Our time in Germany during “Volksfest” Oktoberfest season was one of the most magical: everyone is wearing traditional clothes, walking through beautifully decorated fairgrounds, eating delicious Bavarian food, dancing to lively music, accompanied by great friends, and of course, drinking lots of incredible beer. We highly recommend going to the event and compiled this guide for those thinking of experiencing it for themselves.
What is it?
Oktoberfest is a massive beer festival that takes place in Munich, Germany for 3 weekends (including the 2 weeks in-between) from mid/late September and attended by more than 6 million people from all around the world (we even met many Aussies and Kiwis). It is attended by people of all ages from children to grandparents.
The tradition dates back to October 12, 1810 when King Ludwig I married Princess Therese and held festivities on the fields named “Theresienwiese” (Theresa’s meadow). The locals now simply call it the “Wiesn”!
When should we go?
As it is a world-renowned event, it is busy on weekdays and overcrowded on weekends. The first Saturday is the opening ceremony, when the Mayor of Munich taps the first keg at noon and declares “O’zapft is!” (It is tapped!). The second weekend is known to be “Italian weekend” with tens of thousands of Italian tourists; the locals say they can’t handle strong German beer resulting in a sloppy drunk scene, but we will let you judge for yourself. 🙂
If you don’t like big crowds, almost every city in Bavaria has its own Volksfest around the time of Oktoberfest: Rosenheim’s Herbstfest is very popular or you can go in April/May to Germany’s largest spring beer festival Frühlingsfest in Stuttgart. But of course, the Oktoberfest is an experience of a lifetime!
What’s the deal with the tables? Do we need reservations?
You can only be served beer if you are at a table! Reservations for tables are usually made half a year in advance, but each tent keeps about 1/3 of the tables available on a first-come first-serve basis (generally tables in the middle near the band).
On weekdays, you can usually find a table free until about midday. On weekends, be prepared to line-up an hour before tents open at 9am or you’ll have to make friends with someone to join their table.
Once tents reach capacity (around 10,000 people), the doors are closed and you’ll have to wait in long lines just to get in! And the bouncers don’t care if you have friends inside.
How do we get to the fairgrounds? Is it only beer tents?
The Wiesn is located in the Southwest part of Munich, accessible by U-Bahn stops at Theresienwiesn, Schwanthalerhöhe and Goetheplatz. It is just a 15min walk South from the main Munich train station. The North entrance is the “main” entrance at Oktoberfest with the “Wilkommen zum Oktoberfest” sign, but you can enter the fairgrounds from anywhere.
In-between the tents are shops selling food and souvenirs. On the South side of the Wiesn, you will find a large entertainment park with various carnival rides. In the evening it provides for fun people watching as drunk visitors try the rides and topple over each other.
So what are the best tents?
The tents are where the real festival is. They are constructed every year just for Oktoberfest at a cost of about EUR 2 million each and taken down at the end of the festival. Each tent is sponsored by one of the 6 beer breweries in Munich: Augustiner, Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu. The beer is served in “Maß” (liter glass jug) and specially made for Oktoberfest to be quite strong at 6-7% alcohol!
While all tents serve beer and food, the atmosphere can vary quite a bit. There is a more classy, orderly, middle aged crowd at Marstall, Fischer-Vroni, Armbrustschützen and Ochsenbraterei.
Here are the most popular fun tents for 20-30 year olds:
- About: A must-see, arguably the most famous and craziest tent named after the original Hofbräuhaus beer hall in Munich. While Oktoberfest overall has about 15% international visitors, Hofbräu attracts about 30% so you will meet many Americans, Aussies, Kiwis, British etc.
- Fun fact: Watch out for the statue of Aloisius decorated by colorful cloths hanging from the ceiling — those innocent souls who walk under it may be tackled by a dozen half-naked Aussies/Kiwis, their underwear ripped out and added to the hanging collection above! 🙂
- Standing room: This tent has standing room for 1000 people in the middle, resulting in a very lively dancing atmosphere!
