Everything Incredible About Oktoberfest (It’s Not Just An Excuse To Drink Beer!)

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Imagine stepping into a festival where the vibrant sounds of Bavarian bands fill the air, where cheerful toasts of “Prost!” echo amidst a sea of traditional attire, and the aroma of sizzling sausages and pretzels entices your senses…

Welcome to Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival held annually in Munich, Germany—a festive embodiment of German culture and conviviality.

everything about OktoberfestPin

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know before you join the millions of visitors who flock to Munich for this legendary event.

Whether you’re a first-timer eager to immerse in the Oktoberfest traditions or a returning enthusiast, here you’ll find the essentials for planning your visit—from navigating the event to indulging in the full-flavored experience.

So tighten your dirndl, fasten your lederhosen, and let’s dive into the heart of Oktoberfest!

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History and Origins of Oktoberfest

The origins of Oktoberfest trace back to the early 19th century, rooted in a royal celebration.

On October 12, 1810, the citizens of Munich were invited to join in the festivities of the marriage between Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Held on the fields in front of the city gates—later named Theresienwiese (Theresa’s Meadow) in honor of the bride—this grand event included horse races that marked the close of the celebration, which was enjoyed by all ranks of Bavarian society.

This merry event was repeated the following year, giving rise to an annual tradition that would eventually evolve into Oktoberfest. Over the decades, what started as a modest fair grew in size and scope, incorporating a range of agricultural shows, carnival booths, and, most importantly, beer stands which became beer tents and then beer halls as the years progressed.

The festivities shifted to start in September, allowing for warmer weather and longer evenings, yet the name “Oktoberfest” remained, as did the original spirit of communal joy and celebration.

Today’s Oktoberfest, while much larger and more famous than its humble beginnings, still honors the customs set out over 200 years ago, inviting locals and visitors alike to partake in an event that has become a cornerstone of Bavarian culture and a symbol of festivity worldwide.

Oktoberfest parade

When and Where: Dates and Location

Oktoberfest annually transforms Munich into a hive of international festivity. Typically beginning in late September and lasting until the first Sunday in October, the festival offers 16-18 days of cheerful celebration. The precise starting and ending dates can vary slightly each year, so it’s important to check the current year’s schedule when planning your trip.

The epicenter of this legendary beer fest is the Theresienwiese, a large open space in Munich’s Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt quarter. Named after Princess Therese from the original 1810 nuptials, this “Wiesn” becomes a city within a city featuring expansive beer tents, amusement rides, and bustling markets.

Easily accessible by Munich’s efficient public transport network, Theresienwiese is ideally located within walking distance of the main train station (Hauptbahnhof), making it an easy destination for travelers.

Weight-lifting Oktoberfest stylePin
Weight-lifting Oktoberfest style

Planning Your Trip: Accommodation and Transport Tips

Remember, during Oktoberfest, the city is exceptionally busy, so plan and book your transport and accommodation well in advance to ensure a stress-free visit to this unparalleled event.

Rooms book up fast and rates can peak due to high demand. Start searching for hotels, hostels, or Airbnbs as far in advance as you can – ideally a year earlier – to ensure a wider selection and better prices. If you’re open to a unique experience, you might even consider camping options, which can offer a more budget-friendly alternative and a different kind of festive atmosphere.

Click here to see your options and book now.

You’ll also want to book any flights into Munich well in advance as well.

Click here to check out train schedules and availability now.

Munich’s transport system is your trusty ally during Oktoberfest, with extended services to accommodate the influx of revellers. Familiarize yourself with the U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (suburban trains), trams, and buses. Purchasing a day pass for unlimited travel within the city will give you flexibility and save you time at ticket machines.

Don’t underestimate the potential for walking either; Munich is a walkable city, and sometimes walking might be the fastest way to navigate the crowded streets during the festival.

Lastly, keep a map of the city transportation network on hand, or download a relevant app to ensure you can navigate the system with ease. With your lodgings secured and a grasp of the city’s transit, you’ll be well-prepared to focus on enjoying all the festivities Oktoberfest has to offer.

