Every year 6.2 million people travel by plane, train, bus, and car to Munich, Germany to celebrate the largest beer festival in the world: Oktoberfest. Sporting leather Lederhosen and Dirndls in every color of the rainbow, folks of all ages gather to drink beer, eat sausage and pretzels, and dance and sing the night away.
To make the most of this massive annual event, here's an overview of Okotberfest, as well as some fun facts. Having maneuvered Munich's Oktoberfest three times now, I wanted to pass along some insider tips to help you navigate this long-running European tradition.
Basics, Plus What No One Tells You About Oktoberfest
Where is Oktoberfest?
Held in the Bavarian region of Germany in Munich, Octoberfest takes place at Theresenwiese (the name of the actual grounds). Check out my ultimate guide to Oktoberfest if this is your first time!
How to get to Oktoberfest:
You can take the underground, walk, or bus to the festival grounds. The easiest way is the underground with two stops, Goethplatz or Poccistrasse, on the U3 line. You can also take the U4 or U5 and get off at Theresienwiese.
What is Oktoberfest?
A festival at it's finest, Oktoberfest celebrates beer consumption with 14 beer tents, live music, great food, and fair rides — something for all ages. Oktoberfest is a FREE festival. You have to pay for beer and food, of course, but you can stroll around the grounds at no cost.
How did Oktoberfest start?
To celebrate the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, Germany threw the first Oktoberfest on October 12, 1810. It lasted for one week. Today, it's a three-week festival. Locals call Oktoberfest “Wiesen,” named after the Theresienwiese, the meadow where it continues to take place.
If you come in from the back entrance, you'll see the “Oide Wiesn,” which honors the more traditional aspects of Oktoberfest.
The festival doesn't truly kick off until the Mayor shouts “O' zapft is!” which means: It's tapped! He then offers the first mug to the President of the state of Bavaria. This happens in the Schottenhamel tent and has been going on since 1950.
When is Oktoberfest?
Despite being called “October” it starts in September. Misleading? Yes. But it's because of the weather. September in southern Germany is pretty amazing.
Oktoberfest runs for three weeks from the end of September to the beginning of October. It's open every day from 10 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. Most beer tents stop serving at 10:30 p.m.
What to wear at Oktoberfest
Men wear Lederhosen. Women wear Dirndls. Now, these can take on many forms. Traditionally, Lederhosen is leather shorts (usually brown) paired with a blue or red checkered shirt, sometimes a white button-up. To be more traditional you can add a vest or jacket. You can also wear a Baravrian hat, called Tirolerhüte. Legend says that the more tufts of hair or feathers, the wealthier you are.
Women wear Dirndls of all different colors and patterns. This is a sturdy, corset-like dress, paired with a white blouse underneath. I like the traditional clothes but you'll see different styles of dresses from super short to modest. Fun fact: Paris Hilton is banned from Oktoberfest. She arrived wearing an over-the-top gold, shiny Drindl and locals banned her! You could file this under what not to wear to Oktoberfest.
Photo by Diether Endlicher via AP
What not to bring to Oktoberfest
Make sure the bag you bring to Oktoberfest doesn't exceed the volume of 3 liters or is bigger than 20 cm x 15 cm x 15 cm. I recommend this bag. Don't bring a backpack. Also don't bring: aerosol spray cans or glass bottles.
Pushchairs or strollers are banned at Oktoberfest on Saturdays and the public holiday of German unity on October 3rd. Also, don't bring your dog.
Beer at Oktoberfest
Only beer made in Munich is sold at Oktoberfest. The beer is some of the best in the world, since according to Bavarian Purity Requirement, there are only three ingredients used to brew it: water, barley, and hops.
You can drink water at Oktoberfest. Just ask for it and make sure to give a nice tip. You can also drink wine at the Weinzelt tent. There are also a few places for coffee and mixed drinks.
