how to go to the cow festival (almabtrieb) in the alps
What is the Almabtrieb?
Germany is extremely rich in its traditional culture, something I love very much about this country. The Almabtrieb is an annual festival celebrated in the Alpine regions in Germany (where I went), Austria, and Switzerland in late September, early October. Cattle herders bring their cattle up to mountains in the spring, and this festival celebrates the cows’ return down from the mountains.
It is tradition, in some areas, that if there were no accidents with the cattle during the summer, that the herd will be elaborately decorated for their hike down the mountain. Hence the enormous bells and floral wreaths and headdresses.
I had originally heard of the Almabtrieb from another travel blogger, Helene In Between. Her photos of the floral-crowned cows and beautiful scenery had me saying “What the heck is that?” and “How do I go?!”. I remember the moment exactly, because as I sat in my sales job cubical, I told myself that one day I would go to that festival and see the cows! Well, one year and a lot of big life decisions later, I WENT!
The Fairly Important Information:
What are the 2019 dates?:
The festival takes place from mid-late September through early October, and exact dates will differ depending on what town you would like to go to. This website is a great resource if you are looking to attend the Almabtrieb in Germany. (Just scroll all the way down to see the 2019 dates)
Where I attended the festival:
I would highly recommend attending the festival in Oberstdorf and/or Immenstadt, Germany. The locations of the festivals were easy to find (just follow the large crowds), and the towns themselves are extremely charming! Not to mention you can reach both places by train, which will save you the hassle of a rental car. This year, 2019, the festival in Oberstdorf is taking place on Friday, September 13, and the one in Immenstadt is on September 21st.
Out of the two, Oberstdorf’s was my favorite. Maybe because it was my first, therefore I was wonderfully shocked by how fun/interesting the whole thing was. Oberstdorf’s festival is located amongst green hills and mountains, and Immenstadt’s is located more within their cute little town.
Immenstadt is a short train ride from Oberstdorf. Last year, they were in the same weekend, so I was able to do one on Thursday, and the other on Friday. Unfortunately for 2019, they are not in the same weekend.
What to Expect:
I recommend showing up about 30 minutes earlier than the indicated start time to make sure you beat the crowds! You’ll want to be front row (until the cows are running by you then you may want to back it up a little lol).
There will be very large cows walking near you, sometimes at a faster pace than you’d probably like, but don’t panic! It’s part of the experience. It really is like a parade of cows.
It doesn’t end after the first group of cows! You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Stick around for as long as you’d like, there are quite a few groups of cows that come through, usually with a few minutes in between each.
Even though it is about 10:30am, the parade is followed up with a festival. And by festival, I mean lots of beer drinking!! Whether you join in the drinking or not, I encourage you to hang out for a while. They will play traditional music, serve amazing German food, and the atmosphere is so light and fun!
Don’t be afraid to go alone. I went by myself to the first festival, and I made friends quickly. Everyone is just there to have a good time and with the large communal benches, its easy to sit by other people and participate! The language barrier matters very little when one or both parties are a bit tipsy! Haha
Where To Stay:
Here, I ended up staying in a home, where the owners rented out their rooms to people passing through the town. It was a German couple who don’t normally rent out to Americans/other non-European tourists, so I am not able to recommend them for you. But like most anywhere else, I recommend searching on AirBnb in order to save some money on accommodation. There are a few hotels, but they are pricey and will likely be booked up quickly.
I planned my entire trip pretty late in the game, so almost all accommodation inside Immenstadt was already booked for this weekend, other than the very expensive hotels and AirBnB’s. I did however find a pretty nice hotel, for a reasonable price off of my Booking.com app! It was located a few towns over in Sonthofen, which ended up being an easy, maybe 10 minute train ride to Immenstadt! Don’t forget that trains in Europe are pretty inexpensive ways to get around, they will be your best friend!
The Almabtrieb was one of my fondest memories of 2018, and was truly an experience one could never forget! If you’ve done all the typical “European” things and want to see something new, or you would just like to branch out from the beginning, this is the way to do it.
I hope this guide helps you at least a little bit! Seeing as there isn’t a ton of information out there to help you plan a trip to see the Almabtrieb, my first experience was a bit of trial and error! As always, shoot me any questions you may still have, I’m more than happy to offer you advice or answer any additional questions you may have!