Disclosure: The New Ulm Convention & Visitors Bureau facilitated our Oktoberfest experience. However, all opinions are my own.
Many cities have their own Oktoberfest celebrations, but few compare to the one hosted in New Ulm, Minnesota. Not only have New Ulm’s festivities been named one of the country’s Top 10 Oktoberfests by USA Today, they’re also rooted in hundreds of years of local tradition.
In fact, this small Minnesota city packs in so much celebrating that its Oktoberfest spans two weekends across three locations. Last fall we headed north to New Ulm to experience all of the excitement for ourselves and were blown away by the celebration this community puts on.
If you’re headed to New Ulm for Oktoberfest, the sheer volume of activities can be overwhelming. I’ve compiled my favorite things to do, places to eat, and traditions to experience to help any first-timer make the most of New Ulm’s Oktoberfest.
What to Do & See
Start your day at the downtown New Ulm Oktoberfest celebration. Enjoy delicious German food from local stands, listen to live music by traditional German and contemporary bands, and do a little people watching. One of the best parts? There’s no cover for this celebration, which closes down about a block of downtown. We particularly enjoyed the stein-holding competition that took place on Saturday afternoon. While I may not have the upper-body strength to participate, I can definitely appreciate the accomplishment.
While you’re downtown, time your next beer with a stop by the historic Glockenspiel. This traditional clock tower plays for nine minutes daily at noon, 3 and 5 pm. Discover unique parts of New Ulm’s history represented in the dancing wooden figures, including a brick layer, German dancers, and more. If you’re visiting outside of the Oktoberfest season, we learned that the figurines are switched out for a Nativity scene around the holidays.
Once you’ve imbibed downtown, head to Schell’s Brewery for another Oktoberfest celebration. Located in the wooded hills of New Ulm, Schell’s provides a wonderful backdrop to enjoy these autumnal activities. Enjoy a full schedule of live music, craft beer, and lots of dancing.
If you’ve still got more celebrating in you, head to the Best Western Plus. New Ulm’s third and final celebration site is complete with polka music and dancing in the hotel ballroom as well as a live music tent and campfires outdoors.
Tip: If you haven’t named a designated driver for your weekend celebrating, New Ulm also offers a trolley between Oktoberfest locations.
What to Eat
When it comes to Oktoberfest food, it’s best to stick to the four main food groups: pretzels, sausage, cheese, and beer. Obviously, there’s more variety to enjoy in this charming Minnesota town, but for Oktoberfest, we opted to stick to the essentials.
During our time in New Ulm, we enjoyed some truly delicious food, including a number of traditional German favorites. In fact, we enjoyed so many soft pretzels (a favorite even outside of Oktoberfest season) that I lost count.
If you’re looking for a traditional German meal, there’s no better place than Veigel’s Kaiserhoff. We enjoyed the restaurant’s famed barbecue ribs as well as delicious wiener schnitzel and spaetzel in the cozy, family atmosphere.
And, of course, there are endless seasonal beers to sip. With Schell’s Brewery as one of the Oktoberfest hubs, chances are you’ll try their brews throughout the weekend. Our favorite was, by far, the Firebrick.
Experience the Traditions
While you may choose to spend most of your Oktoberfest with a beer in hand (whatever floats your boat), we enjoyed exploring some of the area’s German history as a break from imbibing.
Walk off some of the pretzels and cheese by climbing the 99 steps to the top of the Hermann Heights Monument. Get to know Hermann the German, the iconic figure who presides New Ulm. His origin story is truly unique and the monument provides a fun photo op.
Back at the city’s Oktoberfest celebrations, chances are that you’ll run into the Narren of New Ulm. These costumed celebrators are staples in traditional German festivals, but first came to New Ulm during its Heritagefest in 1989. Wearing traditional German outfits adorned with bells, these unique cultural icons add a lot of personality to the festivities.
I would love to hear from you! Have you ever celebrated Oktoberfest? What are your favorite German traditions?