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

A First Timer’s Guide to Oktoberfest & Opening Ceremony

Oh Oktoberfest, where do I even begin. Before we get into our first timer’s guide to Oktoberfest, let’s start with something easy. Like where it all began… 

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

History of Oktoberfest 

So how did the largest beer festival in the world, bringing over 6 million annually to Munich, get started? 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 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

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

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.

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 I was on to my friends Airbnb 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. 

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 when that train engine started almost 40 minutes later. That is, until it pulled into a completely empty train station save for the 3 German police officers waiting for me at the open doors 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 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 explained in detail the new route and went so far as walking with me to the correct train. I wish I could have sent that policewoman a giant fruit basket. Or maybe a keg of beer.

The Day It 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 should keep a few key pieces of info in mind: 

 

  • 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 said it helps to “prevent hangovers.”
  • 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. Hint: Peel the skin off first with your fork.

GUIDE TO THE BEST OKTOBERFEST TENTS 

We planned on making it to more than two tents during our weekend at Oktoberfest. But the funny thing is, nothing really goes to plan at Oktoberfest. Once the steins keep coming, just buckle your seat belts and enjoy the ride folks. 

Every tent at Oktoberfest has its own vibe. We didn’t know it then, but the two tents we ended up spending our entire time at turned out to be two of the most popular ones, although vastly different in every way.

DAY 1: OPENING CEREMONY @ THE AUGUSTINER TENT

Beer available: Augustiner-Festhalle & Fischer-Vroni

It was raining, it was cold and there was not enough coffee consumed that morning. So after doing a couple loops around the fairgrounds trying to scout out a tent, we finally said f- it and randomly chose Augustiner.

Finally the Oktoberfest gods were on my side because this couldn’t have been a more perfect tent for our very first day of Oktoberfest. By the time we got in at around 9:30am, it was packed. We circled around, zig-zagged through reserved tables before finally seeing some open seats at a table of kids who looked our age. 

As a rule of thumb, always ask the people already sitting down if those seats are taken. And hope that they speak English. Thankfully the group said to go ahead, take a seat. We were in!

Turns out Augustiner is one of the more local oriented tents, as evident by the group we sat next to and the older crowd surrounding us who were mostly all Bavarian natives. As the day progressed and more beer was consumed, the group at our table took our American selves in and adopted us as one of their own for the day. They even bought me the little photo keepsake below!

Augustiner is one of the few tents where beer still gets tapped from traditional wood kegs. Even furthering the tradition, Augustiner is from Munich’s oldest brewery founded by Augustinian monks back in the year 1328. These monks were brewing beer before the thought of my entire country even existed!

DAY 2: GETTING ROWDY @ THE HOFBRäU HAUS TENT 

Beer available: Hofbräu Festzelt

I went to a university notorious for its party scene (Go Noles!). Whether you wanted to or not, you left with an uncanny skill to handle alcohol better than the general population.

Because of this, thought I had seen everything during my college days. But then I went to Hofbräu Haus. 

Hofbräu Haus is big, like I’m talking almost 10,000 attendees big. It’s a traditional tent with the same reserved seating found at every tent, but Hofbräu Haus has an additional standing-room-only section. Since we didn’t get to the festivities till later in the day, we edged our way to this area.

It took us about 10 minutes of standing there to realize what we’d gotten ourselves into. While 15% of the Oktoberfest attendees are international visitors, you’ll find the majority of them at Hofbräu Haus. Especially Aussies and Kiwi’s. If I’ve learned anything about Australians during my time abroad, is that they know how to party. 

Here is just a glimpse of what we witnessed at Hofbräu Haus:

Example A: Girl macking on a Kiwi dude at our table, proceeded to vom all under the table. Turned around and continued tongue dancing with Kiwi dude.

Example B: Found out Kiwi dude was on his honeymoon… his wife was back at their hotel.

Example C: Poor beer maiden lays sawdust over girls throw up. This just so happens to a very, very common occurrence. (P.S. Adidas makes shoes just for Oktoberfest that are, wait for it… vom resistant)

Example D: Then, all of a sudden, they pull out white vials of powder and just start snorting it right then and there!

In complete bewilderment, I frantically start looking to see if there’s any security watching. Only to spot people over there, and wait over there too! Everywhere people are snorting this stuff! Turns, this sketchy white powder is actually just mint. Yes, snorting mint is apparently a thing.

If you’re wondering, no it is not fun. 10/10 do not recommend.

To get an idea of the other tents, check out this guide by Business Insider. But also, why is Business Insider is writing about Oktoberfest? Lol. 

OKTOBERFEST ATTIRE FOR WOMEN

Before heading off for the opening day of Oktoberfest I had already decided against getting a dirndl, the traditional Bavarian dress for women. I was backpacking Europe and did not need another article of clothing in my already bulging pack. 

But I still wanted to dress up a bit for the occasion so I purchased a black top similar to the white bodices under dirndls, accessorized with knee high stockings, hair in two braids and bought a plaid fabric choker necklace. And let me tell you, I felt damn out of place. Especially at Augustiner were I’d say 85% of the people were dressed in dirndls and lederhosen. 

