Almabtrieb in Tyrol – Meet The Best Dressed Austrian Cows

But watch out for their poop!

If you happen to be in Tyrol in the Austrian autumn, you simply must experience a traditional Almabtrieb or cattle drive. The cows of the Tyrolean Alps return to their valley homes in royal fashion after spending the summer in high mountain pastures. 

Austrian cow with headdress at Almabtrieb

The Almabtrieb is a thanksgiving

“I could dance with you till the cows come home. Better still, I’ll dance with the cows and you come home.”

Well, we danced with or rather around the cows at the Almabtrieb in Reith im Alpbachtal, a town not far from the Inn Valley between Kufstein and Innsbruck. Although I’m sure that’s not what Groucho Marx had in mind when he spoke the words in the 1933 Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup.

Cows enter Reith im Alpbachtal
Well-behaved cows enter Reith im Alpbachtal during the annual Almabtrieb.

The Almabtrieb or homecoming of the cows from the high Alpine pastures where they spend the summer is a celebration of note in Tyrolean villages. The reason? To give thanks for the safe return of the animals and their herders.

Read more: The Kirchberg Blumencorso – a flower parade to celebrate summer

Austrian girl in Dirndl at Almabtrieb
An Austrian girl in a traditional Dirndl dress helps to herd the cows through the crowds.

Read more: The Kirchberg Blumencorso – a flower parade to celebrate summer

A royal welcome

The “homecoming queens” make their grand entrance wearing “crowns” decorated with flowers and pine branches. A colourful disc fits over the forehead and nose of the Austrian cow. Sometimes they display a picture of a saint or sometimes the name of the Alm (mountain pasture) where the animal comes from. Others just feature a Tyrolean saying or pretty embroidery.

Alpine cow with headdress at Almabtrieb in Tirol
One of many homecoming queens…

Brightly embroidered collars hold giant bells around the cows’ necks. The bells and headdresses can weigh up to 20kg.

Cow with headdress and bell
The huge bell around her neck doesn’t weigh down this beauty queen.

Harvest or parish festivals

The Almabtrieb or often coincides with the autumn harvest festival in September and October. In Reith im Alpbachtal a parish festival is held on the same day. The authentic folk festival with a farmers’ and craft market is so popular that it is now held over two Saturdays to accommodate the thousands of visitors coming from near and far.

Austrian whip cracker at festival
A traditional whip cracker entertains the crowd.

The arrival of the cows is hard to miss with the sound of their bells rising above the noisy crowds. Then it looks like the dead sea parting as everyone makes a path for the animals to pass in the street. The dancing mentioned above comes in when one of them has a sudden bowel movement and there is an unsavoury splatter from the tar road. (They are very well behaved otherwise 😉 )

The town’s marching band and a variety of other bands perform on different stages during the day, while their listeners consume hundreds of litres of beer and merrily sing along as the day progresses. When hunger strikes, there is no shortage of traditional Tyrolean dishes – from Knödelsuppe (dumpling soup) to sausages and Breze (pretzels) and Lebkuchen (spicy cake) cows. 

Traditional Austrian Food
Melchermuas, a kind of a pancake, is cooked over an open fire.

Those who are more interested in culture and tradition than in partying can watch the local artisans practice their craft. There are basket weavers, wool weavers, wood carvers, and schnapps distillers – with accompanying tasting of the latter!

Reith im Alpbachtal traditional skills at Almabtrieb
Older residents of the Alpbachtal show off their wool spinning skills.

Our verdict

Watching the Almabtrieb in Reith im Alpbachtal is an experience not to be missed, especially if it’s your only chance of witnessing an Almabtrieb in Tyrol. It really showcases the best Austrian traditions all in one place. I must admit we were a bit overwhelmed by the masses of people in some areas. However, the town is big enough to find a quiet spot from where to watch the homecoming of the cows.

Almabtrieb pasture Reith im Alpbachtal
Saying goodbye to the cows on our way home.

Fast facts about an Almabtrieb

  • In Tyrol, around 110,000 heads of cattle, 70,000 sheep, 5,500 goats and 2,000 horses graze on high Alpine pastures during the summer.

    Sheep at the Almabtrieb or cattle drive in Reith im Alpbachtal.
    The sheep also get a turn to be paraded through the streets.
  • The seasonal migration of livestock between summer and winter pastures is also called transhumance. Transhumance, as practiced in the Alps, where the animals move from the valleys to the high mountain pastures, is called vertical transhumance or Alpine transhumance.
  • The reason why so many animals are driven into the mountains in summer is that there aren’t enough grazing areas in the valleys. The farmers need the hay for winter. The grass on the mountain pastures is also much healthier, resulting in better quality milk.

