This trip was my first time in Europe. I traveled solo for 18 days to some of Europe’s party cities: Berlin, Amsterdam, Ibiza as well as Munich during the Oktoberfest. But Oktoberfest is a one-of-a-kind experience. This survival guide will help you to incredibly have a good time at the world’s biggest beer festival, Oktoberfest, …even if you are solo!
1) Know when to go
Munich Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival that starts on a Saturday of September leading up to the first Sunday of October. If the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or the 2nd, then the festival would run until the German Unity Day (October 3). That’s why Oktoberfest 2017 will take place on September 16 to October 3. It was originally held entirely in October but it was later moved a couple of weeks earlier for better weather conditions because September nights are warmer.
Here are other considerations to take on choosing the best time to go:
- first festival Saturday (11 am) – A parade of the tent patrons on carriages from downtown to the festival grounds.
- first festival Saturday (12 pm) – It’s the first beer barrel tapping by the Munich mayor in the Schottenhamel Tent. This is the moment that every beer lover is waiting…the start of drinking the liquid gold!
- first festival Sunday (10 am) – A parade of traditional costume with riflemen, marching and fanfare bands, colorful flag-wavers and about 40 decorated carriages. It is one of the world’s largest parades of its kind and one of the main highlights of the event.
- all festival Tuesdays (until 7 pm) – It’s the official family days. Fun rides and food vendors have special offers.
Keep in mind that the first and last weekends of Oktoberfest have much bigger crowds. And the second weekend is full of Italian tourists that come in thousands. So some people prefer coming on weekdays because they say that it is the same atmosphere, food, music and beer but less crowded.
Here are the beer serving hours:
- Opening day: 12.00 noon – 10.30 pm
- Weekends & holiday: 09.00 am – 10.30 pm
- Weekdays: 10.00 am – 10.30 pm
2) Book ahead for Oktoberfest
Don’t come to Munich without arranging your accommodations beforehand. With more than 6 million people attending every year, plane tickets and hotels (even hostels) get too expensive and most likely be fully booked. Oktoberfest is being held in Theresienwiese. I suggest getting a place within walking distance from the festival so you could just walk back (if not crawl back) to your place. Also, check Airbnb as an option for accommodations.
If you are on a low-budget, camping accommodation is offered at the Olympic Horse Riding Stadium in Riem. You can rent a 3-person tent from 44€ per night. But if you bring your own tent, it costs 14€ per night per person. You can also rent caravans or containers from 120€ per night good for 4 persons. You can also come with your own campervan/caravan for 29€ per night for 2 persons. There is an extra fee of 14€ per night for each additional person in the caravan.
No worries if you don’t have a budget for accommodations at all, you could try your luck from Couchsurfing.
3) Be one of them
Wiesn (Bavarian term for Oktoberfest), is like a big costume party. I suggest dressing up the traditional Bavarian clothing to experience the real Oktoberfest-feeling. Don’t wear the cheap Halloween version or you’ll get some weird looks from the Germans.
- Dirndl dress – A tight fitting Bavarian Dirndl dress with an apron tied around it. An authentic Dirndl should never end above the knee.
- Dirndl blouse – It is commonly white with the cut depending on how much cleavage you want to show.
- Dirndl bow – Each apron is wrapped and typically tied with a bow on the front. A bow tied to the left means she’s single, to the right means she’s taken, in the middle means she’s a virgin (or not looking), and in the back, can either mean she’s a widow or a waitress.
- Shoes – The most common type are either flats or the Mary Jane-style shoes.
- Lederhosen – Leather shorts with suspenders that can either be shorter or longer than knee length decorated with embroidery.
- Button-up shirt – It is usually a checkered pattern in either red or blue.
- Tirolerhüte – The wool or felt Alpine and Bavarian hats which contain a tuft of goat or boar hair.
- Haferlschuh – A traditional Bavarian workman’s shoe made of hard-wearing rough leather.
- Socks – A knee-high socks that can either be cotton/wool or a low cut wool sock with a matching, mid-shin wool leg warmer
- Prien – A vest that is alternatively worn instead of suspenders.
Take note that backpacks and large bags are generally not allowed.
4) Choose which tent
There are over 30 beer tents within the 34.5 hectares Wiesn grounds, but it’s really only the 14 big tents that you need to know about. These 14 massive tents have a seating capacity from 1,400-8,450 people excluding its outdoor beer gardens holding from 700-4,000 more. Each tent has its own unique decor, food, music and atmosphere. And only one beer brand is served in each tent. The breweries that participate are Spatenbräu, Paulaner, Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu and Löwenbräu.
Here are some of my favorite tents:
This is the wildest and most fun tent. It has the largest percentage of international visitors yet still very authentic. In all the other tents, you need a seat to get served. But this is the only tent that has a central area with a standing room only zone that can serve up to 1,000 guests. And you will meet here the beer angel, Aloisius, hanging in the middle of the ceiling. Probably the only downside is that it has the least amount of people wearing traditional Oktoberfest clothing with all of the international visitors.
