Oktoberfest (mid-September-early October): It’s hard to write anything about Munich, without mentioning the world’s biggest folk festival called Oktoberfest. For anyone that hasn’t attended before, you may think it’s only a festival for drinking beer, but that’s only half of it. There’s also food, drinks, rides, games, and a big Ferris Wheel outside the beer tents, so during the day, you’re more likely to see families there. And if you’re curious to see what it’s all about, without going when it’s packed full of people, go during the day on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and you may be surprised at how calm it is then. It’s free to get in and walk around, but they are strict about bringing almost nothing in with you, including bigger purses/bags and for the most part, no water bottles. There are a few entrances that you can use, but the easiest one to go in and out of, is by the Bavaria Statue. You’ll see a huge number of people going to the entrance near the U-Bahn station called Theresienwiese, but if you follow the fence towards the Bavaria Statue, you won’t have to wait in any lines, and it’s an easy place to meet friends. One thing to keep in mind if you are going for a few beers, they are stronger, and when you order 1 stein (called a Mass), you’ll be drinking just over 1 liter (36 fluid ounces or 3 normal size beers). So take your time, make sure to have a good bit of food on your stomach, or you won’t be very happy later on.
TIP 1: If you love to be around a group of rowdy drunk Italians, make sure and don’t miss the second weekend of Oktoberfest, as this is when they come. If that isn’t your idea of a good time, make sure and avoid that weekend.
TIP 2: There is a little area inside of Oktoberfest, called the Old Oktoberfest (Oide Wiesn). What started in 2010 as a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest, quickly became very popular. It’s a small version of the main Oktoberfest, with beer tents, games and their own rides, but it’s more historical, with most things being made out of wood. There is a €3 entrance fee for anyone 14 years old and older (free entrance to children younger than 14), but because of that, it keeps out a lot of the heavy tourism. It has a schedule conflict every 4 years, so there won’t be an Oide Wiesn in 2020.
TIP 3: The big beer tents have a certain number of seats that are reservation-only. What’s really crazy to find out though, is that some of the reservations open in January, so 8 months before Oktoberfest! This is advisable if you’ll have more than 8 people with you (you’ll pay for a whole table either way, which seats 10 people). But don’t worry, if you go around 3pm (15:00), typically you can easily find a seat and stay there until they close. Just ask someone working there where you can sit, that isn’t already reserved. If you do want to make a reservation though, here’s all the info you’ll need for when they take reservations, if you want to do a small tent, rather than a big one and how much it costs.
TIP 4: Leave your credit cards at home, as you won’t be able to use them at Oktoberfest. Even though the drinks and food are expensive, you’ll still have to pay for everything with cash. If you don’t have cash with you, there are ATM machines at the entrances of Oktoberfest, as well as in most of the bigger beer tents.
TIP 5: If you are in Munich a week or two before Oktoberfest, it’s worth checking out other nearby folk festivals, such as in Rosenheim, Dachau or Nuremberg. They are a little smaller, but a lot less touristy, still offer all of the rides, food, and drinks, and you’ll save €2-3 per drink.
Spring Festival (late April-mid May): So, what if you’d like to experience Oktoberfest, but you won’t be in Munich during late September-early October? This is a little known secret, but there’s actually a small Oktoberfest in late April/early May, called Spring Festival (Frühlingsfest). Instead of 16 huge beer tents, there are only 2, as well as smaller ones and beer gardens. But it has the same feel as Oktoberfest does with rides, food, music, and of course beer. The nice thing about going during this time is that almost no tourists are there, so it’s a lot more relaxed and more family-friendly than Oktoberfest is. It’s held at the same location (U-Bahn stop: Theresienwiese) and you can also make reservations if you want. But again, with fewer people coming there, it will be easier to find seats than it is with Oktoberfest. And yet again, make sure to bring cash with you for everything there.
Munich’s Birthday (mid-June): 2020 marks Munich’s 862nd birthday and her citizens gladly celebrate it each mid-June for one weekend, called Town Founding Festival (Stadtgründungsfest). There is a main music stage, as well as a big beer garden in the beautiful Marienplatz. At the historic Odeonsplatz, there are cultural things such as Irish dancing, and even a craftsmen’s village, showing off their fine talents of goldsmiths, carpenters, and metal workers. Have you ever been curious to learn ballroom dancing? Well now’s your chance, as the enchanting Old Town Hall allows people to come into their ballroom on that Saturday and learn how to dance, for free.
Summer Festival (late June-mid July): For 26 days is a festival for music, food and culture. It is held in Olympiapark and while it’s free to enter and walk around, the night concerts are a ticketed event. But when you see some of the artists that come there, you’ll understand why. People like Bob Dylan, Melissa Etheridge, Sting, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Dido have played there. With the tents being much smaller than a massive concert hall, you’ll get to see these artists pretty close up. There is also music during the day that is free to see, with both local and international musicians playing here. If music isn’t a main interest of yours, there are over 50 different food options, tents for theater productions, over 200 stalls for local crafts, and all of it has a focus of fair-trade, organic products and trying to encourage a greener world. Here is their website for the dates, ticket prices and what happens each day. Typically on the last night of the summer festival is something called Summer Night’s Dream (Sommernachtstraum). It’s a special fenced off area next to Tollwood, that you need a ticket for, but then you have access to exclusive food, music, and a professional firework show over the lake, with choreographed music.
TIP: You can also see the firework show from the Tollwood area for free. Many people sit down on the grass or anywhere they can find, as the show lasts about 30 minutes. You can’t see everything from this side, nor can you hear the music, but it is free, and you can still see a lot of it.
Winter Festival (late November-December 23): Since the big open space at Theresienwiese is only used for festivals, such as Oktoberfest and the Spring Festival, we now head back there again for the winter festival, also called Tollwood. Despite the summer and winter Tollwood having a similar focus of music, food, culture, fair-trade products and a firework show to end the festival, there is still a different feel between the two. There are more big-name concerts during summer, and then during the winter, there is a Christmas market intertwined into the festival. While there are many other Christmas markets sprinkled around Munich, Tollwood is a staple for any visitor. Regardless if you go during the day or night, you’ll enjoy walking around, having some hot mulled wine (Glühwein), and smelling the delicious food cooking in the nearby tents. The food is a collection from Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, so if you want to enjoy some Pad Thai, something from Jamaica or maybe Kenya, you’re in luck. There are two tents just for food, as well as outside stalls for finger foods and little snacks.