“How many days are you at the Wiesn (Oktoberfest) for?” asked the German girl across the table from me, wearing her Bavarian dirndl.
“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 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:
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 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 minus a few people 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.
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
You can’t go to Oktoberfest without the traditional Bavarian outfit (it just wouldn’t be right or as fun), 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 5 euros. You can also buy alcohol outside the tents (but not beer), and the drinks cost around 8 euros. You’ll also have to put a 2-euro deposit down on the glass they give you. You’ll find tons of stands everywhere with sausage and wurst for 4 euros too.
General survival tips
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 dinnertime. 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 and when I woke up.
Get to the Käfer tent early: Most of the tents close at 10:30pm. Käfer is the only one open until 1:00am, so everyone rushes there after the others shut down. Get there a bit before 10:30pm 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.