So, you’ve made the brilliant decision to check an item off your bucket list and attend one of the most famous festivals in all the world: Oktoberfest. I attended my first real Oktoberfest this past September and while it is a once in a lifetime experience, you do need to know the ropes so you can maximize your experience. From lederhosen and dirndls to beer tents and transportation, I can have you covered to experience the best possible Oktoberfest!
Your Ultimate Guide to Oktoberfest
When is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest happens every year all over Germany at the end of September and beginning of October. The three-week festival usually opens on a Sunday by the mayor. The largest and most famous Oktoberfest takes place in Munich (München) — a large, sprawling city with lots to do and see in and outside of the festival. Want more from Munich? Here's my full guide to this gorgeous city.
What to expect:
Wiesen, as Germans lovingly call Oktoberfest, is unlike any other time of year. People take off work and party late into the night. But, it is a family-friendly event. You'll find huge beer tents holding thousands of people, not to mention carnival rides, gobs of food options including bratwurst, fish, candy, roasted nuts, and of course, heart-shaped gingerbread.
Be warned, it gets crowded fast, especially on the weekend. You’re going to find lines at the beer tents. If you get a good spot and are having a good time, I’d recommend hanging out there, to avoid having to wait in line at another tent. On weekdays it's a little less crowded, but still a fun rowdy environment.
Each of the 14 massive tents are extravagantly decorated. Pictured here is the outside and inside of the Lowenbrau tent:
Luckily, we went during the week, when the festival opened at 8 a.m. We explored each tent, where we found beer fraus carrying huge glass mugs filled to the brim with beer, brass bands playing traditional German songs, as well as unexpected U.S. classic’s like “Sweet Caroline.” Everyone joins in singing “Ein Prosit” (meaning, a toast) and gets on the table benches to sing and drink. It’s totally fine to go to the tents with a small group or even by yourself as you’ll make friends fast. You'll get to know people from around the world. Lucky for me, everyone spoke English!
What to wear to Oktoberfest:
Without a doubt, you MUST dress up for the festival. Everyone dresses up and it’s so fun to see what everyone wears. Men traditionally wear lederhosen — leather shorts paired with a blue or red and white checkered shirt. Women wear dirndls. A dirndl set comes with a blouse, dress, and apron, usually decorated. These can be super pricey ($100-$300), so I suggest buying one on Amazon or other online site. Try these options here, here, here, and here. You can also find some cheap options when you hop off the plane or train in Munich.
Note: the side on which you tie your apron bow is important! I was told I was doing it wrong at the festival and finally corrected it. Tying the bow on the right side means you’re taken. Left side means you’re single. Middle means you’re a virgin… so make sure you tie it right.
Similar dirndl to mine right here.
What to do Oktoberfest:
Of course, you can hang out in the beer tents for as long as you want! We spent most of our days inside the beer tents. But this can add up. Beer costs around 11 euros each. Now, the beer is HUGE, but still, that’s a lot of money (entrance to the festival itself is free). They also serve wine (I was thrilled to hear this!) and food as well. You’ll see people walking around selling pretzels, popcorn, Bavarian veal sausages, and other snacks.
Outside the Tents
You’ll find carnival rides, some without seat belts! Food stands (we loved the roasted nuts), carnival style games, and horses pulling kegs full of beer to the tents. The ferris wheel offers a great view of the festival grounds, especially at sunset. It’s fun just to walk around and see the sights, go for a ride, or people watch.
Reserving a spot in the tent:
One big challenge is getting a spot in a tent. People come from all over the world to party and participate in Oktoberfest, so the tents fill up fast. You can reserve ahead of time or, if you’re coming during the week, you won’t have as much of a problem. We had a blast jumping around tents in the morning, then we stuck to Hofbrau during the day and Schottenhamel in the evening. Both were equally fun. We were told more Americans and Australians hang out at Hofbrau and more Germans and locals hang out at Schottenhamel. Both served beer. I could sing and dance, and met friendly folks.
Try squeezing in at a table if you see an open spot. But I suggest getting there early to check out each tent and see how it’s decorated. Each one is different and known for different things. Hacker tent, one of my favorites, is filled with bright blue skies and white fluffy clouds. Augustiner is considered more local and family-friendly. See all the tents on the official Oktobefest website.
What to bring:
Men can stick their wallet and phone in their lederhosen, while I women should carry a small cross-body bag. Backpacks aren't allowed. Wear comfortable shoes! It’s traditional to wear heels, but I suggest wearing tennis shoes or flats to the festival, as you’re on your feet most of the night! Bring cash, as they only take cash throughout the festival. I recommend bringing about 100 euro to make sure to cover the cost of beer and food. I also brought along my DSLR camera the first day, but it was a bit of a pain to have it and I was a little worried someone would smash it. Bring a portable charger for your phone. I swear by this one.
Where to Stay
Good to Know:
I mentioned this earlier, but almost every German calls Oktoberfest “Wiesen,” because the festival started as a celebration for the king and queen’s wedding. Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in October 1810. My friend told me that when they got married they invited the town to come celebrate and this happened in the meadow, aka “Wiesen.” They called it, Theresienwiese, or Therese's fields. Since then, Munich has been celebrating in their honor with beer and Bavarian customs.
Note the heart shaped gingerbread, meant as a sign of endearment from men. It comes in different sizes and features various phrases. I’m told they don’t taste very good. In fact, when I picked one up it was hard as a rock. So I passed on that one.
You’ll see clothespins that you can get engraved with your name, or where you’re from, for about 5 euro each. They also sell flower crowns and t-shirts as well.
My favorite part of Oktoberfest was getting to know people from around the world, singing as we all yelled “PROST” and drinking to our hearts content. There really is no other festival like it in the world. So definitely add this one to your bucket list.
Want more? Full Walking Tour of Munich.