Seeking tips/advice for a trip to Oktoberfest (and surrounding area) for 2010.
September 3, 2009 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Seeking tips/advice for a trip to Oktoberfest (and surrounding area) for 2010.

Myself and 3 friends (American, 2 guys, 2 girls, 25-37 yrs old) have decided to go to Oktoberfest for 2010 (the 200 yr. anniversary). Our plan is to spend approximately 2 weeks on the trip. I'm looking for tips and advice on what we should do. We're initially thinking we probably want to do 2 or 3 days at the actual festival and in Munich, and the rest of the time, either before or after or both, in surrounding areas.

-We're not afraid of a big noisy party (quite the contrary)
-None of us have been to Europe at all
-We want to see as much as possible, not just the Oktoberfest tents
-I've read that we want to reserve seats at a tent. I'm not convinced of this. The idea of being stuck at one table all day does not sound appealing. But would a reserved table be a good home base? Or when we get up, does our reservation end?
-Overnight trains to some far away destination sound GREAT.
-Can I rent a car one of the days and drive on the Autobahn to get us to one of our destinations? Is a car rental a valid plan for a more extended amount of time?
-How far can we get in 2 weeks if we just spend a couple days in Munich and jump on trains a lot? Czech Republic, Switzerland, Sweden? Where could we/should we go? (I obviously don't want to spend the entire vacation travelling)
-Can we get trains with cabins and use those as our hotel some nights?
-We're more the type to not make reservations, just so we are open to jump in a cab or on a train and head out if we hear of something great 100 miles away. But I understand we probably want hotel rooms for at least the couple nights for the festival.
-Should we stay within walking distance of the tents for the few days in Munich, or are we better off 40 minutes down the rail or road?
-We're not afraid of hostels or roughing it (though I've never stayed in a hostel and have no idea how that works)
-We can spend money when necessary, but don't want to be frivilous, and don't need too many luxuries
-Things I've seen mentioned: Volksfest, ICE Train, Castles, U-bahn, S-bahn, Mike's Bike tour.

So, Hivemind...

What should we do? Start at Oktoberfest, end up there? If we're only going to see 2 or 3 days of the actual festival, which ones do we want? Where should be book a room for the actual festival? Where else should we go? What else should we see? Are there any other events scheduled close enough? We're thinking of this more as a mini European vacation that involves Oktoberfest. Not simply an Oktoberfest trip. Any advice, experiences, ideas, cost estimates, are greatly appreciated.
posted by gummo to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That's a lot of questions, and they're going to take a bit of answering. I'll go first:

I would suggest that you investigate flying into one city and out of another, to try to reduce lost travel time. Pricing of this option may dictate whether Munich is first or last. All things being equal, I would suggest last to avoid losing a day at your only fixed venue if there are any flight delays (assuming you're not starting from Europe).

I haven't been to Oktoberfest for years, but I've been told by Munich residents recently that it's advisable to book if you want to get into a tent. Accomodation in central Munich is very expensive at this time. Great if you can afford it, but it might be better to stay a little further out as long as your near an S-Bahn or U-Bahn station.

Most of Western Europe is accessible in the given timeframe by train without excessive travel time. Think Denmark, N. Spain, Hungary, Poland as the corners for wandering aimlessly, and only go beyond that if there's somewhere specific you want to go. An Inter Rail ticket is probably what you want if you go this route.

The interwebs makes same-day hotel booking a breeze. Don't sweat the organisation too much. To avoid group conflict, it might be a good idea if you have a general plan of who wants to go where and draw up a rough order with time for side tracks.

Driving is easy and cost-effective with a group, but probably not worth the hassle if you are going between major cities. Save it for any off-the-beaten track venues that you fancy.

In my experience, sleeping on a train is not cheaper than sleeping in a hotel. You can make some time savings by sleeping + travelling in a cabin. You can save money versus hotel costs with a standard train ticket, but don't expect to sleep too well.

There are a ton of cheap air carriers in europe (skyscanner is good for a comprehensive search), but beware that the airport name often bears only a tenuous geographic designation with the city of the same name.

For other destination recommendations, it may be helpful if you could say whether you want culture, food, parties, scenery, left-field stuff, etc
posted by Jakey at 5:17 PM on September 3, 2009

For Oktoberfest, this Munich ex-pat forum is the motherlode of info each year.
Here's the official site for this year
The consensus seems to be that you definitely need a reservation for a table, otherwise you will not get to sit down in a tent unless you are extremely lucky - and if you aren't sat down you don't get served, except for in one notorious standing "pit" at the HofbrÀuhaus tent.

(Without meaning to put you off at all it might be useful to think of it less as a "festival" and more as a vast Valhalla of jostling throbbing roaring humanity entirely dedicated to getting and staying as hammered as inhumanly possible. Except maybe on weekday mornings it's packed out and very er, full on, and people either love it or hate it.) Maybe try to be there during the week when its a bit saner. Wherever you decide to stay in the city you will need to book a LONG time in advance, maybe June on? as EVERYthing gets full. A Planning is worth it in this case.

