Oktoberfest isn’t the beer-soaked brawl that the movies make it out to be. Instead, it’s the heart of Munich’s cultural heritage and a great way to experience all things Bavarian.
Chris had wanted to go to Oktoberfest, Munich’s legendary beer festival, for ages, but something was always getting in his way. Ok, I’ll admit it—It was me! I always thought Oktoberfest was nothing but a mess of college kids and red-faced old men guzzling beer until they dropped. No thank you! But in the end, I was forced to acquiesce and follow him deep into the land of charming, wood-framed houses and rolling green hills—Bavaria.
How did it turn out? Well, I’m happy to say that my Oktoberfest expectations ended up being far from the truth. Not only is Oktoberfest an exhilarating feast for the senses but we also have it to thank for some of our happiest memories to date. Don’t get me wrong, if you go to Oktoberfest on a Saturday night, you’ll probably encounter a rowdy bunch, and if you’re hoping to enjoy a few beers at a table for two then you’re going to be out of luck.
However, our experience at Oktoberfest could not have been better. From the first moment we walked into the first tent I knew it was something truly magical. People were laughing, drinking, singing, and dancing without a care in the world. We were still taking it all in when a young, blond girl flitted through the crowd and asked us if we wanted a beer. She smiled and took us to a long, wooden table under a huge chandelier covered in green garland made from hops (a plant used in beer production!). We sipped our beers for a few minutes, but the atmosphere was just too electric! We had to get up and dance, sing along with the live music and make new friends. We were lost in ourselves and in the smiles and laughter of the moment.
This is what Oktoberfest is really about. Whether you like beer isn’t really important. It’s about spending time with friends, family, and people you love. Oktobefest is about one culture opening its doors and inviting the world to enjoy. It’s a place where everyone gets to be Bavarian and can forget about their problems and differences for a while. It’s a place full of happiness. In fact, we’ve never been anywhere where we felt so much palpable joy, and for that, we will definitely return. Prost!
Book the Right Hotel, and Book Early.
Seriously... Book early. In case you do end up drinking a tad too much of the famous Oktoberfest brew, you’ll be happy that you booked accommodation that’s close and comfortable. We managed to stay in some excellent places in the city, but we had to book very, very early! Oktoberfest usually has about 6 million visitors during its 18-day duration, meaning the entire city is normally fully booked months before the event even starts. To be safe, I’d recommend booking eight months to a year in advance. Here are a couple Munich hotels we absolutely loved!
Staying at the Louis Hotel gave us the opportunity to experience the best of Oktoberfest and the city of Munich. Located in the heart of the city, the beautiful and bustling Viktualienmarkt (a large open market) rests literally at this hotel’s doorstep. We really enjoyed wandering the stalls and tasting bites of different German treats! When we just wanted to chill, this place was totally revitalizing. Real hardwood and mossy greens come together to compliment the sunshine that washes through the large windows and create a sense of natural serenity. After a few days of sausages and sauerkraut we were happy to enjoy a meal in the Hotel Restaurant, Emiko. Some fantastic Japanese fusion and a cocktail were welcome break from the Bavarian norm!
The Cotiina Hotel has an awesome, artsy vibe, which we totally loved. We spent sunny mornings on the balcony looking out over the Munich city center, and chilly evenings in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine from Grapes Weinbar located on site. As someone who has worked in interior design, I really appreciated the soft lighting and natural cream and mahogany colors. We felt truly relaxed here during our post-Oktoberfest evenings and well-rested each morning.
Don't Be Afraid to Dress Like a Local!
We fell in love with the fairy-take like aspect of Oktoberfest in that all the Bavarians young and old put on their traditional lederhosen and dirndls (leather suspenders and colorful dresses) when they come to the festival. The kids are the cutest! We had no intention of dressing up, but when we saw how amazing everyone looked (like, everyone is dressed up!) we knew we couldn’t miss out.
