Bavaria is renowned worldwide for many things. Its cheerful friendly inhabitants, its luscious nature, its fairytale-like towns and cities, that Disney castle everyone can’t stop talking about, Oktoberfest…and, of course, the myriad of Bavarian beer gardens spread all over the region. Bavarians do love spending time outside with friends, and beer, which explains the popularity of the beloved “Biergartens”. And the weather is a lot more favourable than in other German regions (looking at you Bremen!). Anyhow, let’s get started from the beginning!
What is a Biergarten?
For those of you who may not know what a Biergarten (bier garden) is, they are simply outdoor areas next to restaurants where you can go chill when the weather is playing nice. They are a mix between a park (many have a playground area) and a restaurant terrace and can range from a few tables to hundreds of tables. They usually feature some sort of live entertainment on a regular basis. And you can also get food!
Now that we cleared that out, let me say that not all beer gardens were created equal and sometimes can be borderline intimidating if it’s your first time visiting one. For that reason I decided to pour all the bits and pieces I’ve learned (mostly the hard way) over the past few years about Biergartens in Bavaria in this neat little resource so you don’t ever have to feel lost and confused at a beer garden ever again. Shall we get started? I know you’re dying to read this so you’ll rock your next Biergarten adventure.
Wirtsgarden vs Biergarten, which is which?
As I mentioned earlier, not all beer gardens were created equal. Some are massive tourist traps, others are hidden local hot spots, and others aren’t a Biergarten at all. And Wirtsgärten are exactly that, NOT Biergärten, at least not in the traditional sense.
Some clues to tell whether you landed in the right kind of “Gärten” are:
- Lack of tablecloths on the tables
- Pebbled/rubble/earth grounds
- Everything is self-service and you pick up your drinks from an open bar
- Several shacks offer a variety of local delicacies, but you can also bring your own food
- Most have chestnuts planted all over the place
Fun fact: the chestnuts are not there just to give shade to the happy visitors, but traditionally were used to cool down the beer that was kept under the beer garden area.
If, on the other hand, you land on a serviced terrace with tablecloths, you’ve probably gone to the wrong place. Run! Nah, just joking, no need to run but you’ll not be getting the full Bavarian Biergarten experience. That would be a shame with so many out there!
Bier, Radler & Weinschorle, what will it be?
Beer gardens in Bavaria provide a few options when it comes to drinks. But the most common aside from the good ol’ sodas are the three musketeers of drinks: Bier, Radler & Weinschorle. And what are those you may ask.
Let’s start with Bier shall we? Because, I mean, if you don’t know what that is, I’m not sure what you’re still doing here, but ok. Bier is the German word for beer! That was easy right? Hold your horses, because once you’ve decided on beer, you’ll be presented with a variety of options within the beer family that may make it hard to choose. Weißbier, Dunkel, Helles, Pils, vom Faß… if only it were easier to pronounce! But don’t despair, if all you want is a classic beer, then a Helles is what you’re looking for. But, if you plan to enjoy a typical Bavarian Weißwurst, go for a Weißbier.
Besides plain beer, another staple in every Bavarian Biergarten is the ever so popular Radler (a mix of wheat beer with lemon soda also known as Alsterwasser in Northern Germany and Russ/Russe/Ruß`n in Württemberg and parts of Bavaria). Especially beloved during hot summer days for its refreshing qualities, a Radler is light without feeling overly sweet.
And last but not least, there is the Weinschorle, a riddle of a name for something as simple as white wine mixed with soda water. For those that don’t feel like drinking beer but still want to enjoy a refreshing drink.
So, now that you know a bit more about your options, what will it be? I’m personally a big fan of the Radler!
Maß vs Halbes
Did you think your choices ended with choosing a drink? Oh no, my friend, you still have to choose how much of it do you want to drink! And the choice won’t be easy. Here you have 2 to 3 options depending on what it is you’d like to drink.
If a Pils is what you are looking for, it’ll be easy peasy. You’ll get a 0.33 bottle and that’s the end of it.
For any of the other beers however, you’ll have to choose between a Maß or a Halbes. Sound fancy right? Well, it’s nothing more than either a 1 Litre or a ½ Litre glass. A ½ litre? Yes, that’s the smallest you’ll get around here so get ready to drink! Oh and if you think choosing the big size will save you some of your hard earned cash, think twice as the price of the Halbes is exactly half of the Maß.
