Where do I even begin? Oktoberfest is outrageous! Something that has to be experienced to be believed. Every year nearly seven million people descend on Munich to party for sixteen days straight! A tradition dating back to the 17th century, Oktoberfest celebrates all things Bavaria.
In late September 2015, nine brave and somewhat foolish Irish men packed their bags for four days of partying, drinking and debauchery of the highest order. In hindsight, four days was way too much, but we survived. I met some amazing people, drank delicious beer, laughed solid for four days straight and learnt how to plan the perfect Oktoberfest trip.
What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is arguably one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. The festival is a celebration of alcohol and as an Irish man, well, this is fantastic news! The festival dates back to 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in October 1810. Local villagers celebrated the marriage in the fields at the city gates. These fields (now a public park) are to date still used as the location for the Oktoberfest celebrations.
When is it on?
This might seem like a stupid question but the name Oktoberfest is very misleading. Almost all of the festival takes place in the last two weeks of September and runs through to early October. On the opening day of the festival at 12 noon, the mayor of Munch taps the first keg marking the opening of the festival.
Where is it on?
The festival takes place in Munich, Germany. For 16 days straight, nearly seven million people visit the city to eat, drink, party, repeat. The festival is set in Theresienwiese, a large park near the centre of the city.
Tents and fairground attractions open from 10.00 am Monday to Thursday and Friday to Sunday the party kicks off at 09.00 am! Trust me when I say, if you’re not in the tents by 09.00 am on the weekend, you won’t get in. Or at least, you are going to have a very difficult time getting in. On our first day, we didn’t arrive until 4.00 pm and we had awful trouble trying to get into a tent. Eventually, we managed to charm our way into a tent but it took us over an hour to get a table.
What to expect?
Mayhem. It’s fantastic!
The streets of Munich are alive with party-goers dressed head to toe in their colourful lederhosen and drindl. Horse-drawn beer-carts and brass bands parade through the streets while music blasts from the tents. Thrill seekers shoot through the skyline on adventure rides and waiters and waitress carry literally dozens of litres (Maß) of beer at a time to thirsty party-goers. If I could sum it up in one photo, it would be this:
Which tent to pick?
There are 14 different tents (more like enormous wooden halls) to choose from. Each tent brings a unique and varied atmosphere to the festival and generally focuses on serving one specific brand of alcohol. There are seven types of beer served at Oktoberfest, each with its own unique flavour. Some of the most important tents to look out for include:
Schottenhamel: One of the most important tents of the Wiesn. It’s in here that the mayor of Munich launches the festival by taping the first keg. Beer Served: Spaten.
Hofbräu Festzelt: Hands down my favourite tent of the festival. This is where the tourists go and it’s undoubtedly the craziest of the tents. Beer served: Hofbräu München.
Weinzelt: For those sick of beer, this tent has over 15 different types of wine on offer as well as various sparkling wines and champagne. Serves wine and various beers.
Käfer’s Wies’n-Schänke: The place to be if you want to spot some celebrities. Beer served: Paulaner.
Armbrustschützen-Festhalle: home to the Oktoberfest crossbow competition! This is the first tent we visited. It has a nice, relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Beer served: Paulaner.
Löwenbräu-Festhalle: An easy-to-recognise meeting point, this tent is guarded by a 4.5-meter tall golden lion. Beer served: Löwenbräu.
Hacker-Festhalle: For when you get sick of the brass bands and “traditional” music, this tent offers a modern style rock-band to entertain the crowds. Beer served: Hacker Pschorr.
Augustiner-Festhalle: Regarded as the friendliest tent at the festival. Beer served: Augustiner.
Each year over six million litres of beer is consumed at Oktoberfest making it the most important part of the festival. Oktoberfest traditionally serves six different types of beer, each of which must follow strict Bavarian Purity Requirements.
Here is a breakdown of each of the beers and which tent serves it:
- Augustiner: Augustiner-Festhalle, Fischer-Vroni
- Hacker-Pschorr: Hacker-Festzelt, Pschorr-Bräurosl
- Hofbräu: Hofbräu Festzelt
- Löwenbräu: Schützen-Festzelt, Löwenbräu-Festhalle
- Paulaner: Armbrustschützenzelt, Winzerer Fähndl, Käfer’s Wies’n Schänke
- Spaten-Franziskaner: Marstall, Schottenhamel, Ochsenbraterei/Spatenbräu-Festhalle
A “Mass”, (that’s one litre of beer to you and me), costs €10 with a €2 euro deposit with each glass. However, it’s important to tip your waiter/waitress and tip them well. The first few drinks we bought we paid €15. In return, we were always looked after and never had to wait long to be served again. With thousands of people in each tent, it’s worth the extra few bob for better service.
Do you need a table?
No table, no service. You can either turn up and hope for the best or book a table in advance. Most tourists don’t book and generally speaking it’s the locals who reserve the tables. That being said, it’s a matter of preference. If you are unsure whether to book a table or not, consider the following:
- Guaranteed seat (and service) no matter the crowds. Especially beneficial on weekends when crowds in some tents can reach almost 10,000 people.
- Table reservations include food.
- For larger groups, it’s a great way to guarantee you all sit together.
- No need for 09.00 am starts (unless you want to).
- Costs. Reserving a table can average €300 or more. The fee is for the table, whether you have a party of one or ten.
- Tables sell out months in advance so you need to book early.
- Choosing the right tent can be difficult. If you don’t like the atmosphere in your tent, you are stuck there.
- Reservations are for half the day only. Choose either morning or evening.
- Half the fun of Oktoberfest is mixing and partying amongst the crowd. Reserved tables tend to be on the outskirts of the tents or up on the balconies, away from the main crowd.
We didn’t book a table for any of the four days we were there and if I go again, I won’t reserve a table either.
Booking accommodation for the festival can be a nightmare. Nearly 7 million people visit the festival each year and hotel spaces are limited. Some hotels and hostels book out a year in advance. We booked our hotel months in advance and even with that, we were about half an hour outside the city. Prices soar during the festival and even hostels can cost upwards of €50 a night.
With such expensive prices, it makes sense to look for discounts. Why not avail of 10% off Booking.com or find an Air Bnb with this €35 voucher! You’re welcome!
Looking the part
All of the locals wear the traditional Bavarian clothes. For men, it’s the lederhosen and for women dirndls. Unfortunately, these outfits don’t come cheap. A good quality lederhosen will set you back €150 (leather pants and shirt). Cheaper options are available but they’re simply not as good quality. Dirndls are slightly cheaper coming in at around €100. To be honest, I think they are worth it. Almost everyone wears them and you really do feel part of the festivities in them.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint – you are going to be drinking all day so remember to take it slow.
- Get in early. I cannot stress this enough. It might seem hard to believe but honestly, if you’re not in the tent at 09.00 am (10.00 midweek) you won’t get in at all.
- Tip the bar staff and tip them well.
- Drink or get out. The bar staff rely heavily on tips so unless you keep them busy, they will ask you to leave.
- Eat outside. The food outside the tents is much cheaper so save your money for the overpriced beer instead.
- The hangovers are awful. Prepare yourself for the worst. Pack plenty of water, isotonic drinks, painkillers, comfort blankets – whatever it is you need to power through the pain.
- One or two days is plenty. We made the mistake of doing four and it nearly killed us.
Thanks for reading,