- Capacity: 9,992 (5970 inside plus 1000 standing room and 3022 outside)
- Reservations: http://www.hb-festzelt.de
- About: Our favorite tent full of young Munich locals and a fantastic atmosphere. We’ve had the best music here and met the friendliest people. Named after German infantrymen, Schützen has a beautiful hunter-themed decoration and colorful striped ceiling. The tent is medium sized, serves Löwenbräu beer and is located off to the side near the tall Lady Bavaria statue.
- Fun fact: Inside the tent is Wildever Bar that serves many other types of booze including schnapps, vodka, wine, champagne. But why would you drink anything other than the delicious beer?
- Capacity: 5,440 (5,000 inside plus 440 outside)
- Reservations: http://www.schuetzen-festzelt.de
- About: The oldest tent at Oktoberfest dating back to 1867 when 50 farmers squeezed into a barn, now it hosts 10,000. To this day, Schottenhamel still opens the Oktoberfest when the Munich Mayor taps the first keg here and declares “O’zapft is!” This tent has the youngest audience with many high schoolers, resulting in a very lively energetic crowd.
- Fun fact: The band here loves to play with the audience, passing beers back and forth and encouraging various fun games.
- Capacity: 7,430 (5,830 inside plus 1,600 outside)
- Reservations: http://www.festzelt.schottenhamel.de/en/
- About: Arguably the most traditional tent, Augustiner serves beer originally founded by Augustinian monks in 1328. It is one of the two tents that still makes their beer in the classical wooden kegs brought to the Wiesn by a horse carriage parade. The tent has a great atmosphere with a broader range of ages and fills up very quickly, often one of the first to close their doors even midday on weekdays.
- Capacity: 8,500 (6,000 inside plus 2,500 outside)
- Reservations: http://www.festhalle-augustiner.com
Other tents to note:
- Hacker-Festzelt: Known for its beautifully decorated ceiling showing the “Heaven of Bavaria,” which starts the lively atmosphere. The tent is known for its great music and a young fun crowd.
- Löwenbräu: Seen from miles away thanks to a 37 meter tall tower with a lion outside the tent. It tends to attract the drunk tourists and popular with the Italians.
- Pschorr-Bräurosl: Throughout the day, they will have traditional whip masters called Goaslschnalzer snap their sheep whips to the beat of the music.
- Paulaner-Fähndl: One of the two largest tents, but with low decoration.
- Käfer Wies’n-Schänke: Known as the “restaurant tent” for celebrities, it has a beautiful decoration, fabulous food and older orderly crowd.
- Oide Wiesn: Located all the way South, this is the traditional tent. You have to pay a small entrance fee of a couple Euro, but as a result it is much less crowded. By far the most orderly crowd with many families, very decorated traditional costumes, good old fashioned music and classical performances. Beer is served in ceramic mugs, but a word of caution as it is much stronger than at the other tents!
- Weinzelt: Wine tent for those of you looking to take a break from the beer. Why would you?
What about the music?
During the day, all the tents have live bands that play more traditional music, but at night it ramps up to party music (“Highway to Hell”, “We Will Rock You”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, “La Rumba”, “Que Sara Sara”, some Michael Jackson and some other contemporary hits that vary from year to year. For German songs, some favorites are: “Atemlos”, “Ein Kompliment”, “Fliegerlied”, “Er gehört zu mir”, “Westerland”, “Über den Volken”, “Brenna tuats guat”) during which time everyone stands on the benches and sings along and dances!
And a song you MUST learn is “Ein Prosit” which the band will play every 15 mins or so to get people to clink their “Maß”, toast and drink:
“Ein Prosit, ein Prosit, der Gemütlichkeit
Ein Prosit, ein Pro-o-sit, der Gemütlichkeit
OANS! ZWOA! DREI! G’SUFFA!”
Food and drink:
The main breweries of Munich (Augustiner, Paulaner, Spaten, Löwenbräu, Hofbräu and Hacker-Pschorr) sponsor the beer tents and only serve their brand of beer in each tent. The beer is served in “Maß” (liter glass jug) and specially made for Oktoberfest to be quite strong at 6-7% alcohol! If you want to pace yourself more, order “Radler” which is half beer and half lemon soda.
