Ahh, it’s that time of the year again when drinking beer at all hours of the day is totally acceptable: Oktoberfest is here again! Before you pack your Dirndl and Lederhosen and flock to Munich to participate in this one-of-a-kind party, get to know the essentials with the help of our ultimate Oktoberfest guide, and make sure you get the most out of one of the world’s largest and most famous festivals!
What is the Oktoberfest?
The Oktoberfest takes place every September at Munich’s Theresienwiese (Wies’n, for short). This year, it starts on September 17 and ends on October 3, the Day of German Unity. The festival is made up of 14 different tents that seat between 1,000 to 4,000 people. Each tent has its own unique character, and it’s recommended to check out more than one. The Löwenbräu-Festhalle, the Hofbräu-Festzelt and the Augustiner-Festhalle are some of the must-visit tents. By the way, it’s a local tradition to go to the Oktoberfest at least three times – once with the family, once with friends, and once with colleagues.
When to go?
The Oktoberfest is basically always busy – especially during the opening week. If you want a slightly less crowded experience, try to come during the last week of September. However, if you’re a fan of costumes and traditions, you might want to come on a weekend: The opening day (Saturday) of the festival is marked by a grand parade of carriages, floats, and lots of people wearing traditional costumes, while the festival’s second Sunday is all about a big outdoor concert with typical Bavarian music.
What to wear?
Locals generally wear traditional costumes called Tracht’n: Women usually wear colorful dresses (known as Dirndl); guys wear leather pants (known as Lederhosen) and hats. You are not obliged to wear those outfits, of course, but the locals always appreciate when visitors make the effort.
What to drink?
Beer, of course. All the beer that is served at the Oktoberfest comes from famous Munich breweries, such as Paulaner and Augustiner. If you don’t like one of Germany’s favorite beverages, you can also get all kinds of other drinks, including non-alcoholic beverages, wine and cider.
What to eat?
The Oktoberfest offers some fantastic local food and you should try as many of the delicacies as you can. Start off with a traditional Wiesn-Hendl (grilled chicken) and some Brezn (giant pretzel). Then, move on to Steckerl Fish (fish on a stick) or Weisswurst (sausage). For those who are still hungry, I recommend the Ochsenbraterei where you can get roasted ox or Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle). For dessert, try some traditional cakes, gingerbread or pastries – my personal favorite is Apfelstrudel (a German apple crumble).
What to bring?
Entry to both the Oktoberfest and the tents is free. One exception is the Oide Wies’n – the historical part of Oktoberfest that takes you back in time with old-fashioned beer, food, and rides; to enter, you have to pay a small fee (4 euro). Make sure you bring cash, as credit cards are not accepted. And how much cash should you bring? Well, that depends on how much you want to eat and drink: Usually, a Maß of beer (1 liter) costs around 11 euro, while food can cost up to 20 euro. It’s probably reasonable to calculate at least 50 euro per person – that way, you will have some spare cash for the rides and some traditional souvenirs, like one of those famous gingerbread hearts you’ll see everywhere.
In order to guarantee a safe festival, there’s a big fence around the area and you can only access the Oktoberfest through one of the 15 official entrances, which helps organizers make sure it won’t get too crowded. However, this also means that they will only let a certain number of people in, so make sure you come early or avoid busy days (aka the weekend). Note that big bags and backpacks are not allowed and have to be stored in lockers. (Ladies, don’t worry, purses are OK.)
How to prepare?
Although it’s perfectly fine to go without reserving a spot at one of the tents (especially if you’re not so keen on the beer, are a smaller group, or don’t mind queuing), you can also reserve a place in one of the tents. To make a reservation it is best to contact the beer tent of your choice directly (don’t use third-party sites like ebay as most tents will automatically decline this reservation). But be sure to do this early as reservations open in December (yes, you read that right!) and most tents – particularly the big and famous ones – are sold out very quickly. Also remember that you can reserve a table for a maximum of 10 people. Although there is no actual reservation fee, you do have to buy some food and drink vouchers that you can later use in the tent – the minimum spend is 20 euro.
Insider tip: The big tents are usually sold out quite quickly. If you’re not an early bird, you might get a spot at one of the smaller tents or at an odd hour (the evening slots sell out first!).
- Do not get drunk. This might be hard given that beer is all around, but it is always good to know your limits – for your own safety as well as the safety of others.
- Do not be rude. If you’re disrespectful, loud, or obnoxious, you can get kicked out of the tent – or even the festival – in no time.
- Never dance on the tables. The benches are OK, but if you would like to stay in a tent, the tables are off limits!
- Never take a beer glass with you. I know that they make for excellent souvenirs, but there are security guards at the exits of the Oktoberfest and they will search your bags. Should they find a beer glass, it is considered petty theft and you will be in trouble.
Some useful phrases to learn
Yes, Germans do speak English, but it is always good to know your Oktoberfest lingo. I’ve compiled a few essential sentences that you should memorize – not only to score some brownie points with the locals but also to make friends and blend in when ordering food and drinks:
How can I get to the Oktoberfest? Wie komme ich zum Oktoberfest?
Where are the beer tents? Wo sind die Bierzelte?
Where are the toilets? Wo sind die Toiletten?
Is this table free? Ist dieser Tisch frei?
How much does this cost? Wie viel kostet das?
Do you have an English menu? Haben Sie eine englische Menükarte?
I would like one/two/three/four/five beer please! Ich hätte gerne ein/zwei/drei/vier/fünf Maß Biere bitte!
More beer please! Noch ein Bier bitte!
Cheers! Prost! or Prosit!
You will often hear traditional Bavarian expressions like “Oans, zwoa, g’suffa!” (“One, two, drink up!”) and “Zicke zacke, zicke zacke, hoi hoi hoi” (followed by a “Prost!” which is basically just something fun people yell.)
Let’s do this again next year! Lass uns nächstes Jahr wieder herkommen!
And just like that, you are ready to dive into your own Bavarian (beer) adventure at the Oktoberfest. Have fun!