My First Trip to Oktoberfest in Munich: Maria's Story
Are you ready for a secret? I... Erika "the dirndl-maker" has never been to Oktoberfest in Munich. But recently, our studio manager Maria went on a trip to Germany starting with watching two of her brothers run the Berlin marathon, followed by a few days in Würzburg, then four days in Munich (2 at Oktoberfest) and finishing up with two days in Nürnberg. I was SO excited for her and of course, had questions for her upon her return.
Oktoberfest, the world-renowned festival of Bavarian culture and merriment, traces its origins back to October 12, 1810. The occasion was the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria (who later became King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in the festivities that took place in front of the city gates. The celebrations included horse races, food, music, dancing, and plenty of beer. The event was such a grand success that it was decided to repeat the festivities annually, leading to the birth of Oktoberfest as an annual tradition. Over the years, the festival evolved to include more attractions, amusement rides, and a rich showcase of Bavarian culture, becoming the iconic celebration it is today, drawing visitors from all around the world.
Today, Oktoberfest stands as a global symbol of camaraderie and cultural heritage. Held annually in Munich, Germany, and replicated in various forms worldwide, it spans about two weeks, usually from late September to the first weekend in October. The festival grounds host elaborate beer tents, each representing a different traditional Bavarian brewery, where attendees can revel in the company of friends and strangers alike, enjoying not only the famous German beer but also a plethora of traditional foods, lively music, and spirited dancing. Oktoberfest has grown beyond its original roots, attracting millions of visitors from diverse backgrounds who come to experience the unique blend of tradition, community, and festive atmosphere that continue to make it a cherished event on the global calendar.
Below is an interview with Maria about her first time at Oktoberfest and her experience.
What were your overall feelings about Oktoberfest?
Make Munich Oktoberfest your bucket list item. It is definitely worth visiting once in your lifetime! I went with my husband (Troy), my brother (Mario), and his wife (Margaret). We spent two days there and felt like there was so much more to do and see.
Walk around and see what catches your eye. There are 14 amazing large, beautifully decorated, Oktoberfest tents and a number of small beer tents to choose from. Only six breweries are permitted to sell beer at Oktoberfest: Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Augustiner, Löwenbräu, and Paulaner. Each beer tent featured a specific brand, and all the tents are unique. There are also plenty of booths selling treats, food, and souvenirs to your heart’s content. There are plenty of carnival rides and other attractions to enjoy.
What are the major beer tents at Oktoberfest in Munich Germany?
The major beer tents at Oktoberfest in Munich are iconic destinations within the festival, each offering a distinct atmosphere and experience. The Hofbräu Festzelt, known for its lively and international crowd, boasts a boisterous atmosphere with traditional music and ample opportunities for dancing. The Paulaner Festzelt exudes a more relaxed ambiance, focusing on authentic Bavarian traditions and cuisine. The Hacker-Pschorr Festhalle combines tradition with modernity, featuring a stunning wooden interior and an inviting beer garden. The Augustiner Festhalle is celebrated for its family-friendly environment, emphasizing a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Lastly, the Schottenhamel Festhalle is renowned for hosting the ceremonial tapping of the first beer barrel, signifying the official start of Oktoberfest. There are more, but those are the biggest. We definitely didn't get to visit all of them, but we did our best!
Did you see a lot of people wearing traditional Bavarian clothing?
I would say about 2/3 of the people were wearing dirndl and lederhosen. There are some tourists who are not dressed in traditional clothing, but all the Germans are! And what a great way to be fully immersed in the experience by dressing appropriately for Oktoberfest. I absolutely recommend wearing traditional outfits for your first Oktoberfest trip.
What beer tent did you visit first?
Our first stop in the early afternoon was the tent of my husband’s favorite beer, Augustiner Bräu! Visiting the Augustiner-Festhalle was a must on his wish list of things to do. Augustiner is Munich’s oldest brewery, dating back to 1328, and this tent is generally regarded as Müncheners’ favorite.
The tent was relatively full by early afternoon and we found many tables had reserved signs on them. We did come upon an empty Stammtisch table, however, and asked a Kellnerin (waitress) if we could sit down. In many German restaurants, one table is reserved for local regulars and is called a Stammtisch or head table, and no one is permitted to sit there, even if it remains empty the entire evening. Our Kellnerin informed us we could sit there, but if those folks arrived, we would have to move. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and we were able to enjoy the best beer, food, and traditional atmosphere that Oktoberfest has to offer.
Where did you go next? Did you visit the biggest tent?
In the late afternoon, the tents fill up fast! We ran into a friend of my husband’s from Chicago who invited us to Hofbräu-Festzelt, as he had a reserved table. This tent is popular with Americans and other foreigners and was nearly at full capacity by 4 PM on a Friday. The idea was to find them at their reserved table, but the tent was so large, and, not knowing what section they were in, we were unable to locate them. The Hofbräu-Festzelt is one of the more popular tents and it felt very chaotic.
Since Hofbräu beer isn't our favorite German beer, we left and made our way to the Hacker-Pschorr Festzelt. The Hacker-Pschorr tent is the largest tent at Wiesn’, it is known for having the best bands of any of the tents and a real party atmosphere, not to mention the fabulous Märzen Bier. Additionally, it is also known as Himmel der Bayern (Heaven of Bavaria) and its roof is sumptuously decorated with a gorgeous blue sky and clouds theme. Since we didn't have any table reservations of our own, unfortunately, there were not any open seats.
