Interested in paying homage to Bavaria’s favorite beverage? We’ve got some tried, tested, and true Oktoberfest advice to ensure your experience runs more smoothly than the author’s last attempt at conquering Europe’s biggest beer bash did. Strap on your lederhosen or dust off your dirndl, and let’s go!
Have you’ve always dreamed of partying at Oktoberfest in Munich? Don’t worry— you’ve still got tons of time to prepare. As everybody knows, Oktoberfest takes place in October, so I’m sure you can just show up and party with little to no planning, right?
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you couldn’t be any more misinformed. Oktoberfest actually begins in September, with the ceremonial tapping of the first keg by the Lord Mayor of Munich. While the early bird may get the worm, you still have a little time to get to Munich to give that aforementioned worm a tutorial in partying 101.
Learn from My Mistakes
They say that the best way to learn about something is to tackle it head-on and then learn from your mistakes. As an eager beer enthusiast, I spent years dreaming about visiting Munich’s autumn-inspired keg-fest. While I planned ahead and booked a hotel room six months in advance, there were still several lessons that I unfortunately learned the hard way. While I may not have survived Oktoberfest, I can certainly guarantee that you will if you follow my trusted advice.
Just the Facts
Originally held to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 18, 1810, today Oktoberfest in Munich is known as the largest “people’s fair” in the entire world. The festival draws over six million visitors for sixteen frenetic days of eating, drinking, and amusements. During this time, almost seven million liters of beer are knocked back, and more than five hundred thousand chickens and one hundred forty thousand pairs of sausages are wolfed down by locals and visitors alike.
Book Hotels and Train Tickets in Advance
Hotel rooms in and around central Munich fill up months in advance, and even campgrounds tend to be maxed out during the festival. As every Bavarian, and Italian for that matter, is as interested in the festival as you are, don’t expect to find a comfortable, cheap place to stay right around the corner from the Wiesn. Also, if you do book well ahead, be prepared for special “festival pricing.” The Disney-themed family room I accidentally booked in the commuter suburb of Pasing was no bargain at over 100€ (US$128) a night—and that was with significant advanced booking.
Hotels of all prices and styles in the beautiful and historic city of Nürnberg, only an hour outside of Munich by high-speed rail, still have rooms readily available. At the time of writing, numerous discounted rooms in Nürnberg could be found on the Hotel Deals section of TripAtlas.com. Augsburg, Ingolstadt, Landshut, and Rosenheim are also popular alternative accommodation choices for partygoers who can’t find a place to stay in central Munich.
Trains always fill up during the festivals, so you’d be wise to plan your time and make rail reservations in advance of traveling. The Deutsche Bahn Web site is easy to use, and it is imperative to bookmark this site prior to traveling. Here you can check schedules, travel times between cities, and most importantly, make online reservations. It may come as no surprise that most high-speed and long-distance trains in Germany require that seat reservations be made at an extra cost. Simply showing up, buying a ticket, and sitting wherever you’d like doesn’t fly in Germany.
Prepare a Battle Plan
Do a little homework and create a list of the tents, events, and activities that you want to visit. Each tent offers a unique atmosphere and supplies visitors with their own special niche.
For instance, the Hacker-Festzelt is a larger tent that features a beautifully painted ceiling known as “the heaven of Bavaria.” The Schottenhamel is where the first keg is tapped and is a popular choice amongst younger people. Those looking for sekt (German sparkling wine) and a trendier tent popular with European celebs you’ve probably never heard of will like the Hippodrom. The foreign-backpacker crowd most often frequents the Hofbräu-Festzelt, while the local favorite is often considered to be the Augustiner-Festhalle, where excellent beer is served straight from wooden barrels rather than from stainless steel kegs.
Show Up Early on the Days You Want to Attend
There is one very important rule to remember at Oktoberfest: no seat means no beer. To avoid wandering around a packed tent sober as a judge while every one around you appears to be having the time of their lives, you must arrive early. Now, early has a different meaning to different people, so I’ll spell it out for you: make sure you arrive at your desired beer tent by 2 p.m. on weekdays and well before noon on weekends. Try to avoid the opening weekend of the festival altogether if you can.
Despite the fact we attended on a weekday, my group wandered around several tents for almost two hours looking for seats. After trying to sneak into a corporate section under the false claim that we were with “Herr Meyer” and a run-in with some annoyed German businessmen, we finally gave up and sat outside on an unseasonably cold September evening. While it was still a great time, the frigid beer garden lacked the rousing music, singing, dancing, and overall atmosphere of the massive tent just beyond our reach.
Don’t Forget Your Credit Card
Although it costs nothing to enter the grounds or the beer tents, pulling up a picnic table and enjoying a delicious liter of lager will certainly hit your pocketbook. As a matter of fact, the official price for a liter of delicious lager is between 8.10 € (US$10.30) and 8.60€ (US$11.00) this year. That’s $11 for a beer, but keep in mind that it is a very large beer. Food prices within the tents also involve some gouging, but this is to be expected when you have a captive market of thirsty beer drinkers looking to satisfy the munchies.
Make sure to grab a souvenir or two. We could not find Trachten wear or traditional German costumes for cheap (despite our best efforts), and honestly, when will you actually wear calfskin lederhosen again? Souvenir mugs are sturdy enough to survive the trip back home, and they’ll look fantastic in your kitchen or on your mantle. Don’t try and steal glasses from the tents because if you get caught you will be dealt with in a stern Germanic manner. As a matter of fact, thieves may be fined up to €50 (US$64) for each glass they are caught with. Please note that this particular experience was not had by the writer of this article for a change. Honestly! I purchased my stein legally from a souvenir stand.
Don’t Try to Be a Hero
Sure you can out-drink your new middle-aged German friends. I know that, you know that, but you don’t have to try and prove it to them. Yes, they are in their forties and you are young, fit, and straight out of college, but they have experience, wisdom and canny on their side. Oktoberfest beer, or Märzen, is brewed to a higher strength than conventional lager, and the one-liter steins account for more than three American-size bottles of beer for each large frothy glass you quaff. If you arrive early, you’ll have plenty of time to get to work on drinking your massive Maß of Oktoberfest beer.
Give Yourself Several Days in Munich
There is a lot to see around Munich that doesn’t involve Oktoberfest. You’ll find the city alive with history, art, and much old-world charm. If you are looking for the same hearty Bavarian atmosphere that you’ll find within the beer tents at the festival, you can simply seek out the city’s famous beer halls. Most travelers visit the world-famous Hofbräuhaus, which is so popular that they have opened satellite beer halls of the same name all around the world. The Augustiner Keller in the old town features beautiful vaulted ceilings, walls adorned with hunting trophies, and some of the best food and drink this side of Düsseldorf.
In closing, I suggest that you give yourself at least three or four days in Munich to take in both Oktoberfest and the city itself. It is my advice to commute to the festivals from outside of Munich. Pre-book your train tickets to avoid disappointment and travel with at least one type A personality who would rather die than miss the train back home. Arrive as early as possible in order to find seats (and seats together), and take things nice and slow so as to soak up as much oompah-pah as possible.
Originally published on TripAtlas