So the next day, after a couple lunch beers (starting to see a theme here?)  we stopped by a costume store for my friends to look at lederhosen, the traditional Oktoberfest suspender shorts for dudes. While they were trying on lederhosen, I figured eh, why not try a dirndl on for giggles. Well that was a mistake.

As soon as the dirndl was laced up, I was smitten. I felt like a true Bavarian, my ancestors would be proud. Then a lady who worked at the store popped out of nowhere and exclaimed in a heavy German accent, “Oh no no no! You need smaller!” and selected a size twice smaller than the one I had grabbed.

Apparently it’s not enough for the bodice to be tight around the tata’s. But the right dirndl is one you can barely breath in and allows your lady assets to almost burst out. Push-up bra not needed. With an easy to digest €65 price tag, I was sold.

I should also note for all the ladies out there, the position of the apron bow is dictates your marital status.  

 

  • Left Side – Single and ready to mingle! 
  • Right Side – You can look but you can’t touch, this lady is taken!
  • Middle – This is for younger women and children, representing piety.
  • In Back – Sadly, this means the woman is a widow.

OKTOBERFEST ATTIRE FOR MEN 

Usually handmade from leather, tradition says a man must never wash or clean their lederhosen. After first hand seeing what happens at Oktoberfest, ew. 

If you don’t feel like hashing out the significant mula for these leather trousers, opt for a plaid shirt and you’ll still blend in very well with the crowd. If you’re feeling extra fancy, pair it with an alpine hat and knee-high socks.

Some locals are all about tourists dressing up in their traditional garments for the celebration. Then there are others, typically those who are actually from the Bavarian region, who openly despise those who trespass on their traditions. Moral is, wear whatever the heck you want to get in the holiday spirit. 

HOW NOT TO PISS OFF YOUR BEER MAIDEN 

Probably the biggest tip of all is to NOT PISS OFF YOUR BEER MAIDEN. She’s like the director behind the scenes of your Oktoberfest journey. Treat her kindly and do not wave money in her face. They are your link to the beer, the food, the everything that Oktoberfest is. They also train for months to carry massive amounts of beer in steins on their… boobs. You don’t want to mess that.

  • Do not yell for the beer maiden. She has a carefully crafted serving route. You may have to wait awhile, but she will come to your table.
  • Especially do not grab your waitress. Ever.
  • Tip well, tip often. Don’t tip well and that carefully crafted serving route may change and your table is bumped to the end.
  • Know what you want to order before she gets to your table.
ADDITIONAL OKTOBERFEST TIPS & ETIQUETTE 
  • Golden Hour is from 7:30 – 10:00 pm, this is where everyone is feeling real good after guzzling down steins down. It tends to go downhill after the clock strikes 10pm.
  • Besides opening day, get to a tent about an hour before you want start drinking to find a seat.
  • That said, the beer maiden will not serve you unless you have a seat at a table or room at a standing table.
  • However, that doesn’t mean sit anywhere you’d like. Do not sit at a reserved table unless invited. Typically the reserved tables are positioned on the outskirts of the tent.
  • Prost! = Cheers! And do so while toasting with the bottom of the stein, not the top. 
  • Hold a stein with one hand, and one hand only. Slide your hand through the handle with your thumb on top. I left Oktoberfest with an actual bruise on my hand from holding the heavy glass.
  • Don’t chug your beer, you’ll get kicked out.
  • Especially don’t act a fool and chug your stein while standing on the table. This a double no no.
  • Although DO feel free to stand on the benches. This is especially encouraged during songs and chants.
  • Tradition says for a guy to leave a finger width of beer at the bottom of the stein. For girls its two fingers.
  • If anyone is wondering, my personal stein limit is 4. 
  • Cash only! Come prepared. Tip: Your dirndl probably as pockets, bless!
  • Be prepared to spend some major mula, especially if you’re going for opening ceremony. Etiquette says that while taking space at table, you must be drinking or ordering something.
  • A stein of beer will you cost you around €12-13, including tip.
  • Food ranges anywhere between €10-18. And trust me, you want to tip. The goal here is to make your beer maiden like you.

MORE THAN JUST BEER

Yes, you can buy other drinks than beer here. Word is you can find wine and cocktails in the little stands outside the tents. Although to be honest, I never saw them so may have to go on a bit of scavenger hunt to find them. 

I was also told we rode bumper cars after Hofbräu Haus. Had to verify that with my friend before adding that here though. Oktoberfest does things to you

There’s also incredible food here, something you’d never expect from a beer festooned fairground. Although I sadly never got the chance, word also says that the chicken is the bomb.com. Order it and let me know how much I missed out on that one.

SO IS OKTOBERFEST WORTH IT?

Yes. A million times yes. There will always be people saying “Oh well X has a way better, more authentic Oktoberfest blah blah blah.” But you know what? I had a damn good time in Munich for Oktoberfest and would gladly go back. 

Granted that may change as a get older and amount of steins I can handle dwindles. Regardless, if you have the opportunity go to Oktoberfest in Munich, GO!  For those few days it’ll be one of the best times you’ll never remember never forget.

PIn It!

About The Walrus

Hi, I’m Alex. My travel tales are a little quirky, a little awkward and a little bit wayward. Welcome to the Wayward Walrus. Read more about me here.

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