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Oktoberfest: History & How to Celebrate in German Tradition

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Oktoberfest is the perfect way to get in the fall spirit! This festival originated in Germany and is celebrated all over the world. If you’re looking to learn more about it, read on for everything you need to know.

Oktoberfest. The name evokes Bavarian culture, beer, and endless days of eating sausages and drinking beer. But what is Oktoberfest? Where did it come from? And how do you get ready for a trip to Munich? We will answer all of your questions about Germany’s biggest festival so you can celebrate in style around each year (beginning September 22).

There are many reasons why you might want to learn about Oktoberfest. Perhaps you’re planning a trip to Germany and want to be able to appreciate the experience fully. Or maybe you’re just curious about this popular event. No matter your reasons, we’ve covered everything you need to know about Oktoberfest.

There are a few common challenges people have when it comes to celebrating Oktoberfest. First, some people don’t know how to properly celebrate the event. Knowing what to do can be pretty hard if you’re unfamiliar with the traditions.

Another challenge is that Oktoberfest can be expensive. This is especially true if you’re planning a trip to Germany. However, there are ways to save money and still have a great time. Here’s everything you need to know about Oktoberfest.

What is Oktoberfest?

Decorated Tent During Oktoberfest, Munich
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival that takes place in Munich, Germany. It typically starts in late September and ends in early October. The festival is known for its beer, food, and traditional Bavarian clothing. Oktoberfest is also a great opportunity to try new things and experience different cultures.

In addition to drinking beer, Oktoberfest also features traditional German foods such as sausages (würstl), pretzels (brezel), and schnitzel (a breaded cutlet). Beer tents are set up throughout the grounds where revelers can enjoy these foods while listening to German folk music played by live bands.

How do you celebrate Oktoberfest?

Crowd of festive-goers enjoying Munich's Oktoberfest inside the Schützenfestzelt beer tent.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you’re planning on attending Oktoberfest in Munich, you should know a few things. First of all, you’ll need to purchase a ticket. Tickets are required to enter the festival grounds, called “Theresienwiese” or “Wiesn” for short.

You can also make beer tent reservations, giving you access to that tent’s activities and attractions. Each tent has its theme, music, and atmosphere.

You’ll want to wear traditional Bavarian attire when it comes to clothing. This includes lederhosen for men and dirndls for women. If you don’t have traditional clothing, don’t worry – you can still have a great time. Many people wear regular clothes to Oktoberfest.

Of course, no trip to Munich Oktoberfest would be complete without trying the beer. There are many different types of beer available at the festival. Traditional German foods like pretzels, sausages, and schnitzel can also be found.

Oktoberfest History

Oktoberfest history

Oktoberfest is the world’s largest beer festival and the most important event in Bavaria. People from around the globe have flocked to Munich Oktoberfest to participate in the world’s largest festival for nearly 200 years.

It’s a celebration of Bavarian culture that began in 1810. Originally, it was a wedding celebration held by King Ludwig I to celebrate his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The name “Oktoberfest” comes from the month when it was originally held: October.

Oktoberfest has been held at Theresienwiese since 1818—and although today it lasts for almost two weeks, it was originally three days long!

In addition to the two-week celebration in Munich, the Bavarian capital where the tradition began, Oktoberfest is enjoyed in one form or another in cities and towns worldwide.

A Festival for The Royal Party

Majestic Bavaria Statue overlooking Theresienwiese, Munich during Oktoberfest celebrations
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Do you ever wonder how this grand celebration of Oktoberfest began? The original Oktoberfest was a royal wedding celebration held in Munich in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese.

Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, who was later crowned King Ludwig I, wanted his people to share in celebrating his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810.

Ludwig organized a horse race and invited all the people of Munich. By ordinary standards, the royal party drew about 40,000 guests, a major rager but only a tiny fraction of the 6.4 million people at Oktoberfest in 1997.

A good time and copious amounts of beer were had by all that first year. It was decided that the horse race would be held again in 1811 in conjunction with the state agricultural show.

The name “Oktoberfest” comes from the German words “okto” (eight) and “ober” (upper), referring to the eighth month on our calendar: September or October.

The Modern Munich Celebration

Bustling Oktoberfest scene with amusement rides and festive crowds in Munich.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Although the horse race was eventually abandoned, many characteristics of the early Oktoberfest events have been retained, if not expanded upon. Munich’s annual celebration is still held on the original site, Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s Fields”), before the city gates.

The agricultural show continues to be a feature, though it is only held every third year. The beer and food stand tradition, which began in 1818, continues today and is perhaps Oktoberfest’s most significantly developed aspect.

Today, traditional Bavarian music, dance, and food, such as pretzels, sausages, and sauerkraut, are key elements of the Oktoberfest celebration.

See Related: How to Plan a Trip to Germany

16 Days, Millions of People, and some Big Beer Tents

Revelers enjoying festivities at bustling Oktoberfest tent in Munich
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The modern celebration has replaced the small tents with giant brewery-sponsored beer halls that can hold up to 5,000 people apiece. The party has also grown in length to become a 16-day extravaganza ending the first Sunday in October.

The Oktoberfest in Munich has sometimes been canceled due to war and cholera. The festival opens with a grand parade of the Oktoberfest “landlords” and breweries and features traditional dancers and costumed performers, the Riflemen’s Procession, music, and, most definitely, beer!

Where did Oktoberfest originate?

The first Oktoberfest took place in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The event was so popular that it became an annual tradition.

See Related: Charming Christmas Traditions in Germany

Best Things to Do at Oktoberfest

There are so many things to do at Oktoberfest! In addition to drinking beer and eating traditional German food, you can enjoy live music, carnival rides, and much more. Whether you are a beer drinker or not, Oktoberfest offers a unique cultural experience that appeals to travelers of all interests and backgrounds.

Drink Beer… But Enjoy the Beer!

1 Liter Beers During Oktoberfest
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

You’ll drink a lot. That’s the first thing to know about Oktoberfest: you’ll drink A LOT. If you’re lucky, this means beer.

If not, and if money is no object (or if your friends are footing the bill), wine and cider will be purchased by the glass or stein (a mug).

Enjoy the Other Libations

cup of tea and lemonade

In addition, nonalcoholic beverages and soft drinks like lemonade, coffee, and tea are sold everywhere. If you don’t want alcohol, fear not: “nonalcoholic” beers are on tap too! They combine beer with various herbs that taste like hops and malt but don’t contain any alcohol.

It’s common practice in Germany to order one of these in addition to your regular beverage order so that everyone knows what kind of drinker you are…

There are more than just beer tents at Oktoberfest in Munich.

Dynamic Oktoberfest crowd enjoying festival under stormy skies
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

There are plenty of reasons to visit Germany’s largest beer festival, but it can be a good idea to know what you’re getting into before you go. There are more than just beer tents at Oktoberfest.

The German word for tent is Zelt, and there are over a dozen at this year’s festival. Each one serves different types of food and drinks, with some serving traditional Bavarian fare while others may serve other cuisines alongside their beers.

Listen to Polka Music

polka music

Oktoberfest is not complete without lively polka music and seeing a live Oompah band perform. This traditional German music that prominently features the accordion as its main centerpiece originated in the early 19th century and is still popular today.

Eat Traditional German Foods

Appetizer Food Platter Served at Oktoberfest
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

No matter where you celebrate Oktoberfest, you can’t do so without eating traditional German foods. There are many delicious options to choose from, such as sauerkraut, bratwurst, pretzels, and of course, plenty of beer. In the above picture, we received a nice welcome appetizer platter at our table in the Schützen-Festzelt tent.

