This October, Colin and I got to scratch a huge item off of our bucket list: We went to Oktoberfest! And we did it without spending a ton of money. Want to know how to plan your perfect budget-friendly trip too? Check out my tips for Oktoberfest on a budget!
Before I dive into my tips for Oktoberfest, I have to warn you that some of these tips are going to seem pretty harsh. But you have to be cutthroat if you want to do Oktoberfest on a budget! I’m going to suggest things like *gasp* not drinking your body weight in overpriced beer. If that scares you, grab a security blanket and get ready to scream in fear over the rest of these tips!
But first, let’s talk logistics:
When is Oktoberfest? Oktoberfest 2020 will run from Sep 19 to Oct 4. Surprise, Oktoberfest actually starts in September! Why? The fairgrounds, Theresienwiese, are outdoors and Germans don’t want to chance it by holding their big event in bad weather.
Where is Oktoberfest? Oktoberfest is held in Munich, a city in the southeast of Germany, in Bavaria. Many cities all over Germany and the rest of the world hold their own Oktoberfests, but the real one is in Munich.
What is Oktoberfest? So, what is this thing? Oktoberfest started in 1810 as a celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (who went onto become king) and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. It was a multi-day celebration that involved the whole town and included parades, horse races and, of course, lots of beer. These days the horse races are gone and there’s not as many parades, but there is still tons and tons of beer.
How much does Oktoberfest cost? Great news for those doing Oktoberfest on a budget – entrance is free! It will cost you absolutely nothing to walk around the fairgrounds, go into the tents and beer gardens, and check it all out. But it will cost you to eat, drink and play.
What about reservations for Oktoberfest? As you can imagine, with Oktoberfest being a bucket list item and over six million (!!!) people attending each year, it gets crowded. If you want to guarantee yourself a seat inside one of the beer tents, you’ll need a reservation. But here’s the catch: getting a reservation is not easy. Each tent has their own rules for reserving, including when reservations open and how to make one. Some tents begin accepting 2020 reservations as soon as the 2019 festivities wrap up, while others are more last minute. Some tents allow you to reserve online while others are old-school and require you to fax (yes, fax) in your reservation.
But a rule observed by all tents is that you don’t reserve a seat, you reserve a table. Tables seat 8 to 10 people. And while reservations are free, you do have to pre-pay for drinks and food for everyone at the table. This is usually two beers and one half chicken per person. So unless you want to buy nine of your closest friends drinks and dinner, you might have a hard time reserving a table.
The good news is that reservations aren’t mandatory. You can still sit inside the beer tents and gardens without a reservation!
Okay, now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into my tips for Oktoberfest!
Don’t go to Oktoberfest for too long
I told you these tips were going to be tough! But it’s true: The best way to do Oktoberfest on a budget is to limit how long you spend there. While the celebration goes on for two weeks, you don’t need nearly that much time to enjoy the festivities.
When we went to Oktoberfest, we did it as a day trip from Nuremberg. In fact, we probably only spent a half-day there and for us, that was a good amount of time. We didn’t have reservations and we didn’t spend all night drinking with friends. If Oktoberfest is a huge deal to you and you want to make the most of it, I would recommend going for two days. But you don’t need more than that.
Here is my best tip for Oktoberfest: go early on a weekday. The worst crowds will be in the afternoon and evening on the weekends, especially opening or closing weekend. During busy times, tents will fill up and close, roping off their entrances. If you want to enjoy Oktoberfest and actually get a seat, you’re going to want to aim to arrive at 10:00AM on a weekday. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of other people throwing back beers so don’t feel bad about drinking before noon.
Take public transit…or walk!
The last thing you want to do is try to drive to Oktoberfest. Most of the roads leading up to Theresienwiese are closed and parking anywhere nearby will be insanely expensive and impossible to find. Plus, you’re not going to be driving on your way out of Oktoberfest with a beer or more under your belt.
Even taking a taxi or Uber would be tough as you’ll be stuck in traffic for a long time. So do like the locals do and take public transit, or walk! The Oktoberfest fairgrounds are just a short walk from Munich’s main train station and even have a metro stop right next door. It’s very easy to take public transit or walk to Theresienwiese. And, it’s cheaper!
Don’t stay in Munich
Of all my tips for Oktoberfest, I like to think of this one as my secret weapon. The best way to save money and do Oktoberfest on a budget is to not stay in Munich.
As Oktoberfest is Munich’s biggest event of the year, hotel rates skyrocket. You’ll be lucky to find a place for less than $300 per night. In fact, we had a hard time finding a place for under $300 per night when we visited Munich in June – three months before Oktoberfest! Airbnbs, hostels and every other type of accommodation will be raising their prices for Oktoberfest. And they will be booking up months and months in advance.
The most economical option in Munich is to camp, with many campgrounds offering special Oktoberfest spots. But even camping can run you over $100 per night. And, to be honest, I’m not much of a camper.
When Colin and I visited Oktoberfest, we stayed in Nuremberg. Nuremberg is only an hour away from Munich on the train (and Theresienwiese is walking distance from the train station), so it was super easy for us to visit Oktoberfest on a day-trip from Nuremberg. Plus, there’s lots to do in Nuremberg! We were excited to check out a new German city, leave the crowds behind in Munich and spend way less on a hotel in Nuremberg.
Limit your beer intake
Breathe deep. We’ll get through this tip together. I know it’s wild but yes, I am advising you to drink less at a festival that’s all about drinking. But if you want to do Oktoberfest on a budget, this is one of the best things you can do!
