Oktoberfest: Who, What, When, Where, and How (The “Why” is a No-Brainer!)

Oans-zwoa-drei-g’suffa! (“One, two, three, bottoms up!”) There is no more important German phrase to know if you’re headed to Munich this month for the iconic Oktoberfest. The traditional Bavarian folk festival, which started in the early 1800s as a celebration of a royal wedding, starts each September and runs for about two-and-a-half weeks (ending in October, hence its name). And while the concept of attending might seem daunting—nearly 7 million people flock to the tent grounds each year—participating in Oktoberfest is one of those once-in-a-lifetime, must-be-seen-to-be-believed experiences. Here we’ve rounded up what to know about the festival, whether you’re headed there this year, next year, or have just always been curious. Prost! (“Cheers!”)

Who Should Go

Oktoberfest, which is often referred to as “Wiesn,” (wiesn is German for “meadow,” a reference to where the event is held) attracts locals and visitors of all types, from Munich teenagers and international college students to young professionals and well-traveled sophisticates. Even families with kids attend, drawn to the rides, games and carnival-like attractions and parades. (There’s a Family Day each year, check the site for the specific date.) Parents of teenagers take note: kids as young as 16 can be served beer.

What to Do

The best way to ensure a successful Wiesn visit is to attend with a plan. There are 14 main tents, but you’ll probably only sit in one or two. And if you think all tents are created equal, think again… each have distinct personalities, offerings and attract different types of guests. Some of the most popular include Marstall and Hacker Pschorr, which cater to a younger demographic; the famous Hofbräu Festzelt, which lures international visitors; and Hacker-Festhalle, which is ideal on beautiful days as its ceiling can be opened. Käfer’s Wies’n-Schänke is the favored tent to end the night as it’s the only one open until 1am. Experts say to arrive by 10:30pm, when most of the other tents close for the day, to ensure a spot.

Luckily, when it comes to ordering drinks and food, options are simple: beer typically comes in one-liter glasses and is sourced from Munich-based breweries and food options are generally limited to giant pretzels, rotisserie chicken and sausages. You can’t go wrong with any of the above, but pace yourself! Many attendees punctuate their beers with Radlers, a mixture of beer and lemonade. Most importantly, know that when you hear “Ein Prosit,” the famed Oktoberfest drinking song, stand up with your beer, join in, cheers, and drink!

To fit right in, you’ll want to join locals and foreigners alike by dressing the part and renting or buying a traditional Bavarian costume. This means dirndls for women and lederhosen for men. There are countless places around the city that offer the outfits, and it’s advised to pick up your pieces in Munich rather than buy them at home and pack them.

When to Go

Though Oktoberfest lasts for over two weeks (this year from Sept. 22-Oct.7), few attend for more than one or two days. Weekends, understandably, are much busier than weekdays, and the second weekend of the event is known to get particularly rowdy. Most tents open around 9 or 10am, and to ensure that you get seats, it’s advised to arrive early.

Beyond Wiesn, Munich beckons, and September is a beautiful time of year to visit. Favorite sites and activities include exploring the central square Marienplatz; visiting the Glyptothek museum; surfing in the Eisbach river; strolling through the Englischer Garten; feasting at the Viktualienmarkt food market; and heading slightly outside the city to see Nymphenburg Palace. It’s also worth checking to see if there’s a Bayern Munich soccer match happening while you’re in town. Plus, time in Munich is a great way to start or end a European journey that includes a river cruise.

Where to Go

Theresienwiese, home to Oktoberfest, is located slightly outside the city center, but transportation is easy, especially as the central train station, Hauptbahnhof, is nearby. Most people stay in the city center, where the best Munich hotels like the Mandarin Oriental, Louis Hotel and Bayerischer Hof are located. Rooms during Oktoberfest tend to book up way in advance—sometimes up to a year ahead—but other options, like Airbnb, are also worth looking into.

How to Enjoy It 

A few tips from the experts:

  • The best way to ensure you get a seat and service in the tents, especially during the evening and on weekends, is to make a reservation well in advance. Many five-star Munich hotel concierges can assist or can set you up with an on-the-ground operator who can also act as a guide. Either way, it’s best to contact them well ahead of your trip. Worst case: you can now book spaces in some tents via OpenTable!
  • Bring cash to pay for your beer and food. While some tents accept credit cards, cash remains king.
  • Women: pay attention to how you tie your dirndl apron! (The bow on the left means you’re single; on the right says you’re attached; on the back is for widows, children or waitresses.)
  • Book your luggage shipment ahead of you with Luggage Forward. The Munich airport gets extremely busy around Oktoberfest, so you’ll want to get in and out as quickly as possible.

Whenever you go and however you spend your time at Oktoberfest, report back! We love to hear about your travels and share recommendations and tips with the Luggage Forward community. Learn more at oktoberfest.eu.

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