My favorite trip of the year is always my annual pilgrimage to Munich for the World’s largest festival — Oktoberfest!
This coming year will be the sixth year in a row that I’ve attended the Wiesn in Germany, so I’ve learned on the fly, but at this point, I think I know what I’m doing pretty well.
Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival that runs every year, from the late September to the first full weekend in October. Plan these dates accordingly.
Planning a trip to this foreign festival can be a daunting task, but here are ten tips along with several guides and recommendations:
1. Plan your flights early when booking miles (and with cash)
Airlines start releasing award space typically about 330 days prior. If you’ve built up enough miles for a trip to Munich during Oktoberfest, you’re going to want to start searching for availability as early as possible. If you wait until a couple of months before Oktoberfest, you’re asking for problems, as the award space will almost certainly be filled up at that point.
Oktoberfest is one of the busiest times to fly to Europe, and as such, airfares are often priced accordingly. If you’re looking for non-stop flights to Munich from the United States, it’s best to plan early. You can expect these nonstop flights to run between $1,000-$1,400 round trip for nonstop flights to and from Munich.
Airlines with Non-Stop Flights to Munich from North America:
- United Airlines from Houston, Chicago, Newark, and Washington-Dulles
- US Airways from Philadelphia
- Delta Airlines from Atlanta
- Air Canada from Toronto
- Lufthansa has a hub in Munich, and has flights from Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York-JFK, Newark, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles. It also operates seasonally from Miami, Toronto and Vancouver.
2. Flexible itineraries can save money
If you don’t mind a connection (or two), you can save some major money by booking flights with a brief layover in another European gateway city such as Zurich, Frankfurt, Brussels, Vienna, Paris, or Milan.
For even more potential savings, look into flying into a city within in a 3-4 hour train ride of Munich like Frankfurt, Vienna, or Zurich. From these cities, one can obtain a relatively cheap (<€35) train ticket to Munich. Train tickets go on sale 90 days prior to travel and can be obtained at the DB Bahn website.
During the spring and summer, you’ll start to notice airlines offering sales for fall dates to cities all over Europe– usually many cities NOT including Munich. For example, American offered fares around $650-750 round trip this year to Zurich during Oktoberfest. Reference my previous post about how to find the best airfare deals.
3. Plan your hotels even earlier
Hotels in Munich during Oktoberfest are brutally expensive. It’s quite normal to see the price of a hotel room in Munich during this time to exceed €300-400 per night. As the months draw closer, even obtaining availability becomes a problem.
I usually try to book hotels for the Oktoberfest pretty much as soon as I return from the prior Oktoberfest. I have found the last few years that some hotels forget to put a premium on the Oktoberfest dates for the subsequent year when booking extremely far out. For example, this year in Munich, I was able to score a sub-€200 rate at the Le Meridien — only a few blocks from Oktoberfest.
4. Book a hotel or hostel close to Oktoberfest
I can’t emphasize enough how nice it is to have a hotel within walking distance of Oktoberfest. Naturally, there will likely be some aggressive consumption of beer, so getting back to the hotel quickly becomes a priority after a full day of revelry. Though cabs aren’t incredibility difficult to come by, I simply love being less than a five-minute walk from the Theresienwiese (the grounds of Oktoberfest).
Hotels range from luxury to mass market to budget brands to hostels. It’s important to realize that even hostels will not be a cheap option during Oktoberfest either. Decent hostels are often in excess of €125-€150 per night, per person. When you consider a hotel room is priced per room, you may be able to derive more value in booking a hotel room for a group of friends instead of paying individually at a hostel.
Some of the closest hotels to Oktoberfest include:
- Four Points Sheraton Munich Central — this is my favorite property for Oktoberfest. Located less than two blocks from the main entrance, this hotel is almost crawling distance from the grounds. I personally enjoy the studio rooms, which feature a good bit of extra room, and full balconies. Rates range well over €350 per night during Oktoberfest, but if it’s booked early, it can be had for as little as 10,000 SPG Starpoints per night!
- Le Meridien Munchen — another Starwood Property, the Le Meridien is located about 4-5 blocks from the entrance to Oktoberfest and is roughly a ten minute walk. It is located directly across from the entrance of the Hauptbahnhof Central Station, so it’s a great central point for touring the city.
- Aloft Munich — this is the newest SPG property in Munich. It doesn’t open until August 2015, so nobly has stayed there yet. With that said, the hotel looks pretty nice, as it’s right near the Hauptbahnhof Central Station — only about a ten or 15 minute walk from Oktoberfest. It is a also available for only 10,000 SPG Starpoints per night.
- Sheraton Munich Westpark — This property is about a 15-20 minute walk from Oktoberfest, and is often available on SPG Starpoints.
- Courtyard by Marriott City Center Munich — Also walkable to Oktoberfest, but I’ve rarely seen availability during the Wiesn using cash or Marriott points.
