After successfully enjoying Oktoberfest in Munich, we thought it only right to compile a complete guide to Oktoberfest. We explain how to come up with your own Oktoberfest plan and tricks to celebrate the famous German beer festival – Oktoberfest. Read on and learn where to stay for Oktoberfest, tents, table reservations, food, hotels, prices, getting an outfit and more. We also include Oktoberfest tips from a couple of travel influencers with experience. Prost!
The Basics of Oktoberfest
Most people know what Oktoberfest is but might not know how to experience it themselves. We all recognize the iconic images of groups drinking giant beer mugs at big tables in large tents. There’s a bit more to it. We’ll cover the basics here – the who, what, where and why. Then we’ll get to the how-to part. Oh and the most important aspect – what NOT to do. Enjoy our ultimate Oktoberfest guide!
What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is an annual Volksfest. That’s a German word and it means a beer festival and traveling funfair. It’s actually the largest Volksfest in the world and over 6.3 million people show up each year.
If all of those people formed their own country, it would be the 113th largest nation by population. They’d come in somewhere between Singapore and El Salvador. Their citizens would include the likes of Katy Perry, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It sounds like a cool place to live!
Those Volksfest-attending, beer-drinking hordes consume over 700 million liters of beer each year. For reference, that could fill up 280 Olympic sized swimming pools. Please do not let Michael Phelps know this.
Why is Oktoberfest celebrated?
I celebrate Oktoberfest because I like drinking beer, but there’s a better reason. The history of Oktoberfest goes back to a wedding between Bavarian Crown Prince, Ludwig I and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810.
The royal couple just couldn’t agree on a guest list, so they invited all the citizens of Munich. Yes, all of Munich gathered in a meadow in front of the city gates for their wedding festivities.
As you can imagine, the giant wedding reception was a hit with the people of Munich. The celebration lasted 5 whole days! It was such a great event that it became an annual tradition and an annual anniversary party for the royal couple. How sweet!
They skipped Oktoberfest in 1813 because of the Napoleonic Wars – one reason why wars suck. However, from that point on, Oktoberfest grew and grew.
They added an agricultural expo, horse racing, a bowling alley, and swings. In 1818 they added carnival booths. Ludwig went on to become the king of Bavaria in 1825, as Bavarian princes often do, and Oktoberfest continued to grow. The modern Oktoberfest grounds include amusement rides, colorful parades, carnival games and of course, Oktoberfest beer tents.
When is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest has been celebrated in Bavaria since 1810. They obviously know what they’re doing. Originally the celebrations were 5 days long, like Ludwig’s wedding celebration. Today Oktoberfest celebrations last for 16-18 days leading up to the first Sunday in October.
Since 1994, the schedule lines up with German Unity Day, 3 October. This ties the long tradition of Oktoberfest to the commemoration of German reunification. Isn’t that beautiful?! There is probably a really long German word for that, but I don’t know what it is.
Where is Oktoberfest?
In case you didn’t realize it yet – the biggest party in the world occurs in Munich, Germany. More specifically it occurs in a meadow just outside of the city center known as Theresienwiese, or “Theresa’s meadow”. It’s, of course, named after Terese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, who gifted the world Oktoberfest in 1810.
The festival is part of German culture, but it’s origins belong to the state of Bavaria. The largest Oktoberfest celebration occurs in Munich, Bavaria but the event is recreated all over the world.
For where to stay during Oktoberfest, the Oktoberfest tent locations and more, see the Google Map below.
Getting to Oktoberfest
Your first step to reaching Oktoberfest is to find your way to Munich. We always recommend searching flights through Skyscanner. They offer easy search options with a flexible date lookup tool. On top of that, they present more options and almost always give us the lowest price in airfare.
Start your search for airfare here.
When should you book your flights? As soon as you know your dates! Flights to Oktoberfest fill up quickly. Munich Airport isn’t a hub, even within Germany and you have over 6 million people flowing through the city over a three week period. BOOK EARLY!
Once in Munich, the easiest way to reach the Oktoberfest grounds is the U-Bahn (metro). You’ll want to take the U4 or U5 train. Get off at the Theresienwiese stop and follow the signs. You can even follow the crowd dressed in traditional Bavarian Oktoberfest outfits.
If you need more details, check out the Oktoberfest guide for public transportation here.
Oktoberfest Accommodation Guide
Wondering where to stay for Oktoberfest? Here are some options for hostels, hotels, and a map of the area to search for an Airbnb.
