At first, the beer scene in Germany may feel like you’re drowning in pils, hundreds and hundreds of attempts at making the same sort of lager with varying degrees of success, rarely ever exceptional.
The Germans love a lager, but beyond that there lies a tradition of varying distinct regional styles, some of which remain almost dormant, waiting to be revived. In order to experience these in their intended glory you often must visit the regions specifically.
Altbier, Kolsch and Dortmunder in the North West, Wheatbeer, Maibock and Dunkelweizen for Bavaria, Gose and Berliner Weisse in Saxony, Rotbier, Rauchbier and Kellerbier in Franconia are just a few examples. This makes Germany feel more distinct in its traditions than England which may have Scotch ale in Scotland, nut brown ale in the North and more cider drinking in the South and West, but has a more standardised range you can find in most pubs.
If you’re not keen on pils, don’t worry, there will still probably be something for you.
Similarly, the brewing scene has developed differently regionally, with huge concentrations of breweries in certain areas over others. Bavaria seems to have a brewery in every town as a badge of honour, while cities such as Bamberg have nine breweries, exhibiting their obsession with beer.
Socially, pub-going does not mean quite the same thing as England, as it is generally more communal and there is an expectation of social interaction in a lot of places. The forwardness can be surprising as a buttoned-up English person, but it is refreshing to see people of different generations speaking to each other as equals and not dividing their social lives between one another. This can spill over into gregarious bouts of singing and joviality but they find a way of doing it without it feeling loutish or nationalistic.
If you wish for a more English style pub atmosphere head to a ‘Kneipe’ rather than bierhalle or a brauhaus, and you’ll find a smaller, cosier drinking hole. It’s still the case that a lot of these places are resolutely working class and unvarnished in their approach, which may be a slight surprise to some people used to more gentrified English pubs. Darts is especially popular in Germany, and these places may also allow smoking.
The price for a Beer in a German pub used to be a strong point. You can still buy a large beer in most places for 3 euros 50 cents or less, but this is creeping up, as is the tendency for 0.4l servings, as places work on their margins. As per usual, visit working class haunts and fewer corporate places if value for money is a key concern.
It’s heartening to spend time drinking in Germany which is a crucible of tradition and obsession when it comes to brewing. They have managed to stay some of the deleterious effects of globalisation through legislation and preserved many of their smaller breweries as a consequence.
Their parochialism and refusal to accept the merits of other styles is borne of pigheadedness, and this is one aspect you may find frustrating, but generally, going hunting for good pubs in Germany is an easy and extremely enjoyable task.
Ratings Key (0-10)
A: Choice and/or quality of drinks
B: Style and décor
C: Atmosphere and feel
D: Amenities, Events & Community
E: Value for money
F: The Pub Going Factor
Bars marked (*) will take you to our full profile write-up!
|Zum Goldenen Fass
|Papa Joe’s Jazzlokal||Cologne||8||10||10||8||6||9.7|
|Papa Joe’s Biersalon *||Cologne||7||10||10||7||6||9.2|
|Schreckens – kammer||Cologne||8||8||8||7||7||7.8|
|Sunner Im Walfisch||Cologne||7||8||8||7||5||7.8|
|RundesEck||Limburg an der Lahn||6||9||9||6||6||8.1|
|Limburg an der Lahn||8||8||8||7||6||8.0|
A town with a lot of history, the crowning of kings, Roman legacy and restored medieval towers, there is enough here to be of interest for a day or so. In respect of its nightlife, the pedestrianised centre becomes lively in the evening. The centrepiece is the terrific Domkeller, a brilliant evening kneipe.
A pretty city with a touch of class and self-assurance (easily done with the money rolling in), the Renaissance visited Augsburg and visually touches of Austria and Czechia can be seen in its architecture and monuments. Despite a reputation as being rather staid for nightlife, there are pockets of excitement to look out for, alternative bars, brewpubs and the unique Damenhof courtyard, an unmissable venue.
Medieval bishopric with a uniquely bizarre and wonderful town hall, the Altes Rathaus set midway on a bridge. Famous in drinking terms for its many central breweries, specialising in Rauchbeer – smoked – a style which is a great example of the concept ‘an acquired taste’. Expect traditional beer halls, supremely cosy in winter, and some working class kneipen more interested in darts and rock music. For a very small city, Bamberg punches well above its weight.
Bautzen / Budyšin
A small town, Bautzen could be forgiven for not being the epicentre of the world’s nightlife. It is a very interesting place with one of the most striking vistas of any town, a Sorbian minority (for whom this place is called Budyšin) and a beautiful historic centre. It’s also famous for its mustard, which you’ll find around German twinned with a sausage or several. Speaking of the bar scene, you’ll find a decent neighbourhood brewery (a surprisingly big venue) and the Radeberger Bierstube, a typical example of a classical traditional German Gaststatte. In the old town there are a couple of passable bars.