Someone once told me that most locals prefer to order a Halbes because that’s as much as you can drink at normal speed without the beer getting too warm to drink, which would make sense.
Do you think you would manage to finish it at normal drinking speed? For me even ½ liter still gets warm before I’ve managed to drink it all.
Pfand? Is that some sort of pure-breed horse?
I have my beer already, what now? Paying, of course, or did you want to dine and dash? I didn’t think so. I know you all are good honest people 😉 Anyhow, in most beer gardens in Bavaria it is possible to pay by card but make sure to have some cash on you just in case, especially if you are heading to a smaller one. You can expect a ½ liter of beer to cost you anything between 3.5 and 5 € and double that for a Maß.
And at the till, don’t be alarmed if you are charged about 2 to 4 € more than what the beer cost. That is what it’s called Pfand, a deposit to ensure that you don’t leave with the glass. And if you do they have the money to pay for a replacement. This is also very common in all Christmas markets. Generally you will get a little coin-like token that you hand back to the cashier when returning your glass and you’ll get your deposit back.
Self-Service vs Serviced Areas
Time to pick a seat! As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest giveaways that you are in a traditional Biergarten is the fact that everything is self-service. The reason for that dates back to its origins where the beer had to be consumed in the areas around the breweries, as beer could not be preserved for too long and people didn’t have a way to keep it at home either. And as most people couldn’t really afford to spend any money at the restaurant, they would bring their own food. So the first beer gardens started.
Anyway, over time, some of the bigger beer gardens have adopted a mixed approach, having also a small serviced area Wirtshaus-style for those who prefer having a waiter at their disposal.
No matter where you feel like sitting, remember, if there are tablecloths don’t bring your own food or you’ll get a stinky eye. If you go to the tablecloth-free area, go crazy!
Talking about food. What if you weren’t planning on going to a beer garden? What if it was a spur-of-the-moment kind of decisions and now you find yourself at a Biergarten without any food? Don’t despair, another of the typical aspects of a beer garden are the food stalls offering a wide range of typical beer garden food options.
Some of the staple dishes at Bavarian beer gardens are a half chicken and pork knuckle, a variety of sausages, potatoes in many forms and shapes, sauerkraut and the deliciously simple Brezel with or without traditional dips, such as Obazda.
Other beer gardens offer a bit more of an international flair, with pizzas, salads, fish and others available at the counters. And there is always something for the sweet tooth out there too. Be it cake or ice cream, you don’t have to leave without desert. Or with an empty wallet either, as most places (outside the already mentioned tourist traps) are usually fairly priced.
As any reputable drinking spot, beer gardens in Bavaria also practice the “last round” fun. It may not be at midnight like Cinderella’s but still applies, in some cases at least.
Okaaay! But, what is it so special or different about it? Glad you asked, at Bavarian beer gardens, the last call takes place in the form of one of the lederhosen-attired attendants to come out and blast a massive cowbell around the place, in fancier gardens a lovely bell will be used instead. So, be warned, if you witness something of the sorts: one, no, they have not gone bonkers, and two, go grab your last drink(s)/food of the day because they will be closing down soon.
This doesn’t necessarily happen just at night, by the way, it may also take place on a rainy day or any other form of inappropriate beer garden condition, which I can’t think of right now as there doesn’t seem to exist 😉
Do Seasons Apply?
Talking about inappropriate beer garden weather conditions, seasons do apply for the most part. In Bavaria there are 2 main seasons, winter and beer garden. As soon as the temperatures start rising above freezing the beer gardens will start popping up their umbrellas and start serving the lovely locals.
And as soon as they open for the season, they will (mostly) stay open until temperatures start decreasing again. And there doesn’t seem to be a fixed schedule so keep an eye out and check before planning your visit if you are unsure if they will be open.
That being said, beer gardens in Bavaria are a place for people to come together, have a chat and a good time. So, don’t be alarmed if random people sit at your table with a polite “is this seat taken?” and then start talking to you, they are just friendly. This makes beer gardens a great place to meet new people if you are new to a city.
Also, most Bavarian beer gardens host regular events ranging from concerts to creative markets and dance workshops. So, once you find a beer garden that catches your eye, you can check their website for events during your stay for a local touch. They are perfect for people watching!
I hope this mini-guide about Bavarian beer gardens was useful and helped you feel ready to rock your next visit to the Freistaat. Oh, and if you are looking for alternative beer gardens in Munich to check out while exploring the southern capital, keep an eye out on this space for the upcoming guide!