Hotels Near Oktoberfest
When it comes to finding a hotel near Oktoberfest, you want to stay near Theresienwiese. These hotels are within a 15-minute walk to the grounds of Oktoberfest. You can stay farther out as long as you are comfortable walking or pick a hotel close to public transit.
Hotel Maritime München
This a 4-star hotel that is a 13-minute walk to Oktoberfest tents. Guests here rave about the central location – important for Oktoberfest. Better yet, it’s large – with 350 rooms. Some of those rooms are adjoining. That’s ideal for groups and rollaway cots are available for $35 USD. This hotel will for sure sell out during Oktoberfest, so book now. Nightly prices for 2020 are currently around $325 USD. Use the link above or click here for more info.
Hotel Germania is a 3-star hotel that you can book for Oktoberfest 2020 at rates of $290 USD. It’s slightly smaller than Hotel Maritime but just as easy to walk to Theresienwiese. The hotel is a 3-minute walk to the train station which makes it easy to get around the rest of Munich. If you want to stay at a hotel, but prefer a lower price, 3-star option, this is a good place to start your search. Use the link above or click here for more info.
Hostels Near Oktoberfest
There are hostel options you can research for Oktoberfest accommodation. Most of them are farther away from the city center and they often book quickly. The advantage of staying in a hostel for Oktoberfest is that you will be around a younger, party-going crowd. These options are also cheaper, so you can save money for buying liters of beer.
International Haus Hostel
International Haus Hostel is a 2-star hostel in Munich. It’s currently booking for about $60 USD per night during Oktoberfest 2020. It has a disco and food options in the building. Getting to the Oktoberfest beer tents will take about 45 minutes by foot or you can take public transit in 20 minutes. Use the link above or click here for more info.
Finding an Oktoberfest Airbnb
There’s no silver bullet for finding the right Airbnb. For Oktoberfest, you can guarantee some price gouging, but if you book early enough you can find a good deal. Use the map above to help in your search for a property near Theresienwiese.
If you’re not staying close to the tents, search near public transportation. Airbnb is best for large groups traveling to Oktoberfest and there are usually large properties available. Many of them are outside of the city center, but make it possible to be housed together.
If you haven’t used Airbnb before, book with this link and save up to $55 off of your stay in Munich.
Prepare for the Unexpected at Oktoberfest
All those people, all that drinking and being in a foreign country… not to be a nag, but you should really get travel insurance. We never travel without it, even for short weekend trips. It isn’t that much money (literally the price of a round of drinks for most destinations). Plus, you can travel with ease of mind.
We always use World Nomads. They’re tremendous when it comes to covering claims quickly and have a stellar customer service team. We started using them because Lonely Planet recommends them, but they’re also incredibly easy. You can use the quick form below to get a quote and book the coverage even if you’re already traveling! It covers you immediately so no risk.
Guide to Oktoberfest Tents
Okay, now that the boring stuff is covered, what about the action of Oktoberfest tents? This is the good part of the guide and the reason you went to Oktoberfest in the first place! We’ll talk about the beer, how to get a table and what kind of Oktoberfest outfit to wear.
Oktoberfest is well-known for the iconic beer tents. The grounds are enormous and there are 14 huge Oktoberfest tents. I know 14 sounds like a small number, but they hold a ton of people! Each one hosts 8,000 to 10,000 party-goers. There are also 20 smaller tents that hold 1,000 to 1,500 people.
Keep in mind that’s just the people inside of beer tents. The Oktoberfest grounds are massive and sprawling. They include carnival games, rides, vendors, food stands and a fairway. You can make a whole day just exploring the grounds without even entering a beer tent.
There is no fee to enter the grounds or the tents themselves. All you pay for is your food, drinks and whatever else you do on the grounds.
Oktoberfest Table Reservations
Each tent has a unique atmosphere and serves different beers. They also start taking reservations in April. If you want a specific tent, you should definitely make a table reservation.
On a weekend, you really need a reservation. Otherwise, you have to arrive at 9 am as soon as the tents open. On weekdays the tents open at 10 am. If you show up an hour late, you won’t find a seat anywhere. When tents are at capacity, they close the doors.
Robe Trotting Tip: Tents “flip the tables” at 3 pm and seat new reservations. At this time there will be additional non-reserved tables available for you to swoop in on.
When you book a reservation, you cannot reserve 2-3 seats. Instead, you have to book a whole table. They fit 10-12 people but no matter what, people will try to squeeze into your space. That’s how Oktoberfest goes – when you see an open spot, grab it!
