Every beer, polka band, or Bavaria lover knows that if it’s late September, it’s Oktoberfest! This annual festival in Munich, Germany originated in the early 1800s with the celebration of the nuptials of the crown prince of Bavaria (later King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, but it is going on perhaps even stronger today.
Now, Germans and teutophiles around the world celebrate for two weeks or more — until the first Sunday in October — with as much revelry as they can muster.
But whether you can be in Munich for the main event, are attending any of the heritage festivals that have popped up in American communities where large numbers of citizens with German heritage reside, or just want to celebrate Oktoberfest at your own home, we have some tips on how to enjoy this iconic Beerfest and traveling funfair to the fullest… and how not to dry up your wallet while doing it!
A History of Oktoberfest
October 12, 1810, two royals married in an effort to quell rebellion and establish unity. They invited about 40,000 guests to join in the merriment, which lasted for several days. And it must have been such a grand time that the town decided to do it all again the following year (minus the matrimony this time), and not too long after that, it became tradition and was decided that Oktoberfest should continue and become an annual event.
The original wedding did have a carnival element to it, including horse races that honored the newlyweds as well as spectacles, games, and tastings. Subsequent festivals, however, added other important elements of Bavarian culture, including beer and food stands, agricultural competitions, and live cooking. The horse races ended in 1960, but everything else continues today.
And while the early Oktoberfests were held in October to commemorate the anniversary of that first royal wedding, dates have shifted to late September to catch some milder weather — but extend to the first Sunday in October. It is still Oktoberfest after all!
Oktoberfest is a prep for Fall, a celebration of all things Bavaria, and is more than a chance to consume large quantities of beer and enjoy traditional foods — though it is that as well to be sure. This massive Volksfest (folk festival) is essential to the economy of the region. Canceled or temporarily suspended only a very few times, like during WWI and WWII as well as during COVID in 2020 and 2021, this largest party in the world is set to return this year bigger than ever.
Whether you’re one of the more than six million visitors attending festivities in Munich or are honoring the occasion somewhere else, you should know some of the basic Oktoberfest traditions and how the festival unfolds each year.
Oktoberfest opens with a 12-gun salute at precisely noon followed by the tapping of the first keg of Oktoberfest beer by the mayor of Munich, which they do with a proclamation: O’zapft is! (It’s tapped!)
The first liter is offered to the Minister-President of the State of Bavaria, and then starts the parades and other revelries.
Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, which dictates that only beer brewed within the city limits of Munich and made with four ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast, can be served at Munich’s Oktoberfest.
Festival-goers enjoy these beers and other regional delights in 36 beer and food tents. Inside each, they will listen to live brass bands that perform both traditional folk and more modern German music. Outside and scattered around the grounds there are games and carnival-style rides.
Best U.S. Oktoberfest Celebrations
Munich’s is the only official Oktoberfest, but that hasn’t stopped other cities in Germany — and around the world — from holding Octoberfest-style events of their own. Pretty much anywhere Germans reside, they have brought their cherished festival with them.
According to the U.S. census bureau, today more than 40 million Americans claim German ancestry, and much German heritage is concentrated in cities around the country. A few of those cities have their own spectacular Oktoberfest celebrations, so you won’t need to travel all the way to Munich to experience an authentic taste of what is arguably the most popular Volksfest in Europe.
Here are a few of the best of the best:
Leavenworth, Washington has the ambiance already — this region has the alpine hills to create a Bavarian backdrop. Over three weekends leading up to the first weekend in October, visitors enjoy citywide merriment including live music, Polka dancing, German foods, and beer, of course!
Can you hold 34 oz of beer longer than anyone else? That’s what you’ll need to do to win the Strong Stein competition at Linde’s Oktoberfest in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The competition and other trademark fun bring guests back to Linde year after year.
Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” hosts an authentic celebration complete with Hofbrahan’s beer imported from the Motherland.
It isn’t called the “Polka Capital of Texas” for nothing! Fredericksburg, Texas is a town filled with German heritage that spares no energy — nor has a shortage of events — during its three-day October fest celebration. Head here for OkTubaFest, the Hauptstrasse Chicken Dance, and the (domino) 42 Tournament.
Giving the Bavarian bash a Southwestern twist, Four Peaks, Arizona has all of the Oktoberfest traditions and then some. It’s also an annual fundraiser to promote multiculturalism.
Visitors here stroll 50 food booths disguised as alpine chalets, as well as five biergartens showcasing German beers, wines, and local craft brews. Entertainment includes everything from alphorns to alpine rock, and the Glockenspiel is played every hour!
Southwest Ohio is rich in German-American heritage, and Zinzinnati is one of America’s largest Oktoberfest events. One of its highlights is the adorable and feisty “Running of the Whiners” dachshund race.
This bustling mountain town in Northeast Georgia may have the longest-running Oktoberfest anywhere in the US. Spread over multiple weeks of dancing, food, and beer, Helen’s Oktoberfest is a rare one open to all ages. (Note: Weekends are popular with tour and college groups, while weekdays are the most family-friendly.)