Oktoberfest dancingPin

Oktoberfest Tickets and Reservations

Attending Oktoberfest itself is free—no entry tickets are required to access the festival grounds or the beer tents. However, if you’re hoping to secure a seat inside one of the coveted tents, especially on weekends or evenings, you might consider a reservation. While not mandatory, reservations can guarantee you a spot and help you avoid disappointment, as tents can get incredibly busy and are often filled to capacity.

Reservations are typically made by contacting the tents directly, and it’s worth noting that they often open up their booking several months in advance and fill up quite quickly. Each tent has its own policy, with some offering reservations online and others requiring a traditional phone-in approach. A reservation generally secures you a table, which includes seating for a set number of people and sometimes comes with vouchers for food and drink.

You can find table reservations here.

For those who like to be spontaneous or are traveling solo or in a small group, there is still a chance to grab a seat without a reservation. A certain number of tables are always kept unreserved for walk-in guests, but you’ll need to arrive early in the day to snag one of these spots. Remember that during peak times, such as evenings and weekends, the likelihood of finding a free table without a reservation diminishes quickly.

Keep in mind that some beer tents may have minimum consumption requirements as part of their reservation policy, ensuring that only serious patrons are occupying their busy tables. So while the table reservation itself does not have a cost, you will need to pay any minimum consumption which is often something like two beers and a chicken meal.

Whether you choose to reserve or take your chances as a walk-in, being informed and prepared will serve you well.


Festivities and Events: What to Expect

Oktoberfest is much more than just a showcase of Germany’s finest beers; it is a festival steeped in tradition with a calendar brimming with diverse events. The opening day is marked by a grand parade, led by the Münchner Kindl (the Munich child, the city’s symbol) followed by the incumbent Mayor of Munich.

This ceremonial procession concludes with the Mayor tapping the first beer keg, declaring “O’zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!”), and thus officially starting the festival.

As you roam the festival grounds, you’ll encounter everything from traditional Bavarian music, with brass bands fueling the lively atmosphere, to folk dancing, and singing. Each day brings something new, from competitions showcasing the strongest beer hall staff carrying loaded stein after stein, to the colorful and historical costumes paraded during the Trachten- und Schützenzug (Costume and Riflemen’s procession).

This particular event is a highlight for many, as it vividly brings to life local customs and historical Bavarian garments.

But the fun isn’t limited to beer tents and parades. Thrill-seekers can enjoy a wide array of amusement rides that punctuate the skyline, from classic carousels and Ferris wheels to high-flying thrill rides.

Families and those with a penchant for a quieter experience can explore the quieter, less crowded daytime hours when children’s activities and traditional games take center stage.

Every turn at Oktoberfest offers an opportunity to celebrate Bavarian culture at its most jovial and welcoming.


The Beer Tents: An Overview

The heart of Oktoberfest beats within its legendary beer tents. Each tent has its own unique atmosphere and offerings, maintaining traditions that have been honed over centuries. From the largest to the smallest, every tent promises an immersive Bavarian experience complete with live music, hearty food, and, of course, a selection of beers brewed within the city limits of Munich, adhering to the strict standards of the Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law.

Major tents like the Schottenhamel are where history is made—this is where the first keg is tapped. The Hofbräu-Festzelt brings the essence of the famous Hofbräuhaus into the Wiesn, while the Hacker-Festzelt boasts a ceiling painted with clouds and stars, giving the illusion of an open Bavarian sky.

For a tent that resonates with the vibrant energy of youth and international visitors, head to the Winzerer Fähndl, which is famous for its high spirits and celebrity sightings.

Conversely, smaller tents such as the Käfer’s Wies’n-Schänke offer a cozier experience and gourmet food. Many regular guests prefer these tents for a more intimate setting and often for their specialty beers. Don’t forget the Oide Wiesn (Old Oktoberfest) area which offers a more traditional, historical feel and features vintage rides and bands playing classic Bavarian tunes.

Whether you are looking for the full-throated singing of traditional songs or a quieter place to enjoy a conversation with friends, the multitude of tents at Oktoberfest ensures that there is a perfect spot for every visitor to raise their stein and join the festivities.

Food and Drink: Bavarian Delicacies to Try

Schweinshaxe Pin

Oktoberfest is not only a celebration for beer aficionados; it’s also a paradise for food lovers looking to indulge in Bavarian cuisine. The festival’s menu extends far beyond pretzels—although no trip to Oktoberfest would be complete without sampling a giant, salted Brezn.

