It’s been no secret that beer has a fan in me.
My kind of traveling includes hunting out the lesser known gems, busting through all the must-see tourists sights and after a long busy day, relaxing with a pint of the local brew with alongside a platter of traditional European grub. As beer brewing has been, and still is, such a key part of life on the continent, sampling the local offerings is so important to be able to properly embrace the culture in a new place, and I’ll always leave with a new favourite or two…
Now, back home, when I have a sip of Kwak I’m reminded of the cosy café bars of Belgium, when I pour a pint of Guinness I’m transported back to the lively Irish nightlife of Dublin and when enjoying a chilled glass of Estrella I remember the bustling streets of Barcelona…
So, just in time for European Summer (perfect beer garden weather!) I, along with 10 other travel bloggers share our favourite beer experiences across Europe, including a pub packed with puppets, a bar that brings you your pint on a miniature train and the worlds largest keg!
By no means is this an exhaustive list, so if your favourite isn’t on the list, let us know in the comments!
Cheers! Salud! Skal and Prost!
Barcelona, Spain: Bar Marsella and London Bar
On my recent trip to Barcelona, I stayed in El Raval, which was full of cheerful studenty bars. Two favourites though had to be Bar Marsella and London Bar, both similar in that neither had been modernised and both had managed to retain their glamorous old style decor; peeling paint clung to the walls and dusty bottles were stacked up behind the bar.
Both were supposedly frequented by Dali, Picasso and Hemmingway (pretty cool, no?) – Marsella is rumoured to be Barcelona’s first bar, opening for business in 1820, whereas London bar was slightly later in 1910. Though the smaller of the two, London Bar hosts live music of a night so gets busy quite quickly.
Although Bar Marsella is known for it’s absinthe, you can also grab a couple of bottles of the local Estrella, perfect for a pre-paella pint.
Bratislava, Slovakia: Fabrika The Beer Pub
After a recent trip over to Bratislava, I was bowled over by all the fantastic bars and pubs hiding in this totally underrated city. I could sit here a list a good handful of superb watering holes, but if I were to choose just one It would be Fabrika The Beer Pub.
Slightly out the way from the main old town of Bratislava, walking towards the train station you’ll find Fabrika The Beer pub attached to the Loft Hotel. Fabrika brews their own beer on site; I rather favoured the Blueberry Wheat beer. Pair that with a side of Czech favourite ‘beer cheese’, and we’ve found ourselves a winner.
Gdansk, Poland: Brovarnia Gdansk
Brovarnia Gdansk brews the best beer in Poland – or so says the sign above the door. Now, I don’t know about the whole of the country, and to be honest, I can’t say I’ve had a bad beer in Poland anyway, but this was the best beer I sampled during my trip to Gdansk.
Choose between the lager, wheat or smoked beer, or all three (because… why not, you’re on holiday!) then soak up the hops with a cheese and cold meat platter on the bar.
Brussels, Belgium: Delirium
The holy grail of everything beer can be found in this three-floored brew palace in the heart of Brussels. It’s no exaggeration when I say on my first trip to Brussels, I almost exclusively drank here for the full four days, remaining glued to my spot at the bar on the basement floor, picking beer after beer out of the epic beer bible of a menu, enjoying Kriek’s, Kwak’s and even a coconut flavoured one served in a hollowed out coconut no less.
Many drinks come with their own specially designed glass, created to enhance the flavour of each of the beers. Just remember to drink slow and enjoy the wonderfully refined drinking culture in Belgium. These Belgian’s know how to do beer, and do it well.
Brussels has many, many amazing pubs, but with so many on offer in one place, Delirium Cafe is a superb place to kick off your love affair with Belgian brews.
Berlin, Germany: Berlin Beer Festival
Having visited for the first time last year, and knowing that I already have a flight booked back to Berlin, for the same weekend this year is testament alone to how fantastic this festival is. For one long weekend each August, Karl Marx Alle in the Mitte district becomes a home to over 2,000 beer brands from across the globe and attracts over a million international beer fans.
Just pick your starting point on either end of the promenade and drink your way from start to finish, sampling the best beer from across Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, Poland, the rest of Europe and beyond, out to India, Africa and Australia.
