A comprehensive survival guide to Oktoberfest in Munich. Pictures and insider tips for your excellent Oktoberfest experience.
Oktoberfest is rife with tradition: Traditional beer, traditional clothes, traditional food, traditional music, traditional rides and certainly traditional Bavarian language. It is also a tourist’s favorite: Over 6 Million people stroll over the grounds on the Theresienwiese in Munich during Oktoberfest’s 16-days duration each year, consuming a mind-staggering 7,7 million liters of beer.
For nonlocals (and let’s be honest: even for some locals) the Oktoberfest can be quite hard to navigate. As big and as popular as it is, there are many scams around it, quite a lot of no-gos and certainly, there are the famous beer halls of Oktoberfest that can be quite hard to get it. So here is a locals survival guide to Oktoberfest.
Before you go, make sure to read my guide on how to spend one day in Munich. Oktoberfest is lovely, but there is more to Munich than just beer tents and booze. If you plan to stay longer, then absolutely check out this list of 50 things to do in Munich.
The name of Oktoberfest
First of all: don’t call it Oktoberfest. We locals refer to it as “Wiesn”, which is nothing else than the colloquial form of Theresienwiese. The Theresienwiese (Queen Therese’s meadow) is our grand festival ground a short walk away from the central station. This is where the Oktoberfest is held each year. A grand statue of the deified Bavaria overlooks the grounds with its beatific smile.
On a side note: There are other festivals throughout the year in the same spot – just smaller and not as popular (Tollwood & Frühlingsfest).Insider tip if you know some basic German: It’s “die Wiesn”! For example: “Gehst du heute auf die Wiesn?”. Don’t make you sound like a dork calling it “den Wiesn”. Us Bavarians will react rather allergic to the latter (mostly because of the ‘uncivilized’ people from the north of Germany tend to call it “den Wiesn” *shudders*). You will also hear the name “Festwiese” (festival meadow), which is actually the more appropriate term.
Okay boys and girls: It might be called Oktoberfest, but it actually isn’t held in October! So why is the Oktoberfest in September? There is quite the easy explanation: The German weather.
The Oktoberfest dates back to the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese on October the 12th 1810. Back then a grand horse race had been organized on the Theresienwiese (a simple field back then) to honor the young couple. Ever since then the Oktoberfest has been held to celebrate the anniversary. But as early as 1828 the organizers wanted to move it to the September. With good reason: one year later a snow storm swept across Munich during that time. But it was not until 1872 that they actually moved the start of the Oktoberfest into September. Until then the land in this part of the city had been used for agriculture, which made it necessary to wait after the harvest was finished.
In 1904, the city council finally decided that the Oktoberfest will always start on the 3rd Saturday of September to make use of the normally wonderful weather during that time. This rule is still valid today. The Oktoberfest usually ends on October 3rd (a national holiday) but always lasts 16 days.
2016: 17. September – 3. Oktober
2017: 16. September – 3. Oktober
2018: 22. September – 7. Oktober
2019: 21. September – 6. Oktober
2020: 19. September – 4. Oktober
Bavarian beer is special. So special (some even call it holy) that we even had a couple of civil wars over beer price hikes (no joke: look it up on Wikipedia). Ever since 1516 German breweries strictly adhere to the Reinheitsgebot (German beer Purity law). That means only water, barley and hops are used to ferment our national drink – no sugar or other additives. Yes, I’m sorry poor hipsters, you won’t find craft beer here, so write your reviews elsewhere 😉
Oktoberfest beer is yet again special. The only beer that has been brewed within the city limits of Munich is eligible as Oktoberfest Beer. It will typically have a higher alcohol content than normal beer (between 5,8 and 6,1 Percent), will only be produced for Oktoberfest and is a registered trademark. Be aware that of all the mere six breweries producing Oktoberfestbier, only Augustiner Bräu beer will be fermented in a wooden cask.
Roughly 7,7 million liters are sold on the Oktoberfest each year and yes we are talking liters. Oktoberfest beer is traditionally served in a 1-liter beer stein called “Maß”.Insider tip: For god’s sake never share a stein because you think you can’t take it! Many beer tents (not all) offer Radler Maß as well. A radler typically is beer mixed with soda and something we Bavarian usually drink whenever we don’t want to get drunk too fast. When you are on Oktoberfest a full day it sometimes pays off to squeeze in a Radler once every now, if you still want to be able to remember your evening the next day.
