As German heritage, beer-loving Wisconsinites, visiting the official Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany and the largest beer drinking festival in the world was a bucket list item for Nick and me.
More than 6 million visitors head to Munich for the annual festival, which runs the 15 days before the first Sunday in October. (Despite its name, most of Oktoberfest actually takes place in September). According to the official website, during this year’s festival, those 6 million visitors consumed 112 oxen, 48 calves and 6.4 million liters of beer! (Nick and I can only vouch for about 5 of those liters of beer) 🙂
We booked our travel and AirBnb accommodations in March since we read the city’s hotels and rentals fill up quickly. Our day at Oktoberfest was incredibly fun, and I’d definitely recommend a visit to the festival for anyone considering it. Here are some tips and advice that we picked up during our trip.
Where to go:
The Oktoberfest grounds are large and filled with beer tents, carnival rides, and food and souvenir stalls. Entry into the grounds and beer tents is free. The festival has 14 official tents, which can accommodate as many as 10,000 guests each. Our tent, Hacker-Festzelt sat nearly 7,000. Most of the tents serve only one type of beer, from one of the six traditional Munich breweries. Beer is only served in the tents or their beer gardens, so it’s important if you don’t have tickets to arrive early to get a seat.
When to go:
As I mentioned in my Munich trip report, we planned our visit to Oktoberfest for midweek, a Thursday, to avoid the hordes of tourists that arrive on the weekends. (Nick and I went back to the Oktoberfest grounds in the early afternoon the following day, a Friday, to purchase two commemorative mini beer steins that we’d admired the previous day, and couldn’t believe how busy and crowded it was. Many of the tents were already closed from high capacity, so we got our mugs and quickly left.)
We arrived to the grounds early, shortly after the festival opened at 10 a.m. Most of the tents require reservations, which are about as hard to get as Superbowl tickets, but each tent is required to reserve a section for people without tickets. (We previously learned that it’s very difficult to buy a couple of tickets – most tents sell tickets by the table (which seat 8-10 guests) and require you to pre-purchase a certain number of beer and food vouchers for each guest.
You can sit at the reserved tables until the ticket holders arrive, which is a great strategy if you plan to only stay for a few hours, but if the non-reservation section is full when you get booted from your table, your only option is to leave since you can’t get served without a seat.
When Nick and I arrived, only about a quarter of the tables in the reserved section of our tent were taken, but they filled up within the hour. We were eventually joined at our table by a group of six friends from Austria, who made an annual trip to Germany for the festival.
One of our table-mates spoke fluent English (he and I are now Facebook friends), and he translated conversations for our table throughout the day, and we had so much fun toasting and talking with all of them. Perhaps it was just our tent, but I was surprised by the lack of Americans, who I thought would make up a large portion of the attendees; we heard a few English accents, but nearly everyone around us was German-speaking.
After lunch, our new table friends recommended that Nick and I leave the tent and spend an hour or so walking the festival grounds and they promised to save our seats. We readily agreed and enjoyed a lap around the grounds to check out some of the carnival rides and souvenir stalls.
They recommended that Nick and I return to the tents before 2 p.m., otherwise once the tents fill to capacity lines start to form outside and it can take awhile to get back inside.
Throughout the day, a traditional oompah band played at the stage in the center of our tent. A few times an hour, men would stand on top of their table and the entire tent would clap and cheer while they attempted to chug their liter of beer. While many were successful, more than one man was unable to finish his beer and booed back down to his seat.
Around 5 p.m. the oompah band was replaced by a contemporary rock band, which started out playing a mix of American and German classics. Within the hour nearly everyone in the tent was standing on the benches and singing and dancing, which lasted for several more hours. Eventually the band started playing German rock songs, and while they were catchy tunes, we had no idea about the songs to which everyone was singing along.
The tents stop serving beer at 10:30 and the grounds close at 11:30; in our tent, the band stopped playing and the lights turned brighter around 9 p.m. and many people began to leave (us included).
What to wear:
Nick and I purchased traditional Bavarian costumes – a dirndl dress and apron for me and leather lederhosen for Nick (on Amazon) – and I’m so glad we did since nearly everyone (including all the Germans at the festival) wore costumes. Note that there is a difference between the more traditional Bavarian costumes and the revealing bar maid costumes sold in America ;).
Through some online research, I discovered that how you tie your dirndl apron represents your marital status: bow on your left side means you are single, bow on your right side means you are married, bow in the middle means you are a virgin (bow in the back means you are a widow or waitress).
How to survive the day:
Eat, and keep eating (oh, and try not to drink too much). Our tent had a full menu of food and snacks. The tent staff all spoke English, so it was very easy to order food and drinks. (Note, since it’s only table service available, the staff only accept cash, so bring plenty: liters of beer ran about $10 euro, simple food dishes were $5-15 euro.) We also tipped $1-2 euro after we ordered.
Nick and I ordered white sausages and pretzels around lunchtime. Throughout the day bar maids come through the area with large pretzels and other snacks.
Every time our table-mates ordered a round of beer, they bought an additional stein of water. After they drank a few inches of their beer, they’d fill the beer stein the rest of the way with the water (essentially watering down their beers), which we noticed other tables were doing as well. A great tip for all-day drinking 🙂
Our table-mates ate dinner around 4 p.m., and while Nick and I weren’t hungry from all of our snacking, I wish we would have eaten dinner around that time. We ended up eating a half chicken and potatoes around 6 p.m. when the majority of the people around us were standing and dancing on the benches, while we sat and ate and bounced in our seats.
One day at Oktoberfest was more than enough for Nick and me to experience the one-of-a-kind festival. If you had a larger group of friends or family a return trip could be fun, especially if you spent the time in another tent, but there is just so much else to see and do in Munich.
The music, the dancing, the authentic German food and liters of beer at the festival were incredibly fun and a near perfect end to our trip to Europe. I hope you enjoyed following along!