The world's most famous beer festival takes place every year in Munich, Germany, from September to early October. Oktoberfest draws more than 6 million revelers from near and far to Theresienwiese (the festival grounds) for pilsners, lagers, giant pretzels, and lederhosen each fall.
The beloved event has been canceled in 2020 for the first time since World War II, but its brief hiatus is bound to make the return of those famous festival tents sweeter than ever in 2021. If you plan to attend Oktoberfest in the coming years, it would be wise to begin plotting your visit as soon as possible.
When Is Oktoberfest Held Each Year?
The original Oktoberfest in 1810, celebrating the wedding of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, took place over five days in October (hence the name). But it was such a success that the organizers decided to hold it annually, gradually tacking on more days and moving the grand opening to late September to take advantage of the warmer weather and harvest. Today, Oktoberfest can last up to 18 days.
It typically runs until the first Sunday in October. Sometimes, the event is extended to include the October 3 national holiday (Day of German Unity, or Tag der Deutschen Einheit) if that holiday happens to fall on a Monday or Tuesday. This last happened in 2017 and will again be the case for upcoming celebrations in 2022 and 2023.
- 2021: September 18 – October 3
- 2022: September 17 – October 3
- 2023: September 16 – October 3
When to Attend
Oktoberfest attracts visitors from across the globe and some days are busier than others. Its opening and closing days are some of the most crowded times where entry may only be permitted for those who have secured reservations in the beer tents. Weekends and holidays are also relatively busy and may be subject to said restrictions. If you're keen to skip the most chaotic moments of the festival, plan your visit for mid-week, particularly during the second week.
In addition to holidays and weekends, special days also tend to draw major crowds.
- Opening Day: Oktoberfest kicks off with a ceremonial parade at 11 a.m. and the subsequent tapping of the keg led by the mayor of Munich in the Schottenhamel tent. To get a good seat, visitors often arrive by 9 a.m.
- Costume and Riflemen's Parade: The Sunday after Opening Day marks an annual parade in tracht (traditional clothing).
- Gay Sunday: That first Sunday also sees the largest LGBTQ+ gathering of the festival. What once started as a rendezvous between a few friends has since turned into a big party with the addition of gay-themed clubs and discos. It's followed by RoslMontag, an extension of Gay Sunday happening on the following Monday, and a finale.
- Family days: Rides cost less on two family days, always on Tuesdays mid-fest.
- Religious mass: On the first Thursday, Oktoberfest holds a traditional religious mass.
- Brass band concert: On the second Sunday, there are traditional live bands at the foot of the Alps.
- Gun salute: On the last Sunday, there is a gun salute to conclude the event on the Bavarian monument.
Hotel reservations unsurprisingly skyrocket during Oktoberfest. Still, though, you may be able to get away with not breaking the bank if you plan far enough in advance and maintain some flexibility.
Keep in mind that peak times (holidays, weekends, special days) will also be the most expensive at nearby hotels. The cheapest time to visit (and the best chance of actually finding a reservation) is during the second week of the festival. Booking a year in advance is ideal, but you may also come by deals as venues fill up and hotels ease up on their original prices. Cancellations are common this far in advance, so you may still score a great place with persistence.
Beer Tent Reservations
Placing a reservation at one of the beer tents is fairly straightforward and can usually be done online. Of course, visiting the most popular tents, especially on busy days, will inevitably require planning. Some tents accept reservations as early as November or December the year before, and you should reserve by at least January or February. Confirmations are generally sent out in March.