Tips For Visiting Oktoberfest In Munich

As part of my four month trip, I’ve just finished up a long weekend in Munich, Germany, where I attended Oktoberfest, which is the largest beer festival in the world.

I’m not German (my German vocabulary is also limited to a few useful words), but love a good weißbier (wheat beer) and a pretzel, so this is simply a guide for those non-German tourists who may not be familiar with the city or the event, but are interested in attending.

It was a great event, but did require some planning, and there are a few things I wish I’d known before I went, so here are some tips for next year and beyond.

Oktoberfest, the basics

Oktoberfest is technically a ‘Volksfest’ which is a ‘German travelling beer and funfair festival.’ It runs around 16-18 days each late September into early October (which was a bit confusing to me as it has the word ‘October’ in the title!) in a single site at Theresienwiese, in central Munich, Germany. It is world famous for the sheer scale of the event — over the course of the festival almost eight million people attend, which for a city of 1.4 million people means Munich swells enormously.

I couldn’t find an exact figure on the capacity of the site at any one time (which makes sense as they don’t seem to count people in and out), but would estimate the site can easily hold more than 200,000 people at once.

So prepare yourself for the sheer scale of the event.

While there’s plenty of history and culture involved, a large number of attendees go to drink copious amounts of beer, eat German food, and sing along to both traditional German music, European/Eurovision style ‘Schlager’ pop music, and English songs performed by bands.

There are around twenty major ‘beer halls’ which are massive tents run by different German breweries. Some of these tents can hold up to 10,000 people at once, which should give you a sense of the scale of the event.

One of the 20 or so beer halls

It’s more fun if you dress up

Most people I saw attending this week dressed up in the traditional lederhosen (for males) and dirndls (for females). These can be either bought or hired from numerous locations around the city. These items are not cheap to buy or rent, and you can pay many hundred Euros for a very good quality outfit.

Even for a cheap outfit, you will be looking at EUR33 to rent per day, or at least EUR80 to purchase.

There were some people at Oktoberfest who did not dress up, but I’m glad we all did because it helped us get into the spirit. The lederhosen were actually surprisingly comfortable.

We got into the spirit!

It’s an expensive experience

There’s no other way to say it — Oktoberfest is expensive. Munich is already a fairly expensive European city, and don’t expect to save money on anything by attending during the busiest time of the year.

We found hotel prices to be higher than usual (for Munich), and everything about the festival is expensive. I appreciate entry to the festival (and each tent) was free, but beer is sold by the litre, and it’s around EUR11.50 per litre, compared with around EUR7 per litre at beer halls in the city (i.e. outside of the festival).

Hiring an outfit can be EUR35+ per 24 hour period. I saw some high end lederhosen for sale for EUR850.

Flights to Munich are often expensive, and even if you book six months in advance you may struggle to find affordable flights. Consider flying into nearby Salzburg (and then getting the train to Munich), as it may be much cheaper.

If you do want to attend, it’s best not to think about the cost of every single thing, and just enjoy the experience. Munich is a wealthy city and this is their biggest event of the year.

Try and attend on a weekday, not a weekend

The crowds are much bigger on weekends than weekdays as locals who don’t have to work join visiting tourists, particularly on the opening weekend, when people arrive at 6am and then have to wait at least four hours before they are even served a drink.

This has no appeal for me at all and I’m very glad we didn’t attend on a weekend.

Weekdays were certainly busy, but we managed to find tables for our group at many parts of the afternoon and other than restricting access to tents from about 7pm onwards, there were no real queues on the weekdays we went.

Even with so many people on the site at once, it feels organised and safe.

It’s best to have a game plan, but don’t plan everything

This is the tip I wish I’d known most before attending. Even on the quieter weekdays, all of the tables will be taken inside the main tents by around 11:30am, and entry will be restricted to the tents completely by around 6 – 7pm.

So, ideally if you are with a group you can either book a table in one of the tents (well in advance), or else try to get there before 11am to get a table inside the tent of your choice.

What messed us up a bit was that even though the weather forecast was for cold weather all week, we arrived to spectacularly sunny skies each morning.

Being a group of Australians and New Zealanders, we love the sun so wanted to sit outside (the beer halls also have large outdoor areas) and enjoy it. By the time the sun went behind the clouds all of the good tables inside were taken so we didn’t actually experience much of the classic Oktoberfest atmosphere of standing on chairs singing along.

The music started from around 1pm from memory but was very intermittent — there seemed to be more breaks from the band than actual music played. I’ve read there are strict rules on exactly what hours music can be played and at what decibels, and to be honest I was disappointed with the lack of entertainment in the beer halls.

If you don’t drink beer, you’ll be thirsty

It’s a beer drinking festival. They serve around seven million litres of beer each year at Oktoberfest.

