Oktoberfest is the largest folk festival in the world. It is also one of the oldest, dating back to 1810. Known to locals as Wiesn, this 16-18 day extravaganza, featuring games, rides, traditional fare and a whole lot of beer, takes place in Munich, Bavaria, Germany each year and attracts more than 6 million visitors from around the world. Many cities across the globe celebrate their own versions of Oktoberfest, but they are no match for the original. I recently ventured to Munich and got to experience this famous folk festival first hand. Below is a breakdown of what to know before you go so that you too can conquer Oktoberfest!
WHERE IS IT
Oktoberfest fest originated, and is still held, in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. Specifically, at the Theresienwiese fairgrounds (map it!). This sprawling open space is the festival’s official site and is easily accessible by train or on foot from the city center.
WHEN IS IT
Despite its name, Oktoberfest actually begins in mid-September and runs through October 3rd, which is also German Unity Day.
Tents are open from 10am to 10:30pm weekdays and 9am to 10:30pm on weekends. The one exception is the Käfer Wiesn-Schänke tent, which stays open until 12:30am and the Weinzelt tent, which is open until 1am.
Travel tip: It’s not necessary to arrive early as some sites suggest. My Russian and I didn’t get to the festival until 5pm on the 2nd to last day of the event and were easily able to find a seat inside various tents. The only exception is the final day of the Oktoberfest. By 7pm, many of the tents reach capacity and have an extensive wait time to get in if people are allowed in at all.
Oktoberfest is easily accessible by train. It actually has its own station, the Theresienwiese stop on the Munich’s subway system the U-Bahn. Upon exiting, you’ll see street signs and security guards to guide you to the entrance.
Oktoberfest is FREE to the public. You can enter both the main gate and the beer tents free of charge. Several sites give the impression that you have to purchase tickets in advance to reserve a seat inside the beer tents. Not true. All are welcome inside the tents and anyone can order beer or food from any of the tables with an empty seat.
All food, drinks, games and rides can be purchased al-la-carte. Rides range from 2-6 euro. Food varies anywhere from 4 euro for a berry strudel to 15 euro for a roasted chicken. The 1 liter beers, served only inside the tents, are 11 euro each.
WHAT TO BRING
Less is more when attending Oktoberfest. Visitors must pass by security guards who screen for large bags. I recommend only taking a wristlet with the essentials – money, phone and lip gloss are all you need!
I learned this the hard way when I tried to get in with my backpack and was promptly rejected by security. Although there are lockers nearby, the lines are long and the room isn’t very secure. I opted to walk back to the hotel and drop it off rather than risk something happening to it in the locker. Luckily the hotel was only a 10 minute walk away!
WHERE TO STAY
My Russian and I waited until the last minute to book our hotel. And by last minute I mean booked as we were boarding our flight, last minute. Hey, when you fly standby, you get used to living on the edge! But we really lucked out and found a great place in the heart of Munich. The Inter City Hotel is steps away from the central train station and walking distance to both Oktoberfest and many of the city’s main attractions. And as an added perk, breakfast is included!
Staying in the city center is the way to go if you want to partake in the festivities without dealing with a commute on crowded trains. I highly recommend the Inter City Hotel for its friendly staff, enjoyable accommodations, delicious breakfast and excellent location.
Travel tip: Given that Oktoberfest is a huge event that attracts visitors from all over the world, accommodations can be limited and pricey. Consider booking your trip during the middle of the week to avoid weekend price hikes.
WHAT TO WEAR
Before my trip I read that many people wear traditional outfits, or Tracht, to Oktoberfest, but that it is viewed as offensive for tourists to don traditional dress. WRONG! The majority of festival goers both locals and tourists alike dress up for the occasion. Lederhosen for men and Dirndl dresses with a white blouse and apron for the ladies. Upon my return, I located a few options online that would have been perfect. Next time I’ll be ready! You can find some cute Oktoberfest dress options here, here and here.
Travel tip: It can get quite chilly outside the tents and in the evenings, so a light jacket or sweater comes in handy.
All the beer served at Oktoberfest is produced by 6 Munich breweries. It is a strong lager containing 5-6% ABV and recognized by its honey color and mild hop. The beer is served in 1 liter glass mugs and is only available inside an Oktoberfest tent.
For the non-beer drinkers, there are several venders located outside the tents that offer other selections. There’s even a champagne bar!
There is much to see and do at Oktoberfest, but the beer tents are the main attraction. There are 14 large tents, each one with its own unique theme and decor. Some hold over 9,000 people and take 6 months to assemble. I recommend tent hopping to get a feel for each one until you find one to settle in to and enjoy an ice cold beer. Below is a brief description of a few of the most popular large tents.
Weinzelt: serves champagne and over 15 varieties of wine.
Marstall: family friendly including changing tables and space for strollers.
Augustiner Festhalle: considered to have the best beer and the only tent that still serves beer from wooden kegs.
Hofbrāu-Festzelt: a traditional tent that attracts an international crowd and is popular among tourists.
Käfer Wiesn-Schänke: a favorite among celebrities and known for its excellent (and pricey) cuisine. Also open later than the other tents until 12:30am.
Foodies will not be disappointed by Oktoberfest cuisine. Traditional German dishes are served by various vendors throughout the festival including bratwurst, soups, roasted chicken, salads, strudel and much more! Sample it all and taste your way through the festival.
While the tents and beer dominate Oktoberfest, there is much more to see and do for non-drinkers, families and teens at this famous festival. I was surprised to discover that in addition to the beer tents, Oktoberfest features the same rides and games one would find at a state fair. From fun houses and bumper cars to water rides and Ferris wheels, there is something for kids of all ages!
WHAT TO EXPECT
Given that Oktoberfest is the largest festival in the world, you can expect enormous crowds. It is estimated that nearly 6 million people attend the festival each year. Some of the tents themselves hold over 9,000 people and are packed wall to wall throughout the two and a half week festival.
It’s a good idea to pick a meeting place with your group in case you get separated. Ladies especially should stay vigilant and stick together as sexual assault remains a sad reality each year at this event.
Overall, Oktoberfest is a fun and safe event that brings people from across the globe together to celebrate good food, good music and, of course lots of beer! Click here for more information on planning your trip to Oktoberfest.
Millions of traditional heart-shaped gingerbread cookies known as Lebkuchen that feature well wishes and sweet sayings are sold throughout Oktoberfest each year.
6 million people attend Oktoberfest annually.
7.3 million liters of beer were served at Oktoberfest in 2015, the most ever served at the festival. That’s enough to fill nearly 3 Olympic size swimming pools!
The legal drinking age in Germany is 16, making Oktoberfest a popular event for youngsters.
Indoor tent capacity ranges from 1,000 to 9,300!
It takes waiters 1.5 seconds to fill the 1 liter Oktoberfest mugs.
Bands play the traditional toasting song “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” which means, “A toast to cheer and good times” several times throughout the evening which encourages guests to sing, toast and drink.
Have you been to Oktoberfest? What tips would you add to the list? Thinking about going? What else do you want to know before you go? Share your comments below!