We knew Oktoberfest was a must-do during our months abroad, but we didn’t know much about how the fest worked, the best way to approach it, or even what to wear. As rookies, were lucky enough to spend four days in a row at the festival, and we were even luckier to have learned the ins and outs from some helpful veterans. Oktoberfest is rooted in history. The first festival was held as a wedding celebration in the 19th century for King Ludwig I. Held on the grounds of Thereseienweisse, Oktoberfest was such a success that it became an annual occurrence. Because of the historical aspect, locals refer to the festival as “Weisn” rather than Oktoberfest. The festival now brings together people from all of the world with at least one common interest: beer. The atmosphere is vibrant and the air is full of laughter and the smell of pretzels. We met people who have been attending for years, and we discovered the draw of the festival for ourselves. Here are our best tips and tricks regarding the jubilant Bavarian celebration that has become the world’s best beer festival:
How Weisn Works
Every year, give-or-take exact dates, Oktoberfest begins in mid-September and ends during the first week of October. Everyday in between, it is free to get into the festival. Once inside, you see lines of souvenir and food stands, carnival rides, and, of course, beer tents. It’s like an enormous fair, full of people both in and out of traditional Bavarian costume. All of the souvenirs, food, and rides come at a price on the festival grounds, but they are easily accessible for all. However, if you want to enjoy the fruits of the brewers’ labor, you must be seated at a table in a beer tent. Here is where it can get confusing for beginners (like us).
Beer Tent Procedure
There are 14 large tents and countless more small tents. Among the large tents are familiar names, such as Augustiner and Hofbraü. Inside all of the tents–large and small–are tables, which can be reserved for sessions (morning, afternoon, evening) during each day. Usually, entry into the beer tents is allowed, provided that the tent is not at capacity. However, on some of the busier nights–such as Friday or Saturday nights–tents may require wristbands proving a reservation. Even though, a vast majority of the time, at least one of the many tents in the festival will let you in without a table reservation, you still must have a spot at a table to order a beer from a server. During the earlier sessions of the day, it is easy to find a table–and therefore, a beer–but as the day goes on, the tables fill up. The later it gets and the busier the day, the harder it is to find a spot.
Reservations for nearly all of the tents open in February, and usually, communication happens via email or fax with the organizers of a given tent. Each tent differs on how their reservation system works. All of the tents have sessions for which you can reserve tables–usually morning, afternoon, and evening. Morning sessions are roughly 11 a.m. to about 3:30 p.m. Afternoon sessions are roughly 4 p.m. to about 7 p.m. Evening sessions, then, are roughly 7 p.m. until close, which is usually 11:30 p.m. Again, these sessions depend on the tent and, sometimes, the day.
We were lucky enough to get spots at a table that a friend had reserved for the afternoon
session in one of the smaller tents–Goldener Hahn. In the case of this tent, our reservation began at 3:30 p.m. and ended at 5:30 p.m. This is an unusually short reservation in terms of the length of a given session. To get it, our friend had to put a 400 euro deposit on the table. From there, the organizers reserved that table for him, and closer to the reservation date, mailed him eight 50 euro vouchers to spend at the table. Meaning, the reservation didn’t cost anything, it was just a matter of paying in advance. He had seven spots to sell at his table–three of which, he kindly gave to us without a mark up in price.
Since a reservation doesn’t cost anything and guarantees you a spot at a table (and therefore a beer), it seems like the way to go. Here’s the catch: reservations can be nearly impossible to get as a first-time attendee. If you are able to get a reservation, it’s also almost certain that your first will be a morning session. Evening–and even afternoon–reservations are given to guests who have a history of reservations, who have been attending for years. We met one man, who gave us a seat at his table, who said he’d been trying to get a reservation for three years. This year was his first reservation, and it was a morning session.
We found a way to attend the festival all four days we were in Munich, with only two reservations. Below are our suggestions on how to go about it.
Best Ways to Navigate the Fest
The entirety of tables are reserved for–at least–the later sessions almost everyday during the fest. If you are a beginner, chances are you aren’t one of those table reservations. However, it’s still very possible to attend! Here are our tips for making your Oktoberfest trip successful:
Don’t buy marked-up vouchers
When we were looking into finding three reserved spots at a table, we found troves of people who were selling vouchers for their table online. These are often marked up–extremely marked up. Our advice is to steer clear of these offers. There are plenty of other ways to enjoy Oktoberfest without breaking your budget.
