Episode 12: The Oktoberfest Guide: Everything you need to know about the world's largest beer festival
You’re here because you need to know everything about attending Oktoberfest for the first time, yes? Great, let’s get into it. Here you’ll find information about the tents, traditions, where to stay, how long to stay, tips and tricks, encouragement to pace yourself and not become one of the infamous beer zombies, and plenty more!
Check out our podcast episode below to hear about our experience at Oktoberfest and continue reading for some extras.
What is The Oktoberfest?
It’s a beer festival and a carnival rolled into one beautiful, sauerkraut and pretzel filled event. But, let’s keep in mind the origin of The Oktoberfest, shall we? It was originally a wedding celebration for Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen to King Ludwig I. While it has certainly evolved into a beer-focused event, the original Oktoberfest had an Agricultural Fair and horse races which used to be the most popular event at the festival.
The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810. At that time, there were a few small beer stands and it wasn’t until 1818 that they introduced the first carnival rides — a set of swings and a carousel. Talk about a good time…
At today’s festival, beer is the focus. The carnival is pretty large and the only racing being done is who can finish a LITER of beer before it gets warm-ish.
It’s free! That’s right, just bring your best beer-drinking attitude, a pocketful of cash, and a deep belief in yourself that yes, yes you can drink multiple 1 LITER steins of beer.
There is no need to purchase a ticket to enter Oktoberfest. You could waltz right in and just wander around the festival without spending a single Euro. However, to partake in the event, you’ll probably need about $50-75 USD per day. Obviously that depends on how much you plan on drinking, eating, and the amount of rides (if any) you want to do.
I’ll break down the costs more below.
Food at the oktoberfest
You will never have trouble finding food at Oktoberfest. In fact, wherever you are standing, or sitting you’ll be within mere feet of a delicious meal.
If you have a table in one of the beer halls, you can order food from your waitress. The food inside the beer halls is more expensive than the food stalls just right outside, so if you’re trying to stay on budget, opt for eating outside the halls.
I would recommend ordering at least one meal inside the beer tents — if only to give yourself a full experience, but also because the huge platters of food they were bringing out looked amazing.
We chose to only eat outside the beer halls and we had some pretty damn good stuff as well, and only spent a couple euros each time.
Inside the tents: Ordering food inside the tent will cost ya about 15 Euros for a meal. A snack, like a pretzel, will be about 5ish Euros.
Outside the tents: There are food stalls all over the place, where you can get pork sandwiches, pretzels, brats and sauerkraut sandwiches, and treats for about 4-6 Euros.
Drinking at the oktoberfest
The main event. There are 14 big beer halls and a handful of smaller tents. There will not be a hefty beer menu; in fact we never looked at a menu in our 3 days at the festival. Whenever we ordered a beer, we simply said, “ Ein bier, bitte,” which is pronounced, ayn beer bit-uh. This simply means, “A beer, please” and we just took whatever they were bringing, every time it was a stein of Helles. Or we would specifically order a Radler (see below). At Oktoberfest, they generally keep things simple and offer 2-3 main choices of beer to order. For those that don’t LOVE beer, there are several options as well. Here’s a general breakdown of what is offered:
A pale lager and the most popular option
A darker lager, kinda malty in taste
A wheat beer, only available in certain tents
If you’re not a drinker, but want to partake in the festivities, there is a non-alcoholic beer choice at every tent
Half lemon soda, half Helles beer. Use these strategically, and to your advantage to avoid drinking too much alcohol, too quickly. They taste pretty good, too.
If you’re realllly not into beer, but want to whet your whistle, there is a wine tent at the festival. You can see all the tents and info HERE.
You will be drinking ALL DAY. The Oktoberfest beers have more alcohol content than your average beer. The beers come in LITERS. You do the math.
There are the infamous “beer zombies” which you will inevitably see scattered throughout the festival. You can see a prime example of a “beer zombie” in that photo to the right. Drink too much, too fast and that could be you. People WILL take photos of you. People will lay down on the ground and take photos WITH you….like in that picture below.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself, have a Radler once in awhile, don’t forget that water also exists, eat some food throughout the day, and you’ll be okay.
You need to be seated at a table to order beer. If you have a small group of a couple people, you can probably squeeze into a table (after asking the others at the table politely, of course). If you have a larger group, you should look into making a reservation for a table; I’ll talk more about reservations next.
A liter of beer will cost you about between 10 - 12 Euros. Plan on tipping 1 Euro per beer; this will keep your waitress happy to keep bringing you that sweet, sweet beer nectar.
