If you are not Bavarian and haven’t done Oktoberfest since childhood on an annual basis, I suggest you take some time to plan your first visit to the largest beer festival in the world that attracts over seven million people yearly. You will have fun either way, but reading a few (or 50) Oktoberfest tips before actually doing it will help you to be prepared and less stressed during the event.
I happened to attend my first Oktoberfest exactly three days after moving to Germany. One thing I can say with certainty: this was the best introduction to a new country I could have imagined. Here are some essential tips for visiting Oktoberfest in Munich from personal experience.
50 Oktoberfest Tips for the First-Timers
Where and When Does Oktoberfest Happen?
- The first ever Oktoberfest was a celebration of the wedding between Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen and Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria that started on the 12th of October 1810 and lasted for five days. Such a great time the people of Bavaria had that it was decided to make these festivities an annual tradition. Over the years, Oktoberfest turned from a 5-days celebration into a 17-days event. It was also moved forward and nowadays starts on the second to last Saturday of September primarily because of better weather conditions.
- Oktoberfest takes place in the meadow, where it was originally held, called Theresienwiese in honor of Princess Therese. Locals shorten the name to “Wiesn”.
- The easiest way to get to Oktoberfest grounds is by taking U-Bahn (metro). Take U4 or U5 train and get down at Theresienwiese or Schwanthalerhöhe. Once you exit the train, there are signs pointing out to the grounds. For other modes of transportation check out the official Oktoberfest website.
- Theresienwiese is an enormous ground taking up 420 000 square meters and featuring 14 large beer tents that can each accommodate thousands of people. The small tents have space for 1 000 to 1 500 people, while the largest ones — for 8 000 to 10 000. Apart from the tents, there are plenty of carnival rides and entertainment at Oktoberfest grounds, as well as food stalls that sell traditional German snacks and drinks.
- As Oktoberfest lasts for 16 to 18 days, you need to decide when you want to visit. The first weekend of Oktoberfest is the opening weekend when you can see the parade of people dressed in traditional costumes going through town and when the mayor taps the first beer keg. The second weekend is known as “Italian weekend” because of thousands of Italian tourists who come to visit. The event is especially packed and locals try to avoid Oktoberfest during this time. The third weekend is the closing of the festival.
- Since many visitors are out-of-towners, booking accommodation during Oktoberfest is extremely difficult and expensive. Try to plan ahead and book a hotel or an Airbnb a few months in advance. I can’t stress enough how important that is. I started looking for accommodation a week before Oktoberfest and all I could find was camping in a tent for almost a $100 per night!
- There’s no entrance fee, you only pay for the food, drinks, souvenirs, and rides. You can, however, make table reservations, but just as in case with booking accommodation, it’s not easy and has to be done way in advance. Reservations open as early as January and are primarily given to locals, especially those who book tables year after year. You can’t reserve a seat, only a whole table (for 10-12 people). The reservation itself is free, but you will be required to buy food and drinks vouchers (usually two beers and one chicken per person) in advance. If you don’t have a reservation, don’t worry — usually a quarter of all tables is unreserved in each tent (on weekends until 3 pm — half of the tables are free from reservation and about 1/3 after 3 pm).
- Download the official Oktoberfest App which has all the essential information and tips for visiting the festival. With the app, you can check the map of the fair grounds, find the best activities for kids, and even see how crowded the tents are at the moment.
How Do I Dress Up of Oktoberfest?
- Dressing up in traditional Bavarian clothes is not required, but highly recommended. Almost everyone is wearing traditional costumes, so you’ll definitely stick out if you don’t. You can buy a costume in souvenir shops and clothing stores when you get to Munich. Just before and during Oktoberfest traditional clothes is sold on every corner. You can also order it online in advance. The price will depend on the quality, but expect to spend at least a 100 Euro for a complete outfit (and that’s for a so-so quality costume).
- Girls wear a dress called Dirndl that consists of a bodice, a skirt, and an apron. When buying a Dirndl, make sure to go for a traditional version. Dirndl skirt should be around knee-length. Short skirts are frowned upon by the locals. Also, know how to tie your apron: it is usually tied on the right side if the girl is taken and on the left — if single. Pigtails is a popular hairdo for women and can be accessorized with flower headbands sold at the grounds.
- Guys’ traditional costume is Lederhosen, short or knee-length pants made of leather with suspenders worn over a checkered shirt. You can also wear a matching overcoat, a hat with a feather or a pom-pom, and traditional shoes called Haferl to get a complete look.
- Backpacks are not allowed at Oktoberfest grounds. It’s best to take only essentials with you and put them in your pockets. Girls are allowed to take small purses that will be searched at the entrance.
- If you bring a backpack or a large purse, you can leave it at the counter near the entrance for a small fee. Expect to stay in a short line to get it back afterwards.
- Annually, about 4000 items are lost and found at Oktoberfest, most common of which are sunglasses, mobile phones, clothes, and ID cards. All the lost items are usually given to Oktoberfest lost and found office the following day. Items that were not collected from the office until the end of Oktoberfest are then transferred to Munich’s central lost and found office for six months. Afterwards, they are sold in a public auction. Read how I lost and miraculously found my sunglasses at Oktoberfest here.
