Oktoberfest: the Good, the Bad, and the Beer
If you’re studying abroad in Prague and you don’t like beer, give it another shot. The Czech Republic consumes more beer than any other country in the world; oftentimes beer is cheaper than water! Beer and brewing traditions are a huge part of Czech culture, I took a CEA CAPA course called “Czech Food and Brewing Traditions” where we went on a field trip to a brewery. CEA CAPA also took us on an excursion where we toured the Budweiser-Budvar brewery.
Speaking of beer, one huge benefit of studying abroad in the fall is that it’s a four-hour trip to Munich, Germany. Munich is home to Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival and carnival. However, be warned. There are several ways to attend Oktoberfest, and if you’re not careful it can be far from glamorous. I actually went to Oktoberfest twice, once with my parents and once with my roommates. These were two VERY different experiences. Regardless of which way you decide to experience Oktoberfest, it’s a lot of fun!
Entrance to the massive fairgrounds with thousands of people traveling from all over the world to come to Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest Trip 1: With My Parents September 22nd-23rd (yes, Oktoberfest takes place in the month of September)
A few weeks after arriving in Prague, my parents visited. They road tripped while I attended school, so I took a bus to Munich to meet them for Oktoberfest. This public transportation experience was easy, safe and with a lot of other people heading to Oktoberfest too. When I arrived, we checked into our hotel and immediately headed into downtown Munich to walk around, get some dinner, and buy our traditional Oktoberfest outfits, called dirndls and lederhosen.
At Oktoberfest, most people wear traditional Oktoberfest outfits. The traditional women’s costume is a “dirndl” and the man is a “lederhosen.” They have plenty of colors and styles to choose from. It’s definitely worth purchasing an outfit for the occasion; you get to immerse yourself in the culture even more and it’s fun! They're available at plenty of stores, but don’t be scared away by the price tags. There are options for lesser quality clothes. Mine was around $40, although the nice ones can be thousands. Trust me, it was a fun experience buying the outfit in Munich, and even more fun wearing it around Oktoberfest and fitting in with the crowd.
When we went into Oktoberfest there were tents (in actuality they’re closer to the size of a stadium) where everyone gathered and stood at tables. Each tent is sponsored by different beer brands. My favorite tent was Hofbräuhaus, it was one of the biggest and liveliest ones. Beer is served in massive pints and everyone sings and dances at the tables to the live bands. Inside of the tent at night, there are great lights all around; it's more like a concert than anything else.
My parents and I had so much fun singing and dancing in the Hofbräuhaus tent.
Getting an actual spot at a table is challenging. They’re often filled to the brim early in the day because people arrive at 8 a.m. to secure a spot. My parents and I were lucky when we went into the Hofbrauhaus tent, we got a great seat at the table next to some really nice Munich locals who taught us the traditional German songs and dances that were played. One incredible part about Oktoberfest is how there are people from all over the world that visit, but Munich locals still continue to enjoy the celebration. The girl we met from Munich said that the songs they play at Oktoberfest are taught to them in grade school!
After the festival was over, we headed back to our hotel. The hotel was around a 15-minute train ride from the fairgrounds, so it was nice to easily get back and sleep in a comfortable bed.
I had an absolute blast with my parents at Oktoberfest, everything went seamlessly. We did everything we wanted to, stayed at a nice hotel, and drank and ate plenty. On this trip, however, my parents took care of the bill for me so I didn’t have to worry about budgeting. Hotels during Oktoberfest are often completely sold out or insanely expensive, the beer has ridiculous prices, and the food is just as expensive. It’s all part of the experience of any fair, but I had a lot easier time when I wasn’t concerned about spending too much money.
My parents and I wearing our outfits in full display, in front of another large tent.
Oktoberfest Trip 2: Budget Travel with my Friends September 30th-October 2nd
For the majority of my study abroad experience, I traveled with budget-friendly airlines and cheap hostels. When traveling to Munich, we really valued having reasonable prices for accommodations, even though we only booked 2-3 weeks before we went. We didn’t have much of an option: we only met a few weeks before and were left scrambling for tickets and housing with a slim study abroad budget to work with.
We settled on Stoke Travel. A company that does budget-friendly events targeting young travelers like us. The option they had for Oktoberfest was a campground that had tents set up for us to sleep in. Yes, tents.
My roommate Jenn and I in front of the Hofbräuhaus tent.
When we arrived at the campground, there were hundreds of tents all across the grounds. These aren’t rustic, pretty campgrounds like you’d see on a hike, but closer to a parking lot with tents set up. There was also a bar area and bathrooms scattered around. We were lucky enough to have booked our ticket in “Ladies’ island,” a fenced-off area for women only with someone sitting outside as security. Ladies’ island didn’t cost extra, and we were provided with a private bathroom inside the enclosed area. This made us feel safer; we felt confident no one could just wander into our tents by accident.
The conditions of these campgrounds aren’t for the faint of heart, and we didn’t realize the extent to which they were when we booked them. It’s muddy, beer is everywhere, and you’re only provided a tent and sleeping bag. I slept in my large jacket because it was so cold at night and there was little insulation. We also didn’t realize that these campgrounds were around an hour from Oktoberfest meaning we had to take several trains and buses to get to the grounds. When we arrived at the campgrounds, the only tables available to us didn’t have seats, so we literally stood and drank beer from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. when we left the tent, unaware of how much time passed.
Personally, I had fun on my second weekend of Oktoberfest. Even though I was cold, didn’t shower, and barely slept, it’s a funny story looking back. Everyone is in the same boat, so there’s a nice camaraderie between everyone there. However, if there’s an opportunity to stay in a nicer place than a tent, it still might be a good idea to take it. Staying in a tent is worth it to say you conquered Oktoberfest!
My roommates and I inside the Hofbräuhaus tent. The pints and glass are thick because everyone slams them together when they cheer at the end of songs!
If you’re deciding between studying abroad in the fall or spring in Prague, I encourage you to consider the benefits of the fall semester. You'd see fall with the August greenery and the December snow-peaked castle. Although it may seem disappointing to miss out on tailgate season at home, having the opportunity to attend Oktoberfest without spending a fortune is reason enough. Even though it was a crazy experience, Oktoberfest actually had a lot of communities and cultures all joining together to sing and drink. We met people from all over the world: from the U.S. to Europe to all the way to Australia. Everyone is welcoming, dressed up, and happy to attend such a famous event. So, give beer a try in the Czech Republic, and take the opportunity to go to Oktoberfest. Prost!
Isabella Castineyra is a content creator who studied abroad with CEA CAPA in Prague, Czech Republic.
Isabella Castineyra is the Fall 2022 CEA Content Creator in Prague, Czech Republic, and is currently studying at North Carolina State University.