I went to Oktoberfest for my dirty 30, and you better believe it was the best way possible to celebrate a milestone birthday (even for a gal who doesn’t like beer…shhh). But there was a lot I wish I’d known about this bucket-list worthy event ahead of time.
Oktobefest is not like a typical beer festival in the states — or anywhere for that matter. It’s not just people standing around drinking. It’s the largest event in the world. (Although surprisingly not the most photographed). Yes, every September/October, six million people descend on Germany to celebrate Oktoberfest for two weeks of mayhem. The festival has been going on since the 1800s and really is a carnival like atmosphere with games, rides, revelry, and yes, even children. We rode roller coasters, binged on pretzels and sausages, sang at the top of our lungs, explored the haunted house, saw a flea circus (who knew those were a real thing?) and prosted with everyone and anyone that was holding one of the extraordinarily heavy steins.
Here are some common questions I get and Oktobefest tips for newbies:
Will I look like a tourist at Oktoberfest if I wear a dirndl or leaderhosen?
Absolutely not, you will stand out more if you don’t. Dirndls are not costumes at Oktoberfest, they’re staple garb of Bavarian culture. It’s what Munich locals wear regularly to celebrate festivities, many of which outfits have been passed down from generation to generation. In the rest of Europe and even in other parts of Germany, you may look unique, but Munich is ground zero for Bavarian flair. Be sure to accessorize up with flower crowns and cookie heart necklaces.
Can you buy drindls at Oktoberfest?
Yes, they sell them everywhere in Munich, even at the airport shops, but you’d be better off ordering one from Amazon or a local costume shop before you come. You don’t want to spend half your trip shopping – you want to get right in on the action. There are a million different styles and price points so you’ll want to find one that’s cute and comfortable ahead of time.
How many days should I spend at Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest lasts for two weeks, but you do not need to go the whole time to get a taste of the action (and committing to 14 days would be incredibly exhausting and ridiculously expensive). We found three days was just about perfect to see what we wanted to see (the fair ground is HUGE) and get into the tents we couldn’t get into initially (more on that later).
Aren’t accommodations crazy expensive in Munich?
If you book a hotel last minute, maybe. We found a reasonably priced Airbnb just a few weeks out ($180 split three ways). Even hostel beds were inflated to over $100/bunk given the demand, but if you do your homework and compare a few different options, you have a good chance of finding something reasonable. And the more people you travel with, the less you’ll pay. Oktoberfest is a celebration and the more people that can chip in for the room, the less you’ll spend individually. You also don’t need to book the nicest room you find as you likely won’t be spending much time there.
How do you get to Oktoberfest?
Good on you for not wanting to drink and drive. Oktoberfest would absolutely be the stupidest place to rent a car. Similarly, cabs and Ubers are way overpriced during large-scale events. Luckily though, Munich’s metro system is robust, clean, safe and filled with fellow rabble-rousers. You can get almost anywhere in the city with two or less transfers. Make sure to cross reference where your accommodations are along the route and plan accordingly.
Do you really need tent reservations at Oktoberfest?
I get it, millennials are flighty and non-committal. I’m the same way; I didn’t make any reservations in advance because I wanted to feel out the scene once we got there. I also didn’t want to be confined to a specific tent at a specific time so I could bounce around and experience them all…because FOMO. In the end, that did restrict us and I wish we had paid a premium to secure reservations before we arrived. You can go without tent reservations, but it’s risky (totally dependent on day and time) and requires a bit of luck. You’ll have fun on the fair grounds regardless, but to experience the real tents, you really need reservations.
We only ended up being able to get into three of the 14 official tents. And yes, we’re cute girls who are used to batting our eyelashes at doormen and flashing press passes to get whatever we want. Trust us, the security guards have seen it all, and do not care who you are or what you look like. If they tents are full (which most are after 2 p.m.), you are not getting in. In that case, you’ll be restricted to the bars along the perimeter with all the other revelers who didn’t pre-plan.
What time should I go without tent reservations?
If you want to experience more than one tent without a reservation, go right when the festival opens. Seriously, if you’re trying to be fashionably late, you won’t get to do anything. We’re talking really early (like one we went to at 10 a.m. on a Sunday before the band was even there) or mid-week (although even then many local corporations rent out the whole tents for their employees). Weekend evenings will just never happen so get that out of your head right now. Personally, I preferred the afternoon sessions, as it was still daylight and everyone’s just starting to have a good time. It gets crazy after the 6 p.m., which is when the locals get off work and people start getting noticeably intoxicated. It’s also when the bad behavior begins.
What is the best tent at Oktoberfest? Are they really all the same?
They each have their own layout, music, food, and a slightly different vibe, but the best is totally subjective. The most popular ones are Hofbraus (which we ended up going to the actual beer hall in downtown Munich because we couldn’t get into the tent), Augustiner, and Hacker.
Do they serve anything other than beer at Oktoberfest?
The tents just serve beer and non-alcoholic beverages (which they may look at you like you have three heads for ordering), but there are a few places on the fair grounds to get wine and cocktails – we made it a scavenger hunt to seek out other drink options (and really anything weird and wacky).
Is there anything to eat?
Yes, tons. I was expecting it to be mainly sausage (as Germany is known for having 1500+ kinds), but to my surprise some of the better dishes were fish, spit-fired meats like duck and turkey legs, pretzels as big as my head, roasted nuts, and my personal favorite, spaetzle, the German version of mac and cheese.
Are there any events in the U.S. that even remotely compares?
GABF (Great American Beer Fest) in Denver, Colorado is the largest beer event in the USA and super fun, but it is a totally different experience. It’s really about trying as many kinds of beers as humanly possible as they have 3800+ samples from 800 breweries. Oktoberfest is more about the experience and the ambiance.
What other countries should I visit while I’m at Oktoberfest?
Where else do you want to go? You’re already in Europe and it’s easy to get around with cheap flights or the Eurorail. We added stops in Budapest, Positano, and Prague to that trip, but Austria, France and Poland are also nearby. We ended up deciding where else to go simply based on where was the most affordable to fly during that time period searching by date on Skyscanner.
What else should I know?
Drink lots of water. Seriously, always have a bottle with you; it’s easy to get dehydrated. And have the best time ever, it’s freaking Oktoberfest!
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