World's Top Beer Gardens
You’re parked on a wooden bench surrounded by friends, under a wide umbrella that provides shade from the autumn afternoon sun. On the table are steins of Hefeweizen and a heaping plate of pork sausage to share. The crowd breaks into spontaneous chants: Ziggy Zoggy Ziggy Zoggy OI OI OI! Glasses clink and a waitress appears, carrying a heavy tray brimming with the next round.
And you’re in…Queens.
This festive spot, the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, is just one example of why you don’t need to travel to Europe for a classic outdoor drinking experience. Beer gardens have taken root everywhere from Melbourne to Beijing, providing comfortable spaces for communal gatherings and the raising of glasses. Even Manhattan’s painfully chic Standard Hotel opened its version of a beer garden in July, adding a Teutonic touch to the Meatpacking District.
Meanwhile, the tradition is going strong where it began. Beer gardens as we know them developed in Germany in the 18th century, when in order to keep fermenting beer cold during the summer months, breweries dug underground cellars behind their facilities. They covered the beer caves with gravel and chestnut trees, providing shade for outdoor drinkers. From Berlin to Munich and beyond, these hopping spots are filled to capacity with revelers during Oktoberfest season.
While the oldest beer gardens are shaded by hundred-year-old trees (no umbrellas allowed) and patrons sit on long wooden benches (no plastic chairs), the more modern iterations have looser rules. Some common assets do exist, though.
Jen Murphy, Travel Editor of Food & Wine, sister publication of Travel + Leisure, says a great beer garden “has plenty of shade. The staff should be knowledgeable and should be well-versed in the beer list and what foods pair best. The food shouldn’t be fussy but it should be delicious: sausages, moules and frites, sliders, charcuterie, a great selection of cheeses … Beer is a beautiful accompaniment to food and beer gardens should emphasize that.”
Using similar criteria, we rated the world’s greatest beer gardens with three “s” factors:
- Scene. From an edgy crowd in Amsterdam to a wholesome family ambience in Berlin, beer gardens cater to as many types of people as there are pork dishes in Germany.
- Sustenance. Whether in the form of sausages, spaetzle, or a smorgasbord, hearty food is a must when the alcohol is flowing.
- Suds. From house-brewed varieties in Munich’s Hofbräuhaus to pitchers of Saigon at Luong Son in Vietnam, beer binds it all together.
Scene: Long live the dirndl! This 1589 brewery clings to its historic roots with traditional Bavarian outfits and fare. The center courtyard is stocked with ancient chestnut trees, providing cool shade and a transporting atmosphere. During Oktoberfest celebrations, the focus moves from the beer garden to the Hofbräu-Festzelt tent, a separate structure set up in the heart of Munich’s festivities.
Sustenance: Pork reigns supreme (even salad comes with suckling pig). Try the Brotzeit platter, featuring three varieties of pig, or opt for veal sausages served with a fresh pretzel and mustard.
Suds: The house beer comes in three varieties: dark, light, and white. For a refreshing twist, order yours mixed with lemonade.
CaféVlissinghe, Bruges, Belgium
Scene: Dating to 1515, this is the oldest pub in Bruges, hidden in the quiet neighborhood of St. Anna. Revelers quaff lagers and play boccie in the ancient stone-walled garden. During inclement weather, they have the option of gathering around the fire in the cozy, wood-beamed interior.
Sustenance: The menu ranges from highbrow bar food like bacon-wrapped goat cheese with honey to comfort food like macaroni and cheese, a salami and cheese board, or simple toasted sandwiches.
Suds: The beer garden keeps three staples on tap: Jupiler, Brugse Zot Blonde, and Leffe Brune. Plumb the list of 20 bottled brews for more interesting options like Tripel Karmeliet or the Framboise Belle Vue.
Wudaokou BeerGarden, Beijing
Scene: The space is set up like a county fair, with a bustling energy to match. Food and beer stalls surround a center tent, where a buzzing crowd of young tastemakers and foreign students parties into the night.
Sustenance: The food choices are vast and cheap—from Chinese dumplings or hot pots, to Korean barbecue, to American hot dogs. Do a culinary round-the-world tour before settling in for some Chinese beer and multilingual eavesdropping.
Suds: Yangjing and Tsingtao flow liberally (at under a dollar for a big bottle, with drafts for even less).
