Party Like a Münchner at Oktoberfest’s Triumphant Return

Everything you need to know about crashing the world's largest Volksfest.

Oktoberfest is back. We’ve gone two long years without guzzling liters-upon-liters of that bready, toasty amber beer while cheering along with some millions of revelers, swaying to traditional Bavarian drinking songs and oompah remixes of ‘80s rock ballads between meals of roast chicken, Schweinshaxe, sausage, and more roast chicken. There are women being spun on a “Devil’s Wheel” and men hopping and slapping their shoes in chorus. It’s beautiful in all its kitchy chaos.

Because this is the first festival since 2019—this year going from September 17 through October 3 in Munich (along with many other replica festivals around the US and the world)—we thought it’d be smart to cover the basics. So we met up with a handful of the festival’s staffers, waitresses, breweries, long-time party-goers, and local Müncheners for their advice on navigating the crowds of more than 6 million people expected to make their way to the Bavarian capital. Here’s what to know about attending the Wiesn.

people holding beer mugs
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Find the tent for you

The festivities take place at the famed Theresienwiese, a sprawling 31 hectare lawn where you’ll find 17 big tents (enough to fit 8,000+ people), 21 small tents, tents for families, a wine tent, and an entire section called “Oide Wiesn” dedicated to Oktoberfest as if it be the 19th century. None of the tents require tickets and entry is free. However, don’t expect to happily hop from tent-to-tent with no issues. While the festival opens at 9 am, it’s normal for tents to close by mid-day due to overcrowding. So if you’re traveling in a large group, consider splitting up—actually, definitely split up.

If you were properly prepared and made a reservation, great; follow it. If not, there are some rules. For starters, don’t complain about the lines; that’s what happens when you don’t have a resy. Secondly, don’t sit at any open table, but ask if it’s been reserved. If not, great. You have a seat. Also, definitely make sure you’re only ordering and drinking from the particular tent you’re sitting in. No snagging beers from one tent and bringing them to your seat in another. This will get you scolded.

Next, bring cash. Not all tents deal in credit cards, so stash away a few hundred euros, so you don’t end up hurtling through a crowd of 100,000+ people, only to wait in line at an ATM for an hour alongside hundreds of other people who made the same mistake you did.

Now, depending on the vibe you’re seeking, there’s certainly a tent that offers it. At the famed Käfer, you’ll encounter the who’s-who of the socialite scene. It’s where soccer club Bayern Munich, A-listers, and your German celebs hang out. A similar VIP scene exists at the Paulaner Festzelt. At the famed Höfbräu and Löwenbräu sites, expect a bit of tamed debauchery and international guests. Life at the Augustiner tent is a bit more familial and local. In the Oide Wiesn (which we highly recommend), it’s all about tradition and gemütlichkeit, a place where you’ll see age-old rides and beloved sing-a-longs as well as grandchildren sipping foam off their grandparent’s stein. Those planning on visiting the Wiesn for a few days or more can enjoy a different experience each trip rather than just feverishly hunting for a hangover.

people cheersing in traditional german dress
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What should I wear at Oktoberfest?

Part of the fun of Oktoberfest is the attire, but to the purists, there’s a massive difference between a traditional Tracht (Lederhosen and Dirndl) and dress-up. “It’s not a carnival, it’s a traditional festival. Buy a decent costume and not that cheap stuff you can get at the train station,” says Michaela, long-time staffer at Löwenbräu-Festzelt, and her mother, a former Oktoberfest waitress for 33 years.

So how can you tell what’s legit and what isn’t? Fabric, cut, and price. A Dirndl, for example, should always cover the knee. Lederhosen made of plastic is straight up disrespectful. “A real outfit has its price,” says Kerstin Jungblut, a local Münchener and lead at Paulaner am Nockherberg brewery (founded in 1634). “It’s better to go dressed normally; nobody cares about that.” But everyone makes fun of the bad copies.

There’s also a subtle secret to the way you tie your Dirndl apron. “Women who wear the bow of their aprons on the right, these ladies are married!,” says Jungblut. “Loop on the left means single.” It’s up to you how you use this knowledge.

woman holding beer mug
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Know the drinking etiquette

As much as films like Bierfest portray Oktoberfest as some gigantic drunken stupor in which millions of people are drowning in beer and sloshing through beer tents, the reality is quite different. Now is not the time for sculling. That’s why we have tailgates. “Such actions endanger your health, and you’ll be thrown out immediately,” said the Paulaner Festzelt. “You’ll be kicked out,” said another resident, who has attended over twenty. “But that doesn’t mean I haven’t done it.”

