Oktoberfest isn’t all beer and bratwurst. The largest folk festival in the world, Oktoberfest draws six million visitors to the German city of Munich each Fall — and for good reason. A rich celebration of Bavarian traditions, community, and camaraderie, Oktoberfest dazzles with everything from fairground rides and folksy festivities to parades and theatrical extravaganzas.
Of course, the mind-boggling array of local craft brews is still its biggest draw. With around 40 beer tents — ranging from cavernous to pint-sized — Oktoberfest is where you can sip your Hefeweizen and Helles amid a joyous carnival-like atmosphere.
So don your dirndl or let loose your lederhosen, and raise your stein with a hearty ‘prost!’ for Germany’s biggest party.
A Rather Royal Wedding Celebration
When Crown Prince Ludwig was set to wed Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen back in October 1810, he wanted the entire city of Munich to join in the celebrations. To mark the occasion, a large feast with horse racing was held on the Theresienwiese grounds. It proved such a hit with locals that it turned into an annual fiesta, and Oktoberfest was born.
Over the centuries, Oktoberfest has evolved with the addition of an agricultural fair, beer tents, street food stalls, performers, and rollicking rides. To this day it continues to be reborn and in its 200-year-plus history, Oktoberfest has only been canceled due to war, cholera epidemics, and COVID-19.
The 188th Oktoberfest descends onto Munich this Fall. But what to expect at ‘Wiesn’ (as it’s affectionately dubbed by locals)? Starting with a bang on September 16th, Oktoberfest’s opening parade will see a procession of landlords, marching bands, horse carriages, and flag bearers in traditional costumes making their way from Josephspitalstraße to the Theresienwiese.
When the clock strikes noon, the Lord Mayor of Munich taps the first keg inside the Schottenhamel tent and shouts, ‘O’Zapft is!’ (It is tapped!) and only when this happens can the first Oktoberfest beer be served. And so, starts over a fortnight’s worth of fun.
Oktoberfest adheres to strict rules. Every beer must be brewed within Munich’s city limits and only six breweries serve: Paulaner, Augustiner, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Hacker-Pschorr, and Spaten. Giant tents evoke vast bierkeller halls, and the energy and atmosphere are pure Bavaria; long communal benches invite conversation and communal spirit, flags and elaborate floral arrangements bring vibrant cheer, while oompah bands parp and steins clink in the background.
Each of the Big Six breweries has its own tent (some accommodating up to 8,000), but making your way around all of them will be near-impossible — so don’t even attempt it. Instead, pick a handful that serves a brew type that whets your palate, be it a medium-bodied Märzen or a rich, malty Dunkel.
Although each tent has its own unique vibe, whichever one you find yourself in, one thing will be certain: ‘gemütlichkeit’ (good cheer!) in spades. Don’t be afraid to join in on the traditional toasts and engage in friendly conversations with locals and fellow festival-goers alike.
Yes, it’s a beer festival, but if brews aren’t your bag, make a beeline for the Weinzelt wine tent. Here you’ll find wine, prosecco, and champagne — and, best of all, the Weinzelt is open until 1 a.m.
Luckily, local Bavarian delicacies are far more than just stomach-liners. Oktoberfest is a gastronome’s dream, and the warm smell of grilled chicken permeates the air. Although you can grab bratwurst-in-a-bun in nearly all the major beer tents, the smaller tents along the Wirtsbudenstraße are the main foodie hotspots.
Savor gourmet veal dishes in a rustic Alpine ambiance in the Kalbsbraterei, a pine wood parlor. Lunch on roast chicken, goose, and duck at the Goldener Hahn mountain lodge. Fancy fish? Fisch-Bäda serves over 20 different types of fish sandwiches. Or, for something a little more sophisticated, pair fresh oysters with a glass of champagne.
Wiesn has tasty grab-and-go nibbles by the bucketload along its avenue of wooden booths. Here, you’ll be tempted by sweet apfelkücherl (fried apple rings), Bavarian cheese, giant pretzels, and lebkuchen gingerbread hearts.
Fear not, vegans and vegetarians, Oktoberfest isn’t just for carnivores. Tasty, meat-free options like Allgäu cheesy spaetzle noodles, vegetable-potato patties, and organic sauerkraut strudel are served to satisfy.
“An Oktoberfest without the Schichtl is unthinkable,” Munich’s former mayor once said. “It is as essential as the beer, the radish, and the chicken.” Since 1869, Oktoberfest’s Schichtl theater stage has showcased weird and wonderful performances. Don’t miss the rather curious tradition of ‘daily decapitations’ by guillotine. Aside from the bizarre beheadings, you’ll be able to catch cabaret and other fun performances at the Schichtl.