How to Host Your Own Oktoberfest
Even if you aren’t able to get to Munich or any of the great American Volksfests, you can still raise your stein to an Oktoberfest good time right in your own backyard!
With decorations, the smell of warm candied almonds, some accordion and tuba tunes — and of course gemütlichkeit galore — you can honor the traditions of Bavaria and celebrate Fall just as other revelers are doing around the world.
To host your own Oktoberfest, you will need to offer some Oktoberfest basics:
Beer is probably the first thing most think of when they hear Oktoberfest, and for good reason! It has become the main event at the German festival. But while Munich’s Oktoberfest only allows beer from the city’s six main breweries to be served, and it would be authentic to offer your guests Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten (the six authorized breweries), you can go outside of these rules for your own event.
Each of Munich’s breweries does make a special festbier exclusively for the Oktoberfest beer tents, however. So it might be a great added touch to include a special fest-themed beer for your own Oktoberfest celebration.
Also read: What Your Tailgate Drink Says About You
Aside from beer, Oktoberfest can equally be about food. And while Bavarian soft pretzels seem ubiquitous, there are also other common fest foods that you should consider for your celebration.
Not only are candied almonds — Gebrannte Mendeln — super popular at Oktoberfest, but they are quite easy to make at home. Kartoffelpuffer, or potato pancakes, are a fried German delicacy that is easy to make for groups of all sizes. Charcuterie boards make every party better and can include scrumptious cheeses alongside various types of meat and other fun finds. Everything from venison to dumplings, pickled pigs feet and schnitzel can be found in the tents in Munich, so really, anything goes when it comes to foods served, but Oktoberfest isn’t Oktoberfest without some bratwurst. Bratwurst made its first appearance in Oktoberfest food booths in 1881!
And whether you buy it pre-made or make your own, apple strudel (dampfnudel) and lebkuchenherzen (a baked treat resembling gingerbread) are sweets that your crowd will love, so don’t forget the dessert!
Ah Oktoberfest! First, there is the traditional oom-pah-pah, and in Munich, there would be a mix of polka and folk music, but whether you want to play pop or drinking songs at your own Fest, it’s best to have a playlist. Just remember to include any of the most popular ones that will encourage your guests to stand, clap their hands, and maybe even sing along.
You’ll still be served in Munich if you aren’t wearing them, but lederhosen and dirndl are recognized as the official attire of Oktoberfest and were given this distinction as far back as 1887.
Lederhosen, traditionally working clothes for men, consist of a pair of knee-length shorts with suspenders, a white or checkered button-up shirt, knee socks, and loafers. Lederhosen translates simply to “leather pants.”
A dirndl is typically for women and is made up of a few pieces: a bodice, skirt, blouse, and an apron over top. Like lederhosen, the dirndl has similar roots as attire for workers.
Combine the look, the sounds, the smells, and the brew and you’ll have a homestyle Oktoberfest to which everyone will want an invitation!
Ways to Save Money on Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is a magical mix of culture, commemoration, and celebration — but all of the beer, brats, and bacchanalia can tap out your wallet! Thankfully, there’s a way to save on all of your purchases, including those for hosting an Oktoberfest at home.
Don’t let all of that revelry set you back! Fetch offers big rewards for your entire Oktoberfest event, especially for the delicious eats, treats, and brews.
To take advantage, just download the Fetch app to your smartphone or use Fetch’s Digital Receipt Program to link your email accounts or digital consumer accounts to your Fetch account. As you stock up on party staples, upload receipts to earn points!
Every single receipt earns you something — though specific products found on each receipt may earn you even extra — that all accumulate toward a free gift card at various of your favorite travel destinations, restaurants, and stores.
And there are special offers surrounding Oktoberfest. These offers vary but could include Ballpark buns for your brats purchased at Walmart, King Arthur All-Purpose Flour to create those special festival baked treats, Rold Gold Pretzels to snack on, and Bayer Aspirin bought at Kroger to help with any headaches after all of the fun and festivities. Shoppers are earning bonus points when buying various beers for their bashes, too, including Miller Lite, Coors Light, Blue Moon, Keystone Light, Leinenkugel, Foster’s, Icehouse, Hamm’s, Souperbird, and Molson.
Simply open the Fetch app and click “view all” on the homepage to see every brand that could be earning you free gift cards to stores like Kohl’s, Nike, and T.J. Maxx, or even a gift card to Delta to fly you to Germany and hotels.com for accommodations toward a potential future trip to celebrate Oktoberfest in Munich!
And for those who love to snag the very best deals and are interested in earning even more points, check out Special Offers made just for your own shopping habits. Discover new products and combine any Oktoberfest purchases with Fetch bonus points to get the strongest deals of the season and have the very best Fest.
Enjoying every moment leading up to this fantastic Fall and earning some cash back while doing it? That’s worth raising a stein high. Prost!
Also read: Fetch Reviews