After dreaming about it for many years, I'm hoping to head to Oktoberfest in Germany this year. Any advice for planning the perfect trip?
A rite of passage for travelling beers nuts, Munich's mammoth 16-day booze party (oktoberfest.de/en) kicks off Sept. 20. But you'll be drinking at home in your lederhosen (again) unless you tap some local tips – and act fast.
"The minimum stay should be four days," says Munich-based Mark Zanzig, whose free online festival guide (oktoberfest-insider.com) is packed with advice. "One day to arrive and get ready, one day for the fest itself, one day to recover and one day to visit Munich."
But what do you need to plan before rolling your beer belly into town? "It's high season for hotels, but booking engines are still listing rooms at moderate prices in attractive locations. If you're on a tight budget, look at the area around Munich for affordable B&Bs. Rooms are always available – it just depends what you're willing to pay."
Once you've secured your hangover bed, you'll need a strategy for negotiating the event that annually draws more than six million glassy-eyed quaffers. The fest's sprawling site comprises 14 large "tents" – gigantic temporary beer halls with elaborate façades that are crammed with countless communal tables – plus smaller venues dotted around a carnival-style midway. But although most tents offer confusing table reservations, Zanzig says that shouldn't put you off.
"If there are just two or three of you, you won't need a reservation. Just sneak in and look for unreserved seats or politely ask groups with available seats if you can join them. You can also ask waitresses for free seats," says Zanzig, adding that weekends and rainy days are best avoided since they're always packed.
And while tents are free to enter, he also offers some useful budget guidelines. "You should be okay with €50 [about $70] per person – more if you want to drink more or try the rides and attractions. That buys you two large beers, a chicken and a giant pretzel. Remember to bring cash – credit cards are not usually accepted."
Munich actor and comedian Moses Wolff agrees that small groups can typically access tents without reservations – especially on weekdays and for those happy to start their drinking early. Author of Meet Me in Munich: A Beer Lover's Guide to Oktoberfest, his must-do tents include Hacker, Fischer-Vroni and Lowenbrau.
But before face-planting into the nearest brimming stein, you'll need an outfit – and that doesn't just mean a dollar-store handlebar moustache. "Men need real lederhosen and it's customary for women to wear a dirndl. Beware cheap copies and remember this is a traditional outfit – not a costume," Wolff cautions.
Last-minute togs are available in stores around Munich. But make sure your outfit can be cleaned, since you'll also be scoffing lots of greasy-fingered grub. "Go for traditional Bavarian sweet and salty food with lots of meat – and don't miss the awesome beef tartare in the Hacker tent," says Wolff, adding that visitors should also tip servers, since they "do a very hard job."
And for that groan-heavy morning after, his surprising hangover cure is a lofty whirl on the giant Oktoberfest Ferris wheel. At 50 metres high, its breathtaking vistas should unfog the haziest of beer-addled brains.
For both experts, the bottom line for a successful Oktoberfest is to imbibe the locals' bacchanalian bonhomie – and don't drink so much that you wake up in a gutter wearing nothing but a day-old pretzel.
According to Zanzig: "Start slowly if you want to enjoy the experience. And whatever happens, stay away from shots and strong liquor. Stick with beer and you'll have a fantastic time."
And, for Wolff, the best approach is to keep it simple and be prepared: "Just go there and have a good time. Be happy, eat, drink, kiss – and don't forget to use a condom."
Our readers write
Go during the week – you can get in if you're there by 4 p.m. Weekends you'll need to be there by 9 a.m. Also, learn the lyrics/dance moves to this song: Fliegerlied. It's played repeatedly! @Laurel_Robbins
One of my favourites is Augustiner-Keller – it's more of beer garden under the trees and it's near the train station. @advcardio
There is always a Sekt [sparkling wine] tent if you are not into beer! @HolidayBakerMan
Only certain men can get away with pulling off lederhosen and Speedos. And they're all German. @Jody_Robbins