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During Munich’s annual Oktoberfest, beer tents fill with costume-clad revelers for two weeks beginning in mid- or late September.
With these insider tips, navigating the world’s biggest beer festival is a whole lot simpler.
Note: Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
Every year with the arrival of another crisp fall, the dignified city of Munich, Germany, morphs into a madhouse as approximately 6 million people pour into its center for Oktoberfest. Also known as the Wiesn, the world’s biggest drink-a-thon runs for over two beery, bleary weeks starting in mid- or late September. It’s the embodiment of Bavarian tradition: pomp, parades, traditional costume, a huge fair, and, of course, giant beer tents. (Plus, entry to the festival grounds is free.)
For the second year in a row, German officials announced that Oktoberfest 2021 is canceled due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. (The Bavarian festival was scheduled to take place from September 18 to October 3, 2021.) Although Munich won’t host the centuries-old beer festival this fall, the traditional event is still expected to take place in future years when the current pandemic is behind us. Until then, we’ve asked some Oktoberfest devotees to share their basic strategies for success at the event. Follow these, and you’ll be drinking like a Deutsche in no time.
At Oktoberfest in Munich, 17 big beer tents seat between 5,000 and 11,000 people, both inside and in the attached exterior beer gardens. Each has its own atmosphere, but many Munich locals are partial to the Augustiner tent for its excellent beer, down-to-earth ambience, and lack of tourists, who tend to flock to Hofbrauhaus. If you’d rather have a German and English-speaking expert show you around the festival grounds, book an Oktoberfest tour led by a certified guide. (More information here.)
Oktoberfest beer tents open at 10 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on weekends. Despite their large size, they do fill up quickly—on Saturdays you need to haul out of bed at sunrise (think 7 a.m.) if you hope to snag a spot without a table reservation. Most locals prefer weekday afternoons when the festival grounds are a lot less frenzied. To reserve a table, contact the beer tent you want to visit directly using information on Oktoberfest’s official website. (You can also book a spot at a selection of Oktoberfest tents through OpenTable.)
At Oktoberbest, all beer tent tables are communal, so keep your eyes peeled for friendly looking folks with empty seats and ask politely if you may join them. If you’re feeling courageous, try asking in German. “Ist dieser Platz frei?” translates generally to “Is this seat available?” Making warm Wiesn Bekanntschaften (Oktoberfest acquaintances) is part of the festival’s fun, after all.
Often overlooked by tourists, the beer festival’s 21 smaller tents are no less atmospheric—they are, however, usually less frantic. Take a stroll across the Oktoberfest grounds and explore your options. Menus at smaller tents tend to be centered entirely around various local treats like cheese, veal, and Mohrenkopf, a small, chocolate-glazed cream-cake. A popular small tent is the Münchner Knödelei, famous for serving up a mean Bavarian dumpling.
For a glimpse of yesteryear’s Oktoberfest, head to the Herzkasperl at Oide Wiesn, located in the southernmost section of the festival grounds. This amusement park–esque area is tucked away from much of Oktoberfest’s hustle and bustle, which makes it a great spot for families with children to enjoy. At the Oide Wiesn, traditional Bavarian cuisine is served (with vegan options!), old-school rides and activities are on offer, and the beer garden has dance floors where folk music performances take place. Entry costs approximately 3 euros (US$4) for adults and is free for children up to 14 years old. If you’re attending the festival with young children, consider visiting on a Tuesday, when from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. special prices are offered to families for “Family Day.”
For a quick snack, seek out a Wiesn Brezn, Bavaria’s famous, giant salt-encrusted pretzel. You can’t miss these at Oktoberfest (and you shouldn’t). For a hardier meal, munch on Bratwurst, a regional sausage usually served with a bread roll. If hot dog–like snacks aren’t your thing, order the menu classic: halbes Hendl (half a roast chicken).
Traditional German oompah bands play all sorts of cheerful folk music in the beer halls and tents. When you hear “Ein Prosit”—the most popular drinking song at Oktoberfest—stand up, hoist your mug, sing along, clink bottoms, then chug!
Don’t forget that Oktoberfest beer packs an extra punch; most ales clock in around 6 percent ABV, and beers are served by the liter. (One liter of beer equals approximately 34 ounces.) Remain vertical by drinking slowly, eating, and alternating your beer with a radler (shandy) or soft drink. The last thing you want is to end up as a Bierleiche (beer corpse) on the Kotzhügel (puke hill)!
All but two beer tents kick out the last tippler at 10:30 p.m. (Käfer and Weinzelt remain open until 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m., respectively). For après-Wiesn partying, follow still-thirsty insiders to such nearby haunts as Substanz or the Wirtshaus am Bavariapark beer garden.
If you hope to hang your hat within stumbling distance of the Wiesn, book your accommodation in Munich early. Try staying near a train station (S-Bahn or U-Bahn) in the city’s Schwanthalerhöhe borough, but don’t fret if you end up staying farther away. During Oktoberfest in Munich, public transportation runs more frequently than usual—subway lines, buses, and trams run every few minutes. Prost!
This article originally appeared online on August 30, 2017; it was updated on May 3, 2021, to include current information.
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