We headed to Angermaier (a quick jump from either of the aforementioned hotels) and spent a fun afternoon playing dress-up before choosing our outfits. A full get-up (for a man or woman) costs about 200 euros, but it’s totally worth it to get the real deal. The quality of the material is very high and will last a long time if well kept, but the real reason is simply to get into the Oktoberfest spirit!
Nights & Weekends Are The Busiest Times
We tried to go early (the tents open around 10am and close at 10:30pm) and during the week so we wouldn’t have to wait in lines, and found it pretty easy to get inside and find a place to sit. Of course, even on a Monday evening, things are bound to get a little crazy if you show up past 8pm, so if that’s not your bag, stick to visiting during the lunch hour or in the afternoon. If you choose to go on a weekend you could be facing hours-long wait times just to get into a tent.
Buy Tickets if You’re in a Big Group
Oktoberfest is free to enter, so if you’re in a small group (or a couple, like us), there’s no need to book anything in advance. However, if you’re in a larger group, it would be smart to book a table. Remember to book early! Its not uncommon for tables to be reserved 9-10 months in advance of Oktoberfest.
Also keep in mind that you can only book an entire picnic-style table at a time (which seats around ten people), and even though the reservation itself is free, in order to reserve the table you’ll need to buy food and beer tickets (redeemable upon arrival) for each of the presumed 10 people. Depending on the time and tent, a table reservation will cost you anywhere from 200-800 euro.
It’s true that some people come to Oktoberfest to drink their faces off, but most people don’t, and that’s certainly not what we wanted! We wanted to spend Oktoberfest soaking up German culture, exploring the festival fairway, and experiencing all the fantastic décor and music in the beer tents, so pacing our beer consumption was key to keeping ourselves from too tipsy, too early... But it’s not as easy as it seems! Beer is only served in one size—a liter, and only one beer is on the menu.
The seasonal Oktoberfest brew is stronger than traditional beer, so knocking a few of them back too fast could put you over the edge before you know it. I realized that my limit was about 3 beers over an eight-hour period (Chris could do about 5.) To keep my glass full, I mixed my beer with lemonade. It might seem strange, but it’s actually a typical German drink called radler. It’s also very tasty!
Try the Local Bavarian Food
To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to a week of heavy meat and potato dishes. But after a few days at Oktoberfest, my opinion has changed about Bavarian cuisine. The diet is perfect for beer drinking in chilly, autumn weather -- it's true comfort food! You can order the traditional Oktoberfest dish (half a chicken with potatoes) right from your table. If you’re looking for something different, the fairway outside features a huge variety of snacks, sausages, and sandwiches available at stands. Expect everything to come with sauerkraut! Our favorite snack were the giant pretzels sold by dirndl-clad fraulein (girls) skipping from table to table. They’re soft, salty, and delicious, and they help keep the beer from going to your head!
Remember The History of Oktoberfest
Understanding what makes Oktoberfest so is key to understanding why it's such an important event in Germany each year. Oktoberfest is a celebration of a centuries-old love story. It was first held in 1810 to commemorate the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese, and the area where Oktoberfest is held is still called the Theresienwiese (Therese’s meadow) today. Every year thereafter the citizens of Munich and Bavaria would come together to celebrate their unique culture with horse races, carnival games, hearty food and, of course, beer.
Today, Oktoberfest is the biggest public fair in the world and a source of joy to millions of German families and tourists from around the globe who all come together to enjoy not only a bit of German culture, but also each other’s company.
Remember to Sober Up and See the City
Oktoberfest was the focus of our trip, but it wasn’t the only thing we did. In the end, we spent three days at the festival and the rest of the week sightseeing in Munich. As the capital of Bavaria, Munich has long been a center of commerce and culture. The architecture is breathtaking, especially the Rathaus in the city center. Munich is also home to the fascinating Deutsches Museum, the largest science museum in the world. We lucked out and got a few sunny days, which we spent the beautiful English Garden along the river Isar.