When it comes to hearty meals, the Hendl (roast chicken) is ubiquitous and perfectly seasoned, its crispy skin complementing the rich beer selection.

Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) is another classic, boasting tender meat falling off the bone, traditionally served with Knödeln (potato or bread dumplings) and Krautsalat (coleslaw).

For something on the lighter side, try the Würstl (sausages), which come in a variety of styles, from the white veal Weißwurst, a Munich specialty, to the smoky Bratwurst.

Cheese aficionados should seek out Obatzda, a spiced cheese-butter spread ideal for slathering on fresh bread.

On the sweeter end, you’ll find desserts like Kaiserschmarrn, a fluffy shredded pancake with fruit compote, or Dampfnudel, a steamed yeast dumpling served with vanilla sauce. For a quick snack, roasted almonds, Lebkuchenherzen (gingerbread hearts), and fruity Schmalznudel (fried pastries) are all plentiful.

Drink-wise, the Oktoberfest beer is a must—brewed stronger than the average lager at around 6% ABV, it is served in one-liter steins called Maß. For non-beer drinkers, wine and soft drinks are available and you’ll even find tents and stalls offering alcoholic-free beers.

Remember that Oktoberfest portions are generally generous, so sharing is both a practical and enjoyable way to sample a wider range of Bavarian flavors with your companions. Whether you’re a meat-lover or a vegetarian, beer enthusiast or soda aficionado, there’s something to satisfy every palate at Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest Parades and Cultural Events

Beyond the beer and the bratwurst, Oktoberfest is a vibrant cultural event with parades that are as integral to the festivities as the tents themselves. The opening weekend is highlighted by two major processions that are as eye-catching as they are steeped in tradition.

The first event, held on the inaugural Saturday, is the arrival of the Oktoberfest landlords and breweries. This parade is a display of splendor, where ornately decorated horse-drawn beer wagons, accompanied by the tent proprietors in their festive carriages and surrounded by bands, make their grand entrance to Theresienwiese.

It’s a symbolic act that signals the beginning of the brewing festivities and draws thousands of spectators each year.

The following day, attendees are treated to an even more elaborate spectacle: the Costume and Riflemen’s Procession (Trachten- und Schützenzug). This parade is a journey through time, featuring traditional costumes not just from Bavaria, but from all over Germany, Austria, and other European countries, showcasing a diversity of historical garments, dances, and music.

It’s a kaleidoscope of colors, customs, and sounds, with participants proudly displaying their heritage. Marksman’s clubs, folk groups, marching bands, flag bearers, and carriages with historical themes all contribute to this visual feast, making it one of the largest parades of its kind in Europe.

These parades set a jovial tone for Oktoberfest, but they are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to cultural events. Each day brings shows, competitions, and traditional music performances inside and outside the tents.

From impromptu singalongs of old German tunes to professional performers bringing folk music and dances to life, these happenings serve as a reminder that Oktoberfest is a deeply rooted cultural celebration—a living homage to customs that have defined the region for centuries.

Whether you’re a history buff, a music lover, or simply someone who appreciates cultural richness, the parades and events of Oktoberfest promise to leave you with a sense of wonder and a deeper understanding of Bavarian heritage.

Oktoberfest paradePin
Oktoberfest parade

Dressing the Part: Tracht and Attire

Immersion in the Oktoberfest experience is incomplete without the traditional Bavarian attire known as Tracht. For men, this typically means lederhosen – leather breeches that are either short or knee-length, often adorned with intricate stitching and worn with sturdy shoes, a checked shirt, and sometimes a traditional wool vest or jacket.

For women, the dirndl is the attire of choice, a bodice coupled with a blouse, full skirt, and apron, with the bow tied on the apron indicating the wearer’s marital status.

Donning Tracht is more than just a fun choice—it is an act of cultural appreciation, a nod to the customs that have shaped the region’s identity. For locals, wearing Tracht is a badge of honor, an embodiment of Bavarian pride and history. For visitors, it’s a unique way to engage with the festivities and make memories.

When it comes to acquiring these traditional garments, there are options for every budget and commitment level. Before heading to Munich, you can purchase Tracht online, although it’s advisable to be aware of the quality and authenticity.