In this huge city anything goes. This has been a tale right back to the pre-war days, when Berlin’s notorious decadence and liberal nightlife became a byword for excess and debauchery. As a result, Berliner’s took longer than most to fall under the control of fascism. The reunited Berlin in the 90s has left the city with a series of distinct districts, with more well to do Charlottenburg, Wedding, Schoenburg in the West, and the more traditionally working class/socialist side, Kreuzberg (though this is fast-developing), Friedrichshain and Neukolln. There are great bars spread across the city. You will generally find one of the following
– A smokey kneipe selling 1 cheap beer. Atmospheric, scuzzy, affordable.
– A well looked after drop in pub with a middle aged woman behind the bar. Again cheap, but more respectable. Mixed audience.
– A punk bar covered in stickers and flags, often with live music or sport
– Cookie cutter craft beer venues as Berlin makes slightly half-committed efforts to keep up with the trends.
This is not to state there isn’t more. There is of course far more, many venues falling in between the lines. Our favourite was the jazz bar Yorckschlosschen, which combined great beer, decor, atmosphere, amenities, both nostalgic and vital for the present.
We hope you like generic café pubs for middle class pensioners.
A large city with a vast nightlife encompassing several boroughs. While modern, alternative venues can be found in the student neighbourhoods, in the centre, the Kolsch houses hold sway, a local ritual that’s not to be missed.
Kolsch is a pale lager/ale hybrid is served in a 0.2l stange which are frequently supplied by brusque Kobes, the middle-aged male servers who are often arrogant but willing to engage in banter. Beer is winched up to the bar via a barrel and served straight from it. Remember not to order Altbier, the beer style of Cologne’s deadly rivals Dusseldorf! Lastly, don’t forget to visit Papa Joe’s Biersalon and Jazzlokal, cult institutions of the city.
A large modern shopping area, a small restored pile of admittedly dramatic, if obnoxious, imperial central monuments, and an interesting little brown and rain-sodden Northern arts quarter. Dresden is hardly the stuff of a backpacker’s dreams, really a monument to the tragic deleterious effects of war rather than a well-integrated vibrant feeling city. There is a rather middle-aged brauhaus near the river, and you’ll find some cosy, quiet venues in the Innere and Aussere Neustadt. Although we haven’t had the time to really explore we get the impression there are a few decent venues lurking around.
As with Cologne, Düsseldorf city centre is studded with beerhalls this time serving you Altbier, brown well-hopped ale from the barrel. It’s surprisingly easy to dispatch, despite the strength and texture.
Düsseldorf is not as large a city as Cologne and so the nightlife is more concentrated in its centre, which you will find to be atmospheric and lively to say the least. Not to be outdone, Düsseldorf also boasts a couple of quality Jazz bars in the centre. Don’t ever order a Kolsch unless you are prepared to suffer the ignimony of being outed as a dilettante and traitor to the city!
This medium sized city in Thuringia struck me as a nice place to live. Sizeable enough to have most of what you need, but also compact enough to get around, both out into the country and to the lovely lo-rise altstadt. As the centre-ground for the cities nightlife you will find yourself twisting around old lanes and stone walls, timber houses and gates, ducking into courtyards and backstreets. It’s all quite charming. While the courtyard bars seemed reasonable, there is an outstanding kneipe, Noah, which is undoubtedly one of the best in Germany. All boxes are ticked, from the wide beer selection, the ultra-cosy bunker interior, beer garten and kitchen, with fair value on offer. Can we have a pub like this everywhere, please?
For a town of its size, Forchheim is very lucky to boast 5 local breweries brewing Bier that is some of the freshest and tastiest in the world. Family operations with simple but enjoyable pubs go hand in hand with the traditional Fachwerk architecture of this market town. The prices are similarly historic too, diving to often unseen levels below €2.50, proving that craft brew pubs in the UK (not to mention bars in Germany’s North and West) are taking the piss with their prices. No doubt things are relatively quiet in town at night but Forchheim serves as an enjoyable day out.
Frankurt’s alcohol claim to fame is Apfelwein rather than beer, and so many of its neighbourhood pubs – especially in Saschenhausen and in the outskirt villages will offer this strong, deliberately dry and sour cider typical of the Hesse region.
In other respects the venues are similar to your usual German Gaststatten or Wirtshaus serving food and rarely getting out of second gear.
