Each September, beer lovers around the world unite in Munich gathering under large circus tents to drink supersized mugs of beer… all in the name of a 16-day festival called Oktoberfest.  This hugely popular German festival is celebrated all around the world, but no celebration compares to the original one held in Munich each year since 1810.   So, I grabbed 8 of my booziest girlfriends and planned a girls’ trip to Munich.  From shopping for a dirndl to nursing a hangover, here’s everything you need to know about attending the ultimate beerfest.

When to Go

Oktoberfest is an annual festival that lasts for 16 to 18 days, usually starting on the first Saturday after September 15 leading up to the first Sunday in October (usually October 1 or 2).. It doesn’t matter when you go – at the start, midway, or towards the end, you’re guaranteed to encounter massive crowds of people from around the world and a whole lot of fun.  However, If you attend at the start or end of the festival, you’ll be able to participate in some of the related opening and closing ceremonies and parades and witness all the Bavarian pomp and circumstance that goes with them.

oktoberfest paradeOnce you arrive in Munich, you’ll want to strategize on when to go to the beer tents.  During the week, the tents are open at 10:00 AM and on weekends at 9:00 AM.   Most tents will close at 11:30 PM with last call an hour before. The wine tent stays open until 1:00 AM with the last call at 12:15 AM.  The good news is that the tents are free to enter.  The bad news is that they often fill up by late afternoon (early morning on the weekends), and if you don’t have a reservation, you will not be able to get in.

Trip Tip: Plan to visit the beer tents during the week and go early, especially if you want to “tent hop”.  You will have an easier time getting in and finding a seat without a reservation. 

Where to Drink 

The beer tents, each owned by a Munchen brewery, are where you go to drink at Oktoberfest.   They are located on the city fairgrounds, which are in walking distance of the city center and main train station.   The tent scene is an intense scene. There are 14 large and 21 small beer tents to choose from, all located along one avenue in the fairgrounds right across from each other.  Each tent has its own unique character, décor, music, and beer.  The most popular tents are the large ones that are ornately decorated like the Hacker-Pschorr brewery’s tent, Hacker (aka Bavarian Heaven), or the Paulaner brewery’s tent, the Winzerer Fähndl.

oktoberfest munich

The Hippodrom tent was a very popular tent for many years, and one of my favorites from my visit to Oktoberfest. As of 2014, the Hippodrom tent was replaced with the new Mistral tent which holds 3200 people inside, and 1000 outside.

Although the beer tents can hold anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 people, it is not so easy to get into one. The majority of seats are by reservation only, with a small percentage offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Once the “no reservation” seats are filled, the tent will close to anyone without a reservation to avoid overfilling.  Admission to the tents is free, and that includes reservations (well, sort of free, as you will be required to buy beer and food tokens for each person on the reservation).  To make a reservation in a beer tent, you must contact the brewery directly starting as early as December. If you know you are going to attend Oktoberfest, it’s best to try to make a reservation as early as possible, as the reserved seats during prime hours book up fast and early.

Trip Tip:  If you plan to make a reservation for a beer tent, you will be required to reserve a whole table that seats 10 people.  Although the reservation is free, you will be required to buy beer and food coupons in advance for your table, which could run anywhere from 20€ to 80€ per person depending on the tent and time of day of your reservation. 

I attempted to make a reservation a month in advance, and I did have some luck finding availability in the tents. However, the available days and times were pretty bad.  For example, I found a table available for a Tuesday morning at 11AM.  There’s really no need to make a reservation on that day and at that time because it’s not a busy time for the tents.  Instead, at that day and time, you should have no problem finding a table in the “no reservations” section. However, the party hours (late afternoon through end of day) and all hours on the weekends were completely booked.

oktoberfest

Making new friends at the beer tent is much easier than trying to get a seat without reservations. By 2:30 PM  on a Thursday, most of the tents were already filled up.

