13 Tips for the Ultimate Oktoberfest
Everything To Do and Not To Do at Oktoberfest
Today’s post is a little different from normal. We will explain how to do Oktoberfest the right way. This weekend marks the third and final weekend for the festival, which ends on the Day of German Unity, Tuesday, October 3rd. Over the course of the celebration, more than 7.2M people will descend on Munich, including yours truly, to celebrate the 184th Oktoberfest. With so much going on in the town, it can help to have some guidance of what to do and not to do.
Here are my 13 tips on how to do Oktoberfest the right way.
1. Select Your Dates
Obviously the first thing to nail down is when you want to go. And yes, there is plenty of opportunity for a last-minute visit.
Oktoberfest runs over the course of three weekends, from mid-September through early October. In 2017, the dates are September 16 through October 3. In 2018, September 22 through October 7.
Different types of crowds visit on different days:
Weekdays: locals. Tuesdays are ‘family days’ with discounts for rides in the midday and a friendlier attitude all around.
Weekends: international visitors, rowdy evenings.
Second weekend: colloquially referred to as “the Italian weekend” due to the popular influx of travelers from the South… who carry a reputation for being raucous.
2. Dress The Part
This is a time when you will want to and be expected to wear the traditional garb.
Men - you’re looking to wear a pair of lederhosen, literally "leather trousers" but three-quarter length is the most popular. The nicest pieces are made from deerskin, but goatskin is generally a more affordable alternative. For this outfit you'll want to avoid cow and pork leathers. Pair it with a button down checkered shirt and matching suspenders or a traditional Bavarian jacket, and you’re ready to go.
Women - some petite women might opt for short lederhosen, but the traditional outfit is a dirndl. The classic dirndl is a ribbon lace-up bodice and a full-length skirt, though many outlets will try to sell you the more-risque short skirt version. Don't forget the blouse, generally one with short puffy sleeves, and the apron. Go with a large necklace and you’ll look like a local. Pro-tip: the way you tie your apron signals whether you are single or not. The bow tied on the left suggests you're looking; a bow on the right announces you're married.
For shoes, bring your own comfortable, closed-toe, not-too-fancy, roughly ankle-height boots. They will get pretty dirty due to beer splashes and the errant step. Low heels or flats are the way to go - no spikes.
As for where to buy your traditional Oktoberfest clothes, it depends on how much you want to spend.
Frugal option - you will be bombarded with temporary storefronts and stalls near Hauptbahnhof selling low-cut and mediocre quality clothing that might be ok for a day at the fair, but nothing more.
Economic option - for an outfit will last the season, head to Steindl Trachten at Neuhauser Str. 10. They have a ton of variety and frequent specials on complete outfits.
High quality on the cheap - the amazing staff at Holareidulijö at Schellingstraße 81, suggest pieces for both genders that fit and feel like you've owned them for years. Note that the majority of inventory is pre-loved and you might discover some true antiques.
Deep pockets option - If you just won the lottery, go directly to the main Lodenfrey shop at Maffeistraße 7. They will take your measurements and make a custom-fit outfit that will last forever.
3. Head To The Fair
Munich has a lot to offer during Oktoberfest, but most of the action takes place in the tents. There are 14 main tents each with its own style, decor, beer and size (most range from 1,000 - 8,500 seats).
Tents typically open at 9am on weekends and 10am on weekdays. The party ends early, wrapping up by 10:30pm on weekdays and 11:30 on weekends.
Here is a map of the festival layout.
An assessment of the various tents:
- Hacker Festzelt: Go here on a Sunday daytime and everyone will be happy. The music is great, and the food is my favorite. Order the quarter duck w/ suckling pig (¼ gegrillte Ente und knuspriges Spanferkel).
Marstall: This is the newest tent on the fairgrounds which replaced Hippodrom in 2014. It’s not crazy-busy and doesn’t yet have the dedicated following that the other tents boast, which makes it easier to enter.