Grab a sample in your festival glass and then choose to happily sip away in a shady corner or go all-out Bavarian with full tankards, lively music and dancing on the table-tops.
Prague, Czech Republic: Letna Beer Garden
It’s no secret that Central Europe is hot with a capital H in the summer months, and whereas Czech beer houses are as cute as anything; fantastic little coves, perfect for soaking up the atmosphere, Czech beer can be made better with a bit of breeze and some shade. Letna Beer Garden is an expansive haven to the North of Prague’s old town.
This place is simply a mix of wooden benches and tables and a small pop-up bar under a shady canopy of leaves, the beer is cheap and cheerful, but it’s the view that clinches the deal for you here. Pinch a stool nearest to the river and drink in the panorama across Prague’s old town.
Dublin, Ireland: Guinness Storehouse
Even if you, like me, are not a fan of this stuff back at ‘home’, it’s hard not to be won over by the Guinness Beer House and you’ll soon be drinking pints of it like a local! The Guinness Beer House is a modern brewing experience within the walls of the old brewery, which is still being used today.
An interactive museum treats visitors to a look into how Guinness is made, a chance to pull your own pint (If it’s not three quarters froth, I’m going to call it a victory!) and it’s very own sky bar where you can enjoy a couple of pints pulled by the professionals against the backdrop of Dublin.
Don’t forget to pop your head into Temple Bar for one! And then start your own pub crawl around the area, you can’t go wrong.
Budapest, Hungary: Szimpla Kert, Ruin Bars
Want a place that’s like a student’s art studio, come junk sale, come hoarders heaven, come crazy modern art dream… that also has beer? Impossible? Come to Budapest and experience their Ruin Bars!
Where else in the world can you get yourself a beer and perch on the back of a giant plastic duck next to a type writer and a collection of match boxes? It’s bizarre and totally unique and the perfect contrast against hours of sightseeing through Buda and Pests regal, grand architecture.
Along with ticking off gorging on langos and lounging in Budapest’s thermal baths, Szimpla Kert should be a must-see when visiting the Hungarian capital.
Brussels, Belgium: Poechenellekelder
If you manage to wrench yourself away from your bar stool in Delirium after some valiant attempts to make a dent in the beer-bible that is their drinks menu, you’ll be thrilled to find that Brussels has loads more fantastic pubs to hole yourself into.
Poechenellekelder for one, is incredibly well placed; right across the street from the famous Mannekin Pis. But after snapping your obligatory selfies with the little guy and admiring whatever outfit he was donning that week, take the wooden stairs up to Poechenellekelder for some more Belgian Beer.
This quirky little cafe-bar literally translates as ‘puppet-basement’, which might give you a bit more of a clue as to the the theme. Pupaphobic’s steer clear! Personally, I found the decor really fun and oddly charming… once you’ve got over the dozens of pairs of eyes quietly observing you as you sip your Kwak.
Brussels, Belgium: Cantillon brewery
Cantillion Brewery turned out to be one of the highlights of my last trip to Brussels.After three solid days of drinking our way through the many many fantastic pubs in the city center, we thought it would be an idea to educate ourselves on the creation process. Cantillon brewery transports you back in time to the 1900’s where their, still functioning brewery, has been preserved to keep the brewing process consistent with how it was 100 years ago.
After taking a tour around the small brewery to the sweet aroma of hops, you are rewarded with a glass of the sour tasting Gueze-Lambic in their bar area and then purchase some bottles to take home. The tart sting of this unique beer is an acquired taste, but if you’re looking for something a bit different in Brussels on your next trip – a tour of this unassuming brewery comes highly recommended!
…and your favourites from across Europe!
Munich, Germany: Hofbräukeller Beer Garden
At the entrance are all the bikes parked up from all the people who cycle around Munich and once you enter the Beer Garden, you are welcomed by smells of Bratwurst and the welcoming buzz of fellow beer drinkers. I was actually lucky enough to be here during the World Cup when Germany won, so the atmosphere was very spirited. They serve pretzels as big as your head and the beer even bigger!
