Everything you need to know about Oktoberfest
Get ready for the largest party of the year. (And survive it like a pro.)
The world’s largest festival is just a month away, drawing five to seven million people to Munich, Germany, to take part in Oktoberfest. Here’s what you need to know before the tents open and the mayor of Munich shouts “O’zapft is!” to the cheering crowd.
History of Oktoberfest
The first Oktoberfest took place in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (who became Kind Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Munich’s citizens were all invited to join the celebration, which was held in a field just outside the city. The field was named Theresienwiese (Theresa’s meadow) in honor of the newlywed princess. Oktoberfest is still celebrated on Theresienwiese where locals and tourists dress up in traditional Bavarian clothes (lederhosen for guys, dirndls for girls) to eat, dance and drink good German beer.
So why isn’t Oktoberfest celebrated in well, October? Milder weather conditions forced the festival to move to mid-September a long time ago so visitors could enjoy the gardens outside the tents without feeling chilly. It turns out warm weather and cold beer make a great combination.
The big tents
Sure, there are carnival rides and games at Oktoberfest, but that’s not where the real celebrations are held. Visitors can stumble between 14 massive tents, each seating between 4,000 – 10,000 people. Table reservations sell out up to eight months in advance, and the few seats that don’t require a reservation are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Travel tip: A reservation is your only ticket to being served in the tent, and that includes beer. If you’re planning to travel to Munich for Oktoberfest, make a reservation.
Schottenhamel is one of the most important tents at Oktoberfest. Beer cannot be served until the first keg is tapped by the mayor of Munich at noon on opening day. Built in 1867, the Schottenhamel tent started as a small beer booth with 50 seats. It’s now the largest tent and can hold up to 10,000 people (mostly young) who meet there to drink and party.
The Hofbrau Festzelt is a popular tourist attraction and counterpart to the Hofbraeuhaus in the city of Munich. Meet people from all over the world while enjoying a Bavarian Brezeln (German-style pretzel) and dancing to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
The Augustiner-Festhalle tent has been touted as the friendliest of all at Oktoberfest. And, it’s no wonder – the tent serves the classic Augustiner beer, which the monks began brewing in their Augustinian monastery in 1328.
Seeking more information on the tents? Check out pictures and a short description of each tent here.
Eat, drink and wear lederhosen
Six traditional Munich breweries serve a lager, or Marzenbier, at Oktoberfest. The beer comes in a Maß – a liter glass mug – and costs around 10 euros. Sip your Maß slowly, as Oktoberfest beer has a high alcohol content (6 – 7 percent) and is slightly stronger than normal German beer.
Food at Oktoberfest is just as important as the beer to wash it down. Each tent serves a menu of classic dishes, including roasted chicken, schweinebraten (roast pork), schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) and plenty of wurstl (sausages). Brotfrauen (bread women) are always on hand to sell salty, delicious pretzels that make you want more -- you guessed it -- beer.
An essential part of Oktoberfest is the traditional clothing worn by locals and tourists alike. The dirndl consists of three pieces: the dress, blouse and apron. There is a wide range in price and style and a set can be purchased almost anywhere in Munich. Men’s outfits are a little more straight forward and traditional and consist of a button-up shirt (either white or checkered), lederhosen, an Alpine hat and sturdy, Bavarian shoes.
While Oktoberfest is a multi-week celebration, most locals only visit for a day. The crowds and heavy beer and food are best enjoyed in small doses. Plan your trip around Oktoberfest, but take time to explore the beautiful and historic city of Munich. Lonely Planet put together a list of the Top 10 free things to do, in case all your money is spent on beer.
If Munich isn’t in the cards, there are plenty of U.S. cities that know how to put on a good party. Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio, draws more than half-a-million people to eat, dance to polka music and perform the Chicken Dance. Oktoberfest in Milwaukee celebrates each September with a brat eating contest and stein-hoisting competition.
Where do you plan to celebrate Oktoberfest this year? Share your tips and photos on our Facebook page.