Central Europe’s top 10 beer stops on your Eurail trip
Welcome to Lagerland: Central Europe is one of the Old World’s greatest brewing regions, home to hundreds of awesome local brews and a populace that knows how to throw them down. It’s also criss-crossed with an amazingly efficient network of rail lines, making it easy to get where you want in comfort and without worry. (Often with almost door-to-door service: because of their importance for shipping, many of the region’s most famous breweries were built next to train stations.) The region’s numerous beer festivals, open-brewery days and special events makes it easy to form a beer-filled itinerary based on your schedule. With a Eurail pass, you can tour historic breweries, visit beer fests, or head out to the hinterlands in search of truly rare brews.
Yes, it’s home to Oktoberfest, though there’s way more to Munich suds than the giant beer festival at the end of September: the regional capital of Bavaria has a half-dozen great breweries, including giants like Paulaner and Löwenbräu, as well as family-owned brewpubs. For an under-the-radar event, look for Starkbierzeit (“Strong Beer Time”) near the end of winter, when brewers release festive strong lagers to celebrate the arrival of better weather.
Despite its size, diminutive Bamberg is home to several indigenous beer styles, including Rauchbier, a “smoke beer” that is produced with beech-smoked malt, creating a sweet and smoky taste that some compare to liquid bacon. (You either love it or you hate it.) Every August, this UNESCO-listed town holds the Sandkerwa beer festival, though its historic breweries and unspoiled Gothic architecture will thrill thirsty travelers all year around.
For years, Berlin has been a punch line for beer lovers, but a new generation of craft brewers are producing inspired versions of styles like India Pale Ale and imperial stout. Your Eurail pass is valid for S-Bahn commuter trains in Berlin: use it to track down Schoppe Bräu, Hops and Barley and Pfefferbräu, in the youthful neighborhoods of the former East Berlin, while you’ll find American-owned Vagabund nanobrewery in the northern district of Wedding.
Leipzig is the hometown of J.S. Bach, whose home is now a must-visit museum. Afterwards, enjoy a different kind of culture with a glass of Leipziger Gose, a uniquely local beer style fermented with both yeast and lactic bacteria cultures — as in yogurt — and spiced with coriander and salt, resulting in a sour, lemony thirst-quencher. From Berlin, get here as a side trip on the way to Prague, possibly via Dresden, or as part of a voyage to Munich.
The beer-loving capital of the country that drinks more pivo (“beer”) than any other on earth, scenic Prague is home to 18 breweries, several brewing schools and hundreds of taverns, many of which date back to the Middle Ages. With direct train connections to Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest, the Czech capital is a perfect base for exploring the region’s beer trails, and great pubs like Zlý Časy (with 48 taps) and Pivovarský Klub (with over 250 bottles) make the city a top-shelf beer destination in its own right.
Known as Plzeň in Czech, in 1842 this bustling industrial town two hours west of Prague gave birth to Pilsner beer, the world’s most popular style; today it is home to the original Pilsner Urquell brewery, which offers extensive tours of its historic cellars and brewhouse, as well as a cool brewery museum, all just a few steps from the main train station. In addition a handful of excellent brewpubs and microbreweries have sprung up, like Pivovar Groll. An easy stop-off on many Prague-Munich connections.
7. České Budějovice
Budweiser is an American beer, but the original Budweiser comes from the southern Czech city of České Budějovice (“Budweis” in German), where brewing has been going on since long before Columbus bumped into America. A tour at the beloved local Budweiser, also called Budvar, is a pilgrimage for many lager lovers. The city has great connections to Prague and to Linz in Austria, from which you can find direct trains to Vienna or Munich.
Grand, imperial Vienna is revered for its coffeehouses, but beer culture has been part of the city’s lifeblood for centuries. In addition to older styles like Zwickelbier — a cloudy, unfiltered golden beer — and the historic, amber-colored indigenous brew, Vienna Lager, a bunch of dynamic new brewpubs have connected the Austrian capital to the contemporary craft scene. The great 1516 Brewing Company even produces a version of Victory Hop Devil from Pennsylvania. Your Eurail pass is valid for S-Bahn trains in Vienna.
Despite beautiful architecture and easy train access, there’s an overlooked, off-the-beaten-path feel to the cozy Slovak capital of Bratislava. A few years ago, the city didn’t have a single brewery, but there are now six bustling brewpubs, including two locations of the stylish Meštiansky Pivovar. From here, direct trains will take you to Prague, Budapest or Vienna, and overnight direct trains easily connect you to Krakow.
Hungary makes amazing wines, but sör (beer) remains the go-to beverage for many, with cool multi-tap bars like Élesztő pouring craft pints to a hip crowd, and putting on the Főzdefeszt craft beer festival on beautiful Mikszáth Kálmán square every September. Berlin, Prague, Bratislava and Vienna have direct connections to Budapest, from which you can take trains out to find truly rare beers, like Korty, flavored with Tokaj wine extract, from the eastern city of Miskolc.
Find out about the Eurail pass and start planning your tour of the greatest European beer — and wine, and culinary — destinations.