Oktoberfest appears on many traveller’s bucket lists for good reason. The world’s largest beer festival, known locally as Wiesn, is soaked in folksy tradition and each year serves over 6 million litres of the world’s best beer to over 6 million thirsty visitors. Since starting over 200 years ago, Oktoberfest has grown to encompass over 14 big beer tents, over 20 smaller ones, plus an enormous funfair.
Theresienwiese, the open space in central Munich in which Oktoberfest is run is so vast, it can be quite intimidating at first. That’s why we’ve put together this complete guide for beginners. If you’ve never been to Oktoberfest and you’re thinking about it, or you’re all booked up and ready to go, this guide is for you. All of the following essential tips are based on our own experiences when we visited Oktoberfest in 2015.
There are 22 tips in total. To make our advice easier to digest, we’ve broken our guide into two sections, The Planning Stage and The Drinking Stage.
Stage 1Before you go – The Planning Stage
There are a few things you should think about before you go. Making preparations in advance will ensure your day at Oktoberfest is a happy and memorable one.
1You don’t have to wear traditional clothing to Oktoberfest, but maybe you should
There’s no dress code for Oktoberfest, so wear whatever you like. Everyone will be having such a great time, they really won’t notice if you’re not wearing traditional clothing. That said, you might end up having a better time if you do decide to splash some cash on a fancy outfit. It’s totally your call though. We decided to wear our normal clothes and still had a fantastic time.
Think about how much you want to spend in total. Now, double it. This is Oktoberfest and everything is expensive
2Take plenty of cash – more than you think you’ll need
Think about how much you want to spend in total. Now, double it. This is Oktoberfest and everything is expensive. This might be the first and last time you go though, so set a big budget to guarantee you have the best and most memorable time possible. The last thing you want to do is give up your seat to go hunting for an ATM.
3Plan in advance which beer tent you’re going to
There are comprehensive guides to each of the tents online. Make sure you do your research to find the tent that matches your style of partying. We’re opted for the Augustiner-Festhalle tent as we read that it was the friendliest, had more traditional music and decoration and was a firm favourite with the locals. We were not disappointed and were delighted with our decision.
4Plan to visit Oktoberfest on more than one occasion
There are two sides to Oktoberfest; the beer tents and the funfair. If you’re into funfairs, plan to visit on more than one occasion. We recommend you don’t spend a day in the beer tents followed by a nauseating trip on a rollercoaster. Follow our advice and visit the beer tents during the day mid-week and perhaps plan to visit the funfair another time.
5Avoid the crowds to improve your chances of a seat
Your best chance of getting a seat at a table in one of the beer tents is around late morning/early afternoon during the middle of the first week. It’s a vague estimate, but we arrived at this time and managed to walk in and find a seat with relative ease. Unless you have a reservation, avoids weekends or evenings as you’ll be met with unorganised queues and closed doors guarded by head-shaking security staff.
Unless you have a reservation, avoids weekends or evenings as you’ll be met with unorganised queues and closed doors…
6See if your hotel has made reservations
If you don’t want to risk being turned away at the entrance, get yourself booked into an excursion organised by your accommodation. Many hotels, hostels and guesthouses in the region book tables for their guests, which usually includes travel arrangements too. Factor in the additional cost though and determine for yourself whether you think it’s worth it. We were offered seats by our hotel, but we declined.
7Learn some basic German phrases
While Oktoberfest is about as German is anything gets, visitors are drawn from all corners of the planet. Since there are so many foreigners, staff are normally able to understand basic English at least. That said, we always encourage our readers to embrace the local culture as much as possible by learning a few basic phrases. Here are a couple that should come in handy.
8Learn the lyrics to ‘Ein Prosit’
Regardless of where you’ve chosen to drink, you will need to ‘know the lyrics to ‘Ein Prosit‘. This song will be played by the house band every 20 minutes or so and gives everyone the opportunity to drink to the health and good fortune to everyone sitting nearby. Clink and raise your glasses, sing with gusto and try to ignore the fact you’ve already heard this song 25 times in one day.
9Take as little with you as possible
If you’re intending on getting into the spirit of things, you’ll not want to have to worry about your belongings. Therefore, try to take as little with you as possible. Definitely don’t take any bottles with you as these will be confiscated on the door.
10Don’t buy tokens – pay with cash
There’s some confusion online regarding the use of tokens at Oktoberfest. Don’t worry, you don’t need to buy tokens. You’ll be fine with cash.
11Make no plans for the next day. You’ll need a full day to recover.
