Last updated on February 8th, 2017
Have you ever wanted to attend Oktoberfest in Munich, but not sure if you can even get in or how hard it will be to plan a trip during such a busy time? We felt that same way for many years, which prevented us from even trying. But this year we went to Oktoberfest for the first time and I can now say for sure that planning a trip to Munich for Oktoberfest is easier than you think, and totally worth it.
There are just a few things you should know before attending Oktoberfest, and we’re going to give you the run down now so you’re prepared to go next year.
One of the first things I witnessed in the beer tent was 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 each year.
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.
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:
Timing is Everything
The key to successful planning is timing. Hotels in Munich tend to fill up quickly and the price may go up the closer to the festival it gets. Flights become harder to get, and prices also go up. 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.
I would suggest you book a hotel that is within walking distance of the festival, because it’s easy and convenient. We stayed at the Marc Munchen, within about 5 blocks walk from the Wiesn. It was so convenient and really comfortable. I think an affordable-luxury hotel like the Marc Munchen is ideal because it’s quieter than lower-cost or budget hotels will be, with all the rowdy drunkards wandering around. Seriously.
If you can’t stay within walking distance, at least stay as close to the metro line as possible. The Hauptbahnhof (main train station) is within walking distance. You could stay a few stops away and still have an easy time getting to the festival. I’d recommend staying at the Westin Grand Munich. It’s only a couple of train stops away from the festival, so you can avoid the nearby crowds.
Can I Even Get into a Tent?
As we were planning our trip to Oktoberfest, I was in a constant state or worry that we wouldn’t be able to get into any of the tents – that we would have to stand in a huge line waiting for a spot to open up, or have to sweet talk some (hopefully friendly) Germans to let us share their table.
I read so many websites and blogs looking for information and a glimmer of hope that we wouldn’t be shut out of every already overcrowded tent. Now that I’ve been and have seen the tents firsthand, the biggest piece of advice I can give is that you won’t have any trouble getting into a tent during the weekdays before around 6pm. On Fridays, it might be slightly more difficult after 4pm.
On weekend, 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. If you avoid weekends, you’ll be just fine getting in. If you choose to go on a weekend, I must leave you to your own devices as far as getting a seat. I have no advice as to the best way to get in on a weekend.
If you go on a weekday around 11am, this is what many of the tents will look like. This picture was taken on one of the busiest Fridays of the festival:
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 wandering 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.
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.
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 might think are super important, but they aren’t, really.
Yes, you’ll want to know the minute details like:
- How much does it cost: 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.
- What are the 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.
- Does everyone dress up and should I: 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 so we didn’t look stupid. There were tons of people dressed up, but we didn’t feel out of place or ridiculed for not. It’s your own preference. If you do want to dress up, there are TONS of shops around town where you can purchase what you need (right around the Marc Munchen there were 3 or 4. And a bunch in the Marienplatz).
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 Are the Tents Like?
Okay, we didn’t go into every tent. There are 14, 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 before you attend 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.