In much of America, the change from summer to fall means hordes of people traveling north to leaf peep and watch forests of trees go from green to red to dead. Germans have a better way of marking the changing seasons: Oktoberfest. This year marks the 185th Oktoberfest in Munich, and what started as a blowout party to celebrate Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese’s marriage in 1810 has turned into a yearly event where some six million people gather to drink millions upon millions of liters of beer.
It can be a little overwhelming for first timers, and it’s impossible to fully understand Oktoberfest (or, as the locals call it, Wies’n) until you’re there. The event has 14 major beer tents that hold as many as 10,000 people, as well as 20 small tents, carnival rides, theaters, and music performances. Put simply, it’s a lot to prepare for and watching Beerfest on repeat won’t cut it. The basics that you should know are the dates (September 22 through October 7 for 2018) and that you should make reservations online to make sure you get a spot at your favorite tents ahead of time — the only way to guarantee you’ll have a place to dine on brats and indulge in a few liters of beer.
But how to decide which tent to go to? Just follow our guide.
Schottenhamel: The tent where it all begins.
This is where, on opening day at precisely 12:00 PM, the mayor of Munich will tap the first Oktoberfest keg and shout “O’zapft is!” which means, “It’s tapped!” Only after that can the other tents start to serve their beer. This tent started in 1867 as a small, 50-seat beer booth, and it’s the oldest Oktoberfest tent still standing. Today, it’s the largest tent with around 10,000 seats (6,000 inside and 4,000 outside) and is sponsored by the Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu brewery.
Roast pork, suckling pig, Bavarian duck, wiener schnitzel, and a Bavarian burger made with beef, mountain cheese, cucumbers, and onion are all on the menu. Plus beer, obviously. Plenty of beer. It’s known for having a younger crowd, and considering the drinking age is 16 in Germany, people are probably even younger than what you think of when you think of a “young bar crowd.” Giant hanging wreaths of German hops make it a sight to see, though, regardless of your feelings about youths.
Lӧwenbräu-Festhalle: The environmentally friendly party spot.
The siren call of Löööwenbräu emits from this tent. If that doesn’t get your attention, the 121-foot-tall tower topped with a lion surely will. Fans of the TSV 1860 Munich football team (also called the Lions) gather here, and you’re going to hear them roar. The tent holds 5,800 people inside and has 2,700 seats out in the beer garden. On the menu: bread and potato dumplings, sauerkraut, sausage, Bavarian duck, steak, and deer.
The Löwenbräu tent has been at Oktoberfest for 60 years with the same band playing since 1996. The tent’s facilities are entirely modern, however, and it’s consistently awarded the most environmentally friendly tent. Löwenbräu repurposes the rinsing water from the beer tanker dishwasher as toilet water and uses only energy-efficient LED bulbs. If you want to feel good about your environmental footprint while also feeling good about drinking beer — and who wouldn’t want all those things at once? — then this is the tent for you.
Armbrustschützen-Festhall: The crossbow tent.
Yes, common logic says that crossbows and copious beer consumption shouldn’t be mixed. But logic be damned. Since 1895, the Armbrustschützen (which roughly means “tent of the crossbowmen”) has held a crossbow competition that is one of the highlights of the entire Oktoberfest. Paulaner provides beer that’s delivered daily to the tent and is made special just for the Wies’n, and food includes roast chicken, pork knuckles, and sausages with sauerkraut. Going along with the whole crossbow theme, there’s also a Halali Bar, which is named for the hunting signal that alerts hunters on when to stop. The bar also serves “sweet and spicy liquids and spirits” and Champagne.
Fischer Vroni: The tent for people who don’t want pig knuckle.
The Fischer Vroni tent is an oasis among a sea of tents serving poultry and red meat. Specifically, it’s a tent for grilled fish cooked on a 50-foot stick over an open fire. There’s walleyed pike, white fish, salmon, and trout, and Augustiner Brewery provides all the beer to wash it down. The family that runs the tent knows fish, having started in 1914 as a fish wholesale business. Now, its Oktoberfest location can hold 2,695 people inside and 700 outside, so if you’d rather not gorge on all that unhealthy red meat, you know where to go.
Schützen-Festzelt: The tent for people sick of drinking beer.
There’s a good chance that anyone going to Oktoberfest came with the intention of drinking plenty of beer. If not, Munich is a strange destination for this time of year. But at the same time, we get it, liter after liter can get tiresome, and that’s when you head to Schützen-Festzelt. The tent has been around since 1926, and it celebrates all of the great German wines out there. There’s a number of sparkling wines to choose from, as well as Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. Another claim to fame is the tent’s famous suckling pig, which is served with malt beer sauce and warm potato salad. Because this is Oktoberfest, there’s also beer from the Löwenbräu brewery available. It seats 5,100 people inside and 1,400 outside, where you can see views of the Ferris wheel and the famous statue Bavaria.
Ochsenbraterei (Spatenbräu-Festhalle): The oxen-roast tent.
