Despite what its name clearly tells you, the grand party of Oktoberfest takes place in September, not October. Go figure. Oktoberfest certainly does live up to its hype and whether you’re going with family, friends, or the intent to get blackout drunk, Oktoberfest has something for you.
The Oktoberfest celebration first began in 1810 to honor the marriage of King Ludwig I and Therese of Saxony-Hildburghause. From there, the celebrations have become wilder and crazier until it turned into the Oktoberfest we know today. Traditionally, Oktoberfest begins the third weekend in September and ends on the first Sunday of October. The beer tents that we have come to love were once small stands where people could quench their thirst. Beer was incredibly popular among the attendees (smart people) so the stands grew into the massive tents of today. This year’s Oktoberfest is expected to bring over 6 million visitors from all over the world to the same exact location that King Ludwig was married at over 200 years ago!
Before You Go
Like any trip, Oktoberfest requires some planning. Even if your plans aren’t set in stone, knowing just a little bit about what to expect can help you a lot further down the road.
Did you know that entry to Oktoberfest is free? It might not cost anything to get in to the festival but they charge you an arm and a leg for everything else. Water and sodas are expensive and beer costs over 10 euros a liter! But those are small prices to pay for the greatest party in the world!
When you think of Oktoberfest, you typically think of women wearing shirts that their boobs are almost falling out of, men in leather pants, and everybody carrying around steins of beer. That is one stereotype that definitely lives up to expectations. People are wearing costumes everywhere you look. If you want to fit in, the best thing to do is wear some sort of a Bavarian costume.
Men have it easy. They can wear a checkered shirt with brown pants and call it a day if they want to. Of course, you can invest as much or as little time and energy into the costumes as you want. A typical male Oktoberfest outfit includes the following:
- Shirt – a button-shirt is common in either white or a checkered pattern. Checkered shirts are typically white and green, blue, or red. The Bavarian flag is blue and white so there will be lots of men wearing those colors.
- Pants – traditionally, men wear leather pants called Lederhosen. They used to be made with real leather but purchasing an authentic pair of Lederhosen can set you back a few hundred Euros. My best recommendation is to go to a store and purchase some for fairly cheap. TK Maxx and Galeria Kaufhof have good selections for reasonably priced outfits. Do yourself a favor and don’t get the cheapest ones you find sold on the street en route to Oktoberfest. If it looks like a chincy Halloween costume, that isn’t what you want.
- Suspenders – most Lederhosen pants will come with these but if not, be sure to purchase some. They will give you that added look of authenticity.
- Hats – a fashionable hat will put you over the edge in the Oktoberfest world. Traditional Bavarian hats will be made from felted wool and have some sort of a feather in the cap (Yankee Doodle, anyone?) Vendors will sell these hats along with novelty hats that look like the Harry Potter Sorting Hat but the best choice is a traditional alpine hat.
- Footwear – in the old days, Bavarian men wore shoes called Haferlschuh that doubled as a dress shoe and a work boot. These can still be purchased if you search for them but any boot or shoe will work just fine. Woolen socks are worn with them and give the wearer a rugged and tough look.
On the other hand, women have a bit more complicated. But just like the men, you can choose to go all-out for your costumes or go a simpler route.
- Dirndl – the dirndl is the dress that the women wear. Dirndls come in a variety of colors, patterns, and styles. Some beautiful ones can be purchased for several hundred euros but I bought a nice one at TK Maxx. Most Dirndls come with a matching apron. The apron ties goes around the back and tie in a bow in the front. If you tie the bow on the left if you’re single, the right if you’re taken, and the middle if you’re a virgin. Traditional Dirndls go below the knee. Others are much shorter but are typically a huge red flag signifying that the wearer is an American.
- Bodice – the white shirts that are worn underneath Dirndls are usually sold separately. A good shirt will set you back around 30-50 euros. I didn’t know that the shirts are cropped (even though you can’t see it under your Dirndl) so plan accordingly! The shirts are designed to accentuate your boobs so by all mean, wear a push-up bra and work what you’ve got!
- Shoes – ballet flats or Mary Jane styles are the best types to wear. Steer clear of open-toed shoes because drunk people = broken glass steins. Wearing closed toed shoes will help ensure that your feet are safe! I chose to also wear cream knee-high socks for some added style
More and more women are wearing Lederhosen at Oktoberfest instead of the traditional Dirndl. This trend is especially common among foreigners. If you choose to go this route, be sure to try on your Lederhosen first because their sizing isn’t very flexible.
When to Go
Deciding when to go to Oktoberfest isn’t always in your control. Sometimes travel plans only give you a certain opportunity to experience Oktoberfest and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you do have the luxury to choose your dates, do some research on when you want to go. If you are traveling by plane, Skyscanner is a great online search engine that can help you find all sorts of incredible flights.
