Oktoberfest (called by locals d’Wiesn) is the world’s largest Volksfest that features a beer festival and traveling carnival. Each year it’s held in Munich, Germany, and lasts for about 16-18 days in mid to late September. The festival brings in more than six million international and national visitors and is an important part of Bavarian culture since it has been held since 1810.
Munich isn’t the only place that celebrates, you can find Oktoberfest celebrations around the world that are modeled after the original event. You can find events happening in other German cities like Berlin, all the way in Canada, the US, and even Australia. However, the biggest, and the original Oktoberfest you’ll find is in Munich.
For me, visiting Oktoberfest was on my bucket list. I love attending beer festivals back home in Toronto and trying local breweries, so naturally, I was always attracted to the appeal of THE beer festival, Oktoberfest. When my boyfriend and I were going to be in Europe last year in September, we knew we had to make Oktoberfest a part of our trip. But attending this world-renowned festival comes with a lot of questions and planning, so I wanted to make this guide to help make it easy for you.
History of Oktoberfest
Back in the 1800s, King Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the royal event. The fields, known as Theresienwiese, are where the festival takes place even today, although you’ll often hear locals nicknaming it Wiesn.
It is widely believed that a major in the National Guard proposed the idea of a horse race that would be held on October 18th to honor the newlyweds, however, the origins of the horse races and Oktoberfest itself may have come from proposals offered by a coachman and sergeant in the National Guard, Franz Baumgartner. As you can see the precise origins of the festival and horse races are controversial, but the decision to repeat the horse races and celebrations in 1811 launched what is not the annual Oktoberfest tradition.
Where is Oktoberfest?
There are several iterations of Oktoberfest that will happen around the world during the middle to end of September/beginning of October, but the original Oktoberfest is in Munich, Germany, and happens on the grounds of Theresienwiese located not far from the city centre.
Getting to Oktoberfest & around Munich
Thankfully, the grounds that Oktoberfest happens on are not hard to get to from the city centre. Also, Munich’s transportation network is very efficient, fast, and reliable with almost every corner of the city connected in some way. If you are staying in and around central Munich, you can even walk to Theresienwiese in about 25 minutes from the central Marienplatz. If you don’t want to walk, or are staying out of the city centre, your best bet is to take public transit to avoid traffic, and the fees of taxis or Uber given how busy the city can be at this time of year.
To find your transit route, use Google Maps to put in your starting and your ending address and hit the “transit” option. This will show you exactly what modes of public transportation to take. In Munich, you can easily buy a ticket for their public transit system at every stop. My advice is to look into the passes to determine the one that makes the most sense for you as it’s often cheaper to just get a day pass.
Where to stay during Oktoberfest
The best place to stay is obviously as close to the festival grounds as possible or within walking distance. However, this is a very busy time in Munich and it can be hard (and impossible) to find something close to Theresienwiese without paying an arm and a leg. Prices are often 2-3 times higher (if not more) than regular prices, and even finding a hostel won’t be cost-efficient. Your best bet is to either look for a spot that is outside of the city centre but still accessible by public transit, or to book far in advance (we’re talking 12 months out).
There are 8 entry points to the festival site and the four U-Bahn stations near these entrances are for U3, U4, U5, and U6 lines so try and book a hotel close to one of these lines if possible. Again, Munich is very well connected, so for example, we stayed near Olympiapark (at Mercure Hotel) which required us to take a tram to the city centre and then hop on U4 or U5 and this was quick, efficient, and easy to do.
Tip: If you are having trouble finding something cost efficient, try using Hotwire. You won’t know the exact property you’re booking for but it’ll show you the general area and they only work with great hotel chains so you won’t end up somewhere terrible.
Reservations for tables at Oktoberfest
One of the biggest things you need to plan for attending Oktoberfest is your table reservations. To enter Oktoberfest it’s entirely free and you don’t need a ticket. It’s also family-friendly. However, if you want to sit in one of the famous beer tents and enjoy some beers, you’re going to want a table reservation.
Table reservations are made at the respective brewery’s websites (full list here), which means that you’ll want to check each and find out when reservations open to ensure you are on top of getting a reservation well in advance. Reservations usually open between January and April and the tables at the most popular tents will fill up quickly. Tables usually seat 8-10 people and cost about 300-400 EUR, and you can’t just book 1-2 seats, you need to book the whole table.
If you are traveling with a big group, it’s recommended you find a table reservation as otherwise there is a high likelihood you will not be sitting together, and in order to drink and order beer, you have to be at a table. If you are traveling solo or only 2-3 of you, then you are probably fine to wing it. There are areas in each beer tent that are for reservations, and areas that are open for first-come-first-serve. If the weather is nice, you also have the beer gardens outside, however, inside is where the fun is (in my opinion). Honestly, the idea of being stuck at one table for too long doesn’t really appeal to me anyway as we had so much fun walking around and going in and out of the different tents and places.
