What an amazing trip I had – ten days in Europe during the start of the autumn when the weather had just turned cool and the leaves were at the beginning of their change. A few months ago, my best friend’s husband accepted a job in Amsterdam, so I knew I would be visiting them and my 10 month old niece soon and often. Oktoberfest has always been on my bucket list so I wanted to work my timing around that. When I planned the trip I didn’t really have anyone to go with, but it worked out by happenstance that my beer drinking friend Chris was going to be in Europe for work and wanted to go. He brought his friend Alex, and then I later found out that my friend Grace would be there for work too at the same time, and all of the sudden we had a party! I added on a bit of solo travel to drive on the Autobahn to Schwangau to visit the famous Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. Whole trip was ten days. I was able to cut my airfare cost in half using alternative dates, so it’s key to be flexible!
Hotels in Germany
- Moxy Munich Airport Hotel – I landed too late to want to drive straight to the castles, so I booked this boutique Marriott brand for my first night. I’d never stayed in this type of Marriott before, and I loved it. The rooms are smaller and there are a lot of gathering spaces in in the lobby and the encourage a more community experience. It was so fun and cute, and I got a delish welcome drink on arrival and had my first German beer in Germany and a quick salad. The airport shuttle was key for me getting to and from the airport.
- Hotel Alpenstuben – I’m not even going to give you a link because I HIGHLY discourage staying here. It was cute and charming with a great location, but the maid stole my Kindle.
- Munich Marriott – Nice business hotel that I stayed in with my friend Grace because she was on a business trip. Good breakfast, but not the best location for the fest, though reachable by subway.
- Hotel Drei Lowen – The guys found this place because they got us table reservations in a great tent for Oktoberfest. It was a nice hotel about a 15 minute stumble from Oktoberfest. Good breakfast, nice and clean. Would do again!
Restaurants in Germany
- Wherever you go, get the spaetzle.
- Can’t say enough good things about Augustiner Keller. Had a great experience and the food was so good.
- Andescher am Dom was right next to the cathedral and recommended in my Rick Steve’s book. I had an amazing Steak Tartare.
- Disappointing was pretty much everything near Schwangau, especially the Schloss Brauhaus.
I didn’t want to drive after a transatlantic flight, so I booked an airport hotel and picked up my rental car the next morning and drove as fast as I could to castleville, which took me about two hours. I definitely recommend the Navmii app, which I also used in Ireland and Scotland, to navigate around without using your data. The hotel recommended that to skip the line at the regular ticket office and go to the museum by the lake to buy my tickets. I’m glad I did! It cost three Euro extra, but it was worth it to skip that long line and make sure I got a time slot for that day.
Entry to each of the castles is timed and you walk through a set path with a guide to explain the history and use of the rooms. If you miss your entry time, you are SOL. I had time until my first entry, so I got some lunch and a beer, and then walked up to Hohenschwangau castle. (Only way to get there that I could tell). I thought it was very nice, but for me, it was an add on to see Neuschwanstein. Worth while if you have time, but I wouldn’t do it as my only activity in Schwangau.
There are three ways to get up to Neuschwanstein from the town – horse drawn carriage (which I would not do, being anti-animal cruelty), a bus, or walking up a big ass hill. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I walked. I have a bad back, it ended up being a little much for me. Definitely walk up to Mary’s Bridge to check out the view back at the castle (see my above photo). There were also five gadjillion tourists on the bridge taking selfies. If you can go at the end of the day or the beginning of the day, you’ll have less crowds to deal with and better light. This castle is what inspired Walt Disney when he designed Cinderella’s castle and I was really excited to see it. But I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the inside, because they don’t let you take photos. It was blown away, it was absolutely gorgeous. I wish I could have seen more than the set tour path.
Lesson learned from the Munich airport – There isn’t a convenient gas station that I could find when dropping off my rental car. Plan ahead to find gas.
I have a shortcoming I have to admit – as much as I travel a lot, I am really bad at public transportation. I took the train from the airport after dropping off my car to the city center. But I ended up on the express and didn’t realize until after I was on the other side of Munich. Some Italians I was sitting next to made the same mistake. If you’re not sure you’re on the right train, ask questions! I had a hard time once I got off the train to find the right one back. I ended up popping into a McDonalds and using the free Wifi to get on Google maps and find what train on what platform I needed to be on. I blame this on growing up in a more rural part of San Diego where we never did the public transportation thing except for an occasional ball game.
Once I figured it out, the day was for Munich touristy stuff. I met up with my guy friends in front of the glockenspiel in Marienplatz – the main square. We were never there at the right time to see the glockenspiel do it’s thing. Because it was Oktoberfest, everything was overwhelmed by tourists. We found some lunch, and of course had to stop in the Hofbrauhaus for a Maβ. (Or mass, pronounced with a long a sound = big glass liter beer stein). Ridiculous crowded with all the other beer drinkers getting it off their bucket list, but it was a must do. We kept crawling through Munich stopping for a beer here and there until Grace eventually met up with us and we went to Augustiner with her friends. Link above, I cannot say enough good things about the full authentic German experience that this left with drunk me.
Sunday was finally the day for Oktoberfest. I switched hotels (again! I had a new one every night in Germany!) and met up with the guys right at the opening of the Fest. Oktoberfest is actually a really big state fair with all the junk food and rides that you would see back in the states, but there are giant permanent tent structures with actual bathrooms inside where the beer drinking happens. It was a truly amazing experience. After the election of Donald in the US, there’s a lot of division and people are mad at each other and arguing and Facebook is a minefield. But when I was in my tent with thousands of people, everyone was ECSTATICALLY HAPPY, standing on the benches and singing their lungs out. When I say this to people, they say “but they were all drunk,” but I say “so what?” This kind of love is what we need more of in the world right now. I even got a little misty.
This is all my advice – everything else I heard said it would be harder to get in to a tent than was my experience. Maybe it was at night.
- Dress up. There are so many people in the traditional lederhosen and dirndls that I think I would have felt awkward if I wasn’t. Don’t do the American slutty or cheap costumes in a bag – you would look weird. Go on Amazon and buy something in advance (what I did), or plan some time to buy the real thing there. There are countless stores, it’s easy to find. Bring a rain jacket or an umbrella to complete your look! (what I didn’t do and should have)
- I wanted to go this year really bad because I wanted to go before I was too old to be able to go. Yes, there are a lot of college kids there, but I don’t think Oktoberfest has an age limit on fun. I’d go back again when I’m older.
- Set drunk you up to have the best night possible and make sure you can get home drunk. Eat a lot. Leave water out by your bed before you leave. Don’t bring a lot with you. Keep an eye on your phone, my friend Jen lost hers. Bring cash not credit. Keep an eye out for pickpockets. Wear comfortable shoes. Tip the bathroom attendants. Have a buddy system. And because of the day and age we live in – have a plan in case something goes wrong with terrorism.
- Follow @oktoberfest and your tent on Instagram to get psyched up. Definitely get the official Oktoberfest app because it will tell you capacity of the different tents.
- Maybe look up and learn some of the German songs and dances. I knew some of them from après-ski in Austria, and I wish I had them fresher in my mind.
- We started in the morning and walked in to a few different tents and sat right down. So if you want to do your Oktoberfest as day drinking you’re totally good to go without a rezzie. It was POURING when we got to our tent at night and we had a hard time getting in, even with reservations. The people doing security were not nice people.
- I was agonizing over what was the best tent to get reservations in beforehand. We were at Schützen Festzelt for our reservations and it was so much fun! I’m glad we went with it. It’s a classic tent, their Insta had lots of celebrities showing up, and it’s right by the drunk hill. We went into the Hofbrau tent after lunch and it was GOING. OFF.
- I like trying all sorts of different craft beers. You’re not going to find options here. You’re going to get mass produced German beer. Some tents you have a choice of dark or light (colored) beer. We didn’t. If you’re worried about getting too drunk, drink the Radler, which is half beer and half lemon soda. Refreshing, and looks like you’re drinking regular beer.
- Quote of the night: “This isn’t Survivor. This is Naked and Afraid.”
I had a late flight out the next day, anticipating the hangover I had. I really like the Rick Steves books because they have great walking tours of cities where you can get a good feel for it. I stored my bag at my hotel, and went to Marienplatz and walked around and took some selfies. I went to the Residenz because I like palaces. Very pretty.
So excited to see my bestie and her daughter and hubby and puppy. For some reason, my ineptitude at public transportation took a pass in Amsterdam, and I was easily able to navigate hopping on the bus from Schipol airport to their neighborhood in Cornelis Schuytstraat. I loved being based in this neighborhood – it was residential and cute, lots of cute shops and restaurants, and SO EASY to hop on the tram that took me to all the major stops. Never having to transfer tram lines made it really easy for me, easy to handle signage. They’re right by Vondelpark.
My first morning there I took the tram to the Waldorf Astoria to have a coffee with one of my highschool bestie’s parents, we found out through Facebook we were in the same place at the same time. It was easy to get to and the walk was everything you could ever want with the canal views. I was on tram #2 the whole time, and it takes you right by the museums and every major spot before getting to the Centraal train station. Was back home in time for lunch, and we made a BEE LINE for The Avocado Show. Yes, this Southern Californian was seeking out even more avocados while on vacation. It was art. It was Instragrammable AF. It was delish. After that, I left Kristen and Evie to head home and met up with my friend Jen, who I also found out on social media was coincidentally in the same city as me at the same time. We had some beers and walked by the floating flower market. It wasn’t tulip season, but we were able to see some pretty things. And man, the flowers are cheap there! Had a yummy dinner at home and her hubby Dave and I went out for some beers.
The next day was full on tourist day with Kristen. We went to De Negen Straatjes (aka the 9 streets) and walked and shopped around and had a great lunch and some stroopwafels. We only did a walk-by of Anne Frank’s house, and then did a mini Dutch beer crawl. Fun times, exactly what I wanted to do. I liked Arendsnest. One of my favorite things to do overseas is to check out what the grocery stores are like. Everything was so awesome and fresh, but they didn’t have any big market one-stop places like we do in the US. It’s more of a “go here for groceries, and then this place for wine, and this place for pharmacy.” We got some food and cooked at home.
Bonus Belgium – Antwerp
Since Kristen has all of Europe at her fingertips now, we took the opportunity to check a new city off the list and hop on the train and go to Antwerp. It was way neater than I exepcted it. A lot of old French-looking architecture. (I should take a class and learn how to describe this better). Very walkable. The Centraal Train Station is GORGEOUS and even if you’re not transiting through there, it’s worth a look! We had lunch at De Arme Duivel, which was recommended by a friend who is a local, and had some amazing food. Steak Tartare! Luckily, across the street there was a Ladurée, and if you don’t know about it, it’s kinda a big deal when it comes to French macarons. So good, if I was having children, I’d probably name my first born Ladurée.
We walked everything. Another tough day on my back. We walked to the river, and it was very lovely. Went to the MAS museum, which is a really neat building. You can go to the roof for free and get a great view of the city. The Grote Markt area with the OLV Cathedral and Brabo fountain and all the medieval streets around it were really neat. I’m a huge beer nerd, so we stopped in a convenience store type store and were able to buy a six-pack of Westvleteren (nicknamed “Westy,” pronounced West-flee-teren) consistently rated the #1 beer in the world, made by Trappist monks and not exported to the states) and some other goodies. We also got some Belgian chocolates to take back.
Speaking of beers, the #1 beer bar in the world is called Kulminator. They don’t open until 4pm (should have checked about that earlier) and they only take cash. Ran by an older couple that are adorable and so nice and have so much beer knowledge. It’s like you’re drinking in your grandparents living room and their basement is INSANE. We ordered a bunch of Westy, and the 2004 was so good it made me cry when I drank it. I’m not joking.
Back in Amsterdam…
For my last full day of the trip, I did some solo touristy stuff while Kristen hung out with the niecelet. I saw the palace, shopped around for souvenirs, and had lunch in the courtyard of a museum. It was a nice a peaceful place. Not sure of the name, but it was by the Amsterdam Dungeon. Stuff I didn’t do this trip but I want to do next time I visit: definitely a canal cruise, and maybe I’ll be in a more landmark/museumy kind of mood and I can check out the Frank house and Van Gogh museum. I definitely want to see the Red Light District and compare to Thailand.