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Travel

The five best alternative European music festivals

Summer festival season is here and it is in full swing. First kicked off by California’s Coachella returning in April, we’ve now seen a host of our favourite celebrations of music and the arts whisk us away into states of complete euphoria, escaping the mundanity of everyday life.

June has arguably been the best month so far, kicking off with Primavera Sound in Barcelona across two bumper weeks, there’s also been the enchanting Sonar in the same Catalonian metropolis as well as smaller soirees such as Kala in Albania. Just last weekend, Glastonbury Festival returned for its 50th anniversary, boasting a lineup that featured the likes of Billie Eilish, Paul McCartney, Kendrick Lamar, and many more, ranging from Arlo Parks to Turnstile.

This week, we’ve also had iconic festivals such as Denmark’s Roskilde kick-off, featuring a whole host of our favourite artists. Across Roskilde’s lengthy eight-day run, there are the likes of Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Fontaines D.C., Kacey Musgraves, The Strokes, and The Smile; and these are just some of those at the top of the lineup. Elsewhere, there are the likes of Squid and Iceage, reflecting the wide net that the festival casts every year. 

Given that so many outstanding European festivals have already been and gone for this year, it got me thinking, what great festivals are there still to come, as surely we’ve not maxed out on our fun for this summer?

Fear not. The summer solstice was only a week ago, meaning that summer has only just begun, and there are many festivals yet to come. Whilst there are a countless number of European music festivals imminent that are well worth trying, we’ve listed five that give you a broad spread of everything on offer musically and location-wise. Expect to see some household names and some lesser-known ones.

The five best alternative European music festivals:

Bilbao BBK Live: Bilbao, Spain, 7-9th July

Something of a smaller alternative to Primavera Sound, BBK is for the more hipster-leaning people out there. A camping festival held in its entirety in a special complex built on the slopes of the magical Mount Cobetas located southwest of the Basque city of Bilbao, there’s no festival setting quite like it. It pips other mountain-based camping festivals such as Wales’ Green Man, as the weather is just exquisite.

Always mentioned in the discussions for best European festival either officially or among music lovers, this year, Bilbao has a stellar lineup that rivals every edition before. LCD Soundsystem, Placebo, Phoebe Bridgers, The Killers, Bicep, BADBADNOTGOOD; be prepared to forego any inhibitions and get it on in this Basque mountain paradise.

EXIT Festival: Novi Sad, Serbia, 7-10th July

Perhaps the most intriguing entry on the list, EXIT Festival is significant not only because of the marvellous celebration of the arts that it puts on, but because it is tied to the recent history of the Balkans. Taking place at the Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad, Serbia, it was founded in 2000 in the University Park as a student movement who were fighting for democracy in the country and the Balkans.

Formed “in the spirit of genuine youth rebellion” EXIT promotes the message of peace and love, and seeks to achieve social change through music. A socially responsible festival that also focuses on environmental and humanitarian activities, as well as developing the creative industries, it’s so much more than just a plain old music festival.

The location is second to none, and although it’s fairly dance-oriented, the lineup this year is as diverse as they come. Featuring Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Denis Sulta, Gerd Janson, Molchat Doma, Napalm Death, and even Brazilian groove metal masters, Sepultura, it’s a festival that always delivers on its promises.

Ortigia Sound System: Sicily, Italy, 27–31st July 

A lesser-known festival, Italy’s Ortigia Sound System is something of a hidden gem that looks set to expand its horizons in the next couple of years as more people are made aware of its utopian beauty. An electronic music festival, Ortigia “mixes the rhythms of Mediterranean tradition with the new trends of contemporary music”.

Held in Ortigia in Sicily, this festival is not to be missed. Complete with a varied lineup that features some of the best electronic artists in the game, there’s something for everyone here, even if dance isn’t necessarily your thing. Performances are spread across the utterly stunning Ortigia, and this year’s edition boasts acts such as Tangerine Dream, Hunee, Overmono, Kelly Lee Owens, John Talabot, and more.

Sziget: Budapest, Hungary, 10-15th August

One of Europe’s largest and most inclusive festivals, Sziget is one that every festival-lover needs to tick off their list eventually. Held in Budapest, Hungary, Sziget labels itself ‘The Island of Freedom’ and it’s not hard to see why, as revellers lose themselves in the seemingly endless amount on offer. Promising a love revolution this year, the camping festival runs for six days, and this year’s lineup features some of the biggest acts out there.

Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala, Sam Fender, Jon Hopkins, the list of heroes taking to the stage at Sziget this year is an astounding one. A truly diverse and eclectic lineup, there’s something here for everyone, no matter what your tastes are, confirming the festival’s assertion that all visitors are a
‘Szitizens’. Hosting over 1000 shows across 60 stages for the duration, you’ll never be bored, and for the price you pay, it’s a bargain.

Pukkelpop: Haselt, Belgium, 18-21st August

One of Europe’s longest-running and most iconic festivals, Belgium’s Pukkelpop gives you more than most. Three days of music, Pukkelpop began as an event organised by Leopoldsburg’s Humanistische Jongeren (“Young Humanists”), back in 1985, before many of us were born. Afterwards, it quickly rose to become one of the best outdoor alternative festivals in existence.

Able to offer the most sought-after headliners as well as acts on the fringes of all things alternative, year on year Pukkelpop delivers a lineup that puts pretty much every other festival to shame. A camping festival, there’s an equal chance of rain as there is sunshine, but do not let this put you off the good times that are possible here. This year’s edition features Arctic Monkeys, Slipknot, Tame Impala, Bring Me The Horizon, Cypress Hill, as well as the likes of Skepta and Four Tet.

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