Oktoberfest is a widely-used term for the hundreds of local events every fall that take a page out of Germany's beer book. But if you’re looking to experience the real thing, aka the largest folk festival in the world, you need to get yourself to Europe.
In Munich in 1810, Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese invited the entire lot of townspeople to their wedding, and the ensuing celebration was big enough to be repeated for centuries since. Every year for two weeks in September and October, over six million people flock to Theresienwiese, the fairgrounds where the original wedding took place. What is typically a public park and field transforms into a 420,000-square-foot festival filled to the brim with frothy Bavarian beer.
And only frothy Bavarian beer -- the Munich festival allows just six breweries to serve at Oktoberfest: Augustiner-Bräu, Paulaner, Spaten-Franziskaner, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu and Hofbräu, also known as the breweries that abide by the German Beer Purity Law (regulations limiting the ingredients used in the beer) and are brewed in Munich. Over six million liters of these “Oktoberfest Beers” are consumed every year at the “volksfest” (people’s festival).
This year, the beer lovers’ paradise will take place from Sept. 22 through Oct. 7, with the annual keg-tapping ceremony happening at 12 noon on the 22nd. With a cry of “O'zapft is!" ("It's tapped!") at the Schottenhamel tent (and bets placed on how many pumps it’ll take to get the brew a’flowing), the 208th anniversary of Oktoberfest will commence, complete with carnival rides, folk music and annual events like the Oktoberfest Costume and Riflemen’s Parade (Sept. 23).
Colloquially called the Weisn, Oktoberfest will play host to tourists and generations of locals alike, all dressed in traditional Bavarian garb -- don’t forget your lederhosen at home. You’ll munch on tasty German fare, bear witness to a number of parades, costumes and concerts and will (hopefully) get your fill of what is considered some of the best beer in the world.
Read through to get all the info on how to navigate Oktoberfest.
What are these tents?
Navigating the beer tents at Oktoberfest isn’t an easy feat. There are 14 large “tents” -- they’re really huge structures with varying levels of decor that don’t necessarily fit my definition of a tent -- with tons of food and entertainment options. The kicker, though, is that entry into these tents isn’t guaranteed; some of them can hold up to 10,000 people, so reservations are expected in order to sit and enjoy your Bavarian beer. Reserving space way ahead of time (like, months ago) is recommended, especially because some of these tents can even be closed by noon on weekends due to overcrowding.
Armbrustschützen-Festhalle: The annual Oktoberfest crossbow competition, a staple since 1895, is found in this tent, and PLATZL, Oktoberfest’s brass band, will keep you entertained.
Schottenhamel: This is the largest and probably most popular Oktoberfest tent, mostly because this is where the mayor will tap the opening keg on the first day of the festival.
Stiglmaierplatz: You’ll want to hit this tent to catch the Wiesnzelt, a huge event with everything Oktoberfest has to offer: Bergluft, the famous Bavarian band; DJ Giulia Siegel; and food and drink included in a voucher.
Herzkasperl: This is the entertainment tent. Find as many cheeky performers and dance floors as your heart desires.
Food and drink
Drink is easy -- beer! Each of the Oktoberfest breweries will have a couple of different brews for you to choose from, and if you’re going to Oktoberfest to decidedly not drink beer, I can’t help you -- although there is a tent set up specifically for wine drinkers. Find 15 different wines, including sparkling wine (Sekt) and champagne, from a prominent gastronomical German family in the Weinzelt tent.
You’ll find a better variety in the food. There are plenty of vendors around the fairgrounds for Bavarian-style eats, including wiesn-hendl, a slow-roasted, buttered grilled chicken plate with french fries; fresh-baked pretzels (brezel) that can be ordered with butter or stuffed with marzipan; and traditional sausages like bratwurst, weißwurst and rostbratwürstl.
Besides vendors, certain beer tents come equipped with their own menus. The Münchner Knödelei tent boasts their dumplings stuffed with fillings ranging from spicy mushrooms and cheese, spinach and beetroot, or bananas. The Käfer's Wies’n-Schänke tent (besides being the celebrity hotspot at Oktoberfest) serves their Käfer-roasted duck. Get venison dishes at the Wildstuben tent, and you can get fish and seafood at the Fisch-Bäda tent.
Luckily, Theresienwiese is fairly approachable from Munich’s city center -- but you won’t find it easy to drive there. You’ll get on Germany’s S- and U-Bahn public transit system (which, from experience, is far cleaner than any system I’ve ridden on in the States) with every other German and tourist heading to the fairgrounds. And good thing -- my guess is that you won’t want to be driving once you’re finished in the beer tents. The metro will be running at a rush-hour pace for pretty much the entirety of the two-week escapade, so all you need to do is find either the U4 or U5 train to the stop literally named Theresienwiese -- just be prepared for crowds.
- Beers are sold as a “mass” (one liter) and will cost between €9 and €10 this year without a voucher.
- Get your beer between 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on weekends (besides certain exceptions).
- Buy a collectors’ mug! It’s adorable.
- Bring cash. You can only drink your beer if it’s paid for in euros or reservation vouchers.