Things to do Other Than Eating and Drinking at Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest amusement rides at twilight in Munich
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you want to do something beyond eating and drinking through the festival, check out the many other cultural activities and attractions. Plus, no visit to Oktoberfest would be complete without riding one of the many amusement rides or even the iconic Ferris wheel.

Iconic Ferris wheel at Oktoberfest Munich, offering panoramic views and festival atmosphere.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Activities like rollerblading through the streets around Oktoberfest grounds (the same ones where people drink), watching horse carriage rides through town, taking in art exhibits at museums around Munich (or buying some yourself), and visiting nearby castles and gardens.

Oktoberfest Tips

Paulaner Festzelt (Paulaner Tent), Oktoberfest
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Oktoberfest is a big, fun party. It’s one of the most famous events in the world, and it draws millions of people every year. The festival occurs annually in September and October at Munich’s Theresienwiese, a large meadow that hosts beer tents and other entertainment attractions.

The event has its roots in German royalty: King Ludwig I wanted to boost tourism to his hometown, so he organized an official festival and assigned it a date so people would know when to visit (September 23). Today’s Oktoberfest is still held on this day every year—and all over Germany.

Oktoberfest takes place in Munich from late September to early October.

september calendar

Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival that takes place in Munich, Germany. It’s held on Theresienwiese, or “Wiesn,” in the Bavarian capital city. The festivities are held from around September 22 to October 7 yearly, attracting millions of visitors worldwide.

Oktoberfest dress code

Kyle Kroeger in traditional Bavarian attire tapping a beer barrel at an Oktoberfest-themed event inside the Mandarin Oriental Munich
I loved tapping a fresh Fest Beer (Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers)

Regarding traditional Oktoberfest attire, you have two main options: lederhosen for men and dirndls for women. Lederhosen is the traditional German leather pants, often with suspenders, and dirndls are the formal Bavarian dresses.

While you can find both lederhosen and dirndls in just about any city, they’ll be much cheaper if you buy them in Munich.

You can also find them at many of the shops near the Oktoberfest grounds, as well as at some of the train stations. If you’re looking for a high-quality pair of lederhosen or a dirndl, you can expect to pay around $100.

However, you can easily find cheaper options for less than $100. So whether you’re looking to save money or want the authentic Oktoberfest experience, pick up your lederhosen or dirndl before heading to the festival.

You don’t have to wait until you arrive to prepare for Oktoberfest.

If it’s your first time in Munich, there’s no need to feel intimidated by the prospect of this massive beer festival. Here are a few things you can do once you’ve reached your destination:

  • Get a passport stamp – This is one of the most iconic parts of Oktoberfest. You’ll be able to get one at any of the entrances or any souvenir shops throughout town. This will prove that you visited Munich during this year’s festivities and make for great conversation later (or even now).
  • Pick up a beer mug – It doesn’t matter if it’s plastic or ceramic—grab something that will keep your beverages cold (or warm). You’ll want something sturdy enough so that when someone bumps into you while trying to get their glass filled with beer, yours won’t break and spill everywhere.
  • Buy some lederhosen or dirndl – I don’t know about you guys, but I would love nothing more than strutting around wearing traditional Bavarian garb while drinking beer! Not only do they look great, but they’re also super comfortable. Plus, everyone else will be wearing similar outfits, making for easy conversation starters when meeting new people.

You can celebrate Oktoberfest outside of Germany.

Celebrating Oktoberfest at Schell's Brewery in New Ulm, Minnesota with traditional Bavarian flair and local craft beer.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

You can celebrate Oktoberfest outside of Germany. Obviously! Oktoberfest, Germany’s most famous festival (and, by extension, the world’s), celebrates Bavarian culture, beer, and local cuisine.

One of my favorite places to visit is Oktoberfest in New Ulm, Minnesota. You can see a picture of my enjoyment above, and here’s another one of me enjoying the experience with some of the cultural heritage events taking place.

