You know it’s been on your bucket list for years. You’ve been dreaming about large beers, brass bands playing oompah music, and pretzels as big as your head. It sounds like a great time but you heard it’s hard to get into tents and it’s crowded and maybe next year you’ll finally look into it. Well Oktoberfest 2015 just ended so if you want to go next year you should start planning now! I was there this year and it was such an incredible experience that we’re talking about going next year. Here are some tips I’ve learned first-hand while attending Oktoberfest that can help you in your planning.
- Book a place to stay early – Oktoberfest in Munich has attracted 5 to 7 million visitors each year and many of them don’t live locally. There are a finite number of places to stay during one of the busiest times to visit Munich and they fill up/get more expensive the longer you wait so as soon as you determine you’re going to attend the festival start looking at where you want to stay. There are many hotels, hostels, and apartments/condos to rent close to the festival, but you obviously will pay a lot more for those. Public transportation in Germany is excellent and that allows you to save some money by staying a little further away. When you start looking at hotels I found one of the deciding factors was to use Google Maps and get directions from the hotel and the closest U-Bahn station, Theresienwiese, to see how far the walk would be or how long of a subway ride it would be. Just as a frame of reference, we booked in December 2014 for the following September and paid about $300 a night at a hotel that was a 15 minute walk from the fairgrounds. In talking to people at the festival who booked a month earlier in August, they said that a bed in a 6 person shared hostel room cost 100 Euro a person per night. It definitely pays to book early!
- Go early to the festival – By 10am every day (and 9am on the weekends) The beer tents, food vendors, and attractions/shows are open and ready to be explored. While you don’t have to go as soon as everything opens, it’s very easy to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere without having to deal with crowds or wait in lines early in the day. Weekends get extremely crowded and when we were there on a Friday night, it took three times as long to get anywhere as you have to fight through the crowd, some of who are quite sloppy drunk after having been in the beer tents for hours.
- You Don’t Need Reservations to the Beer Tents… – Tents are free to enter and so long as you can get a seat, you will be served. (the exception I’ve been told is that there is a standing zone in the Hofbräu tent where you don’t need a seat)Once tents are filled to capacity you can’t enter anymore so it pays to go early. Tents are required to keep a certain number of tables open as first come first serve. You can sit at tables marked reserved (used marked with “Reservierung” or “Reserviert”) as long as they are not being occupied. There are typically daytime and night time reservations with the night reservations starting between 5 and 6 pm. We arrived at the tents between 1 and 2pm and found seats pretty easily, even the first day when we had eight people in our party. We were allowed to sit at reserved tables until about 5:00 or so when the waitresses started clearing tables and preparing for the night reservations.
- If you do want reservations – To make a reservation you have to reserve an entire table, typically 8-10 people, and also pay upfront for 2 steins and a half chicken per person. That’s not a bad deal if you’re going to be with that big of a group or if you’re going to be at the table for several hours. To get reservations you have to contact each tent and each tent has their own procedure to follow for requesting reservations. I wouldn’t worry about reservations unless you have a full table. Depending on your hotel they may have some connections or standing relationships with specific tents and be able to help you with the reservation request.
- Be aggressive, but polite and friendly – When on the search for open seats it pays to be alert and aggressive. When walking into a tent you have to be prepared to jump when you see people about to get up and don’t be afraid to ask if you can sit at a table. Many people have no problem sharing their table as the whole festival is a celebration about community. Sharing tables is also a great way to meet people. We had great conversations with people from Germany, Switzerland, Canada as well as other Americans just by sharing a table and some beers.
- There is more than one entrance to the tents – Logically it makes sense to walk into the front doors of the tent but everyone else does the same thing and then you are immediately competing with those people to look for open tables. If you try walking in the side or back doors it will be less crowded and may make your hunt for a seat a little easier.
- Explore as many tents as you can – There are fourteen large tents and twenty small tents at the Oktoberfest and each one has their own unique decorations, bands, and atmosphere. Walk in and explore the tents and even if you only stay 5 minutes and walk back out you can start to get the vibe of the tent. If I could have done one thing differently it would have been to go a little earlier and walked into more tents and then decide which one I wanted to try and find a seat in afterwards.
