Oktoberfest has been an important part of Bavarian culture since 1810. While the original is in Munich, you’ll find that many cities around the world (and even in Germany) model their own Oktoberfest after this one. So if sharing a space with six million people isn’t your thing, you do have other options.
But if you’re into the mayhem that the world’s largest beer drinking festival brings, consider this your guide to Oktoberfest.
This one can’t be stressed enough. Prices for accommodations skyrocket during Oktoberfest and often triple in cost. Even hostel dorms are a bit outrageous. Most attendees will book a year in advance, but even then prices are high.
You’ll likely find the best booking options on sites like Airbnb and Flipkey if you’re looking for a more private room. However, those pose a risk as well: I had rooms booked twice on Airbnb, and twice the owners cancelled last minute and I was forced to pay for a much more expensive room elsewhere. (Fortunately Airbnb was good about the whole thing and gave me a travel credit.)
The further you move out of Munich’s city centre, the cheaper it gets. But keep in mind that getting back and forth isn’t a great option. If you book a room mid-week rather than on the weekends, you’ll have lower prices. There are also various campgrounds where you can rent tents and take shuttle buses into town.
There are many different tents with many different atmospheres, and they all fill up to max capacity. Your best bet is to find a tent where there’s space for you, and then just spend the day/evening there. Seriously. Even if there’s extra space, it’ll fill up eventually and you’ll find that good ‘ol Oktoberfest spirit everywhere.
My cousin told me that to ensure you get a seat, show up at around 9 AM and bring a deck of playing cards since the tents don’t start serving beer until later. But if there’s just one or two in your party, you might be fine going a bit later.
Tents also range in size. Schottenhamel is the festival’s most important tent because it’s where all the opening ceremonies take place. It’s now the largest tent, with seats for a whopping 10,000 people. Hofbrau Festzelt is based on Munich’s Hofbrau Haus beer hall, and is considered the wildest Oktoberfest tent; on the other hand, it’s also where most of the international visitors hang out. Most of the locals hang out in Hacker Festzelt, which has an incredible painted blue ceiling. Other great tents include the Schutzen Festzelt, and Wildever Bar (they serve drinks other than beer).
Munich takes it beer very, very seriously. There are several laws that come with serving beer at Oktoberfest, and one of them is that only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot (the “German Beer Purity Law”) can be served at the festival. Furthermore, only beers brewed within the city limits of Munich and designated as Oktoberfest beers can be served.
This limits the beer to just six breweries: Augustiner-Brau, Hacker-Pschorr-Brau, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Spatenbrau, and Hofbrau-Munchen.
Fortunately, you don’t need to buy tickets to Oktoberfest! You can come and go from the tents for free. It’s possible to make reservations for certain tents, but it can be extremely expensive (and not usually catered to small parties). If you show up early enough you shouldn’t have trouble finding a spot.
Typically, litre beers cost 10 Euro each. Food like currywurst, bratwurst, and pretzels are affordable options. If you’re using public transit to get back and forth, the cost is 2.50 Euro per ticket. Oktoberfest certainly isn’t cheap! Budgeting beforehand is highly recommended, and tents generally don’t accept card payment so you’ll have to pay for everything in cash. Also, a tip of 1 or 2 Euro per beer is recommended, and you’ll want to earn the favour of your bartender as she’s shuffling between thousands of people. Come prepared!
If you’re coming to Oktoberfest, you might as well dress the part! You’ve definitely seen the typical Bavarian Dirndl and Lederhosen around before. They’ve been a tradition since the 1500s and were initially used for everyday life, for everything from tending to the house to working in the fields.
The woman’s Bavarian Dirndl is a dress with an apron tied around it, and with a Dirndl blouse to match. A man’s outfit usually includes a button-up shirt (white or checkered), leather Lederhosen shorts and suspenders, and an Alpine-style hat.
There are two ways you can approach getting an outfit: shopping at a Halloween outlet, or ordering from a real German store online. Generally you’ll stick out like a foreigner if you go the Halloween route, especially as Dirndl dresses tend to be MUCH shorter and skimpier than the traditional ones. But they can also be expensive, so take your pick. E-bay also has cheaper options. Either way, you’ll have fun picking out an outfit!
Don’t wear open-toed shoes or sandals (there might be broken glass at some point), don’t go tent hopping on busy days and don’t bring a purse. Keep in mind that placing one foot on a bench means that you’re signaling to the tent that you’re about to chug an entire litre of beer. If you are not successful at chugging your entire beer, you will be booed loudly by thousands of people! Don’t be a hero.
Do learn some of the popular songs that tend to get belted out as regulars for a sing-along. In German, there’s Ein Prosit, Fliegerlied, and Viva Colonia. English songs you’ll probably already know; they’re the likes of YMCA, Sweet Home Alabama, and Country Roads.
Believe it or not, Oktoberfest is a family-friendly event, and even children are allowed into the tent up until a certain time. There are a lot of fun rides, ranging from the quiet (and famous) Krinoline carousel to the more exciting, heights-challenging ones like “Top Spin.” People of all ages are welcome to come out and hit the rides, although you might want to do this before drinking. The Ferris wheel offers one of the best views over the entire city.
And of course, eat everything in sight! Try the roast chicken, pork knuckles, bratwurst, giant pretzels, ox, fish on a stick, roasted duck, and gingerbread hearts. Yeah, it’s not really a vegetarian-friendly event, is it?
If you’re there on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest, there’s a wonderful parade through the centre of town known as the Schutzen und Trachtenvereinzug. You’ll see over 7000 people dressed in traditional costumes and floats that are powered by horses or pulled by hand.
Munich is a stunning city, and feels like a whole different world once all the tourists shuffle home. There are so many things to see and do in Munich other than attending Oktoberfest, that you should devote at least a day to exploring.
Especially worth checking out is the Englischer Garten, a public park that’s actually larger than NYC’s Central Park. The landscape gardening here is beautiful, and there’s a Japanese teahouse and a Greek temple. There’s even a place where you can try your hand at surfing. Visit the 1972 Olympic Park which still has an Olympic Village and sports facilities, and a shopping centre. There’s also a pretty park with a lake.
Into history? Stroll the breathtaking grounds at Schloss Nymphenburg, the former summer residence of the rulers of Bavaria. It’s essentially a castle that looks like it came straight out of a fairytale. Even if you’re not religious, visit Asamkirche, an itty-bitty church by the Asam brothers who were masters of baroque church design. It’s so tiny you’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it.
Finally, if you want to know what Munich is like for the rest of the year, head to Gartnerplatz – the former main square of the gay/lesbian scene in the city. Now it’s more like the heart of hipster central, and you’re welcome to sprawl out on the grass, have a BBQ, and people-watch the day away.