From beer and pretzels to Lederhosen and carnival rides, millions of people around the world celebrate Oktoberfest each year. While millions of people celebrate it, many of them have no idea what they are actually celebrating. This post is going to outline what exactly Oktoberfest is, where it comes from, and then answer other key questions about this incredibly popular folk festival. And no, Oktoberfest is not a German Halloween celebration!
What Is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is the most popular folk festival in the world. However, nowadays it is seen as an excuse around the world to drink beer and eat sausages and pretzels. At its origin in 1810, Oktoberfest was a 5-day long party to celebrate the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, which ended on the first Sunday of October.
Because the festival was such a success, it became an annual event and has taken place every year since 1810 except for a handful of times due to either war or disease. For example, Oktoberfest was cancelled in both 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Don’t worry – Oktoberfest is back on in 2022!)
- DID YOU KNOW? - There's much more to do than just get drunk. There is amazing Bavarian cuisine to try, carnival rides, live entertainment, singing, and dancing!
Where Is the Best Place to Go for Oktoberfest?
Hands down, the best place to go for Oktoberfest is Munich.
Munich is the capital of the German state of Bavaria, which is located in the southernmost part of Germany. While many foreigners think that Oktoberfest takes place all over Germany, this is not true. The true, authentic Oktoberfest only takes place in Munich. There is no other city in Germany with a true Oktoberfest, and while a handful of northern German cities may try to create their own events, these are not actually part of Oktoberfest. Attending Oktoberfest in any German city other than Munich – like in Berlin – would be like celebrating the Boston Tea Party in Nebraska. If you happen to be in one of those cities, there is nothing wrong with attending, but it would be a waste of money to fly internationally just to attend the events in the wrong city! Honestly, though, Munich is the best city to visit in Germany, anyway.
With that being said, there are great Oktoberfest celebrations all over the world; they are just not authentic. Oktoberfest is strictly a Bavarian festival. While Munich is the only city that hosts the authentic Oktoberfest, many other cities in Germany and around the world throw fun celebrations in commemoration of the authentic Oktoberfest. While nothing replaces the real thing, these celebrations are a blast to attend and offer people the chance to celebrate from afar! If you decide to head to Munich for Octoberfest, be sure to read my detailed Munich travel guide first.
When Is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest takes place every year in Munich, starting usually on the third Friday of September and ending on the first Sunday of October. The main exception to this rule is that German Unification Day – one of Germany’s biggest holidays – is always on October 3rd. If the first Sunday of October happens to be before October 3rd, the celebration is extended through the 3rd to celebrate the holiday.
The important part to note is that Oktoberfest is NOT MAINLY IN OCTOBER. In fact, the majority of Oktoberfest falls in the month of September.
Oktoberfest was initially only a 5-day celebration, running from Wednesday to Sunday. As the event got more popular over the years, days have slowly been added onto the front of the celebration to give locals and visitors more time to experience the festivities. After all, Oktoberfest has become the most popular folk festival in the world, and Munich receives over 6 million visitors each year to celebrate it.
Should You Wear Lederhosen to Oktoberfest in Munich?
As 6 million people travel to Munich each year for Oktoberfest, many foreigners wonder what exactly they are supposed to wear. Are all 6 million of these people really expected to own Lederhosen and Dirndls? These traditional clothes, known in German as Tracht or Trachten, are very expensive to buy, and many foreigners consider either buying cheap versions of them or not wearing them at all.
Is this acceptable? Can you wear regular clothes to Oktoberfest? Let me unpack that.
Firstly, it is absolutely acceptable to wear regular street clothes to Oktoberfest. There is no expectation that guests wear traditional Bavarian clothes – especially if they are foreigners. If you do opt to wear regular street clothes, remember that Oktoberfest is a traditional festival, and you should dress on the conservative side if you want to fit in.
If you wear Lederhosen to Oktoberfest, or a Dirndl as a woman, you want to make sure of a few things. You don’t want to wear silly versions. Don’t wear a German beer maid costume with a short skirt, as traditional Bavarian Dirndls are ankle-length skirts. Don’t wear rubber or spandex Lederhosen, as Lederhosen are made of leather. The word “Lederhosen” literally just means leather pants. You don’t necessarily need to spend $300 on an outfit, but a $20 Dirndl with a short skirt isn’t acceptable.
Most Bavarians aren’t offended by foreigners wearing traditional Bavarian clothes to Oktoberfest. In fact, they’re very welcoming people and are excited to celebrate with you. However, wearing the types of things we mentioned above is absolutely offensive and cultural appropriation, and you want to avoid both of these things.
Is Oktoberfest Family Friendly?
One of the biggest questions people have about Oktoberfest is whether or not it is family friendly. After all, it is an event that centers largely around drinking beer! If you are a parent, you will be happy to hear that Oktoberfest is absolutely family friendly. There are sections of the Oktoberfest area that are set up specifically to offer entertainment and fun to children, and bringing kids is even encouraged. While your experience bringing kids to Oktoberfest might be a bit different than it would be without kids, you certainly do not need to leave them at home. They can have just as much fun as you!
Also, if you are wondering, yes – your children can go into the beer tents with you at Oktoberfest, but only until 8pm. After that, for their safety, the beer tents become 16+ only. Remember, 16-year-olds can freely drink beer in Germany!
Hopefully this post answered any questions you have about Oktoberfest! This celebration is one of the biggest events in the whole world, and attending Oktoberfest in Munich should be on any traveler’s bucket list. From the incredible beer and food to the great conversations and friendships that you can form, flying to Munich for Oktoberfest is worth every penny. Also, I recommend checking out this extremely informative YouTube video that goes into even more detail on everything you need to know about participating in Oktoberfest, as well as visiting the official Oktoberfest website.