There are a few additional tips I recommend for finding yourself a table:
- Book an Airbnb Experience: If you are booking last minute and can’t get a reservation, you can do what we did which was book an Airbnb experience or tour that includes a reservation. This gave us a good starting point and at least we knew we’d get a seat at one table, FOR SURE, on the day we attended
- Join a Facebook Community: I found this Oktoberfest Facebook group really helpful when planning and there are always people looking for others to join their table reservations
- Time of Day: Naturally, on weekends and after work hours, Oktoberfest is going to be the busiest. If you want to go when there are “fewer” crowds to maximize your chance of getting into the tents you want, I’d go on a weekday and start your day early during the day so you can get a seat before the evening
- Joining a Table: When you don’t have a reservation but want to experience a different tent, you’ll have to just look for a spot at a table and ask the group if you can join. Most people are friendly (and full of beer) so unless they have other people joining them, you shouldn’t have a problem
- Oide Wiesn: This is a part of Oktoberfest where you’ll pay a couple more euros to enter but it’s cool to visit. Essentially they’ve taken a lot of their old rides and games from different eras of Oktoberfest. You can also find a beer tent that’s usually pretty easy to get into that serves beer in traditional ceramic steins. I loved this tent and area so I would highly recommend it even though it may not be on the list of “top tents” to go to at Oktoberfest.
What do I wear to Oktoberfest:
You will find women in dirndls, the traditional dresses, and men in lederhosen. However, this is not a requirement to attend, there are plenty of people in regular clothing as well but in my opinion, dressing up is part of the fun. There are plenty of shops around the city selling the attire for Oktoberfest but I’ll warn you that it is expensive, like 200 euros or more. What I did was found a costume on Amazon that looked as close to a traditional dress as I could find. You’ll read a lot about not wearing costumes to the festival unless you want to look like a tourist, however, what most of those forums are referring to is costumes that resemble a slutty beer girl like this.
If you want to wear a traditional outfit but don’t want to buy one in Munich, you can also rent them while there and return them before you go home. For men, you can wear shorts or pants, with a gingham red or blue button-up shirt. My partner also added some suspenders since finding knock-off lederhosen that looked close to being authentic was next to impossible without spending a lot of money. Both of our outfits were fine since it was a rainy, cold day, and lots of people weren’t even dressed up at all.
A few other tips on what to wear:
- Backpacks aren’t allowed so make sure you just bring a purse
- Wear comfortable shoes as you’ll do a lot of walking
How many days do I need to go to Oktoberfest? We only attended for one day for our three days in Munich. I personally felt that was all I needed, but potentially could have used one additional day just to explore things other than the beer tents on the festival grounds because naturally, we spent the bulk of our time inside the tents drinking beer. It was literally so much fun though that you could attend all two weeks of the festival and have a ball each day.
How far in advance should I book my reservations for Oktoberfest? Tents start opening up reservations at the start of the year. Keep an eye on each of their websites as the breweries operate reservations on their own vs. one central booking system.
What to do if I can’t get a table reservation at Oktoberfest? Don’t stress, unless you have a large group you won’t have to worry. You can also opt to join a tour or Airbnb experience that includes a reservation, or just wing it and make friends when you’re there.
How far in advance should I book my hotel for Oktoberfest? EARLY! The earlier the cheaper, and the better. I’d book at least in January of the year you plan to attend the event.
When is the best time to visit Oktoberfest in Munich? It’s cool to be there for the opening or closing ceremonies, but really any day is fun. Weekdays can be a bit less busy though which can help you get into each tent and wait in fewer lines for attractions.
Are there other things to drink other than beer at Oktoberfest? Yes, there are some tents that offer wine. Most also have radlers which are half beer, and half juice, which helps make drinking beer way easier if you aren’t a big beer person. I will also say that I’m not a huge beer drinker, I usually just like the fruity, fun-flavored beer vs. traditional beer, and beer in Munich/Germany is unlike anything back home. It’s fresh and so good.
How much should I expect to spend at Oktoberfest? Bring cash on you, but there is definitely the option for some attractions to pay credit. I spent probably 100 euros max for the day and I drank four 1L beers, rode some rides, and bought food.
Can my kids come to Oktoberfest? Yes! Oktoberfest is family-friendly and you’ll see kids of all ages around the festival grounds. They even have special activities for kids. After 8 pm, kids are not allowed in the beer tents so it’s best to come in the day.
What tent is the best at Oktoberfest? Honestly, I don’t feel like they really matter, each is unique and fun so there is no need to be picky.
What time does Oktoberfest open and close? Beer serving hours are weekdays from 10 am-10:30 pm, and weekends (Saturday, Sunday & Holidays) 9 am-10:30 pm. You’ll also find Kafers open until 12:30 am, and Weinzelt opens until 1 am. Outside of these hours, the stalls are open for longer with most days the festival opening at 9 am-10 am and closing at around 11:30 pm-12 am.
Are there any rules at Oktoberfest? Yes. You can find the ten golden rules on their website.
Can I take home my stein? No, and you’ll get kicked out of the festival for trying to. Not only are backpacks not allowed, but stealing the steins is prohibited. You can, however, purchase them at one of the many stalls, in the beer tents themselves, or outside of the festival grounds at the breweries.
Have more FAQ? Read the provided FAQ on the Oktoberfest official website here.