Each beer house/tent serves a specific festival beer, by the litre. You can also buy water but other than that, it’s beer, beer and more beer. So, if you don’t drink beer you’ll be bored. And thirsty.

The servers will come to your table regularly, so if you want a beer you just hail them over and they will serve you. No need to get up. The same goes for food, which is traditional German fare.

I may have eaten three pretzels in one day.

I understand there is one (small) tent that serves wine and spirits, but people go there to drink loads and loads of beer so that’s the main focus of the day.

Germans love rules

It’s a well run festival and I didn’t see any violence or danger considering how much people were drinking, but this is in part due to the number of rules there are at each beer tent. Just some of the rules I observed:

  • You can stand on a chair but not a table
  • You can take a drink inside but not outside
  • You can’t sit at a new table with a half finished drink
  • You can’t sit at a table without ordering a drink
  • You can’t get a drink without sitting at a table

I’d recommend realising the rules may be frustrating, but the event has been running longer than I’ve been alive and runs extremely smoothly, so each rule is there for a reason.

It’s part of what makes the event so uniquely German.

There’s a mini Oktoberfest in May which is much more manageable

I also visited Munich in May this year, and stumbled across ‘Spring Festival,’ which is like a much smaller version of Oktoberfest. There were no queues, even on a weekend at 5pm we could easily get a table inside, and while it wasn’t as impressive due to the sheer scale of the event, it was really easy and enjoyable.

If you can’t visit Munich in September or October and still want to experience the atmosphere of the festival, consider attending Spring Festival.

To be completely honest if I had to attend either event again in future I would choose Spring Festival because it was so much more manageable and still very fun.

Bottom line

As I said, I’m not German, and may not appreciate the full history and cultural significance of the event.

I attended because it is a world famous tourist attraction (it’s extremely popular with Australians and there were plenty there), and really enjoyed getting into the spirit, though I certainly wouldn’t go every year mainly because it’s a very expensive exercise.

If you are German I’d love to hear what Oktoberfest means to you (good or bad!) below.

Munich remains a fantastic city to visit at any time of the year and is my second favourite place in Germany behind Berlin.

Have you ever experienced Oktoberfest?

Comments

  1. I am german, and I really appreciate that there is no constant entertainment/music goin on in the tents, it give you the opportunity to talk with friends (& strangers).

    One of my biggest pet peeves when attending “Oktoberfests” in the US is the constant music blarring or something else going on, making it impossible to communicate effectively with anyone around you.

  2. The spring festival is indeed as lovely as the oktoberfest!

    There are also, a bit smaller but more traditional, beerfests in other Bavarian cities that are worth visiting if you don’t care about the biggest thats this one in Munich.

  3. Stuttgart also has a beer festival which starts at the end of September. It’s also great fun and as it’s less well known than its Munich counterpart, there are fewer tourists. I also recall it being a bit cheaper too, but that could just be a rose tinted beer goggle memory…..

  4. My friend and I just returned from Munich and Oktoberfest yesterday. Everything you said is valid. If you’re put off by crowds, bright lights, and noise, don’t go. I’m not and we had a blast. As a twosome, we didn’t have trouble finding seats at any tent if we could get in, but getting in was usually a challenge, especially at night.

    If you’re looking for a slightly quieter experience than the big tents, there are numerous smaller tents, each with a specific food specialty. Best news here is that many of these smaller tents accept reservations via OpenTable for parties as small as two. You won’t have the same standing on benches drunk experience, but you might find you’ve had a more authenticly “Bavarian” one. For the record, my German isn’t good. I speak enough to order beer and food, and read a bit more, but I’m not really equipped to have a conversation. Most Germans speak enough English that you’re unlikely to have any issues.

    All told, I had a blast and am planning to head back. I’m even planning to buy proper lederhosen, which I expect to set me back €300. I saw a magnificent pair at Ludwig Beck that were €1100 but they felt as soft as a cloud made of Schlag.

  5. You recommended flying into Salzburg airport for cheaper fares, which is a great recommendation. However, Nuremberg airport (about the same distance away) usually has cheaper fares than Munich, even when Oktoberfest isn’t running. Worth checking out if you’re planning a visit to Bavaria.

  6. @Joel

    Nuremberg is actually a cheaper train ride as well, especially if you buy a Bayern Ticket, which covers all train (except high speed lines) and transport journeys in the state of Bavaria. If you don’t buy that ticket, Nürnberg is a faster journey at Salzburg too, given that there’s a proper ICE train that only stops in Ingolstadt.

