For over 200 years, people have been gathering in Munich for Oktoberfest to celebrate and share Bavarian culture with the world. Today, the centre of this culture is beer and, with roughly 7 million litres of it poured at the festival annually, over zealous travelers run the greatest risk of missing out and becoming a ‘Bierleichen’ (or beer corpse) before the end of the first day. With a few years of festival attendance under our belts, we wanted to share some essential Oktoberfest tips to help you navigate the grounds, get into the best spots, and make the most of your time in Munich. But first, lets start with the basic details.

To begin with, most of Oktoberfest doesn’t actually occur in October. Instead, the festival runs from the 3rd Saturday in September to the Sunday in October or October 3rd, a national holiday celebrating German unity, whichever is later. The Oktoberfest grounds are called Theresienwiese, or just Wies’n to locals, and is centrally located in Munich. The festival runs on weekdays from 11am to 11pm, and weekends from 9am to 11pm, however, beer is not served until noon on the first Saturday, which marks the opening of the festival. Finally, it’s free to enter Oktoberfest and any of the tents – no tickets necessary.

29 Essential Oktoberfest Tips


Oktoberfest Tips: Visit the Hippodrome

The Oktoberfest Grounds:

Theresienwiese grounds are accessible by metro, taxi or by foot.

Getting to the Wies’n grounds is fairly easy as its located near the centre of the city and is on the u-bahn line (metro). From the hauptbahnhof (main train station), just go underground to the u-bahn and travel one stop to Theresienwiese and you’re there. You can walk it as well in about 15 minutes.

The Oktoberfest grounds are huge.

And it feels even larger when its jam-packed with hundreds of thousands of similarly dressed individuals. If you’re with a group, designate a meeting spot within the festival in case you get separated. I know it sounds a little too responsible for this occasion, but you’ll regret not setting this up beforehand if you lose someone in your group… especially if that person has the only key to your accommodations.

The tents are the place to be for the true Oktoberfest experience.

There are 14 main tents each with 1,000 – 8,500 seats and several smaller ones as well. The beer gardens are very pleasant as well but lack the traditional atmosphere, however, you can bring your own food to the gardens.

The tents are all somewhat unique but will provide the same overall experience.

Each has it’s own vibe: Schottenham is popular with youngin’s, locals flock to Augustiner, Hofbräu is a wild time although is more tourists than Germans, Hacker Pschorr is hip and cheerfully decorated, Hippodrome is the tent to be seen, and Fischer Vroni is where you can feast on smoked fish while drinking your maß.

The main tents are massive.

Get your bearings before venturing out to the washrooms if you want any chance of finding your way back. And I’d suggest using the buddy system.


Oktoberfest Tips: Eat at Spaten

Oktoberfest Tips for Drinking and Eating:

Oktoberfest Food Options

Brezeln: Pretzel.
Hendl: Roasted chicken.
Schweinshaxe: Pork knuckle.
Weisswurst: White sausage, typically enjoyed in the morning.
Kartoffeln: Potatoes.
Spätzle: Egg noodles typically served with cheese (käse).

Only litre steins of beer are available

For the most part, tents only serve beer in quantities of 1L. Soft drinks, water, fruit juices are available as well but often cost almost as much as a beer. To extend your drinking capacity, mix up each stein with a Radler – a half beer, half lemonade concoction which is quite delicious and refreshing.

Six breweries are showcased.

Only beers brewed in Munich (under the German purity laws of course) are offered during the festival. Each tent has its own beer so you won’t have much of a choice once you’re settled in your respective tent.

You need to be sitting to order a beer.

With the exception of the Hofbräu tent, you’ll need to finagle your way onto a bench in order to get the attention of any server. This is why you don’t see many people standing around in the tents. Backup plan if you cannot find a seat: politely ask a seated individual to order you and your party a beer the next time the server comes around – but sweeten the deal by offering to buy them their next maß as well.


Oktoberfest Tips: Dress up Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest DOs:

Pace yourself.