Beer prices range from 10.80- 11.50 €. Each beer is served in a glass, 1-liter size mug and has 6% alcohol content, which is more than most beers. The wait staff are STRONG and can carry up to 12 glasses at a time.
The most beer drank at Oktoberfest was in 2011 at 7.5 million liters! The amount of beer drunk at Oktoberfest could fill more than three Olympic-sized swimming pools!
How to make a reservation at Oktoberfest
Most people make a table reservation MONTHS in advance. However, you can reserve a table a month or so before if you're lucky. Each tent has their own set of rules and guidelines for making a reservation. Here's the gist of most table reservations:
- You reserve for 10 people. No more, no less.
- When you reserve, this includes half a chicken and two beers per person. So that's 20 beers and 10 half chickens.
- Each reservation is for a specific amount of time, usually when Oktoberfest opens or later in the day.
- You can get your tickets ahead of time or at the office inside the tent. *NOTE: if you get them inside the tent during the day, expect to wait in line.
- Essentially, you are paying for the chicken and beer so there is no added cost to reserve a table. If you can get one.
You don't HAVE to make a reservation. Most of the time I've walked into a tent and tried to find a table or hung around the outside until I can find one. I usually end up finding room. Weekends are an exception to that rule. The tents are crazy crowded and sometimes closed because they are so full.
My recommendation: if you're in a tent or table after 6 p.m.: stay there in order to keep your spot.
More than 6 million people attend Oktoberfest every year. The event employs 12,000 people annually.
In 1896 Albert Einstein worked as an electrician to help set up the beer tents.
Around 600-800 people suffer from alcohol poisoning at Oktoberfest. So stay hydrated and pace yourself!
There are 14 beer tents in all and each one is decorated differently. Hofbrau-Festhalle can seat the most (11,000 people.)
There are about 30-40 tents in total at Oktoberfest, so it's not just all about beer. Each tent has an Oom-pah brass band playing German classics as well as some American favorites.
The first roller coaster ever in Germany came to Oktoberfest in 1908.
Lost and found collects about 5,000 items each year.
Food at Oktoberfest
With about 140 restaurants and food stands you'll be sure to find something you like to eat. The most popular dish at Oktoberfest isn't sausage, it's chicken!
You'll also see smoked fish often marinated and seasoned with spices and oil. The many different types of sausages offered include Weisswurst (a white sausage made with minced veal and bacon) and Bratwurst (sausage made with veal, pork, and beef). If that doesn't inspire you, try the roasted Pork Knuckle. This huge piece of meat is hard to miss.
Almost everywhere you'll see the larger-than-your-head pretzels sold in stalls and in tents. For dessert one of my favorite things to get are the roasted nuts. Just follow the delicious smell wafting through the air. I recommend candied almonds. I don't recommend eating the pretty heart-shaped gingerbread. Those are mostly for decoration.
Don't be surprised to see people sniffing white power at Oktoberfest. The small glass vial filled with white powder (which looks a lot like cocaine) is known as Wiesn Koks or Wiesn Pulver (sometimes called Schneeberg weiss). It's made of sugar and menthol and sells for around 5 euros.
Where to stay for Oktoberfest
I recommend staying somewhere near a tram line so you can easily get to the festival. We had a lovely stay at the brand new Hotel NYX in Munich. It's right on the U3 line, which took us straight to the festival and to the main town square, Marienplatz. There was parking nearby as well, and since we drove our car, this was really convenient. This updated, very modern hotel is a great location for the festival.
German words to know:
Munich / München
A toast to cheer and good times / Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit! (you'll hear this song again and again throughout the tents)
Beer / Bier
Hello / Hallo
Auf Wiedersehen / Goodbye
One beer please / Ein Bier bitte (Or in Bavarian: Oa Bia)
Pretzel / Brezel
Chicken / Hähnchen or in Bavarian: Hendl (one of my favorite things to eat at Oktoberfest)
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