It’s one of the most popular festivals in the world with some 6 million visitors attending, and while it’s often associated with beer (and there’s plenty of it), Oktoberfest is actually the world’s largest funfair. So if you’re planning on ticking Oktoberfest off your travel bucket list this year, here’s a short guide to ensure you have a great trip and survive to remember it all.
What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is an annual folk festival held in Munich, made famous for the vast supply of beer on offer. While there are many Oktoberfest festivals now set up throughout Europe, the original and best event takes place in Munich every year. The 16-day festival dates back to 1810 and is part of Bavarian culture with fairground rides and beer tents central to this amazing festival. Whether you’re visiting for the weekend or planning to stay longer, be sure to pace yourself as Oktoberfest (Wisen to the locals) is not for the fainthearted.
When and Where Does Oktoberfest Take Place?
Many tourists planning a trip to Munich for Oktoberfest think that the festival takes place in October. Don’t worry; this is an easy and common mistake. The festival actually begins in September and ends on the first Sunday in October. This year’s festival runs from Saturday, 19 September, to Sunday, 4 October, making it a 16-day party that you’ll struggle to top anywhere else in the world.
Oktoberfest takes place on Theresienwiese, which is a big field near Munich City Centre. If you’re a first-time visitor to the city, just head towards Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) and follow the huge crowds heading out to the many beer tents. You can also head for the Theresienwiese U-Bahn station, although it does get very busy during the day so try to get there first thing to beat the crowds (even this can be a challenge).
Get There Early to Get Your Seat
Getting a table at Oktoberfest can be tricky especially at evenings and weekends when things tend to get really busy. If you’re visiting with a larger group, try to reserve a table in one of the tents in advance. If you’re in a small group, you should be able to get a seat much easier on the day although do try to get there early (especially at the weekend) to beat the crowds as tents can quickly fill up.
Many tents offer traditional German breakfast to those arriving early and if you plan to wash it down with a beer, just be sure to pace yourself as the beer is served in one-litre glasses and can be stronger than you are normally used to.
Top tip – Start the day with a Radler (a shandy). Don’t jump in at the deep end as it won’t end well – remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Access to the tents is free and while having a seat can be great at night, during the day try to spend a bit of time going from tent to tent taking in everything around you and sampling the different beers on offer. If you find a tent that has a good vibe and atmosphere, you should hang about as you should eventually get a seat somewhere. The Bavarian crowd and indeed the tourists visiting Oktoberfest have a reputation for being extremely friendly.
Picking Your Beer Tent
When it comes to finding a tent and grabbing a beer, there’s no shortage of options. There will be 14 tents at this year’s Oktoberfest, each offering something different for the discerning customer. The beers are served by the Maß (litre), although there are smaller measures available. Visiting every tent in one day can be a challenge, so best spread them out across your trip. Here are three of the most popular tents to try and get along to.
1. Schottenhamel (Pure Tradition)
This is where it all kicks off. The Schottenhamel is perhaps the most important of all tents at Oktoberfest as it is here on the opening day that the mayor of Munich officially opens the festival. With a tap on the first keg and a roar of “O zapft is!” the festival is now open and all other tents can serve beer. Try to get along for 12 noon on the opening day to witness this key moment of the festival. Seating 6,000 people, this tent remains popular throughout Oktoberfest, serving some of the nicest beer on offer.
2. Winzerer Fähndl (A Toast to Gemuetlichkeit)
Run by the popular Paulaner brewery, Winzerer Fähndl is recognisable throughout the site thanks to a six-metre-high beer mug that sits proudly rotating on the tents spire. Famed for its chilled-out atmosphere, this is a popular meeting spot for guests and also an alleged hangout for celebrities visiting Oktoberfest. Don’t be surprised to come across players from Bayern Munich fully kitted out in Lederhosen. You’ll come across a lot of locals and tourists dressed in Lederhosen (for the men) and Dirndl (for the women). While it’s not essential to wear these outfits, it all adds to the experience and is great if a group of you are planning to attend.
