Have you wanted to attend Oktoberfest in Munich, but you’re not sure where to start or if you can even get in? We felt that same way for many years, which prevented us from even trying. But once we went to Oktoberfest, we realized that attending the event is easier than you think.
We’re going to share all the info you need to know to plan a trip to Oktoberfest in Munich. Attending Oktoberfest in Munich is totally worth it, even if it does take a bit of planning. It is, afterall, one of the world’s largest and most well known festivals and you should attend at least once.
If you don’t know much about the actual Oktoberfest festival, check out our guide to Oktoberfest.
We’re going to give you the run down of things you should know about attending Oktoberfest so you’re prepared for your trip.
Visiting other destinations in Germany? Check out our guide to traveling in Germany that includes information on many popular destinations like Berlin and Oktoberfest in Munich. Going outside of Germany? Here’s our Europe travel guide.
Brief History of Oktoberfest
The first beer tent we visited had a reporter hoping around from table to table asking attendees if they knew the reason for Oktoberfest. I watched as person after person gave answers like “for the beer!” and “to celebrate fall”.
I gave up listening after about 10 people answered incorrectly. The moral of this story is that if you’re going to attend Oktoberfest, you should at least know why it’s celebrated.
Here’s the quick story (this comes from Thirsty Swagman – a really helpful website all about Oktoberfest that you should definitely check out): “It was the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810, and the citizens were invited to enjoy the festivities on the fields in front of the city gates.
These fields were named Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Meadow), in honour of the Princess, and they’ve been called this ever since, though you’ll hear it abbreviated to Wiesn by the locals.”
Planning Your Trip to Oktoberfest
Here is some essential information you’ll need to plan your trip, including when it is, how to get there, where to stay, and how to get into a tent.
One of the most important things is to plan far in advance.
Hotels book up as much as 6 months in advance and the price may go up the closer to the festival it gets. For this reason, it is recommended to book your flight and hotel as early as possible – even up to 9 months in advance. I personally think you can get away with booking as little as 3 months in advance, but you might not get the hotel you want.
When is Oktoberfest?
It’s called Oktoberfest, but it begins in September. The festival spans 16 days and begins around the 22nd of September (give or take a few days). It ends in the first week of October. In 2018 the festival runs from September 22 – October 7. Oktoberfest has been cancelled for 2021.
Oktoberfest is held at the Theresienwiese (commonly referred to as the Wies’n). The Wies’n is located right in the center of Munich and is easily reachable by public transportation. The Munich subway stops at the Theresienwiese stop, which is often very crowded, so it is advised to get off at an alternate stop. Here is the public transport information straight from the Oktoberfest website:
- S-Bahn: S1 – S8 to Hackerbrücke S7 and S20 to Heimeranplatz, and then U4 or U5 to station Theresienwiese or Schwanthalerhöhe
- U-Bahn: U3 or U6 to Goetheplatz or Poccistraße U4 or U5 to Theresienwiese or Schwanthalerhöhe
- Bus: MetroBus-Line 53 to Schwanthalerhöhe MetroBus-Line 58 to Georg-Hirth-Platz, Beethovenplatz or Goetheplatz MetroBus-Linie 62 to Hans-Fischer-Straße, Poccistraße or Herzog-Ernst-Platz StadtBus-Line 134 to Theresienhöhe or Schwanthalerhöhe
- Streetcar / Straßenbahn: Line 18 or 19 to Holzapfelstraße or Hermann-Lingg-Straße Line 16 an 17 to Hackerbrücke
Many nearby hotels and hostels are within walking distance. You don’t want to drive!
Where to Stay in Munich for Oktoberfest
I would suggest booking a hotel that is within walking distance of the festival, because it’s easy and convenient. You won’t have to battle for space in the crowded subway trains. We always stay at the Marc Munchen (read Trip Advisor reviews), which is an affordable luxury, adults-only hotels that is just 5 blocks (15 minute walk) from the Wiesn.
It’s a very convenient location (near restaurants, stores, train station) and really comfortable. You will also appreciate how quiet it is compared to lower-cost or budget hotels nearby. Another option, if the Marc Munich is booked is the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost.
If you can’t stay within walking distance, at least stay as close to the subway line as possible. The Hauptbahnhof (main train station) is within walking distance for the Wiesn. You could stay a few stops away and still have an easy time getting to the festival. I recommend staying at the Westin Grand Munich.
Getting Into Oktoberfest – Do You Need Tickets for Oktoberfest?
Entrance to Oktoberfest is free. You do not need a ticket to attend Oktoberfest. You can go on any rides you want, walk around the fairgrounds, eat all the food, and you can go into any beer tents or gardens that are open.