You’ll need to figure out about how many beers you’ll be ordering per day to get a realistic budget. We ordered mayyyybe… 3 - 5 per day, but we also drank a little bit beforehand and we were not completely pissed by the end of the night, just “good and drunk”, as we call it.
Reserving a table
Like we said before, you’ll need to be seated to order a drink. The tents gets VERY busy on weekends and later in the day. If you have a small group (we had 4 people) you can usually squeeze yourself into a table. If you have a large group, make reservations. You can do that online here: Oktoberfest Table Reservations
Reservations for the most popular tents generally fill up at the beginning of the year from January to April. If you want one, you best jump on it as soon as you can.
If you get there early enough in the day (like, before noon-ish), you can find a table fairly easy. Once you get a table, don’t you dare move from that table! Unless it’s still early and you’ll be able to get a table elsewhere, or if you’re finished drinking and eating and just want to go mingle, or check out the carnival.
We made the mistake of having a table on a Friday night and then abandoning it in search of seats at a different tent. Needless to say, we couldn’t find one and ended up kind of just walking around and asking other people who were seated to order us something (we were very polite and chit-chatted for a bit).
Do not underestimate the sheer number of people (6 MILLION, to be exact) coming to the festival. And although there are 14 HUGE tents, they fill up very, very fast.
I don’t think you need to make a reservation for a table during the day time. We didn’t have a problem finding a place to sit most of the time. It’s the weekend and nighttime that are tougher/impossible to find a seat, make a reservations for those times.
Regardless of how many people are in your group, you will be reserving an entire table. Each table seats about 8-10 people. Remember when I said to ask people nicely if you can sit at their table? It’s because they’ve made a reservation for the entire table and may only have 5 people in their group…so be nice!
Table reservations are free. HOWEVER, each person has to buy food and drink vouchers in order to make a reservation.
Each tent handles making reservations a little differently, and honestly, it can be confusing as shit. When you go to the Reservations site I link to below, you’ll have to find the tent(s) where you want to make reservations, and then you’ll be taken to each tents individual reservation system to look for time slots and all that.
They just recently made it possible to make reservations online, you can do that here: Oktoberfest Table Reservations
Where to stay in Munich
Good budget option: We stayed at the Stoke Travel Campsite. It’s slightly outside the city, but easy to get to/from by public transportation. It’s rowdy, it’s very basic, it’s hundreds of tents lined up right next to each other. The Oktoberfest closes every night at 10:30 PM (there’s one that stays open ‘til 1:00AM), and the party continues back at the Stoke Travel Campsite until the sun comes up the following morning.
If you have a group, you can also reserve larger teepees, or if you want some privacy, there are solo tents available for a slightly higher price
They make you a hearty breakfast every morning, and cook dinner every night as well. They also have unlimited beer and sangria at the campsite for 10 Euros, OR you can use the code RAMBLINGGALS when you book and you’ll get FREE unlimited beer and sangria during your stay. You’re welcome, and sorry ‘bout the hangover.
Make reservations here: Stoke Travel
How far ahead to book: Basically, book as early as you possibly can; 8-12 months in advanced is optimum. If you’re making last-minute plans for Oktoberfest, you’re going to spend a shit-load of money and it’s going to be tough to find a good place to stay.
getting around munich
Getting around Munich on public transportation is easy, fast, clean, efficient, safe, and inexpensive.
You can find all the information about passes and how to get around here: Munich Traffic + Tariff
If you plan on being drunk, which you should be, take pictures or screenshots of the directions back to your accommodations. This way you won’t have to rely solely on your impaired memory to get you home!
Public Transportation pretty much runs on the honor system. They let you know ticket-checkers could be walking through and checking, but just get the ticket because you do not want the hefty fine.
If you’re going to Oktoberfest for the weekend, for example, you can purchase 3-day tickets for about 17 Euros.
If you’re going with a group, there’s also a group transit pass for up to 5 people for about 30 Euros.
What to wear at The Oktoberfest
You do not have to dress up in these traditional outfits. We did not. If, or when, we go back to Oktoberfest, we will probably rent or buy one beforehand. We simply couldn’t be arsed to actually take the time to try-on Dirndls, and it was kind of expensive to rent one.
We personally love to dress-up, and think it would make the festival even more fun. Even though I did not dress-up on this go around, I did not feel like I was out of place, or strange for NOT dressing up. It just seems like a good time to put on the traditional outfits.
