Oktoberfest, on many a traveler’s bucket list, celebrates its 205th anniversary in 2015. The festival attracts tourists from all over the world, who, along with the locals, drink up nearly eight million liters of beer throughout the 16-day party. The atmosphere definitely encourages bonding with new friends (even if you don’t speak the same language), but sometimes the sheer size and scope of attending Oktoberfest can be overwhelming. It would be an understatement to say that Oktoberfest is a busy event, so reservations are encouraged and visitors lacking them are advised to arrive early. But which of the 14 big tents and 21 small tents should you choose? That’s where this list of the top tents at the Wiesn (that’s what the locals call it) comes in handy.
10. Café Kaiserschmarrn
Smart Oktoberfest attendees reserve seats in the big tents in advance, meaning they don’t need to queue up to ensure they have a seat when the doors open. That allows time for a leisurely breakfast at Café Kaiserschmarrn, a fairy-tale gingerbread house serving up croissants, pretzels, and other baked goods. Be sure to grab a coffee to provide fuel for the rest of the day. This is one of the smaller tents, seating just 370 people at once, so it’s also a place to keep in mind as an escape from the sometimes overwhelming crowds later in the day. Take this time to try one of the delicious cakes or pies, there’s also champagne and cocktails available. Café Kaiserschmarrn can also be a good palate cleanser after a few liters of lager.
9. Festhalle Schottenhamel
The younger travelers to Oktoberfest will likely want to make this tent their home base, as it’s the most popular with those in their early twenties, but all attendees no matter what age bracket, should do their best to be in this tent on the day Oktoberfest begins. Here’s where the mayor of Munich opens the festival at exactly noon sharp, yelling “O’zapft is!” (it is tapped). The ceremonial keg is tapped as 12 cannons are fired, and thus it’s time for the drinking to begin. Schottenhamel serves beer from Spaten, one of the first breweries to produce the Helles lager, the type nearly all tents serve today. The oldest tent at the Wiesn, Schottenhamel is smaller only than the Hofsbräu, but its 10,000 guests are never going to feel lonely, particularly with this tent’s reputation for fun.
8. Zur Bratwurst
Near Schottenhamel is the distinctive Zur Bratwurst “tent,” which looks more like a traditional Bavarian chateau that’s been displaced from the nearby Alps. When the enormous crowds at Schottenhamel get to be too much, or when it’s just time to find some food to soak up all that beer, be sure to head to Zur Bratwurst. As the name implies, this tent is known for its meat and in particular most famously the Rostbratwürstl, it is grilled over an open fire. There’s room for 170 inside, but try to find a seat on the patio which holds another 80, to watch the rest of the festival go by. It’s not necessary to let too much time go by without drinking, though: Zur Bratwurst serves Augustiner, so guests can wash down all those delicious roasted meats.
7. Pschorr Festhalle Bräurosl
Lederhosen and dirndls will be visible as far as the eye can see and in every tent, guests are likely to encounter a fair bit of oompah-pah music. But it’s at the Bräurosl tent where traditional Bavarian music is emphasized, and it even has an authentic yodeler who gives two 15 minute performances each day. This tent pours Hacker-Pschorr beer, a brewery descended from one of the original Oktoberfest beer masters. In fact, the same family has maintained this tent at Oktoberfest for over 100 years. But before assuming “traditional” equates with “conservative,” we should point out that the Pschorr-Bräurosl tent launched what’s become known as “Gay Sunday,” celebrating the LGBT community on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest.
6. Kufflers Weinzelt
German speakers will know this is as the tent that pours wine (wein) and champagne (sekt). Surely it’s not to everyone’s taste, which is probably why it’s one of the smaller of the large tents, with ‘just’ 2,000 seats. But for those hankering after something other than the malty sweetness of a liter of Helles lager, the Weinzelt offers a wonderful respite. Guests can choose from 25 different types of wine and champagne, or even choose to stick with beer. Even that’s a bit different at this tent, which offers Paulaner Weissbier by the half-liter. Those tempted to indulge in wine or champagne should be warned, while beer at most tents runs about 10-12 euros per liter, a glass of wine could cost about 11 euros and a bottle of champagne might be 150 euros.