Schützen Festzelt: A bit cozier inside compared to the other ‘large’ tents, but interesting to visit since there’s an indoor shooting range and shooting competition (airsoft rifle and pistol). I’ve entered the competition a few times and was destroyed :-).
Augustiner Festhalle: A much quieter tent until about an hour before closing. This tent is popular with older audiences, so there is opportunity for stimulating conversations and new friendships with the old guard. You can tell they are a bit fancier here since they are one of the few tents that lays out tablecloths.
Paulaner Winzerer Fähndl: A nicely decorated house and more colorful, especially when it is dark outside. They too have great food, especially the pork knuckle (Schweinshaxe).
Hofbrau Festzelt: The only tent where you can order a beer without sitting on a bench. It is biased towards foreigners (i.e. Americans/Australians) so don’t plan on an ‘authentic’ Oktoberfest here. But if you want some live music with beer, it’ll do the job.
Lowenbrau: Good atmosphere and music, though their beer is the least-best in Munich.
Fischer-Vroni: Good atmosphere, the smoked fish outside might not sound very appetizing but you’ll be shocked by how good it tastes.
Weinzelt: The token wine tent for those who prefer grapes to hops. My only caveat: there is a reason beer is the preferred drink of Oktoberfest.
In general you’ll pick a tent to start and then walk around from there. If it’s sunny, start at Hacker-Festzelt. If it’s overcast, head to Paulaner Winzerer Fähndl.
4. Pick Your Drink
When you order a beer, it is served in one size: 1 liter steins. The typical liter of beer will cost 10.50 €. The choice at each beer tent is basically 1 liter of helles (the regular beer, literally means ‘light’) or a radler (a half beer, half lemonade shandy that is refreshingly delicious).
You can also order water, soft drinks, or fruit juices, each of which are around the same price as a beer.
5. Practice Proper Beer Etiquette
First, hold you maß (beer stein) like a local. Don’t clutch the handle. Instead, place your hand between the glass and the handle so your palm is closest to beer and the back of your hand touches the inner handle.
Second, with the exception of the Hofbräu tent, you’ll need to finagle your way onto a bench in order to get a server’s attention for a drink. This is why you don’t see many people standing around in the tents.
If you cannot find a seat, the never-fail backup plan: politely ask a seated individual to order you and your party a beer the next time the server comes around – but sweeten the deal by offering to buy their next maß.
6. Drink Responsibly
It should go without saying, but don’t drink yourself sick. This is a marathon not a sprint. And besides, there is more to Oktoberfest than just beer.
You want to be present for cultural experiences. Make friends, eat great food, belt out drinking songs, tour the city, and actually be able to remember it all so you have stories to tell about your Oktoberfest.
7. Enjoy The Food
To help keep your sobriety in check and offer sustenance, the Oktoberfest tents offer great Bavarian food that will enhance your merriment.
The typical food options in the tents include:
Raditeller - thinly sliced radish appetizer served with some bread and herbs (usually chives) that magically complement beer.
Brezeln: giant pretzel - they are actually disappointing. The pretzels are generally stale, and the tents aren't stocked with the sweet mustard you'll find in typical Munich beer halls.
Hendl: Roasted chicken - in 2015, 503,510 chickens were consumed at Oktoberfest and with good reason! You'll see racks upon racks of rotisseries loaded with chicken and ducks.
Schweinshaxe: Pork knuckle.
Wurst: Every tent will have some variety of sausage, ranging from Bavarian weisswurst to smaller Nuremberg sized bratwursts.
Spätzle: Egg noodles typically served with cheese (käse).
8. Pay With Cash
Bring cash and lots of it. Very few tents take credit cards, since you pay by the drink (no running tabs here), your server really doesn’t want to have to shuttle back and forth to swipe your card. Using plastic can pretty much guarantee that your server will ignore you for the rest of the night.
Just as you enter the fairgrounds, there will be a cluster of ATMs from a reputable bank, usually Stadtsparkasse. Most tents will usually have one ATM inside, but there will be an epic line in front of it and you don’t want to waste prime celebration time waiting to use it.