What happens if you can't find a seat in one of the beer tents?
Simple, go to another one of the beer tents! Which we did, by making our way into Löwenbräu - Festhalle. What a great choice that was! Löwenbräu means “Lion’s Brew” and there is a 15-foot-high lion at the entrance that occasionally drinks from his beer. We found seats at a table with Danes and Germans that made the “party” experience incredible. It wasn’t long before we enjoyed Oktoberfest food (including half a chicken) and were talking with them as they spoke English comfortably. We were singing along with the rock songs, 'Prosting' to each other, hugging each other, and enjoying their great Märzen beer, which may be slightly better than Augustiner, in my husband’s opinion. The evenings are party-central. Plenty of beer drinking, and quite boisterous. So just get into the Oktoberfest tent early to enjoy the party. And, remember, if you see empty seats at a table, simply ask politely, “Sind diese Plätze frei?” or “Plätze frei?” which means, "is this seat free?"
How was your 2nd day attending Oktoberfest?
On day two, my wonderful Munich friend, Sandy, joined us and as a local she had some excellent Oktoberfest tips. One of them was going to Oide Wiesn, translated roughly as “Old Oktoberfest''. It is like stepping back 100 years and celebrating an original Oktoberfest the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Introduced in 2010 as a special section within the larger Oktoberfest grounds, the Oide Wiesn offers visitors a glimpse into the past, recreating the ambiance and attractions of the early Oktoberfest celebrations. The beer tents at Oide Wiesn emphasize a more rustic and authentic experience, serving up regional specialties and locally brewed beers. This section of the festival showcases Bavaria's rich cultural heritage and provides a delightful contrast to the larger, more contemporary aspects of Oktoberfest, allowing visitors to appreciate the event's evolution while preserving the timeless traditions that have made it a global phenomenon. Bring cash, because this nostalgic and traditional area has a 4 euro entrance fee; well worth it!
There are traditional brass music bands, traditional Schuhplattler dancing groups, and historical attractions; that include carnival rides, vintage games, a puppet show, and men playing street organs. When visiting Oktoberfest, I think Oide Wiesn is definitely one of the best-kept secrets on the festival grounds. The Museumszelt is a beer tent but has more of a family environment with historic exhibits, a vintage carousel, sweets/candy booths, and an area to ride old zany bicycles.
The tent we visited was Festzelt Tradition. We enjoyed the beer garden and Bavarian foods which included pretzels and Steckerlfische (grilled fish on a stick which is very popular in Bavaria and Austria) with the carnival as our backdrop.
Once we went inside the beer tent, there was brass music and traditional dancing. It didn’t take long for a local men’s group to welcome us, join in on the conversation, and even have that group perform a whip performance on top of the tables.
The historical costumes were gorgeous and my husband was schooled on what to wear and not to wear. Apparently, checkered shirts look too American and a white shirt is more traditional. Frankly, I think they would have invited him to join their men’s group; if only he lived in Germany. See what happens when you dress the part! If you are going to Oktoberfest in Munich Germany, wear a traditional Oktoberfest outfit like dirndl or lederhosen.
By far, the Oide Wiesn was my favorite place to visit on the festival grounds. It was so charming; so don’t miss it.
Did we make Oktoberfest beer tent reservations?
No. We went early on Friday and Sunday. We did have trouble in the Hofbräu and Hacker Pschorr tents late on Friday. We walked through those two tents, but it was mayhem. These are the beer tents that Americans who attend Oktoberfest and Oktoberfest tours tend to visit. But I encourage you to explore other tents.
Personally, I think the Oktoberfest reservations system is too expensive and is only necessary if you have a large group. Go early, walk in the beer tents like you have a reservation, and when you find space at a table; just ask if it is available. The people who attend are very welcoming.
Once the tents do get filled, there are long lines, but plenty of seating outside in the beer gardens where you don't need a table reservation. That is a great experience in itself.
How many dirndls did you take with you?
I took two; one for each day. But you can easily take one dirndl and two blouses; so as to not wear the same blouse twice. You could also take two aprons to change up your look. There are so many people attending Oktoberfest, you could absolutely wear the same dirndl multiple times, but that's not as fun! Having a traditional outfit that also expressed my personal style was a great way to enjoy Oktoberfest.
How was the German beer?
Go to your favorite beer tent and/or try something new. There will be lots of beer drinking so pace yourself. The alcohol content is higher than American beer. So don’t become the drunk guy who joined us at one of our tables and fell asleep or the guy throwing up at the U-bahn station on our way back to the hotel. And eat when you are drinking beer!
Is there anything at Oktoberfest you wish you would have done?
I wished we had visited the Ochsenbraterei (Spatenbräu) tent for their delicious oxen. I'm a little bummed we didn't get to the Weinzelt (wine tent), which serves wine for a different experience, one of the smaller more intimate tents, and enjoyed the carnival rides (in particular the Ferris wheel, Toboggan, and Feldl’s Teufelsrad). Two days is not enough, but definitely gave us great experiences and a desire to go back!
Looking for more Dirndl Style tips & tricks? Click the link to download our official style guide! >> https://bit.ly/dirndlstyle