We arrived in Munich with no tent reservations. Arriving to the fairgrounds on a Thursday at 1:30PM, we first went to the Hippodrom tent because it was one of the most popular tents, so we figured we would try to get in early. Although we were able to enter, we could not find a seat for our group (there were some single seats scattered about, or you could probably squeeze two people into some of the spaces though).  Our second attempt was the Hacker tent, also known as Bavarian heaven, but it was already full so we were turned away at the door.  Our third attempt was the Armbrustschutzen tent, where we were able to gain entrance and were fortunate enough to catch a group leaving, which gave us an entire table that we ended up sharing with a few American guys.

On a Thursday evening, it can be challenging if not impossible to find a seat in a beer tent after 6:30PM.

On a Thursday evening, it can be challenging if not impossible to find a seat in a beer tent after 6:30PM.

Later that evening (around 7:00 PM), against better judgment and clearly under the influence, we left our beer tent thinking we could get into another one. Our first attempt was the Lowenbrau tent where we were turned away at the door. We continued onward, hitting up a few more tents but with the same negative results.  We finally found a tent at the end of the avenue where we were able to enter but could not find any seating at all.  So, to the outdoor beer garden we went, where we eventually found a small table to huddle around for last call.

Trip Tip:  If you don’t have a reservation, get to your beer tent of choice early (before 2:00PM on weekdays and by 7:00AM on weekends).   The later it gets, the less chance you will have to get into another tent.  If you start early (opening hours), you can probably find non-reserved seating in about 2 to 3 tents during your weekday visit allowing you to “tent-hop” if that is important to you. 

The "heaven tent" where the roof of the tent is a colorful blue sky.

The “heaven tent” where the roof of the tent is a colorful blue sky.

What to Wear

The traditional outfits for Oktoberfest are the dirndl for the ladies and the lederhosen for the gents.  It’s actually much easier to find these costumes in Munich than outside of Germany, and you’ll have a wider selection of colors and styles to choose from as well as a range of prices.

My friends, Danielle and Eric, are a great example of how cute you can look in the traditional dress of Oktoberfest.

My friends, Danielle and Eric, are a great example of how cute you can look in the traditional dress of Oktoberfest.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on a dirndl, as you can get an entire outfit for about 50€ to100€ in Munich   I visited Oktoberfest during the last weekend of the festival, and there were plenty of dirndls to choose from in all sizes and price points in the main tourist district of Munich.   The same is true for the lederhosen for men.

Internet costumes or dressing up in your country's flag are not the best costumes for Oktoberfest.

Internet dirndls or dressing up in your country’s flag are not the best costumes for Oktoberfest.

Be careful about buying a dirndl from a costume store on the Internet.  Sure, it’ll be cheap, and you’ll have one prior to arriving in Munich. However, a few other ladies might also be sporting the same exact outfit.   Who wants to get into a “who wore it better” battle?  Not me!  Go for something unique and buy your dirndl in Germany.  Besides, the dirndls in Germany are much better quality and more traditional looking than the standard beer wench costumes you’ll find online, and they don’t cost much more.  For the gents, a crazy hat and using your country’s flag as a cape is better attire for a soccer match than an Oktoberfest beer tent.

Trip Tip:  If you are going to be in other parts of Germany before you visit Munich for Oktoberfest, you’ll be able to find local shops selling dirndls and lederhosens.  I found the prices in shops outside of Munich to be more expensive, and the shops did not seem to like non-Germans trying on the dirndls. At a few shops, they would not even allow me to touch the dirndls on the rack to get a closer look (and don’t dare take your camera out, or you will be chased out of the store).  It’s quite opposite in Munich where the shops encourage you to try on as many as you like, and they seem genuinely interested in seeing you look your best and finding the perfect dirndl for you.  With friendlier shops, a wider selection, and better prices, I recommend waiting until you arrive in Munich to buy your dirndl or lederhosen.  

Danielle, Eric and friends look darling in their traditional dress.

Danielle, Eric and friends look darling in their traditional dress.