It’s easy to get carried away once you are finally handed that first mass. In my experience, over eager attendees usually end up tapping out early, missing the tent’s prime time evening festivities. Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

Bring cash and lots of it.

Only a few tents accept credit cards, but still it’s not recommended to attempt it. Your hardworking server is way too busy to coordinate an electronic payment for each drink that you order (there are no tabs here) and you can pretty much guarantee that they will ignore you for the rest of your time in the tent. Hit up a bank machine outside of the Oktoberfest grounds or you’ll find yourself spending prime drinking time in an ATM line – just pray it doesn’t run out of money before you reach the front.

Tip your server.

One of our most important Oktoberfest tips involves tipping. Okay, so it may take a bit of time to receive your beer but sometimes the kegs are backed up filling the drinks of the 5,000+ other drinkers in the tent and also, did you see how many beers they carried at once? Oktoberfest servers cover a wide area of drinkers so you need to make yourself noticed to stay in their good books (and be first on the refill list). This year, beer clocks out around €9.50 so, at the very least, tell your server to keep the change.

Get in the spirit and dress in the traditional garb.

Lederhosen for the guys, dirndls for the girls; these traditional outfits are sold all over Munich and surrounding cities during and leading up to the festivities. Check out any local department stores (K&F, C&F, Kaufhof ) or specialty store for your outfit prior to your Oktoberfest experience. How you wear your outfit says a lot about you as well: a dirndl tied on the left = available; right = taken; centre = basically a chastity belt. If you opt not to dress the part, just don’t wear anything that might be ruined if tons of beer is spilled on it. It’s going to happen.

Get familiar with the songs of Oktoberfest.

In each tent, a band belts out the classic Oktoberfest tunes while many sing along, and it’s infinitely more fun when you know the words. Here are some of the ones to check out beforehand: Ein Prosit, Fliegerlied, and Viva Colonia. English songs that you may already be familiar with are also on heavy rotation: Sweet Home Alabama, YMCA, and Take Me Home, Country Roads.

Learn the language.

Right, so German isn’t really one of those languages you can pick up easily over night. Taking the time to learn a few common phrases can help you get on the servers’ good side and maybe even in with a fun local crowd. Here are a few key German phrases that will help you during your Oktoberfest experience:

A stein of beer: ein maß (ß is a double ‘s’ so the word is pronounced mass).
Thank you: Danke
Please: Bitte
You’re welcome: Bitte schön
Cheers!: Prost!

Put your foot on the table and chug your entire beer.

When you sit and drink all day, it’s important to get up and stretch. Many will do this on their bench. Note, however, that a foot on the table signals the tent that you are prepared to chug your entire stein and backing out is not an option. This tradition is the primary entertainment for the first few hours of the day when everyone is still calm and seated. If you’re successful, you will be rewarded with the entire tent cheering for you. There are few better feelings.


Oktoberfest Tips: Pace Yourself

Oktoberfest DON’Ts

Don’t put your foot on the table and chug your entire beer.

As mentioned above, a foot on the table equals you drinking a litre of beer quickly in front some 5000-8000 spectators. If you’re daring enough to try, its important to realize that your failure will also equal 5000-8000 spectators mercilessly booing you so make damn sure you can follow through on your commitments.

Don’t tent hop on busy days.

If you manage to secure a seat in a tent, don’t try to hop to another after a few hours. It’ll likely be rammed and you might not luck out twice in one day. While each tent has varying characteristics, the experience is more or less the same. The grass is usually not greener in these situations.

Don’t accidentally leave the tent.

Often people don’t realize that they’re exiting the tent when in search of washrooms and smoking area and cannot get back inside. Check with security to ensure you’ll be able to re-enter.

Do not wear sandals or open-toe shoes.

This is a beer festival and, inevitably, some people get pretty intoxicated. Best case, some drunken lout stomps on your foot while jumping along to a traditional Bavarian song. Worst case, the almost 3 lbs stein is knocked on to the floor and breaks its fall on your foot (or shatters and you step on it while trying to chug back your beer). Also, the floors get extraordinarily grimy.