9. Tip Your Server
If you want to stay in your server’s good graces, you should be quick to provide a gratuity. Just rounding up is a reasonable tip strategy as that’s a third source of revenue for them. Assuming a maß in 2017 will cost 10,40-10,95 €, rounding to 11 - 12 € is expected. If you are buying three maß, round to 34 € or 35 €.
If you don’t have perfect change, just tell the server what to make the total price and they’ll make your change.
Fun fact: the servers have to purchase the beer as independent contractors and then resell it to you. They also pay a deposit on the glass. So keep your server happy!
10. Impress Your New Friends
You’ll make more friends with the locals if you can deliver a few key words in German. Here is all you need to know:
One beer, please: ein helles bitte (literally one 'light' beer, but in Munich this is a matter of light vs dark)
One stein of beer: ein maß (ß is a double ‘s’ so the word is pronounced mass)
Please / You're welcome: bitte
Thank you: danke
You’re welcome very much: bitte schön
Tap's open!: O'zapft is! (the slogan on 2017 merchandise)
11. Partake In The Festivities
Each tent usually has a live band whose job it is to get everyone to sing along. It is always fun if you can at least join in for the chorus. To get a head start, check out this YouTube version of “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” which you'll hear frequently in every tent, or the popular German children's song, “Fliegerlied.”
You will also hear a few classic American songs performed in heavy rotation, especially “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and “Sweet Caroline.”
If the spirit moves you, feel free to hop on the benches and dance. Just don’t be that person who falls and breaks themselves - 5,000 people will turn and laugh.
12. Buy A Commemorative Stein
I know, I know, it is cool to have a memento that you’ve stolen from an Oktoberfest tent. But don’t walk off with a glass stein. There is a high chance that you'll be caught by security at the tent exit and while they will generally just let you go with a warning, if you are caught by police there is technically a steep fine for stealing a mug.
Instead, buy the limited edition Oktoberfest stein at one of the official Oktoberfest shops all over Munich. You will have your choice of glass or ceramic, it will have the year’s commemorative artwork, and it will be clean.
13. Plan A Day Trip Somewhere Else
Drinking for three to four days straight is not the healthiest activity for your body or your mind. I tend to take a break between days in the tents to go on a day trip. Extra points if I can get away on a Saturday when the tents are crazy.
If you have a car, go see King Ludwig II’s castles, especially Neuschwanstein. The castles are easy to visit and the drive in the hills is a blast.
Bamberg is a beer Mecca. This small Bavarian town has the highest breweries per capita in the world, and a very distinct style of beer. You can do a lot worse than walking around town with friends and trying a variety of breweries.
Andechs Monastery - Benedictine monks have brewed beer here since 1455. And it is quite good - perhaps the best in Bavaria. It goes down nicely with vistas of the historic monastery.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a small town in the foothills of the alps. If you haven’t been to the Alps, this is an opportunity to ride up a cable car to the Zugspitze summit and get a feel for the grandiosity of the mountains.
Salzburg, Vienna is a fairly short ride and very affordable with the “Bayern ticket” on the well-connected rail network.
That should be enough to get you started. Beers from six different breweries are served at the fairgrounds, but only one per large tent. Let me know which is your favorite.
And for those of you who are not heading to Munich this weekend, here are some walks in the US that celebrate fine beers and the festive spirit.
Why: Triple Rock Brewery & Ale House is the fifth oldest brewpub in the country, and their beer frequently wins the Great American Beer Festival.
Why: Spitzer’s Corner offers 40 craft beers on tap in a room with long communal tables and benches. It’s the woodsy, rustic Oktoberfest.
Why: Beelman's Pub is technically a British-style pub, but their outdoor porch is furnished with German beer garden tables and benches, and the beer is top notch.
Why: Sessions at the Presidio is celebrating Oktoberfest with a German food brunch and bottomless German beers.
Why: Mr. Smith’s of Georgetown is a singalong piano bar - channel your Oktoberfest spirit and sing “Brown Eyed Girl” with a brew in your hand.