An Insider's Guide to Oktoberfest
One of the most festive, spirited parties in the world is set to kick off this weekend for the 179th year of boozy Bavarian celebration at Munich's Oktoberfest. The mayor taps the first keg tomorrow (Saturday, September 22), signaling the start of weeks-long festival, which runs until October 7.
Millions of people head to Munich to partake in Oktoberfest, visiting the grounds, merrymaking in the tents that fit thousands, and imbibing liters of beer from heavy glass mugs and boots. Read on to find the best places to stay, drink, eat, and more. Prost!
Where to Drink
The tents at Oktoberfest are attractions unto themselves, as each differs in size, décor, and the crowds they attract. The best way to do Oktoberfest is to hop between tents, though weekend queues make it wise to pick a different one to visit each day of the festival. Entry is free to the grounds, tents, and to sit at tables; revelers just have to pay for what they consume.
The Hippodrom located near the entrance is often one of the most star-studded and serves champagne in addition to liters of beer. KÃ¤fers Wies'n-SchÃ¤nke is similar in both regards beer and celebrity sightings—and is one of the tents that stays open the latest, not dropping the curtain until 1 am.
The largest tent at the fare is HofbrÃ¤u-Festzelt, one of the most recognizable brands at Oktoberfest. It also is one of the most raucous, drawing hordes of young swillers and serving Hofbrua beer. The dreamy Hacker-Festzelt has a painted blue sky with puffy white clouds on the ceiling inside and also attracts a youthful crowd. Older fairgoers often fill the nautically-themed Fischer-Vroni tent, also detailed in the "Where to Eat" section.
Families are welcome at Oktoberfest. More than a few Bavarians bring along their young ones outfitted in Trachten (traditional Bavarian wear) and carnival rides and child-friendly entertainment at booths are scattered throughout the grounds, discounted on Tuesdays, which are festival family days. Children as young as 16 are legally served in the tents, too, and many families fill the Agustiner tent, which is that of the city's oldest brewery.
Insider Tip: Schottenhamel is where Munich's mayor taps the first barrel on opening day, kicking off Oktoberfest. Its demographic skews young throughout the festival, especially popular for locals. Reservations are not necessary for small groups. Seats are hard to come by on weekends, but people in the rowdier tents end up standing on the benches most of the time or congregating in a general area. Reservations for larger groups are tricky, as tents book them individually and do so starting as early as February. For those at high-end hotels in the area, ask your concierge to set up a reservation.
Where to Eat
Many of Munich's top vendors set up shop on the fairgrounds, so attendees do not have to wander far to grab a succulent wurst (sausage) or even a full meal. The food offerings are convenient and necessary, as outside fare is not allowed inside the grounds. The SchÃ¼tzen-Festzelt tent is a favorite among Münchners, where the special dish is a roast suckling pig, sauced up with—no surprise here—beer. The Ochsenbraterei tent has a tradition dating back more than 130 years of roasting a full ox on a spit, and plating it with sides like vegetables and potatoes. Fischer-Vroni has a similar tasty schtick in the form of Steckerlfisch speared and cooking on a meters-long stake. For a snack, be sure to grab a fluffy hot pretzel that requires two hands to eat.
Insider Tip: The weekends might make for the biggest parties, but hit the fairgrounds during the week, as well, for a calmer Oktoberfest experience and to try the special weekday lunchtime food menus many of the tents offer. Enjoy it in prime seating, too, and without having to battle the long weekend lines.
What to Wear
Oktoberfest brings out attendees in all sorts of outfits. Comfort and versatility, like layering, are key at Oktoberfest, as most people arrive early in the day and stay for hours on end drinking, socializing and hopping from tent-to-tent.
Many locals and visitors of all ages choose to suit up in Trachten, traditional garb for the fest, with men sporting the suspendered the leather trouser lederhosen and woman the traditional Bavarian Dirndl. For visitors, picking up the customary outfit doubles as a unique memento, perhaps one to break out later that year for Halloween parties. Pick up something online ahead of time, or try Lederhosen Wagner or Loden-Frey on-site.
Insider Tip: For ladies, be mindful of where you tie your Dirndl bow. It is an antiquated practice to take the Dirndl tie placement seriously, but the implications are fairly well-known. As it goes, when the bow is tied on the front left the woman is single, while committed women tie it on the right. Though indicating such a status in this day and age seems a bit odd, the bow in front means the woman is virgin. Waitresses, who are busy keeping fairgoers hydrated, and widows tie in the back.
Where to Stay
Oktoberfest is one of the busiest times of year in Munich, so booking in advance is highly advised. To stay close to the Oktoberfest action, book a room near Munich's central train station Mariensquare, the old town center. Bayerischer Hof contains a Michelin-starred restaurant and is a Fodor's Choice property, and the Louis Hotel is another nearby Fodor's Choice hotel. Rates jump during the time of Oktoberfest, but the eye-catching, comfortable Motel One MÃ¼nchen Sendlinger Tor is a more economical option.
For last-minute travel plans expect to bunk up further from the grounds, though hotels in the surrounding Munich area, like the suburban Jagdschloss that has its own beer garden, also are prepared and expecting to accommodate Oktoberfest visitors and have public transit options mapped out for guests.
Insider Tip: Public transit is the fastest way to get around Munich during Oktoberfest. Though the city crowds and car traffic amplifies, the suburban train S-Bahn and underground U-Bahn remain tolerable.
Remember Your Trip
Take a break from belting out the big brass renditions of folklore and pop songs between swigs of beer to drop a postcard in one of the mailboxes on the grounds, constructed just for Oktoberfest. All postage mailed from the grounds receives a special German stamp.
For more information visit the official Oktoberfest site.
Photo Credits: Oktoberfest: Brezen by Nikki Attribution License; Where to Stay: Courtesy of LOUIS HOTEL; Where to Drink: Courtesy of Hacker-Festzelt ; Where to Eat: Courtesy of Fischer-Vroni ; What to Wear: untitlted by akante1776 Attribution-ShareAlike License
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