Oktoberfest season is starting to bear down on us again. The largest funfair in Germany takes approximately three months to set up leading up all the way to the opening night in late September, even though it did originate in October, staying true to its name. This Oktoberfest guide will make sure you’ll be prepared.
The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810, in order to commemorate the marriage Of Crown Prince (later King) Ludwig I and princess Therese Of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The royal couple then invited the citizens of Munich to take part in their celebration at the common grounds later to be known as Theresienwiese (which is “Theresa’s meadow” in the Austro-Bavarian dialect), which included horse racing (there’s no more races, but there’s still horses on display at times), carnival games, and of course beer. Then, the rest was history.
In spite of Oktoberfest being one of the largest and most fun parties you’ll ever experience, there’s actually a lot of things you should know before you venture out to the Wiesn. Being unprepared can actually result in you missing some or all of the festivities. Fortunately, this veteran can provide you with a lot of insider information for your very own Oktoberfest survival guide.
First, I’ll start with the basics of Oktoberfest: where to stay, how to get there, and how to partake in the festivities.
Getting there: Munich is one of those obscure cities where it’s big enough to have many modes of transportation, but small enough that budget airlines go there rather infrequently, making it one of your more expensive stops compared to budget havens such as Brussels and Madrid. I recommend going by plane, although you may find yourself flying out from a different city than you expect. By train, the distance you’ll have to travel will probably make it just as expensive as a budget flight from a nearby town, especially considering there’s many cheap budget airline options in Europe. This is in addition to spending a LOT more time getting there by train. As usual, you can check SNCB Europe for the most up-to-date train routes and prices.
Here’s where the tricky part is: Ryanair flies only to Memmingen (related: why Ryanair can be your best friend while traveling in Europe), which is still at least an hour and a half driving, and it only departs to Memmingen from very limited cities. There’s also airlines like easyJet, but you’re likely to run into the same problem, so for this I recommend using a site like Momondo to search to flight headed to Munich from where you are (related: 7 Sites To Help You Book Your Next Trip), although I’ve had good results using Luxair as well (it only leaves from Luxembourg). If all else fails, there’s always the train but be prepared for a LONG ride.
Once you’re in the city of Munich, getting to the Festwiese is easy. I highly recommend taking the U-Bahn (subway) to the Theresienwiese stop (served by the U4 and U5 lines). There are plenty of signs that indicate the direction of the Festwiese when coming from the subway, although it’s also known as the Wiesn. Don’t drive in unless you want to get stuck in bad traffic and have next to no parking options, although taxis fortunately aren’t too expensive in Munich.
Where to stay: Book and book early, preferably a year in advance (not joking!). However, you can most likely find something last-minute as I managed to do. Regardless, prepare to shell out the big bucks. Even a stinky hostel bed in a 20-bed dorm will set you back at least €70/night. Don’t worry so much about being too far from the city center as long as a U-line is nearby, as getting to the Wiesn in the city center doesn’t take more than half an hour, no matter how far away you are. This is where Google Maps really comes in handy by using the “get directions by public transit” feature and gives you approximate times/distances. You can look up your prospective hotel address using Google Maps, and then finding the U-Bahn stations nearby (avoid the regional S-line trains).
Oktoberfest overview: Oktoberfest lasts for about two weeks, and every year the dates are slightly different, so check the “Dates and General FAQs” at the official Oktoberfest website. Weekdays hours are from 10am – 10:30pm. Weekend and holiday hours are from 9am – 10:30pm. However, weekends and holidays are typically the most busiest days of Oktoberfest, and that means tents can start filling up (and closing due to overcapacity) at around 11 a.m. Other notable days of extreme traffic is opening day, where the mayor of Munich officially inaugurates Oktoberfest by tapping the first keg of beer in public ceremony, declaring “O’zapft is!” or “it’s tapped!” in Bavarian German. German Unity Day is also another big holiday where Oktoberfest gets heavy foot traffic (observed on October 3rd). If you’re planning on attending those days, you should probably get there at opening and try not to jump around tents too much, since they’re sure to be closed due to overfilling and you won’t be able to get back in otherwise. While weekdays and non-holidays are better in terms of crowds, it still starts to fill up at around 3-4 p.m. up to the point where tents may start to close down. Also, Munich is in Bavaria, which means people typically speak and read in the Austro-Bavarian dialect of German. It’s very different from mainstream German, so don’t even bother to use your German translator/dictionary. Fortunately, it’s not too much of a problem since most people there speak English, but it might get in the way when you’re ordering food from the menu.
Visit the MVV – Münchner Verkehrs- und Tarifverbund website for more information on the public transportation system in Munich, including lines, maps, timetables, and trip planners.
Next page: – Part 2: bierhaus rules