Brief History of Munich's Oktoberfest
The original Oktoberfest was held in October in 1810. It was to celebrate the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen (leading to the name of the venue, Theresienwiese).
All of the fine folk of Munich were invited to eat and — of course — drink for five days. The celebration was such a success, they decided to do it every year and extended the celebration into September to better suit the harvest. That is why today the festival spans 16 days from late September to early October.
Dates for Munich's Oktoberfest
The dates for 2019 Oktoberfest are September 21 - October 6.
Many people simply go in for the day and get all their party out at once. If you want to see everything the festival has to offer, three days is usually enough to do that.
And there is such a thing as too much Oktoberfest. If you want to see more of the city (which you should), visit outside of Oktoberfest season, or visit during one of the more low-key festivals like Starkbierziet or Spring Festival.
Beer Tents at Oktoberfest
There are 14 main beer tents and each offers its own party atmosphere.
- The Hofbräu Tent is well-known internationally, meaning it is is full of foreigners but also a loyal local contingent. This tent is high-energy.
- Augustiner is more laid-back and one of the most family-friendly.
- Schottenhamel is the oldest and largest tent with 10,000-seats. This is where the first keg is tapped (O’zapft is!) and the young people party.
- My favorite tent has been Hacker Pschorr, another large tent, with a mix of locals and foreigners and the charming design of Himmel der Bayern (Heaven for Bavarians).
Though many people, especially Bavarians, have strong opinions on which tent is best. Ideally, you should be able to dip into several tents early without a reservation and find your favorite.
Reserving a Table for Oktoberfest
Most people planning to visit Oktoberfest reserve a table for at least one day of their visit. You can check out the different atmosphere of the tents with our handy guide to Oktoberfest tents, then plan on reserving a spot by March at the latest.
While reservations make finding a seat at peak times much easier, you can still get in if you haven't planned months in advance. A quarter of the places in the tents are not available to reserve and are open to walk-ins. Also, on the weekend and holidays, up to half the seats cannot be reserved until 3 pm.
In addition, outside seating in the biergarten is usually open although it often reaches capacity at peak times.
Demographics of Munich's Oktoberfest
People of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages and orientations attend the festival. Unlike places like the USA where alcohol and children do not mix, beer drinking is usually family-friendly in Germany. That said, Oktoberfest takes it to an all new level. Children under the age of six must leave the tents by 20:00 and the crowds may be intimidating for younger visitors. Try to take children on family days or off-times.
Though outsiders arrive in Munich for Oktoberfest in large numbers, the festival is still full of locals. About 70 percent of the crowd is from the area with an estimated 15 percent from elsewhere in Germany where they consider the Bavarian traditions as unique as we do.
Also note that LGBT visitors are welcome on all days, but a majority come together to celebrate for "Gay Sunday" on the first Sunday of the festival.
Beer at Oktoberfest
The beer at Oktoberfest comes from several storied Munich breweries. These include Augustiner, Paulaner and Spaten.
Most of these are light-tasting Helles, with a heavy Dunkel Bier (dark German lager) also available. Beers are brewed especially for the event.
Food at Oktoberfest?
German classics are on offer from chicken roasting on spits to pretzels the size of your head. Most tents have several dishes on offer, with stands throughout the grounds. You can buy a full meal, or a snack to keep you going.
What to Budget for Oktoberfest
Entry is free, but little else is at Oktoberfest. How much you need varies on personal preferences, but with each mass (1 liter glass) costing at least 10 euros, the festival isn't a discounters' paradise.
On top of the drinks, expect to pay at least 15 euros for a meal and 5 euros for a snack. Outside the tents you can find small bites like a bratwurst in brot for 4 euros. Expect to bring at least 50 euros a day (cash is king).
The biggest cost is accommodations. Prices skyrocket for Oktoberfest and grow steadily higher for last-minute reservations. Expect to pay at least 120 euros per person, per night for a very basic room with hostel beds starting at 45 euros.
Safety at Oktoberfest
Germany is — by and large — a very safe country. Violent crime is rare.
That said, theft is common, especially in a large festival of drunk people. Limit what valuables you bring and try to avoid becoming overly inebriated.
In addition, recent terrorist threats have been cause for concern. The city of Munich and festival organizers have worked hard to make this event as safe as possible, even providing secured entry and bag check to enter the fairgrounds.
Weather at Munich's Oktoberfest
The weather at Oktoberfest has a nasty habit of being rainy. This doesn't bother the people within the tents, but can make a day exploring the grounds and whirling around on rides a little dreary.
Pack an umbrella, a coat (or traditional janker) and a smile.
Traditional Clothing at Oktoberfest
Natürlich Tracht! Traditional Bavarian wear like Lederhosen and Dirndl (known as Tracht) can be spotted throughout the fest on Bavarians and foreigners.
Shops in Munich are happy to help you find the Bavarian outfit of your dreams, but these outfits can be pricey. Refer to our guide on Lederhosen for options and an idea of what to budget. Goofy beer hats, funky glasses and everyday wear are also perfectly acceptable.
Smoking at Oktoberfest
Smoking is no longer allowed in the tents. This is actually a Bavarian law which bans smoking in bars, pubs, restaurants and beer tents.
Most of the time, smokers gather just outside the entrance to the tents but this can get complicated when the tents are at capacity as you may not be allowed back in. Some tents have organized outdoor balconies for smokers.
Lost and Found at Oktoberfest
Every year, over 4,000 items make their way to lost and found. Check with the Service Center behind the Schottenhamel Tent as soon as you realize you've lost something, but don't give up hope if it doesn't appear right away. Many things are turned in from the tents at the end of the day. The desk is open from 13:00 to 23:00.
Found items will be stored for six months at the Fundbüro der Landeshauptstadt München (Oetztaler Str. 17, 81373 München). After that point, everything is sold at auction.