It’s that time of year again. Oktoberfest is nearly here. Your friends on semester abroad and gap year are buzzing. They’re buying cut-rate dirndls and lederhosen. They’re trying to figure out why the hell everyone is says they should learn the lyrics to John Denver’s “Country Roads.” But most of all, they’re talking about beer.
The world’s most famous beer festival kicks off this weekend in Munich and runs for the next three weeks, ushering in October and fall. And even if you’re not one for drunken camaraderie, traditional costumery, and so much beer you could drown in it, this festival is epic. It’s a quintessential travel experience — basically the world’s largest fair, centered around beer and food.
Well over six million people will descend on Munich over the next three weeks. The main attraction is the 14 beer tents around the Theresienwiese — called just “Wiesn” by locals. Each of the tents holds anywhere from 1,000 to 8,000 beer revelers. Then there are 18 or so smaller tents focused on different foods and lesser-known beers, each of which hold anywhere from 100 to 500 people. You also have the fair rides, rollercoasters, and game kiosks. It can feel like absolute mayhem to the uninitiated (or non-German speaking).
To help you navigate the madness, we’ve compiled some hard and fast rules for getting in, getting drunk, and getting out safely.
RULE 1 — ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN
When there’s this much alcohol involved, you need to have a solid plan. First, you need to actually get to the Wiesn. Luckily, public transportation is on freaking point in Munich. You can take the UBahn directly to Theresienwiese station or any station near there and walk. (Word of warning, the trains will be packed as tents start to close.) Our advice, get a day ticket. It only costs €6.70 ($7.40) and you can get it at any station from easy-to-use ticket kiosks — which offer English and accept credit cards.
Next, figure out when to arrive. The grounds open at 9 am every morning. In reality, that’s going to be the easiest time to score a seat in the larger tents, if having a table for a group is your aim. Our advice is to arrive early and know where you want to go. The Oktoberfest app and website has a very handy “Barometer” that shows when the fest is slow and busy, broken down by hour and day.
Lastly, if you’re traveling with friends or family, know where you’ll meet up if you get separated. Basically, just make a plan in case everything goes to shit (batteries die, people get lost, the person meant to get brats vanishes into a “prost hole”). It’s super easy to get distracted and lost when you’re pounding one-liter mugs of beer before lunch and you don’t have an outlet handy.
RULE 2 — PICK A TENT AND STICK WITH IT
The biggest choice you have to make is where you’re going to post up and get your drink on. Oktoberfest law requires that the only beer served at the Wiesn is brewed within the city limits of Munich. That means each tent is based around one brewery’s beer. In this case, that means you’ll be drinking either Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbräu, or Hofbräu.
Each of the tents also has a food theme (generally). For instance, the Ochsenbraterei (ox roaster) is a Spatenbräu tent where they roast whole ox on a spit like a rotisserie chicken. The Augustiner-Festhalle serves Munich’s favorite beer from wooden casks (the rest are usually served from typical stainless steel kegs). You can also get Augustiner at the Fischer-Vroni tent which is renowned for serving Steckerlfisch. That’s a local freshwater white fish cooked whole over a flame.
Here’s the rub. Pick one tent per day. Tent hopping, while possible, is a pain in the ass. Arrive early, post up, party, move to the fairgrounds, have fun, go home. Rinse. Repeat at another tent the next day. You’ll likely have to stand in line to get into a tent, even in the morning hours. Those lines are only going to get longer as the day goes on. If you wait too long to show up to Oktoberfest, especially on a weekend, you might not even get in a tent that day (there’s still plenty of places to drink around the tents).
There’s no entrance fee or door policy but you can’t just walk into most tents. Security guards mind the entrances and exits to keep the flow of people in check and assure that no one really has to wait for a beer once inside. That’s why it’s often the best play to choose a tent a day and stick with it. That being said, if you’re around during a weekday (basically Monday through Thursday before lunch), you can tent hop before the early evening revelers arrive after work. But know this: The tents 100 percent fill up every evening.
Lastly, if you’re traveling in a larger group, try to make a reservation. Large groups tend to have a hard time getting into tents, especially as the Wiesn starts to fill up. Reservations are already fully booked for several tents for this year’s Oktoberfest, so if you’re a planner you need to move fast. You might also be expected to pre-order food and drinks (and pre-pay) for table reservations as well.
RULE 3 — BRING ENOUGH CASH TO DO THE DAY RIGHT
The tents run on cash or vouchers. The voucher system is a very local thing that’s not really worth parsing if you don’t speak German. So just bring cash. Do not expect to be able to pay with a credit card in the tents.
Pro Tip: Bring a specific amount of cash as well. Each Maß (one-liter beer mug) costs around €11.50 ($12.70). If you’re going to drink four, let’s say, then bring enough cash to pay for those four beers and meal plus tip. So figure for around €70 ($77) for a four beer session with €18 of that reserved for roast chicken or ox and pretzels.
You can bring a small bag in with you, but it will be searched. People often bring in small bags of peanuts and decks of cards. But you’re not bringing a picnic with you inside the tents. The beer gardens outside the tents are a bit more lackadaisical and you will see people busting out sandwiches from home.
Regardless, plan on another €30 for enjoying the festivities once you stumble out of a tent. So plan on about €100 ($110) in cash per day (at four beers per session). There are ATMs all over the place in case you need that elusive fifth or sixth Maß.
RULE 4 — TIP YOUR SERVER
Always. Tip. The. Servers.
But you don’t have to go crazy.
€11.50 should be rounded up to €12, €13 if you want to be generous. Germany very much works on the “round up” rule of tipping, so don’t think in percentages.
Same goes for food. Let’s say you’re in a tent and order some white sausages for €7.10. Paying €8 for that is perfectly acceptable. That being said, if you order a pork shank for €22.70, you’d round that up to €24. If the price is under the .50-cent mark, round up to the next unit. If it’s above the .50-cent mark, round up twice. And no one is going to be offended if you throw and extra euro on that tip.
RULE 5 — KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Look, folks, this is important. Know your limits of drinking. The beer is usually around five percent ABV. That being said, you’ll be drinking it from one-liter mugs that equal 33.8 ounces. That’s nearly three cans of 12-ounce beer per Maß. It’s good to look at two Maß as a six-pack of beer.
Also, know that if you get out of control, burly German security guards will 100 percent throw your ass to the curb and they won’t do it gently. Do not complain or threaten to call your embassy, just take your tossing and move on. The security staff wants you in there spending money. If you’re being booted, you probably deserved it.
RULE 6 — HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY
This all leads to one of the most important aspects of Oktoberfest, know when and how you’re gonna bounce. As the crowds fill in and pulse throughout the evening, it’ll be easy to get swept up in the fun. One reason to bring a set amount of cash is that when it’s spent, you know it’s time to skedaddle. Walk past the ATMs, find the UBahn station (or hit up an Uber), drink water (all the water), and get some rest. Chances are you’ll have more than one day at Oktoberfest, which means you don’t have to do everything the first day.
You can also head into Munich and enjoy the beer halls and beer gardens around the city. All of that is still fully functioning. Here’s a handy guide if you want to experience Munich’s beer culture outside of Oktoberfest.
In the end, it’s simple: be respectful, have fun, drink beer, tip, learn the chorus to “Country Roads” — and of course, PROST!