Going to Oktoberfest in Munich is easily the most worthwhile event trip I’ve ever taken. I’ve been to Mardi Gras, I’ve celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin. By comparison, those events feel like they were pretty cool. But there’s nothing quite like Oktoberfest in Munich.
In part, it’s because there’s literally nothing like it. If you’ve been to a really packed Irish pub with a live jig band, you can approximate the experience of St. Paddy’s in Ireland. But the Oktoberfest block party that the German restaurant in your city throws every year is not a good representation of Munich’s giant beer tents that each hold upwards of 10,000 people. This is like beer Disneyland. So before you continue reading this article, book a flight to Munich for Oktoberfest 2017. It starts September 16 and goes on for 16 days.
Done? Great, I’m proud of you. So here’s how to make the best of Oktoberfest without ending up in the hospital getting your stomach pumped.
Get dressed up!
I highly underestimated the number of people that would be dressed up. I didn’t, because I thought it would be too cold, and because I didn’t want to be judged for being the tacky American appropriating Bavarian culture. But at least 75% of people there were dressed up, including people that were obviously not German. Most people are too drunk to care what you’re wearing. But without some bitching lederhosen, you might feel out of place. The outfits are almost as important as the beer.
Ever wonder why Oktoberfest is celebrated in September and not October? It’s because the weather is nicer. And even if it’s a little chilly out, when you’re in a giant tent with thousands of other people dancing on tables, you will be hot. Don’t encumber yourself with bulky sweaters and jackets. Just drink more, you’ll be fine.
Travel even lighter
Because of concerns about terrorism, 2016 was the first year that the Oktoberfest celebration was closed off. You’ll have to go through security to enter the grounds and then again to enter each tent. Some tents won’t even allow you in if you have a backpack. Besides, you probably want to avoid having a lot of stuff that you are liable to lose during the fest. So leave your large purses and lawn gnomes at home.
Have a hearty breakfast
You have to prep to have an enjoyable Oktoberfest that doesn’t kill you. The first thing you need to do is get some food in your stomach. Don’t get too stuffed, because beer is also filling and you want to be on your first liter by 10 am. You should also drink lots of water so you can be hydrated before you start the day’s festivities.
Take out cash before you get there
Though there are ATMs on the grounds of Oktoberfest, I don’t know that you want to let drunk you decide on your spending. The entire event is cash only, and you don’t want to find yourself cashless when a server is waiting for you to pay for your next liter of beer. If you’re not consuming, you can’t sit in the tents. They’ll kindly ask you to leave. So make sure you have plenty of cash on you.
Get there early
Oktoberfest ends every night at 10:30 pm, which seemed kind of early to me, until I got there at 10 am and realized that no human being can drink beer by the liter for 12 hours straight. When you consider that, the hours are pretty reasonable. So why would you want to get up at 7 am to go to a festival that goes on until 10 pm? Because you want a seat in a tent.
Oktoberfest is held in a huge fairground. You’ll find rides, games, and stands with food and drink. There are also 14 giant beer tents and 21 smaller ones, which is where the fun is largely contained. So if you don’t go inside a tent, you’re basically at a fair. If you’re a smart and responsible traveler, you’ll research the tents far in advance and request a reservation for you and your friends for the tent or tents of your choice. Tables can book up months in advance. If you’re me, you’re arriving early on the day of and hoping for the best.
Luckily, all the tents have a certain number of available unreserved seats each day. By most accounts, if you don’t get there by 10 or 11 am, you’re probably out of luck at getting a seat. But from my experience, if you’re three cute girls, you’ll be fine. You can just walk around and politely ask the people at sparsely filled tables if you can sit with them. By 1 or 2 pm, we were still able to find a place to sit. At the very least, you can walk around and enjoy the atmosphere, décor, and live music of each of the tents. Many of the tents also have outside seating which is generally less crowded, but also less fun.
The more popular tents do close up when they’re at capacity, so be safe and get there early. They’re all unique and fun in their own way. I recommend you don’t miss the Hacker-Pschorr tent, in particular, which features a stunning sky decoration. It’s like the Sistine Chapel of beer tents.
Once you’ve successfully gotten yourself a seat in a beer hall, you’ll notice that within 2 minutes, a server will be next to you asking if you want beer. They’re served by the liter and they’re about 10-11 Euro each. When you have one sip of beer left, they’ll come back to get you another round. It’s non-stop, and they’re so efficient that you will never go thirsty. But if you’re not careful, you could die. So take your time. Once you have a seat, you’ll want to stay a while, dance on the benches, sing along with the band, and ceremoniously clink your beer mugs with strangers.
Don’t be that guy or girl that gets too drunk and has to be ejected from the fest or ends up passed out in a pool of their own vomit on the grass.
For God’s sakes, eat
Most of the beer tents have excellent traditional German offerings, like schnitzel and sausage. There are also people walking around selling snacks like pretzels. They also sell hats, but if you try to eat a hat, you’re already too drunk. Make sure you eat plenty of food throughout the day. This is a marathon, not a race.
Go to the bathroom at least 5-10 minutes before it becomes an emergency
Bathroom lines, as you can imagine, can get pretty gnarly. Depending on the tent and time of day, you may be stuck waiting in line for the bathroom at least 15-20 minutes. So to avoid an uncomfortable situation, take bathroom breaks before it becomes a dire emergency. No one wants to see you piss yourself.
Send a postcard home!
Deutsche Post brilliantly has a stand on the Oktoberfest grounds, so you can send your loved ones back home drunken greetings from the festival. This, along with blurry pictures and shaky Snaps, can also help you piece together the events of your Oktoberfest festivities.
Trust me. Don’t miss this party. When you wake up in a daze 48 hours later with a heart cookie around your neck and John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” stuck in your head, you’ll thank me.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other articles about Munich on GPSmyCity here.