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Navigating the world’s biggest beer festival just got a whole lot simpler.

Every year, with the arrival of another crisp fall, the dignified and placid city of Munich morphs into a madhouse as 6 million visitors pour into its center for Oktoberfest. Also known as the Wiesn, the world’s biggest drink-a-thon runs for just over two beery, bleary weeks starting in mid-September. It’s the embodiment of Bavarian tradition: pomp, parades, a huge fair, and, of course, giant beer tents. While some locals get the hell out of town during Oktoberfest, true devotees actually take a two-week vacation for maximum indulgence. We’ve asked some of them to share their basic strategies—follow these, and you’ll be drinking like the Deutschen in no time.

1. Know your tents
The 14 big tents seat between 5,000 and 11,000 people inside and in the attached exterior beer gardens. Each has its own character (which you can read more about here), 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.

2. Time it right
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 table without a reservation. Locals prefer weekday afternoons when it’s a lot less frenzied.

3. Find a seat by making friends
Tent tables are communal, so keep your eyes peeled for friendly-looking folks with empty seats and ask politely if you may join them. After all, making warm Wiesnbekanntschaften (Oktoberfest acquaintances) is part of the fun.

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4. Hit the smaller tents
Often overlooked by tourists, the smaller tents are no less atmospheric but usually less frantic. A popular pick is the Schützenzelt, famous for serving up a mean suckling pig.

5. Revel in nostalgia at the Oide Wiesn
For a glimpse of yesteryear’s Oktoberfest, head to the Oide Wiesn, a separate area with historical beer tents, traditional dance and music, vintage rides, and an overall more relaxed vibe.

6. Nosh on familiar favorites
For a quick snack, seek out a Wiesn Brezn—a giant salt-encrusted pretzel—but the halbes Hendl (half a roast chicken) is the menu classic. More than half a million birds get that golden rotisserie tan every Oktoberfest.

7. Join in the drinking rituals
Oompah bands play all sorts of music but whenever they strike up “Ein Prosit,” join everyone else and stand up, hoist your mug, sing along, clink bottoms, and chug! Don’t worry—with sufficient lubrication, the lyrics will roll off the tongue even if you don’t know a lick of German.

8. Pace yourself
Visitors often realize too late that Oktoberfest beer packs an extra punch; most clock in around 6 percent ABV. 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)!

9. Check out the nightlife
All but two tents (Käfer and Weinzelt) kick out the last tippler at 11:30 p.m. For après-Wiesn partying, follow still-thirsty insiders to such nearby haunts as Substanz, Pappa Leone, and the Wirtshaus am Bavariapark beer garden.

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10. Reserve your room ASAP
Book early if you hope to hang your hat within stumbling distance of the Wiesn. Try the Schwanthalerhöhe borough or around the main train station, but don’t fret if you end up staying farther away—subways run every few minutes. Prost!

>>Next: The AFAR Guide to Munich