Nowadays, there are so many different music festivals that it’s easy to forget that the concept has been around for a long time. However, the 20th century is when the music festival as we know it today was born, beginning with Woodstock in 1969. Woodstock influenced and inspired the music festival phenomenon. For the first time, half a million people came together to celebrate the one thing they all had in common: a passion for good music. The festival was so popular that they had to get rid of the fences around the venue to turn it into a free and open concert. Over the three days, 32 legendary acts performed, including Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Janis Joplin. Woodstock set the ideal and it has shaped festivals around the world, proving just how popular and important music is. Every year, more appear, and most of the existing ones gain momentum.
Summertime is the height of the festival season and it's not uncommon for festival-goers sleep in tents, which only adds to the experience. What better way to spend a long summer’s weekend than listening to some great bands, many playing in stunning locations? Here is our list of what we think are the unmissable European festivals. Tickets sell out fast, so it's time to get organised for the summer!
Primavera Sound, Spain
Primavera Sound takes place in Barcelona, a city known for its beautiful Modernist architecture –and for its nightlife. It is one of the largest music festivals in Spain, having grown from a three day festival to a now impressive 7-day extravaganza. The first Primavera took place in 2001 and has grown in popularity ever since, attracting a range of people through its extensive mix of music, as well as its spectacular line-ups. Taking place right on the coast, it features huge outdoor stages at the Parc del Forum, plus other selected venues around the city, creating an unforgettable atmosphere. Lline-ups have included The Strokes, Arcade Fire, Antony and the Johnsons, The Black Keys, Foxygen, Interpol, Pixies, Wilco and Julian Casablancas.
Getting to the festival is easy, with many transport links that take you straight to the venues. The festival also includes new acts to look out for, like Els Vermuts del Primavera at the Parc de la Ciutadella, one of Barcelona’s most beautiful parks.
Pinkpop is an annual music festival which takes place at Landgraff in Holland, normally held on the Pentecost weekend, which in Dutch translates as Pinksteren. The first festival took place in 1970, meaning that Pinkpop is officially the longest running annual music festival in the world. It follows the standard festival procedure, running for three days and taking place on only three stages, so all festival goers can get extra close to all the major acts. Over the years, more than 500 acts have played and an unbelievable 1.5 million people have attended. The lineup has featured Muse, Foo Fighters, OneRepublic, Robbie Williams, Slash and The Scripts, among others.
Croatia is fast becoming one of Europe’s most popular countries to visit among the young thanks to its low prices, beautiful weather and fabulous beaches. The same reasons mean it is also the perfect host for summer music festivals. INmusic, which started in 2006, takes place on Youth Island in Zagreb every June and normally lasts for two or three days. The big plus of INmusic is that it offers exactly what other European festivals do, but with smaller crowds and cheaper tickets. The festival is of course big on music, but there are plenty of other activities on offer including volleyball, football, rowing and sailing. Death Cab for Cute, Franz Ferdinand & Sparks, Florence + The Machine, Future Islands, La Roux and Kate Tempest are just some of the headliners of past editions.
Glastonbury is the most famous music festival in the world. Founded by a group of ‘hippies’ in the early 1970’s, the festival has since become a huge corporate event, though head organiser Michael Eavis is determined to stay loyal to its original roots. Glastonbury now welcomes the world’s biggest artists each year, who perform in Worthy Farm in Southwest England, making it the largest outdoor festival in the world, with over 1,000,000 attendees in previous years. A great tip to help you get the better of the crowds is remembering where you’re camping; there will be thousands of other tents that look exactly like yours and it can take up to half an hour to walk between stages. Glastonbury is one of the only 24-hour music festivals in the UK and because there is so much to see and do, it’s best to just go with the flow. The line-ups, outstanding so far, have included acts such as The Who, Patti Smith, Hot Chip, The Maccabees, Jamie XX, The Chemical Brothers, Suede, Fat White Family, Foo Fighters and Motorhead, plus many, many more attractions to be held in over 100 stages.
Rock Werchter, Belgium
Rock Werchter is one of the five largest rock music festivals in Europe. The first edition of the festival took place in 1974 and since then has evolved to become Belgium’s biggest music festival. Like most other major rock festivals, it has a lot more to offer than just rock, as it also welcomes crowd-pleasing bands and alternative sounds, including local Belgian acts to watch out for. There are only three stages, meaning not only that your favourite bands are unlikely to clash, but also they play longer, more intimate sets. Alabama Shakes, Alt-J, Balthazar, Archive, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Damien Rice and Hot Chip are among the many to have performed at Rock Werchter.
Roskilde is one of the hardest festivals to sum up in words. Almost nothing can describe the brilliance of this four-day event. Created by two students in 1971, it was taken over by the Roskilde Foundation which supports the city’s arts and culture scene and today it is one of the largest European music festivals. It attracts over 110,000 attendees and over 180 bands, including surprisingly diverse acts, from opera to classical music. There are nine scattered stages in large fields with different stalls dotted around, making it feel like one of the world’s bigger outdoor events. Roskilde always has the greatest line-ups, with legends such as Bob Marley, The Strokes, David Bowie and Nirvana having playing in its fields. It is almost impossible to leave this festival without discovering something new.
