The infamous Oktoberfest takes over Munich for two weeks each year, typically kicking off in mid to late September to take advantage of milder temperatures. This iconic festival dates back to 1810 when the citizens of Munich were invited to partake in the lavish celebration of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen’s marriage – and the party hasn’t stopped since. While Oktoberfest is portrayed as an ‘anything goes’ adventure, some forethought is strongly recommended to ensure that you get the most out of your Bavarian experience. Here are the essentials you should know before you go:


Visiting Oktoberfest: The Good, The Bad, and The Italian

Oktoberfest Munich

The festival spans three weekends which are when it’s busiest. The opening day, falling on the first Saturday, is rich with the traditions of this historic event including Trachten- und Schützenumzug, the Costume and Riflemen’s Procession, where a crowd of 8,000+ marches in their finest regional attire.

The mayor of Munich officially opens the festival by tapping the first keg of beer in the Schottenhamel tent at noon – so while you can be in a tent as early as 9am (arrive even earlier to get a seat), the brau won’t start flowing until after 12. But don’t fret, on all other days, the beer is served first thing when the tent opens. During the second weekend, you may find Germans to be in the minority when Munich is infiltrated by beer drinking and party seeking Italians (aptly dubbed ‘The Italian Weekend’). The final weekend represents the last hurrah as Oktoberfest winds down, but do not expect any less excitement. No matter which weekend you go, expect to be body to body in a very diverse and international crowd.

Weekdays, by contrast, are much more civil – festival goers can snag a seat in most tents without worrying about being trampled by a lederhosen-clad mob. Plan to go in the late afternoon when the atmosphere gets increasingly lively. It is possible to reserve tables in the tents but they are usually sold out several months in advance – maybe this will be the motivation you need to get organized earlier next year!


Tents vs. Gardens

Oktoberfest Munich

There are fourteen main “tents” (and several smaller ones) on the Oktoberfest grounds. The term tent is misleading – these are behemoth wooden structures that can fit upwards of 5,000 eager beer drinkers. Each tent has its own beer and unique personality – Schottenham is more traditional, locals flock to Augustiner, Hofbrau is overrun with Australians, the “heaven of the Bavarians” resides in the Hacker tent, and Hippodrome is the place to mingle with the German glitterati.

In addition to the tents, beer gardens are also scattered around the Wies’n grounds. What’s the difference between these two? Well, tents are more energetic and lively, widely attributable to the live music – you’ll be singing and swaying along to the oompah band in no time. The crowd is also slightly younger which is made even more apparent later in the day when the band may be replaced by a DJ and the tent could be mistaken for a night club.

The gardens are great on a warm sunny day and provide a relaxed and social environment, popular with families (little liederhosen-ed children are an adorable perk). I’ve done both tents and gardens at Oktoberfest and while they definitely had different vibes – dancing on the table benches with 6,000 people in the Hacker Festzelt versus being fed homemade Bavarian food after befriending a local family with my limited German skills in the Lowenbrau beer garden – they were both unparalleled experiences.


What to Wear

Oktoberfest Munich

There may be nothing more synonymous with Oktoberfest than lederhosen (fine, maybe beer). You will see the typical Bavarian dress widely on display at this festival, not only because of its long tradition, but also due to its recent resurgence in popularity, particularly among younger generations. For men, lederhosen is the standard attire, and comes in a magnitude of styles and materials: leather, cloth, painted on a tshirt (trust me), with suspenders or without, short shorts, calf length… you get the point. Most guys pair it with a long sleeve dress shirt, usually white or a coloured checkered pattern.

For the ladies, the dress is called a dirndl and it gives the wearer that whole ‘beer wench’ look. The dirndl comprises the dress and apron and can be found in a plethora of colours and patterns but you do need to buy the pouffy white top worn underneath separately – what can only be described as a pirate’s bandeau. Just because you’re a visitor to the Oktoberfest does not mean that you should forgo the standard attire – you’ll get more into the festivities if you look like you belong. Lederhosen and dirndls can be found all over Munich throughout the festival and start at around €100 (well worth it as you’ll have a sure fire Halloween costume for years to come).


Eat, Drink and Be Happy

Oktoberfest Munich

Litre Steins (“Maß”, pronounced Mass) of breweries’ Oktoberfest brau are the standard across all of the tents and gardens at the festival. Oktoberfest can be a long day: it starts early and ends late. Drinking a few Masses over a couple of hours may put you out of commission. If you see your experience as more of a marathon than a sprint, try adding Radlers to your drink rotation. Radlers are half beer, half lemonade served in steins that provide a very refreshing alternative to straight beer, especially if enjoyed in a beer garden on a hot day.

Okay so you have the drinking part down – Now on to food. I can think of no better food to pair with all day beer drinking than the hearty fare offered at Oktoberfest: Bratwürste (sausage), Hendl (rotisserie chicken), Weißwürste (white breakfast sausage), Käsespätzle (dumpling-noodle-ish with cheese), and the classic Laugenbrezel (your typical pretzel on steriods). There are also hundreds of vendors on the Weis’n grounds selling candies, sweets, and snacks to soak up all that alcohol.


How to Make Friends and Alienate People

Oktoberfest Munich

Communal seating is common in most tents and beer gardens, so depending on the size of your group, you will likely have some strangers (or new friends by the second Maß) squeezed in beside you. If you have room at your table, do not try to spread out or claim that half of your group is in the bathroom so that you can have it to yourself – a constant flow of people will be asking if the space is available and you will be heckled once people see that your fictitious friends have not materialized (I’ve seen it happen).

As the day flows on, tent goers transition from sitting pleasantly at the tables to standing on the benches, swaying their steins with, and singing along to, the lively music of the full brass German band. But be warned: do not put a foot on the actual table unless you are prepared to drink a lot of beer extremely quickly, as this is the universal Oktoberfest sign for chugging your Maß. If you are not up for the challenge, then do not attempt this feat – a litre is a lot of beer and the entire tent will boo you if you show any sign of weakness.

My number one tip is to tip. With 5,000 other enthusiastic beer drinkers, the beer servers are not short on customers. If you want them to return for your second drink, tip a couple of Euros. But really, carrying upwards of 10 steins at once deserves a reward in and of itself.


Find your Bearings…Before You Lose Them


Now that you have the details, here is how to make it there: Otkoberfest takes place at Theresienwiese (“Weis’n) is just west of Munich altstadt (old town) and can be reached by U Bahn (metro) from the Hauptbahnhof on the U4 or U5 lines. You can also walk the 1.5km from the central station or grab a taxi if you are not up for a jam packed metro ride.

Photos by Grufnik, Gotcoffee, asirap, Lauren Drea, andrijbulba

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Lauren Barth

Lauren Barth

Lauren Barth co-founded Departful in 2012 and 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 full service travel agency for busy professionals seeking unique and transformative custom travel experiences. We create memorable holidays that are 100% tailored to our clients, saving them time and energy by handling all of the little details while providing value by leverage our expertise and network of travel partners. We are based in Toronto.

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Departful is a full service travel agency for busy professionals seeking unique and transformative custom travel experience. We create memorable holidays that are 100% tailored to our clients, saving them time & energy by handling all of the little details while providing value by leverage our expertise and network of travel partners. We are based in Toronto.

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