For a taste of the Oktoberfests of yore, venture to the Oidn Wiesn. This nostalgia-tinged zone presents historic rides and vintage attractions like the Kettenflieger Kalb carousel from 1919. Immerse yourself in the festival’s past at the Zuseumszelt museum tent, which showcases historical organs and shooting galleries.
Believe it or not, Oktoberfest is remarkably well geared up for children and Tuesdays are family days with reduced ride prices. Kids will love the adrenaline-fueled fun of fairground rides, from the world’s largest transportable roller-coaster, Olympia Looping, to traditional carousels. Get an epic, birds-eye-view of the festival from the 50m high ferris wheel. The dedicated Familienplatzl is a child-friendly area where parents can chill (with a brew still, obviously) away from the main festival madness. Kindergarten with a beer on tap? What’s not to love!
Looking the part at Oktoberfest isn’t just customary, it’s pretty much essential. Deeply rooted in Bavarian culture, dirndls and lederhosen are iconic symbols of Wiesn. For women, it’s all about the dirndl. Consisting of a bodice, blouse, and full skirt, the dirndl is adorned with intricate embroidery, lace, and colorful patterns. The length of the dirndl can vary, ranging from flirty, above-the-knee styles to ankle-length. Aprons not only complete the look but are super-handy for mopping up any beer spills.
For men, it’s time to flash those legs in lederhosen. Traditional leather shorts complete with buttons and suspenders, most men pair lederhosen with a checkered shirt and knee-length socks. When you want to look Wiesn-ready, the official Oktoberfest website has a costume boutique to purchase your full festival attire.
Where To Stay
Luxurious indulgence and opulent stays await those seeking the ultimate Oktoberfest experience in Munich. This cosmopolitan city boasts historic hotels with timeless charm and chic, contemporary accommodations with top-notch amenities. Unwind after a long day on the Theresienwiese at one of these stylish hotels.
As one would expect from the exquisite Rocco Forte portfolio, The Charles Hotel is one of Munich’s sleekest retreats. An easy 15-minute amble to the Theresienwiese, The Charles offers large, modern rooms with striking artwork. Its Italian restaurant, Sophia, is beloved by in-the-know locals, and there’s a spa, too, for when you want some relaxing Oktoberfest respite.
On the cusp of Munich’s pretty Old Town and backing onto the famous Hofbräuhaus beer cellar, the Mandarin Oriental Munich has a glamorous yet boutique vibe. Marrying Neo-Biedermeier style with Asian design elements, it’s endlessly chic. Chill out at the stunning Mahjong Roof Garden which overlooks the entire city.
Oozing heritage German splendor, Bayerischer Hof is Munich’s grand dame hotel. A hop and skip from the city center, Marienplatz, Bayerischer Hof combines classical furnishings with modern touches. Its Blue Spa has a giant pool high above the Munich skyline and there’s even an in-house nightclub, cinema, and piano bar for post-Oktoberfest entertainment.
Within staggering distance of Oktoberfest, the five-star Sofitel Munich Bayerpost occupies a smart, neoclassical building, once the Royal Post Office. Inside, it has a clean, thoroughly contemporary feel, with cool leather and brass finishes. Choose from multiple room and suite tiers and dine on modern French cuisine at its DÉLICE La Brasserie restaurant.
Oktoberfest Cheat Sheet
- Oktoberfest 2023 runs from Saturday September 16th - Tuesday October 3rd at the Theresienwiese, Munich.
- Monday through Friday, the tents open at 10 a.m. and close at 11:30 p.m.
- On Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays, beer is served at 9 a.m., and the last beer tapping is at 11:30 p.m.
- Centrally located, the Theresienwiese is accessible by metro, taxi, or by foot.
- Oktoberfest has free entry, but it is possible — and advisable — to reserve tables for small and large groups in advance to guarantee seating.
- Steins can only be raised after Oktoberfest is officially started with a gun salute and the mayor declaring, “O’ zapft is!” (“It’s tapped!”)
- Almost all tents serve beer in 1-liter steins.
- Beer is brewed especially for Oktoberfest and is strong with at least 6% alcohol… so sip slowly!
- Approximately 7.5 million liters of beer are imbibed each year at Oktoberfest.
- Oktoberfest steins were traditionally made of stone, then metal, but now they’re mostly made of glass.
- Pre-plan and book your table reservations, flights, and accommodation early.
- Even though it’s 2023, most tents prefer cash rather than cards, so come with a full wallet.