I’m not preaching total sobriety – you can’t go to Oktoberfest and not have a beer (unless you’re not a drinker, then you do you, boo!). But you don’t need to drink your weight in beer. Beer at Oktoberfest is overpriced (especially when compared to prices in Prague!) but you get a lot of beer for your buck. In 2019, a litre of beer cost about 11 euro. But remember that a litre of beer is a lot of beer! It’s the equivalent of about three cans of beer. So suffice to say I was feeling pretty giggly before I could finish my glass.
Colin and I had a beer each and we were more than happy with that. Of course, if you’re spending the full day at Oktoberfest or multiple days, you’ll likely want more beer. But try to reign it in and stick to your budget.
Order the lunch special
A great way to save money at Oktoberfest is to stick to the lunch specials. All of the beer tents will have a menu and you’ll see super-strength servers running around with giants trays full of food, as well as six glasses in their hands! While it would be most budget-friendly to not eat at all, I wouldn’t advise it on a stomach full of beer. So instead, choose the next best thing and order the lunch special.
When Colin and I went, we sat in the beer garden of the Hacker-Pschorr Tent. We opted for the lunch specials; Colin got the lamb with potatoes and beans and I got a half chicken (a traditional Oktoberfest meal). Our meals were about 12 euro each. Most of the other items on the menu were double that price!
This is another reason why I advise going early in the day and having lunch at Oktoberfest, not dinner. Not only are there smaller crowds but you can save big on your meal!
Don’t wear the traditional outfits
This tip actually hurts me to admit but it has to be said. One of the best ways to save money at Oktoberfest is to skip out on wearing the traditional attire. Many attendees at Oktoberfest will dress in traditional Bavarian clothing, lederhosen for men and dirndls for women. And it’s not just tourists wearing these outfits; lots of locals wear them too and often have their own authentic items passed down through their families.
Unfortunately, these outfits won’t help you do Oktoberfest on a budget. The authentic traditional lederhosen and dirndls will set you back hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Even the plastic tourist-friendly versions aren’t cheap. I saw dirndls being sold by the train station for 40-60 euro. And there’s a big quality difference between the “cheap” ones and the proper ones.
I love that everyone gets dressed up for Oktoberfest. From half-drunk college kids on guided tours to Bavarian grandpas and grandmas who wear their lederhosen and dirndls year-round, you’ll see these outfits all over the fairgrounds. But before you part with your cash and buy one ask yourself, “When will I wear this again?” Answer: Probably never. So I say skip spending your money on an outfit you’ll only wear once.
Even if you don’t shell out for lederhosen or a dirndl, you can still dress the part. You can easily wear a checkered shirt you already own or a skirt and apron. And there will still be lots of people at Oktoberfest who didn’t dress up, so you won’t stick out too badly.
Skip the games and rides
You might be thinking, “What games and rides?” If you’ve never been to Oktoberfest before, it might surprise you to find out that the festival is about a lot more than just beer. Theresienwiese is almost five million square feet, meaning there’s room for more than just a handful of beer tents. And what is all of that space filled with? Games and rides.
Yes, Oktoberfest doubles as an amusement park. There are roller coasters, giant swings, haunted houses and stands where you can win all types of oversized stuffed animals. And, like all amusement parks, the rides and games are going to cost you a ton of money. My advice? Skip it! You didn’t come all the way to Oktoberfest to ride a roller coaster or ferris wheel.
Enjoy the beer tents and skip going on rides or playing the carnival games. Have fun walking around the grounds and checking everything out, but don’t pay for it.
Cut back on snacks and souvenirs
Along the same lines, you should also skip snacks and souvenirs as much as possible. You can easily blow your Oktoberfest budget stocking up on every piece of Oktoberfest branded merchandise (and believe me, there’s a lot!). Even Colin and I were tempted to buy a beer stein or a hilarious Bavarian hat. But we resisted!
All of the souvenirs at Oktoberfest are going to be wildly overpriced. If you collect souvenirs from your travels, opt for something small (like a cheap magnet) or wait to buy your item until you leave Oktoberfest. Outside of Theresienwiese, the prices will be much more reasonable.
The same goes for snacks. While you can get a good deal on the lunch specials, snacks sold around the grounds will set you back. I caved and bought a skewer of chocolate covered strawberries and I think it set me back 6 euro! Stick to your lunch special and save the snacking until you leave.
Enjoy the Oktoberfest atmosphere!
Last but not least of my tips for Oktoberfest: Enjoy it! Oktoberfest is a bucket list item and it’s so cool if you get to tick that off. And luckily, the best parts of Oktoberfest are free.
My favourite part of our Oktoberfest experience was walking into the different beer tents. I loved checking out the decor and just getting swept up in the atmosphere with countless other people. We had the best time sitting out in the beer garden, sipping on our beers and laughing as the table next to us attempted to start a sing-a-long. We cheered with everyone else when a girl stood up on her seat and downed her beer in one gulp (or, tried her best). And we joined in when one tent, overrun with English speakers, started to belt a hit 80’s song when the Bavarian band took a break.
You don’t need a lot of money or even a lot of time to enjoy Oktoberfest. You don’t need a fancy outfit, you don’t need an expensive hotel in Munich and you don’t need a week dedicated to hitting every beer tent. In fact, you don’t even need to be a huge beer lover (spoiler alert: I’m not big on beer!). To me, Oktoberfest is all about enjoying the atmosphere – something you can definitely do on a budget. Prost!
Have you ever been to Oktoberfest? Did you manage to do Oktoberfest on a budget? Share your best tips for Oktoberfest with me!
Pass on these tips for Oktoberfest on a budget – Pin it!