I recently had the opportunity to check an item off my bucket list by attending Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. Leading up to my trip, I read a lot of information and advice around Oktoberfest, some of it useful and some of it not so useful (to put it kindly). It seems that everyone has very different advice for what to do and how to do it when at Oktoberfest, so I figured I would put my own advice out there in hopes of helping out some fellow beer lovers in the future. While this was my first Oktoberfest experience and I’m certainly no expert, I think this will be a swell guide to get your festival planning started. Please note that when I refer to Oktoberfest in this article I’m speaking of the original and largest version in Munich. Many cities throughout the world hold their own Oktoberfest celebrations, but Munich is the granddaddy of them all. Now here’s what to do and not do when going to Oktoberfest.
DO go to Oktoberfest! This is a simple one. What possible reason could you come up with to not party with 6+ million people from all around the world who just want to have a good time while drinking copious amounts of beer?!? Seems pretty self-explanatory. If that’s not enough convincing for you to go, please read further because there are reasons other than lots (and lots) of beer drinking.
DO know the basic history and setup of Oktoberfest. Here’s the elevator pitch: Oktoberfest is the largest beer festival in the world. The tradition began in 1810 as a celebration of the marriage between King Ludwig I and Princess Therese. Citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities and naturally party in celebration. The festival has morphed into a massive international celebration of German beer, traditional fare, amusement rides, and games. On the festival grounds, there are currently 14 large beer tents each capable of seating up to 10,000 people. There are also 20 small tents. Every tent has a different vibe to it ranging from generally local and older crowds to younger and rowdy international crowds. While I won’t detail the feel of every tent, this information can be easily found online.
DO wear traditional Bavarian clothing! For girls that consists of a dirndl and for boys it is lederhosen. You’ve inevitably seen pictures of these clothes when Oktoberfest is mentioned. Dressing in traditional garb adds to the entire experience and really makes you feel like an active part of Oktoberfest as opposed to an observer. I was lucky enough to borrow lederhosen from a friend, and Danielle bought her dirndl while in Germany. I highly recommend buying your clothing before getting to Munich. From what I saw, dirndls and lederhosen in Munich around Oktoberfest are more expensive and of poorer quality than clothing that can be found elsewhere. We bought her dirndl at the beginning of our trip while visiting Wurzburg. Most department stores will carry them around Oktoberfest season, and the quality is high while maintaining a reasonable price point. She paid ~$70 for her dirndl. The good quality and reasonable priced lederhosen I saw was ~$100 plus the cost of a shirt and socks. You could also do some online shopping before heading to Germany. If you must wait until the last minute, there are plenty of street vendors around Munich willing to sell you dirndls and lederhosen, but I would be wary of the quality and/or price.
DON’T feel the need to show up before 9AM on the opening Saturday. Danielle and I got in line outside the fairgrounds at 6AM and waited in the cold rain for 3 hours before the gates were opened to get inside. While the mad dash towards the tents was a lot of fun and certainly a memorable experience, it’s not necessary to arrive before 9 to secure seats in the tents. However, on the opening Saturday and other weekends, you will want to arrive close to 9 to ensure your group can get a table at one of the tents. We went to the Lowenbrau tent, and by 9:30 it was almost completely full. If you have a large group, you’ll have to arrive early to make sure everyone can sit together.
DO talk to people around you! Oktoberfest is essentially a massive party, and everyone is there to have a good time. Danielle and I were by ourselves Saturday morning, but we quickly befriended the rest of the group that occupied our table. Over our 3 days we met people from all over the world and shared many beers, cheers, and song chanting with some lovely people.
DO be strategic if you want a primo seat for the opening festivities. At 12 noon the first kegs are tapped in the tents, signaling the official start of Oktoberfest. Danielle and I lucked out with our choice of table, and we happened to be right in front of where the keg was tapped. It was an awesome experience to be so close to the traditional action. If you’re lucky, you may even get one of the first free steins poured from the keg. These central tables fill up fast though, so you’ll want to arrive to the grounds a little before 9 and rush into a tent as soon as it opens.
DO pre-order your first round of beers if you quickly want some liquid refreshment after noon. We made the mistake of not doing this, and it thus took us a while to get our first beers. On that note…
DO get to know and treat your waiter / waitress well. The tents get very busy, and having your server looking out for you is a great thing to have. Steins of beer are right around €11, and I always tipped an extra €1 with every beer.