The beer tents (Bierzelte)
Now let’s start in earnest. Oktoberfest is most famous for its beer tents. Up to 10.000 people (some would say drunks) fit into the largest tent on the Theresienwiese. Those numbers are a bit exaggerated, though, since each beer tent also has a beer garden around it, and these seats are counted as well.
Covering 7.000 m², the Hofbräu Festzelt is the largest beer tent of the Oktoberfest (and a tourists’ favorite). It features 6.518 seats, some 1.000 stances (the only beer tent that has them) while it offers 3.022 seats in its beer garden. But obviously Hofbräu Festzelt is not the only beer tent: All in all, there are 15 major beer tents (and a couple of smaller ones). Each housing roughly 5.000 to 7.000 seats.
What to expect inside a beer tent on Oktoberfest
A beer tent really boils down to a huge hall with sturdy wooden benches and a stage for a band. Technically it has little to with a real tent, you will only find these in the smaller towns in Bavaria (most of them having some sort of festival in autumn as well). In most tents, only beer and a couple of non-alcoholic drinks are served, while they offer quite a big range of excellent Bavarian food. Both food and drinks are rather expensive, but you are treated with excellent quality (especially considering just how many people have to be served simultaneously).
There will always be a band starting from around noon (actually, a couple of bands taking turns). It will be more or less traditional Bavarian music, so expect something along brass bands with a singer or two. There is only a small range of songs they are usually performing – mainly because us locals want to sing along. Do expect every local to know every song by heart, including the special beer bench performance that goes along. But don’t be surprised if songs from Robby Williams or ACDC are performed! (found this list for you of typical songs)
Which tent should I choose?
Honestly speaking? Pick one that is open! Especially in the afternoon, there will be a big party going on in each and every one of them. It really boils down to personal preferences:
- Schottenhammel, Armbrustschützenzelt, and Hacker-Festzelt are ALWAYS packed with young people and locals
- Weinzelt only serves Weißbier, wine, and champagne (no regular beer)
- Käfers Wiesn-Schenke is where the high society will hang out
- Fischer Vroni serves fish specialties
- Ochsenbraterei specialized on beef (ox to be precise)
- Hofbräu-Festzelt is the biggest tent (lots of tourists)
- Augustinerbräu the most traditional one with the (arguably) best beer
How long are beer tents open?
Beer serving hours are between 10 am and 10:30 pm. The only exception being the first Saturday (the Opening Saturday), where the beer will not be served before noon, meaning after the mayor of Munich drafted the first beer. After the last beer is served, bands will stop playing and people will slowly start to file out. The process usually ends around 23:00. By then all beer gardens and public celebrations will have to stop according to Bavarian law (called “Sperrstunde”).
Beer tent opening hours:
Weekdays: 10 am to 11:00 pm
Weekends: 9 am to 11:00 pm
Exceptions: Käfers Wiesn-Schanke und Weinzelt will be opened until 1:00 am
10 am to 12pm
How do I get into a beer tent?
Now Oktoberfest is extremely popular, especially on the three weekends. It gets worse on a rainy day where everyone will want to evade the downpour. Each tent has a maximum capacity. Once this capacity is reached, you will see signs popping up outside the tent saying “Wegen Überfüllung geschlossen” (temporarily closed because full).
You got three options: You got a reservation, you are early or you are lucky.
Now as a tourist, you typically won’t have a reservation, because the reservation offices will open around January and by the time you decided to book no tables are available anymore.
But despair not: Beer tents are not allowed to sell out all tables. A big portion of the tables (between 30 and 50 Percent!) can’t be reserved in advance and they are open to the public, meaning whoever is fastest.
That being said: If you are standing in front of the tent early enough, there is a high chance that you can get in and find a table. This will be harder on the weekends and especially hard on the opening Saturday. If you really want to get a sip of that first beer of the year you will have to be in front of the tent around 8 am. Usually, you will already have huge queues in place by that time.
Generally speaking, you will have no problems getting into a beer tent during the weekdays before 4 pm, except it is raining. Once you are in, you can stay as long as you want. Just find a free table or a table where you can squeeze in (just ask friendly and don’t be afraid). Waitresses sometimes can help you finding a free table.
Be careful not to choose a table that is reserved for the evening session: Beer is only sold at the table. You might be able to stay in the beer tent but without a table, things will get hard for you. Usually, there are signs indicating that the table will be reserved. If you are unsure, you can always ask your waitress.