  7. It’s really worth visiting the “Oide Wiesn” which is on the south end, Bavarian for “Alte Wiese”. There is a 3€ admission fee, but you it is much less crowded, no German Pop music, and few foreigners.
    The beer is served in ceramic rather than glass, which keeps it colder. There is only traditional music along with dancing, alp horns and whip cracking. Too bad you missed it!

  8. You forgot the most important thing. All tents serve special brewed Oktoberfest beer which has between 6-6.5%. Most people aren t aware of that and thats why they get drunk so easily:) Lived 3 years in Munich, but nowadays the hype is just too big.

  9. I am German and I woulf not go to Oktoberfest, I really prefer Cannstater Vasen at Stuttgart. Maybe this is due to Stuttgart being my home town, but it is cheaper, less crowded and as a result mich more fun!

  10. I think as @max points out we want to see and hear and read about less well known festivals. Not stuff we already know or can read about somewhere else. Oktoberfest is too mainstream. This blog is too mainstream. Please round it off with tips for family travel and quick cooking recipes as well.

  11. I’ve been to Munich Oktoberfest twice and just went to Stuttgart’s Cannstatter Volksfest a couple of days ago. I’m an American living in Germany for the past few years. I much prefer Stuttgart’s fest! Still big, but more Germans and lower key. The tents have more food options and even wine for people who don’t enjoy beer. Stuttgart also has the world’s biggest spring fair (Frühlingsfest) – we will definitely head there in the spring.

  12. A couple tips I don’t think we’re mentioned:

    – you can order a radler in between beers to pace yourself for a long stay in the tent without getting too drunk

    – the festival is actually quite family friendly during the day (including the tents); we brought our then-3yo and infant and had a blast

  13. as a native German and 5+ times attendee of Oktoberfest my feelings are mixed: to me it seems it has developed to an event for business-incentives and tourists. If I’m not invited by a business-Partner, I wouldn’t go there (on my own expenses).

  14. @James Thanks for this great post, I’ve been following your articles on here for a while and it would’ve been great to say hi as I was attending Oktoberfest too. I am German, not from Bavaria though, moved to Munich a year ago from London, so all this is new to me as well.

    I agree to what you write here and perhaps I can add a few things:
    1) There is indeed a “correct” attire that leaves little room for interpretation. Expect your outfit to be expensive because all parts are special versions of clothing that are made to perfectly fit together. So, for example you would not wear Lederhosen with a white shirt from H&M and Converse (as I did last year and was told off by local friends). It all needs to be “original”. My outfit cost over €1000 and it wasn’t even anything extravagant.
    2) Most companies in Munich hold team events and/or invite clients to Oktoberfest, so a great portion of the locals actually behave …or try to.
    3) Reservations for tables (and with that guaranteed entry into your desired tent) usually open up in March or so and you will need to buy food and drinks vouchers for 10 people in advance to secure a table.
    4) There is another rule: do not drink the whole litre of beer in one go, as you may get kicked out of the tent.
    5) If you do drink too much, but don’t want to embarrass yourself, try to head to “Puke Hill” which is somewhere behind the tents (just follow the smell) and you will find relief. The police will politely wake you up at around 11pm if you happen to fall asleep there.
    6) There are two “Gay Days” at Oktoberfest: first Sunday at Bräurosl tent and last Monday at Fischer Vroni tent, which are great fun regardless of orientation.

    Hope this helps to plan your next Oktoberfest!

  15. I lived in Germany for three years and went to Oktoberfest once. Its just obnoxius people getting violently drunk. The enjoyment of that environment left my brain when I left college.

  16. James and his boyfriend look really hawt in their costumes. I’ll bet Lucky wishes he was there with them.

    Hi Tiffany – what’s up?

  17. Almost every town in Germany has these annual fun fairs, usually in autumn. In Bavaria, these contain one or several beer halls, while in wine growing regions it’s about the wine. No one needs to go to overcrowded and overpriced Oktoberfest. Once you are inside a tent in one of the regional beer fests, it’s all the same.

  18. If you plan on going, make your hotel reservations way in advance, as the town totally fills up. Try to reserve a month in advance and you are going to end up staying somewhere an hours train ride away.

    Despite the crowds there are two wonderful parades on the opening weekend mornings. Especially the Sunday “folk parade” when whole families from each local area dress up in their distinct local traditional clothing. If you are thinking ‘parades are lame’; you may be pleasantly surprised. You can find videos of these parades on You Tube.

    Only downside for us was that getting into a major tent after the Saturday parade was impossible. Large groups and businesses had reserved all of the tables. Think Opening Day at a Major League ball park. Mid day Sunday was no problem though. You might wait a few minutes, but someone will find you a seat, at least if it’s just two of you.

