Oktoberfest may be synonymous with beer – which is fair – but what many people don’t know is there is actually a lot more to it.
Not that there needs to be, but there is.
Munich’s Oktoberfest is the world’s largest folk festival. It has been running for over 200 years, beginning in 1810 as a public wedding party for Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig (who later became King Ludwig I) and Saxe-Hildburghausen’s Princess Therese. The fields where the celebration was held were named Theresienwiese (Theresa Fields) in honor of the princess, and today the festival held here in September-October of each year attracts more than seven million attendees from around the globe – although some 85% of all visitors are German.
Aside from being the largest beer festival in the world, Oktoberfest also features a massive fairground filled with all of the big rides you’d expect like roller coasters and Ferris wheels (exactly what you need after a day of beer drinking), along with row after row of sideshows. There’s also loads of hearty Bavarian fare on offer in and outside of the beer tents, traditional music and folk dancing, and if you are there for the opening weekend, you can take in the parades and the ceremonial tapping of the first keg.
And last, but certainly not least, there’s even a flea circus.
The Beer from Oktoberfest
All of the beer sold at Oktoberfest comes from Munich breweries, which adhere to strict Bavarian Purity Requirements, called “Reinheitsgebot”. These regulations have been in place since 1516 and only allow water, hops and barley. This means Bavarian beers remain some of the purest and best beers in the world, brewed for centuries by breweries like Augustiner, which was founded in 1328 and is the oldest of the six Munich breweries. The others include: Hacker Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner and Spaten.
Almost seven million liters of beer is drunk over the sixteen days of Oktoberfest. Beer is served in a “mass”, which is a liter of beer or a “halbe” (half liter). Some visitors choose the tents serving their favorite beers, while for others, the selection is based on atmosphere, which ranges from relaxed to full party mode – although this can also depend on the time of day as well. If you want to experience it all, here is a listing of the beer served in each tent:
- Augustiner: Augustiner-Festhalle and Fischer-Vroni
- Hacker-Pschorr: Hacker-Festzelt and Pschorr-Bräurosl
- Hofbräu: Hofbräu Festzelt
- Löwenbräu: Löwenbräu-Festhalle and Schützen-Festzelt
- Paulaner: Armbrustschützenzelt, Käfer’s Wies’n Schänke and Winzerer Fähndl
- Spaten-Franziskaner: Marstall, Schottenhamel, Ochsenbraterei/Spatenbräu-Festhalle
For those who prefer wine, there is also a wine tent. Weinzelt serves a variety of wines, sparkling wine and champagne, along with Paulaner Weissbier (wheat beer).
Although you can make reservations, they must be made directly with the beer tent and generally far in advance of the festival. Table reservations are highly sought after, and some tents have so many loyal patrons each year that they cannot even offer reservations to new customers. If you are early or lucky enough to get a reservation, you’ll have a guaranteed spot in your tent of choice, but for those without reservations, it’s recommended to arrive early as tents do fill up quickly.
If you want to learn more about the top 14 tents, this article offers colorful descriptions along with detailed information and links to the tent websites and reservation pages.
Now, a quick rundown of the logistics:
Getting To & Around Munich During Oktoberfest
Most people will fly into Franz-Josef-Straus airport, located around 12 miles north of Munich. Getting to the city center is easy, with train, bus, taxi, shuttle, and limousine service available. You can learn more about transport options from the airport here.
You’ll have no trouble getting to Oktoberfest either, especially if you’re staying in the center. It’s a short walk from the Hauptbahnhof (the main train station) or you can hop on a U-Hahn to Theresienwiese. Depending on the day and time, these options may be quicker than by road, but taxi is of course another option.
