Insider’s Guide to Oktoberfest

Estimated reading time 11 min

In a little less than a week, over seven million lederhosen- and dirndl-clad beer enthusiasts will descend upon Munich, Germany for the city’s annual Oktoberfest. From September 22nd to October 7th, live music, parades, traditional German fare, and full, foaming brews will combine to form one of the biggest parties this side of the Milky Way. Nearly two million gallons of beer were consumed during last year’s hootenanny—enough to fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools.

If you’re planning to join this mammoth jubilation, we at go-today want you to do it right. Our Insider’s Guide to Oktoberfest gives you the ins and outs of this year’s festival, as well as some of the major Oktoberfest hotspots outside of Germany.

History

Oktoberfest began on October 12, 1810 as a celebration of Prince Ludwig I’s marriage to Princess Therese. The festivities took place in the fields outside the city gates—later dubbed “Theresienwiese,” or “Theresa’s Fields.” These five days of boisterous revelry, capped off by a horse race, were such a success that King Ludwig repeated the celebrations the following year. To take advantage of the warmer evenings, over time the festival’s opening shifted to late September.

Getting There

Public transportation to the festival is about as convenient as it gets. If you’re staying outside of Munich, the train into the city will take you to the Hauptbahnhof—the central station. From there, the fairgrounds are just one stop away on the U-Bahn (lines U4 and U5) or a ten-minute walk. The train can get fairly cramped on weekends and during peak times, so prepare for a cozy ride.

When to Go

Much like the train, the festival is a mob on the weekends, particularly opening weekend. If you have your heart set on a Saturday or Sunday visit, get there early to make sure there’s space in a tent. If you’ll be in Munich for the duration of the festival (or longer than just a few days), Oktoberfest veterans suggest that you spread out your visits—a day here, a couple days there—so you can recharge your batteries between each session.

Weather & What to Wear

Good luck pinning down the weather in Munich around Oktoberfest. Some years it may be gorgeously sunny with highs in the 70s, while others might see dreary blankets of rain and temperatures in the 50s. The tents themselves tend to stay toasty no matter the weather, but it’s a good idea to bring along a jacket if the skies are looking the slightest bit hostile.

Keeping with the spirit of the festival, most partygoers arrive decked-out in dirndls and lederhosen. This is by no means a requirement, but dressing up may help you feel more a part of Team Oktoberfest. Keep in mind that there could be glass on the ground inside the tents, so avoid open-toed shoes and sandals.

Tent Hours

Tents are open between 10am to 10:30pm on weekdays and 9am to 10:30pm on weekends and holidays. While you won’t be booted precisely at the stroke of 10:30, you should finish up your last drink as quickly as possible and be out of the tent no later than 10:50.

Reservations

Each tent has its own system for booking reservations, and the processes for each start at different times of the year. Reservations are for groups of 8–10, and most of these go to locals who have held tables at the festival for several generations. This, combined with the complicated reservations schedule, makes the odds of you getting a reservation—especially in a big tent—fairly slim. If you do manage to snag a reservation, be sure to get there on time. Arriving even a few minutes late will mean losing your table to another group. If your reservation time expires and you’re still in the tent, you’ll have to find space at a table in the non-reserved section.

If you don’t have a reservation, fear not! Groups of two or three may be able to squeeze into a table on the weekend, but will have absolutely no problem finding space together on a less-crowded weekday. For larger groups, get there as early as you can—especially on a weekend—so you can grab an unreserved table. As long as you’re eating and drinking, the table is yours. Don’t leave your table unattended, as empty seats will be snatched up almost instantly.

Vouchers

When you reserve a table, you pay for a guaranteed minimum per person of two beers and one serving of grilled chicken. Tent owners sell beers and food at the time of the reservation so they can ensure that the reservation party will show up. The food and drink vouchers you receive when you make your reservation are valid for the duration of the festival. After Oktoberfest ends, you can use any unused vouchers for a limited time—often through the end of October—at the tent owner’s permanent establishment.

Cost and Tipping

There’s no charge to enter the fairgrounds or the tents. Liters of beer range from $10–$12, while sodas and liters of water cost around $8. The tents accept only cash or vouchers, with cash being the easier option. Don’t bring too much, though, as you might risk losing it or overspending.

The tip is often included in your vouchers, but you’re welcome to tip more for outstanding service. If the tip is not included or if you’re paying with cash, a service fee (around 10–15 percent of the beer or food price) will be added to your bill.

Food

By far the most popular Oktoberfest fare is the slow-roasted, butter-basted wiesn-hendl—grilled chicken. (Over half a million of these were consumed during last year’s festival.) Pretzels are also a staple, as are sausages, sweet roasted almonds, pork knuckle with gravy, and knödel (boiled dumplings). The truly adventurous diner can try ox, which is roasted, whole, on a giant spit.

Language

Most beer tents and food stands will offer menus in English, and many younger-generation Germans know enough English to give directions or carry on a conversation. Regardless, it’s good to have a few phrases in your back pocket as a sign of respect to the locals.

  • Please – Bitte
  • Thank you – Danke schön
  • Excuse me – Entschuldigung
  • Cheers! – Prost!

Safety

Both the city and the festival are very safe, but be aware of your surroundings and stay alert with your money. With so much beer, there are bound to be a few altercations. There’s a strong security presence inside the tents, and police patrol the entirety of the fairgrounds.

