Munich Oktoberfest has been celebrated since 1810 and presently attracts more than 6 million visitors each year. It begins in late September and ends on the first Sunday of October.
When we first decided to go to Munich for Oktoberfest, we knew that we would need a good plan to get the most from our visit. We researched what we could on our own before our trip, which was a good start. Once we arrived we got more great advice from knowledgeable locals. Munich Oktoberfest, no matter how much you plan, is something you must experience to really understand. Through our own experiences we have fallen in love with one of the world's greatest celebrations. Now we want to help you navigate Oktoberfest like a pro, too. Here are our insider tips to make sure your Munich Oktoberfest is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.
Organize Your Plans Far In Advance
Germans all over the country are so wild about Oktoberfest (which they actually call Wiesn) that they plan for it early, and so should you. Reserve accommodations several months in advance. We made our plans in February and that was not too soon. Remember, Germans come from outside of Munich as do travelers from all over the world.
You’ll want to enjoy city highlights too, so lock in your plans before Oktoberfest fever hits and prices skyrocket while choices dwindle. Reasonably priced accommodations go fast, so know what you're looking for, be flexible, and don't hesitate to book!
Also be aware that the fest crowds and vibe vary each weekend, so plan to go for the mood that you want. The first weekend, with colorful parades and the tapping of the first Oktoberfest keg, conveys anticipation and excitement as the festivities begin. The second weekend, known as “Italian weekend,” brings many out-of-towners, including Italians, so there may be a more global crowd with fewer locals. The last weekend bursts with the energy of a last hurrah, so expect some hearty partying. We went for the first weekend and following weekdays and it was just perfect for us. Tons of locals with lots of happy energy.
Plan Your Transportation
Driving and parking in Munich during Oktoberfest is difficult and expensive, so plan to take public transportation. Try to stay within walking distance of transit that goes to the Theresienwiese fairgrounds where Oktoberfest is held. We stayed at the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost literally steps away from the main train station, which was very convenient.
Local transit uses the honor system -- you pay for your ticket but no one regularly checks it onboard. However, they do random checks and if you get caught without a ticket, there’s a huge fine. It’s not worth taking a chance. There are other benefits in taking public transportation to and from the fairgrounds as well. You can drink to your heart’s content because you won’t be driving. And you’ll be among excited and happy Germans who have been anticipating the fest all year. Enjoy the dirndls, lederhosen, checked shirts, and rowdy singing you encounter on your ride. It all adds to the fun.
Research The Tents
There’s no charge to enter the Theresienwiese fairgrounds or tents. There are currently 16 big tents and 22 smaller tents, each of which is unique. Every tent has a different design, a different crowd and feel, and serves different beer and food items. Each holds a varying number of revelers. The largest tents accommodate from 5,000 to over 10,000 people. The Festzelt Tradition is on the smaller side, but will be full of rustic charm and traditional music. The Hofbrau tent is one of the largest and rowdiest with lots of international visitors. We loved Kafer’s tavern, which is more like a cozy cabin and is a favorite among locals. We also enjoyed Kufflers wine tent, which is mellower in the day but rocking at night and offers a break from beer while remaining open much later than most other tents. For a real meaty dining experience, the Oxen tent serves great prime rib and grilled ox and is popular with locals.
Different bands and musical selections convey the spirit of each tent. Selections range from traditional oompah music to modern rock, but you’ll have the most fun if you just join in. For example, the Schutzen tent is known for its lively music, roast suckling pig, and international celebrity visitors. When we were in the Schutzen, some folks literally danced over and begged us to dance with them while the live band played. We ignored the fact that we didn't know any traditional dances and just started bouncing with them. We all laughed so hard and had a great time.
Tent decor varies too. Crowd favorites include the Hacker-Pshorr tent with its magical sky-painted "Heavens of Bavaria" ceiling and the Lowenbrau tent that has a roaring guardian lion outside. We loved the varied styles of tents and colorful streamers. Don’t be afraid to spend time at different tents during your visit. Learn more about each of the main Oktoberfest tents here.
Reserve Table Seats In Advance
While you can table hop and find a seat pretty easily early on a weekday, during weekends and after 4 p.m. you will need to reserve your seats in advance. Once the tables are full you won’t be served beer or food, so show up early. Even if you don’t have reservations in a given tent, you can wander through it during the daytime as you explore the rest of the fest.
We preferred to eat a big late lunch at one tent then visit other tents in the evening, joining in wherever we were welcome, which was most everywhere. Part of the fun is hanging with the crowd and making friends. If you want to have a seated dinner, decide early which tents appeal to you and make advanced reservations. Some tents start taking reservations for the next Octoberfest as soon as the current one ends while others start in April. Check here for detailed information about booking reservations at the main Oktoberfest tents.
Be sure to download the official Oktoberfest App, too.
Bring Cash In Euros
While we all love to collect credit card miles and points, Oktoberfest is a lot simpler when you pay with cash. A liter stein (called a Mass) of beer will cost around 11 to 13 euros and dinner ranges from 15 to 20 euros. Lunch deals are offered for 10 euros or less. Keep coins on hand for tips. Take care of your server with a 10 to 15 percent tip and they’ll be your new best friend. Don’t forget a small tip for bathroom attendants, too.