But even if you don't feel like fighting your way into a tent it's fun to go round the tonnes of food and drink etc stalls and the huge funfair (ever seen grown men being helped up to a helterskelter on a conveyor belt by specially employed burly assistants and puking all the way down?)

Prague, Innsbruck and Salzburg are within very easy reach, incl. by night train. The usual "mid price" sleeping arrangement is compartments with 6 berths, though I think you often book private "cabins" for large amounts of money. Sweden might be pushing it (17 hours min.)
The train system is a wonder (from a UK perspective)

Hostels in Germany are clean and well-run, here's a handy one in Munich.
German public transport is one thing that will help you be more spontaneous, it's frequent and reliable that it
Mike's bike tour is a good intro to the city, the guy is well informed and interesting.

Castles - here's Neuschwanstein, just buy a couple of postcards of it and spare yourself the visit. Outside it is spectacular, inside its a HIGHLY kitsch 19th century mock-up.

At the other end of the scale, as it's your first time in Munich you might want to take the opportunity to visit a concentration camp memorial - Dachau
is just outside Munich.

Finally, as you have a year to plan, I would definitely suggest/implore that you take some time to learn some German before you go. Yes, most Germans, and 99.99% of under-50s in a city, will speak fluent English usally very gladly, but its just polite to learn at least a few phrases, and the more you do manage to speak and understand the more you will get out of the big trip. German is cool.
posted by runincircles at 5:19 PM on September 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

(woo, typos. first time in EUROPE. etc.)
posted by runincircles at 5:25 PM on September 3, 2009

I made my first European trip to Oktoberfest '07, and did almost exactly what you're thinking of doing.

Hotel: We stayed at the Hotel Uhland, which is within spitting distance of the fairgrounds. Wonderful place, nice breakfast in the morning, super friendly staff. And, stumbling home was a breeze, it's really just a couple of blocks.

Tent Reservations: I've heard that you can't get a reservation for fewer than 6 people, so my friend and I didn't even try. And because of that, we didn't spend a single evening inside a tent. Once they're full, they close the doors and you can't even walk inside. All of our fest time was spent in the sitting areas outside of the tents, where you don't need a reservation. But, you still need plenty of luck to find a seat. The beer maids are good at squeezing people in, though.

The Fest itself: It really wasn't exactly what I was expecting. It felt like more of a county fair that just happened to have lots of beer than a party (Most of the locals we talked to were shocked that we traveled all the way from the States for it). I had a blast, and never regretted going, but there was a mini-fest in the Englischer Garten that we stumbled on, where we had a much better time.

Travelling the countryside: We spent 3 days in Munich, and 8 days travelling around the rest of the country. It had always been my dream to drive on the Autobahn, so we rented a car the whole time. We got a little BMW diesel hatchback, I don't remember what it cost exactly, but probably about $250 for the week, when the Euro was around 1.40. Fuel is pricey too. But it was do-able. It's amazing how quick drive times are when you're cruising at 130 MPH.
posted by hwyengr at 5:43 PM on September 3, 2009

I lived in Switzerland recently for two years with my wife. Oktoberfest sounds ok, but frankly drinking beer in mass quantities for days seems like something for people in their early twenties. I'd recommend limiting it to a day or two or making some alternate plans. There are a ton of other amazing things to see and do in Europe.

Traveling by plane within Europe is much faster and cheaper than taking trains. You can get ridiculously cheap airfare on EasyJet or other discount airlines if you book in advance and be in any other major European city within a few hours. I once saw a flight from Zurich to London for 8 dollars!

The ICE trains are awesome if you want the experience of traveling on a high speed rail, but really expensive.
posted by kenliu at 6:43 PM on September 3, 2009

I know you specifically want to go for Oktoberfest, but really, Munich pretty much does the Oktoberfest thing all the time, and the beer halls are much more fun than the tents; if you go just slightly off-season you can actually get into them. You'll get more semi-locals (i.e. at least German tourists, instead of nothing but American servicepeople), and a better ambience all around, imho, without really losing the party atmosphere.

However, I am an agoraphobic misanthrope, so YMMV.
posted by nax at 6:55 PM on September 3, 2009

Wow. This quote from above hardly turns me off to the idea. I'm always up for a ridiculous spectacle.

"a vast Valhalla of jostling throbbing roaring humanity entirely dedicated to getting and staying as hammered as inhumanly possible"

There's a bunch of great info here. Thanks. I felt like marking all the answers as Best, but that seemed silly, so I stopped after the first two. But thanks for all the help.

Keep it coming (if anyone has anything to add).
posted by gummo at 8:00 PM on September 3, 2009

Book Munich well in advance - everything else shouldn't be too bad. It sounds like you're the type that would enjoy the hostel experience, so definitely give it a go.

I'd certainly recommend a visit to Prague, as far as places in that neck of the woods go. Overnight trains are fine, and usually 4 or 6 to a cabin. Wear earplugs, don't expect to sleep wonderfully (I managed alright, but I know a lot of people who didn't).
posted by backwards guitar at 8:38 PM on September 3, 2009

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