The grand-daddy of all beer festivals, Munich's two-week extravaganza draws about seven million thirsty souls to the Bavarian capital. From September 20 to October 5, 14 beer halls – some seating 10, 000, others smaller – will serve beer from six Munich breweries with roast pork, chicken and potato pancakes galore, while bands continuously play German oompah and American pop. The beer halls are themed: one displays rural Bavarian scenes, one is horse-themed, one is family-friendly, another lures celebrities - and some specialize, serving only duck, venison, seafood or cheese. This fest, which began as a royal wedding feast in 1810, has it all: parades of regional costume and horse-drawn carriages, carnival rides – from a century-old merry-go-round to a sci-fi-themed ride about a medical experiment gone horribly wrong, and games (like a crossbow competition). Its online shop sells collectors' mugs, traditional dirndls (puffy white blouses) for women, and lederhosen (suspenders and brown shorts) for men. oktoberfest.de/en
This celebration of beer, bratwurst and Bavarian culture is enthusiastically embraced by many without a drop of German blood, though. If you can't make it to Germany, here are some of the biggest and best Oktoberfests in the U.S. (most held in September).
Leavenworth Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, Wash.
You'll think you're in a village in the Bavarian Alps, thanks to the traditional half-timbered houses, window boxes overflowing with flowers and Alpine murals in this small city in the Cascade Mountains, a two-hour drive east of Seattle. Held during the first three weekends in October, its Oktoberfest features beer from Germany, bands from Germany, the U.S. and Canada, bratwurst (plus BBQ ribs and pulled pork sandwiches), and typical German crafts. A parade plus a keg tapping ceremony by the Mayor, a Bavarian tradition, will mark the kickoff. Children's activities feature bouncy toys, a clown and a rock-climbing wall at the Kinderplatz.