So first, an explanation. I’m titling this post ‘Oktoberfest’ instead of ‘Munich’ for the simple reason that our entire time in town revolved around Oktoberfest - prepping, attending, recovering. With accommodation prices sky-high, we simply did not have the luxury of sticking around during the Wiesn season (hey that rhymes!) for much longer than a few days. That just means we’re going to have to come back someday, because Munich is a fantastic, welcoming, beautiful city and we definitely missed out on a lot of fun. Still, Oktoberfest was a phenomenal, overwhelming, insane and fun-filled experience and I have so many stories to tell and a lot of advice to give.
We booked three nights using some of the Holiday Inn points I accumulated while traveling for work, and it ended up working out really well because our hotel was just two stops away from the Oktoberfest grounds and Munich’s public transport, like all things German, is incredibly efficient. After a couple unpleasant hostel stays recently (including our first bedbug scare), it was pretty damn glorious to stay in a hotel. It may have just been a Holiday Inn Express, but to us it felt like the goddamn Four Seasons.
Our first priority once we had boots on the ground was to find our outfits. If you don’t know, Oktoberfest attendees famously don the traditional Bavarian outfits aka “trachten” - dirndl (for women) and lederhosen (for men). I’ve read a million blog posts about this and the majority opinion, which I 100% agree with, is that you will feel SUPER out of place if you’re not wearing trachten. On our two days at the fest (hell, even just walking around Munich), I’d conservatively estimate that 80% of people were wearing trachten - more like 95% depending on what tent you go to. If you go to Oktoberfest, plan to buy and wear trachten. Just do it. The outfits are awesome and make dope souvenirs!
One thing we quickly learned about buying trachten is that it is NOT cheap. Lederhosen especially cost a pretty penny. I mean, it make sense, lederhosen literally means ‘leather pants’ so obviously it’s gonna be pricey, but you will need to budget at least €200 for a quality pair of lederhosen. Yes, you can buy them cheaper in the train station or from a street vendor. But they look cheap. Germans will laugh at you. I will laugh at you. I saw an Australian guy wearing a pair of lederhosen-print boardshorts and he looked absolutely ridiculous. Just buy the fancy pants, dammit. Dirndls are a little more affordable, but a quality one (not the barmaid costumes they sell at Halloween shops - do not buy those) will still set you back €100 or more for apron, dress, and blouse. On the bright side, you can wear whatever shoes you want, no need to worry about shelling out for the traditional shoes. I wore my Allbirds, Alex wore Sperrys, and we saw folks in everything from Chucks to heels to hiking boots.
It definitely stung to dish out so much money on outfits we wore for a grand total of two days, but a) I am obsessed with costumes and Halloween is my favorite holiday so it felt like a worthwhile investment and b) like I said earlier, it’s an incredibly unique souvenir and, as the salesman convinced us, an ‘investment piece’ - buy it for life, right? Now we’re decked out for every regional German event we could ever hope to attend back in the States (as long as we don’t get fat). Plus, my dirndl made me feel like a pretty Bavarian princess. I mean, it’s beautiful. Look at it.
Once we had our outfits, we were ready to go. One of my best friends, Kaitlyn, planned her own Eurotrip to coincide with Oktoberfest and brought her boyfriend along, which brings me to my next piece of advice about the Wiesn: it’s better with friends. Although it’s probably easier to squeeze into a full tent when you’re just a group of one or two, and although it’s an extremely social environment and everyone is eager to make new friends, nothing beats having your own crew to look out for one another, reliably speak the same language, rally one another, and generally just make magical memories together.
Still, whether you have friends or not, one of the best things about Oktoberfest is the people. The sheer number of people you will encounter from all over the world is absolutely mind-boggling, and if you chat up the people sitting at your table you’re bound to make a new friend or 20. As you might know, there are 14 tents and each one has its own vibe. Some attract more international crowds, and some feel decidedly German. We opted not to go to Hofbrau as we heard that one was mostly tourists (although I’ve heard it’s also incredibly fun and rowdy), but we still expected to encounter tourists in pretty much every tent. To our surprise, we mostly hung out with Germans - both locals from Bavaria and those who traveled from as far away as Hamburg. It was awesome to learn drinking songs and trade stories with locals, and even though we were sometimes bewildered when we didn’t know the words to the biggest sing-alongs, we still felt welcome wherever we went, and it was a joyous thing to be part of.