The south bank borough of Saschenhausen is your best best for congregations of nightlife and changes of speed, with some smokey, raucous but nevertheless atmospheric bars to enjoy. Conversely, be careful to avoid bars in Frankfurt’s red light district, which operates dramatically close to the train station and what should be the main boulevards.
A city that has become part of Nuremberg’s conurbation, you can easily reach this place within 15 minutes on the U-Bahn from Nuremberg central station.
Furth’s central nightlife is oddly parochial and small-town feeling, which may be due to the low rise Altstadt. The quaint market town pubs certainly don’t reflect the size of the place.
Nevertheless, beyond immediate impressions you will find the local venues friendly and lively, while Keimling in particular offers the kind of pub venue every town should possess.
Another traditional Fachwerk town, Goslar is a magnificent and distinctive place, but not one with a huge array of nightlife. This is a common problem with quaint towns mainly inhabited by and visited by retirees.
However, with a central brewery tap and a couple of decent hangout spots for the small number of youngsters, Goslar is in a better position than the virtually comatose Quedlinburg, nearby.
This beautiful border city is an architectural jewel, but no-one in town would argue with me when I say it is not a hotbed of nightlife (mind you, neither is the Polish half, Zgorzelec). This may be due to the aging inhabitants and appeal to elderly day-trippers, which is a shame. Instead, the pockets of evening drinkers congregate in dispersed venues.
There are some nice alternative options such as a Kino-bar (one of the increasingly popular bars where you turn up for a drink and the venue screens a film) and you’ll find the nano-brewery and medieval dining room Bierblume a must-visit in the evening. Unfortunately you’ll be scraping around for other options that are worth your time. These are mainly sleepy old corner kneipen. Someone please give the town a shot of adrenalin.
Immediate appearances from the station shouldn’t deceive you, as Halle is a very pleasant town with dramatic towers and expansive central square, park and network of streets boasting pre-war architecture that, with the tram network gives off more than a hint of Czechia about it. You could even visit Praguer Wenzel, their Czech restaurant to immerse yourself even further in the slightly out-of-place experience. Unfortunately, the range of bars in the centre leaves much to be desired, with far too many Irish theme pubs and little in the way of local character. There are a few venues north of the centre worth noting and the ever reliable central Brauhaus. Other than that, happy hunting.
Known for its intact fachwerkstadt that looks like a more complete version of Chester, timber buildings are not just in the majority but take up virtually every plot in the grid layout of its old town, which is also, to all intents and purposes, the whole town proper. Very impressive visuals are augmented by the riverside setting which is also a confluence of two rivers. Forested hilltops complete what is an almost dreamlike realisation of small town fairytale Germany. That said, don’t expect the Prancing Pony type wooden inns. Sadly, no-one has seen the potential here of developing a pub which utilises the innate natural advantages. You will find a few busy locals, whether they have football on or people playing darts, and a central Ratskeller that is half-decent. Sadly nothing outstanding.
pop. 531, 200
Hannover’s centre is an artificial but convincing enough recreation of its pre-war old town, and it’s a reasonable base for average bars, the odd smokey working-class kneipe and one nice craft beer venue. However, given the size of the city, it must be said that Hannover disappoints, ultimately, in its drinking options. Even the central brewery is remarkably, almost pointedly soulless. Let’s hope that’s subject to change.
The old East German 2nd city, much neglected and partly still frozen in time, however since reunification the centre has been cleaned up and restored. While not a dramatic city, there are pretty areas, landmark buildings and places of interest. The centre is to be avoided if you are seeking a drink or regular pub going, whereas the neighbourhood districts of Plagwitz and Connewitz are the exact opposite. Head out into the suburbs on Leipzaig’s excellent tram system to experience true alternative pub going and a selection of solidly left-wing anti-fascist down-and-dirty bars that along with their haze of smoke and raw atmosphere will take you back decades.
Limburg an der Lahn
pop. 33, 406
One of Germany’s fachwerkstadt, the historic centre is a complete tableaux of timberframe houses, and ensemble which is genuinely impressive, not so much for jaw dropping scale but for the recreation of a medieval aesthetic. You really can imagine the scene from hundreds of years past. Don’t forget to drop by the enormous romanesque cathedral, or take a view from the old bridge.
Limburg’s nightlife is restricted, as with many of these genteel middle aged towns, however you will find a provincial buzz and a couple of outstanding venues. Firstly RundesEck, a kneipe with a preserved interior, and Zum Batzewert, the oldest place in the town and the clearest central hangout going. They do a wide range of drinks and it’s a nice convivial venue.
Whisky fans take note: Villa Konthor is among the finest rates tasting houses in all of Germany.
