After a glorious two days in Germany, it was time for the main point of the whole trip: Oktoberfest!
Oktoberfest is a slight misnomer, as it’s actually celebrated annually from mid-September to the very beginning of October. The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Ludwig I to Princess Therese. The locals call it the weisn, an abbrev of Theresienweise (Therese’s Meadow), the large field on the grounds where the aforementioned bierleichen pass out.
Oktoberfest is now a huge carnival complete with rides, games, food stalls, and the beer “tents” (really structures) from several Munich breweries. The biggest tents are of course from the six largest brewers: Hofbrau, Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Spaten, Paulaner, and Lowenbrau. Multiple tents sell each type.
Now, you will read many websites and blogs telling you that Oktoberfest is a madhouse and that you need a reservation and that if you don’t have one you better get there at 6 am to line up or you will never find a seat. I am here to tell you that nein, that is not the case! Use these tips to have the best Oktoberfest experience.
Go on a weekday, and get there around mid-morning
The first weekend of Oktoberfest, and weekends in general, are indeed crowded because of the parade and beer tapping. While the second weekend is still less populated, go on a weekday to avoid the major crowds.
We went on a Monday during the second week around 10:30-11 am in the morning. When we arrived, there was barely anyone on the grounds so we were able to walk around and get our bearings. Having not yet tried the famed Augustiner beer (local favorite that is not exported!), we decided to go to that tent first.
We had our fair pick of tables as none of the reservations had begun and the only real patrons were locals eating breakfast. We took a seat and ordered a round (they begin serving at 10:00 am on weekdays) and a few pretzels. Augustiner is the most family-friendly tent, with many families gathering in their own reserved sections. It reminded us of Christmas with its green wreaths!
Bring plenty of cash
Everything is cash only. Make sure to bring plenty! Each beer is ~11 euros, plus more for any food. Little known fact, you can also buy your own liter stein for only 5 euros (but they won’t serve you with it)! You pay each time you order something.
Visit as many tents as you can
The atmosphere and beer in each tent is different, so try and experience as many as you can! After sitting at Augustiner for awhile listening to the oompah band, we moved on to another tent.
It was a beautiful day outside, much like the one painted all over the walls and ceilings of Hacker-Pschorr (the Hacker tent), so after poking our heads in to take a look we sat at its outdoor biergarten.
Each tent also has an outdoor biergarten, and none of the tables in the biergartens are reserved, so look for a spot there if you can’t find one inside a tent. You do need to be sitting at a table to be served at the tents, except for at Hofbrau. Hacker-Pschorr was us gals’ favorite beer, the boys favored Augustiner.
If you don’t get to as many tents as you want, go back another day! In fact, I recommend doing only one full day there and then going back maybe one, max two, other times for breakfast, lunch, or afternoon drinks. We went back a second day in the afternoon to walk around a bit more and again we found a spot easily at one of the biergartens for one last liter before we went home.
Eat plenty of food
At Hacker-Pschorr we tried the ubiquitous half-chickens, which deliciously soaked up the two liters of beer we had already drank. Remember, “two beers” = two liters of high-alcohol-content beer. Eat lots of food and drink water!
Pretzels are readily available outside every tent, and the menus in the tents are actually quite extensive–we really should have taken better advantage and tried a few different things.
If you don’t feel like eating in the tents, there are a myriad of stalls up and down the streets selling everything from sausages to roasted nuts to ice cream.
If you don’t love beer, you can find other types of alcohol served at some of these stalls.
Scope out a table before the reservations begin
After enjoying ourselves at Hacker-Pschorr, we moved on to a third tent, Paulaner. We noticed in the other tents that all of the reserved tables were for 5 pm, so we went to Paulaner around 4 pm and found a table fairly easily.
On a Monday, it gradually got crowded throughout the day, with more people descending on the grounds later in the afternoon. By the time 6 pm rolled around, all of the tables were full. A few different groups circulated through our table with us, including a German family and two traveling friends. With our spot locked down, we were able to continue on with the festivities as the band revved up and liters flowed.
If you do choose to make a reservation, depending on the tent you will need to have either been to Oktoberfest the year before or book it the day after Oktoberfest ends for the following year (2017 is already up). You make it for up to 10 people, with a set price, and even if you do not have the max number of people, the set price is the same.
Get into the spirit!
My biggest regret of Oktoberfest is that we didn’t dress up. The vast majority of fest-goers are dressed up. The locals are dressed up even if they aren’t going! You can rent lederhosen or dirndls at the many, many stores you will pass by around Munich. I did buy a hat though!
We didn’t let our lack of outfits get us down. Sharing tables means meeting new people, and we had a fabulous time with the German family sharing our table at Paulaner. Once the band stops playing folk music around 8 pm, it suddenly turns to greatest hits (e.g. ABBA, “Sweet Caroline,” etc.) and EVERYONE gets up on the tables to dance (if you do this at any other time during the fest, you will be forced to chug your beer!) Colored lights come on, and it becomes more like Discofest. We prosted-ed the night away dancing and singing, even running over to the Spaten tent to see what tunes they had going.
Oktoberfest really is one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that shouldn’t be missed. The atmosphere is incredibly fun and the beer is some of the best you’ll ever try. If you can make the trip, you won’t regret it!