Oktoberfest was one of the best festivals I’ve ever attended. It’s a 16–18-day beer festival held annually in Munich, Germany, running from late September to the first weekend in October. It all began when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese on October 12, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city, which the locals call “Wies’n” (which means grass, and why Oktoberfest is nicknamed Wiesn in Germany). Ever since then, it has become a major event, especially in the last few decades as more and more international travelers have been attracted to the festival thanks to tours, cheap flights, and better accommodation options. It’s such a big thing that you’ll find Oktoberfest activities in cities around the world (though nothing beats the original).
Oktoberfest is a wild, wild time. An estimated 7 million people visit every year, with the majority of those Germans (they represent 85% of attendees)! You’ll see just about everyone dressed up in traditional Bavarian clothes (lederhosen for guys, dirndls for girls), having a good time, and drinking lots and lots of beer. These pictures and video will help paint the scene for you:
….but no matter what, there’s a lot of singing.
Outside the beer tents, you’ll find a carnival atmosphere. Literally. The grounds contain a carnival with games, rides, and even haunted houses. It is like a theme park in Anywhere, USA. If it wasn’t for people dressed up, you wouldn’t have known you were in Germany. (This is also where you’ll find everyone passed out from too much beer!)
Inside the tents is where you find the traditional Oktoberfest you’ve come for: lots of hearty food, traditional music, large decorated tents, friendly people, large steins of beer, and communal happy atmosphere that breeds friendship and joy! Everyone is here for a good time and in high spirits!
All the tents are free to enter. Beer is typically around 11 EUR and most full meals are 12–15 EUR. You can get snacks and small meals for around 5 EUR. You can also buy alcohol outside the tents (but not beer), and the drinks cost around 8 EUR. You’ll also have to put a 2 EUR deposit down on the glass they give you. You’ll find tons of stands everywhere with sausage and wurst for 4 EUR too. Reserving a table is technically free, however, a reservation requires you to order food and drinks. Usually, this is the equivalent to 2 beers and half a chicken (which is around 30 EUR per person). So a table for 10 will be around 300 EUR, depending on the tent.
It’s virtually impossible to do this event on a tight budget. You can buy beer or food outside the event grounds, which will lower your costs (get drunk and full before) but if you’re purchasing anything in the tents, expect to pay!
All the tents are free throughout the day and all have free tables as well as reserved tables for people eating meals (these are also prime seats in the center of the tent). If you want to eat or guarantee that a table (and not fight for all the free tables), you’ll need to make a reservation. We had a table reservation every day because my friends and I wanted to make sure we had a place to sit. To make a reservation you’ll need to contact the tent directly via email, phone, or fax (yes, they still accept faxes!). This is typically done at the start of the year between January and April. Tables at the best tents fill up quickly.
If you do book at one of the tents, be aware that most tables seat 6-10 people and cost about 300 EUR (about 30 EUR per person). You’re required to book a whole table, so even if it’s just one of you going, you reserve the table as though you are going fill it. While you’re supposed to have a full table when you sit down, we showed up minus a few people and they didn’t seem to care. This reservation includes some beer and food.
Personally, I’m not so sure I’d reserve tables again. It’s nice to know you have a place to sit down, but other than on weekends or at night, it seemed like you could always find an open seat, even if you had to stand for a while. If I booked a table again, I would only do it for the nighttime hours, when tables are harder to get, you’ll want a place to eat, and you might not want to stand around waiting.
Keep in mind weekends, when the Germans aren’t working, are incredibly busy and it’s much harder to get a reservation as well as find free tables. If you don’t have a reservation, get there early!
There are 14 main beer tents at Oktoberfest and each one has its own personality. Some tend to be heavy on Americans, other Australians, others older Germans, other rich celebrities, while others are just everyone under the sun. Here are the fourteen major tents and some information about them:
Simply put: Book your Oktoberfest room early. Accommodation fills up incredibly quickly — and some hotels and hostels book out up to a year in advance. The closer you get to the festival grounds, the more expensive beds are and the quicker everything fills up. I booked a room in April and most places were already sold out. That room cost me 120 EUR per night, but it was close to the festival grounds. Hostel dorms often go for 60–80 EUR.
There’s not a lot of budget accommodation around but there are a few options if you don’t want to stay in the city center (or want to save money):
Men wearing traditional Bavarian outfits and standing my horses at Oktoberfest
You can’t go to Oktoberfest without the traditional Bavarian outfit (it just wouldn’t be right or as fun), and those are not cheap. A good lederhosen outfit begins at around 140 EUR. Dirndls, the traditional outfit for girls, begin around 100 EUR. (You can, of course, find cheaper outfits, though, if you aren’t looking for something of quality.) You can order them online before you go or find them in stores throughout the city. Stores just selling outfits spring up just for the festival. We found lederhosen the day we arrived. You can rent costumes for around 40 EUR per day but that’s only a good option if you are going for a day or two. If you’re going for longer, it’s cheaper to buy an outfit.
Oktober fest is an extremely popular event in Munich, Germany
It’s a marathon, not a sprint — you’ll be drinking all day, so there’s no need to rush it. Too many people pass out on the lawns by dinnertime. Pace yourself. Those liters of beer are strong.
Oktoberfest begins on Saturday, September 22nd with the opening ceremony at the Schottenhamel tent. At noon, Munich’s Mayor will tap the first keg and kick off the celebration. The festival will go until October 7th.
Opening day: 12:00 – 10:30pm
Weekdays: 10:00am – 10:30pm
Weekends and Holidays: 9:00am – 10:30pm
Tents Open late: Käfers and Weinzelt open until 1:00am
Getting to Munich is easy as it’s accessible my rail from all major points in Europe and has its own major, international airports.
Oktoberfest takes place on Theresienwiese. It walkable from the main railway station (Hauptbahnhof) and the closest U-Bahn is, aptly called, Theresienwiese. Just follow the mass of crowds to the grounds. You can’t miss it!
Oktoberfest only happens once a year, and though it sort of busted my European budget, I don’t regret any of the money I spent. I’m really glad after years of false starts that I finally got to visit and celebrate Oktoberfest. My friends and I are already considering returning next year (though maybe not for five days again).
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