when to go, with expert tips, beers to discover and breweries offering beer on tap
Europe is bursting with beer festivals – and if you get the chance you should jump at the opportunity to experience some of Europe’s amazing cities, rich heritage and sample some of the hundreds of varieties of beer on offer. While many people head of autopilot to Munich’s Oktoberfest – it attracts over six million visitors annually and is a great festival to start with – there are plenty of other, often lesser-known beer festivals just waiting to be discovered.
Eager to visit Oktoberfest or keen to raise a beer glass somewhere new? Here’s our list of 10 of the best beer festivals in Europe.
Where: Munich, Germany
When: mid-September to October
The world-renowned Oktoberfest, held annually for two weeks in Munich, kicks off this year on 21 September with a parade of local landlords in flower-adorned carriages and magnificent brewery carts drawn by draft horses. After the first beer barrel is traditionally tapped in the Schottenhamel tent, Oktoberfest opens to a salute of 12 gunshots, then the beer starts flowing – an incredible 6,900,000 litres were consumed in 2018. Only Munich breweries such as Löwenbräu and Paulaner are allowed to fill festival goers’ tankards, but all six launch new beers prior to the big event. No wonder it is high on the list of what to do when planning holidays to Germany.
Bruges Beer Festival
Where: Bruges, Belgium
When: late January to early February
Many visitors arrive in Bruges as part of a European river cruise and enjoy a distinct Belgian beer in one of the city’s characterful bars. However, if in Bruges during the annual Bruges beer festival, you’ll have a choice of over 400 varieties, many from local breweries such as Trappist. Heated tents are set up for six days in Markt Square, the courtyard of the Belfry and other locations in the historic centre. The festival is free to enter, making it easy to soak up the jovial atmosphere even if you’re not drinking.
Where: Rome, Italy
When: late June
Held in the gardens of Rome’s Tor di Quinto park, Birròforum celebrates the best of Italy’s craft beers with talks, displays and tastings from many of the country’s up-and-coming microbreweries. There are mixology demonstrations and cocktails to be enjoyed too, and as the beer festival is part of the city’s bigger Summer Festival, visitors also get the chance to tuck into Italian street food and authentic pasta and pizza favourites. You can even join in cooking classes. With live music and children’s activities, Birròforum equates to four days of family-friendly fun.
Where: Pilsen, Czech Republic
When: early October
The largest brewery in the Czech Republic and famous all over the world for its golden nectar, Pilsen hosts its Pilsner Fest beer festival every year to commemorate the day back in 1842 when the first batch of Pilsner Urquell was brewed by Josef Groll. Held in the Pilsen brewery, where a tour allows you to find out more about the traditional beer-making craft, festival-goers are also entertained by leading Czech musicians. Don’t miss the chance to sample a glass of unfiltered Pilsner Urquell straight from the oak barrel.
International Berlin Beer Festival
Where: Berlin, Germany
When: early August
Oktoberfest is not the only German beer festival. Head to Berlin at the beginning of August and a three-day street festival will be in full flow on Karl-Marx-Allee, showcasing some 350 breweries from almost 90 countries – all serving up an incredible 2,400 different beers! Now in its 23rd year, the International Berlin Beer Festival has earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest beer garden in the world, so it’s no surprise to learn that the festival is now a popular tourist attraction. Beer, culinary specialities and 19 stages of live music – what’s not to like?
Barcelona Beer Festival
Where: Barcelona, Spain
Over three-quarters of Spain’s craft beer is produced in Catalonia, so it makes sense for a beer festival to be held annually in Barcelona, the region’s capital. Taking place in March inside one of the city’s huge conference halls, the weekend-long Barcelona Beer Festival showcases around 450 local and international beers. There are cooking demonstrations, beer debates and brewing talks to attend too. Note that beer can only be bought with ‘official coins’ and poured into an ‘official tasting glass’ – both are handed over when you purchase an entry ticket.
Belgian Beer Weekend
Where: Brussels, Belgium
When: early September
Historical brewery carts and beer wagons take part in a procession through the streets of Brussels during this Belgium beer festival that celebrates the country’s best breweries and the patron saint of brewers, St Arnould. With the UNESCO-listed Grand-Place the grand setting of the festival’s beer stalls, the Belgian Beer Weekend is a must-see free event if visiting the cultural capital while on holiday in Belgium. Music performances and awards ceremonies also take place over the three days, with Sunday’s grand finale being a parade of bands and brewers’ confraternities.
Karlovac Days of Beer
Where: Karlovac, Croatia
When: late August to early September
The biggest beer festival in Croatia, and now in its 33rd year, Karlovac Days of Beer is an extended weekend that attracts thousands of beer-loving visitors to the city to indulge in a five-day celebration of traditional beer making. With plenty of cold beer to enjoy on what are usually hot, sunny days – the local Karlovačko beer is best accompanied by a handful of giant pretzels – Karlovac’s beer festival is also an opportunity to hear live music from some of the country’s biggest rock, pop and hip-hop stars.
Where: Bremen, Germany
When: mid-October to early November
Beer has been brewed in Bremen since the 11th century and the city’s two-week Bremen Freimarkt autumn fair is considered to be the oldest – and biggest – German beer festival in the north of the country. Around four million people attend the annual celebrations, enjoying fairground rides, craft stalls, food kiosks and, of course, the beer. The world-famous Becks brewery is also found in Bremen – insightful tours in English are available. Interestingly, the brand’s red key logo is a reference to the patron saint of the city’s cathedral, St Peter, who guards the gates of Heaven.
Strasbourg Craft Beer Festival
Where: Strasbourg, France
When: late October
Visit the French city of Strasbourg this October – it’s often found on the itinerary of Rhine river cruises – and you’ll notice that locals are embracing what is perhaps a more typical German tradition, a beer festival. However, the focus of the two-day Strasbourg Craft Beer Festival – the first festival of its kind and held in the Stock Exchange building – is innovative French craft breweries, many which are brilliantly representing the revival of the brewing scene. There’s a variety of styles, aromas and flavours to sample, so grab yourself a glass.
Raise a glass to beer festivals
From mammoth Munich gatherings to more sedate Strasbourg soirées, beer festivals across Europe are a barrel load of fun and can be a highlight of an escorted tour to Europe or a European river cruise. So grab a glass, raise a toast and enjoy. Prost! Santé! Salute! Salud! Na zdravi! Cheers!
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