The Worlds Largest Beer Festival
Location: Munich, Germany
Dates: 16 days prior to the 1st Sunday in October
(If the 1st Sunday is the 1st or 2nd of October, then the festival ends on Germany Unification Day on the 3rd of October)
OK, folks, this one is for my beer lovers. Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer festival (locally called Volksfest). Held in Munich, Germany every year, the festival first began to celebrate the wedding of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in the early 1800s. Now, the 16-18 day festival attracts more than 6 million attendees every year. While Oktoberfest is celebrated all over the world now, nothing beats the original.
The annual festival is held at Theresa’s meadows (Theresienwiese) and runs for the 16 days prior to the 1st Sunday in October. If the 1st Sunday is the 1st or 2nd of October, then the festival ends on Germany Unification Day on the 3rd of October. Although the main attractions of the festival are the beer tents, there are plenty of carnival games and rides on the fairgrounds to enjoy as well.
There are only 6 breweries that are allowed to brew beer for the festival (see below). For a beer to be considered a true Oktoberfest beer, it must be brewed within the Munich city limits and conform to Germany Beer Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot). Most of the tents serve a different beer, so you’ll need to venture into a few of them to really get the full experience.
- Staatliches Hofbräu-München
The beer tents at Oktoberfest are where all of the real action takes place. There are 14 big tents and roughly 20 small tents. For a lot of the tents, you’ll need to make reservations ahead of time to get a seat. You can still go into every tent, but without a reservation, it may be a challenge to order a drink, especially on crowded days like the weekends. Luckily, if you just want to stop by and try the beer for that tent, most have outside seating which is typically pretty accessible.
Some of you may get the wrong idea when I say tent. These structures are massive, with the big tents holding anywhere from 1,000 to 9,000 people at a time to the small tents that can hold up to 500. Some have upstairs and downstairs seating or huge stages for bands to perform.
One of the most interesting aspects of Oktoberfest is attire. You will see many people wearing traditional Bavarian outfits (Tracht). The men wear Lederhosen (translated Leather Breeches) and the women wear Dirndl. You can skip the traditional attire and still have an awesome time. There are many people, visitors and locals, who decide not to go full wardrobe, at least not every day at the festival.
However, if you decide that you do want to go all in on your Oktoberfest experience, I would recommend avoiding the cheap costumes. They don’t look right and you’ll stand out (not in a good way). There are shops in Munich near the fairgrounds where you can get a decent set. The advantage of shopping here is that you will have someone to help you pick something that looks good and fits well. These shops may be a bit on the expensive side, but it adds to part of the fun. Plus, the end product is generally good quality, so you can use them on your next trip.
Enjoying the Festival
I’m going to focus on the Hofbräu Tent right now because it’s the tent I always seem to end up in and it’s one of the easier tents to navigate. However, I highly recommend checking out the other tents as each one has its own unique qualities. Each tent is independently run, so you have to contact the tent that you want a reservation directly. In the Hofbräu Tent, it’s usually pretty easy to get a beer without a reservation, so I would suggest trying to get an early reservation for one tent, get something to eat, and make your way over to the Hofbräu Tent as the day goes on. And I would be failing you if I didn’t mention that the food is outstanding.
Now, there are a few reasons that I always recommend the Hofbräu Tent. First, it is the easiest tent that I’ve found to get a beer without a reservation. There are plenty of tables that require a reservation, but there is a section in the middle of the floor with tables (no seats) where all you have to do is find an empty spot. This is much better than trying to flag down a waitress in some random spot in the middle of a walkway. The Hofbräu Tent is also very diverse and extremely friendly for the most part. This is also the reason I recommend this tent to solo travelers. You will run into people here from all over the world. I ended up at a table one year with myself, 4 Australians, a British couple, 2 locals, some Americans, and a random guy from Brazil. None of the groups had met before, but you would have thought we’d known each other for years. And as the day goes on, you’ll find yourself migrating to new tables and meeting new people. It really is an amazing experience.
All of the tents serve their beers by the liter, so make sure to pace yourself. And for the love of it all, don’t show up on an empty stomach and think you’re going to last the whole day. Just outside of the Hofbräu Tent is the Kotzwiese, also known as Puke Hill. This is where people who have outdone themselves go to try and sleep it off for a while. Locals refer to the people on the hill as “bierleichen,” or beer corpses. Trust me, you don’t want to be that guy.
Tip: Occasionally you will see someone stand up on top of the tables and down their entire liter (I’ve only seen this in the Hofbräu Tent). I don’t recommend trying this, but if you do, you better finish the whole beer or risk being booed viciously by the entire tent.
One word you must know before heading to Oktoberfest is “Prost”. Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of practice. Prost is German for “cheers” and at Oktoberfest, there must be a lot to be cheerful about. Throughout the day the bands will play “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit” (you’ll know this song well before you leave Oktoberfest), which signifies another round of toast.
One thing I love about Oktoberfest is that you don’t really see any trouble out of the festival goers. With that much drinking, you would assume that this would be a rowdy bunch, but typically everyone is just there to have a good time. On one trip a guy left his video camera on the table and disappeared for two hours. There were probably some pictures taken while he was gone that he might not want to share with his mother, but the camera was there when he returned (I do not recommend leaving your stuff on a table and disappearing). The festival runs through three weekends. I’ve heard that the second weekend can get a little crazy because of the large number of visitors from Italy, but even during this time I’ve never had an issue. It’s also nice that there is always plenty of security around without having an overbearing presence.
Oktoberfest is an awesome festival to attend, especially for beer lovers. If beer isn’t your thing, the food makes the trip still worth it. Oktoberfest is imitated all over the world, but nothing beats the original. With the carnival rides and games not far away from the beer tents, there’s actually something for the whole family. But the most beautiful part of the celebration is seeing people from all over the world come together, have fun, and enjoy themselves. If you’re looking for an amazing experience, then this is a festival I highly recommend. Just remember to pace yourself because those 1-liter beers can start to add up quickly.
Place Name: Oktoberfest
Place Description: The world's largest beer festival held annually in Munich, Germany.
The world’s largest beer festival held annually in Munich, Germany.