Guide to Getting a Table with no reservations
Leanna Brown from Economic Excursionists drops some awesome Oktoberfest knowledge on how to make sure you have a table at Oktoberfest. Here are her 3 great tips.
Some people book out seats and tables for Oktoberfest as soon as they are released (MONTHS in advance!). If you don’t, you run the risk of arriving at Oktoberfest and not finding spots in the coveted beer tents. However, with a bit of flexibility, you’ll have no issue finding a place to cozy up to the locals for a brew.
1) Go on a Sunday morning. If you arrive right when everything opens on Sunday morning (9 am), you’ll be almost guaranteed to find not only a few spots but potentially an entire table just for yourself at your tent of choosing! Therefore, if going with a large group, this is your best timing to go.
2) Go in the middle of the week. If you are wanting a rowdier vibe, you can go in the middle of the week and still be able to squeeze into a few empty seats. Granted, even in the middle of the week, it might be harder to get a whole table, but if it’s just you and a few mates, it will be no problem.
3) Avoid Rainy Days. When it’s raining, all the people that typically are wandering around the fest outside need shelter, making it even harder for you to find any open spots inside at the tents.
What Can You Bring into an Oktoberfest Tent?
When you head to the Oktoberfest grounds, pack light! You’re allowed to bring a small purse, but no backpacks. Whatever bag you do bring will be searched.
If you bring a large bag or backpack, you’ll have to check it for a fee. That’s why it makes more sense to only bring your essentials and carry them in pockets or a small bag/purse. After all, you won’t be able to bring the bag to your table anyway.
Obviously you cannot bring any outside food or beverage into the tents. A camera is nice to have, but with smartphone cameras that can fit in your pocket – why bother? Also, make sure that you bring cash into the tents, most of them do not accept cards.
Oktoberfest Drink Guide
As mentioned, each Oktoberfest tent serves beers from different breweries. Every beer served at Oktoberfest must be brewed in Munich. Those six special breweries represented at Oktoberfest tents are (in alphabetical order) Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Braäu, Lówenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbraäu, and Staatliches Hofbräu-München.
Beers come in large, one-liter mugs and are called a Maß. No bottles or mixed drinks are served in the tents. The beer is brewed especially for Oktoberfest and this Oktoberfest beer is higher in alcohol content. After one Maß you’ll be pretty buzzed because the beer is 6%. If you’re not big on beer you can try Radler, a mix of beer and lemonade.
You must be seated at a table to order a beer. That’s why it’s so important to get a table! People suggest that you tip your waitress as soon as you sit down. They work really hard and carry a lot of beer, so if you want to be remembered – stand out right away. Beers are between 10-12€ and some tents charge a deposit for mugs because of all the sticky-fingered souvenier-seeking mug thieves.
Robe Trotting Tip: make sure you bring cash – it’s faster and the majority of tents are cash only.
Oktoberfest Food Guide
Besides pacing yourself with the beer, mixing in some food is wise. Inside the tents, you can order food if you’re sitting at a table. The traditional Bavarian foods are all available – pretzels, sausage, roasted chicken. Our group was eager to try the currywurst sausages and käsespätzle (a cheesy baked pasta). Most food items are between 10-15€.
There are also food stands lining the fairway outside of the tents. Eating from the food stalls is usually a little cheaper. However, you also need to protect your table at all costs so it’s a catch 22.
Oktoberfest Outfit Guide
You can wear “regular” clothes to Oktoberfest, but you will feel like a complete outcast. The vast majority of guests in the tents are dressed in traditional Bavarian outfits. You look really out of place if you aren’t wearing Oktoberfest attire. Do yourself a favor and order an Oktoberfest outfit before you arrive. You can buy an Oktoberfest outfit on the grounds, but you will likely pay a premium. Expect about 100€ for an outfit (until the last week of Oktoberfest when you may find one on sale). Think of it as a cool souvenir though and buy one to fit in.
Men’s Oktoberfest Outfit
The menswear is, of course, lederhosen. It’s a knee-length pair of pants with suspenders typically made of leather. Lederhosen are worn over a checkered shirt. If you want to bring your own checkered shirt, you can do that instead of buying one on the grounds. Even a costume pair of lederhosen purchased in advance will make you feel like you fit in.
Women’s Oktoberfest Outfit
Women wear a knee-length skirt with a bodice and apron called a dirndl. The outfit is topped off with a floral headband. Women will have to bring a blouse (usually white) to wear underneath the dirndl.
