What do you get when you mix barrels of beer with a travelling carnival? Oktoberfest of course! Get your calendar ready because for two weeks, Germany’s biggest Volksfest is back in Munich once more. From the 16th September to the 3rd October, this Bavarian capital reaches roaring heights with the help of an extra 6 million tourists. Prost!
Bottom’s Up! Your guide to Oktoberfest’s Big Six Beers
According to old custom, only beer from one of Munich’s big six breweries can be served at Oktoberfest (or, the Wiesn). These are served across the 14 major tents of Oktoberfest, in addition to a few cosier locations. Some of these spots have higher alcohol percentages than others — with Augustiner scoring the highest at 6.3% — but the difference is fractional.
No matter which tents you plan on visiting, you can trust that you are drinking the real deal. All of Wiesn beers are made under the strict guidelines of Reinheitsgebot: the Beer Purity Law which limits the ingredients in German beer to be nothing more than ‘barley, hops and water’. These guidelines also ensure that every beer is approximately around 6% alcohol.
The most famous beer from Munich has to be Märzen — made in the spring and aged over the summer. Its taste only becomes more intense over time, with rich notes of malt and a hop bitterness. Despite sounding heavy, Märzen is perhaps surprisingly light and clean.
But if you’re not a traditionalist, then you can try a Festbier instead: Oktoberfest’s contemporary drink of choice. There is not much difference between the two — other than Märzen being the stronger beer all-around.
You can also order a Radler: a 50:50 mix of beer with lemon-flavoured soda. Since this is only 2.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), this drink is a great alternative to a pure pint. Even at Oktoberfest, a break from the beer doesn’t hurt every once in a while.
Whatever you do, don’t chug. Since these beers are specially made for the occasion and are stronger than what you’d order at home, it is meant to be savoured. Downing your drink only makes you look like an amateur. Even if you want the attention, most beer tents implement a no chugging policy anyway. Don’t be that guy!
Drinking at Oktoberfest is a marathon, not a sprint
There is no denying that drunken debauchery is inevitable at Oktoberfest, with petty fights being a continual occurrence. People passing out from all the booze happens so frequently, that it has even been given a name: bierleichen (translating to ‘beer corpses’). Not to mention the charming Kotzhügel behind the Oktoberfest tents — more commonly referred to as ‘puke hill’.
This isn’t intended to put you off of taking part in Oktoberfest. But it’s naïve to assume that copious amounts of alcohol mixed together with 6 million tourists eager for a drink won’t lead to some trouble.
With that said, there are several measures in place to keep you safe at all times: from local police to staff security. There is also a Safe Space assistance service provided for women and girls specifically, which you can find more about here.
Come for the booze, stay for the food
Märzen may take centre-stage, but Oktoberfest food is the stellar supporting act. Wiesn is all about tradition — and its dishes are no exception either. It’s hearty, it’s heavy, and it’s very, very meaty. From bratwurst and wiener schnitzel, to half-chickens and unlimited beef dishes, every meal at Oktoberfest is a feast for self-described carnivores.
Oktoberfest is not exactly a haven for plant-based eaters — but it is worth noting that there has been a sharp rise in the number of vegetarian and vegan friendly dishes now being served. Replacement dishes like quinoa and soy steaks are now quite common, as are pasta dishes and vegetable soups.
Don’t be afraid to ask the waiter if a dish can be served without meat. Tradition aside, Germany is one of the world’s most vegetarian-friendly destinations.
If you like cheese, you’ve got to try and get a table at Feisingers Kas- und Weinstubn. Dining here is intimate and positively unusual. Maybe it has something to do with the gigantic cheese wheel suspended in the air, or maybe it’s the fluffy bread dipped into gooey raclette. Either way, this cosy tent is ideal for recharging your batteries. And if you’re more of a wine person anyway, no one’s judging…
Oktoberfest’s best activities
You might be surprised to know that there is more to Oktoberfest than drinking your weight in beer.
If you are somehow lucky enough to attend the first day of Wiesn, keep your eyes peeled for the opening day parade. Each tent offers its own procession which marches through town until they reach the Oktoberfest grounds.
Equally exciting is the Traditional Costume & Hunters’ Parade, which is a must for any fashionistas. This grand event celebrates the local community, with over 9000 people dressed up in tracht and riding larger-than-life floats.
Oktoberfest’s rides look a little daunting, most of all being Olympia Looping: the world’s largest portable rollercoaster. The Wellenflug is another dizzying staple — even if you need a little liquid courage to convince you. But the best views can be found atop of the Willemborg’s Ferris Wheel, which is widely recognised as a symbol for Wiesn’s wild carnival.
Planning your trip
Now that you know what to expect, the next question is: how can you make it happen? The good news is that it is easier than you think. The downside is that it requires you to plan well in advance.
Most of the year, Munich’s population sits at around 1.5 million. But when Wiesn rolls around, the city gains an extra 6 million people. As you can imagine, hotels and hostels fill up in lightning speed.
Sure, booking accommodation in the outskirts of Munich sounds like a smart idea. But the reality often means navigating public transportation written in a different language whilst inebriated. Ideally, you want to be within walking distance of Theresienwiese (central Munich). The more you plan on drinking, the closer you should stay.
(Find a full guide of Oktoberfest approved hotels here).
Our next suggestion for travellers is to avoid scam pitfalls you might find online. There is no entrance fee for Oktoberfest, and booking a table at a beer tent can only be done directly. You can find a full list of all the beer tents open to bookings here. Table reservations are encouraged, but not always necessary — as a spare table is sometimes available.
Last but not least, make sure to bring plenty of euros with you as Oktoberfest is a cash-only event. It would be a shame to come all this way and not be able to pay for the amenities!