Many shops and fairground vendors will have trouble with credit cards if they accept them at all. And you won’t want to line up at a fest ATM unless you must. It’s best to take about 80 euros in cash per person per day. Withdraw cash from a bank ATM in town to get the best rates.
Dress Up And Have Fun
Don’t expect deep intellectual conversations at Oktoberfest. Go prepared to have a good time, with or without drinking. Imagine the party of the year, where you can see all your friends and dance on the benches while singing favorite songs, and you’ll understand why everyone anticipates Munich Oktoberfest with such delight. If you can really let go, get some traditional Oktoberfest garb -- a dirndl or lederhosen with all the trimmings. Unlike those costume parties where people don’t dress up because they want to look cool and suave, dressing up in traditional Bavarian costume (Tracht is the German word for it) at Wiesn is cool and suave and just about everyone does it.
Many online shops and guides explain how to wear authentic items. Purchase something local, like a shirt or belt to add to your outfit, when you’re in Munich and take it home as a souvenir.
Be sure you dress up with respect for the culture. While you may think Oktoberfest is a tourist trap, around 70 percent of festgoers are actually from Bavaria and 15 percent are from other parts of Germany. Don’t be tacky with shabby, sparkly, sleazy, or goofy costumes that mock Bavarian style. That is neither cool nor suave.
Eat Something (Or Everything)!
One of the best parts of Oktoberfest is the food. Traditional meals in the beer tents include tasty Weisn Hendl (rotisserie roasted chicken) and Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle). We ordered the chicken and it was out of this world. Steckerlfisch (grilled fish-on-a-stick) is a specialty you can find at the Fischer-Vroni. Salads, pastas, veggies, and other meat-free dishes are available as are strudel and scrumptious desserts. Around the fairgrounds, you’ll find plenty of treats too. Mandeln are sugary roasted almonds that smell and taste delicious. You’ll see many kinds of grilled sausages, Weisswurst and Currywurst (two specialty sausages), big soft Bavarian pretzels, Kaesespaetzle (cheesy noodles), and Magenbrot (irresistibly chewy gingerbread chunks). You’ll find chocolate-covered fruits, candy, cookies, and more. Try whatever looks good to you. You can get one of the heart-shaped gingerbread cookies (Lebkuchenherzen) with an icing statement on it for fun. Hang it around your neck or that of your companion and take it home as a souvenir.
Learn Some German Words And Sing With The Crowd
Munich Oktoberfest is not a spectator sport. You’ll want to get involved to have the most fun. Plenty of folks you’ll meet at Oktoberfest speak English, but you’ll want to learn a few phrases in the Bavarian German dialect to share with your new friends. Prost! (Cheers!), Danke (thank you), and Noch ein bier, bitte! (Another beer, please!) will get you started.
Music is important to Oktoberfest, whether piped into the fairgrounds or played by live bands in the tents. Folks of all ages hit the dance floors and dance on the benches while everybody sings. Tunes range from the ubiquitous beer chant “Ein Prosit!” to a children’s song “So Ein Schoener Tag” with accompanying moves. You can search for German Oktoberfest songs on YouTube and the internet, and there are English Wiesn favorites you will already know, like John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” Take time to learn some of the German tunes (including the Fliegerlied moves) and you’ll have more fun than you want anyone to know about back home. You don’t need to be a good singer. Just join in and enjoy!
Explore Beyond The Beer Tents
While Octoberfest’s main attraction is the beer tents, it’s the world’s largest folk festival and there’s much more to explore. There are rides, bumper cars, and roller coasters for folks with strong stomachs, and carnival games for those who’d rather stay on the ground. Some of the main games and rides require tickets. If you want to ride a gut-busting roller-coaster like the Olympic Loops or crazy Jumanji labyrinth at peak times on the weekends and evenings, you can avoid lines by ordering them in advance here.
You’ll find shops for souvenirs and tasty treats. Opening weekend features parades, marching bands, carriages, and costumes. Some tents offer traditional music and dance performances. The second weekend has a big band open-air concert with hundreds of Oktoberfest musicians. Wiesn’s last day includes 60 male and female shooters firing a smoky goodbye near the Bavaria statue.
Enjoy closing festivities at tents -- including the Hacker-Pschorr tent -- that feature a moving farewell with the crowd waving sparklers and singing “Sierra Madre” at the party’s end.
Finally, Don’t Forget To Explore Munich Beyond The Fairgrounds
Munich is filled with cultural treasures. It has one-of-a-kind attractions such as the Marienplatz Glockenspiel with life-sized figures dancing to the chimes at specific times daily. If you're an art lover, you'll want to visit Alte Pinakothek, one of the world's oldest art galleries filled with works of the masters from da Vinci and Rembrandt to Rubens and more.
Automobile enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the BMW Museum and the vehicle's history, then hopping next door to BMW Welt to see the latest and greatest on the showroom floor. If you care to relax a little, spread out on a lawn in the scenic English Garden, a huge and beautiful urban park with streams, trees, green spaces, hills, and trails, or grab a bite at the Seehaus restaurant followed by a beer in the big beer garden next to the Chinese Tower.
Munich Oktoberfest can be one of the most fun and memorable travel experiences you’ll ever have. With a little effort and thoughtful advanced planning, you’ll be sure to get the most from your trip and make memories you’ll treasure for a lifetime.
Can’t make it to Munich? Check out these eight excellent Oktoberfests across the U.S.