This university town has two clear distinct districts. The castle hill and Altstadt are perched high above the town below, which contains most of the civic buildings, college infrastructure, petrol stations and so on. On a map Marburg may look small, and the old town is rather small, but it’s bigger, longer and stretchier than you may think. We didn’t have time to explore properly but there are two clearly popular pubs, Hinkelstein and Die Schlucke which look worth exploring.
pop. 1.4 million
While Oktoberfest supplies the rest of the world with a caricature of Bavaria, Munich itself proves to be a more complex picture. Sure, the central bierhallen are as expected: cavernous, touristy and an ersatz equivalent of traditional. They are fun, up to and including the most famous of all: Hofbrauhaus. Hitler’s favoured piss-palace has acquired a certain notoriety which never really fades away while you’re there, but nevertheless, the venue is bloody enjoyable.
Munich is also famous for its biergarten (outside of winter) and its Boazn, traditional little family-run pubs, often with an older lady running front of house. These can be cosy and act as a counterpoint to the vastness of the central brewery venues run by the ‘big 6’ Munich brewers.
The city is wealthy, something which often dampens nightlife, but there is simply too much going on to restrain it here. You can find bars fitting virtually any description you could mention, including a nice range of classier neighbourhood venues but also fun sleazy Berlin-esque venues like Geyerwally and Sehnsucht.
Between all these, and a relatively easy-to-traverse city centre, you won’t go far wrong.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber sweeps up the acclaim (quite rightly) when it comes to historical walled towns. Nordlingen is its quiet cousin, perhaps as it is so annoyingly difficult to reach via public transport from the north. This market town is exceptionally pretty, with a fully intact wall – you can complete the circumference without stepping down at any point. Famous for a historical meteor crater and its feature in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this town has its own quirky place in history. Nightlife is as you’d expect for a market town. You will find a nice early evening Gaststatte in Sixlbrau-Stube, and a couple of decent, if provincial town pubs which at least provide atmosphere and local colour, far from the worst small town we’ve visited for nightlife.
One of the most unheralded and under-visited cities in Germany, here is a large city which still retains an integral old town character across a vast expanse. Sure, there are some ordinary shopping areas but the huge city walls, Kaiserburg and riverside setting are superb, as are the rows of grand stone buildings and timber-frame houses. Nightlife is dispersed a little, though the focal point by the castle proves to be the closest it has to a central hub. There are multiple venues elsewhere, and a little planning is necessary to join them together into a pub crawl. Luckily we have done just that, in our Days Out guide right here!
The well-to-do Regensburg could be a little dull, reserved for middle-aged day trippers, but is livened up by its student population who crowd the squares, the Avignon-esque Steinerne Brucke and the islands north of the fast-flowing Danube. You’ll find a varied nightlife of beer halls, basement and corner pubs and wine bars catering for a range of tastes. Regensburg is certainly well worth an overnight stay.
There is a criminal lack of truly good drinking options in Quedlinburg, suggesting a town not in great shape economically nor socially. This is a great shame given it is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved towns in Europe.
Unfortunately I can only direct you to its small number of bland venues and its so-so brewery tap. A shop in the centre does periodic beer tasting sessions as well.
Rothenberg ob der Tauber
One of the best preserved “cities” in the world (actually a small town), there is beauty around every corner in Rothenburg, however it lacks a really killer pub or bar, a shortfall which is unfortunately painfully apparent when you see the young folk of the city in the evening scratching around for a venue of some sort.
You will find a couple of passable backstreet venues, but the overall bar going experience is regrettably disappointing. This is still no reason to not visit what is an extraordinary place.
Wernigerode’s street layout lends itself well to generating a bit of atmosphere, with a long street leading to a central square. While this beautiful town is still relatively quiet by some standards, it’s one of the livelier Harz towns, and you will find Tommi’s Pub has atmosphere and their central brewery has, if nothing else, good beer.
Wetzlar is another central German hideaway, with a town centre notable for its distinctive slate roofs, winding hilltop lanes, and rainy climate. It’s another town where history feels only a touch away. Pleasingly, for a small town there are 2 outstanding bars, the labour of love Café Vinyl, and historic Pintchen, a jazz memorabilia smokey kneipe that is called ‘the last quaint pub in town. Even these are supplemented by a few other perfectly servicable venues dotted around town.
With a pretty riverside setting, Schloss towering above the city, large monuments and cobbled footbridge, there is certainly plenty to enjoy visually about Wurzburg. However, it must be said that the nightlife leaves something to be desired. Wurzburg is a wine rather than a beer region, and perhaps café culture is more popular than beer culture around here. Still, for a university town you’d hope and expect more from a place of its size. Other than the fun Muzikkneipe Tscharlie’s you may find yourself alternating between bland cafés and non-descript local pubs serving frankly rubbish beer.