(Editor’s Note: The Oktoberfest photo above (taken by Andreas Steinhoff) is inside the Löwenbräu tent in Munich.)

Oktoberfest. Until last year the word conjured images of beer, pumpkins, and falling leaves until my friend, Heather, traveled to Munich for her honeymoon and attended the festival in September.

After talking to her, pumpkins and leaves were replaced by rock bands and parades but the image of beer stayed.

Oktoberfest: Munich, Bavaria, Germany, Places to Visit, Fair, Ferris Wheel, Crowds

Bavarian Oktoberfest Crowd (Photo by Hb3 CC BY 2.5)

This year in Munich, birthplace of Oktoberfest, the festival runs from September 21-October 6, beginning with the traditional tapping of the first barrel and ending with the gun salute at the Bavarian monument.

World’s Largest Fair

Oktoberfest: Munich, Bavaria, Germany, Places to Visit, Fair, Rides, Carousels

Munich Oktoberfest Rides

So how did this festival, which began as a wedding celebration between Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810 become the world’s largest fair?

Time and the desire for a good party!

The “modern” festival began in 1950 and now attracts more than 6 million visitors from around the world each year. They come to sample the six “official” Oktoberfest beers meeting  “beer purity board” standards plus enjoy a wide variety of music, carnival rides, parades and, of course, traditional Bavarian food.

You can learn more about the Munich’s Oktoberfest here.

Oktoberfest in Cincinnati

If you live in North America and can’t get to the “official” festival in Europe, there are many places to visit Oktoberfest 2013 on this side of the pond too.

The Fountain Square district of Cincinnati, OH is home to the biggest Oktoberfest bash in the United States. This year, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati runs from September 20-22 and features the traditional Running of the Wieners dachshund race on Friday night and the world’s largest Chicken Dance on Saturday. Did I mention the kazoo band, rides, food and beer? That’ll all be there too. Trust me, despite the calories, you don’t want to miss the strudel.

Oktoberfest in Oregon

Mount Angel OR (40 miles south of Portland) celebrates Oktoberfest from Sept. 12-15. Nestled in a community settled by German immigrants in the 1800s, the four-day festival features of live music, free “Kindergarten” rides and shows, street dancing, arts and crafts, traditional biergarten (and weingarten) and more than 50 food chalets. While you’re there, don’t miss the Mount Angel Community Glockenspiel with its elaborately carved figures and festive music

Oktoberfest in San Francisco

If you find yourself on the western coast of the U.S. Sept. 20-22, you can head to Oktoberfest by the Bay on Pier 48 in San Francisco. Headlining the musical offerings is the 21-piece Chico Bavarian Band, but there are plenty of other groups playing traditional German music, including Deutscher Musikverein, and The Internationals. Don’t forget to bring along some sunscreen! The fog usually rolls out in September so you don’t want to get sunburned as you hoist that beer stein.

Oktoberfest in Denver

There’s so much to do at Denver’s Oktoberfest, that organizers couldn’t pack it all into one weekend. Instead, the celebration lasts for two, September 27-29 and Oct. 4-6. Keg Bowling, Stein Raising, dog racing and a bratwurst eating contest are just part of the extravaganza. Want German music? The Polkanauts, Sea of Accordions and The Dutch Hop Music Makers plus many more will all be there. Plus, there’s a whole kids’ carnival area for the little ones.

Oktoberfest in Ontario

Finally, Canada’s “Greatest Bavarian Festival” takes place Oct. 11-19 in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. It’s the largest celebration outside Munich and just two hours north of Niagara Falls, NY. The later date of this Oktoberfest coincides with Canadian Thanksgiving and has everything from a treasure hunt and a giant parade to beer tents and a “Stein and Dine” dinner from Canadian celebrity Chef Corbin. If you’re an American citizen, don’t forget your passport or you’ll miss all the fun!

The festivals above are just a small sample of Oktoberfest 2013 events in North America. Just about every state has a at least one, so there’s bound to be one near you with people opening their arms in “willkommen.”

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