    Cow grazing at the Almabtrieb in Reith im Alpbachtal.
    Healthy grass makes for healthy milk.
  • Some of the popular Almabtriebe in Tyrol are the ones in Mayrhofen, Kufstein, Kirchberg in Tirol, Pertisau, Hopfgarten, and, of course, Reith im Alpbachtal. Read more about them here.
  • While smaller Almabtriebe are free to watch, bigger ones may charge a fee to help cover costs. Adults pay €5 to enter Reith im Alpbachtal for the cattle drive. Kids and parking are free.
  • Most cattle drives in Austria happen on a Saturday or Sunday. You will find the most detailed list, with dates and places, here. A lot of the text is in German but you should be able to understand the place names and dates.

Tips for attending the Almabtrieb in Reith im Alpbachtal

  • Try to come early to easily find parking and a good spot from where to watch the cows enter the town. Various fields are turned into parking areas with parking attendants showing you where to park.
  • Why not make a few days of your visit to Reith im Alpbachtal by staying in the valley? Oberhaslachhof has great apartments where you can cater for yourself or dine in town. Or check out the lovely Haus Sonnwend in Alpbach just up the road.
  • Use the Alpbachtal as a base to go sightseeing in Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol.
  • Go on one of the most beautiful autumn hikes in Tyrol the day before or after the Almabtrieb. The Tiefenbachklamm is also in the Alpbachtal Seenland tourism region but on the other side of the Inn Valley near Kramsach.
  • Reith im Alpbachtal is also easily reached by train and bus. Simply take the train to Jenbach or Wörgl and the bus from there. You will find all the details with timetables here. What’s more is that travel on the buses is free if stay in a hotel or apartment that’s registered with the local tourism organisation.

Having fun in Austria and then writing about it is hard work ?. That’s why some links in this article are affiliate links. I may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, if you use any of them to make a purchase for your upcoming trip. It’s totally cool if you don’t use them. I love to help anyway ?. But if you do, we’ll probably blow it on another family excursion in Austria. Which really isn’t such a bad thing, because it will only result in another blog post for you to read.

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Maxine

Oh my gosh this looks like so much fun, and the cows look so cute! Great tip about some quieter cattle drive options. I had never heard of this before so thank you for introducing me to something new 🙂

Anna Johnston

How fancy is this, I remember as a kid in one of the Heidi books the cows were all dressed up when they came down from the mountains, I didn’t know it was a thing, I’d love to see it. The cows look pretty happy all dressed up too.
Those Melchermuas look pretty interesting too.

Leah

Austria is my second-favorite European country (I live in France) and I adore Tyrol! I’ve traveled throughout the region on several occasions, but I missed these adorable cows. Next year!

Mei

I’ve heard about the Almabtrieb before, but I didn’t know that they also celebrate the homecoming of sheep and goats! Too bad they’re not as well “dressed” as the cows! Although… they might be happy about it, because the headresses don’t look very comfortable! I mean 20kg? That’s kind of heavy, right?!

Susanna
Susanna

I just went to one in Hohenwang in Germany. It was wild. The cows were RUNNING down the streets as the farmers tried to contain them. You event looks much more calm haha. It was such a fun event!

Shibani

Gosh this is such a wonderful tradition I knew nothing about. The best dressed cow picture is awesome. I hope I get lucky one day to attend the parade and be a part of such a unique custom. Thanks for sharing 🙂

Drew

What fashionable cattle! Love the intricate designs of the headdresses. It is nice how they have turned the need to move cattle from pasture to pasture into an event, complete with costumes and pancakes! And of course, an excuse to drink copious amounts of beer.

Rhonda Albom

I’ve never heard of the Almabtrieb before. It looks incredibly interesting. The Knödelsuppe reminds me of Matzah ball soup. Does it taste anything like that?

Dave Briggs

What a cool little festival! I love the way it attracts so many people to watch it as well. Being able to keep these local festivals alive is so important, because it reminds us of our links to a more traditional past not so long ago.

Lydia Smith

Oh mamaia. I’ve only read about cattle being dressed for festivals in books not knowing I’d see one for myself right here. Austria has such a culture I never know considering my obsession for the country. It would be nice experience to witness such event.

Megan Jerrard
Megan Jerrard

I’ve never heard of anything quite like it – what a fun and fascinating festival! Love the brightly embroidered collars and giant bells – I can’t elieve some of these weight up to 20 kg – wow! Sounds like a great way to experience culture and tradition though good to know re the masses. Thanks for the info on other cattle drives around Austria – something I would love to witness!