This tent is not only the favorite tent of the locals but also one of the most fun for international visitors. The Hacker Tent is an “old person” tent as it is very lively, but the ages are a little more spread out. This tent is well known for its wonderful beer, music and interior with historical buildings and Munich landscape under the white and blue sky. It is also known for its revolving bandstand in the middle of the tent and its retractable roof. On the final night, this is the most magical tent as the lights go dim to the sound of the song Sierra Madre with the entire 6,950 crowd sparklers singing out loud.
The most “German” tent is arguably the Schützen tent. It is filled with Munich locals of all ages but has a very great mood and youthful spirit. It is really the music that everyone comes here for. It has a beautiful hunter-themed decoration and colorful stripe ceiling. Its Wildever Bar is one of the few places where you can get hard booze, wine and champagne instead of just beer. It is also popular for the Spanferkel in Malzbiersauce (Suckling Pig in malt beer sauce).
5) Prepare to wait
To book a table, the minimum number is usually 8 people. Table reservations sell out as early as 8 months in advance at some tents so you need to plan ahead of time. Each tent has its own reservation policy and you could directly contact them. Always remember that there is no entrance fee for the fest neither any reservation fee. However, there are a minimum beer and food vouchers per person if you plan to reserve a table.
Getting in the tent
If you don’t have any reservations, fret not! Each tent does keep some seats open on a first-come, first-served basis for walk-ins. But consider coming early because the tents fill-up very quickly and the person at the door won’t allow you to enter. If you come solo then you have the advantage to sneak in. You’ll just have to wait patiently at the door. On weekends, the tents are filled-up as early as 11 am. If you are lucky to score a seat inside one of the popular beer tents, don’t ever get out if you are still planning to go back inside.
Using the bathroom
All the big beer tents have bathrooms. But in a tent with thousands of people drinking liters of beer, there also is a clear need for these! For men, expect to wait like 5-10 minutes. But for women, you have to wait around 10-20 minutes. Once done, drink again!
There’s much more to Oktoberfest than just a beer. Sure, there is plenty and no shortage of meat at Oktoberfest.
Here are some of the meats to try at Oktoberfest:
- – Hendl (roast chicken)
- – Ochsen (ox meat)
- – Weisswurst (white sausage)
- – Schweinshaxe (roasted ham hock or pork knuckle)
- – Brez’n (pretzel)
- – Dampfnudle (bread dumpling eaten as a meal or as a dessert)
- – Lebkuchen (gingerbread heart cookies) – usually to be given to say Ich liebe dich (I love you) or for a souvenir
- – Gebrante Mandeln (roasted almonds)
Each tent has its own menu but there are also food stalls outside the tents.
7) Pace yourself
The objective is not to be wasted so soon or you will end up being one of the Bierleichen (beer corpses). You should be able to last for hours so you could enjoy the beer festival longer. Oktoberfest beers are stronger at 5.7-6.3% alcohol content. And with the amount of beer in their beer mug, 1 liter (Maß or Mass), you really need to pace yourself throughout the day. Here’s another tip. When you say Prost (cheers) and clink your glasses, be sure to bump the beer mugs from the bottom so you won’t break it.
This year, a Maß will cost you between 10.60€ and 10.95€.
Also, even if you get so drunk, don’t put your foot on the table or you have to chug your entire beer with all the people cheering for you. You can never fail or they will boo you mercilessly. Try it if you dare! If you overestimated your drinking capabilities, you could join the other Bierleichen at der Kotzhügel (Puke Hill). Plenty of Bierleichen can be found on this infamous mound.
8) Sing, dance and be merry
Oktoberfest is one of my favorite festivals in the world. This festival proves that Germans sure know how to have fun. They have kept the tradition. The brass bands in every tent are playing good Oktoberfest music that you won’t be able to resist singing with the happy crowd. Even if you don’t understand most of it, you will be surprised that you will still be able to sing out loud with them while everyone is standing on the benches. The beer will help you with that, no worries. You will be familiarized with the songs as they play it repeatedly.
Here are my personal favorite Oktoberfest songs:
- Ein Prosit
The last song has some actions as you sing it too.
9) Make friends
It’s hard not to make new friends at Oktoberfest. Just have a friendly talk to the persons next to you at your table and they will give you a great time especially if you are solo. They will even teach you as they sing in German. Laugh with them, drink with them, be crazy with them and they will surely love you.
10) Enjoy the fun rides at Oktoberfest
Outside of the tents, it’s pretty much a carnival. There are fun rides, games, haunted houses and carousels for children and adults alike, it’s like a drunken theme park. There are tons of different rides to choose from, about 80 rides at the Wiesn. If you are not too drunk, you can try the fun rides but please don’t throw up. You can sober up by trying from the different food stalls around. If it’s not too busy and you are lucky, you can try entering another tent again.
Overall, this is one festival that you will never forget. Oktoberfest is undeniably one for the bucket list! Prost!
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