How to Oktoberfest Like You Know What You’re Doing: A First Timer’s Guide

THIS OKTOBERFEST TRAVEL GUIDE COVERS:

  • History of Oktoberfest

  • Where to Stay 

  • Transportation 

  • Opening Day Ceremonies 

  • Best Oktoberfest Tents 

  • Oktoberfest Attire for Men and Women

  • Etiquette & Tips 

Oh Oktoberfest, where do I even begin. Before we get into our first timer’s guide to Oktoberfest, let’s begin with the easy stuff – the part where it all began.

P.S.: Please excuse the incredibly poor quality of these photos, I wouldn’t dare bring a proper camera to this shin dig with my history of cracking every nice thing I own.

Alex + 4 steins + iPhone = the following blurry photos.

History of Oktoberfest

So how did the largest beer festival in the world, bringing over 6 million people to Munich annually, get it’s start? Let’s take it back to the year 1810.

Bavaria’s Crown Prince, soon to be King Ludwig I, was due to marry Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Munich’s citizens were invited to celebrate in a grand royal ceremony topped off with horse races, music and dancing.

Held on the expansive meadow in front of the city gates on October 17th, the first Oktoberfest gathering commenced. To later honor the new Queen, the meadows where Oktoberfest is still held today was thereafter named Theresienwiese. Today, locals simply call it “Wies’n.”

To celebrate the anniversary of the couple, another public gathering was held at Theresienwiese the following year. The festivities continued year after year and by 1896, beer stands were replaced by tents, horse races were replaced by fairgrounds and the Oktoberfest we know today began to take shape.

Let’s Begin:
First Timer’s Guide to Oktoberfest
Fast forward to the year 2016 where my Oktoberfest story began. I was in the midst of a 3 month solo Europe backpacking trip when I realized I booked Oktoberfest accommodations for the wrong weekend.

TIP #1: The dates for Oktoberfest change every year.

Don’t be like me, make sure you’re looking at the current years dates. And no, Oktoberfest does not start in October. To make the festivities more comfortable for attendees, the gathering was moved to September’s milder temperatures.

TIP #2: Where to Stay for Oktoberfest

Thanks to some travel friends I had met in Prague a couple weeks prior who took me under their wing (and their Airbnb), my Oktoberfest extravaganza was saved.

Note, prices for accommodations skyrocket during Oktoberfest. The hostel dorm that normally costs €20, now it’s up to €80. The key here is to book as early as possible. If you’re going with a group, your best bet is an Airbnb.

On the opening day of Oktoberfest, I checked out of the hostel and hopped on the metro to meet my friends at their Airbnb before heading off to the fairgrounds. While everyone else on the train clad in traditional Bavarian outfits got off on the stop closest to Oktoberfest, I thought I could take the train to the very next stop where their Airbnb was. Oh, was I wrong.

The folks responsible for saving Oktoberfest after my date mixup ↓

TIP #3: The Metro Runs Differently on Opening Day

It was 7 in the morning, coffee consumption was to a minimum, when all of a sudden the train came to a complete stop. In between literal cement. Best part? The only soul around was a drunk German man who didn’t speak a lick of English. I attempted to communicate with him asking why the train stopped. All he could say was, “Train” and “Stop.” Helpful dude, helpful.

I thought, this is fine. Everything is fine. The train had to start back up again… right?

10 minutes in, nothing.
15 minutes in, drunk German man starts singing. Still no train movement.
20 minutes in, frantically turning my phone on and off to get some sort of signal.
35 minutes in, and I see the conductor walking through the train. Hallelujah!

Ignorantly I believed, oh good! Maybe the conductor can let me know what the hell is going on, I bet he speaks English. L.O.L.

TIP #4: Don’t Piss Off the Grouchy German Train Conductor

Instead, the conductor rushed into our cabin and began yelling in German (a lethal combo), while I sat there like the dumb tourist I was. As hard as I tried to maintain my composure, the stress tears unleashed from their holding pin in a giant, muddled swoosh down my cheeks.