Here are some details on the outfits for men and women:
Ladies: The traditional outfit is called a Dirndl. It’s basically a poofy skirt, a ruffled pirate-esque top that shows off your boobs (if you’ve got ‘em, now’s your time to shine) and a bow-tying etiquette which you should pay attention to.
If you tie your apron bow…
1. In the back: you’re a waitress or a widow
2. In the middle on the front: you’re undecided about your relationship status
3. To the left: you’re single
4. To the right: you’re taken or married
For shoes, some women wear high-heeled shoes or boots to kind of dress-up their Dirndl. Keep in mind you’ll be walking around, standing, dancing, getting rained on, and at some point, you will inevitably have beer spilled on you by a stranger, or you may be doing the spilling. If you have some comfy flats, ked-type shoes, or flat boots, I would recommend those. Just don’t wear your favorite pair of anything, because they may look unrecognizable when you’re through.
Where to get them: You can purchase a Dirndl before you leave, there are plenty of online shops you can buy them from.
Buying online beforehand: www.dirndl.com ships internationally and has pretty average prices
Buying when you arrive: The C&A Department stores have Dirndls at fair prices
Renting when you arrive: This is a good option if you have limited space in your luggage and don’t want to pack all the pieces that go with the outfit. When you are walking around Munich there are shops all over the place, and some smaller stalls right outside the festival that sell and rent the outfits.
There is also a reputable store just a 15 minute walk from The Oktoberfest called Bavarian Outfitters where you can rent your outfit for as many days as you need. You can also reserve your Dirndl online, so you know you’ll have exactly what you want when you get there.
Gentlemen: The traditional outfit is called Lederhosen and is basically a checkered, button-up shirt with leather shorts and suspenders. Usually it’s worn with high socks and suede or leather shoes. The same applies for the Lederhosen as it does with the ladies’ Dirndl’s in regards to renting or buying your traditional outfit. All the shops I saw sold both Dirndl’s and Lederhosen.
Don’t just get the cheapest Dirndl or Lederhosen, because they often look like a Halloween costume and are pretty obvious when you are there!
Bring something warm to cover up with! If you know about the thing we affectionately call “the alcohol blanket” then you know after a few liters of beer, you’ll probably be fairly warm. But the weather can be a little chilly, so bring a scarf or something small you can fit into your small bag. We brought scarves and just tied them around the straps of our crossbody bags. Again, don’t bring your favorite scarf.
The bathroom situation
As you can imagine, at a festival where beer is being drank by the liter and there are 7 million people attending, bathrooms are an important talking point. There are toilets in every tent, they are clean and there will be a bathroom attendant that keeps it tidy in there. They are free to use, but it’s pretty customary to tip the bathroom attendant a euro here and there.
During the day time, there was hardly lines for the bathroom and you can get in and out pretty quickly. In the evening and on the weekends, there will be lines to use the bathrooms so just be sure to hop in line before you’re on the edge of peeing your dirndl.
let’s talk beer tents
Okay, now that we’ve gotten all that other logistical stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the important stuff.
There are 14 massive beer halls at Oktoberfest. Some of them are strictly indoors, and others have wonderful outdoor beer garden areas. Let’s breakdown each of the 14 tents; they all kind of have their own personality!
Somehow (we were drunk) we managed to only get photos inside a couple of the large tents…we certainly failed in that respect. So you’ll just have to allow my description (and a few stock photos from Flickr) of the tents to paint a mental picture for you. Sorry ‘bout that.
Keep in mind that even though they are all a tad different, they are all pretty dang fun. There is certainly no tent that anyone could consider a dud, or boring. Each of them have rowdy crowds, live bands, people singing at the tippy-top of their lungs, thousands of liters of beer waiting to be drunk, and delicious food. So, use these as a guideline for deciding which tents you want to make a reservation at, but definitely check out as many as you can when you’re there! And don’t forget about all the little tents either!
The clouds here are not simply ascetically pleasing, the decor is kinda sweetly poetic. The proprietors (the guys and gals who run the tents) know that when you have a cold stein in your hand, you’re basically in heaven.
In addition to seating nearly 7,000 inside the tent, they also have a great beer garden that accommodates another 2,350 people.
In the center of the tent, there is a live band which plays Bavarian brass music during the day time, and a rock music later on in the evening.
This tent is a favorite among the young locals and has a good mix of other younger international visitors. It’s not ALL young people, but there is a good spread of ages here!
Hofbräu has another great outdoor beer garden which seats just over 3,000 people. This is the 2nd biggest tent at Oktoberfest. They, of course, have a live band and are the only beer hall at the festival that has standing room right in front of the band.
