Worth Flying For… The Best Festivals in Europe
A few days away from real life… A non-stop stream of live music… Thousands of people gathered in one place, with the express purpose of having an absolute ball.
It’s the ultimate recipe for success.
And if there’s one thing that can make a festival even better, it’s going to one in another country. A festival is a bit like another country (or another world) anyway, but when you travel to a festival, you get the whole festival ‘escape’ buzz on top of all the best parts about going away to a different country.
I’m not even sure why I’m giving you the ‘sell’ here – if you’re into festivals, you’re into festivals in different countries. So here are some of the very best festivals in Europe, all just a flight away. Start planning…
Forbidden Fruit, Dublin : 29th – 31st May
Irish festival-heads will be familiar with drizzle, wellies, ponchos, flooded campsites and soggy socks… so they’re probably reading this to fantasise about festivals they can go to and be guaranteed a warm, dry time (I hear you, lads. I’ve been there more times than I care to remember). But for those of you lucky enough to live in a place where the festivals are always hot, honestly, you should go and see how unquenchable the festival atmosphere is in Ireland, even if it does rain.
Forbidden Fruit is a real little peach of a festival – and it’s not a camping one, which is another plus if the weather is undesirable. The food stalls are always top notch (although I admittedly tend to stick to my festival obsession, the Heidi pie from PieMinister), and the crowd here is really nice too – nicely chilled out and full of bona fide music freaks, thanks to its carefully selected and critically acclaimed line up. Because it’s a day-by-day set up, you have the option of buying tickets per day or for the whole shebang. This year’s line up is an absolute treat though, so I’ll definitely be opting for the full weekend ticket (it’s only €119, which is well worth it for the musical treats you have in store).
Without a shadow of a doubt… I’ll be throwing up my Ws for Saturday night’s headliners, watching Run The Jewels whip Dublin into absolute mayhem, and admiring Richie Hawtin’s glorious
fringe set on Sunday night.
Meadows In The Mountains, Bulgaria : 12th – 14th June
‘Meadows in the what?’, I hear you say…
Actually, I’m almost tempted to keep this one totally quiet so it doesn’t get all crowded, and become difficult to get tickets for. But since the UK media has already discovered it – and raved about it – I think the jig is up, so I might as well let you know about it too. Meadows in the Mountains takes place in the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria, and really, there couldn’t be a more beautiful place to lose yourself for a few days – you’re actually above the clouds, and can look down on them hugging the mountainside below you. It’s just stunning.
It’s one of the best festivals in Europe not because of its size, spectacle, or superstar line up – but because it’s got the ‘boutique festival’ vibe down to a ‘T’. Acoustic sounds, alternative indie music, sweet funk and smooth hip hop makes up the daytime soundtrack, and at night things get a little filthy when the house and techno DJs are let loose. There’s a mountain zip line, thermal springs and horse & cart taxis. And did I mention how head-spinningly beautiful it is?
I’d be there for… the ‘real’ festival vibe of it all. The scenery. The new artists I’d discover. The zip wire. The pool party after the festival. Mostly though, so I could be all smug and say ‘Oh yeah I was there in 15’ when it gets a lot bigger.
Sonar, Barcelona : 18th – 20th June
Almost everything about this festival is cool. The kind of people who go there? Cool. The location? So cool. The line up? Mind blowingly cool. The only un-cool thing about Sonar is the weather. Barcelona at the end of June is usually hitting around 25°C – it’s gloriously sunny but not too hot to have a dance, and the evenings are balmy but bearable.
Sonar’s not a camping festival, but Barcelona is a great place to find cheap accommodation so don’t worry there. And you can buy tickets for the whole thing, or by day/night, or for two nights… So if you do want to spend half your time in Barcelona partying it up and the other half seeing Gaudi’s creations and sipping coffee in the city, this is exactly the kind of choice you want to have. Personally, I’d choose the whole thing. In fact, I have. I’m going in June, and I can’t wait.
You’d see me dancing at… Jamie XX and the Chemical Brothers. Shouting about how much I love bad b*****s at A$AP Rocky. Most of all, I’d be staring at two of the planet’s coolest women (and bona fide bad b******s); FKA Twigs and Yolandi Visser (with Die Antwoord). Mostly enjoying their music, but also wishing I was them.
Roskilde, Denmark : 27th June – 4th July
Those Danes really know how to work the ‘go hard or go home’ philosophy. This is an epic 8 day party in Roskilde, just half an hour from Copenhagen Airport. Roskilde started in 1971 by two high school kids, and since the following year has been run as a non-profit organisation. It works, in their own words “to support initiatives benefiting children and young people, and to support humanitarian and cultural work”. It basically couldn’t be more awesome. Except when you look at the line up, you realise that it could, and it is.
