How to make the most of your international adventure at the original Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest is one of the largest festivals in the world where people from all over come together and celebrate fall with beer, food and rides (with a heavy emphasis on beer). Held in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, in a festival area called Theresienwiese (English translation: Therese’s meadow), Oktoberfest, commonly referred to as Wiesn by Germans, usually takes place in late September and early October (yes, it’s called Oktoberfest but usually takes place in September because the weather is nicer than in October in Germany!). Family-friendly and usually quite busy, Oktoberfest is a huge festival that originally started as horse races in 1810 to celebrate the union of King Ludwig of Germany and his bride, Princess Therese.
Today, Oktoberfest celebrations have popped up all over the world in tribute to the original. You can find Oktoberfest beers from a variety of huge beer makers, and lederhosen and dirndls, traditional German outfits, are in popular demand as people try to replicate the Oktoberfest experience around the world. However, there is truly nothing like the original. Whether you want to go for the food, the beer or the overall experience, Oktoberfest is a great experience for couples, families, travel groups- you name it!
Oktoberfest: Traveling to Germany
My husband and I decided to travel to Oktoberfest to celebrate our 40th birthdays. We wanted a solo trip, without kids, although Oktoberfest is truly a family-friendly event if you skip the beer tents (although why go to Oktoberfest and skip the beer tents? I digress…). We planned to visit the festival midweek to avoid the crowds, although the festival was still jam-packed on the Wednesday and Thursday we decided to go. We flew in and out of Munich airport, a short 45-minute commute via public transportation from Theresienwiese. We booked our plane tickets about 10 months in advance because we knew they would get pricey. Other options for flights: Frankfurt (about three hours away), Stuttgart (about 2.5 hours away) or Berlin (about 5 hours away). Germany has a fantastic public transit system, making travel around the country easy. If flights to Munich are too expensive, you have options!
Oktoberfest: Where to stay
We stayed at the Vi Vadi Bayer 89, which was about five minutes from the festival. It provided a free breakfast and an easy walk. We definitely recommend this spot! If proximity isn’t important to you, there are lots of great hotels near Marianplatz, one of the major tourist areas in Munich. It is a little over a mile from Oktoberfest. An easy walk on the way to Oktoberfest and a quick train ride back after one too many beers. Our friends stayed at this Hampton Inn and enjoyed it, and airline crews often stay at this Marriott during layovers. Both spots feature free breakfasts and lots of Americanized comforts.
Oktoberfest: What to wear
It can be chilly in Munich in late September and early October, so be mindful of the weather. But most people do dress up for the event! You’ll see many women in dirndls, traditional German dresses. You can easily order some off Amazon or wait until you get there and buy one in many of the shops. You’ll want to pair your dirndl with flesh-colored tights if it’s cold and cute booties. Mind the side on which you knot your apron because it holds significance to Germans. A knot on the right side means you are taken while a knot on the left of your abdomen means you’re available. Men commonly wear lederhosen with suspenders and checkered button-up shirts. Many also sport hats. My husband bought a hat in Munich but couldn’t be talked into the full ensemble. Spoil sport! (To be fair, traditional lederhosen are quite expensive and generally passed from father to son. But a well-made pair can often cost upwards of $1500!)
Oktoberfest: What to do
I can’t imagine going to Oktoberfest if you don’t like beer… So I’ll start there! During the day, you should be able to walk into one of the many beer tents and get a table. You might be paired with other festival-goers, especially if your party is small. No big deal, just scoot over and share the space! It gets quite crowded, so be sure you can shed layers so you don’t get too hot. In the evening, you can make reservations for tables if you wish. You might want to do this, especially if you have a large party and are headed to the festival on the weekend. Otherwise, you can easily go with the flow.
In the beer tents, you’ll be able to eat and drink. We really enjoyed the Lowenbrau tent as well as the Hofbrauhaus tent (this one was especially bright and beautiful and decorated with lots of hops!). The Ochsenbraterei tent roasts ox on a large spit and sells ox both to sit and eat in the tent and in to-go sandwiches. These sandwiches came highly recommended to us. The tents can be loud and boisterous, so go in ready for fun. Most feature live bands that continually play fun songs to sing and dance to. Lowenbrau especially played a lot of popular American music we loved dancing to.
Oktoberfest: What to do besides drink beer
While drinking beer is one of the biggest reasons people go to Oktoberfest, there is a lot of other fun to be had! There is an entire festival outside of the tents, complete with rides for the young and the young at heart. From roller coasters to carousels, there are rides for thrillseekers and rides for little ones.
You can also shop while at Oktoberfest. There are lots of areas to find fun souvenirs as well as pop ups where you can buy all kinds of food and drinks. I enjoyed a Nutella crepe and coffee one afternoon, while my husband enjoyed a number of German meats on sticks. Don’t skip the cookies- they are an Oktoberfest tradition!
We also took a tour with Simply Munich on our second day at the festival. The tour guide walked us around for an hour and a half and discussed some of the traditions of the festival as well as the history. She was very cheeky and entertaining and gave us lots of great info. We loved learning about how one of the main Munich police centers is relocated to Theresienwiese for the duration of the festival each year, and the makeshift building has holding cells beneath the ground for festival goers who have a little too much fun! (Another interesting fact we learned? All of the tents, which are massive in size, are built and torn down every year. They don’t stay there! Construction begins in July and then the tents are torn down and stored after the festival until the next year rolls around. Mind. Blown. The field is used for smaller festivals throughout the year as well as utilized by locals for jogging, biking and the sort.)
Oktoberfest: Know before you go
Here are some tips and tricks to know before you go:
- Beer tents are cash only. Some vendors *may* take card, but don’t bet on it. There are ATMs at the festival but it is best to simply arrive with a lot of cash. In 2022, beers, which only come in one size, were about 13 Euros each.
- Oktoberfest beers have a higher percentage of alcohol than traditional beer- almost 7%! If you don’t want to stumble your way home, know your limit.
- The festival is free to enter. You will have your bags checked on your way in.
- The tents get really, really crowded. If you don’t love crowds, go first thing in the morning and plan to leave by lunchtime.
- Most menus have an English version if you ask, and most servers in the tents will speak English. However, it doesn’t hurt to try to speak German! “Bitte” means please and “Danke” means thank you. Another one you’ll hear a lot in the tents? Prost! It is the German equivalent of cheers.
- Two days max is all you need at the festival. Truly. Many people probably wouldn’t even tell you two days! We took one day to eat and drink and one day to explore and tour. It was definitely the right amount of time for us.
We truly loved every second of our Oktoberfest 2022 adventure. While I don’t know if we will ever go back, it was a fantastic way to ring in a new decade for us. Now to figure out where to travel to next…