- TRYP Munchen City Center — The Wyndham branded hotel is sometimes reasonably priced, and is also located just a couple blocks from the entrance of Oktoberfest.
- Sofitel Munich Bayerpost — located directly next to the Hauptbahnhof station, this is a luxury property with sky-high rates, but is only about a ten minute walk to Oktoberfest.
Some Budget Hotels, Pensions and Hostels that are close to Oktoberfest include:
- City-Hotel Munchen — budget hotel next to the Hauftbahnhof.
- Wombats City Hostel Munich — one of the highest rated hostels in Munich. Across from the Hauftbahnhof and walking distance to the Theresienwiese. There is a certain date you need to reserve rooms here, so check their site out for that details.
- Pension Westfalia — located directly across the street from the east entrance of Oktoberfest. Reasonable rates, but must book far in advance.
- Siebel Hotel — located directly across the street form the west entrance. I was booked here one year until award space opened up at the Four Points Sheraton Munich Central. Reviews are decent, but I have no personal experience.
5. Plan out some side trips and other activities in and around Munich
Please do plan on staying in Munich for a day or two to explore the city. There are, after all, more things to Munich than just the Oktoberfest! I learned this after literally not seeing a bit of the city the first two years I attended! Some suggestions include:
- Visit the famed Hofbrauhaus Bier Hall in central Munich
- Check out the various beer gardens that are peppered throughout the city
- Checkout central Munich near Marienplatz and the iconic domes of the Frauenkirche
- Have some traditional Bavarian meats at the Haxnbauer Restaurant
- Take a day trip to the Dachau concentration camp for some history and culture
- Arrange for a tour at the BMW welt and museum
- If you’re lucky, score a ticket to watch the famed Bayern Munich play a football (soccer) match at the Allianz Arena
6. Familiarize yourself with Munich transportation
Munich features a world-class public transportation system. The main lines are the S-bahn (suburban light rail) and U-bahn (underground / metro). The map for both lines can be found here: Munich Suburban and Underground Train Map
The city is very accessible by the rail system, and the Oktoberfest is located at the Theresienwiese stop on the U4 line (in the middle of the map), and features a station entrance directly within the festival grounds. The aforementioned Hauftbahnhof station is the center of the transit map.
One can access the Munich city center and the Hauftbahnhof from Munich’s Airport by utilizing the S1 or S8 lines. Each takes about 40-45 minutes to get to the city center.
Because of the good public transit options, downtown Munich and its hotels are quite accessible from the Oktoberfest grounds using the U and S-bahn.
7. Attend during the week for smaller crowds
Crowds at Oktoberfest will be large no matter which day(s) you decide to attend. However, the weekends are extra crowded. Expect large lines to enter the beer tents on the weekends. You should plan on getting to the tents early in the day if you want a seat. Opening Day and closing day crowds tent to be the worst. You should plan on being in line before 6am in order to get a table on Opening Day, and before 9am on Closing Day.
8. Don’t freak out about getting table reservations
If you’re with just a few friends, you’ll be able to get a space at a table. Just make sure you’re not seated at a reserved table — otherwise, you’ll be kicked out whenever the reservation kicks in (tables are usually clearly labeled). It is not necessary to arrange for a tricky reservation in order to enjoy the Wiesn unless you’re with a large group and want to sit together.
Tents are open and beer is poured during the week from 10:00am to 10:30pm, and on weekends from 9:00am to 10:30pm. Tents usually stay open another hour after beer stops being served. The exception to these hours is Opening Day, where beer isn’t served until Noon, though the tents open much, much earlier and are filled by 8:00am. My personal favorite day is Closing Day, as the Closing Ceremony is a pretty incredible experience.
9. Know what you’re getting yourself into by attending Oktoberfest
- There will be beer. Lots of it. The beer has a higher alcohol content that many are used to. So be prepared for it.
- With that said, there is more to Oktoberfest the just beer.
- Walk around the festival and sample some of the amazing food stands.
- Oktoberfest is family-friendly too, as there are dozens of rides and roller coasters.
- Expect crowds. Over 6 million people will attend during the 16 days, so crowds are fact of life here… deal with it.
- The mix will be about 80-85% locals (Germans) and 15-20% foreigners, though these demographics vary by tent.
- Be social and make friends with the locals — they’re for the most part friendly and interested to hear about your trip.
- Go all out — purchase the traditional lederhosen or dirndls while you’re there! Lederhosen run around €80-150, while dirndls are about €50-100 and can be purchased at a number of stores around Munich. Yes, that’s expensive, but it’ll really enhance your experience at the Wiesn. If you decide not to purchase the traditional Bavarian garb, do NOT wear the fake stuff (ie: Halloween costumes) — that is just tacky. For reference, about 90% of attendees wear the traditional clothing, but this also varies by tent.
10. Stop over-thinking it… Just Go!
If you’ve been thinking about going for a while, or if it just sounds like a good time for you, just do it — you’ll love it!
Have an awesome time and enjoy… PROST!