Do not bring valuables.

Spillage is unavoidable at Oktoberfest – just wait until you start swaying to the oompah band. Protect your belongings by leaving them at your hotel/hostel/campground. And let’s be serious, after a few litres are you really in a competent state of mind to monitor your valuables? I think not. Case in point: every year, the official Oktoberfest lost & found records are published and you don’t want to be just a number in the statistics.

Girls, don’t bring a purse.

It’ll sit on the beer drenched table (or worse yet, the gunk-y floor), and after two maß you’ll forget you have it entirely. Just put what you need in your pockets if possible. Bonus – most dirndls have zipper and lined pockets.

Don’t try to steal a stein as a souvenir of your Oktoberfest experience.

The enormous security guards are just waiting for you to try. Bag checks have increased in the past few years so you’d better not even try as it’s pretty hard to hide a heavy one litre glass stein anywhere else. If caught, the hefty fine you’ll be subjected to will definitely kill your buzz. You can purchase a (clean!) stein at the festival.

Don’t sleep in the park outside the Oktoberfest grounds.

While all that drinking may make you sleepy, going for a nap in the park is not advisable. I know it’s not a shocker but you’d be surprised how much beer clouds people’s judgement. Thieves and pickpocketers prey on the bierleichen (beer corpses).

Don’t try to make extra space for your group by not allowing others to sit in empty spots.

Not only will this hoarding strategy deprive you of the opportunity to bond with other beer enthusiasts – Oktoberfest is nothing if not a jovial celebration amongst strangers – you can also expect some nasty looks from German’s just looking for a spot to enjoy a beer.


The Devil’s in the Details

It’ll be more local during the week and more international on the weekends.

The second weekend is known throughout Bavaria as the Italian weekend where you’ll witness tens of thousands of Italy’s finest flocking to the north to partake in this epic festival. As a result, the Oktoberfest grounds and tents are extremely busy.

Reservations are not required…

Reservations are available for tables in tents, but need to be made early in the year and usually you have to reserve the whole table (8+ spots). You do pay for the reservation, but more as a downpayment – you shell out in advance for two steins and 1/2 chicken per person. If you’re with a small group, you should be able to find a spot, especially on a weekday.

…but not having a reservation will make it more difficult.

Thousands of festival goers show up during the festival without a reservation with varying levels of success. Weekdays are your best opportunity to find a table while weekends you will need to go very early (ie. before 7am) and still aren’t guaranteed a seat in one of the tents. On weekends half of the tables have reservations; all others are fair game. If a table has an ‘R’ sign on it, it’s reserved – it may not be until several hours later which means you can occupy the table until then, but will have to move once the reserving party arrives.

There are a couple of last ditch efforts to snag a reservation.

If you’re staying at a 3+ star hotel and don’t have a reservation – check with the concierge if they have any available. Often hotels will make reservations in advance and provide to their guests during their stay if requested. Another trick is to go early, grab a table and tip your server very well. After you’ve established a good rapport, explain that you’re interested in a table that evening or the following day. Often times, some groups are no shows for their reservations and the servers will be able to seat preferred customers there instead.

Do you have any Oktoberfest tips to add? Let us know in the comments below!


Photos courtesty of Flickr, Tom Ayres via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Rod Cuthburt via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, and Lauren Barth


 

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Lauren Barth

Lauren Barth

Lauren Barth co-founded Departful in 2012 is the Managing Director of Departful Media. Since then she has worked between North America and Europe and has published content in partnership with a variety of tourism boards and businesses based around the world. Lauren is currently based in Toronto, Canada.

Departful is a travel magazine that provides accessible, relevant, and thoughtful travel tips and ideas to inspire people to explore the world around them. We feature travel articles, travel tips, and photography based on our own experiences from over 100 countries covering all things adventure, culture, food and drink, technology, and gear. Made with ❤ in Toronto.