I say “open” because most of the tents fill up to capacity and you will then have to have a table reservation to get in. Before the tents fill up, especially during the day time hours, you can go right in.
If you want to go into one of the big beer tents during the busy hours, you will need to have Oktoberfest beer tent reservations.
As we were planning our trip to Oktoberfest, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy it without table reservations. I figured we wouldn’t be able to get into any of the big tents. Or we’d have to sweet talk some (hopefully friendly) Germans to let us share their table. Now that I’ve been and have seen the tents first hand, I understand it better.
You won’t have any trouble getting into a tent during the weekdays before around 6pm. On Fridays, it might be more difficult starting around 4pm. On weekends, getting a table is a different story. Tables get filled up sometimes as early as noon and the doors to the tents are closed, allowing no entry. And some very popular tents are reservation only almost all the time.
If you avoid weekends, you’ll be just fine getting in. If you choose to go on a weekend, you will have a difficult time getting in without a reservation. The best strategy is to enter a tent and look for non-reserved tables. If you find one and there’s space available, just sit down.
If you don’t find one, wander around looking like you’re lost and a waitress will likely take pity on you and lead you to a free seat. This was the case for us in both the Paulaner and Spatenbrau tents. If you go on a weekday around 11am, many of the tents will look like the one pictured below. That picture was taken on one of the busiest Fridays of the festival, but at 11am, when the crowds are not nearly as big. Plenty of seating available.
Oktoberfest Beer Tents
There are currently 14 beer tents. The big tents are where you’ll find the Big Six brewing companies of Munich. You can choose your favorite tent based on the atmosphere, the beer that’s served, or the ease of getting in.
I like the Hacker-Pschorr tent that features a really cool cloud design.
The most famous tent is Schottenhamel because it’s where the mayor taps the first keg. It has a good combination of party atmosphere with civilized behavior.
The biggest tent is Hofbräu-Festhalle which seats nearly 11,000 people and is impossible to get into after around 4pm.
The liveliest tents are Lowenbrau, Hacker and Hofbräu, while the Hippodrome has a young, spring break vibe.
If you don’t want to be downing liters of beer all day, there’s a tent for wine lovers called Weinzelt.
Kafer’s is the tent for gourmands and celebrities and it’s open later than the others.
The Fischer Vroni tent veers away from the traditional pork dishes and serves iconic fish on a stick.
Tips for Finding Non-Reserved Seats in a Tent
We walked into the Paulaner tent at around 11am. Not sure what the protocol was, we wondered down the aisle looking for “non-reserved” tables. Turns out many of the tables in Paulaner tent are non-reserved for the lunch session. This session lasts until around 5pm, when they start clearing tables for the evening session. Still, many of the tables in Paulaner and other tents remain non-reserved, even after the change over.
If you get a non-reserved seat in a tent prior to 5pm, you can stay as long as you like. If you’re at a reserved table, you’ll have to move once the evening reservations set in.
The best strategy is to enter a tent and look for non-reserved tables. If you find one and there’s space available, just sit down. If you don’t find one, I recommend asking a waitress where you can sit. We arrived at the Spatenbrau tent around 2pm and the tables were mostly full. We found the non-reserved section and hovered around the tables until a waitress led us to an empty spot.
We stayed there for about 2 hours and all throughout the time, people around us were leaving and more people were ushered into their spots by the waitresses. If you can’t get into a tent, or want to enjoy some nice weather, there are outdoor beer gardens just outside of every tent. It’s exciting and fun inside the tent, but the beer garden can be just as great.
Oktoberfest Tours That Include Table Reservations
If you want to be assured of getting into one of the big tents during a busy time, so you can fully experience the event, with all the rowdy action, you can book one of these tickets through GetYourGuide or Viator, in advance. They sell out fast, so you should look into getting them at least 4-5 months in advance. (Disclaimer: these are affiliate links).
- Small-Group Munich City and Oktoberfest Tour Including Reserved Oktoberfest Tent Table
- Guided Oktoberfest Tour and Evening at the Hofbräu Tent Including Beer and Oktoberfest Museum Tour
What Should I Wear to Oktoberfest?
We considered dressing up, but didn’t have the space in our luggage or the desire to spend the $400 it would cost to purchase authentic clothing. However, there were tons of people dressed up. So the answer to this question is that you should wear what you want to wear – you won’t be judged.
Dressing in authentic clothing – called trachten – will give you a more complete Oktoberfest experience and might help you feel a little less like a tourist. Getting into the spirit of the event is always encouraged. I just highly recommend that you don’t buy a cheap knock off outfit from a Halloween store, because then you WILL look a tourist and you may even offend your German hosts.