Heineken Open’er festival takes place in Gydnia, a city in Poland, and on the grounds of Kosakowo, a private airport. The festival was first organised in Warsaw in 2002 and it quickly became Poland’s largest arts festival. It won Best Major Festival in the European Festival Awards in 2009 and 2010. Though dubbed “Poland’s Glastonbury”, the layout of Open'er is unique as all the stages are on the outskirts of the venue, meaning there is a huge open central space. Previous line-ups have featured artists such as Die Antwoord, Alabama Shakes, Cruly Shakes, José González, Kasabian, St Vincent, and The Libertines. Open’er is not only a major music festival, but it also features different arts such as a fashion stage showing the latest trends, an ‘Alterkino Cinema’, a museum and a silent disco, which is popular with festival goers. There is also an iconic ferris wheel which overlooks the entire festival ground. Thanks to the shuttle bus which travels around Gdynia, you can explore the culture and stunning beach.
Bilbao BBK, Spain
BBK Live is a pop and rock festival which takes place in Bilbao’s largest park, close to both the city and the beach, which makes it the perfect break for festival goers. Bilbao is famous for its architecture (old and new), its museums and above all the world famous Guggenheim centre of contemporary art.Mumford and Sons, Future Islands, Counting Crows, Muse, The Cat Empire, Alt-J, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, The Ting Tings and Delorian are some of the artists that have performed on the BBK stages. This festival is organised so that the two main stages are timed in accordance with each other, meaning acts don’t overlap.
Exit is a festival with an interesting history as well as great music. It was created by three students from Novi Sad as a protest against the Government, aiming to give young people a chance to understand the social climate of Serbia. One of its outstanding features is the unique location in a beautiful listed Fortress, a protected monument. Politics and venue aside, the music is why the festival shines. With 18 stages, the wide range of music covers local acts from Serbia as well as some of the biggest acts from across the globe. Exit is Serbia’s party of the year, with the likes of The Prodigy, Manu Chao, John Newman, Motorhead, Black Sun Empire, War-Head and The Creepshow taking to its stages.
Colours of Ostrava, Czech Republic
Colours of Ostrava which is known simply as Colours is the biggest festival in the Czech Republic and is one of the largest music festivals in Central Europe. The venue for Colours is in Ostrava at Dolni oblast Vitkovice: once the home to mines and steel works it is now a European Heritage Protected Sight, making it one of the most captivating venues for a music festival. This year marks the 14th edition for the festival and as usual the line-up stands out as it tries to include undiscovered bands. The venue has a variety of different stages and Colours is welcomes children with different stages and workshops dedicated to them. Everything from the venue, activities and environment offers one of the most irreplaceable experiences and last year, over 33,000 people made the way to the festival to spend their summer days in Ostrava. Performers in past edition have included Björk, Rudimental, St. Vincent, Mika, Kasabian, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Caribou and Clean Bandit.
Positivus started in 2007. It is the biggest Baltic Festival and is packed with music ranging from folk to electronic, played over three days. It is also known for offering other fun activities such as crafts, theatre, sport and film. Although Positivus is smaller compared to other European music festivals, it won the Best European Festival Award from the British Festival Guide and overtook festivals such as Roskilde and Benicassim. It is held in a coastal town called Salacgriva, right on the Baltic Highway and the Riga Bay Beach, surrounded by endless meadows and forests. The campsite is right opposite the venue and there is free coffee for the campers, provided by sponsors Merrild Coggee. Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters, Kasabian, Lamb, Tom Odell, Placebo and St. Vincent have been featured in past line-ups.
“Latitude, more than just a music festival”. This is the slogan for the festival, which it undoubtedly lives up to. It covers everything from theatre, comedy, politics and literature. Located in Henham Park in Suffolk, England, the festival is still young In fact, it celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. Latitude is a festival with heaps of character thanks to its setting; beautiful hills, stunningly lit woods and multi-coloured sheep can all be seen. One of the most endearing things about it is that it's crammed with so many quirky activities, for example a knitting tent! Past programmes have featured the likes of Alt-J, Caribou, Portishead, José González, Jon Hopkins, The Vaccines, and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds.
FIB (Festival Internacional de Benicàssim), Spain
If lying on a sunny, spotless beach during the day and going on to listen to great live music in the evening sounds like your idea of a break, then Benicassim is for you. It’s perfect if you want to party till dawn, and unlike most music festivals, it kicks off early evening. In 2013, the festival introduced a new focus on fashion, convinced that its crowd is especially stylish; it teamed up with a talent agency to scout for new models among the masses. Benicassim has attracted some classic bands since its conception in 1995, including Bob Dylan, Beck and Morrissey, and have also welcomed welcome Crystal Fighters, The Prodigy, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Blur, Portishead, Vetusta Morla, Kaiser Chiefs and Florence + The Machine and many more to the stage.
Paléo Festival, Switzerland
How about a trip to Switzerland in the summer to check out the Paleo Festival? This annual rock festival takes place in Nyon, near Geneva, which was once inhabited by the Romans and has the magnificent Jura Mountains as its backdrop. Six days and over 230,000 festival goers make this one of Europe’s main music events. The event started off as a mini folk festival with just 1,800 people, but nowadays it welcomes more than 170 acts with 180 food, drink and art stalls. Some of the many major acts having performed here include Patti Smith and Her Band Performing Horses, Kings of Leon, David Guetta, Joan Baez, Fauve, and Faithless.
Tomorrowland first started in 2005. It’s a three day festival packed with the biggest electronic and dance music around. What makes this festival unique is the incredible backdrop, which transports festival goers to a dreamy and psychedelic world. For example, the theme for the main stage in 2011 was Alice in Wonderland, which meant elaborate and flamboyant decoration. The beauty of the festival doesn’t stop there; it takes place amidst the hills and lakes of Belgium. Tomorrowland has about 14 stages each year and they all differ in terms of music and décor, giving people plenty of variety. Camping is one of the perks of the festival; it has an inventive site called 'DreamVille', with stand-out features such as shops, community areas, showers and BBQ spots, and a gathering party before the festival begins. Past line-ups have included internationally renowned performers such as David Guetta, Carl Cox, Murdock, and The Prototypes. The distinctive atmosphere has made Tomorrowland one of the largest music festivals in the world, with more than 400,000 attendees last year and tickets proving almost impossible to buy.
Sziget, which is held on an island in Budapest, won the European Festival award in 2012 and in 2013 attracted just over 362,000 people from 70 different countries, with performers from over 50 countries, making it one of the world's biggest international festivals. In 2013 it claimed to be “the Island of Freedom”, as the organisers wanted to emphasise leaving societal constraints behind for a week to come together in peace. The festival is noted for its various acts of endless music genres performed on a variety of stages, as well as for its section “Fun, Art and More Music”, which includes a variety of other activities like circus and acrobatics performances, a giant street theatre, a luminarium and a 3,000m2 chill area at Sziget Beach.Florence + The Machine, Gentleman & The Evolution, Selah Sue, Jungle, Kensington, Ellie Goulding and The Ting Tings have performed in past editions.
Held in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, Flow attracts over 15,000 people a day, so prepare to be blown away by the impressive line-up and setting. The event lasts over four days and consists of four very unique stages. The festival offers a varied selection of music, from jazz, to the international music scene, to local Finnish stars. It takes place in the energy production area turned cultural space 'Suvilahti', which is close to the centre of Helsinki. This festival does not offer camping on site, but there are a number of hotels and hostels dotted around the area, meaning you can party without willies or the prospect of a damp tent. Flow has welcomed Beck, Florence + The Machine, The War on Drugs, Belle and Sebastian, Pet Shop Boys and Alt-J.
This festival manages to sell out extremely quickly, probably thanks to its alternative vibe. It runs for three days in Biddinghuizen, featuring not just music, but also a literature, theatre, comedy and film scene. Over 50,000 people attend and over 100 acts perform each year, and a wide range of good quality restaurants and bars can be found, probably due to the slightly older than average clientele. Lowlands is also known for being spot-on with its organisation, so bands hardly ever clash, allowing you to really relax. Lowlands has seen bands such as Âme, Paolo Nutini, Hot Chip, Rico & Sticks, Tourist, Kasba and The Antlers.
Rock en Seine- Paris
Do you see yourself as a hard-core rocker looking for a festival that will fulfill your needs? Then look no further than Rock en Seine. It’s a three-day musical extravaganza held in the enormous park of Saint Cloud, just outside the centre of Paris, designed by the landscape star Le Notre. This ancient and historically significant garden was designed in the 17th century and manages to have a chic atmosphere compared with rival festivals. Rock en Seine premiered in 2003 and since then has hosted over 110,000 people. It welcomes a buzzing, diverse crowd and kids between the ages 6 and 10 go free. The line-up is truly great, with artists such as The Chemical Brothers, The Libertines, Kasabian, Franz Ferdinand & Sparks, The Offspring, and Tame Impala taking to the Parisian stage.
Interesting fact: Rock en Seine was the festival that saw Oasis broke up after Liam and Noel Gallagher had a fight which snowballed into them cancelling their other summer festival appearances.
End of the Road Festival, UK
If you’re looking for an intimate British festival, then The End of the Road festival is for you. It has been recognised as the UK’s best small festival by the UK Festival industry, which is no surprise given that it offers big things. 2015 marks the tenth year of the festival, and with a capacity of only 8,000, it is always guaranteed to have a harmonious, easy feel. The event is played out on four stages set up within stunning grounds which are covered in fairy lights. As the venue is completely surrounded by nature, you might catch a glimpse of a wandering peacock or macaw. Other activities and attractions can be enjoyed, including comedy, workshops, a cinema, a healing retreat and a library, as well as a variety of food and drink, mostly organic. End of the Road takes place in September and has featured bands such as Tame Impala, The War on Drugs, Django Django, Mark Lanegan Band, and Future Islands. This magical festival is perfect for those looking for a quainter alternative.