Probably one of the most popular bucket list events on the planet, there's nothing like throwing on your best lederhosen or dirndls and experiencing Oktoberfest in Germany.
The largest beer festival in the world, Oktoberfest is held in Munich each year, running 16 to 18 days at the end of September through the first weekend of October. This year, it's September 21st to October 6th. But we don't suggest going for that long.
Most locals (who call Oktoberfest "Weis'n," which means grass, btw), only go to the festival for one day, two at most. It's tourists who tend to stay longer, so we suggest hanging around this beautiful city and sightseeing as a great way to spend such an excursion.
A few Oktoberfest factoids:
How did it begin?
Oktoberfest started as a wedding celebration.
Back in 1810, Oktoberfest was a wedding celebration for Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig's marriage to Princess Therese. Their wedding took place on October 12th and they invited all of Munich to participate in the festivities. Back then, Oktoberfest ended with a horse race without much emphasis on beer. Over time, though—well you know the rest.
Are those beers stronger than most?
Yup. As a matter of fact, beers are specifically brewed stronger for Oktoberfest, with one beer's alcohol content being at least 6 percent.
Only beer brewed in Munich can be served at Oktoberfest.
In the name of tradition, Oktoberfest can only serve beer originating at one of the six Munich breweries: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten. Anything else is not Oktoberfest.
When should you reserve tables in the Oktoberfest beer tents?
While some tables open up for reservations right after Oktoberfest ends for the following year, most of the time you can wait until late winter/early spring to reserve your tables.
You'd need to reserve your tables at the tent's individual website, and keep in mind that you can only reserve entire tables, not just a seat or two. Each table seats eight to 10 people, and although they're free to reserve, you typically have to pay for at least two mugs of beer, and a chicken, per person.
*Most tents keep about a quarter of their tables free from reservations. These are first-come-first-serve seating, and tend to fill up fast, especially in the evenings.
Are all beer tents the same?
There are 14 main beer tents at the Weis'n, with the largest able to hold 11,000 partygoers. Not all tents are created equal, each with their own vibe, decor and character.
- Armbrustschützen-Festhalle – Known as the "Crossbow Tent," this has been home to its namesake competition since 1895, and is decorated similar to a hunting lodge.
- Augustiner-Festhalle – This is the hardest to get a table at, as many locals have annually recurring reservations here. It's also one of the most family-friendly tents.
- Fischer Vroni – The smallest of the 14 big tents, this has an adorable ship in the middle, and is known for such culinary treats as fish on a stick and garlic shrimp.
- Hacker-Festhalle – One of the most popular tents, this is nicknamed "Bavarian Heaven" for its brightly painted blue sky interior. Lively and wild in the evenings.
- Hofbräu Festzelt – One of the most popular tents with international visitors, this is known for a rowdy crowd of mainly Australians, Americans and Italians. You won't find many locals here.
- Käfer’s Wies’n-Schänke – Popular among celebrities, locals and foodies, this is a cozy tent that fills up fast. It's also one of just two that stay open until 1 a.m., so many partygoers tend to trickle in after the others close at 10:30.
- Löwenbräu-Festhalle – With a massive 15-foot lion at the entrance that roars every few minutes to entice visitors, this is a favorite among local soccer players.
- Marstall – With horse-themed decor and some fancier menu items, this tends to draw a more refined crowd than some of the others.
- Ochsenbraterei – This cool blue tent has been around since 1881 and is known for its hearty ox dishes. A perfect atmosphere balancing between a lively crowd that wants to celebrate and yet not be overly rambunctious, it's a good time, all around.
- Pschorr-Bräurosl – The only tent with an in-house yodeler and "Gay Sunday," this fun spot has been run by the same family since 1901.
- Schottenhamel – The oldest tent at Oktoberfest, it dates back to 1867 and has a capacity for more than 10,000. It's also where the entire festival kicks off, with the mayor tapping the first barrel of beer, and shouting "O’zapft is!" or "It is tapped!"
- Schützen-Festzelt – This tent is tucked off in the far end of the main strip, so you don't tend to have too much overcrowding. Colorful, with a beautiful outdoor balcony, it also hosts the Oktoberfest shooting competition.
- Weinzelt – This wine tent is a smaller, yet popular with Munich celebrities and those who aren't big beer fans. Open until 1 a.m., it only serves wine, Prosecco and champagne after 9 p.m., so it's a late-night destination for partygoers from tents closing at 10:30.
- Winzerer Fähndl – The largest tent at Oktoberfest, it has room for about 11,000 partygoers and is easily recognized by its giant rotating Paulaner beer glass. A family-friendly vibe during the day, it transforms into a fun party atmosphere at night.
Some must-know words/phrases to look like an Oktoberfest pro:
Weis'n: What the locals call Oktoberfest. Short for "Theresienwiese," the name for the fairgrounds of the festival.
"O'zapft is!": This is German for "It's tapped!" and is declared by the mayor of Munich after tapping the first beer barrel on opening day. No beer can be served until this moment.
Die Maß: This is a liter of beer. Maß or "mass" literally means a "measure."
Bierleichen: This literally translates to "beer corpses," and you'll find them all over Oktoberfest when someone's has had a few too many.
Servus: An informal Bavarian greeting.
“Oans, zwoa, drei, g’suffa!”: This Bavarian countdown to fun means “One, two, three, drink!”
"Prost!": German for "Cheers!" Make sure to clink glasses at the bottom and look whomever you're cheers-ing in the eye.
Tract: This means "traditional clothing" and refers to the German outfits that can be seen all over the Weis'n. Lederhosen (leather pants or shorts) for men and drindls (peasant-style dresses with an undershirt and apron) for the ladies.
Bitte: This means "please," but expect to hear it said for a variety of reasons, including when someone hands you something, or as "You're welcome."
"Ein Liter Bier, Bitte!": "One liter of beer, please!"
"Ein Maß Helles Bitte!": "One mass of light beer please!"
It's not just a beer fest, though.
Oktoberfest is also known as the Volksfest to locals, and aside from the tents of roaring beer-slingers, you'll find massive carnival rides, festive games, vendors, food stalls and tons of kids and families having a great time.
Opening Day: Noon – 10:30 p.m.
Weekdays: 10 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Weekends & Holidays: 9 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Tents Open Late: Käfers and Weinzelt, until 1 a.m.