- Bring cash, lots of it – Servers take your order and deliver food and beer and then you get your bill and are expected to pay for each transaction right away. There is no bill to settle up when you leave and you can’t start a tab for your drinks. This makes the most sense as it would be very easy for people to order beers and food then get up and leave. Most tents do not accept credit cards and if you can avoid standing in a long line at an ATM you can have more fun at your table. Beers were about 10 Euro each and food like bratwurst or half a roasted chicken were anywhere from 8-15 Euro each so depending on how much you drink/eat and how long you stay that should help you determine how much you can expect to spend.
- Be friendly and polite to your server – They have a tough job. It is not easy to carry 10+ beer steins at a time while also dealing with rowdy drunk people for 16 days straight. (Fun Fact I learned while I was there: A full stein weighs about 5lbs so those servers are pretty strong!). Being friendly (and tipping for your beers and food), besides it being the right thing to do, is also a nice way to stay on their good side. A friendly server may let you stay at a table a little longer before the people with reservations show up or be able to find another place for you to sit if she needs to take your table.
- When you get a table, keep it! – As it gets later and later in the day and more and more people enter the tents, it gets harder to find a place to sit. If you think you’re going to have a drink or two at one tent and then go into another tent later that night you may give up a nice table only to find yourself wandering around searching unsuccessfully at the next tent. Keep your spot and enjoy.
- If there are no tables inside, try the Biergartens outside – Many of the large tents have outdoor beer gardens adjoining the tent. No reservations can be made for the beer gardens so it is first come first serve on seats. You can get the same beers and food as in the tents and so long as the weather is nice it’s enjoyable to sit outside. Many of the beer gardens also had heaters so you didn’t mind hanging outdoors at night when it was a little chillier.
- Leave your valuables at home – Every year the Lost & Found at Oktoberfest publishes a list of things lost during the 16 days of the celebration and while there are the obvious items like cameras, wallets, passports, and phones that make the list every year it is always interesting to see the peculiar items people leave behind including dentures, wedding rings, and glass eyes! Leave anything important to you back at your hotel so you don’t have to worry about trying to find it if it gets lost. Unless it’s your dentures or glass eye. You’ll have no problem finding those at Lost and Found later.
- Dress up – Lederhosen for guys and dirndls for the girls. I would say there were about 70% of the people who were dressed up to 30% who were not. If I was in that smaller group I would have felt left out. Embrace the Bavarian culture and get in the spirit of the festival! Singing German songs and banging my stein against the steins of my newly made table friends would not have felt the same if I was in jeans and a t-shirt. I bought my lederhosen on eBay before I left, but you can easily find stores in Munich where you can buy whatever you need before going to the festival. You’ll pay a little more for it than back home, but the selection is great and you can try everything on to make sure it fits.
- Space out your time – Try not to go more than two days in a row to the festival and alternate between Oktoberfest and exploring Munich. Celebrating at Oktoberfest is great, but can leave you exhausted (and hungover). Try to space out the time you have in Munich between attending the festivities and seeing all the other things Munich has to offer. It’s a great city filled with museums, parks, restaurants and many other attractions. Just be warned that some of these sights maybe a little more crowded than usual because of the time of year and high number of tourists with the same idea as you.
- It’s more than just beer tents – If you spend all your time in the beer tents you’ll miss other great parts of Oktoberfest. There are plenty of rides, games, food stands and music to be enjoyed walking around. We found a beer carousel with a bar in the middle that we spent more time than we should have riding around on. It’s also fun to people watch and see the outfits others are wearing or watch the drunk antics of people who have spent too much time celebrating.
From the moment the mayor of Munich taps the first keg of beer with a shout of “O’zapft is!” (It’s tapped!”) at noon on the first day until the last pretzel is eaten 16 days later Oktoberfest is a non-stop celebration of food, drink, music and good times. If you ever plan a trip to visit or find yourself in the Munich area towards the end of September you should definitely make it a point to go to one of the world’s largest festivals. I hope the tips you read above will help you enjoy your time there to the fullest. Prost!
Here are a few links I found very helpful in my research: