Sure, you can rock up to any German city, don your lederhosen and sing a drunken lullaby or two, but with a little planning, you can experience your finest fest yet.
Held in Munich, Oktoberfest is one of the world's largest festivals and a huge crowd-puller, attracting millions of people from all around the globe every year to eat, drink and dance. Running from late September until the first Sunday of October, you've already missed it this year! But what did you miss out on? Our ultimate guide to Oktoberfest will keep you on your feet (no matter how unsteady), making sure you know the when, what, and where-side of planning, and how to survive the sloshing and singing, so that you can focus on having a killer time (without the killer hangover).
What is Oktoberfest
A two-week beer festival that will make your eyes water, Oktoberfest is everyone’s favorite fall celebration. Taking place across large swathes of Germany but most notably in the city of Munich between Saturday 25th September and October 5th, the festivities include colorful parades, tents filled with benches and barrels for beer guzzling, the sizzle of sausages and everyone bedecked in traditional Bavarian dresses (Dirndl’s for the ladies and lederhosen for the lads).
A Little History
The first Oktoberfest kicked off in 1810 and was held to celebrate the nuptials between Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghause. For close to a week the made men and women of Munich feasted, guzzled, danced and participated in all kinds of parades on a meadow outside of town. The party was so epic they decided to have it every single year. As the reputation for a raucous good time grew, the party started to entice travelers from near and far, and now sees no less than 7,200,000 visitors heading down to celebrate, a staggering 85 percent of these numbers are made up of Germans meaning that Oktoberfest is far from tourist bait.
What to Expect at Oktoberfest
Fair warning – Germans know how to drink and Oktoberfest is a bit of a wild ride. In a nutshell, gigantic tents are packed with thousands of people, many dressed up in traditional garb. People spend all day drinking from their comically large steins, stopping to snarf a sausage or chicken or salty pretzel, stamping their feet, singing and occasionally breaking away to hit up the fair rides. Yep, there’s a fully-fledged carnival waiting outside the door, along with parades, and laughter.
How Much Does it Cost?
Oktoberfest tents are completely free to enter, although of course, you will need to stock up on beer inside. But German beer prices are relatively reasonable with a liter of the amber nectar costing roughly around 10-12 euros and a stomach lining meal costing around 15 euros. Of course, you need to factor in accommodation which may skyrocket the closer you get to the date. Another option is to go all-in on the Oktoberfest experience and get someone to do the legwork for you meaning all you need to do is turn up and shout Prost.
Which Tent to Choose
There are no fewer than fourteen main tents that make up the Oktoberfest mainstay experience. You can tent hop or stick to one. Marstall is one of the more modern tents and holds 3000 people so you can be sure of an amazing, intimate experience here, and it's also a great choice for veggies as the food-stalls aren’t all carnivore centric. Armbrustschützen-Festhalle is where you will catch the crossbow competition and has a more old-world authentic feel. Schottenhamel is where the big Bavarian party will be happening as this mammoth tent holds ten thousand and is super popular with locals thanks to it being one of the oldest tents here. Wies’n-Schanke is the tent where many choose to end their night thanks to its later hours and celebrity clientele, and Winzerer-Fahndl is the biggest tent on the block with a capacity of eleven thousand and a deafening singalong.
Do You Need Reservations?
If you want a prime seating position in the middle of some of the grander tents then it’s definitely worth making a reservation. The best tents fill up fast as many people make their reservations months or weeks in advance. If you are aiming for an Oktoberfest winging it experience then fear not as you will still be able to squeeze in, you may just have to make do with the periphery of the tent, stick to the beer gardens or stand with your stein in hand.
How Long to Go For?
Many tourists tend to book 5-7 days at Oktoberfest. Unless you have stamina of steel this may be a few days too long. Many locals will only head out to Oktoberfest for the day or so, as people tend to enter the tents for the party before lunch until chucking out time. Those traveling from afar will want more than a couple of days – plan for at least 24 -48 hours to soak up the booze-soaked fun and then follow with a couple of days exploring the mesmerizing museums and galleries of Munich. It’s a great city with a stunning skyline and is ram-packed with boutiques, bars, restaurants, botanical gardens, and even the chance to go river surfing if you are feeling particularly brave.
How to Survive
Hydrate - drinking beer for breakfast right through until supper is sure to leave your brain a little parched. If you want to avoid the mother of all hangovers then make sure you stay hydrated with something other than grain.
Pace – this isn’t an all you can eat buffet for beer, if you really want to have a good time, then be sure to pace yourself and eat often. The worst thing you can do is smash out a bunch of beers on an empty stomach. Odds are you will be in bed by noon.
See it all – while the tents are ace be sure to get outside and soak up the carnival spirit. While the fairground rides may not be such a smart idea if you have been guzzling beer and sausage, the eclectic energy and market stalls are well worth seeing.
Oktoberfest is definitely an event for your bucket list, think of it as the ultimate bar crawl and don’t worry about packing your lederhosen as you can even rent them for the day.