They also boast they are a family-friendly tent. And in that spirit, on Tuesdays from 11AM - 3PM, they hold 600 seats just for families with children and have meals targeted for children at discounted prices as well.
There’s a very international crowd here and Hofbräu is a favorite among visiting foreigners.
In the center of this tent, there is a “standing room only” area that fits about 1,000 people. It’s a good tent to just walk into on the weekdays and be able to order a beer without a seating reservation. However, this standing area fills up WAY fast on the weekends, so be prepared to get up at the ass-crack of dawn if you want that standing space and did not make a reservation elsewhere.
The newest of the beer halls, it is also on the smaller side. There are 3,200 seats inside and 1,000 outside.
Remember that the original Oktoberfest was heavily focused on horse racing? The Marstall tent is horse themed, with plenty of horse decorations around the tent. There’s less of an international party vibe here and it feels a little bit classier.
If you haven’t heeded our advice and gotten a reservation for your group, they have a standing room only area where you can try your luck!
This beer hall has been the site of the German crossbow championships, which have been held during Oktoberfest since 1935. It’s a very traditional tent, but definitely one that loves a good party.
There is also live music, good food, and a beer garden that is partly covered and heated. You cannot make reservations for the beer garden here, so if you’re looking for a place to sit during the day time, you have a chance of finding a table here.
They serve Paulaner beer in the tent.
At the Schottenhamel beer hall, you’ll find many of the main Oktoberfest festivities take place here. For example, the very first keg tapping of Oktoberfest happens, complete with the Mayor of Munich doing the honors. After, and only after, that first keg gets tapped at the Schottenhamel tent, can the other tents begin serving beer.
This in now the largest (and oldest!) of all the 14 large tents, with enough room for 10,000 people. It has grown from it’s humble beginnings of a simple beer booth, with room for only 50 people. The proprietor’s of the tent say, “ The Schottenhamel Festhalle looks and feels like a cozy farmhouse, where you can dine, drink and party in style.”
The propieters of the Winzerer Fähndl beer hall keep the atmosphere here lively and friendly. There is of course, live music, good food, and they serve Paulaner beer here. They also claim this tent is a good place to meet celebrities. Among those celebrities are local football club players and the like…so, kind of niche celebrities! The kind that people like you and I would probably walk past and not know about!
The Schützen-Festzelt has an amazing balcony area which overlooks all of Oktoberfest — if you can snag a seat out there, definitely do so.
They also have a wonderful menu, including many regional Bavarian dishes such as the suckling pig, which they prepare the traditional way.
This beer hall is for young and old alike, but it did seem to have a younger crowd there!
A bonus in this tent is that there is a bar INSIDE the tent which serves hard alcohol. So if you are more interested in cocktails rather than continuous liters of beer, this tent is a good choice for you. BUT, it’ll cost ya…the cocktails are pretty expensive!
Think of this tent like your uppity Aunt Judy. She’s the refined one at the Oktoberfest that most people will never find their way into. This Aunt Judy of a beer hall is at the very back of the festival toward the rides and carnival portion; and some people don’t even make it that far back into the grounds…I know we barely did and it was only to look at the huge statue to the right of the Käfer tent. It’s more expensive, harder to get into, more exclusive, less rowdy, and quieter.
They are open until 12:30 AM, but very hard to get in past 11PM. Here’s a direct quote from them, “…it’s very difficult to get past the bouncer after 11 pm unless you have connections or are a well-known celebrity.” So Aunt Judy, right?
They do apparently make a lovely roasted duck.
If you want to make reservations here, do it like, a year in advanced.
If you’re attending Oktoberfest and love a good fish dish, Fischer Vroni has everything you’ll be craving. The family who owns the tent has a rich history of selling fish in Bavaria and has a smoked mackerel signature dish.
This tent is on the smaller side, with just under 2,700 seats inside and 700 outside. You’ll still be able to drink your fair share of beer here, as well as find the regular Oktoberfest dishes of suckling pig, and veal shanks. However, this tent is all about the fish and you’ll find a variety of options!
The Fischer Vroni tent leans more toward an older crowd.
The Ochsenbraterei beer tent is known for their roasting ox. In fact, on the front of this tent is a giant fake oxen being roasted over an open flame. Since 1881, the original butcher Johann Rössler was known for his giant spit roasting of a whole ox and because people loved it so much, he eventually earned a spot at the Oktoberfest in 1891 and has been a staple of the festival since then.