So there I was, dressed in my Oktoberfest garb, sitting on a train between cement while the last text my friends received from me was, “I don’t know what’s happening, the train stopped. All I see is cement and the only person here is a drunk German man who doesn’t speak English.” Settling.

I’ve never been so relieved in my life until I heard that train start its engine about 45 minutes later. That is until it pulled into a completely empty train station save for the 3 German police officers waiting for me. I should mention now, I forgot to buy a train a ticket.

I thought I was done for it. I broke the rules in Germany. They’re going to lock me up in an Oktoberfest prison.

I quickly wiped away any remaining tears and braced myself for the worst. Leading the pack was a very stout, blonde lady cop, “Wohin willst du gehen?”

Word vomit spewed from my mouth, “I’m so sorry I only speak English. Do you speak English? I thought this train was going to the next stop, I’m trying to meet my friends at their Airbnb and I don’t know what to do, the conductor yelled at me, I’m so sorry, please take pity on this dumb American. Help. S.O.S.” So much for maintaining any semblance of composure.¯\\_(ツ)_/¯

TIP #5: German Cops Are Friends, Not Foe’s

This is when the lady cop explained in perfect English that the trains run on different schedules for the opening ceremony of Oktoberfest. Then detailed which way I needed to go and stood with me at the metro station to ensure I got on the correct train. I wish I could have sent that policewoman a giant fruit basket. Or a keg of beer.

THE DAY IT ALL BEGINS: OKTOBERFEST OPENING DAY &
CEREMONIES

Once you’ve tackled your route to Oktoberfest, and hopefully done a tad more gracefully than myself, you’ll be in for a treat. Although opening ceremony is much like the other days of Oktoberfest, you’ll want to be armed with some additional information:
  • While most will say to be inside a tent by 8am, we arrived around 9:30am and were able to find room at a table. Mind you though, there were only 3 of us and we grabbed some of the last open spaces in the entire tent.
  • You’ll be waiting around for a long time before that first sip of beer. Alcohol cannot be served until the mayor taps the first keg at noon.
  • But this doesn’t mean you can just sit at a table and chill. If you’re sitting down at a table you must order something per Oktoberfest etiquette.
  • Order a traditional opening ceremony drink before noon, a mixture of a Coke like soda with a hint of lemon juice. It’s to “prevent a hangover.”
  • Or if you’re hungry, which you should be after waking up absurdly early, order some food off the menu to give your belly a good foundation before the drinking commences.
  • However, be forewarned, if you order the white sausage please know how to eat it properly. 
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7 Comments

  1. Love this post!! We were just there for the second time (but first time with kids!) and your advice is spot on. Especially on the clothes — we didn’t get the first time around, but LOVED dressing up this time. Especially the kiddos, haha. Anyway, nice work!

    Reply
    • If I had this much fun dressing up for Oktoberfest as an adult, I couldn’t imagine how much of a blast it would be as a kid. Especially with all the fair rides and games, it’s really such a fun gathering for all ages.

      Reply
  2. Wait what… definitely didn’t know they don’t start in October LOL! And holy crap so many rules to be aware of too!! I’ve been dying to do this and thank goodness I’ve read your guide before embarrassing myself hahhaa. PS you looked great in the dirndl. Guess it was worth it not being able to breathe 😉

    Reply
    • Haha it was totally worth not being able to breathe! But seriously though, I had nooo idea there was so much learn about Oktoberfest. If we didn’t sit at that first table with a bunch of locals we would have been totally clueless and most likely would have pissed off the beer maiden by accident at some point.

      Reply
  3. Love it. You got everything so spot on. The chicken was the bomb.com and the side of potatoes were amazing. I don’t know if I missed it but pretzels and those ginger cookies are a huge hit and soaked up all that beer. We reserved a table and it was the best decision. This made me want to go back!!

    Reply
    • Dude! Y’alls trip looked incredible! I loved seeing all your photos and made me extra jelly and missing my trip through Europe last year. I was actually in Europe for a week while you guys where there, too bad we weren’t in the same areas though. My biggest Oktoberfest regret was not trying more of the food. Had beer too much on the mind lolol

      Reply
  4. Love this! We have gone twice and love it! Love your stories about your time there!!

    Reply

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