Once in the city, you’ll find a variety of shops offering everything from high-end, handmade options to more affordable, off-the-rack buys. I found they were for sale seemingly everywhere in Munich at this time. Rental options are also available for those who prefer not to purchase.

Whether you invest in a costume to last a lifetime or simply pick up a few thematic accessories, wearing Tracht will instantly make you feel part of the celebration and can even garner friendlier interactions and service. It’s a simple yet profound way to step into the spirit of Oktoberfest and revel in the rich tapestry of local tradition.


Tips for First-Timers at Oktoberfest

Embarking on your first Oktoberfest adventure is thrilling, but it can also be a little overwhelming given the scale and liveliness of the event. Here are some essential tips to help you navigate the festival and make the most of your experience:

  1. Arrive Early: Especially if you haven’t reserved a table in one of the tents, arriving early is crucial. Tents can fill up fast, and the first come, first served areas get particularly crowded by noon.
  2. Pace Yourself: With beers typically served in one-liter steins and higher alcohol content, pacing your drinking is key to lasting throughout the day and enjoying the entirety of the experience.
  3. Stay Hydrated and Eat Well: Remember to drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated, and don’t drink on an empty stomach. Bavarian food is not only part of the experience but will also help to absorb the beer.
  4. Cash is King: While some tents and vendors have started accepting cards, many transactions at Oktoberfest are still cash-based. Carry enough euros to cover your day’s expenses.
  5. Plan Your Wardrobe: If you decide to wear Tracht, ensure it’s comfortable and weather-appropriate. Munich in late September can be unpredictable—layers are your friend.
  6. Know Your Limits: The festive atmosphere can be infectious, but know your limits when it comes to alcohol consumption. Security is strict, and over-intoxicated guests will be escorted out.
  7. Public Transportation is Your Friend: Avoid driving due to heavy traffic, lack of parking, and alcohol consumption. Munich’s public transportation system is efficient and will save you a lot of hassle.
  8. Be Friendly and Courteous: The tents are packed, and you’ll be sharing tables with strangers who may become your friends by the end of the night. Respect personal space and you’ll enjoy a communal and convivial atmosphere.
  9. Keep Important Items Close: Pickpocketing can happen in crowded places, so keep your valuables in a secure place, such as a money belt or a close-fitting bag.
  10. Embrace the Traditions: Engage with the locals, sing along to the Oompah bands, and immerse yourself in the cheerful spirit. Oktoberfest is a unique cultural event, and participation is key to enjoyment.

By following these tips, your initiation into the world of Oktoberfest should be a joyous and memorable event. Prost!

Oktoberfest is a vibrant spectacle of Bavarian culture, steeped in historical tradition yet buzzing with contemporary festivity. Whether clinking steins in the boisterous beer tents, savoring the hearty local cuisine, or donning a Tracht to march along with parades, the festival is a whirlwind of enjoyment that beckons visitors from across the globe.

As you depart from the Theresienwiese, the resonating echoes of folk songs and the warmth of newfound friendships leave an indelible mark on your heart. Your first Oktoberfest experience won’t just be a tick on your bucket list; it will weave into your tapestry of cherished memories, inviting you back to Munich’s autumn embrace year after year.

Learn more about visiting Bavaria with this one week itinerary and this guide to the most beautiful places in Bavaria. Also, don’t miss our guide to German sausages here. Read about Carnival in Germany here and Cannstatter Volksfest, Germany’s second largest beer festival, here. You can also find all our travel guides to Southern Germany here and our guide to Munich here.

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Sharon Gourlay in the Rhina Valley

By Sharon Gourlay

Sharon first fell in love with Germany back in 2000 on her first visit. She loves the long history, the picturesque Old Towns, the castles, the food, everything really! Since then, she has visited many times and loves writing about Germany here so you can enjoy it too. In fact, Sharon loves German culture so much that she sent her kids to a German primary school in Australia. She especially loves Berlin and towns with charming Old Towns like Celle and Quedlinburg. Sharon also has a Certificate III in International Travel Sales and understands the nitty gritty of travel planning. Through this site, she'll help you have the perfect trip to Germany whether it's your first or tenth time!

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