Oktoberfest is one of the most important Bavarian festivals of the year. Held in a meadow outside Munich city centre, around 6.4 million visitors and locals alike come to the 16-day carnival to sing, dance and drink traditional German beer. The festival has been keeping its vibrant traditions alive since it began in 1810 as a celebration of the marriage of King Ludwig I. Oktoberfest offers beer-loving visitors a chance to taste local Bavarian beer, regional food and revel in the atmosphere of one of the world’s most iconic festivals.
To kick-start the revelry, a grand parade marches through Munich to the festival grounds a short distance away, which is always a great option for those with younger children. For the older visitors, the drinking officially begins after the ceremonial pouring of the first beer by Munich’s major, a moment celebrated with much applause, cheering and – of course – drinking.
The festival is organised into 14 beer tents; many of which can hold a staggering 4,000 to 10,000 people. As a result, it can often get very busy over the weekends and on German public holidays. Each of the tents has a distinctive theme, with different foods on sale in each. Plenty also offer outside seating or other entertainment like Oompah bands or yodellers. The 10,000 capacity Hacker Pschorr tent, decorated with a ceiling of intricate clouds and blue sky, is one of the most popular tents with Bavarians.
Locals usually wear traditional garments to the festival, for the ladies is the dirndl, a dress with a full skirt as well as an apron and bodice, while men are usually kitted out in a chequered shirt and lederhosen, which are knee level leather breeches. Visitors enjoy a chance to dress up in this traditional gear, which can be brought in Munich for extra authenticity.
Once you find a table you can order a local Munich beer in a one-litre glass, or (ein Maß) often served by a barmaid in Bavarian dress. The atmosphere is reason alone to visit, with German songs sang all day, dancing on the benches and excellent live entertainment. To help soak up the alcohol, you can also order traditional foods to the table such as roast chicken, bratwurst (sausage), pork, fish and giant pretzels.
While the festival may seem to have a focus on drinking, a large number of families attend during the day each year. Younger visitors enjoy watching the Oompah bands, waving at the marchers during the grand parade or exploring the carnival like festival grounds. Take the family around the fairground rides like the Olympia Loop Ride and the Star Flyer before rewarding good behaviour at one of the candyfloss stalls.
There is also so much to explore in Munich outside the festival, so make time to visit the lush greenery of the Englischer Garten or the impressive onion domed Gothic cathedral of Frauenkirche church. In summary, don’t overestimate the strength of Oktoberfest beer – sing along and get involved! Prost!