    Be aware that beyond the beer tents, there is the largest state fair type event you have ever seen. Every type of roller coaster, fun house, and carny game is there. My wife expected some sort of real German atmosphere and was put off that outside the tents it seems more US State Fair than Bavarian event.

    Lederhosen and dirndls may help get you in the mood, but less than half of the people there will be wearing them, so don’t think you have to buy or rent them. No one will think less of you if you don’t dress up.

  19. I love Bavaria, but only an idiot would go to Munich for their first time during Oktoberfest. It feels like a North American carnival…with better beer on hand :/ Everything is overpriced and over crowded.

  20. I am german and wouldnt dream of going to oktoberfest. I actually think none of my closer circle of friends relatives ever went there.
    Very few germans actually do.
    This would be a typically bavarian thing, not a german thing in the first place, and even then it is probably mainly a tourist thing by now.

  21. I live since 10 Years near MUC and its an incredible place to live!

    For flying in: you can try NUE (Nuremberg), STR (Stuttgart), FRA or even Prague – all within ca 1,5 – 3,5 h Radius.

    Stying overnight can be insanely expensive – the very nice cities Ingolstadt (Audi-Town), Augsburg or Regensburg are 35-50 mins away by train – and they run almost 30 minutes.

    If you don’t care about money: stay at the amazing Mandarin Oriental.

    And most of all: go there once in your lifetime – no matter if you like beer or not.

  22. I went to Oktoberfest a few years ago on the gay day at Fischer-Vroni tent and my friends and I had a BLAST!!!! They had a live band and singers singing typical pop music popular in LGBT crowd. People definitely get drunk though and at times had to go to the hospital (most of the time by falling down and having broken glass cut through a leg or arm.) Also be careful with standing on the chairs (technically it’s a long bench chair)… if you’re at one edge of the bench chair and 4-5 guys on the other end all at the same get off from the other side of the bench chair, you will fall. I saw it once and the guy who fell was gladly ok (though embarrassed).
    Also there were amusement park type rides. By late evening, you’ll definitely see at least a few people walking drunk or smell puke in the air. Not a pretty sight.
    At that tent they literally sold fish on a stick which was tasty. I’d go again.
    James, I hope you guys went to one of the 2 gay tents there at Oktoberfest!

  23. Just returned today. We reserved a tent well ahead of time and always went on the weekday. All of your advice is spot on!

  24. My wife and I currently live in Munich. Another helpful tip, if you have a reservation, do not leave the tent during the last hour or you will not be let back in. My wife left the tent 45 min before the end of our table reservation to use a less crowded restroom outside and they would not let her back in. Also on weekends, getting there early is best. I went yesterday (06/10) to meet a friend who had a table reservation (I didn’t) and by 1400, they were shutting the doors to all the tents and not allowing anyone in, reservation or not. Even though my friend saw me and pointed me out standing outside the tent, I was not allowed in.

  25. I prefer the beer fests in Hamburg and in Bremen. Not to mention Hamburg and Bremen are much more beautiful than Munich.

  26. I prefer the beer fests in Hamburg and in Bremen. Not to mention both cities are more beautiful than Munich.

  27. We attended the last 4 days of this years Oktoberfest. It was a lot of fun but we went during the day. The wine tent is actually considered a “large” tent and seats 2500 inside. It was very nice a great change from all the beer and had less drunks. The Olde Weisn (Old Oktoberfest) grounds and tents are more traditional and was our favorite. We might have been the only tourist in the tent as many people asked how we even knew about. The traditional dancing was awesome.

  28. Hi James,
    as I’m from Munich, Oktoberfest is rather stressful to me. All the local trains are extremely crowded with a lot of drunk tourists and also locals which makes my way home from work always a nightmare.
    I’d rather go to a beer garden, pay 7€ for 1 litre of beer than going to Oktoberfest and pay an insane amount of money.
    And I understand that people want to wear lederhosen to get into the spirit, but for us Germans it looks like a costume on carnival when we see all the tourists with cheap looking lederhosen made out of cotton or even plastic. A proper lederhosen has to be made out of leather and often has a very used look because it has been weared for many years.
    Don’t go to the Hofbräu tent, there’ll be a lot of Australians which throw up at noon onto your lunch.
    So I think Oktoberfest is more for the tourists than the locals.

  29. @ Max
    James is Australian so he and his friends were probably throwing up at noon! hehehe

    You sound like one of those snobbish Münchner.

    I’m from Munich too and i love the Oktoberfest. Missed it only once in my adulthood as i was doing my final exams at Uni.

    @James
    A good article summing up what a visitor needs to know. The Spring festival doesn’t do it for me really but i enjoy it nonetheless. No matter how early you book flights you’ll still pay a premium. The 2wks around the Oktoberfest are the busiest for MUC.

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