What to Expect on the First Day of Oktoberfest?
- On the first day of Oktoberfest, you can witness the opening ceremony which takes place in the oldest (dating back to 1867) and one of the largest (accommodating 10 000 people) tent at the festival — Schottenhamel. At 12 pm Munich’s mayor taps the first keg of beer and exclaims “O’zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!”), thus declaring the festival open.
- If you want to see the opening ceremony, you’ll have to come no later than 6.45 am and stay in line in front of the grounds. Wear something warm as it might be chilly in the morning and take some hot coffee and sandwiches with you. The gates to Oktoberfest open at 9 am on the first day, so you’ll have to stand in the cold for at least two and a half hours.
- Some people drank beer while waiting in line. I am not sure it’s officially permitted, but the police were turning a blind eye and didn’t say anything. Bringing my own beer to a beer festival and drinking before sunrise is rather hardcore for me, but hey! you do you!
- Once the gates to Oktoberfest open at 9 am, people run in like their life depends on it. Given that each tent has a limited amount of tables that are not reserved, it’s essential that you get from the gates to the tent as fast as possible. Make sure to check on the Oktoberfest app where the tent you want to visit is located so you don’t waste time once the gate opens. If you want to see the opening ceremony, you need Schottenhamel tent. Even though I was in the beginning of the line in front of the gates, getting a table inside Schottenhamel tent was still impossible. But you might score a table if you run to other, less popular tents.
- Since the gate opens at 9 and the opening ceremony starts at 12, you’ll have another 3 hours of waiting inside Schottenhamel tent. If you are lucky and got a table, you can order food and play cards with your friends and family (bringing cards to Oktoberfest is a good idea). If you didn’t get a table, consider yourself lucky anyways. Simply being inside Schottenhamel tent during the opening ceremony is really cool. The doors to the tent were closed about 15 minutes after we got in and people had to line up and wait outside for hours to get in.
- On the first day, beer is only served after the official opening ceremony happens at 12 pm. Once the mayor taps the keg, twelve gunshots are fired on the stairway of Ruhmeshalle as a signal for other tents to start serving beer.
- You can only order food and beer if you are sitting at a table. While you are waiting for the opening ceremony you can satisfy your hunger with a pretzel. They are sold by boys and girls dressed in traditional costumes and walking around the tent with large baskets filled with pastries.
- After the opening ceremony you can try to find a table at a less popular tent, but truth be told, it’s almost impossible. Your best chance is to find a table in the beer gardens outside of the tents. We had to spend about one and a half hours circling around to find a place to sit on the first day.
- Overall, I think the first day of Oktoberfest is a one-and-done kind of thing. I am happy I got to see the opening ceremony, besides, waiting in line at 7 am with other crazies and running towards the tent was a fun experience, but I wouldn’t do it again. If you don’t care for the opening ceremony, you can skip the first day all together without losing much. Watch my Instagram stories to get a taste of the first day at Oktoberfest!
What’s Up with All the Tents and How Do I Choose One?
- There are 14 tents at Oktoberfest representing 6 breweries: Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbräu, and Staatliches Hofbräu-München. Only beers brewed within Munich city limits under the German purity laws can be served at Oktoberfest.
- Tents open at 10 am on weekdays and 9 am on weekends. Tents close at 11.30 pm, but the last beer is served at 10.30 pm. There are two tents that are open till 1 am: Käfers Wiesnschänke and Kuffler’s Weinzelt. If you want to stay late, get to those tents early. If you come there by 10.30 pm it will be impossible to get a table.
- Weekends are busier then weekdays. Evenings are busier than mornings. If you don’t have a reservation, it’s best to plan your visit on weekdays before 3 pm — you’ll have great chances of getting a table and can even hop from one tent to another. If you manage to get a table in the evening or on a weekend, hopping is not a good idea, finding a new table may take hours.
- All tents are equally awesome, but have different atmosphere. Schottenhamel tent is considered to be the tent of youth, Augustiner tent is family-oriented and even has a “kid’s day”, Hacker-Festzelt is where all the locals hang out, and Hofbräu-Festzelt tent is where you’ll find international crowd with lots of American and British tourists.
- You want to be inside a tent, because that’s where you truly feel the atmosphere of Oktoberfest. You can stroll around the grounds, get food and drinks in smaller stalls, take carnival rides, or sit in a beer garden outside, but you really have to get inside a tent to experience the true spirit of Oktoberfest.
- There’s no such thing as holding a table for someone at Oktoberfest. If you see a free table or a free spot at a table — it’s yours. That doesn’t apply to reserved tables, though. You need to be quick and a tidbit pushy because there are thousands of people looking for a table at the same time. If you are shy and slow, you’ll end up standing the whole time.
- Tents tend to close their doors once they are at full capacity. Once you leave the tent, you might not be able to get back in. If you want to use a restroom, make sure to use the one inside the tent. If you want to go outside, ask the security guys at the exit whether you’ll be able to come back.