Special advice for big groups: If you are more than 4 people there really is no way around a reservation or being very early. On weekends, that really means 9 am and not a second later.
What can I do when the beer tent is closed?
In all honesty? Nothing! The best idea is to move on and look for another tent (maybe one of the smaller ones – they can be fun as well!). There are some tents that are especially popular among the locals (Schottenhammel, Schützenzelt, Käfers Wiesn-Schenke). Even if those are full, others might actually have utterly vacant tables.
Now you might find yourself in a situation where all tents are closed, and it is raining and the beer gardens are no option. Don’t try to bribe yourself in, except you are offering shitloads (and even if you are waving around with that 500 Euro note it probably won’t work).
Still, there are a couple of things that might work:
1) Check all the side entrances as well. Sometimes they do let in people there while the main entrance is close – especially for the smokers at the back entrance. (it’s a very slim chance, but you can try)
2) Tents operate on three sessions: A morning session an afternoon session and an evening session. This means that people who reserved a table for noon will have to leave their tables around 4 to 5pm. After that, the guests with the evening reservations will come in. During that time, there really is no point in waiting. Security staff won’t let anyone in. Directly after this rotation, there is a small window of time where they usually fill up the tent. If you are smart and are waiting at the right position (mean very close to the doors) you can get in. Don’t try this with huge groups.
3) Most people with a reservation will have a couple of spare tickets (people get ill, etc). Each tent has a special reservations-only entrance. Before the evening session starts people with a reservation will be waiting in front of that entrance. You can try to buy a reservation ticket from them. (Just don’t expect them to let you at their table). Soooooommetimes this works and gets you inside the tent.
Either way, I really wouldn’t bet my chances on these tips. Everything you as a tourist will try has been tried by the locals a million times over. Your chances against the hard competition are probably very slim. Being early or doing weekdays really is the best tip.Oh one last insider tip: If you are looking the drunk tourist (or just the tourist), meaning weird hats, kilts and nonsensical t-shirts, your chances of getting in drop a thousand fold.
Where is the bathroom in a beer tent?
Drinking beer from 1-liter steins will have you looking for the toilets sooner than later. Each tent usually has two bathrooms located on both far ends. Be aware that catering to the needs of so many drunk people, bathrooms will be considerably…well, let’s be honest… will be considerable filthy later in the day.
There will also be huge queues in front of them starting early in the evening. Especially for the ladies, this might be a problem. Sometimes it is advisable to actually leave the tent (through the back door!) and use the bathroom facilities directly behind the tent. Be aware that the rush hours at the toilet usually coincide with the beer tents on Oktoberfest being closed – so make sure to check if you can get in again before you leave!!The insider tip from the local: Wait with going to the toilet until the very last moment when you feel close to bursting. Why? Once you opened the sluices there will be no stopping them again! Oh and never go to the toilet as a group. If you give up your table for even a second, people will flock to it like moths seeking the light.
What not to do in a beer tent?
Now despite all the beer drinking us, Bavarians are actually quite cultured. The Oktoberfest is a festival of friendship and friendly party, so there are a couple of rules to stick to. Not only because you don’t want to be that one tourist in the center of attention, but also you will get thrown out of the beer tent if you think you are above the rules.
- No smoking is allowed inside the beer tents. There is a ban on smoking in public places in Bavaria and the large beer tents fall under this legislation. If you want to smoke, go outside or stick to the beer gardens. Even e-cigarettes might get you in trouble.
- Obviously don’t do any drugs, the exception being the “Wiesn schnee”. Which is white snuff traditionally sold on the Oktoberfest? Ever since the smoking ban less and less of the snuff is sold, though.
- Never stand up on a bench to down the 1-liter steins. It seems to be a favorite sport among Australian visitors but it is actually prohibited. If you get caught you will have to leave the tent.
- Don’t block the aisles specially designed for the waitresses and waiters (you’ll see security staff blocking the way anyhow). First of all, you want them to serve you in a timely manner and secondly, that too might get your thrown out of a tent.
- Never touch the waitresses – this will get you out of the beer tent faster than anything else
- Don’t dance on the tables. Dance away standing on the benches all you want (you really should!!!) but never on the table. If you got a table on the balcony in the front row, even dancing on the benches might be restricted due to similar security concerns.
- Never take along a beer mug as a souvenir unless you have explicitly bought it inside the tent (make sure to keep the receipt!!). They will check bags, etc. once you leave the tent, and when they find a mug it is considered a theft punishable by law.