As the evening closes in, fairy lights light up the whole place, creating a magical spot to enjoy a relaxing, cold beer.
Athens, Greece: Beer Time
“Sorry beer lovers, I’m really not a fan at all. It all tastes the same to me…” This is what I might have said to you 7 short months ago until I visited Athens. Apparently if you have as wide a selection as Beer Time in the Psiri neighbourhood does, you’ll definitely find something to your taste – albeit a strawberry beer from a Mykonos microbrewery. If I loved the place, I can only imagine what fun a ‘real’ beer fan would have.
Beer Time has a really extensive (seriously!) list of beers from microbreweries all over Greece, as well as across the world, has a great atmosphere, sits in a hip area, offers the drinks in kegs so you don’t have to keep going back to the bar and is owned by a true beer lover. The recipe for a perfect beer experience if you ever feel like taking a hop (pun intended) over to the Greek capital.
Copenhagen, Denmark: Carlsberg Experience
We love beer and sampling the local offering is usually the first thing that we do when we visit somewhere new. Real ales, craft beers, lagers – you name it. If it’s local to the city we are in, we try it. I will be honest I’m a lager drinker, I like the lightness of it together with the fizz, especially on a warm summer’s day. Therefore, when we visited Copenhagen in Denmark, the home of Carlsberg, I was truly in my element.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather during our visit to the ‘Visit Carlsberg – The Copenhagen ExBEERience’ which is the Carlsberg brewery located in the city. You see, not only to I enjoy drinking the good stuff but I also enjoy hearing and seeing how it is brewed – from hops to glass and of all the brewery tours we have undertaken throughout the world (and there has been a few) this is probably the most entertaining, informative and interactive.
We enjoyed our afternoon of beer tasting (which inevitably turned into beer drinking) at the brewery. A great way to spend an afternoon in this unique city, highly recommended for all my fellow lager lovers.’
Prague, Czech Republic: Vytopna
Vytopna is a chain of Railway Restaurants based in Czech Republic. Every table, including ones outside, are connected to the bar by a miniature train track! Drink orders are taken by the wait staff but then are delivered direct to the table by train! It’s so exciting seeing the beers arrive, the train diverts off the mainline and comes to a stop in the centre of the table, you unload your drinks, the train reverses and then heads off back to the bar!
It’s best to visit at a busy time when there are lots of drinks being ordered because that means more beer trains will be whizzing by, that’s all part of the fun! Warning, the novelty of beer being delivered by a little train may make you drink more…
Lviv, Ukraine: Kumpel Group
Ukrainian beer is not popular around the world… yet! We believe everyone will love it very soon. It’s so much better than famous German or Czech beer! The best one you can find at one of the Kumpel Group restaurants in Lviv.
Kumpel’s beers have different flavours and tastes, We’ve tried all of them and we can’t decide which one is the best. They are all too good to be true! Together with delicious Galician food, friendly staff, amazing atmosphere and low prices, Kumpel group is the best place to drink beer in Europe.
Munich, Germany: Oktoberfest
Last year, 5.9 million visitors attended Oktoberfest and of course they took their thirst with them; 7.7 million litres of beer were consumed in 2015! That’s more than a litre per person so when you consider it’s also a family event… That’s a lot of beer.
So what makes this festival worth attending? The friendly people… the dressing up… the unpreserved beer… the novelty of stein glasses… the fun fair… the different accents… The list goes on. Watching the ‘frauleins’ (beer waitresses) carrying as many as 14 steins at once is seriously impressive – that’s 14 litres of beer plus the hefty glass mug itself! Another unique tradition is that you must be seated to be served. There are no bars to walk up to and order a drink; you simply head for a table and make the most of meeting the people around you.
Obviously with this huge amount of tourism comes higher accommodation prices and it may be difficult to find a decent place to stay within stumbling distance of the festival. There are great benefits of booking through a tour company – why not let someone else plan your weekend and show you the best beer halls so you can just sit back and enjoy the beer? Some such as First Festival Travel offer exclusive Table Reservations, meaning you don’t have to wait in long lines to enter the beer halls.
If you fancy heading to Oktoberfest, make sure you check out bucketlistBKs tips for the best experience!