Although wearing a dirndl is a lot of fun and a great way to immerse yourself into the festival, let me caution you that these dresses are not made for everyone.   Sure, a dirndl enhances your bosom, and who doesn’t desire such an enhancement?  However, all dirndls are not created equal.  Some are much more flattering than others.  You can look like a beautiful classy Bavarian girl, a sexy beer wench, or an old frumpy country hag.   It is definitely worth trying on a few to see what might work best with your figure.  So if the first one you try on doesn’t do anything for you, keep looking.  With so many shops and options around Munich, you will more than likely find one that fits your figure as best as a dirndl can.

Trip Tip: If you don’t feel comfortable in a dirndl, then skip it.   It seems as if about half the attendees to Oktoberfest wear traditional outfits, with the other half dressed in jeans and t-shirts, at least during the weekdays.  On weekends, you’ll see more people dressed up than not.  Although it’s great fun to dress the part while in Oktoberfest, it’s not a requirement. It’s much more fun if you are comfortable since it will be a very long day.

What's not adorable about men wearing colorful shirts and shorts with suspenders?

What’s not adorable about men wearing colorful shirts and shorts with suspenders?

As far as lederhosens are concerned, I did not see one guy in a lederhosen that did not look adorable!  Sadly, there were more women dressed in dirndls than there were men in lederhosens at Oktoberfest.  Most men are dressed in jeans and t-shirts on the weekdays with an uptick in traditional outfits on the weekends (when it seems as if a very young crowd moves into the Oktoberfest grounds compared to the weekdays).

I'm a sucker for a guy wearing a horse head.  It's a "do" for Oktoberfest as long as you wear the lederhosen with it.

I’m a sucker for a guy wearing a horse head. It’s a “do” for Oktoberfest as long as you wear the lederhosen with it, but I’m sure many will disagree with me!

What to Drink

With over 6 million liters of beer served at Oktoberfest each year, it’s pretty obvious that beer is the drink of choice at this ultimate beer festival. Beer is served from 10 AM to 10:30 PM on weekdays and from 9 AM to 10:30 PM on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays.  The tents only accept cash and expect to pay about 10€ for your beer.

Big beers with a strong alcohol content - you'll be surprised at how many of these people can actually drink while sitting at a picnic table all day!

Big beers with a strong alcohol content – you’ll be surprised at how many of these people can actually drink while sitting at a picnic table all day!

Before you can order one of the gigantic mugs of beer (a “mass”), you must have a seat.  If you are just standing around, the waitresses will ignore you, and you may even be asked to move so the walkways can remain clear (the beer mugs are big, and the waitresses carry many at a time, so they need the space!). Once you take your seat, a waitress will eventually find you.  It may take awhile, but when she does finally get to your table, be ready to order fast and have your money ready.  The waitresses are all business and are very busy.

Trip Tip: Contrary to what some people might tell you, tipping is not a bad thing.  I always hear that “only Americans tip and expect tips.”  If you take care of your waitress with a tip, you can be sure she will be back to take care of you.  Besides, the waitresses are working hard and putting up with drunks all day long; they deserve a tip! 

oktoberfest beers

The beer choices in the tent vary depending on which brewery owns the tent. All beers served at Oktoberfest come from the big 6 breweries of Munich.

The beer choices depend on which tent you are in.  One thing is for sure, the beer you will drink will be brewed in Munich, and it will be a special brew just for Oktoberfest.  That means it will have a strong flavor and more alcohol than other brews.  The large tents offer beers from the big six breweries of Munich. The beers on tap in different tents include: Spaten, Lowenbrau, Hacker Pschorr, Hofbrau, Paulaner and Augustiner. You will see the name of the brewery under the name of the tent, so you will know what is being served before you enter.

Trip Tip: If you don’t have a reservation, then it doesn’t matter what beer is being served, you just go wherever you can get in.  However, if you are making reservations, consider your favorite German beer since you’ll probably be drinking it all day long. 

For anyone who does not like beer, you can always seek out the wine tent.  Each year, Oktoberfest features the Weinzelt where a selection of more than 15 different wines is offered in addition to different types of Sekt (sparkling wine) and champagne.

Hangover cure - two strong coffees!

Hangover cure – two strong coffees!

