German summers aren’t anything to write home about: rainy and gray with the occasional weeklong heat wave. But as soon as the calendar hits late August, things change. The sun comes out, the nights get warmer, and beer gardens finally wipe dry their benches and tables. It’s the perfect weather for outdoor drinking—oh hey, Oktoberfest!—and, thus, the perfect time to visit Germany. Here are some of the best biergartens to hit when you’re there.
Hamburg, my hometown and second biggest city in Germany, might be short on summer days, but that doesn’t keep the Hanseaten (another word for people of Hamburg) from squeezing out every drop of those rare sun rays. As soon as clouds clear up, benches are out and beer gardens full. The city is famous for its maritime vibes, so it’s only appropriate to enjoy your cold beer overlooking the harbor. Altona’s Balkon Cafe & Biergarten is the spot to do just that. Almost hidden in a park of the same name under trees, it has stunning views of the harbor and is mostly frequented by locals. Do it like them: Order a good old Holsten beer, grab a fisch broetchen (fish cake in a bun with mayo), skip the tables, and sit on the grass.
In the middle of the Krefelder city forest and just next to a small lake, this beer garden might be one of the most idyllic in Germany. The beer garden is part of a house that hosts weddings, so chances are you’ll get a peek of a newlywed couple. If you are up for some experimenting, order the Krefelder, a mix of dark beer and Coke. Before you treat yourself to a cold beer, take a bike ride through the forest or paddle on the lake.
What do you do with the grounds of an old airport? Berlin decided to build a park and set up one of the country’s largest beer gardens. Luftgarten (air garden) is not only one of the biggest but also one of the coolest gathering spots in Berlin. Benches, tables, lounge chairs, and picnic blankets dot the seemingly endless green field. The Luftgarten also shows outdoor movies and hosts events. Order a Radler (beer mixed with Sprite) and of course, a curry wurst (sausage with a spicy curry sauce and a side of fries). And if you had enough of relaxing, rent a bike and ride around the old airport. Where else can you do that?
The Bavarian capital boasts more beer gardens than any other city in Germany. With around 8,000 seats, Hirschgarten is the biggest beer garden in Germany and probably in the world, too. Nestled under chestnut trees, the restaurant and the beer garden date back to 1791, making it a must-do when in Munich. The beer selection is simple, yet the traditional Augustiner lager is a favorite. Come thirsty; you can only order 1-liter pours. The food menu is very Bavarian; get the house-made Obazda cheese with onion rings and some Bavarian sausage salad with pickles.
Another favorite in Berlin is the beer garden at Cafe am Neuen See-Berlin. Berliners love to end a busy day with a good beer from the tap at this spot located at the zoo, just next to a small lake. In the evening when the string lights illuminate the trees, the beer garden shines in its all glory. The beer selection is good and their Leberkäse (a kind of meat loaf) mouthwatering.
My personal favorite spot in Cologne is the beer garden at the Heller’s Volkspark. It also brews its own beer, and you can book a tour of the brewery. While it has a variety of beers, I strongly recommend ordering the lighter Kölsch traditionally served in tiny glasses, which doesn’t necessarily mean drinking less. Quite the contrary, in fact.
As part of historic restaurant Zur Sonne, this beer garden is a charming escape from the bustle of the busy city. Beer is served here too, but you might want to try the traditional Frankfurter apple wine. And if you are already going the traditional route, don’t miss the baked goods from the brezelbuben (pretzel pals). Back when pubs didn’t offer food, brezelbuben would go around with their baskets and supply the drinking crowds with food. Today only a handful of the pretzel peddlers are strolling the streets and beer gardens of Frankfurt.
What Central Park is to New Yorkers is what English Garden is to Müncheners (people of Munich). During the summer months, English Garden turns into a second living room for the locals; it’s only natural that there is also a beer garden. Located at the Seehaus restaurant (lake house), this beer garden is packed no matter what time of the day. And while this beer garden attracts many tourists, it’s a beautiful one worth visiting. Order a cold Hefeweizen and traditional weisswurst with pretzel and sweet mustard and you are set for a relaxing lunch.