So, if you want to try some of these famous roasted oxen dishes, this is your tent! if you can’t get in to the tent because it’s crazy busy, you can still try the amazing food by heading the side entrance for a sandwich to-go. There is also a live brass band and just like every other tent, it’s quite lively!
This is a family friendly tent and offers special food prices for children on Tuesdays during the Oktoberfest.
That said, if you don’t have children and you’re looking to party, you may want to go to a different tent on Tuesdays as there will be lots of families there.
They also are the only tent to still serve their beer from a traditional wooden keg, and many people say it tastes much better that way!
The proprietors claim this tent is, “…considered to be the friendliest of all at Oktoberfest.”
They have a yodeler. I think that’s all I need to say here…?
I’m kidding, not about the yodeler, they really do have one, but there’s much more to this tent than just that!
The Pschorr-Bräurosl tent also holds a “Gay Sunday” on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest; this enticing thousands of gay and lesbian people to the tent for a huge party!
That upper deck in the picture above is kinda exclusive and you can only get up there if you belong to the Lion’s Club of Munich.
The crowd here kinda leans towards the older, local folks. That giant lion above the entrance growls, “Löwenbräu” just to let you know you’re in the right place.
Definitely make reservations if you want to visit this tent. The tent keeps just over 2,500 seats open for first come, first served. Again, you’ll have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn if you’re planning on hopping into these seats without a reservation.
The wine tent! That’s right, if you’re attending Oktoberfest, but don’t really LOVE beer, head on over the the Weinzelt tent. Here they have over 15 different wines, some sparkling wine and champagne.
They have some great music and feature three different live bands. The seating in this tent is also a little different from the benches and long tables that are in the remainder of the beer halls; the Weinzelt tent has chairs with backs on them and regular tables.
It is a little quieter during the day time, but still gets lively after dinner time. If you have a group of people that want beer AND wine, this tent serves one type beer which they stop serving the beer at 9PM…so keep note of that!
the small tents
There are about 20 or so smaller tents, some with room for only 60-ish guests and some that are simply food stalls with no seating. At these smaller tents, you can find seafood dishes, bratwurst made from oxen, delicious fried treats, cocktails, coffee, and many other food and drink options.
While it can certainly be tempting (and inevitable) to spend hours in one of the huge, lively tents, these little tens can be tons of fun and a little escape from the massive crowds in the large tents.
8 tips for success:
Bring cash/coins to pay for drinks quickly, food, + tip your waitress! Cash only for the tents! There are 8 ATM’s throughout the grounds, but with so many people there, it’s a pain in the ass to get money out. Just bring what you think you’ll need.
Bags over 3L are not allowed and there is nowhere to store your belongings. Whatever you bring with you, you will be carrying around all day/night and storing under the tables. Don’t bring anything you cannot afford to lose, like passports, ALL of your money, your favorite jacket of all time, etc.
DON’T miss Munich
Munich is a very cool city. Lots of people completely miss exploring the city because they spend all day and night at Oktoberfest. Get your ass up early one morning (probably the first morning you’re there) and check out some sights. Don’t plan on going on your second, third, or fourth morning because you’ll be hungover/trying to get to a table early.
Even though the festival closes at 10:30PM, the Oktoberfest party continues at many of the local restaurants who have mini Oktoberfest’s of their own. There will be live bands, liters of beer, long tables and plenty of food!
Pace yourself, you’ll be here all day. I felt like I needed to say that again.
All but one of the tents stay open after 10:30PM, so if you want to keep drinking, you’ll have to make a move to the Käfer's Wies’n-Schänke tent which closes at 12:30 AM.
Tons of other people will be heading over there when all the other tents close at 10:30PM. On their website it even says, “…it’s very difficult to get past the bouncer after 11 pm unless you have connections or are a well-known celebrity.” Soooo good luck with that.
Keep track of your belongings, there are over 40,000 missing items found after the festival each year.
If you are bringing children to the Oktoberfest, keep in mind these rules:
Strollers are banned after 6:00PM every day
Children under 6 are allowed in beer halls, but must be accompanied by an adult
NO children under 6 are allowed in the beer halls after 8:00PM
You may be tempted to stand on the tables and try to chug a full liter of beer, only do this if you KNOW you can do this. Getting up on a table in front of 10,000 people to attempt this for the FIRST time is probably not the best idea. If you can, you will feel the admiration of 10,000 people. If you can’t, you will quite literally, be boo-ed to get down off the table.
Have you been to The Oktoberfest in Munich? Tell us about your experience in the comments below and let us know if you have any tips + tricks to add!
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