What to pack, where to stay, and how to survive the biggest annual party in the world known as The Oktoberfest.
Yes, the festival does start in September
The first Oktoberfest was held in the year 1810 in honour of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig's marriage to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The celebrations were repeated year upon year however a few years later, the festival was prolonged and moved forward into September to allow for warmer evenings.
Now, the Oktoberfest in Munich runs during the last 2 weeks of September to the first week of October.
For this year’s exact dates and beer hall opening hours and more information, see the Oktoberfest’s official website.
Purchase your traditional costume before you arrive in Munich
If you are going to the festival, you are going to need a costume. Everyone, and I mean everyone wears a costume. For girls, you’ll need a ‘Dirndl’; a traditional dress accompanied by an under blouse, and boys, you’re after a ‘Lederhosen’: traditional leather overalls, and then add a button up shirt, long socks and if you’re really festive, a hat with a feather.
If you are on a budget, plan ahead and purchase your costume online before you leave for your trip as these outfits can fetch a pretty price tag once the festival is in full swing.
Common department stores such as C&M which are located all over Germany and neighbouring countries including Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland sell a wide range of costume options, but the going rate is still between €80 – €200 for a Dirndl, and sometimes that’s just the dress part, not the under blouse or apron. The campsite hostel I stayed at also had a small shop with last minute costume options around €50 - €100, but they were quite low quality and half the campsite was wearing the same thing.
Boutique stores sell more unique and higher quality outfits for around €150+, and can be a great souvenir if you’ve got the cash.
Here’s a website for some great places to buy a costume from, otherwise just walk through the main shopping district in Munich for a browse. Don’t forget, all major stores are closed on Sundays.
It’s free to enter the festival and the beer halls
You can enter and exit the festival as many times as you like, just be prepared for the occasional security check of your bags. Large bags and backpacks are not allowed, so just bring a small purse or use your Lederhosen pockets! There are plenty of attractions to enjoy aside from the beer halls too – carnival rides, sideshow games, and traditional food and drinks – just be wary that the prices in the festival are exorbitantly inflated.
Arrive to the festival between midday and mid-afternoon in order to get a table.
If you wait any longer, tables fill up and you’ll spend all evening jumping from beer hall to beer hall searching, or you’ll have to separate from your friends. Waitresses won’t serve you if you aren’t seated! The festival opens relatively early in the morning, but usually that’s when families and older visitors go to enjoy the atmosphere without the rowdy youth.
Don’t overestimate yourself
Sure, you might be able to down four beer bongs at home and it has little to no affect on you. Maybe you’ve slammed down a row of shots at a bar last week in Prague and managed to find your hostel fine and you even woke up without a hangover. Beer is your best friend back home and you and your buddies could finish a carton at pre-drinks and still move on to vodka later. I get it. I was under that impression too. But believe me when I say, German beer is in a league of its own.
There’s no need to double park – the waitresses are constantly coming around, and downing two steins in ten minutes will only lead to an early night and being one of those embarrassing tourists who can’t handle their alcohol. Grab a litre stein and go to town, but just remember, a beer at home is not like the beer here.
Save some coin and stay out of town
The public transport system in Munich is so damn good, there is no need for you to book accommodation in the heart of town and pay that extra €50 for a bed. Plenty of locals rent out their houses during this time, so scope Air BnB for some bargains, or, if you’re really willing to rough it, go camping. I booked a ‘bed’ (mattress) in a ‘two-person tent’ (two-person if you’re prepared to spoon them) at Munich All-Inclusive Campsite. It was freezing cold, no wifi, impossible to keep anything clean, and a shower cost a couple of euro… but I definitely recommend the experience if you’re prepared to rough it. The campground itself was like a mini music festival; it held nightly parties and events, drinking games, a DJ played from 7am – 11pm, and included in your accommodation cost was unlimited sangria and beer, breakfast and dinner. My recommendation is to go for 2 – 3 nights; enough time to party at the campground, experience the Oktoberfest, then move on to a proper bed and hot showers elsewhere!
Get ready to stand up, sing and spill beer
The bands play non-stop throughout the afternoon and night, and through what seems like every second song, everyone will link arms with you and stand and sing along, even if you don’t know the words. “Prost!” means cheers, and you’ll be clinking and smashing your drinks together after every sip. It’s a pretty relaxed, jovial and merry atmosphere – the only things you’ll be in trouble for is standing on tables, causing altercations or harassing the beer maids. And if you feel yourself getting way to drunk, there are plenty of pretzels going around or buy yourself a big traditional meal, they’re filled with carbs!