The fall is here my friends and what better travel experience to plan for yourself than a trip to the world famous Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. I have had the pleasure of attending Oktoberfest several times, most recently as of last year, and would like to share a few brutally honest (and hopefully helpful) tips for my American pals partaking in the grandiose beer drinking event. Sit back and enjoy my TOP TIPS for preparing and making the most of an Oktoberfest experience.
Plan flights and hotel bookings far in advance.
Being one of the biggest events of the year in Germany, hotels and AirBnB rates get jacked up and sold-out quickly. Oktoberfest runs from mid-September to early October. While I think that staying in an AirBnB provides a convenient, affordable and often times elevated cultural experience than a hotel, I would err on the side of caution for “apartment rentals” during the festival. Why do I say this? Well, think about it. Everyone and anyone who wants to make an easy buck in Munich puts their place on the market for the world to use (and sadly abuse) during the mass tourism boom facilitated by Oktoberfest. There are numerous mid-range to high-end hotel options to choose from, just be sure to book in advance (8+ months in advance is recommended). For the lady that wants to splurge on the most luxurious hotel in Munich, look no further than my personal favorite, the Mandarin Oriental Munich.
Don’t buy your costumes on Amazon, but DO wear a dirndl.
You probably are aware that locals will don their lederhosen and dirndls to the festivities. My husband and I, not sure of what to wear to Oktoberfest, tried to pull a fast one and decided to order traditional German outfits on Amazon Prime. Big no-no. First off, the outfits that are sold on Amazon for Americans are likely “Halloween quality costumes” which is a bit insulting to locals who take pride in the traditions illuminated at the festival.
Try to find traditional online boutiques that sell the pretty dress called a “dirndl”… Have no luck? Don’t worry, you can find hundreds of local shops once you arrive to Munich that carry the traditional garb you will see everyone wearing to the events. Thank GOD we were able to trash our Halloween costumes and find replacements once we arrived to Munich. Regardless of where you find the perfect dirndl, do make sure to dress-up in the festive attire. While you definitely see foreign tourists wearing jeans and tshirts, trust me, they look much more out of place than an American girl frolicking around in a dirndl. Plus, when else are you going to have the opportunity to wear this kind of stuff?
Wait a second, what about the apron? Dirndls include an apron, and where the bow is tied is code for whether a girl is single or not. A knot on the left means that a girl is single, and possibly not averse to getting chatted up. A knot on the right means she is taken, so don’t even try, boy.
Do follow the honor code.
Yes, that’s right there is an honor code system when it comes to riding the trains in Munich, Germany. I was a bit shocked when I realized that I didn’t have to technically buy a pass for the subway. If I wanted to, I could have just jumped on the subway without paying. But the Germans don’t play around. Rather than forcing people to buy subway tickets, they presume everyone follows the honor code system and pays their fair share. Ha, if only we could have such a system in New York – that would never work! Do not try to be sly and cheat the system. Buy your ticket. First off, it’s the right thing to do. And second, if you do get caught by a random security agent who finds that you do not have a ticket to ride the train, the fines are horrendous and you will be ticketed a steep amount. Just do the right thing and get a ticket.
Wear comfy shoes.
Leave the loubs and strappy pumps at home. Little did I know that Oktoberfest is set-up as a gigantic endless carnival park. There is no nearby taxi or transportation drop-off, so no matter which way you enter the grounds, you will be walking. And when I say walking, you will be walking a lot. Comfy flats or fashionable sneakers are definitely the way to go for this event. Plus, once you get inside the tents, you will likely be standing for a bit (or dancing) so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
Stop to checkout the Gingerbread Cookies.
When I passed through the entrance gates of the festival, I immediately noticed mass amounts of ornately decorate gingerbread cookies. Stop and get one. These are the coolest souvenirs and gifts you can find at the big event. I snagged a few for my NYC friends with funny German phrases scripted in delicious frosting. Think you are going to pull a fast one and steal a beer mug as a souvenir? Think again! Apart from it being in bad taste, security at every exit is trained to search for liter sized bulges on your body, and will often fine you for theft. Last year, people tried to steal 112,000 of them — save yourself the trouble and buy a dainty gingerbread, or a collector’s mug at the souvenir shops.
Reserve a table with a Group.
There are up to 600,000 visitors a day to Oktoberfest, but only 120,000 seats so you need to plan way ahead. I really wish someone had told me this in advance, but the key to having a good time at Oktoberfest is planning ahead with a large group of people. If you have a confirmed number of attendants, you can reserve a table space inside one of the tents. Almost all the tables you will find inside the tents are completely packed and have been fully reserved months in advance. If you are traveling alone or as a couple, no worries, take my advice in the next point and you will be just fine.