If you do want to dress up, there are TONS of shops around town where you can purchase traditional dress (right around the Marc Munchen there were 3 or 4 shops, plus a bunch in the Marienplatz).
A traditional Oktoberfest outfit for women is called dirndl and for men is called lederhosen. You can expect to spend a couple hundred dollars to get all of the pieces to the trachten. I can almost guarantee that a $50 drindl will be instantly spotted as a cheap reproduction. For more information about what you should wear and how it should look, read this guide.
Whatever you do, don’t wear a stupid Oktoberfest hat or anything else that mocks the authenticity of the event.
Do I Need to Speak German to Get By?
I like to believe I can still speak German, since I minored in it in college, but I don’t think I could have held a full conversation with a group of Germans to ask them if we could share their table. Luckily, we had no need to do this.
If you’ve done any traveling in the past 10 years, you’re already aware that many Europeans know English very well. That is the same in Germany. Yes, there are plenty of Oktoberfest-goers who do not speak English, but the waitresses and most of the people who will welcome you at their tables do speak enough English for you to get your point across.
When it comes to ordering food, there are English menus. If you need one, just ask for it (in English). By the way, I highly recommend the Paulaner tent for lunch. There are some really great plates of food on the menu at lunch.
And then there’s the singing. But would you believe most of the songs that are regularly sang in the tents are English songs? The only one you need to know is very easy. It goes… Ein Prosit, ein Prosit. Gemütlichkeit…. on repeat.
What Else Should I Know?
There are plenty of other details about Oktoberfest that you’ll want to keep in mind:
- How much does it cost to attend Oktoberfest: It’s free to get in. Roughly €10 for a 1-liter beer and €10 for half a chicken (which is incredibly delicious). Only cash is accepted. The price changes every year.
- What are the Oktoberfest hours: Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m to 10:30 p.m.
- Are there enough bathrooms: YES! I never stood in a line for the bathroom, either inside or outside a beer tent.
But none of those details are incredibly important to your ability to get into and enjoy Oktoberfest.
The single most important thing to know is:
- Go early, preferably on a week day, before 3pm. You can stay at most tables until at least 5pm. By then, you’ll probably have made a few friends or at least have a better handle on how to get a spot at a table for the evening.
Outside the beer tents, the atmosphere is like a large state fair. The main thoroughfare consists of one long main road where all of the main tents are located. Through the center is open space with food booths where you can get pretzels, schnapps shots, bratwurst, etc.
The food outside the tents can be quite a bit less expensive than inside the tent, so if you’re on a budget, it might be worth it to drink in the tent and eat outside.
If you go off the main road, the atmosphere quickly becomes more family-fun oriented. There are dozens of county-fair-type rides, like a Ferris wheel, twisty roller coasters, swings that fly really high in the air, and cutesy haunted house rides. It reminded me of the county fair we used to go to growing up.
During the weekdays, I wouldn’t even say it was much more packed, either, despite the fact that millions of people attend Oktoberfest in Munich. Getting on the rides is easy.
What is an Oktoberfest Tent Like?
To make it easier to see for yourself what it’s like in the tents and while walking around at the festival, here is a video we put together:
We didn’t go into every tent. There are 16, after all. But we did go into many of the larger tents. They all have their own atmosphere, they’re own decoration, their own way of doing things, their own specific table-reservation policy, and even their own song that is sung over and over again.
You might want to base your time there in a specific tent, but I don’t think it’s a great idea to get too attached to a specific tent. Just find a place where you’re comfortable and can fit in. If you don’t like where you are, move to another tent.
Our favorite tent was Lowenbrau during the day, because by noon it was pretty well filled out and getting somewhat rowdy, so we could sense what it was like in the evenings. We liked the beer and food in the Paulaner tent the best, and it was the easily to get into around noon. The roast chicken in Lowenbrau was also quite good.
We like Spatenbrau for its very local feel. Hofbrau is the exact opposite of Spatenbrau. If you want to meet other foreigners and not be surrounded by locals, plus have a lot of beer spilled on you and have to fight for a table, Hofbrau is the tent for you. Here are some of the tents we went to. The first three are tents we spent significant time in. The others are tents we only peaked into to take pictures.
Winzerer Fähndl tent
Other tents we saw:
So there you have it. Those are the things you should know to plan a trip to Oktoberfest. It really is like attending a large county fair. It’s not nearly as stressful or crazy as I thought it would be and I now wish I’d spent a lot less time worrying and fretting over finding a place to sit in the tents.
If you go, or if you’ve been in the past, tell us your impressions in the comments. We’d like to hear about other people’s perspective on getting into a tent. If you’re in Munich for a while and want to find other things to do, check out this post with information about walking around Munich.
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Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.