How to Survive Oktoberfest

A waiter at the Hippodrom Tent at Oktoberfest in Germany“How many days are you at the Wiesn (Oktoberfest) for?” asked the German girl wearing her Bavarian dirndl across the table from me.

“We’re here for five days,” I replied, putting down my stein of beer. As she heard this, her facial expression (and that of her friend) became a mix of shock, disbelief, and horror.

“Five days! That is crazy! You’re a bit insane, huh?” she said jokingly. “I hope you survive.”

And she was right. My friends and I were a bit insane to think five days wasn’t that long at Oktoberfest. I quickly learned that most Germans come simply for a day because, as I was informed many times, “That is enough time at the Wiesn.” It’s the tourists who stay longer.

In retrospect, five days at Oktoberfest was overzealous and something I wouldn’t do again. It was overkill. Even the group I was with, filled with able-bodied hardened drinkers, was exhausted by Day 3 and uninterested by Day 5. By the end, I never wanted to see a beer again.

But I survived the experience and had a great time, made a lot of new friends, hardened my liver a bit, met some cool travel bloggers, and learned just how to plan the perfect Oktoberfest trip.

What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest was one of the best festivals I’ve ever attended. It’s a 16–18 day beer festival held annually in Munich, Germany, running from late September to the first weekend in October. It all began when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese on October 12, 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city, which the locals call “Wies’n” (which means grass, and is why Oktoberfest is nicknamed Wiesn in Germany).

What to Expect at Oktoberfest
It’s great to see so many people dressed up in traditional Bavarian clothes (lederhosen for guys, dirndls for girls), having a good time, celebrating, and drinking good beer. I think these pictures and video paint the scene quite nicely:

The Hofbrau House at Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich

One of the building packed with people at Oktoberfest in Munich

The rides outside at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

Nomadic Matt celebrating Oktoberfest in Germany with many beers

The packed Hippodrom Tent at the very popular Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich

Fancy horses outside of the tents at Oktoberfest in Germany

You get a lot of people chugging beer….

….and a lot of people who fail at it….

….but no matter what, there’s a lot of singing.

One thing I didn’t expect was that outside the beer tents, it’s a carnival. Literally, a carnival with games, rides, and even haunted houses. I felt like I was at a theme park in Anywhere, USA. It didn’t feel like the Oktoberfest I was expecting until I got inside the tents.

Making a Table Reservation
Yes, you can book tables at the tents at Oktoberfest. In fact, many people do. I had a table reservation every day I was there because my friends and I wanted to make sure we had a place to sit. In the future, though, I’m not so sure I’d reserve tables again. It’s nice to know you have a place to sit down, but other than on weekends or at night, it seemed like you could always find an open seat, even if you had to stand for a while. If I booked a table again, I would only do it for the nighttime hours, when tables are harder to get and you might not want to stand around waiting.

If you do book at one of the tents, be aware that most tables seat between 6-10 people and cost about 300 Euros. My friends and I had to book a whole table so even if it’s just one of you going, you reserve the table as though you are going fill it. While you’re supposed to have a full table when you sit down, we showed up a few people under and they didn’t seem to care. Your reservation also gets you food.

Also, each tent has its own personality. Some tend to be heavy on Americans, Australians, older Germans, rich celebrities, etc. So consider this before booking a table.

Here’s a good link that sort of breaks down the personalities of each tent.

Booking Accommodation
Book early. Accommodation fills up quickly—and some hotels and hostels book out up to a year in advance. The closer you get to the festival grounds, the more expensive beds are, and the quicker everything fills up. I booked a room in April and most places were already sold out. That room cost me 120 euros per night, but it was close to the festival grounds. I saw hostel rooms going for 60–80 Euros.

You can find cheap accommodation at “The Tent,” a hostel (well, really, a massive tent) outside the city for 40 euros per night. That’s about as cheap as you’ll find unless you Couchsurf (which is hard because locals get a lot of requests from people looking for a free place to stay) or have friends you can stay with.

Getting Your Traditional Outfit
Men wearing traditional Bavarian outfits and standing my horses at Oktoberfest
You can’t go to Oktoberfest without the traditional Bavarian outfit, and those are not cheap. A good lederhosen outfit begins at around 140 Euros. Dirndls, the traditional outfit for girls, begin around 100 Euros. (You can of course find cheaper outfits, though, if you aren’t looking for something of quality.)