Oktoberfest 2019 Details
Starts: Saturday, September 21, 2019
Ends: Sunday, October 6, 2019
Opening Hours: Opening Day: 12 – 10:30pm. The Mayor of Munich will tap the first keg in the Schottenhamel tent at noon, signaling the official opening of Oktoberfest and the commencement of beer drinking. Beer is then served on weekdays from 10am – 10:30pm and from 9am on the weekends. If you can make to the end, closing time is 12.30am. The start time for stalls is the same as the beer tents, but they are open until 11.30pm Monday – Thursday and Sunday, and midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Entry: There is no entry free to Oktoberfest. There are restrictions on allowable bag size: nothing larger than 3 liters in volume is permitted (20cm x 15cm x 10cm), and any bag you bring with you will be searched by security.
Other Things to Do In Munich
Depending on how long you plan to stay – and how much you enjoy drinking beer – you may want to spend some time exploring outside of the festival. Munich and the surrounding areas have plenty to see: here are a few highlights to get you started.
Marienplatz & Altstadt
The Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) it an historic plaza at the heart of the city. Originally a market square, the Marienplatz takes its name from the Mariensäule, a 36-foot column in the center of the square with a gold statue of the Virgin Mary placed at the top. It was built in 1638 as an emblem marking the city’s survival, having been spared the invasion of the Swedish army during the Thirty Years War and surviving the Black Plague that threatened to annihilate the entire population.
There is much to see on a stroll around the Marienplatz in addition to the towering column. The Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) offers a beautiful example of Gothic Revival architecture, while St. Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church) is the oldest in the city built in 1180, and offers a mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Rococo styles thanks to rebuilds and remodels over its long history.
There’s also the Old Town Hall (Alte Rathaus), the Fish Fountain (Fischbrunnen), and last but not least, the famous Glockenspiel, a huge chiming clock that was built in an alcove of the new town hall tower. 32 figurines and 43 bells spring to life at 11am, 12pm and 5pm to entertain crowds with life-sized wooden figurines that reenact two stories from the 16th century: the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V with a jousting match and Schäfflertanz, the Coopers’ Dance. The show is performed across two levels and lasts up to fifteen minutes.
Don’t just limit your wanderings to the Marienplatz though – there is plenty in the Old Town (Altstadt) to explore with more plazas, historic city gates, royal residences and gardens, museums, churches, fountains and pedestrian-only street shopping. You won’t want to miss the Viktualienmarkt, a market filled with Bavarian fare, fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers and gourmet products. With over one hundred stalls, there is a lot to see, and of course there is also a beer garden. The Viktualienmarkts is open Monday to Saturday from 8am to 6pm.
Another must see is the three-story Hofbräuhaus. This historic beer hall is not only a must for beer lovers, but for history buffs and food connoisseurs as well. You can learn more about the Hofbräuhaus here.
And if you’re looking for more information on the top things to see in Munich’s Old Town, this is a helpful walking guide for your explorations.
Englischer Garten (English Garden)
This stunning park is the perfect place to take a break from the busy city center and the craziness of Oktoberfest. At 910 acres, the English Garden is huge – bigger in fact, than Central Park in New York. You can bike or walk along the parks numerous pathways, relax on the grass or watch surfers take on the endless wave in the Eisbach, a man-made river that runs through the park. There is also the 19th-century Monopteros, a hilltop colonnade that offers sweeping views of the park, and naturally there is a beer garden, too, which can be found at the Chinese Tower.
There’s also plenty to see and do outside of the city. The breathtaking Bavarian Alps are located just to the south of Munich with picturesque towns like Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the famous Neuschwanstein castle to explore, along with Berchtesgaden and the historic Eagles Nest or Salzburg further south in Austria. Other top sights include Herrenchiemsee, a grand royal palace on an island in the middle of Bavaria’s largest lake located some forty miles east of Munich, and one of Europe’s best-preserved towns, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a fairytale-like town just a few hours north of Munich by car.
So whether you’re going to Oktoberfest this year or planning for the years to come, make sure you leave plenty of time for everything the festival and the region has to offer – aside from drinking really good beer.