It used to be a bit of a hippy buzz but has become far more mainstream (but not cheesy… never cheesy), and is regularly touted as one of the best festivals in Europe if not the world. It’ll be warm at that time of year too; July averages in Roskilde are somewhere around 21°C.
It’s only 1965DKR for a full ticket – that’s around €260, which is just over €30 a day, which is exceptionally good festival value.
You’d find me… clapping along because I’m watching Pharrell and feeling like a room without a roof, Singing along really badly to Florence & The Machine, and embarrassing myself with drunken dancehall moves at Barrington Levy.
Secret Garden Party, Cambridgeshire : 23rd – 26th July
The first time I went to Secret Garden Party was in 2007, and it was love at first fairy light. SGP is just a lovely, lovely festival. It all happens on the grounds of a Georgian farmhouse, there’s a lake and a river, and beautiful landscaped gardens, and weeping willows, and lots of flowers, and everything about the festival is just pretty and whimsical.
It’s grown a lot since the first one in 2004 when the crowd was just 1,000 people strong – these days it’s closer to 30,000, and the stages and acts have grown along with the revellers. It’s not a headliner festival, – it’s a festival for people who love music and who really, really love festivals. Yeah, there is the chance that you’ll need to bring wellies and buy ponchos, but it’s a small price to pay.
There’s always a theme, and people always go to town with it – this year it’s ‘Childish Things’. Expect lots of jelly, ice cream, fun and games. Hopefully not too many adult babies.
It’s in Abbots Ripton, just over an hour from London Luton Airport, and about an hour and a half from Stansted.
If I was there this year I’d be… having the best time ever at Jungle, getting my swing on at Caravan Palace, and getting my skank on to the Gentleman’s Dub Club. Also, staring at the reflection of all the lights in the beautiful lake at night. Probably getting embarrassingly competitive in a sock-wresting match too.
Tomorrowland, Boom : 24th – 26th July
Well there was no way this wasn’t going on my list of the best festivals in Europe – and according to Viagogo, Tomorrowland is the most popular festival in the World so far this year.
I’m not surprised. How could a music festival that takes place in a place called ‘Boom’ (just a half hour from Brussels) be anything but absolutely epic? It’s already sold out, so unless you have a ticket you might have to wait until next year – but we reckon it’s never too early to start planning.
This is one for the electronic music heads. The line up is always amazing – it’s a given that this is the festival with the highest concentration of the world’s best DJs – and it has one of the best, most insane laser shows you are ever likely to experience.
But as with any really good festival, what happens away from the stages and the lasers matters too – and the awesome crowd, buzzing atmosphere, and general loveliness of Tomorrowland will capture your little raving heart.
I’d be sweating it out… at Sven Vath; taking another chance to see Hawtin’s epic
fringe set; going absolutely bats at Matador; staring at the lasers; and floating about in Dreamville buying silly, pretty festival things.
Sziget, Budapest : 10th – 17th August
Óbudai Island is a tranquil place for most of the year… until the last weekend of August, when close to over 400,000 lunatics take over the place for a week of sessioning in the sunshine. It’s a very big, very popular festival, and because of its size it has everything from poppy, mainstream performers and bone-shaking dance acts, to break-ya-neck hip hop and obscure indie and alternative groups.
Sziget’s nickname is the ‘Island of Freedom’, and for good reason. I know all good festivals have that ‘do whatever the hell you like’ vibe, but Sziget has just completely nailed it. Just nailed it. It’s just full of amazingly ludicrous people and mad experiences, and you really will get completely swept up in all kinds of daftness. Go to Budapest and see for yourself.
You wouldn’t find me at… Robbie Williams, but you wouldn’t find me judging you for going. I’d be at Alt-J with the super-cool kids (of which I am not one), and I’d be at Tyler the Creator, trying to figure out whether I love or hate him. I would also, most definitely, be hanging out in the unbelievable Luminarium.
Outlook, Croatia : 2nd – 6th September
If it’s all about that bass for you, then you need to take a little spin out to Pula, Croatia for Outlook. You’ll be up to your ears in drum and bass, dubstep, hip hop, reggae, garage, and bassline. And you will love it. This is still a relatively small festival, but it’s growing like you wouldn’t believe. Funny thing, that… there’s something about incredible live music in sunny, beautiful places that attracts people. Who’da thunk it?
Outlook’s boat party game is seriously strong, too. Picture the scene – a big boat, a huge soundsystem, a festival headliner, and you and a couple of hundred other hedonists having the time of your lives, absolutely having it, as you cruise through the sparkling blue Adriatic. It’s well worth spending a little extra money to experience one of these bad boys.
I’d most likely be… running around the festival in a panic, desperately trying to see as much as I possibly could. My list of favourites is too long to list here, but Run the Jewels are definitely on it. And there’s nobody whose set will make you happier than Mr David Rodigan…