After a day in the beer tents, you might wake up the next morning feeling a little groggy.  German beer can be tough on your tummy and on your head, especially if you are drinking it all day.  The best way to deal with the morning after and get ready for another day of tent hopping is to have a few cups of cappuccino and some aspirin.

What to Eat

When you arrive at the fairgrounds, if you are like most attendees, the last thing on your mind is probably food.  Let’s face it, you are there to drink.  You’ll be mesmerized by the large colorful tents (and large other things passing by you as well thanks to the dirndls) that you’ll probably overlook the many food vendors you will pass along the way.  However, as the hours pass, you’ll definitely need to eat something for sustenance.

Dawn shows off her Bavarian hot pretzel.  They are definitely big enough to share with your table!

Dawn shows off her Bavarian hot pretzel. They are definitely big enough to share with your table!

Based on the condition of some of the attendees that I encountered, I would highly advise that you arrive early enough to grab a quick bite to eat at a food vendor before getting your drink on, whether it’s a delicious sausage at the Zur Bratwurst (a tent just for sausages), traditional pig knuckles or a quick serving of spaetzle.   Once you are in a tent, chances are, you are not leaving again anytime soon, not even for food.  The good news is that some of the tents do offer “small” snacks, like a gigantic hot pretzel, and during the afternoon hours on weekdays, you can have a meal in the tent, too.

Trip Tip:  If you are sharing a room with friends, consider packing a can of air freshener for the bathroom.  Consuming large quantities of German beer and food over a few days can do a number on your stomach.  You might want to pack some chewable Pepto Bismal tablets to take to the tents with you, too! 

What to Expect

Dancing on tables, making new friends, buying cute stuffed mascot souvenirs, and drinking large mugs of beer is a big part of the Oktoberfest experience.

Dancing on tables, making new friends, buying cute stuffed mascot souvenirs, and drinking large mugs of beer is a big part of the Oktoberfest experience.

There is something for everyone at Oktoberfest.   If you choose to drink til you drop in the beer tents, joining thousands of others in search of the ultimate happy hour, you’ll find an amazing party.  The tents offer live music where you’ll be entertained by brass bands playing Bavarian favorites.  You’ll jump on your seat and do the chicken dance a few times, and sing or at least hum to some favorite Bavarian tunes.  Whether you are clanking mugs for a group toast or chatting up new friends, the beer tents offer a party atmosphere like no other and make for the ultimate Oktoberfest experience.

Pick up a gingerbread heart cookie to wear around your neck all day.  It's an Oktoberfest tradition, and it makes a great souvenir, too.

Pick up a gingerbread heart cookie to wear around your neck all day. It’s an Oktoberfest tradition, and it makes a great souvenir, too.

If drinking is not your thing, you can also choose to spend your time outside of the beer tents exploring the many vendors set up in the faigrounds.  Whether you are shopping for a souvenir like a gingerbread heart cookie, enjoying the carnival rides, or sampling the traditional Bavarian food, wondering through the festival grounds in an alternative and sober way of enjoying Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest

Most attendees manage to control their drinking, but there is always an exception to the rule. Sadly, this poor chap was in this condition by Noon.

For such a crowded festival where alcohol is freely flowing for 12 hours, it is actually a very calm and safe environment for the most part.  For as many drunken people walking around, I didn’t witness, nor was subjected to, any crude, rude or threatening behavior.  Sure, you’ll stumble across a very very drunk person occasionally, but for the most part, everyone seemed to control themselves and their friends.

Oktoberfest in Munich - one incredibly fun experience.

Oktoberfest in Munich – one incredibly fun experience.

Oktoberfest is an incredible experience.  You’ll meet people from all over the world and easily make new friends with people just like you – those who like to drink beer and have a great time.  I can’t wait for another opportunity to grab my beer buddies and return to Munich for the best beer festival in the world.  PROST!

For more information, visit the Oktoberfest website.

If you’ve been to Oktoberfest in Munich, which were your favorite tents?  Did you have any luck making a reservation in advance?  Share in the comments below.

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