Flam, Norway: Aegir Brewery & Pub
Flam is a natural stopping point in Norway. The town is a gateway to some of the country’s most spectacular fjords and the start of the famed Flam Railway, one of the world’s steepest and most scenic train rides. So when I checked in to the Falmsbrygga Hotel, I had no idea that award winning Norwegian handcraft beers at the attached Aegir Brewery & Pub were also going to be a highlight.
Named after the brewer of the Gods in Norse mythology, the setting and location of the brewery is stunning and interiors straight out of a Game of Thrones episode (Norse dragon style) with the fjords as the backdrop. The beers are some of the tastiest I’ve sampled. I personally fell in love with the Rallar Amber Ale, flavored with hints of malt and caramel (also vegan friendly fyi).
They paired the beers with delicious Moorish and rustic cuisine like pork shanks and Viking burgers with potatoes and blueberry cream, portion sizes fit for a king. Aegir was named “Brewpub of the year” for all of Norway three years in a row. They recently won a gold medal and three silver medals at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2015, the world’s largest beer competition. A must visit when in Flam.
Heidelberg, Germany: Great Heidelberg Tun
Heidelberg Castle lies in ruins in the south of Germany. Once the location of grand parties, its imposing stature still stands guard over the medieval town of Heidelberg. The best-kept secret of the castle is hidden in its basement – the world’s largest keg. Built in 1751, it is known as the Great Heidelberg Tun and holds over 57,000 gallons. Kings held lavish parties in the castle and even constructed a dance floor on top of it!
A small hole was cut into the top of the dance floor so cups of the alcohol could be poured for the guests. One of the most interesting things is that the Tun was filled with all types of alcohol. Beers, wines, spirits, and anything with alcohol was thrown into the giant vat. It must have tasted awful but it sure got the job done!
The Tun was so well-known throughout western Europe that it is mentioned in the novel Moby Dick, Les Miserables, and in Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction at the castle. Wine tastings are available at Heidelberg Castle, although the wine does not come from the Tun. If you are ever in south Germany, be sure to visit the romantic town of Heidelberg and even stop by the castle to see the Great Heidelberg Tun!
Carlingford, Ireland: Taaffes Castle Pub
The first time I tasted Guinness I was on Inishmór, the main island of the Aran Islands. I wasn’t impressed. My Irish friend laughed, and said, “People will go to certain pubs because the Guinness is fresher.” I had never heard of such a thing.
But, 2 years later, I returned. From Dublin I drove up to Carlingford per my friend’s suggestion. After a lovely dinner I decided I needed to try Guinness – again. So I found myself on a Tuesday evening in late September in Taaffes Castle Pub. It’s a big place that hosts hen and stag parties on the weekends. But, at this time of year, there was only me and a couple of locals. I made my way to the bar where a youngish, good looking guy was bar tending. I ordered a pint. I was ready to try Guinness again.
He handed me the pint after a time. Guinness is a practice in patience. The bartender pulls the pint, filling the glass about two thirds. After it settles, he tops it off, the creamy foam sitting on top.
I took a sip. Wow! It tasted so much better than I remembered from a couple of years earlier. I drank more. Yum!
Finishing that first pint, I ordered a second. I fell in love with the beautiful black liquid that so many Irish covet. It has a coffee flavor to it that many folks don’t like. But I found myself really enjoying it. I thought about what my friend said on my first visit to Ireland – that certain pubs supposedly have “fresher” Guinness. Well I guess Taaffes Castle Pub is one of those places. Amazing Guinness!!
Madrid, Spain: Cerveza La Virgen
I have been on the hunt for a craft brewery in Madrid (I’ve been living here 8 months) and found a place called “Cerveza La Virgen”. I loved this place! It was huge and open, and reminded me of a brewery from home. (I’m from Chicago, land of good craft beers). They have some of the best craft beers I have tried in Spain. When I was there I tried the flight they had available, and out of all of them I would personally recommend the Amber Ale.
This place had amazing food as well! Hotdogs, hamburgers, fries… I couldn’t believe I was in Spain. All in all, if you’re in Madrid and looking for your craft-beer-brewery fix, this is the place.