You’ll know exactly what this tent is all about as soon as you walk in: “oxen specialties.” A huge ox turns on a giant spit near the front entrance, slowly cooking for all of the hungry people inside. The oxen-roasting tradition began in 1881 when butcher Johann Rossler roasted an ox on a steam-powered grill. That was top of the line technology back then, but it was also really loud and smoky. Things have modernized today, but the meat is still just as tasty. Beer is provided by Spaten, and you can order oxen ribs, oxen fillet, or an ox cut with a strong red wine sauce alongside potato salad, which is the most traditional way to eat it. Duck and suckling pig fill out the menu if watching a massive oxen spin for hours isn’t your idea of appetizing.
Hacker-Festhalle: The tent for people tired of brass bands and lederhosen.
The Hacker-Festhalle is decorated with stars and clouds and made to look like you’re in a Bavarian Heaven. The main difference is this form of Bavarian Heaven also has a rock n’ roll band called Cagey Strings that starts every night at 5:30 PM. So if you don’t think you can stand one more toot from a traditional German brass band, rock out with a traditional German rock band. Hacker-Pschorr provides the beer, and a butcher brings in fresh sausage every day along with duck, an assortment of cheeses, and the ever-present potato salad.
Pschorr-Bräurosl: The yodeler tent.
The Heide family has owned this tent for seven generations, and they’re still going strong. The main attraction (besides the beer) is a dedicated yodeler who works for the tent and answers only to the name Bräurosl during the Wies’n. It’s the perfect tent for when you don’t want your only yodeler experience to be that one time your mom made you watch The Sound of Music when you were a kid. Beer comes from the Hacker-Pschorr brewery, the same providers for the rock n’ roll tent. Some 6,200 people can fit and listen to the yodeling inside, as well as 2,200 outside.
Augustiner-Festhalle: The family-friendly tent.
All of Oktoberfest is family friendly — the drinking age is 16, remember? — but the Augustiner-Festhalle is especially so. It’s earned a reputation for being “the friendliest of all at Oktoberfest,” where “the waiters/waitresses (almost) never forget to smile, regardless of how busy or hectic it gets.” Both of the Tuesdays during the Wies’n are designated as “kids days” with lower prices. (Don’t worry, there’s still lots of Augustiner beer.) It holds 6,000 inside and 2,500 outside. It’s also the only Oktoberfest brewery tent that still serves from stags, which are 200-liter wooden barrels.
Winzerer Fähndl: The celebrity tent.
Germans love their football, and they especially love their football teams. Arguably the most famous of the teams is FC Bayern, and this is their gathering place. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s got a wide range of music that keeps the party going, from a Bavarian brass band that plays Oktoberfest classics, oldies and those sweet, sweet German hits to a setlist of “groovy music” at night. Paulaner provides the beer, and anyone who forgets that can just look up and see a tower with a giant rotating Paulaner beer glass. The tent also has foodie cred, having recently won the “Excellent Bavarian Cuisine” award from the Bavarian Hotel and Restaurant Association.
Marstall: The horse tent.
Marstall is a millennial tent. Not because of the crowd, per se, but because it’s only been around since 1982. It’s named after the German word for a royal horse-riding school that was built in 1822, and it stays on theme. There’s a big carriage at the entrance of the tent with carved wooden horses decorating it. It essentially looks like a carousel with horses around it, making it a great place to horse around in the neighborhood. Marstall fits 3,200 people inside and 1,000 people outside, and the beer comes from Spaten-Franziskaner-Brau.
Käfer’s Wies’n Schänke: The gourmet tent.
This tent describes itself as a “celebrity meeting place and gourmet temple.” Those words might signal exclusivity to you, and you wouldn’t be far off. It’s comparatively small when it comes to the Wies’n tents, with a capacity of 1,000 inside and 1,900 outside. It stays open an hour or two later than most other tents (12:30 AM), but you’re going to need connections to get past the bouncers if it’s after 11:00 PM. Guess it’s time to make some celebrity friends.
If you do get in, there are five bands that bring the noise. Plenty of pretzels and traditional appetizers like salami, goose, pate, sausage and cheese, lobster, and salmon fill you up. There’s beer, but there’s also Champagne buckets of Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee Brut if you’re a hotshot. Suckling pig, goose, duck, and a pan-fried “alpine pizza” are also on the menu. All are delicious as this tent prides itself on being more of a restaurant than a beer tent with pints and lederhosen. (Ok, maybe some lederhosen.)
Weinzelt: For devoted winos.
This is the official wine tent of the festival with 15 different wines from still to sparkling. It is small, however, with only 1,920 seats inside and 580 outside. There’s also some Paulaner because this is still a gathering for beer lovers, after all. Weinzelt has been going since 1984 and boasts a wine garden that’s “worthy of a royal wedding.” There are multiple bars in the tent: One that’s covered with vines, one dedicated to Champagne, and a small back bar lined with antlers that serves gin and tonics, beer, and a Veneto Spritz.
Hofbräu Festzelt: The dancing crowds’ tent.
The Hofbräu Festzelt is the second-largest tent at the Wies’n and the only one that has a standing area in front of the music podium. (The rest are too filled with long tables designed for setting your giant beer mugs down.) It’s become known as the tourist tent, but don’t judge it for that. Hofbräu München provides the beer, and food includes pheasants, ribs, and wiener schnitzel.