To many people, saying “Beery Bamberg” is a statement of the obvious but for many more, it is still one of those magical beer places awaiting personalized discovery. I’ve had brief visits many times over the decades and it always resulted in my vowing to come back for a longer stay. That finally came around for me when I decided to base out of this northern Bavarian city for a week of beersplorations in the area. It is a great base location with rail connections heading into Franconian bier heartlands in several directions, inexpensive places to stay, and a rich set of things to see and places to visit within its very walkable confines. My only regret ended up being that I didn’t have more time to stay there.
More than 1000 years in the making, Bamberg now has a population of about 78,000 people most of whom appreciate a good bier. It is a picturesque city loaded with impressive architecture and interesting public art. In addition to being a good place for walking, you immediately recognize it is a bicycling city. Bikes are everywhere, maybe because it is also a university town and young people are moving everywhere via bicycle.
The old town of Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You could be forgiven if you attributed this to the beer culture of the place, but I think it has more to do with its authentic medieval appearance. Beery Bamberg had 75 or more breweries into the 1900’s but that has been whittled down to eleven today. Most people count it at nine, but I am including the pilot brewery embedded into the Weyermann Maltworks which makes some very nice artisanal beers and the microbrewery of Hopfengarten. I wrote about visiting Weyermann’s and their beers in a separate story so I won’t say much more about them in this one. I’ll speak to a visit to Hopfengarten later in this article. The biggest of the breweries, Kaiserdom is located in an outlying part of the city that I didn’t make it over to.
Bamberg is famous world over for Rauchbier, or smoked beer, but the truth is that only a couple of the breweries specialize in this brew. Smoked beer is made from a special malt that is dried over an open fire before brewing to produce the smoky flavor. The most famous are the flavorful Brauerei Schlenkerla varieties but every bit as good in my estimation is the rauchbier of Brauerei Spezial. By all appearances, Schlenkerla is the most popular of the Bamberg taprooms — a small window near the entry served the crowd that was overflowing into the street out front. Don’t stop with just these famous beers though as there are many other great beers found elsewhere in Bamberg as well.
For instance, Brauerei Keesmann makes an excellent pilsner called Herren that I stumbled across on my first night in the city. I had come from an international flight arriving earlier in the day at Munich and was tired and hungry. The pleasant courtyard behind the gasthaus was pretty full. A nice lady shepherded me to the last seat at a shared table in the center and I was served a Herren. Terrific! The lady eventually sat down at the table and I was told by others at the table that she was Frau Keesmann — she was up and down through the evening making sure the place was running to her satisfaction.
Other conventional breweries with taprooms are Mahr’s Brau, Brauerei Fassla, Brauerei Geifenklau, Klosterbrau, and Ambrausianum. Non-conventional breweries include the aforementioned Weyermann pilot brewery (their beers are available at the former Bamberg Hofbrau brewery location in the city center) and Hopfengarten. Hopfengarten is a garden nursery of sorts that has a microbrewery that uses their own hops in a variety of artisanal beers.
The two best (but not only) Bier Kellers (or beer gardens) I experienced in Bamberg were the Wilde Rose Keller and the Spezial-Keller which both are located on a big hill south of the center called the Stephansberg. They are classic beer gardens with thousands of seats beneath canopies of shade trees. Wilde Rose serves beers made for them by a brewery in Neundorf and Spezial serves Brauerei Spezial beers of course. These are great places to while away an afternoon. Another significant beer place that I enjoyed multiple times earlier in the day is Cafe Abseits. They offer good food and a deep selection of beers from nearby breweries in the region.
The map above shows relative locations of breweries (amber mugs) and other interesting beer venues (red mugs). All of these places are very walkable from the center within a one-mile radius or so. I stayed at an inexpensive Air BnB near the center that also gave me easy access to the train and bus station.
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Even if there was no such thing as beer (heaven forbid!) Bamberg would be a beautiful place to visit, stroll around in, and relax at the many street cafes. Bamberg town is not a UNESCO World Heritage Site for no reason. The center of the city is said to have survived World War II relatively intact and as a result, retained its charming medieval character. Seven hills are grouped around the center, each with its own interesting church. There is also loads of public art and building art on display — some ancient and quite a lot that is more modern. My guess is that I took more photos per capita in Bamberg than in any other city I visited on this particular trip.
More Beery, Beautiful Bamberg
Read a story about a visit to Weyermann Maltworks in Bamberg.
Read a story about a visit to Sandkerwa, one of Bamberg’s annual festivals.