At 12 noon, a booming twelve gun salute sounds and Munich’s mayor cries, ‘Ozapft is!’ (‘It’s tapped!’) as he taps the first keg of beer and hands it to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria – Oktoberfest has begun. Over two weeks of lederhosen-wearing men, barmaids trussed up in dirndls enthusiastically serving up frothy steins of Bavarian beer, traditional German food and oom-pah bands all from the atmospheric confines of a hop-scented beer tent.
The 16-day festival is the world’s largest fair and attracts around 6 million people per year. Known by locals as ‘die Wiesn’, the festival was first held in Munich in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Since then, the beer guzzling extravaganza has grown in popularity all over the world.
Millions of litres of beer are chugged down during the festival, which runs from late September until early October, and only beer which conforms to the strict Oktoberfest standards, and is brewed within the city limits of Munich, may be served; these beers are known as Oktoberfest Beer. Lots of eager revellers attempt to publically chug down a whole litre in one go – many fail miserably but the spectacle is fun.
With 34 different beer tents, it can be hard to know where to start – first of all, if you want a guaranteed space, book a table. All the tents are free to enter and each has their own distinct personality – Hacker is one of the largest, with almost 10,000 seats, and its ceiling is painted with blue sky and clouds; a rock band revs up the party in the evenings. Or if beer really isn’t your thing and you’d prefer a nice cold Pinot Grigio, head to Weinzelt – the wine tent. If it hits 10.30pm and you’re still not ready to retire to your hostel, the Kafer tent is the place to be: a gourmet food serving, celebrity spangled tent where the party doesn’t end until 1am – but head over early to avoid being turned away when the tent reaches capacity.
Soak up all that beer with some traditional Bavarian food – it can be pricey eating inside the tents so wander outside to the fairgrounds and snack on succulent Sauerkraut, Würstl and Knödel. If you want to eat inside the tents, you can dine on seafood and Thai cuisine in the Weinzelt tent, feast on part of a whole ox that has been roasted on a spit in the Schützen Festzelt tent, or scoff scrummy pastries and cakes along with a coffee in Bodo’s Café Tent.
Make sure you catch a parade while you’re there too. The event begins with the Brewer’s Parade where the brewers and around 1,000 Oktoberfest workers are paraded through the streets by horse drawn cart, on floats or on foot; the spectacle climaxes with the opening ceremony in the Schottenhamel tent. Then there’s the Costume and Riflemen Parade, where 8,000 colourful marchers, as well as horse-drawn carriages, floats, dancers, cows, oxen and goats showcase the best of Bavarian culture and tradition.
Facts to remember:
- You can only pay by cash and beer tokens at the event
- You must be seated to get served
- Tuesday is family day with reduced prices for fairground rides and sideshows
Take a look at our Munich hostels to plan your Oktoberfest accommodation.