10 helpful hints for navigating Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest kicks off with its customary keg tapping and declaration of “O’zapft is!” by the mayor of Munich on Saturday, Sept. 17. The Bavarian festival celebrates all things beer through Monday, Oct. 3 and is expected draw more than 6 million visitors over the 17 days. If you’re averse to large crowds, or if it’s your first time attending, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. Here are some helpful hints to navigate Oktoberfest successfully.
1. Important details
Oktoberfest begins on Sept. 17 and ends on Oct. 3. This year, the fest was extended an extra day due a German bank holiday — which means an extra day of celebrating! Oktoberfest is located on Theresienwiese (Festwiese to locals), or “Wies’n” for short. It is located in the heart of Munich and is easily accessible via the S-bahn and U-bahn. Hours of the festival vary, so be sure to visit the official Oktoberfest website. Admission to Oktoberfest is free.
2. Sleeping arrangements
If you haven’t made your lodging reservations already, you are in luck! According to Booking.com at press time, only about half of the rooms near the Oktoberfest grounds are full. Many are located within walking distance or are near U-bahn stations. However, because it’s last minute, expect to pay an average of 150 to 200 euros per night. Booking.com, Airbnb and Hotels.com are good websites to visit for your lodging needs.
If you’re staying more than a couple of nights, you may want to check room availability at Edelweiss Lodge and Resort. Located in picturesque Garmisch-Partenkirchen, it’s only a 90-minute train ride to Munich. If you’re a little worn out from the hoppy festivities, relax at the spa or take a day trip to other locations in beautiful Bavaria.
3. Transportation options
If you already reside in Germany, your best option is to drive or take the train into Munich. To get to Oktoberfest, take the train or walk. Taxis aren’t a feasible option, as the streets become more and more jammed the closer you are to the festival. Likewise, parking is essentially non-existent — it’s best to leave the car at home or at the hotel.
4. Be prepared
In light of recent events in the city, law enforcement has amped up security. For the first time in festival history, Oktoberfest will be fenced off. Bags and large backpacks will not be allowed, so be sure to bring only what you truly need. Although the weather is forecasted to be almost perfect for an outdoor festival, autumn in Germany can bring some crazy weather patterns. Be sure to bring a light jacket and check the forecast before you leave.
5. Show me the money
It’s no secret that prices at Oktoberfest are exorbitant. When you add up the cost of beer (11 euros), food (average 20 euros) and public transportation (6 euros for a round-trip ticket), one visit can cost upwards of 50 euros. Make sure to bring cash, as credit cards may not be accepted in all locations. Bring extra if you’re planning to partake in rides or midway games.
6. Family friendly or not?
Oktoberfest often conjures up images of inebriated Lederhosen-wearing tourists standing on tables, singing at the top of their lungs. While this does happen, Oktoberfest is actually quite family friendly. If you choose to bring kids into the tents, a parent or guardian must be with them at all times. Children must leave the tents at 8 p.m. If they are outside of the tents, parents must still be present. Teens between 16 and 17 years of age can be served beer but no hard alcohol. Visitors 18 and older have no limitations. That being said …
7. Mind your manners
It’s easy to lose inhibitions and get caught up in the moment. However, it’s not a good excuse to act irresponsibly.
• Know your limits and stick to them. Be respectful of yourself and others. Beer tent proprietors will have no problem kicking you out.
• Don’t dance on the tabletops. Benches, yes. Tabletops, no. This is a good way to get kicked out.
• Be prompt. If you have a reservation, be on time. Otherwise, say auf wiedersehn to your spot.
• Unless you’ve bought a stein or glass at a souvenir stand (keep your receipt), do NOT take the tent glass home with you. This is technically theft. Staff will be checking bags, so do the right thing and leave it on the table.
• No smoking. Enclosed spaces, flames and cigarettes don’t mix. There are designated smoking areas outside the tents.
• Be nice to your servers. With more than 6 million attendees expected, they are going to be busy. An ounce of kindness will go a long way.
If you are going during the week, preferably during the day, you probably won’t have too much of an issue grabbing an unreserved bench. However, if you have a large party on a weekend night, you may very well be out of luck. Tables are often reserved months in advance. If you are in a big group, you may want to consider splitting up, designate a time, and meeting spot. Tents will often have a few unreserved places, but the early you go, the more likely you will get in. Be patient, ask politely and hope that karma is on your side.
9. Say what?
Because this is a world-renowned festival and a majority of visitors aren’t local, you will hear English often spoken. However, it can be helpful to know a few key German phrases, just in case.
Do you speak English?
Sprechen sie englische?
Where are the bathrooms?
Wo sind die Toiletten?
How much does this cost?
Was kostet das?
Excuse me, how do I get to the Oktoberfest (to the Festwiese)?
Entschuldigung, wie komme ich zum Oktoberfest (zur Festwiese)?
Excuse me, is there space for the (two, three, four, five) of us at your table?
Entschuldigung, hätten sie wohl Platz für uns (zwei, drei, vier, fünf)?
(One, two, three, four, five) beers, please!
(Ein, zwei, drei, vier, fünf) Bier, bitte!
We don't speak any German, could you please give us an English menu?
Wir sprechen kein Deutsch. Könnten Sie uns bitte englische Menükarten geben?
Most of all, bring extra patience with you. From traffic jams, hot and crowded subways, beefed-up security, long bathroom lines, and more than a few who can’t quite handle their liquor, Oktoberfest is the ultimate test in patience. Just remember that this too shall pass.
For some, Oktoberfest is the pinnacle of their European bucket list. With a little advance planning, it doesn’t have to be daunting. Don your favorite dirndl or lederhosen and join in the revelry! Prost!