Kyle Kroeger, author of the article, at Oktoberfest Celebration in New Ulm - Traditional Costumes and Festive Atmosphere - Group of people in traditional German costumes at New Ulm Oktoberfest.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

While it might seem that your only chance to get in on this epic party is to travel overseas or find yourself invited by some German friends or colleagues, there are tons of ways you can enjoy Oktoberfest even if you don’t have access to an authentic version.

Best Places to Stay in Munich for Oktoberfest

Munich is a great place to visit, and Oktoberfest is an excellent reason to visit Munich. If you want to stay close to the festival grounds, we have you covered with some of the best hotels and accommodation options.

1. The Hilton Munich Park

Hilton Munich Park
Image by Booking.com

The Hilton Munich Park is a beautiful hotel just a few minutes from the Oktoberfest grounds. It’s one of the best places to stay in Munich for Oktoberfest because it features spacious and comfortable rooms and excellent on-site amenities like a fitness center, pool, and spa.

Plus, the hotel is close to the Oktoberfest grounds, so it’s easy to get to and from the festival daily.

2. The Sofitel Munich Bayerpost

The Sofitel Munich Bayerpost
Image by Booking.com

The Sofitel Munich Bayerpost is another excellent option for staying near the Oktoberfest grounds. It’s in the city center and offers stunning views of the Bavarian Alps. The hotel also has a fitness center, pool, and sauna.

3. HOTEL AM MÜNCHNER KÜNSTLERHAUS

HOTEL AM MÜNCHNER KÜNSTLERHAUS

If you’re looking for a unique, off-the-beaten-path accommodation option, consider the HOTEL AM MÜNCHNER KÜNSTLERHAUS.

This hotel is in a historic building once used as an artist’s residence. It features beautiful, individually decorated rooms and is just a short walk from the Oktoberfest grounds.

4. The Kempinski Hotel Munich

Kempinski Hotel Munich
Image by Booking.com

The Kempinski Hotel Munich is a luxurious 5-star hotel in the city’s heart. It offers guests luxurious accommodations and top-notch amenities, including a spa, fitness center, and pool.

5. The Eurostars Book Hotel

Eurostars Book Hotel
Image by Booking.com

The Eurostars Book Hotel is a stylish and affordable option for those looking to stay in Munich during Oktoberfest. It’s just a few minutes from the city center and offers guests comfortable rooms and excellent service.

6. The AllYouNeed Hotel

The AllYouNeed Hotel in Munich
Image by Expedia.com

The AllYouNeed Hotel is a great value option for those looking to stay in Munich during Oktoberfest.

It’s just a few minutes from the Oktoberfest grounds and offers guests simple but comfortable accommodations at a fraction of the cost of other hotels in the area.

7. The Tent Hotel

The Tent Hotel in Munich
Image by TripAdvisor

The Tent Hotel is an excellent option for budget-minded travelers who want to experience all Oktoberfest offers. These hotels are set up each year near Oktoberfest grounds, and they offer visitors a cheap and fun way to enjoy the festival.

Plus, since they’re located right in the heart of the action, you’ll experience all of the excitement and energy that Oktoberfest is famous for.

8. Mandarin Oriental, Munich

Vintage shuttle bus with Mandarin Oriental Oktoberfest signage, Munich
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Mandarin Oriental, Munich, is great if you love Hofbrau beer. It’s located right across the street from the iconic Hofbrauhaus. The hotel is in an excellent location for sightseeing, just a couple of blocks from Marienplatz.

The Mandarin Oriental Munich, a sophisticated and modern hotel near the renowned Maximilianstrasse, is a great choice. The hotel features a variety of fine restaurants and bars, including Matsuhisa by world-famous Chef Nobu Matsuhisa.

Mandarin Oriental provides the highest levels of personalized service in the city center and is an excellent choice for travelers looking for a luxurious and comfortable place to stay in Munich.

