Guide to Oktoberfest in Munich
Grab a cold brew and head to the world’s most famous beer festival.
Can you really call yourself a beer lover if you’ve never been to Munich’s Oktoberfest? While that may be open to debate, what can’t be disputed is that the world’s largest beer festival attracts millions of visitors each year from every corner of the planet.
But what is Oktoberfest actually? A little known fact is that the festival was initially intended to be a one-time event to celebrate the marriage in 1810 of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Residents of Munich were invited to participate in the festivities, which included horse races, musical performances – and, of course, beer.
The event was so popular that it eventually became an annual tradition, and over the course of roughly 200 years, it’s evolved into what it’s become today, an extravaganza with everything from merry-go-rounds and photo booths to weightlifting competitions and brass bands.
Beer tents, food stands, and folk costumes
While you can experience Oktoberfest all over Germany, the festival in Munich is the original and the real McCoy. Theresienwiese, an open space with countless beer tents, is the main stage for the event. The tents, which have room for thousands of guests, are often sponsored by breweries and feature different themes, music, and atmosphere. Book in advance if you want to visit any of them unless you don’t mind standing in line with everybody else.
The beer at Oktoberfest must be brewed in Munich and preferably served in a Maß, a mug that holds a liter of beer. Don’t forget to chase the alcohol with a little food: traditional Bavarian dishes such as pork loin and dumplings, various sausages, sauerkraut, or käsespätzle (dumplings baked with Swiss cheese- and caramelized onions) obviously go the best.
The festival also serves as an important celebration of Bavarian culture and traditions. Many of the visitors wear folk costumes: lederhosen for the men and dirndl dresses for the ladies. In addition, Loferl, local leg warmers, are often worn with a pair of low-cut socks.
Oide Wiesn and Rosa Wiesn
If you’d like to experience the Oktoberfest of days gone by, you can visit Oide Wiesn, which features several amusement park rides dating back to 1919 and the 1950s. Adjacent to the rides, you’ll find tents with traditional folk singers, cabaret artists, and the famous Ententanzen (chicken dances). As this part of the festival grounds is more tranquil, it’s perfect if you need a break from the raucous partying.
For LGBTQ visitors, there’s also Rosa Wiesn, more colloquially known as “Gay Oktoberfest”. Gay Sunday, which takes place in the Bräurosl tent on the first weekend, is the most popular event.
The top 5 things to do at Oktoberfest
Enjoy the folk costume parade
On the first Sunday of Oktoberfest, a Trachten- und Schützenzug (a parade of around 9,000 people dressed in traditional costumes and riflemen outfits) marches through Munich. With all the lederhosen and dirndl dresses, it’s the perfect photo op!
See the opening parade
On Saturday, the opening day of Oktoberfest, Munich’s mayor leads a festive parade down the city streets as the beer tent organizers carry kegs of beer into Theresienwiese. Once the contingent arrives, the mayor christens the festival by pouring a beer from the first keg and shouting “O’zapft is!” (The beer is on tap!).
Ride the Ferris wheel
While there are so many rides at Oktoberfest, your head will spin, we recommend getting your bearing on a familiar old standby. Board the Ferris wheel and enjoy a panoramic view of the festivities below – or if you’re more adventurous, enjoy the chills and thrills of a rollercoaster!
Attend a concert
The big concert with all the brass bands is on the second Sunday of Oktoberfest, with the mayor acting as the conductor. It’s a lively, fun concert with free admission. After the show, enjoy one of the many smaller concerts, cabarets, or other types of musical entertainment.
Munich is an incredible city with a rich history. Attractions such as Marienplatz, the old carillon in the Town Hall, and the Frauenkirche church shouldn’t be missed, but you can also just wander around and enjoy the beautiful architecture and lush parks or go to the English Garden and watch people “hang ten” in the river (yes, they really do go surfing there!).
Where: Munich, Germany
When: September 16 – October 3, 2023
Official website: https://www.oktoberfest.de/en
Number of visitors (2022): 5.7 million (per Statista)
Amount of beer sold (2022): 5.6 million liters
Text by Daniel Björk