There aren’t many other things in this world that bring people together quite the way Oktoberfest does. The world’s largest beer festival is something that should be on every beer lover and traveler’s bucket list. You’ll find people from all walks of life and all areas of the world reveling in beer, sausages, carnival rides and live music.
We visited Oktoberfest for the first time in September of 2018 as a birthday trip for Howard. His birthday falls right around the start of Oktoberfest and he’s also from Cincinnati, which just so happens to be Munich’s sister city. So you could say Oktoberfest is in his blood. Needless to say, we were more than pumped to check this off our travel list!
As a first time visitor to Munich’s Oktoberfest, it can seem a little overwhelming at first. With over two dozen “tents,” it can be hard to decide where to spend your time and money, how many days to dedicate to a drinking event, what to wear and so on.
Here are some essential tips and lessons learned to maximize your fun at Oktoberfest:
Navigating the Tents
With over a dozen large “tents” and close to two dozen small “tents,” it’s nearly impossible to visit them all during one trip to Oktoberfest. You might have noticed we keep putting the word tent in quotes… that’s because these structures are anything but tents. The larger houses look like permanent, elaborate structures that can accommodate over 8,000 people. (Multiply that number, times the amount of tents and you’ll start to understand the scale of Oktoberfest!) Each tent is operated and sponsored by a brewery, family or business and has a unique theme and decor to match.
- Reservations aren’t required: We only had reservations for the last night of our trip. We’d highly recommend doing it this way if you’re going to make reservations at all. Trust us, Oktoberfest is exhausting and you’ll be glad to have a dedicated table to sit at towards the end of your trip. Venturing into and out of the various tents is what’s most fun! Find a tent that has your kind of music and ambiance and then make friends. We found that 99% of the time, if there’s an open space at a table, people are willing to share, just ask. One of our favorite nights of the entire trip was sharing a table with new friends from India, Russia, and New Jersey!
- Eat the food: Oktoberfest is about much more than beer! Each tent creates their own menu, and there is a great deal of variety between them. Can you order sausages in all of them? Probably, but wouldn’t you like to try a German version of a charcuterie plate? We did, and had them several times!
- Bring cash: All purchases inside the tents must be made with cash, period. The servers are moving so quickly, and credit card machines are simply not an option. Outside, we did observe several locations accepting credit, but at Oktoberfest, cash is king. ATMs are everywhere, so don’t worry about getting more, and certainly DON’T display or carry large sums of money when traveling. That should be in Traveling 101.
- Don’t write-off the small tents: The first night we made it to the festival grounds, a lot of the large tents were at capacity (Download the official app here that will show which tents are “open” or “closed” for capacity reason!). This forced us to explore the lesser-known tents. It’s a more intimate experience and often times you’re served faster. We ended up going back to the same small tent three times!
- Visit during the week: If possible, plan your Oktoberfest trip during the week and walk the midways during the day. For obvious reasons, it’s less crowded and more enjoyable.
- Drink up, and don’t order too much: Those amazing pictures you see of people like us celebrating with a big stein of beer? Those are all inside of tents (or on the connected patios). You cannot take a stein from a tent out onto the midway. Abandon the beer if you have to, but don’t try and sneak one outside. On the midways, there are plenty of locations that will sell cocktails, but curiously no beer. To this day, we’re not really sure why?
What to Wear
Dress the part! It’s all about the dirndls and lederhosen (and we’re not talking about the tacky Halloween costumes)! Invest in a real, traditional outfit and you can thank us later. Oktoberfest-ers take enormous pride in the design of their outfits for this event and in fact wear similar dress throughout the year at events. While wearing a dirndl or lederhosen is certainly not required, you might feel a bit out of place if you show up in jeans and a t-shirt.
- Dirndl & Lederhosen: There are tons of shops around Oktoberfest to purchase either of these (look for stores around Munich or online that sell “Trachten” as it is called locally). Or do your research and planning ahead of time and order one from an authentic company. Wearing the same thing multiple days in a row is totally acceptable. These authentic German outfits can be a bit pricey and there’s no need to invest in more than one unless you want to spend that kind of money. Everyone in our group wore their outfits three days in a row, no shame here!
- Shoes: Plan to throw away whatever shoes you wear before your flight home. The amount of beer that will ultimately be spilled on them is unfathomable and you won’t want to wear (or smell) them ever again. And ladies, take it from me, don’t even attempt to wear heels of any sort. Your feet will die. A simple pair of Keds or similar sneakers will do the trick.
How long to visit Oktoberfest
Most locals and Europeans visit Oktoberfest for one to two days max. There’s good reason… your body can only handle so much beer and sausages. We’ve heard of people who plan 5 – 7 days at Oktoberfest and ultimately end up changing their plans.
- Don’t hit the ground running: If you’re flying from the U.S., chances are you’re going to be pretty jet lagged on day one. We made the newbie mistake of letting excitement and naivete get the best of us as we eagerly bounded into Oktoberfest the night we landed. It made for a late night of drinking and eating and our bodies didn’t recover as we headed into day two of more eating and drinking. If you can, take that first day in Munich to do a little low-key sightseeing and get some rest for the days to come.
- Three days is the sweet spot: Again, a person can only imbibe so much. These aren’t just normal glasses of beer… an Oktoberfest stein holds a whopping 1 Liter of beer.
Embrace the Chaos and Have Fun!
After all, it is one big festival centered around great German beer & food, so have fun! 99.9% of the people we encountered were friendly and looking to have a good time.
- Have a great time, but don’t get carried away: This should go with out saying, but don’t pass out in public or at one of the tables. Do not even put your head down to “rest.” We watched numerous people do this and you’ll be asked to leave immediately. Plus, if you’re that incapacitated, there’s a big tent used as a drunk tank. You don’t want to end up in there!
- Get ready for hilarious versions of American songs: We loved this! For whatever reason, there are a few songs such as Sweet Caroline, Sweet Home Alabama and the John Denver classic – Take Me Home, Country Roads that you will hear over and over…and over.
- Learn these two German songs before you go: Ein Prosit and the chorus of The Flyer Song (Fliegerlied)
- Know your sausages: There are so many different kinds of sausages! We all know Bratwurst, but a few of our favorites that we discovered with the Weisswurst (a gray-white colored sausage) and the dish, Currywurst which is exactly what it sounds like… Bratwurst seasoned with Curry spices. YUM.
We’re already looking forward to planning our next Oktoberfest trip!