- The toilets — located both inside the tents and outside on the grounds — were the one thing that impressed me the most. Seven million visitors and the toilets are sparkling clean and have toilet paper! Wow! Seriously, I still can’t get over it. The toilets are free, but you can leave a small tip for the women working there.
- You can only order food and drinks if you are sitting at a table. If you can’t find one, try asking someone who’s already sitting to order a beer for you. As a thank you you can buy them a glass too.
- Once you sit down, tip your waitress in advance and she’ll take care of you well. There are way too many people inside tents eager to get her attention. By tipping up front you’ll make sure the waitress will always remember to bring you a Maß. A Maß, by the way, is one liter of beer that comes in a large glass that weighs 5 lb. A waitress can carry up to 13 Maß at once. So really, tip them well.
Is There Anything I need to Know About the Beer?
- A Maß (one liter of beer that comes in a large glass) is the only way beer is served at Oktoberfest. No bottles, no steins.
- Each tent represents one of 6 Munich breweries and has only one beer on tap. If you want to try several kinds, you’ll have to hop from tent to tent.
- The breweries make beer specially for Oktoberfest and it usually contains higher alcohol percentage (6% alcohol). So pace yourself! Two Maß — and you you’ll feel really-really well!
- If you are not a fan of beer, don’t get discouraged. Try Radler which is a mix of beer and lemonade. It sounds like an unlikely combination, but tastes great and has a sweet aftertaste. Take it from a person who hates beer and came to Oktoberfest for the cultural aspect of it, rather than drinking. There’s also a wine tent on the grounds.
I’ll Certainly Need Some Food to Soak Up the Beer, Right?
- All tents offer German classics like sausage, half a roast chicken, and potato salad, but there are a few specialties. Marstall tent is famous for their novel approach to cooking. They feature vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Schützen-Festzelt tent is famous for their suckling pig with malt-beer sauce. Ochsenbraterei that translates to “oxen grill” is famous for their meats. And Fischer-Vroni offers fish on a stick as their specialty.
- There are many food options in small stalls outside of the tents. You can find everything from half a roast chicken to sausages to strudel. The food in stalls is much cheaper than in the tents, but you’ll have to eat it while standing or walking.
- Some of the foods you absolutely must try at Oktoberfest include Hendl (half a roast chicken), sausages like Weißwurst and Currywurst, Brezel (pretzel), Käsespätzle (a German version of mac and cheese). Do not eat the Lebkuchenherzen (gingerbread cookie shaped as a heart). They are pretty, but taste horrible!
- The amazing thing about Oktoberfest is that with over 7 million people visiting and almost 7 million liters of beer served in the course of 17-18 days, all the drinks and food come in glass and ceramic ware. No plastic at the festival whatsoever! People do tend to steal the dishes and especially Maß glasses, so tents and stalls sometimes charge a deposit for the dishes.
How Much Money Will I Need?
- Bring cash and lots of it! Most of the places don’t accept credit cards and even when they do it’s easier and faster for the waitresses to deal with cash.
- Oktoberfest is an expensive festival. The cheapest beer at Oktoberfest 2018 cost € 10,70. Entrees are at least € 15-20, and pretzel will set you back € 5. Soft drinks are also €5, so I am not even sure it’s worth drinking Cola at €5 a bottle, I’d just go for beer.
Are There Oktoberfest Traditions I Should Know About?
- Germans say “Prost!” as “Cheers!” when clinking Maß glasses (clink at the bottom in order not to break the glass).
- “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” that translates as “A toast to cheer and good times” is a song you’ll hear a lot during Oktoberfest. It is basically a way to make people drink more as at the end of the song you say “Prost!” and drink.
- When clinking glasses and drinking make eye contact with your friends or you’ll have seven years of bad sex. At least that’s what Germans say…
- Once in a while you’ll see people standing up on a bench (some put a foot on the table, but that’s frowned upon) which means they are about to drink an entire Maß in one go. The whole crowd at the tent (which can be up to 10 000 people) then cheers them on. Although, if you fail to finish a Maß, the same crowd will boo you mercilessly. So don’t try it unless you are absolutely sure you can follow through.
- You might also notice some people inhaling white powder that looks ridiculously similar to cocaine. That is Wiesn Koks. Although it translates to “Oktoberfest cocaine”, the substance is harmful as it is made of glucose and menthol. There are no drugs or tobacco whatsoever, but you get hit by a sugar rush once you snort it.
- Oktoberfest is for making friends with strangers. As all the tables in tents are communal, you end up drinking beer, singing, and cheering with complete strangers and that is a fast recipe for making friends. Holding a table for your own party if there are empty seats is considered impolite, besides, you’ll miss out on a lot of fun!
- While Oktoberfest might be the main reason why you are traveling to Munich, don’t forget to explore the city itself. The capital of Bavaria is beautiful, has immense amount of things to do and delicious food to eat!
These are all my Oktoberfest tips for the first-time visitors! Phew! With just a little bit of planning, I promise you’ll have the most fun and stress-free celebration. Watch my Instagram stories to get a taste of the first day at Oktoberfest!
Do you have any other Oktoberfest tips to add? Leave your tips in comments!
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