How Much Does Oktoberfest Cost?
All the tents are free to enter. Beer is typically 10 euros, and most full meals are 12–15 Euros. You can get snacks and small meals for around five euros. You can also buy alcohol outside the tents (but not beer), and the drinks cost around eight euros. You’ll also have to put a two-euro deposit down on the glass they give you. You’ll find tons of stands everywhere with sausage and wurst for four euros too.

General Survival Tips
Oktober fest is an extremely popular event in Munich, Germany
It’s a marathon, not a sprint – You’ll be drinking all day, so there’s no need to rush it. Too many people pass out on the lawns by dinner time. Pace yourself. Those liters of beer are strong.

Hydrate – Drink a lot of water while you’re there. I had Powerade and water bottles lined up in my room for when I got home and woke up.

Get to Kafer early – Most of the tents close at 10:30pm. Kafer is the only one open until 1am, so everyone rushes there after the others shut down. Get there a bit before 10:30 p.m. so you have a spot. Otherwise, you simply won’t be able to get in or get served.

Get a table early – No reservation? Just winging it? If you aren’t there by midday, your chances of finding a table shrink greatly. Also try to avoid the times when they switch reservations. All the people that got kicked out are now looking for a free table and competition is fierce.

Eat outside – While all the tents have amazing rotisserie chicken, the food inside is simply expensive. Just walk outside, buy a cheap sausage, and save your money for the overpriced liters of beer.

All of this stuff adds up. It’s virtually impossible to do this event on a tight budget, but it’s definitely worth the expense. It only happens once a year, and though it sort of busted my European budget, I don’t regret any of the money I spent. I’m really glad after years of false starts that I finally made it to Oktoberfest. My friends and I are already considering returning next year—though maybe not for five days again.

  1. Awesome! I’ve been wanting to do this for years. I just got to do it.

    I can imagine 5 days being too much. We did 5 days in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and had the same results. By the third day we were done. You had to force yourself to drink.

    Similar would be Vegas. I did a marathon stretch in Vegas that lasted for 7 days! I had a 1 day break about the fourth day in. Which just was not enough.

    Three days, four days tops for these events is a safe play.

    Great pictures!

  2. Hey Matt
    Sounds and looks like you had a great time – Back in my punker days we use to go out for “cheap, bottom of the barrel beer night, all you can drink for $5.” Oh, the hangovers, reminds me of the Spirit of the West song – “Home for a rest.” I still enjoy beer but I drink less but better quality. I found a reasonably priced German import ($2 CAN.) for 500 ml, called Holsten (Maibock- strong golden and Festbock- strong dark) made in Hamburg, Germany. At 7% alc., two of them does the trick.

  3. coley

    I went alone this year to meet up with people I work with, and I had the greatest time. It’s certainly an experience to remember!!

  4. As a veteran of Oktoberfest 2007, 2008, & 2010 ,you are pretty spot on my man. Yeah, 5 days is a ton. I feel like you need to 2 days on and then one day off at Oktoberfest. I feel like the perfect plan would be 6 days, 4 at Oktoberfest and then 2 days exploring southern Bavaria. Anyway, glad you had fun!

    • NomadicMatt

      I think if I go back (and I will) I will do that. I think if you are going for 5 days, taking a break half way is essential.

  5. I’m studying in Strasbourg, France for the semester, so a friend & I headed to Oktoberfest for just a night. We were sad that we only could make it for a night, but afterwards it was all okay.

    We stayed at The Tent, which was a really great place to be. You meet a lot of people from all over and sit around campfire, it has a great atmosphere! Overall, i’d say Oktoberfest was one of the highlights so far, definitely something to remember.

  6. Wow – I loved Oktoberfest, but 5 days straight is just being hard on yourself. Even on two week rugby tours we’d arrange a three days drinking, one days activities pattern.

  7. deifl

    A small correction…

    ‘You can’t go to Oktoberfest without the traditional Bavarian outfit, and those are not cheap. A good lederhosen outfit begins at around 140 Euros. Dirndls, the traditional outfit for girls, begin around 100 Euros. (You can of course find cheaper outfits, though, if you aren’t looking for something of quality.)’