Guide to Fitting in at Oktoberfest
Inside the tents, there are some important things to remember as you go about your day. Here are some quick tips:
- You will definitely see the atmosphere in the tents get rowdier as time goes and people get drunk – be respectful and pace yourself.
- Throughout the day you’ll see people stand on tables and chug an entire Maß in one chug. Only do this if you can finish a liter of beer in one chug – otherwise, just watch and enjoy.
- Germans clink their beer mugs with the bottom of the mugs when they “cheers” – and they say, “Prost!”
- You can’t hold empty spots at tables so enjoy the new people you’ll meet throughout the day.
- People are NOT doing cocaine at Oktoberfest. There is a sugary substance that people put on their hand and snort. It’s called Wiesn Koks (Oktoberfest cocaine) but it’s not the real stuff.
- Definitely buy an outfit if you can afford it – you’ll be glad to fit in and truly partake in the experience.
Guide to Life Beyond Oktoberfest
While the tents are awesome, there’s a lot to do at Oktoberfest besides visiting the fairgrounds. Of course, there’s no shortage of things to do and places to drink in Munich. There are even some alternatives in other cities. The beauty of Oktoberfest is that it’s celebrated worldwide.
The Chinese Tower Beer Garden
We spent a day visiting museums and twice we visited other beer gardens in the city. Our favorite was the beer garden at the Chinese Tower. It’s one of the most famous beer gardens in the city and really added to our experience.
This beer garden is located in Munich’s English Garden – the city’s largest park. It has seating for 7,000 people, so it rivals the beer tents, but it’s in the open air of the park. The beer garden also has a restaurant and features an authentic band just like the beer tents. The beer garden’s centerpiece is the multi-level Chinese Tower. It’s a great backdrop to sit around and expand your Oktoberfest experience.
Zum Flaucher Beer Garden
We also stopped for a few mugs at Zum Flaucher Beer Garden. That day we met up with some German friends who recommended this spot. It was quaint, lowkey and had ample outside seating. This beer garden is in a very pretty part of the city with a lot of green space near the Isar River. This was a memorable experience because it was recommended by locals. It was cool to visit a beer garden that any citizen of Munich would visit for themselves on a Friday night.
See More of Munich
Munich is an exciting city. There are so many things to do in Munich besides Oktoberfest – so why not enjoy some of those. From museums to municipal parks to stunning architecture and charming cafes – get beyond the tents, even if it’s just one day in Munich.
Oktoberfest in Plzen, Czech Republic
Mario from Rest & Recuperation has some tips on what you should do next. His advice is after you’ve experienced Munich’s Oktoberfest, head to Plzen, Czech Republic. Here’s his take on Plzen.
Oktoberfest is something everyone should experience once in their lifetime, even if you don’t drink beer. The good vibes are so great that every single person entering the area of the festival enjoys it. There’s no specific age to enjoy having a beer at the Oktoberfest. You can be in your twenties and party very hard or you can be three times that age and still have a great time. Still, there are some other destinations worth a visit besides Munich.
I suggest that you head 250 kilometers northeast. Cross the border with the Czech Republic, and stop right after it in the city of Plzen. This is one of the largest towns in the country and is world renown as the home of Pilsner Urquell. That’s the beer that gives the name to all the Pilsner beers in the world.
The first reason to prefer Plzen is the cost of beer and food. A liter of beer will be probably five times cheaper than at Oktoberfest. Also, Czech food is great – the perfect accompaniment for a Pilsner Urquell or a Gambrinus.
Plzen is also a university town, so you can find great parties. Just follow the clock tower and head to the main square. There you will find some very nice bars, pubs, and clubs around the square. But of course, do all this after you experience Oktoberfest!
Oktoberfest Guide Wrap Up
I’m very thankful for the wedding reception of a long-ago Bavarian prince and his bride. They couldn’t have imagined it at the time, but they gave the world Oktoberfest, and Oktoberfest is simply awesome!
Oktoberfest is something you should experience at least once in your lifetime. The energy of the crowds, the culture of Bavaria, and the history behind the event – it’s a bucket list item for sure. The citizens of Munich are so welcoming and friendly. Getting to party with people from all over the world is really cool. There’s just nothing like Oktoberfest. Prost!
Check out our adventures just over the Rhine River in Alsace France. There, we replaced the beer mugs with wine tastings. Read our guides to Colmar, France, and Strasbourg, France with these links.
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