Assuming you’ve fully embraced the spirit of Oktoberfest, try not to make any plans for the following day. Despite claims to the contrary that beers like Augustiner don’t give you a hangover, you will definitely have a hangover.
Stage 2While you’re there – The Drinking Stage
You’ve prepared yourself for the big day. Now it’s time to enjoy yourself. Here are our tips for The Drinking Stage.
The most important thing to do whilst at Oktoberfest is to fully immerse yourself in it. Drink beer, eat chicken and pretzels, get you know your neighbours, click glasses and just enjoy yourself. The word ‘Gemütlichkeit’ describes a spirit of warmth, friendliness and good cheer. Bring this with you on your visit and you’ll be sure to have a great time.
2Try the food
We we really surprised just how good the food was at Oktoberfest. It will of course vary, but generally the quality was very high. Everything we ate was tasty and beautifully presented. Jade and I shared everything so that we could try multiple dishes.
3Tip staff generously
If you want to be served promptly and with a smile, don’t be tight-fisted when it comes to tipping. An initially high tip will result in the server ensuring your thirst remains quenched. From then, continue with smaller tips.
We recommend you take all your photos early as, after a couple of hours, you might not be capable of taking decent photos anymore.
4Take your photos early
Curiously, we found the quality of our photos deteriorated considerably over time, with each photo becoming gradually more unfocused and poorly framed. To avoid this, we recommend you take all your photos as early as possible as, after a couple of hours, you might not be capable of taking decent photos anymore. Strangely, we can’t remember why this is, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.
5Get talking to everyone
Many of our favourite Oktoberfest stories come from our interactions with those sitting alongside and opposite us. Active interaction is key. Don’t worry about the language barrier. Gesture, draw, point, Google Translate, do whatever you need to make your point. Funny stories will undoubtedly unfold as you fumble your way through incomprehensible conversations.
6Don’t stand on the tables
Standing on tables could see you getting kicked out by security. If you need to get a better view or you feel the need to draw attention to yourself, stand on the benches. It seems that this is allowed and at times actively promoted when certain songs are played.
7Be careful with the drinks. They’re strong!
In case it wasn’t already obvious – Oktoberfest is a beer festival. If you’re not intending on drinking beer, there’s not a lot of point in going (well to be fair, there’s a wine tent, and you can order non-alcoholic drinks, but it wouldn’t be in the spirit of things). During our Oktoberfest experience, we were sat opposite a group of doctors from India who were having their very first alcoholic drink. If they can get into the spirit, so can you. If you’re easily susceptible to getting tipsy, be warned – the beers in Munich are strong! Pace yourself and accompany your drink with some food. Alternatively, you can order a bottle of lemonade and make a Radler (a.k.a. shandy) to share. This might cause you to lose the respect of any burly Bavarian men sitting nearby, but it’s a deliciously thirst-quenching and stability-preserving option nonetheless.
8Don’t drink and ride
I fear I might be stating the obvious, but in case you were considering it – don’t go on the funfair rides after you’ve spent all day in a beer tent. You will throw up. Thankfully we were wise enough to heed this advice, so we’re not talking from experience.
9Drink Augustiner to avoid a hangover… maybe
Take it from the group of Bavarian farmers Jade and I spent most of our time with at Oktoberfest – Augustiner is the best beer in Munich and won’t give you a hangover. They were each on their eighth litre of beer and none of them were expecting to be hungover the next day.
Armed with this knowledge, Jade and I tried to catch up with them.
The next day, Jade and I were desperately hungover.
Only those who are seated can be served alcohol, so why would you jeopardise your chances of getting another beer?
10If you find somewhere to sit, stay there
If you’re lucky enough to find a seat, stay there until you’ve had enough. In the event your tent is almost full, chances are the others are too, so why risk it? You can be served alcohol if you’re seated, so why would you jeopardise your chances of getting another beer?
11Be careful getting back home
Luckily there is a U-Bahn station ( Theresienwiese / U4 & U5) right on the edge of Theresienwiese where Oktoberfest is held, so you won’t have to stumble too far. Pre-plan your journey home, enlist the help of more sober friends and try to keep safe. You want the experience at Oktoberfest to be the most memorable part of the day, not your journey back.
We hope our guide helps you to have a fantastic time at Oktoberfest. Ultimately, the experience you have is dependent on how much you’re willing to embrace it. Go with an open mind, a strong thirst for the best beer you’ll ever drink and the curiosity to start conversations with everyone, and you’re sure to have the time of your life.
What do you make of our tips? Have you got some of your own tips for Oktoberfest that you think are essential? Please share below…