- Don’t bring big bags or warm jackets. Oktoberfest tents will be extremely warm later in the evening (thousands of people in a small enclosure) and there is no wardrobe. The only place you can store anything is under the tables (they have little cross beams to stabilize them where you can hook smaller items in). If you got a big bag or jacket you will spend the rest of the evening looking, but ultimately failing, to keep it from getting dirty, lost or stolen.
- Last item on my things-not-to-do-in-a-Beer-tent-on-Oktoberfest-list: Never ever consider going to a beer tent without drinking alcohol. Believe me, you really don’t want that. The smell, the folkloristic music and the many unbearably drunk people will make you want to run away screaming – except you are drunk yourself. Then and only then you will have the time of your life 😉
- Update: Ever since the 2016 Munich Shooting backpacks and big bags (above 3liters) are not allowed on the festival grounds. So leave them at home!
What to eat at Oktoberfest?
A must-try for every visitor to Oktoberfest is the “Wiesn-Hendl” (grilled chicken), best enjoyed with potato salad or coleslaw. Another very traditional food is the so-called “Steckerlfisch” – fish on a stick grilled over an open fire (Fischer Vroni is a beer tent that exclusively offers Bavarian fish specialties).
Of course, there is the famous Bavarian pretzel (“Brezn”). Look out for the booths in front of each major beer tent. Each year these booths are rented out to underprivileged people – so it’s a good place for you to get the best pretzels and do something good.
Last but not least there are the “Wiesenherzen”. Booths around the whole Oktoberfest will sell these heart shaped gingerbreads. Traditionally men buy these for their wives or girlfriends as a token of love. You can choose from a full range of wonderful inscriptions – just make sure the chosen one wears it around her neck. The bigger it is, the more in love you are.Insider Tip: Some booths even offer to write a special message for a little extra.
Also, know that you are not allowed to bring any food inside the tent. According to the bavarian law, you are allowed to bring any foodstuff you like into a beer garden (the seating areas in front of the ten). You only have to order the drinks.
What to wear for Oktoberfest?
Locals will wear traditional Bavarian dresses. Over the past couple of years wearing these has become very popular again, especially among the younger generation. 15 years ago it was actually frowned upon but now, going to the Oktoberfest not wearing a Lederhosen (leather pants) or a Dirndl (colorful long dresses) is actually unthinkable.
As a tourist, you will want to minimize the risk of sticking out too much. In the city of Munich, you will find a couple of pop-up stores that actually sell Lederhosen and Dirndl. They usually will sell you complete sets at a discount, but expect prices starting from 200 Euros. Be aware that my socks alone cost more than that, so don’t expect to get the real deal for 200 Euros.
For a boy that means:
- A white shirt
- The lederhosen (with or without suspenders)
- Off-white socks or half socks (like I am wearing)
- The traditional haferl shoes
- Heavy woolen jacket (optional)
- Waistcoat (usually velvet; optional)
Things he really shouldn’t wear:
- Checkered shirt (they always try to sell u these napkins)
- Scarf (whoever started selling these should go to hell)
- T-shirts with lederhosen print
- Lederhosen made from jersey or jeans fabric
- Funny hats that really only say “I am a drunk moron”
- Elaborate braided hairdo (can add flowers)
- White blouse (short sleeved)
- Push-up bra (very important *smirk*)
- Traditional dress (Dirndl)
- Traditional Pinafore
- White stockings
- Medium high heeled shoes
- Woolen jacket (optional)
- Large woolen scarf (optional)
- Wicker-basket (optional)
Things she really shouldn’t wear:
- Lederhosen (especially the very short ones)
- Straight hair (do something with it for god’s sake :P)
- Sneakers or ballerina if you got a dress where you can see them
- Any kind of blinking headwear
How much money should I bring along for the Oktoberfest?
There is no entrance fee, but other than that Oktoberfest can be quite expensive:
- A beer will cost a bit above 10 Euros
- Food (like a traditionally roasted chicken with potato salad) will cost another 15 Euros
- Small snacks (pretzels, sandwiches, pastries) will be ~4,50 Euros
- Rides and roller coasters will be 5-10 Euros
- Public transport will be roughly 5 Euros round trip
That being said, I recommend bringing roughly 50 Euros per person for an evening. Depending on your personal preferences and the duration you want to stay, more might actually be advisable. Spending a whole day on Oktoberfest I’d err on the upper side and bring 100 Euros per person.Insider tip: You cannot pay with credit card. However, there are cash machines near the many exists of the Oktoberfest (close to the subway stations) where you can withdraw cash. Since you will not be the only one trying to get some cash, I would leave this option as a last reserve.