DON’T stand up to chug a beer if you can’t properly finish it. As you will soon discover (especially in the more rowdy tents), putting one foot on the table and chugging a beer is a tradition you will regularly see. As someone does this, everyone around will cheer them on. If you successfully chug in a short time with minimal spillage, you are regarded as a mini-hero with loud applause and the praise of everyone nearby. However, if you fail by not being able to completely chug your beer quick enough or by spilling too much, you will be booed and have pieces of pretzel thrown at you. The flying pretzel chunks will probably anger everyone around you, and you will be shamed for a couple minutes before people lose interest and/or another poor soul fails at chugging. Don’t be that guy/gal. Know your abilities and limits and respect those as well as the people sitting around you.
DO eat the food. Holy crap the food! Every tent has traditional Bavarian pretzels which are a staple of Oktoberfest. Eat these as they help soak up the beer. In addition, every tent has their own specialty foods. At the Lowenbrau tent, their specialty was the roasted chicken. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was easily a Top 5 chicken experience of my life. It was straight up heavenly. A flavorful and crispy skin matched with tender fall off the bone chicken was perfect. I ordered the roasted chicken at another tent, and it was just as good. Don’t pass up on this dish when you see it at one of the tents. The Fischer-Vroni tent specializes in fish, and there are some excellent pesce options there.
DO sing the songs! As you’ll find out, there is a lot of chanting and song singing in the tents and especially in the more rowdy tents. Crowd favorites are Hey! Baby and Ein Prosit. If you’re familiar with classic American rock, you’ll undoubtedly recognize some of the songs being sung. If you don’t know the German lyrics, just ask someone around you and they will proudly help you out.
DO know your beer drinking limits. Beers at Oktoberfest are served in 1L steins, and their ABV is right around 6%. Drinking one stein is equivalent to drinking 3-4 Bud Lights. Drinking multiple steins can quickly add up to consuming a lot of alcohol. Make sure you eat plenty of food and drink water throughout the day to help you maintain a reasonable level of intoxication. And speaking of water…
DO try to drink water. I say “try” because it’s not an easy thing. What I disliked the most about Oktoberfest was the difficulty in getting any water. Tents do not allow you to bring in your own water, and buying water in tents is about the same price as beer. Seriously. I paid ~€5 for 0.5L of not-cold tap water. That is ridiculous. In addition, the tents don’t have water fountains or anywhere to easily obtain free water. Perhaps you could take an empty stein into the restrooms and fill it from a sink, but this is probably discouraged. If you attend the fest on a non-busy weekday, you can leave tents or the fairgrounds to get water bottles, but this is not possible on busy days without losing your spot in a tent and possibly not getting back in.
DO bring plenty of cash. Cards are not accepted at the tents as far as I could tell. Also be prepared for some sticker shock. As I mentioned earlier, beers end up costing €12, and meals are generally €15-20. 4-5 steins and some food can easily set you back €100 in a day. Between Danielle and myself, we spent at least €150 per day. Oktoberfest is a lot of great things, but it is certainly not cheap.
DON’T try to hit every tent in one day. After not being very mobile Saturday and Sunday, we had the great idea to attempt to hit the remaining 11 tents we had not been to on a less busy Monday. We were going to be smart about it and share steins at the tents instead of having our own. We would also mix in some radlers (~3% ABV) to lesson our alcohol intake. While it was a noble mission, it was pretty impractical. We did manage to impressively stop by 9 tents, but as you might guess we were also impressively drunk. We stumbled back to our Airbnb and took a long nap in hopes of sleeping our hangovers away.
DO ride the rides! There are tons of carnival style rides at the fairgrounds. The lines were not very long, and in my opinion riding rides while comfortably tipsy is great fun.
DO give yourself extra time to explore Munich and possibly even the rest of Bavaria / Germany. While Oktoberfest is an incredible attraction unto itself, Munich and especially Germany is a large place with an infinite amount of activities to do. We chose to spend ~8 days in Bavaria and got to experience a little bit of everything: charming medieval cities, castles, driving on the Autobahn, riding on trains, the big city life of Munich, hiking, centuries old beer traditions, microbreweries, and so much more. For some further ideas, read the two articles I wrote detailing my Bavarian experience here and here.
That covers my advice for the Oktoberfest novice. Hopefully you will take some of this to heart and use it for your next Munich adventure. I would have definitely benefitted from reading a simplistic guide like this with useful advice. Ultimately Oktoberfest is what you make of it, but you can look like you somewhat know what you’re doing if you read a little ahead of time. Prost!