    Replace in the above sentence the word ‘good’ with ‘lousy’. A traditional bavarian outfit costs a little bit more and ist normally custom made.

  8. Nancy

    I’ve been wanting to get to Oktoberfest for years! Someday I need to do it. (Although I can’t stand beer, so have no idea why I want to go!)

  9. Yea..I did 4 days in 2009. It was an unbelievable experience. But I did 2 days there, then went to Prague for 3 days, then back to Munich for 2 more days. if i did 4 days straight? I would have been close to dead..

  10. Great article Matt. Germany’s one of our favourite biking destinations. We started this years family expedition in Munich earlier this year and wished we’d been around for some of the Oktoberfest madness. We noticed there’s no kids in the photos, is it just something for adults or is there a way of experiencing it with the family, without falling over in front of the kids.

    • NomadicMatt

      I can’t say I noticed many kids inside the tents. I saw some walking around and I’m sure there is a family oriented tent somewhere but I didn’t see it.

  11. Thanks for such a comprehensive Oktoberfest guide, Matt! I have to make it to Munich one of these Oktobers…Meanwhile, will have to settle for a brand new Biergarten in Hoboken-it’s no Munich but the selection of beer and food is as good as one might find in Deutschland. Hofbrau, Paulaner, Spaten, Pilsner and many other German and Czech brew houses are all well represented. Sauerkraut, bratwurst, weisswurst and Hungarian goulash are generously consumed by thirsty and happy patrons-it almost feels like Germany without lederhosen and dirndls…

  12. I’ve had a conversation with a swedish guy in a bus in Beijing and we talked about typical festivals in our countries and it was like :
    ” You have this famous beer festival right?”
    ” Actually it’s called Oktoberfest, or festival, however”
    ” Are there any differences? ”
    ” …No 😀 ”

    We really have a whole festival for only drinking beer. So mad..

  13. You are so lucky to be at Octoberfest! I visited Munich last year, just when Octoberfest was over and I will definitely go next year!! This town is amazing, I was all day at Marienplatz listening to the musicians that play with their bands all over the place, my favorite one was KOnnexion Balkon! Have you seen them performing?
    Of course beer and sausages were the thing I did the most while being there 😉

  14. Kieran

    5 Days? Me and 2 of my friends did 2 weeks, and stayed in a horrible ‘hostel’ called hostival (dont ever stay there) we would get up at 9am each day; shower, maybe eat,get to fest for 10am and drink until about 6 then get back to ‘Ostbanhof’ and go in the clubs drinking Jager and Budweiser until about 4am. 2 WEEKS!

    Absolutely brilliant place, going back this year (for 5 days) unbelievable experience and one that has to be had.

  15. I have done 6 Oktoberfests. 3 of them for the whole 16 days of the festival! Its one of my favourite places to visit in the world. Too many good times.

    5 days? You’re just warming up!

  16. I like Cold beer, and i read a lot of articles abot Oktoberfest!! It is the best Beer Festival. Next time i will attent it and i taste my favorite draft beer!!!

  17. I’ve been there twice and plan a third time this year. It’s not just for the young drinkers. Last trip I took my parents who are 70 and they had a great time. We went early and had no problem getting a table, and later on when we went to a second tent I begged in my very bad German to give my parents a seat and people were very nice.

  18. What a great guide to Oktoberfest! Wish I had spotted this earlier, but definitely found some applicable tips to my next Oktoberfest… in Hannover!

  19. To save you all money this year…Erfurt in Thuringia, Germany has a great Oktoberfest during the same dates. The biggest beers are 8 euro, small are 4, bratwursts are 2 Euro. It’s small enough that you can couchsurf like me, and it’ll save you a bundle!

  20. Jessica

    This is great to info to know! I’m planning on doing Oktoberfest this year for my husband’s 30th birthday but wasn’t sure about how much time to really spend there. Knowing that it’s going to be pretty expensive to get out there from Chicago and all that we will spend while we are there, are there areas (in or outside of Germany) you recommend visiting that we can more easily do on a budget and make the whole trip out there worth it?

  21. Debbie

    We’re planning to go in 2016. Which tents would be good for age 40+? Tents with a mix of ages would be the best. We were thinking 3 days in Munich, with the middle day as a rest and sighteeing lol.

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