For food, there are many Bavarian dishes: delicious “Hendl” (half a roast chicken), “Schweinebraten” (roast pork), most entrees are served with “Knödel” (potato dumplings), an appetizer “Obatzda” (a mixed cheese spread served with bread, pretzel sticks and radishes), and German potato salad! Outside the tents are lots of vendors selling fish and steak sandwiches, “Leberkäsesemmel” (liver cheese with a wonderful sweet mustard), and for treats there’s “Magenbrot” (like gingerbread) and “Gebrannte Mandeln” (roasted sugar-coated almonds).
What do we wear?
The traditional clothing is not just a stereotype about Oktoberfest: it’s everywhere! As a brief overview, German traditional clothing in general is referred to as “Tracht” and the men wear “Lederhosen” (literally “leather pants” with plaid button-downs, high socks and sturdy shoes (they look like decorative, suede hiking shoes) and the women wear “Dirndls” which are dresses with a blouse underneath and an apron (and although not usually v-necked, the neckline is low enough that it shows a bit of cleavage), but now women can also find female versions of Lederhosen (Ladyhosen). These “Tracht” items are traditional only to Southern Germany, and are frowned upon when worn in the North.
For dirndls, the aprons have bows that you need to tie, and where you tie the bow indicates your relationship status: to the left is single, to the right is serious relationship, in the front means you’re a virgin (typically only done by young girls), and in the back means you’re a widow. Women also wear necklaces in the form of chains or ribbons with an Edelweiss pendant. Shoes are normally pumps, but flats may be a better idea because you will be standing a lot. Dirndls are just one of those pieces of clothing that you get what you pay for: cheap ones start at EUR 70-90 at little shops on the way to Oktoberfest or at the train station, but they’re made with cheap fabric and wrinkle very easily. A nice dirndl will cost EUR 150-200, and the prices go up from there. Dirndls come in multiple lengths: short (mid-thigh), mid-length (to the knee) and long (ankle-length). They also come in all colors, more traditional ones would be some pairing of either black, brown, green, and red.
For the Lederhosen, you can find cheap ones in the train station that are suede but if you go to a “Tracht” store, goat leather is most common around EUR 200, deer leather (Hirsch) is the highest quality and passed down by Munich natives through generations as it can cost from EUR 300 to thousands. Men in their 20s-30s tend to wear short Lederhosen and older men wear longer ones (just below knee length). For the plaid shirts, green, blue and red are popular colors (red being most popular). You can also add jackets and hats if desired.
A final few tips on dos and don’ts:
- Do: bring a lot of cash as you cannot pay by credit cards in tents
- Do: tip your waiter about 1 EUR per “Maß”
- Do: learn the lyrics to German songs
- Do: make friends with the people from all around the world around you
- Do: pace yourself with the beer so you survive until the tents close at 11pm (most fun in the evening after all), slow down by drinking “Radler” half beer half lemonade if needed
- Do: eat a lot of food including pretzels and hendl chicken
- Do: tie your bow on “Dirndls” according to the relationship status (see above section on clothing)
- Don’t: stand up with one leg on the table unless you want to chug a whole beer — if you fail, you will be booed by the crowd, bombarded by pretzels and potentially even thrown out by bouncers
- Don’t: pee in the bushes behind the tents (yes, we have seen even many girls attempt this feat), there are many restrooms throughout the fairgrounds
- Don’t: be obnoxious and aggressive, you will be kicked out by bouncers and unable to re-enter
- Don’t: mess with the police and bouncers
Munich natives look forward to Oktoberfest every year (and even call it “the Fifth Season”) and it’s easy to see why: Oktoberfest is an incredible amount of fun and an experience everyone should try to have at least once in their life. We hope you’ll have an incredible experience! As a final note, this guide to Oktoberfest was co-authorited with a good friend who is fascinated by German culture and traditions, but wanted to remain anonymous on this blog — a big thank you for their contributions!