Etiquette

  • Always be polite and respectful, especially to the women. Rude and inappropriate comments may earn you a swift eviction from the tent.
  • Steins are available for purchase, but you could be arrested and fined if you’re caught stealing them. Last year, security confiscated 120,000 steins from purses and backpacks.
  • You may dance on the benches, but never on the tables.
  • Smoking is not permitted inside the tents. Each tent has an outdoor smoking area.
  • Children accompanied by parents are allowed on the fairgrounds and in the beer tents, but they must leave the tents by 8pm.
  • Wearing a silly Oktoberfest hat will peg you as a tourist, and locals will not appreciate the mocking tone.

Breweries

Six local breweries supply their beer to 14 main tents across the fairgrounds. All beer served must be brewed within the Munich city limits and conform to the Reinheitsgebot—German Beer Purity Law. All festival beer has an alcohol content of around 6%, so you won’t find any heavy lagers or double IPAs ‘round these parts.

Augustiner

Founded in 1328 by monks, the Augustiner is the oldest brewery in Munich. Its Oktoberfest and Edelstoff beers are the only brews in the festival poured from wooden barrels. Augustiner beer is available in the Augustiner-Festhalle and Fischer-Vroni tents.

Hacker Pschorr

An Oktoberfest staple, Hacker Pschorr was commissioned to craft one of the brews at the original festival in 1810. You can find it in the Hacker-Festzelt and Bräurosl tents—the latter of which has its own yodeler.

Hofbräu

The historic Hofbräuhaus, founded in 1589, is one of the Munich’s most famous tourist attractions. The Hofbräu-Festzelt tent is one of the largest in the festival and seats around 10,000.

Löwenbräu

Löwenbräu has been around since 1383 and its wiesenbier (“meadow beer”) has been a key component of Oktoberfest since the festival’s inaugural year. Find it in the Schützen-Festzelt and Löwenbräu-Festhalle tents. (You’ll know the latter by its giant roaring lion.)

Paulaner

Brewed since 1634 in the Paulaner Monastery, this is the youngest of all the Oktoberfest breweries. Paulaner enjoys a fruitful partnership with Hacker Pschorr and occupies the Hacker-Festzelt and Bräurosl tents.

Spatenbräu

Spatenbräu has the distinct honor of being the first keg tapped to open each year’s festival. At noon on opening day, the mayor of Munich taps the barrel in the Schottenhamel tent and declares, “O’zapft is!”—“It’s open!” The other tents selling Spatenbräu are Hippodrom, Ochsenbraterei, and Spatenbräu-Festhalle.

Other Activities

Though Oktoberfest is a beer drinker’s paradise, over the years organizers have taken steps to make the festival more family-friendly. The fairgrounds feature over 200 carnival rides, including the Krinoline—an old-fashioned merry-go-round—and the Reisenrad—a giant Ferris wheel. The festival kicks off with the Costume and Riflemen’s Parade on opening weekend, during which 7,000 performers, musicians, and animals march through the center of Munich. Weather permitting, there is also an open-air concert featuring around 400 musicians.

Photo courtesy Danyelle Leggett

While in Munich

Don’t forget to take some time away from the festival to enjoy the rest of Munich’s many attractions. Catch the regional Bavarian train to the Neuschwanstein Castle, commissioned by King Ludwig II—the son of the king whose wedding sparked the creation of Oktoberfest—as a tribute to composer Richard Wagner. If the trip is more energy than you’re willing to exert, rejuvenate yourself with a stroll—or a nap—in the English Garden, one of the largest urban parks in the world. Other Munich highlights include Olympic Stadium and Park, BMW World & BMW Headquarters, the Deutsches Museum, and the somber yet powerful Dachau Concentration Camp.

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Oktoberfests Outside of Germany

Oktoberfest Blumenau – Blumenau, Brazil

October 10–28, 2018

It’s time to brush up on your Portuguerman! Known as Little Germany for its iconic Bavarian architecture and the German heritage of its citizens, the town of Blumenau puts on an unlikely rip-roaring Oktoberfest that attracts around 700,000 visitors every year. The festival began in 1984 as a way to boost town morale in the wake of a devastating flood. Samba-infused traditional German dancing accompanies a menu of local German-themed brews, pretzels, sausage, and Brazilian sweet cakes. Unlike the festival in Munich, however, Blumenau’s celebratory spirit sticks around well into the night. There is a fee to attend, but it’s waived if you come dressed in authentic Bavarian garb.

Qingdao International Beer Festival – Qingdao, China

July 20–August 26, 2018

You may have missed this year’s festival, but you can get a head start on planning for next year! The Qingdao International Beer Festival, known colloquially as the Asian Oktoberfest, is the largest of its kind on the continent with nearly four million annual visitors. It began in 1991 in commemoration of Qingdao’s 100th birthday and originally featured 40 breweries from around the world. Today, over 200 breweries participate. The main festivities take place at Golden Sands Beach, but there are satellite venues in Laoshan, Pingdu, and the Licang World Expo Park.

Oktoberfest Brisbane – Brisbane, Australia

October 5–7 & 12–14, 2018

The Aussies know how to party, and Brisbane’s annual Oktoberfest shindig is certainly no exception. As one of the largest international contingents at Munich’s festival, the Australians have crafted a traditional German Oktoberfest with a Down Under twist. Traditional folk bands and yodelers fit right in alongside the popular Beardmeister Competition—a contest for the most outrageous facial hair. The Bavarian Strongman is also a crowd favorite, featuring events like beer keg rolling, a stein-holding endurance test, and a jelly doughnut-eating contest. Tents serve German and Australian wines in addition to the requisite seas of beer, which come in specially designed steins with coolers to keep your brew cold in the sweltering Brisbane sun.

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