5. Löwenbräu Festzelt
Those needing to arrange a place to meet their friends at the Weisn could do far worse than the Löwenbräu tent. The white tent with the blue banners may not be distinctive in and of itself, but the lion perched 120 feet above the ground sure is noticeable. As though the lion’s impressive stature isn’t enough, he also lets out a roar every few minutes, beckoning guests in for a liter of Löwenbräu. The brewery, founded in 1383, celebrates its Bavarian heritage by decking out its tent in blue and white, the colors of the state’s flag. Here you’re likely to find soccer supporters, not fans of Munich’s flashy and successful Bayern, but rather a second-division side TSV 1860 Munich, whose nickname is “The Lions.” Make reservations for this one or get here as early as possible. It’s one of the biggest tents, holding 8,500 – but only 2,600 of those are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
4. Hacker Festzelt
This is the tent that’s most often pictured on postcards featuring happy festival-goers filmed for coverage of Oktoberfests’ goings-on. That’s because the proprietors have given the inside plenty of pizzazz. Not only are the walls covered in murals, but the ceiling depicts a dreamy blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. It’s perfect for expressing the Hacker-Pschorr slogan: Himmel der Bayern or “heaven of Bavaria.” Here a traditional brass band takes center stage – literally, on a revolving stage in the middle of the tent – but in the evening makes way for a rock band. Hacker Festzelt is one of the favorite places to be on the Wiesn’s closing night when the nearly 7,000 inside light up their sparklers reflecting off the sunny ceiling and the stars painted on the walls and sing in unison.
Smart Oktoberfest goers realize that it’ll take a bit more than a big pretzel to keep the next day’s hangover at bay. Those same smart people also know that the Wiesn features some pretty delicious foods. Follow these people to the Ochsenbraterei, a tent marked by a mechanical ox turning on a spit. Here, the Spaten beer seems almost secondary to the full meals available. And yes, with a modern split roasting around seven oxen per day throughout the festival, that is the meat featured heavily here. Be sure to stop by the split to check out the current ox’s name and weight. For those vegetarians in the crowd or just those who didn’t want to know the name of their meal before it was served up alongside some potato salad, the Ochsenbraterei also features a few meatless dishes.
2. Hofbräu Festzelt
This tent is often the top destination for the tourists that flock to Oktoberfest. That comes as no surprise as Munich’s Hofbräuhaus is the biggest attraction when the festival isn’t going. For those looking for a crazy party atmosphere, there’s no better than this tent at the Wiesn. It’s the biggest tent, holding 10,000, but only 2,000 of those are available without a reservation, so it’s best to get there as early to the opening time as possible. Unlike most of the other tents, the Hofbräu allows for around 1,000 standing guests, making it easier to get a beer and further contributing to the feeling of being at an enormous party. This is the place to be for those who want to wrap their arms around strangers, sway while singing John Denver’s immortal “Country Roads,” drink to a toast, and come away with a whole host of new friends.
1. Augustiner Festhalle
The oldest brewery in Munich still serves up what just might be the city’s most delicious beer. While the other brewers at Oktoberfest pump their beer in from enormous tanks, Augustiner takes its legacy very seriously, since being founded in 1328 it’s possible to witness the crew rolling in their wooden kegs. That means this tent is a great place to connect with locals who appreciate the fine Helles lager that comes from this traditional method. Everyone here is friendly, including the waitresses charged with ferrying liters around the 6,000-seat tent. That doesn’t mean the Augustiner tent is boring, however; the tent is often raucous by midday, and it’s not out of the ordinary for travelers to bond with the locals, finding themselves pulled into the group and even standing on tables singing songs.