Oktoberfest Facts

  • Oktoberfest-goers consumed more than 6 million liters of beer, about 45,000 liters of wine, and almost 165,000 liters of nonalcoholic beer each year.
  • Around 70% of attendees come from outside Germany to experience the festivities.
  • Over 140,000 pairs of traditional lederhosen and dirndls are sold during the festival.
  • The local name for Oktoberfest, “Wies’n,” is derived from Theresienwiese, the name of the field on which the festival is held.
  • The festival halls in Munich can seat 94,000 people.
  • The beers that the Munich breweries produce, especially for Oktoberfest, contain 4.5 percent alcohol.
  • Cincinnati, Ohio, which claims to hold the “largest authentic Oktoberfest” in the U.S., draws about 500,000 people to its celebration.

The German Beer Institute

German Beer Institute logo

The German beer tradition started in the Middle Ages. The German Beer Purity Law of 1516 decreed that only three ingredients could be used in beer production: barley, hops, and water.

To this day, a brewery cannot hang a banner or advertisement on any of the six Munich tents on Oktoberfest grounds. Renting a large beer tent for the festival is about $340,000.

How do they produce Oktoberfest beer?

Everything that goes into the Oktoberfest beer contains “the good water” (Bayerischer Bahnhof means “Bavarian railroad station”), drawn from wells in and around by Munich brewers. The malt is made traditionally with German malt, hops, yeast, and no preservatives.

Oktoberfest beer must maintain a minimum original gravity of 12.7% and a minimum alcohol content of 6.0%. Oktoberfest beer is stored in traditional oak casks and served to festival guests in one-liter beer mugs.

How much designated Oktoberfest beer is used?

On the first day of Oktoberfest alone, 7.3 million visitors drink 6.5 million liters of beer served on beer mugs in gardens and big tents.

More than 200,000 chickens and 114 whole oxen are prepared for the festival grounds by butchers, who must be among the most proficient in the world to keep up with the demand.

The Oktoberfest meals served to fairgoers are accompanied by more than 15,000 loaves of white bread and 24,000 hot pretzels.

Why does Germany celebrate Oktoberfest?

Germany flag

Oktoberfest is a celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. The festivities began the next year and were so popular that they have been repeated ever since.

The Oktoberfest in Munich is the world’s largest fair and has become a global phenomenon. About 6 million people attend the 16-day festival yearly, where they drink 7.5 million liters of beer served in 1.7 million one-liter mugs or steins.

The event has come to be regarded as an important part of Bavarian dialect, culture, and society, and residents of Munich locals and southern Bavaria look forward to it all year long.

Many of the traditions and customs associated with Oktoberfest, such as the wearing of traditional costumes and the drinking of beer from large steins, have become popular around the world.

The festival is now celebrated in many countries outside of Germany, including the United States, Canada, and Australia, and about five million people have attended Oktoberfest celebrations worldwide.

How can I celebrate Oktoberfest at home?

If you can’t make it to Munich for Oktoberfest, don’t worry – you can still celebrate at home! There are many ways to bring the Oktoberfest tradition to your own home.

One way to do this is to host your own Oktoberfest party. This is a great opportunity to try different German beer and food types. You can also decorate your home with traditional Bavarian decorations.

Another option is to attend an Oktoberfest event in your local community. Many cities and towns have their own Oktoberfest events. This is a great way to experience the event without traveling to Germany.

Finally, you can celebrate Oktoberfest by watching German films and TV shows. This is a great way to learn about the culture and get into the festive spirit.

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FAQs

What is Oktoberfest?

Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, from late September to the first weekend in October. It is one of the most famous events in Germany and is the world’s largest fair, with more than six million people attending every year. Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture and has been held since 1810.

What are the dates of Oktoberfest?

The festival usually runs from late September to the first weekend in October, with different daily activities. The exact dates vary yearly, so be sure to check the website for the most up-to-date information.

What kinds of beer are served during Oktoberfest?

Amber, Dark, Wheat. Märzen, Pilsner, Wheat Beer.

How many people go to Oktoberfest every year?

Approximately 6 million people per year.

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