Don’t be shy and make new friends.
If you do not have a table reserved or if you are not entering the event with a large group of people, chug a beer and get friendly with strangers. Yes, that’s right, mingle and make new friends who might offer you a spot at their table while they await people coming later in the day or evening. Oftentimes, reserved tables will have a few open spots and you can politely ask to join them. I think I was really lucky, but I ended up meeting a group of local Germans who were around my age (late 20s) and they could not have been nicer. They were fascinated that I was from “New York City” (they wanted to know if NYC is really like it seems on the TV Show, Sex and the City) and invited my husband and I to join along with their joyful celebrations. We spent an entire day with them drinking, eating and learning their songs/dances as the day (and drinking) progressed. Just be friendly and don’t be afraid to nicely bump into new people.
Try local favorites.
This is for my martini drinkers and cocktail snob friends, yes you, I’m talking to you. Even if beer isn’t your thing, now is the time to go out of your comfort zone and try a beer. You will have trouble finding wine or cocktails, as beer is the predominant option at the tents. Along with your beer, you must try a giant warm and soft pretzel drenched in mustard with a brat on the side. Delicious. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but trying the different brews at the various tents was quite the tasting experience. I highly recommend trying the local favorites by getting out of your comfort zone. When in Munich, y’all.
Know your Tents.
What do you mean know your tents, aren’t they all the same? NO! Each tent is completely different and draws a unique crowd, facilitating a unique party scene. The variety in tents is like the variety in nightlife spots in New York City – think of the difference between casual sports bars to late-night clubs and mellow hipster hookah lounges. Each tent at Oktoberfest is completely different, with the only thing they have in common being that they all serve beer and provide shelter by way of a tent.
For example, the Hofbräu Tent, which felt like the inside of a gigantic frat party, is so large that they sell over 550,000 liters of beer during Oktoberfest. To sum up my experience at the Hofbräu Tent, I saw a young punk wearing a Georgia Golf hat carrying out a vomiting teenage girl. Not my scene. What I also noticed, is that this tent did not have many Germans, as it was very international – mostly Americans, Aussies, and Brits down to party – and I mean party hard.
If you happen to be in Munich at the Closing Night, I highly recommend the Hacker Tent. The single best experience at Oktoberfest happens in the Hacker Tent at close of the last night. The entire crowd of 6900 light sparklers as the tent lights go dim to the sound of the song Sierra Madre. Most Oktoberfest tents end festival with the sparklers and some other tents also play Sierra Madre, but it is the most magical inside the heavenly Hacker Festzelt.
Are you a fan of Ox? Then you must head to the tent with the famous ox roast, the Oxen Tent, which also tends to have the most flexibility with getting last minute reservations, so this is a good back-up plan. So what was my favorite tent of all? Definitely the Augustiner Tent. Why? It was everything I imagined Oktoberfest to be – classic décor, lively environment of traditional German music and sing-along songs, and some of the best damn chicken I have ever tried in my life. This tent tends to be a favorite among locals, so tables are typically sold-out a year in advance. But like I said in tip #6, just make some new friends and mingle your way into a table, that’s the Ladyhattan way. Other great tent options include Kuffler’s Wine Tent, Schützen Tent, and although a bit exclusive because of it’s small “tavern size” try to get in early at Kaifer’s if you can.
Take pictures with a waterproof camera.
What the heck, it’s not like I’m at the beach? I know that’s what y’all are thinking, but trust me on this one. Oktoberfest is extremely crowded no matter what tent you squeeze yourself into. Like it or not, beer will get spilled on you. Bring an action camera or make sure your phone camera is carefully shielded with a proper case. The last thing you want is to have your fun day ruined with a beer spill on a valuable camera or phone.
Learn the Local Songs.
Tents feature live oompah bands, and every few minutes the whole tent, in unison, will sing “Ein Prosit,” then count to three, and yell “G’suffa!” before taking a communal sip. Learning this will make you feel a lot more local.
Helpful German Food Words
Brezn (Pretzels); Fisch (Fish); Hendl (Roast Chicken), Käse (Cheese); Rind (Beef); Ochsen (Ox meat); Lebkuchen (Gingerbread Heart Cookies); Radi (Radish); Würste (Sausage); Spätzle (Mac & Cheese); Gebrante Mandeln (Roasted Almonds); Rindertartar (Raw beef platter with radish).