Find connections wherever possible
Connections are important everywhere in life, and Oktoberfest is no different. Luckily, Madeline has a friend from her time at Free State Brewery who has attended Weisn for the last nine years. He was kind enough to put her in touch with friends of his who had made table reservations and still had open seats. Our first night at this table made us five new friends who were also very willing to help us find spots for the rest of our days at Oktoberfest. Those friends had other friends who also extended their kindness. Like a snowball effect, we ended up finding a great group full of people who were always willing to give us a spot if it was available. Even if you don’t have a reserved spot the first night, you are likely to find people this way, also.
Oktoberfest is full of amazing people. Beer is flowing, and folks are very kind. Even in tents that seem packed full, most guests are happy to welcome people to their table. The best part is that this ends up being a wonderful way to meet other Oktoberfest goers. Do not be afraid to approach a table to ask if they’d mind sharing! Our third night, we headed to the fest sans reservation. Once we got inside the Käfer tent–a rather large one with a huge outside biergarten–we scoped out an area that could squeeze three. We sat at a table with two others, ordered a beer from a server, and then she told us that table needed to be free for a reservation coming up. She was more than happy to consolidate and put us at another table where we met a great trio from Australia and Germany. We ended up chatting (and drinking, of course) with them for most of the night.
Ask a server
Our server in the Käfer tent was very accommodating in finding us another table once we had to leave ours. In the same sense, if you’re having a difficult time finding a place in a busy tent, servers are generally happy to point you to open spots at tables in their sections. After all, the more people they serve, the more tips they make. Be aware, however, that they are likely very busy, so you need to ask politely and at an opportune time (not when their hands are full, when they’re taking an order, etc.).
Find the right tent
We downloaded the Oktoberfest app for the times we went to the fest without a table reservation. Living in the digital age has its perks, and this is one. The app told us at what capacity each tent was–whether it was 55% full or almost at 100%. This meant we knew which tents to try to enter, and which tents to avoid.
Some tents that are more accommodating to guests without reservations. On our last day, we had a morning reservation that ended at 4 p.m. in the Hofbraü tent. This tent is known for its standing area that is so nicely nicknamed “The Pigpen”. Once our reservation ended, we headed down to The Pigpen and were able to easily find a spot to continue the festivities.
Go early (and pace yourself)
If you go to Weisn early, you’re almost guaranteed to be able to enter most tents and find a spot. An added bonus of this is that once a tent starts filling up and getting more difficult to enter, you’re already inside, so you don’t have to worry about tent entry. Also, as the day goes, you’re likely to make friends and find spots at a table or two.
However, going early has its disadvantages, as well. The earlier you go and the longer you stay, the more expensive the outing can be. So, if you’re on a strict budget, this can prove difficult. Also, if you’re planning to try to stay until the more bustling afternoon and night sessions, there’s the obvious intoxication factor. Morning sessions are inherently less exciting, so it’s easy to fill the time with drinking, and drinking, and drinking… It’s never good to be the one who’s in bad shape by the end of it all. Keep your pacing in mind if you decide to use the early entrance strategy. The best advice we got was to keep eating, so we could keep drinking. All of the tents have delicious protein and carb heavy food options to soak up the beer.
Other Oktoberfest Tips
Finding lodging during Weisn can get extremely pricey, so we recommend booking early. Of all of our stays, Munich was the most expensive, and we booked seven months in advance. The option for an Airbnb was out of the question because of price, so we opted for an 8 bed hostel here, and it was still expensive. If you’re on a strict budget or you’re late to book, camping is an option. The camping is located right near the festival grounds, and it’s the cheapest option. It’s also the biggest party spot, with people out celebrating well past tent closure. If you’re on a budget and ready to party this is a great option for 1-2 nights. Keep in mind it’s late September/early October and the temperature is starting to drop. Most nights, the weather was cold and rainy, which would make for an unpleasant tent experience. I find it hard to put into words how much of a difference a dry bed and pillow make after four liters of beer.
What to wear
You don’t need to wear traditional dress to have a great time at Weisn. We didn’t, and it turned out to be a great thing. We were informed that, in fact, Bevarians prefer tourists wear their normal clothing rather than costume-like lederhosen or dirndls. So, if you’re on a budget, skip the traditional dress. If you’re determined to wear lederhosen or a dirndl, find a shop that sells more traditional Oktoberfest dress, but know it can cost you around 100 euro. If you go later in the festival like we did, many shops start marking down prices, making a great outfit more budget friendly.
Have you been to Oktoberfest? Know a good deal on a dirndl for next year? Let us know in the comments below or contact us directly!