How do I get to the Oktoberfest?
The Theresienwiese is right in the middle of the city so there really is no way to miss it. Just follow the crowds wearing Lederhosen and Dirndl and you’ll be there in no time. That being said you got a couple of options.
- You can walk the way from Hauptbahnhof (will take 15minutes)
- You can take the U4/U5 to Theresienwiese or Schwanthalerhöhe
- You can take the U3/U6 to Goetheplatz
- Train (S-Bahn) to Hackerbrücke
- Taxi/Rikshaw (both will be very expensive during Oktoberfest)
From all the options taking the U4 to Theresienwiese is the easiest option. You basically drop out right in front of the beer tents. BUT because of this easy access things will get very crowded later in the evening. So much that they sometimes close the subway station for a short period of time.
Insider tip: Please do not mix up subway stations. There is a station called Theresienstraße as well, which is in the middle of the university quarter of Munich. You need to go to Theresienwiese! As far as I know there are people camping at Theresienstraße to laugh at the tourists gone astray.
Other things to do at Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest might be most famous for its beer tents but please do me the favor and don’t reduce it to beer. Oktoberfest has a loooooot of rides – ranging from traditional ventures (some rides being a hundred years or older!) and very modern roller coasters. Games of chance and also acrobatics are very popular. A couple of shows are hosted as well. As a visitor, you really should try out whatever looks the most fun to you! Especially nice if you are coming with kids!
But this Oktoberfest survival guide wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a couple of more things: On the first Sunday of Oktoberfest, there will be a huge parade called “Trachten- und Schützenzug“. This parade through the whole city of Munich features brass bands and traditional clothes from all over Bavaria (and beyond!). As a tourist, this really is a must see. It’s also your chance to see our mayor and prime minister 🙂 (Check out my awesome pictures from the Trachten- und Schützenzug here)Insider Tip: take a close look at what they are wearing: No checkered shirts, no handkerchiefs around the neck – okay their hats would pass as weird in many nations 😛
On the opening Saturday, there will also be a procession of all the tent owners entering the grounds in ornate horse-drawn carriages. If you got the time you really should not miss that – they are making a huge show of it (no surprise since they had to wait 12 months to make big money with you! :P). They start to enter at 10:45 am on the first Saturday.
Where to stay for Oktoberfest
I am pretty much a luxury guy (check out some of my hotel reviews for Machu Picchu, Bejing, Kyoto or Thailand) so my expertise really is limited to that area.
There are three luxury hotels for Oktoberfest I can recommend from my heart. I’ve never actually slept there (since I live in Munich) but frequently ate dinner or breakfast there, attended parties or went to their spas.
Mandarin Oriental: It’s Munich’s only 6-star hotel and located right in the middle of the city. They got a very lovely restaurant and a beautiful rooftop terrace!
Get the best prices here >
Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten: If you are planning to see the Trachtenumzug this is your place to stay. The parade will pass directly at the front door. Other than that this hotel inspired the founder of the Four Seasons luxury hotel chain – so expect some glamor!
Get the best prices here >
Hotel Bayerischer Hof: The oldest and most prestigious luxury hotel in Munich. Head’s of state and pop stars slept frequently sleep here. Other than that it has a beautiful spa, a wonderful cinema and one of the best restaurants in the city, and certainly one of the best bars. Not as modern as the other two options – but more traditional hoteliery.
Get the best prices here >
Please be aware that you have to book your hotels for Oktoberfest way in advance. Most hotels will be booked out months in advance while others quote outrageous prices for the 2 weeks during Oktoberfest.
Need more input? Here’s my comprehensive guide on the best hotels in Munich.
That’s it, that has been my comprehensive Oktoberfest guide. Hope I, as a local, could help you along a bit. I tried to cover the basics and hopefully you now know what to expect at Oktoberfest. But there really is so much more to write about the biggest folk festival. I couldn’t possibly cover it all – So here are two guidebooks that might help you along in preparing for Oktoberfest.
- The Ultimate Guide to Oktoberfest: Munich Germany Travel Guide
- Meet Me in Munich: A Beer Lover’s Guide to Oktoberfest
Either way: if you got any questions, please feel free to ask. Also, if you have any wonderful stories from your visits to Oktoberfest – share them!! 🙂