Oktoberfest is one of the world’s best-known celebrations. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a brewery or small town around the globe that doesn’t have its own small promotion, celebration, or party related to this famous German celebration and beer festival.
If you’re headed to Germany in the fall, Oktoberfest in Munich is sure to be on your itinerary. While the celebration is massive, attending often requires plenty of planning – including booking months in advance.
In this beginner’s guide to Oktoberfest, you’ll learn everything you need to know to have an unforgettable experience at this world-famous festival, including when and where to celebrate and must-visit destinations to make the most of a trip to Germany. Plus, we share Oktoberfest travel tips for planning your trip well in advance or with just a few days’ notice.
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What Is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest takes place in Munich, Germany, from mid-September through the first week of October. The festival predates the founding of Germany itself, with the first recorded event taking place way back in 1810 as the 5-day marriage celebration between King Louis 1 and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen and included horse races.
In 1818 food and drink booths began to appear, which turned into large beer halls by the 20th century. The celebration continued to expand from there and is now one of the most well-known celebrations in the world.
Now to celebrate Oktoberfest, each of the breweries in Munich puts up a beer tent that can seat up to 6000 people. The two-week experience includes festival-type rides like Ferris wheels, daring drop rides, bumper cars, games, and food stalls with all the bratwurst and pommes, (or ‘sausages and fries’) you could want.
The festivities – known popularly for being beer-centric – start with an opening ceremony where Munich’s mayor pours the very first glass of beer. Total beer consumption tops two million gallons, serving approximately six million people annually.
Oktoberfest is free to attend. Travelers and local visitors alike only have to pay for the beer, food, rides, and games.
Entering the beer tents is also free. However, you need a reservation to get served inside the tents. Reservations require parties of 4-10 people, must be pre-paid, and guarantee you a table spot inside of the beer tent. Only by sitting at a table will you get served food and drink.
Reservations open up months prior and get scooped up pretty quickly. So, if Oktoberfest interests you, plan and check websites in advance!
Alternatively, there are tents with outdoor tables. Again, you must be at a table to get served, so if you find an outdoor table to your liking, grab one! The outdoor tables run on a first-come, first-served basis, so get here early and keep your eyes open for a free table.
Each glass of beer is one liter and requires two hands to lift and drink. Be sure to take a friend with you to help out!
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You can find traditional German food in food tents scattered across the Oktoberfest fairgrounds. These food options are generally bratwurst, currywurst, or pommes (fries), though you’ll find a wide range of foods
There are also pretzels, crepes, sandwiches, and other options for eating while walking around. Come prepared with cash to pay for your meal and look for booths with local specialties for a more authentic experience.
What to Wear to Oktoberfest
You can, of course, where whatever you like to the festival. Given the time of year in Munich, it will be chilly out, so keep the weather in mind and dress in light layers.
If you want to get into the Oktoberfest spirit, consider delving into traditional German attire. For women, this means wearing a dirndl, and for men, it’s lederhosen. A dirndl consists of a dress, apron, and blouse.
Lederhosen translates to “leather breeches” and are knee-length pants for men. Traditionally, they were used for hard, physical labor to protect the skin. They are now a popular garment for visitors attending Oktoberfest and looking to get into the spirit of the event.
Where to Stay for Oktoberfest
Most travelers headed to Oktoberfest stay in the city of Munich or the surrounding areas. It is most convenient to stay in the city and use public transportation to get to the fairgrounds, including taxis, Uber, and buses.
Hotels sell out quickly and can get expensive; however, they are a trusted option for your travels. Be sure to look into Airbnb, Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO), or home exchanges. These options are handy if you’re traveling in a group.
For budget travelers or last-minute visitors, you can also find camping and tent accommodation near the fairgrounds, only available during the event. These tend to be more party-oriented and relatively expensive despite the quality of the accommodations.
Other Beer Festivals
Despite its name, Oktoberfest ends in the first week of October. However, given the popularity of beer culture in Germany, you won’t be hard-pressed to find another beer festival if you can’t attend Oktoberfest itself.
The following options are possible if you’re able to travel during these times instead:
- Munich Beer Gardens – July
- Stuttgart Cannstatter Volksfest Beer Festival – September/October
- Berlin Beer Festival – August
- Dachauer Volksfest – August
- Augsburg Liquidhopsbash – September
While You’re In Germany
Oktoberfest goes on for two weeks. If you need a break from the party, take the time to explore the countryside. Germany is a beautiful country with plenty to do and see. Renting a car is simple, and German rules for driving, including on the autobahn, are easy to follow.
About one and a half hours southwest of Munich is Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Given its proximity to the Austrian border, you’ll see part of the Alps as they spill over into Germany. This region is also close to several other great things to see, including the unmissable Partnach Gorge.
The Partnach Gorge is a protected area, so you must pay a fee to enter (cash only). The easiest way is to park at the Olympic stadium and walk the 20-minutes to the Gorge entrance. The Gorge includes a long, narrow walkway on the side – while the walkway is flat and level, it is wet, making it treacherous. Water-protective clothing and comfortable shoes are a must.
Not far from Garmisch is Eibsee Lake. Impressive mountains surround the lake, including Germany’s tallest mountain – Zugspitz. It makes for a breathtaking visit! There are hiking trails that you can explore, weather permitting, and a lodge restaurant to take a meal break.
If you’re a Disney fan, then swing by the Neuschwanstein Castle – Disney modeled their castle after it! You can take tours inside, and the town below offers food and shopping options to help you pass the time.
Northwest of Munich is Heidelberg, a smaller, charming German city too often left off of travelers itineraries. Home to the famous Heidelberg University, you’ll get great college-town vibes here with plenty of places to eat, shop, and hang out.
Plus, you can visit Heidelberg Castle, known for being the most famous castle ruins in the world. Be prepared for all the photo ops. Heidelberg looks like a postcard!
Other Places to Visit
These are excellent locations to visit in Germany near Munich as a way to enhance a visit to Oktoberfest. However, there is plenty to see and do in the rest of the country.
It goes without saying that a stop by Berlin is well worth your time. If you’re interested in World War II history, plan to visit some famous battle sites, ruins, and museums from that time. Hamburg, along the coast, can also give you another perspective on German history and culture.
Oktoberfest is one of the most famous celebrations in the world, and while a visit might not be right for every traveler, there are many ways to appreciate and enjoy a trip to this unforgettable festival. While countries and cities around the world have adopted many of these traditions so that you can celebrate them locally, there is nothing quite like experiencing the original.
Look into planning a visit to Oktoberfest for your next European experience. You won’t regret it!
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Sanjana is a physician anesthesiologist, avid traveler, and entrepreneur. She founded The Female Professional in order to give women a voice, a community, and provide resources to help them overcome hurdles and achieve success. With her experiences as a physician, as a CEO of a startup, and as a writer, she understands the struggles and frustrations that women face. She also understands what it takes to move past those things and come out on top. Through this platform, Sanjana aims to empower women to be their best, authentic selves, achieve work/life balance, and live life to the fullest.