3. Ochsenbraterei (All Kinds of Oxen)
With an ox slowly roasting on a huge spit at the entrance, Ochsenbraterei is another tent that gets plenty of attention during Oktoberfest. A popular tent for food lovers attending the festival, the combination of great food, beer and music from the brass band could have you setting up camp for the day here. The party atmosphere tends to begin in the afternoon so be prepared to sing and raise your Maß (the litre glass you will be drinking from) with locals and tourists alike.
Be Prepared to Sing
Now that we’ve mentioned raising your Maß and singing, be prepared to do this no matter what tent you are in. The music can vary from traditional German folk music to popular American music, all of which goes together to ensure an entertaining day for all. One song that you’ll be sure to hear over and over again is “Ein Prosit”. It’s played hourly (in some cases more frequently) and you’ll need to get up and toast everyone around you while singing it before taking a good drink of your beer. Try to learn the words in advance so you can puff out your chest and sing along proudly with the locals.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of the Local Brew
The beers on offer can vary in strength with most coming in at around 7% – 9%. Served in litre glasses (Maß), this is a lot of beer and things can go downhill very quickly if you don’t pace yourself. A quick look around you when you enter tents and you’ll see those who have had one too many beers – you don’t want to join this group. Take your time drinking your beers and take a rest every so often and set off to explore the funfair that takes place outside of the tents. Beers this year are expected to cost over €10 in every tent so be sure to take enough money to cover your food and drink for the day.
Drinking on an empty stomach is just no fun at all so if you plan on spending the day at Oktoberfest, be sure to get your hands on some of the great food on offer. The Hendl (roast chicken) and Schweinshaxe (pork knuckles) should be at the top of your list of things to try out as these popular dishes are as much a part of the Oktoberfest experience as the beers themselves.
Take a Timeout and Enjoy Luna Park
We touched on this at the start but Oktoberfest isn’t just about the beer, and if you’re planning on visiting Munich for a few days during the festival you’re going to need to take some time away from the beer tents – trust us. Luna Park funfair runs alongside Oktoberfest and has a wide range of funfair attractions with things like a haunted house, roller coasters and playgrounds dotted throughout. Luna Park attracts many families making Oktoberfest a real celebration for all. Do be warned though; don’t take the risk of climbing on a roller coaster after a feed of beer as it won’t end well.
Luna Park opens from day two and runs until the festival ends. It is open daily from 10am to midnight. If you’re planning on bringing children along to the amusement park, early morning and during the week is the best time as the park can quickly fill up with adults who have enjoyed a beer or two. Tuesday is a day that is set aside as a family day and could be a good day to visit the festival with the kids.
Getting to Oktoberfest
Aer Lingus flies direct to Munich Airport daily from Dublin with flights cheaper if you decide to fly out during the week. Accommodation near to Theresienwiese can be pricey during the festival but there are some great deals and cheap hotels in Munich city centre. View our Oktoberfest 2015 special deals by clicking here.
Take Time to Explore Munich
If you’re planning on visiting Oktoberfest for a few days, set aside some time to get out and explore Munich. It is one of Europe’s finest cities so give yourself at least a day to explore it. Not only will this allow you to take in some of the history and culture of the city, it will also give you a break from the Bavarian beers.
There’s a lot to see and do in Munich and while one day isn’t enough to get around all of the city, do try to take in the beauty of the Englischer Garten, the majestic Nymphenburg Palace and the impressive Deutches Museum, the world’s largest technology and science museum.
The bars around the city centre are lively throughout the year but during Oktoberfest the party atmosphere continues from Theresienwiese into the city centre. Head straight for the popular central square at Marienplatz in the city centre to begin any tour and call in to some of the many bars and cafes in the surrounding area. For food lovers, be sure to head for the popular farmers’ market, Viktualienmarkt. The market has developed into a gourmet food market with stalls open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturday.