Snow, wind, rain and the general misery that comes with the first months of the year seem a far cry from festival season, but with line-ups being announced and added to left right and centre it is time to start planning. Most of the travel I have done in my adult life has revolved around live music in one way or another, and over the last two summers I have been fortunate enough to experience a number of different European festivals and with them some of the greatest weekends of my life. Festivals are expensive no matter what country you do them in, so if you’re going to blow 200 quid on a ticket anyway I am all in favour of saving up a little more, if you’re able, and making a holiday and a new experience out of it too.
For all of the festivals featured here, you need to take into account flights, accommodation and tickets. For camping festivals, make sure you have a tent and sleeping bag that will fit into a suitcase (and take into account the additional cost of hold luggage if you’re flying budget) or consider buying one on arrival, or booking boutique camping instead. For non-camping festivals, book an Airbnb here to get £15 off if it is your first trip!
PRIMAVERA SOUND, Barcelona – primaverasound.com
Five nights of blissful debauchery, dancing and staying up to watch the sun rise from the beach: Barcelona’s Primavera Sound is the king of European festivals. The six stages are set on a large, aesthetically pleasing concrete expanse right by the Mediterranean, just a metro ride away from the city centre. Most of the action at Primavera kicks off in the early evening to save festival goers from the midday sun, leaving plenty of time for sleeping in, laying on the beach or sight-seeing (although I would recommend extending your stay in Barcelona after the festival if you possibly can for some recovery by the sea).
For this summer’s festival, Primavera has collected everything exciting from the last few years and spread it across Parc Del Forum’s stages. Headliners include Bjork, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The National, Migos, Arctic Monkeys, and Lorde, while other festival highlights come from Vince Staples, Kelela, Mount Kimbie, Arca, Daphni, Superorganism, Beach House, Rex Orange County, Abra and Jon Hopkins. DJ Coco‘s set rounds off the festival every year, be sure you don’t skip out early and miss one of the most uplifting experiences of your life.
- Walking and dancing on concrete takes its toll on your knees no matter how old (or not old) you are, wear your most comfortable shoes.
- Check the weather, but in my experience a light jacket or over-shirt for the evenings is a good idea. Wear your swimmers underneath your clothes for a sunrise dip in the sea after the music finishes.
- The festival site is big, download the app and plan who you want to see so you know where you need to be and when.
- There are a couple of decent vegan food options at the festival, and lots of great vegan food in Barcelona.
- Stay close to the festival site or in the city close to a metro station. Last year I stayed in an Airbnb in El Poble-Sec, which I found was cheaper than the slightly trendier Gothic Quarter and still easy enough to get back to each night. Taxis around the festival site can be a bit of a nightmare so it is better to not have to rely on them; the Barcelona metro operates from 5am to midnight on the Wednesday and Thursday of the festival, 5am to 2am on Friday, and all night on Saturday.
NOS ALIVE, Lisbon – nosalive.com
A smaller affair than Primavera but with an equally killer line-up, and a great excuse to spend time in beautiful Lisbon. Last year I flew to NOS Alive to have a dance to Depeche Mode and a boogie to Phoenix, although I did skip out on watching the Foo Fighters play 12 minute versions of all their songs in favour of a quirky rooftop bar overlooking the city.
This year’s line-up boasts Arctic Monkeys, The National, Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Future Islands, Perfume Genius and Chvrches, and NOS wins high school nostalgia points for booking both The Kooks and Franz Ferdinand.
- NOS Alive is right by the sea, so check the weather and be prepared for a chilly breeze in the evening. Take a look at what I wore to last year’s festival here.
- The festival site is quite small, so you can dip in and out of sets as you please.
- NOS is a 15 minute cab or 30 minute metro journey outside of Lisbon, so book an Airbnb or hotel in the city. If you can, extend your trip a day or two either side of the festival to make the most of being in the city.
- There are a few decent vegan food options at NOS Alive.
ROSKILDE, nr. Copenhagen – roskilde-festival.dk
My experience of Roskilde in 2017 was somewhat marred by the 36 hours of persistent rain and a fairly last minute cancellation from Blink 182. Nonetheless, performances from Lorde, The XX, Arcade Fire, Solange, Future Islands, Justice, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Slowdive and the eventual appearance of the sun during Ice Cube‘s set on the last day, as well as an overall very pleasant, inclusive, chilled vibe and loads to explore around the festival grounds make Roskilde high up on my list of favourite European festivals. Roskilde is also run entirely not-for-profit, which is nice. You can read more about my experience here.
Roskilde is located about an hour out of Copenhagen (there are loads of shuttle buses or a couple of short trains), so why not extend your trip and do a couple of nights in the city too.
- My Roskilde was a bit of a washout, but previous years have seen glorious sunshine, much like any British festival. Don’t forget to check the weather and pack accordingly.
- The main festival site is medium sized, but leave yourself time to explore the wider campsites and other areas (including a skate park, a lake and huge DIY parties across various parts of the campsite).
- There is a lot of food at Roskilde, including a few good vegan options.
- Roskilde is a camping festival, so if you are flying and don’t want to take hold luggage you might consider booking boutique camping, or look into where you can purchase a tent in Copenhagen before the festival.
FLOW, Helsinki – flowfestival.com
Helsinki’s Flow festival prides itself on sustainability. It is completely carbon neutral, makes its electricity from waste and reuses 100% of its waste. It also counts Kendrick Lamar, Patti Smith, Arctic Monkeys, Fleet Foxes, Shame, Yaeji, Noname, and Brockhampton among its extremely good 2018 lineup, as well as a lot of local acts.
Sadly I have not yet been to Flow, so can’t provide any tips for this one.
ØYA, Oslo – oyafestivalen.no
Kendrick Lamar, Patti Smith and Arctic Monkeys are also among Oslo’s Øya festival headliners this year. Other highlights include Brockhampton, Converge, Wolf Alice, Chelsea Wolfe and Phoebe Bridgers. The Øya site is located close to the very centre of Oslo, so is the perfect excuse to book a trip to the (reportedly) beautiful (but quite expensive) city. I have never been to Norway, so Øya is very much on my list.
TOP TIPS (courtesy of my boyfriend, thanks Tom, lol):
- Sensible footwear is a must – the festival is on a hill, which is great for views and being able to see over the heads of tall Scandinavian people, but it can get slippery if it rains. Pack your boots!
- Save up – Oslo is expensive, so you can imagine how eye-watering the price of a pint at a festival there is.
- You can camp at Øya, but as the festival is located in the city a hotel or Airbnb is an easier option for those travelling in by plane.
- Visit the museum opposite the festival site while you’re there, and take a trip around the islands (about 10 minutes away by boat) because they are beautiful.
WAY OUT WEST, Gothenburg – wayoutwest.se
Continuing on a theme, Way Out West is another Scandi festival, located in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. Way Out West prides itself on being ‘LGBT certified’ and prioritises social sustainability. At this year’s Way Out West you can see Kendrick Lamar, Arctic Monkeys, Patti Smith, Sigrid, Iggy Pop, Bonobo, and J Hus.
SZIGET, Budapest – szigetfestival.com
Sziget festival boasts a massive line-up including Kendrick Lamar, Gorillaz, Dua Lipa, Arctic Monkeys, Lana Del Rey, Liam Gallagher, Cigarettes After Sex, Stormzy and Shame over a whopping seven day festival in Hungary’s capital city. Sziget’s ‘Love Revolution’ ethos ensures that everyone is welcome at the festival.
I have not been to Sziget, but I have been to (and loved) Budapest. The beers are cheap, the flights are cheap, the Airbnbs are cheap and the weather in August is probably going to be stunning. You can camp at the festival for free, but personally I would always rather book an Airbnb in the city.
TOP TIPS FOR BUDAPEST:
- The ‘ruin bars’ of Budapest are a like nothing we really have in the UK. They are super eclectic, a lot of fun and are super affordable – my favourite was Szimpla Kert.
- Budapest is famous for its baths so try to visit at least one. The Széchenyi Thermal
Bath is perhaps the most famous and has the grandest outdoor area – if you’re planning to spend a few days in Budapest before or after the festival, visit the baths at the start or end of your trip so as to avoid the festival crowds.
- Walk up Gellert Hill to the Citadella at sunset for the most stunning views.
- There is so much great vegan food in Budapest – the burgers at Veganlove were so good that we went back three times, oops.
MEADOWS IN THE MOUNTAINS, Bulgaria – meadowsinthemountains.com
Finally, a festival which I do not know much about but which has intrigued me for the last couple of years. Read this Suitcase article for more of an insight. From what I understand, Meadows in the Mountains is very free-spirited, a place for escapism and really immersing yourself in the vibe and ethos of the festival. Its main attraction is watching the sunrise over the clouds from the top of the mountain each night, which looks completely magical.
If you are looking for an experience that is truly different from any other festival, Meadows could be the one for you.
Tempted to book yourself a flight right now? I’d love to hear your European festival recommendations too! If you fancy a festival that I haven’t covered here, check eufest.com.