I want to experience a music festival in Europe. What are the best bets?
Summertime Europe is the world’s alfresco music fest capital, from short events in cobblestone town plazas to sprawling, edge-of-city affairs where you writhe all week with shirtless partiers – and avoid the washrooms as much as possible.
But since the days when I tipsily toppled off the roof of a car at England’s Reading Festival while dancing to Half Man Half Biscuit (don’t ask), the choice of where to go has grown longer than a Bruce Springsteen set list.
The U.K. is still a good starting point, though. Green Day is headlining Reading (readingfestival.com) and its Leeds Festival twin (leedsfestival.com) this August, while Scotland’s T in the Park (tinthepark.com) delivers indie darlings Mumford & Sons among many others. Also consider Suffolk’s Latitude (latitudefestival.com), with Kraftwerk and dozens of stand-up comedy acts.
But the granddaddy of England’s farmland parties is Somerset’s gigantic Glastonbury Festival, back on track after 2012’s hiatus. Officially sold out, some tickets will become available April 21, but you have to register at glastonburyfestivals.co.uk to be able to buy them. With hundreds of acts playing 11 main stages here, you can giddily weave from Arctic Monkeys to Rufus Wainwright to Martin Stephenson & the Daintees.
Glasto will be as jam-packed as ever – the heralded appearance of the Rolling Stones doesn’t help – so I recommend digging around for some of the UK’s smaller festival gems.
Check out Oxfordshire’s grassroots Truck Festival (truckfestival.com), which has the feel of a hip village fete; the near-Salisbury Larmer Tree (larmertreefestival.co.uk) with its world music and family-friendly vibe; and the edge-of-Cambridge Secret Garden Party (secretgardenparty.com) with its arty bands and landscaped meadow stages.
If you’re aiming for continental Europe, there’s an even wider field. Crowd-surfing behemoths include Holland’s Pinkpop (pinkpop.nl), Denmark’s Roskilde Festival (roskilde-festival.dk) and Barcelona’s gigantic Primavera Sound (primaverasound.com), where Blur and Nick Cave will strut their stuff this summer.
I’d also recommend waterfront FIB (fiberfib.com) as a Spanish alternative, and not just because you can top-up your tan at the beach. With an indie rock focus – Primal Scream and Queens of the Stone Age this year – FIB also shows how some events have moved on from their grungy, muddy-field beginnings: You can rent a tent here and even book breakfast.
Of course, many festival-loving musos don’t sleep at all. Europe’s club-like open-air dance parties are a specialty, and you can frolic all night long at Belgium’s rave-like Tomorrowland (tomorrowland.be), Serbia’s turntable-tastic Exit (exitfest.org) and the near-Berlin Melt! (meltfestival.de), where electronica acts play against a backdrop of towering mining machinery.
Many of the continent’s smaller festivals have even more picturesque settings. Check out Iceland’s Extreme Chill (extremechillfestival.com), a dance party in the shadow of the Snaefellsjokull glacier, or Norway’s remote Traena Festival (trena.net ), staged in the mouth of an Arctic Circle cave. This year’s event is sold out but they are looking for volunteers in exchange for free passes.
Tickets for top events can cost over $300, but a growing roster of Eastern Europe bargains can save you a bundle. Which means more cash for glow sticks and warm beer in plastic cups.
Among the best deals, tickets start at $60 for Poland’s giant Open’er Festival (opener.pl), this year with Blur and Kings of Leon. Croatia’s similarly priced INmusic (inmusicfestival.com) delivers dozens of bands and a lakefront island setting. This summer’s lures include Editors, Block Party and wrinkled stalwarts Iggy and the Stooges.
Which reminds me: it’s time to dig out my old Half Man Half Biscuit T-shirt. Wonder where they’re playing this year?
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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated Glastonbury Festival takes place in Cornwall, it actually occurs in Somerset. This version has been corrected.