Oktoberfest, that Bavarian-born beer bash that comes around each fall, might be Germany’s greatest cultural export: It seems as if every small town worth its pretzel salt hosts its own local version, complete with high-energy oompah bands, grills lined with sizzling bratwurst, and a raucous beer hall vibe that’ll transport you to Munich, where it all began. The original festival can trace its roots to the October 1810 royal wedding between the Bavarian crown prince, Ludwig, and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, which included horse races on Theresienwiese (Therese’s Meadow). The following year, the race was run once again, this time combined with an agricultural fair, and by the end of the decade, that missing ingredient—beer—made its first big appearance. Over the years, Oktoberfest expanded to become one of the world’s great festivals, attracting about six million visitors to Munich’s rowdy beer tents last year.
When is Oktoberfest?
Despite its name, Munich’s Oktoberfest traditionally starts in mid-September, running for about 16 days and ending on the first Sunday of October, though there’s some wiggle room—the 2023 fest, for instance, extends to 18 days to take advantage of a public holiday on October 3. Around the world, each location puts its own unique spin on the proceedings, which may run from a simple weekend street fair to an autumn-long celebration of all things German. From Texas Hill Country to Brazil’s “Tropical Germany” (aka the city of Blumenau, in the country’s European-influenced deep south), these seven festivals have us packing our dirndls and lederhosen and brushing up those German drinking songs. Prost!
- Best for: traditional beers made within the city, carnival rides
- 2023 dates: September 16–October 3
The original Oktoberfest is still celebrated on the more than 100-acre Theresienwiese, now a wide-open festival ground under the watchful eye of the 60-foot-tall Bavaria statue, the female personification of the homeland. Food vendors hawking Schweinshaxe (roasted pork knuckle) and spätzle (dumplings) share the space with theme park attractions, from the classic Wellenflug (swing carousel) to a high-tech VR adventure coaster, while beer halls pour Märzen lager and paler Festbier made exclusively in the six big breweries within the city limits: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten. Each of the more than three dozen beer tents has its own character, so there’s a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure vibe to the proceedings. Among the most iconic are the family-friendly Augustiner Festhalle, where the eponymous beer is poured from 200-liter Hirschen (wooden barrels); the Armbrustschützenzelt, which has hosted the German Crossbow Championships since 1935; and the Fischer-Vroni, which is known for its Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick) and hosts Pink Monday, an LGBTQ+-friendly celebration.
Stay: The high-design Hotel Augustin, which is located directly across the street from the western entrance to the festival grounds and incorporates Augustiner beer bottles into its minimalist decor. Bonus points for the sleekest bunk rooms we’ve ever seen—perfect for families or groups of friends.
- Best for: family-friendly competitions, oompah and folk bands
- 2023 dates: October 6-8
German roots run so deep in Texas Hill Country, which was first settled by Central European migrants in the 1830s, that there’s even a now-endangered local dialect called Texas German. Unsurprisingly, in the towns outside of Austin and San Antonio, brats and beer are almost as popular as barbecue—which, by the way, also traces its history to 19th-century Czech and German meat-smoking techniques. For the region’s best Oktoberfest, head to Fredericksburg, about 75 miles west of Austin, where events include OkTubaFest, family dirndl and lederhosen contests, waltzing tournaments, and five stages of oompah and folk music from groups like Yodel Blitz and The Tubameisters. Beer lovers will also get the chance to meet brewmeisters from breweries like Alstadt and Spoetzl, the home of local favorite Shiner beers.
Stay: Try the luxurious Hoffman Haus bed and breakfast, which sprawls across a 19th-century tobacco barn and a series of restored cottages; to fully immerse yourself in the spirit of the season, opt for the Basse House, an 1871 German homesteader cabin, where one of the suites is decorated with a painted theater backdrop from the mid-1800s.
- Best for: creative foods that go beyond bratwurst, photo ops with outlandish mascots
- 2023 dates: October 4-22
Located in the far southern region of Brazil, the city of Blumenau was founded in 1850 by German pharmacist Hermann Bruno Otto Blumenau, and it’s maintained such a strong connection to its roots that one of its nicknames is Alemanha Tropical, or “Tropical Germany.” There’s an over-the-top quality to the outsized Oktoberfest celebration here, which ranks among the biggest in the world, attracting more than 600,000 visitors in 2022 with its pageants, rock concerts, parades, and enormous beer tent. In fact, the vibe skews almost theme park thanks to the inclusion of cartoon mascots like Vovó (Grandma) and Vovô (Grandpa) Chopão and Rollmops, an anthropomorphized pickled herring who presides over an eating contest of, well, his brethren. Elsewhere, traditional German foods get a local remix, with dishes like Flammkuchen (Alsatian pizza) with gorgonzola and pineapple, spätzle with locally made linguiça sausage, and baked potatoes stuffed with hearts of palm and melted cheese.