Opening weekend is a great time to go if you are interested in seeing the parades and ceremonial aspects. The parade is incredible and my favorite part was watching the men with long whips cracking them around their heads. The sound was mesmerizing and I could’ve listened to them all day.
The middle weekend of the festival is dubbed “Italian Weekend” because that is the weekend that thousands of Italians storm Oktoberfest. There are so many Italian guests that police forces from northern Italy travel to Munich to help keep the peace. I was there for Italian weekend last year and had a blast. An added benefit to that is there will be lots of fights. Call me crazy, but it is certainly entertaining to watch drunken people get into full-out brawls.
Beer starts flowing at 10am on weekdays, 9am on weekends, and noon on the opening Saturday. No matter when you go, there will be lots of people but there are considerably less people there during the week.
Once You’re There
Be prepared for a long day (or two or more) at the festival. There will be lots of waiting outside of tents and once you’re inside, they can be crowded. The best thing to do is pace yourself (especially when it comes to drinking the beer).
The Hofbrauhaus tent is the most difficult one to get in to, because it is chock-full of Americans. I had a blast at the Hofbrauhaus tent but we were only able to get in because it was the morning on a weekday.
If you cant get into a tent right away, don’t worry! With a lot of waiting little bit of patience, you can be in the tent in no time. Sometimes some flirting and small talk with the bouncers can get you a long way.
At the very back of the Oktoberfest grounds is a separate park called the Historical Oktoberfest. It costs around 3 euros to access. Although there isn’t much to do inside, there are a few tents that are more family-oriented and some small rides. Personally, I think it is fun to visit and see how Oktoberfest used to be before it was commercialized. But if you’re looking to save some money, you won’t miss out on much if you skip the Historical Oktoberfest.
Ah, the crowning jewel of Oktoberfest. Beer is certainly my favorite part of everyday life Oktoberfest and consuming it safely is an exact science. German beer has a higher alcohol content than American beer so while you may think you’re being responsible, it could hit you much harder than you think. Drink water in between liters of beer and eat lots of food! The beauty of German food is that it’s very hearty and is great at absorbing all of that delicious beer.
You may notice that people stand on top of tables and chug their liters of beer. Only do this if you can actually manage this easy difficult task. If you try and fail, you will practically be booed out of the tent. So chug carefully!
Only liters of beer are sold in the tents and each tent has their own beer. In 2015, liters were almost 11 euros each. The servers like to be tipped and if you give them a tip, you won’t be ignored for the rest of your time there. Tips can go a long way at Oktoberfest.
Since we’re on the topic of beer, I’ll highlight a very important part of drinking it – the prost. Some countries say cheers, others say salute, but the Germans say prost. In Germany, you must look everybody at the table in the eye when you prost. If you don’t do so, you will be cursed with seven years of bad sex and nobody wants that.
After pounding liters of beer all day, you’re going to need to go to the bathroom. Prepare accordingly because it is usually a long wait before you can go. I spent nearly two hours in line waiting one time because there were only three stalls for who-knows how many people. Some women couldn’t hold it and literally went while waiting in line. I am proud to say that I survived the line and went pee in the designated stall. And after that two-hour excursion, I wound up with a full-sized stein in my purse (thank you mystery friend). I do not want to condone this stein-stealing attitude though. If you are caught trying to steal a stein, it can be a 60 euro fine. Thankfully my naïve self was so oblivious that I didn’t entirely know what I was doing until I was on a train to Salzburg.
So, you’ve made it to Oktoberfest, drank enough beer to kill a large small animal, and now you’re feeling the effects. If you’re tired of the tent atmosphere and need some fresh air, the officials at Oktoberfest have you covered.
On one side of the grounds is a grassy hill that has been lovingly named “blackout hill.” The Germans call it the hill where the Bierleichen (beer corpses) go to lay in the sun and hope they survive. Use this area at your own risk, because thieves like to prey on those who are passed out and oblivious.
There are also lots of rides and carnival activities if you don’t want to spend your whole day drinking beer. I’m not sure what twisted freak decided to mix amusement rides with thousands of drunken people, but it makes for an entertaining combination.
There is also a Red Cross hospital tent for those who are hurt or severely sick. It is almost always full and there will be lots of crazy people around it. If you are taking a friend to the hospital, be aware that you won’t be allowed past the front desk with them. I learned that the hard way when I was forced to sit in the waiting room with puking patients as my friend was admitted for a 75-euro nap. So naturally I snuck into an elevator in an effort to find them. It eventually worked and I lived to tell the tale. The moral of the story is that there is help if you need it, but don’t be that sloppy drunk that makes it difficult for other guests.
Oktoberfest can be a wild ride, but there is something there for everybody. Nothing on earth can quite compare to the magic that is Oktoberfest and I highly recommend making a visit at some point. For additional information regarding Oktoberfest rules, visit the official Oktoberfest website here.
This post contains affiliate links but as always, all opinions are mine.