The air was thick with the smell of freshly baked pretzels and roasted chicken. A roaring crowd, the clinking of beer mugs, and the sound of joyous, inebriated singing escaped from the nearby tents. People from all over the world filled the streets talking and laughing. I smiled; I was finally at Oktoberfest, Munich and I couldn’t wait to join in the festivities.
If there are three words that sum up Oktoberfest, they are food, beer, and celebration. It’s one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to, and one that I couldn’t recommend more highly. But it’s a huge, busy, and slightly overwhelming celebration – so it’s easy to get a little baffled by the crowds and the sheer volume of things to do, eat, drink and see when you’re there. From experience, here are seven things to remember when visiting the world’s largest beer celebration.
One reason I love Oktoberfest is because it’s a massive melting pot of different cultures. While you always meet people from different cultures travelling, Oktoberfest differs a bit; thousands of people from around the globe gather together in Munich, Germany every September for one purpose – to party. No one is concerned with sightseeing or going on day trips; everyone is there to make friends and have fun. Make this your mission too.
In the morning, I was toasting and singing songs with people from Germany; a few hours later I was eating dinner with a few guys from the UK; by evening I was going on fairground rides with a couple from Asia. With all that social lubrication, Oktoberfest is the perfect place to meet other travellers and make friends. Don’t stay huddled in the group you’re with – talk to people!
For some reason, I didn’t expect Oktoberfest to have as much amazing food as it did. Obviously, beer is still the main attraction, but the food is a close second – it’s really delicious. And not just because you’re a little wasted, and anything would taste good – this is proper, real, delicious Bavarian food. Lots of meat, weisswurst, schnitzel, pork knuckle and sausages. Personally, my favorite things to eat there are the tender slow roasted chicken and freshly baked brezen. But don’t limit yourself – when you visit Oktoberfest, try everything and eat until your belt is bursting. Trust me; it is worth it.
Full meals cost between €12-15, pretzels are much cheaper (and they’re huge).
Inside the tents, it feels absolutely electric. Complete strangers are arm-in-arm singing beer songs at the top of their lungs. People are laughing, chanting, and shouting conversations to try and be heard over the raucous crowds; other people are standing on tables trying to chug a litre of beer as quickly as they can as thousands cheer them on. The atmosphere is so lively that you can’t help but want but get involved.
Oktoberfest’s atmosphere is indescribable. Oktoberfest is all about the beer, but it’s not all about the beer, and if you need a break from drinking there are tons of other activities to get into. You have bands marching through beer tents, carnival rides lining the street, and booths that sell everything from wine tastings to souvenirs. It’s worth leaving your spot in the tents every now and again, to get a more thorough experience of the whole festival.
Real Lederhosen and Dirndl dresses, the traditional Bavarian outfit and Oktoberfest’s unofficial uniforms, are not the cheapest items of clothing in the world to buy, with proper leather trousers and Dirndls starting at around €100 (and getting as expensive as €1000). But they are a big part of getting into the Oktoberfest spirit, so you really should snag yourself a pair. Check ebay, buy some used ones, borrow from a friend, or splash out on your own pair. Oktoberfest is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for many visitors, so the ‘go-hard-or-go-home’ rule applies. Get your gladrags on.
Munich is one of my favorite cities in Germany. Sadly, a lot of the people that come to Munich for Oktoberfest never make it past the beer tents, and miss the city entirely.
I suggest taking a break around the middle of your holiday and head into the city – actually it’s a good idea to do this on a Saturday or Sunday when the festival gets particularly manic. One day doesn’t do Munich the justice it deserves, but it is better than not seeing this gorgeous German city at all.
Getting into the beer tents can be a little tricky, mainly because there are only a limited number of seats and the crowds are absolutely huge. This means that often, when people get into a tent, they are really hesitant to leave and lose their spot. After all, every tent serves vast quantities of beer and food, so once you get inside, you don’t need to go anywhere else. Keep in mind, however, the menus and beer selection vary from tent to tent.
I always try to at least go to a few different tents to get better scope of what the whole festival has to offer – you will see and experience more, and meet more people than you would sitting in one place the entire time. This is one Oktoberfest travel tip that I highly recommend. Also – remember that you need to get up early to make sure you get into the bigger tents, and many of them will be reserved on the Saturdays during the festival. Be prepared for beer breakfasts.
So for all the ‘go-hard-or-go-home’ talk, you still need a little strategy and a lot of stamina! A day at Oktoberfest is a long day of drinking, so remember to stay fed and hydrated, and pace your drinking. Yes it’s tempting to go flat out from the moment you arrive, but this isn’t Sunday pints down the local – it’s very much a marathon and not a sprint. You’ll understand the dangers of peaking too soon once you see the human detritus scattered around the festival site, slumped over in their lederhosen and missing all the fun because, like Icarus, they flew too close to the sun… Don’t be those guys. Take it easy. They won’t run out of beer.
This is a given, right? After all, Oktoberfest Munich is the biggest beer festival in the world. The tents are made up of Munich’s most famous beer houses and breweries. You have a lot of selection, and you have a lot of beer to drink, so budget for it. Beers hover around the €10 mark (for a litre), tips for the servers are standard (around 10%), and many tents only accept cash. It’s not cheap, but you’re paying for an experience like no other so prepare for the cost of having a lot of fun, drink the beer, enjoy the festivities, and be safe.
Oktoberfest is an amazing festival and exciting event. Each Oktoberfest seems to outdo the one before it. Whether you are a beer-lover or not, Oktoberfest has something for you. Sit back, enjoy the wonderful German culture and most of all, have as much fun as you possibly can.
- Stephen Schreck