Stay: The hillside Villa do Vale Boutique Hotel, which looks out over the Itajaí-Açu River and the Instagram-baiting “Ich [Heart] Blumenau” sign.
- Best for: high-energy eating contests, a dachshund race
- 2023 dates: September 14-17
Everything is bigger at the Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, which attracts more than 700,000 people to 5th Street downtown each year, making it apparently the largest in the nation. To feed all those hungry festival goers, vendors sell about 64,000 sauerkraut balls, 80,500 bratwurst, 24,640 potato pancakes, and just under a ton of German potato salad, to name but a few of the Mitteleuropean delicacies on offer. Unsurprisingly, encased meats factor into two of the weekend’s most iconic events: the Running of the Wieners, in which costumed dachshunds race to the finish line, and the world bratwurst-eating championship. Last year, Massachusetts high-school teacher Geoff Esper set a new world record, besting Coney Island regular Joey “Jaws” Chestnut by downing 76 brats in 10 minutes.
Stay: The contemporary-art-filled 21C Museum Hotel, which occupies the bones of the historic Hotel Metropole and is a five-minute walk from 5th Street.
- Best for: robust play options for the Kinder (kids), unique local microbrews
- 2023 dates: September 29-30, October 6-7 and 13-14
In the 1960s, this Cascade Mountains town underwent a rapid process of Bavarianization to attract new visitors, with the construction of Old World–style timber-framed buildings to match the alpine surroundings. When fall descends on these parts, Leavenworth makes a whole season of its Oktoberfest, with three weekends of specialty merchandise (get your “Holy Schnitzel!” nutcracker T-shirt) and musical performances from bands like The Hosen Ones. Grab a souvenir stein to sample beers, ranging from German imports to craft selections from area microbrews, including Doberman Schwarzbier from Doghaus Brewery and Alpenhaze IPA from Icicle Brewing Company, while your kids navigate the bouncy obstacle course and belly up to the root beer garden bar for a frosty one in the 10,000-square-foot Kinderplatz.
Stay: The Bavarian Lodge, where the painted stucco facade is lined with rows of overflowing flower boxes and the cozy on-site pub serves local microbrews.
Kitchener–Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
- Best for: festival merch you’d actually want to wear, live music representing many genres
- 2023 dates: September 22–October 14
Ziggy zaggy, ziggy zaggy, oi oi oi, eh? Ontario’s twin cities play host to Canada’s largest German festival, the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest, which pairs the usual polka-dancing, keg-tapping, beer-swilling fun with a surprisingly diverse music lineup: Past and upcoming performers have included country rock group The Road Hammers, ’90s alt-rock band Finger Eleven, and singer-songwriter David Wilcox. Make time for a photo op with fuzzy mascots Tante Frieda and Onkel Hans and be sure to check out the exceptionally well-designed merch, which combines simplified retro logos, vintage black-and-white photos, and cute slogans. We’re especially partial to the “Milk Drunk” onesie featuring a sloshing stein of, uh, moo brew.
Stay: The Walper Hotel, which occupies a 130-year heritage building and features a great cocktail-and-pintxo bar, The Lokal, for Oktoberfest pre- or post-gaming.
- Best for: small-town vibes (marching bands, classic cars), weeks and weeks of fun
- 2023 dates: September 7-10, 14-17, 21-24, and September 28 through October 29
Think of Helen as the Blue Ridge Mountains’ answer to Leavenworth—a similarly kitschy tourist town designed to make you feel as if you’re strolling through the cobblestoned streets of Bamberg or Lindau. This year marks the 53rd outing of the annual Oktoberfest, which is held in the Festhalle on the aptly named Edelweiss Strasse. Celebrated on September weekends and then nightly throughout October, the festivities kick off with a parade (with marching bands and classic cars) and a ceremonial keg-tapping; otherwise, your time is best spent drinking German beer and sampling the best of the wurst—the official food menu usually includes a selection of sausages, including weisswurst (“white sausage,” made with veal and pork back bacon) and knockwurst (which is heavily seasoned with garlic and spices).
Stay: The Helendorf River Inn, which overlooks the Chattahoochee and features an Alpine-tinged design scheme that calls to mind the half-timbered buildings of Bavaria.