Before attending, I was pretty nervous about Oktoberfest etiquette. I was nervously practicing my (atrocious) German, trying to figure out the best way to order and hoping not to annoy the servers with my ignorance. A lot of travel blogs try to push this idea that you must know the lingo or Germans will give you a hard time. In my experience (and we went to 6 or 7 tents, so I have a good sample size) this is definitely not true. Almost every server speaks at least enough English to answer your questions (and most are totally fluent), and while some German is appreciated it’s definitely not necessary. I’ve also read in some blogs that servers won’t sell you beer if you’re not seated at a bench, and that might be true early in the day but once night falls and the tents become overcrowded, no one gives a shit and as long as you’re near a bench, they’re just happy to have another customer. One piece of etiquette I’d read online that did prove to be true, however, regards tipping. Definitely make sure to tip your server well, and they’ll come back often. Beers at the Wiesn cost just shy of €11, our group’s rule of thumb was to round that up to €12 with drinks. They definitely deserve the tips: the amount of steins servers can carry in one go is truly impressive, and they have to deal with hordes of drunk people day in and day out. Tips are important!
One thing I didn’t hear a lot about before attending Oktoberfest was the carnival aspect of the festival. Obviously the tents are a huge draw, and most attendees bop between the beer tents and stay on that side of the grounds, but there’s a whole other section of the festival that’s just a straight-up carnival. Now, I knew there were rides and such, but I didn’t realize that it was literally an enormous temporary theme park. There are all kinds of rides: multiple roller coasters, a log flume (because nothing says ‘water ride’ like autumn in a landlocked country, right?), bumper cars various carnival games, thrill rides like the kinds you build to torment guests in Rollercoaster Tycoon, and all kinds of other amusements for kids and drunk adults of all ages. It’s like the best state fair you’ve ever been to, but with more Currywurst and less obesity. Although the rides are a little pricey - the roller coasters and bigger thrill rides will run you about €9 each - it’s completely worth it. Go on the rides at night when the fest is all lit up - from way up high on the rides you can get a spectacular view of the fest grounds, and it is truly breathtaking (and not just because you just went through 4 full loops on a rickety Olympic themed roller coaster).
Just to wrap up, here are a few more rapidfire suggestions in no particular order.
- Oktoberfest beer is strong. Don't be ashamed to order a radler - it's the same as a shandy (half beer half lemonade) and is marvelous at curing hangovers and allows you to get *responsibly* drunk at a socially acceptable pace. I know from personal experience.
- Cash only. Germany as a whole has some weird aversion to credit cards and this is doubly true at the Wiesn. There are ATMs in most of the tents, but lines accumulate fast.
- Eat all the food. Each tent serves its own unique food (though most will serve the classic half chicken) For example, the Fischaus serves, you guessed it, fish. Don't go in there if you're hungover (again, I know this from personal experience). Food vendors outside the tents, in the fairgrounds, are much cheaper and just as tasty.
- Do NOT stand on the table in a tent unless you can chug your maß (stein). And chances are you cannot chug your maß. Everyone will boo you if you fail. Don't shame your family.
- Stock your hotel fridge with lots of water, electrolyte drinks, and snacks. We had a surprisingly hard time finding late-night eats and wish we would have been more prepared with stuff in the room for when we woke up nursing hangovers.
- Be open minded. You will meet more people than you can count. Enjoy it, be present, and try not to puke on anyone.
Before this week, my entire experience with Bavaria was limited to the Germany pavilion at Epcot. If you’ve ever been, you know that the Germany pavilion is dope (I mean, not only can you gorge yourself at an all-you-can-eat beer hall, but you can buy Mickey ears that have a lederhosen design. What’s not to love?). The pavilion does a great job of capturing that quintessential Bavarian je-ne-sais-quoi. However, now that I’ve been to Munich for real, I can confirm that it is 1000 times better than Disney could ever hope to emulate. I guess all of this is just to say that Oktoberfest is basically Disney World for adults, both in terms of sheer awesomeness and happiness and also because you will leave feeling like you have blown through your life savings and all you have to show for it is some frilly costumes and a souvenir mug.
No, but seriously - Oktoberfest is worth the trip, and my only regret is that I’m too old to marathon drink like this anymore. Seriously, Alex and I are going to be in recovery mode for weeks.