Another tell-tale sign of amateurism is trying to steal the famed Maßkrug. During the last Oktoberfest, 96,912 mugs were confiscated. And because this is the first one since, the urge this year is surely strong. The word of advice, though, is don’t—mostly because it’s a 360 euro fine and possibly up to a year in prison. But also, you realize you can just buy one, right?

Perhaps more important than the drinking etiquette is the service. These staffers are serving some 6 million people, carrying 8 million beers, 500,000 roast chickens, 60,000 sausages, and dealing with who-knows-how-many drunk assholes. “Everyone works for themselves,” said Michaela, who, during Wiesn, works 16 straight days and more than twelve hours each day, and she’s been doing this since 1997.

Unlike restaurant servers, waitstaff like Micahela are not paid a rate, but rather by a percentage of revenue from the goods they serve to the table. Because of this, tent-hopping with your beers is quite unfriendly, as servers like her lose money that way. She also stresses the importance of tips, saying, “Our earnings depend on tips and the turnover in your service area.”

People clink their beer glasses

One of the biggest irritations is “When guests can only tolerate a little beer,” says Paulaner Festzelt. “They block a table for the whole evening without delivering good sales.” So if you’re seated in a tent, be sure to eat and drink up; otherwise, give someone else your seat.

In general, the drinking rules are pretty simple: no sleeping, vomiting, or general aggression. When the band starts playing “Ein Prosit,” you must stop what you’re doing, look each table-mate in the eyes, and drink. One long-time visitor warns against “mixing a fresh beer with an old beer,” as it’s sacrilege to the monks who created these elixirs some 500 years ago.

Another visitor warns against “underestimating your drunkenness before hopping on the carnival rides.” The beer is roughly 6% alcohol and sneaks up on you like a midnight Jägerbomb, so tread carefully. Remember, Oktoberfest is a marathon, not a sprint, and if you do find you’ve started off a bit strong, that’s why the Wiesn Lords provided us with succulent roast chicken as well as the beloved Speibecken, aka the “puke sink” in the bathrooms.

view of historic Munich
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What else should I do in Munich?

There’s no such thing as an exhaustive list of things to do in and around Munich. You can spend your days nursing a hangover at world-class museums like the Alte Pinakothek, Kunsthalle, or Museum Brandhorst. Or stroll around the English Garden, where you can amble by the Chinese pagoda, watch the surfers at the Eisbach, and stop for a drink at the grounds’ beer garden. About thirty minutes from the city center is the Nymphenburg Palace, a sprawling baroque residence built in 1644. From the castle’s immaculate fresco in the Great Hall to the bedroom of King Ludwig II and the colorful gardens, a stop here offers a fascinating look at Munich’s former royalty.

Obviously, you’ll also want to eat (and drink) as much as humanly possible. A good starting point into Bavarian cuisine is Viktualienmarkt. The 200-year-old, open-air market in the city center (just a stone’s throw from the famed Marienplatz and its Glockenspiel) serves up Weisswurst sausage, Leberkäse, homemade soups, sour pickles, Alpine cheeses, pretzels, fresh juices, and more. There’s also a pleasant, shady beer garden where visitors can savor the vibrant setting.

downtown cobblestone street
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Those looking to enjoy the breweries beyond the festival’s beer tents can stop by the centuries-old breweries like Paulaner am Nockherberg, Schneider Brauhaus, or the famed Hofbräuhaus. For a contemporary glimpse into Munich daily-life, jaunt through city districts like Glockenbachviertel or Schwabing and enjoy the international fare, indie boutiques, and cocktail bars. Arguably the most “Munich experience” in the city is simply planting yourself along the Isar river for a picnic and people-watching during the sunset.

When you’re finally tuckered out from all the eating and drinking, Munich’s proximity to the Alps in the south lends itself to the perfect day-trip. Hikers can trek their way in-and-around Berchtesgaden and seek sky-high views over the Königsee. If you’d still like Alpine panormas but prefer not to hike, hop on the train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and take the cable car up to Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain. WWII buffs should consider trips to Dachau concentration camp or north to Nuremberg for a look at the famed trial sites.

Of course, Munich—a spectacularly stunning city in itself—is just a short journey from Germany’s Romantic Road, where you can enjoy a visit to the “Disney Caste,” Schloss Neuschwanstein, and timber-framed fairytale villages like Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Munich and Oktoberfest is just a launching pad for a remarkable vacation.

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Tom Burson is a Detroit- and Bavaria-based journalist writing about food, travel, art, and design. His work has appeared in National Geographic, Departures, Centurion, VogueVice, and all over his broken HP laptop. Follow him on Twitter.