If you love beer and aren’t opposed to travel, chances are you’ve considered attending Germany’s famous Oktoberfest celebrations. Many enthusiasts head straight for Munich’s official Oktoberfest, which welcomes around 6 million people each year. While there’s nothing like chugging steins of Hofbrau with millions of your new closest friends, there are other options.
Instead of venturing to Munich, Joe and I decided to check out the *slightly smaller* Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart. This festival, proudly the second largest fall celebration in the country, still packs in the visitors. But many of those attendees are more local – or at least German – and the Volksfest maintains its own particular flavor. Seven large beer tents that can seat 35,000 drinkers are packed in amongst carnival rides, food stalls, and haunted houses on the Cannstatter Wasen (the park/grounds). There is no shortage of beer to drink or things to do.
Making a plan
Does this type of festival seem a bit overwhelming? It did to us, as well. After a lot of research and much Googling, we decided we just had to go for it. Here’s what we knew before we went, and what we learned along the way.
If you only have a few (or two) in your party, you won’t be able to reserve a table (8-10 people) – unless you want to pay for all those unused seats. Don’t do it. With the exception of Saturday nights, many tents will have open tables most of the time. And even if many tables are reserved, there will be those with extra spots. Tables are usually reserved in blocks (noon-4, 4-8pm, etc), so you can also take advantage of that – it’ll be listed on a sticker on the table.
This made us quite nervous before attending, but it all worked out in the end. We did attend the festival on a Sunday (quite busy) and Monday (much quieter until the evening), so we didn’t get the Saturday madness.
Just remember: people are generally exceedingly friendly, so even if you’re shy – get over it, and belly up to the vacancies. Jump up on the deceptively strong benches with everyone else and sing and dance your heart out to the fantastic live music. It’s glorious. I know, it sounds weird/uncomfortable. Just DO IT. This is a highly social event.
Eating and drinking
The half chickens are delicious, but there are often many other food options in the tents. Do try the chicken, but check out the menus as well. The carnival also contains numerous currywurst stalls among other, delicious options. As for the beer, it’s simple – just order the “festival bier” and be prepared for a nice, amber-colored lager that clocks in at about 6%.
Stuttgart does have many excellent restaurants as well. The area around the city is prime wine country, so take a break from the beer and try a local vintage or two. You can even hike the Stuttgart wine trail if you want to delve more deeply. There’s also a wine tent at the festival.
Staying in Stuttgart
Stuttgart, like many other German cities, has an excellent public transportation system – trams and trains/the metro go almost everywhere. You can get a day pass, pay for individual trips, get a short trip ticket, or some combination of these options. It’s relatively cheap (better than a taxi) and allows you to get around quickly.
While you’re in town, save time to visit the Mercedes and Porsche museums. The metro goes directly to each museum, and they are stunningly beautiful and well-laid-out. You’ll learn a lot, and take some great photos.
It may go without saying, but book your accommodation well in advance. We used Airbnb, and our relatively cheap little apartment was just a 10 minute ride from the Wassen. You don’t need to stay right next to the festival, either – see the above on transportation 🙂
Other random advice
In order to make the most of your time at the Volksfest (or Oktoberfest), here are a few suggestions:
- Plan for around three days in Stuttgart. Attend the festival on the first day, do something else (museums, wine tour, etc) on the second, and revisit the festival on the third. Your body will thank you.
- The train is a great way to travel around Germany. Stuttgart’s central train station is well-connected to the rest of the city.
- Make friends. As I mentioned above, everyone is quite friendly and social. Joe and I chatted and bonded with a young woman from Chicago, some loud Irish and Italian dudes, an adorable and young group of Germans, and many other folk. It was probably the best part of the festival experience.
- Drink water. Eat food. Need I say more?
- Dress up! Joe got some lederhosen and I found a dirndl, and we were definitely in good company. Many people embrace the traditional costumes, and it’s so much more fun to do so.
- Addendum to #5: wear comfortable shoes. I was worried about committing a fashion faux-pas by wearing my cute little sneakers with my dirndl, but many women did the same.
- Try out different tents. We hung out in almost every tent, and each experience was different – the bands, the vibe, the people we met. That’s part of the fun.
- Learn the drinking song. It’s very simple, and you’ll sing it every 20 minutes.
- Pace yourselves. Don’t start too early in the day, or be prepared to call it a night by 8pm (or earlier). Do something else in the morning, have lunch, then head to the Wasen.
- If you do go on a Saturday (or Friday night), be prepared for possible lines to get into tents. But if you go early in the day, you can likely still claim an unreserved table – or perch at one that’s been reserved later.
And to end, here are some more beautiful cars…