Letna BeerGarden, Prague
Scene: Location, location, location. Perched atop Letenske Park, this beer garden offers sweeping views of Prague’s Old City, historic bridges, and ambling Vltava river.
Sustenance: The garden restaurant (as opposed to Brasserie Ullmann, a more upscale and pricey option) churns out tasty pizzas; try the quattro stagioni, topped with mushrooms, artichokes, olives, and ham.
Suds: Crisp Gambrinus (a Czech beer) is on tap and served in unpretentious plastic cups. Practice ordering a beer in Czech—pivo prosim (pee-vo proh-seem)!
BohemianHall & Beer Garden, Queens, NY
Scene: A favorite urban escape for yuppies, hipsters, and immigrants alike, the Bohemian’s spacious garden and long communal tables rarely feel unmanageably crowded. With plentiful trees for summer shade and a removable cover for damp days, the spot is a year-round treat—you’re even welcome in the snow.
Sustenance: Authentic Czech fare like pierogi and kielbasa, prepared on an outdoor grill that sends tempting aromas through the garden, is especially pleasing to the Astoria neighborhood’s Eastern European transplants.
Suds: Beers on tap include Staropramen, Hoegaarden, and Krusovice—$15 for a share-friendly pitcher.
The FlaskTavern, London
Scene: Set up in stables built in 1663, the rustic Flask is said to be haunted by a barmaid who killed herself there over unrequited love. The wood-paneled retreat was also a popular haunt for satirist and painter William Hogarth. Outside, the rollicking garden is decked out with fairy lights and space heaters, to combat the English chill.
Sustenance: In the summer, the beer garden features a seasonal barbecue serving up burgers, steaks, and pork sausages. In the fall, the menu is quintessential pub fare, including a top-notch fish and chips.
Suds: Everything you’d expect from an authentic English pub; regulars favor Bulmers cider and Westons.
Luong Son,Ho Chi MinhCity
Scene: Full of locals perched on plastic chairs, this inexpensive barbecue joint is as welcoming to outsiders as it is cherished by locals. Though the venue seats hundreds, the service doesn’t suffer (and the waiters speak English).
Sustenance: Food is actually the main attraction. The do-it-yourself barbecue ranges from simple (the garlic beef Bo Tung Xeo) to scary (deep-fried scorpion) to squirmy (kill-your-own shrimp).
Suds: The pitchers of Saigon beer are cold and refreshing, a perfect accompaniment to the DIY grill menu.
CaféSound Garden, Amsterdam
Scene: Located on the Singelgracht canal, this split-level beer garden has an edgy vibe (live alternative music, graffiti, darts) that’s both gritty and nonthreatening. Sit at sun-drenched communal tables and take in the charming views of boats and barges outside.
Sustenance: The tradition here is to bring in fare from the surrounding multicultural neighborhood. Lamb kebab from the Turkish restaurant Mesut 2 pairs nicely with a crisp brew on the garden patio.
Suds: Since beer prices at this youthful, casual spot are considerably less expensive ($2.50 for a Poperings Hommelbier) than at other Amsterdam establishments, sip the afternoon away on a rotating selection of bottled (around 15 varieties) and tap (five kinds) beers, including Schneider Weizen and Budels Parel.
AugustinerBräu Kloster Mülln, Salzburg, Austria
Scene: Don’t worry about finding a seat at this 17th-century brewery—there are 1,500 available spots in the impressive beer garden.
Sustenance: Walk through the attached Delicatessen Arcade to sample traditional fare from local food stalls. Tuck into a hearty smoked mackerel matched with a crisp radish salad.
Suds: Fasting for Lent? Drinking Augustiner Lenten beer doesn’t count as eating! Non-Catholics can enjoy any of Augustiner’s nine varieties, some of which are seasonally produced.
BelgianBeer Café Bluestone, Melbourne
Scene: Melbourne’s biggest beer garden aims to re-create Belgium’s outdoor drinking traditions. The umbrella-topped picnic tables are packed with young beer enthusiasts and the occasional business group out for a little “team building.”
Sustenance: In the Belgian spirit, the beer garden serves up hearty pots of mussels and fries. During summer, grilled bratwurst and rotisserie chickens are added to the menu.
Suds: The beers on draft (Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe Blonde, Leffe Brune, and Belle-Vue Kriek) are served after a nine-step pouring process, meant to achieve the ideal carbonation and foam height.