European Music Festivals – Top Five

1. Exit Festival, Novi Sad, Serbia

This four day festival has been going for over a decade, and has seen established a continent-wide reputation in recent years. This has lead to an increase in both heavyweight international headliners (Placebo and The Chemical Brothers played in 2010) and the number of boozed-up post-A level revellers in attendance. Whether this is a development to be welcomed is up to you, but the festival’s spectacular location in the Petrovaradin Fortress – a Hapsburg castle built on the banks of the Danube – makes this an exciting place to go, while the engaging mix of well-known international acts and Serbian/Balkan favourites provides an invigorating change from the stale line-ups at many British festivals. In addition, prices are low – ranging from £89 – £130 for the whole four days, with beer costing only around £1.20 a pint. There are many ways to get there from Belgrade, but many from the UK fly budget to Balaton in Southern Hungary, where there are bus and train connections. This year’s headliners include Arcade Fire and Hadouken – dates: 7th – 10th July

2. Sziget Festival, Budapest, Hungary

Continuing up the Danube from Novi Sad you will eventually reach the Sziget Festival, which is based on an island right in the centre of Budapest. The great thing about Sziget is its sheer scale; it takes place over seven days, over an enormous site (it occupies almost the whole of Obudai Island), and the music is almost continuous – there are none of the lights out at 11pm regulations that govern UK events – hence you can find yourself leisurely listening to a jazz band with a beer at 6.30 in the morning, without quite realising how you got there. Food and drink is (uniquely for a campsite festival) both affordable and good, and the musical range is so diverse as to suit even the most wilfully eclectic tastes: gypsy bands, Algerian folk, Dutch djs of the Balearic survivor variety, British indie – even the brass band of the Budapest police force puts in an afternoon shift. You can camp on site, but we switched between the wonder of our disco tent and a hostel in Budapest itself, so as to catch up on sleep and see more of a wonderful city. This year’s headliners are yet to be announced – dates: 8th– 15th August. Week-long camping tickets cost around £140.

3. Guca Trumpet Festival, Serbia

Three hours by bus from Belgrade, the small town of Guca hosts an extraordinary gathering of musicians, predominantly Balkan, who come to play, and compete for the Best Musician award. The brass band is an integral part of Serbian music culture, accompanying village events for centuries, and the region’s players have developed a style – a melange of Slav, Middle-Eastern and Gypsy influences – that is unique in its virtuosity and intensity. A festival quite unlike any other; combining a genuine traditional lineage with a vast, pan-Balkan audience (the town, population 2000, usually absorbs 600,000 visitors to the event), it is definitely worth a visit. The line-up is ever-shifting, but Serb president Boris Tadic is scheduled to open the festival this year.

4. The Bach Festival, Leipzig, Germany

The old East German city of Leipzig has been a home to more giants than Jotunheim – Goethe, Schiller, Wagner, Leibniz and Kaestner all lived or studied there – but Johann Sebastian Bach is the city’s towering figure; he composed much of his greatest work in his 27 years as Cantor of the Tomasschule. The Tomasschule, and its accompanying church, is still there – indeed it celebrates its 800th anniversary in 2012 – and every year the city puts on a ten day festival in honour of its most famous citizen. The standard is phenomenally high – past performers have included Andras Schiff, Ton Koopman and Gustav Leonhardt – and the programme admirably varied, but what is most loveable about the festival is the sense of civic pride that accompanies it – the visitor gets a real sense that the whole city is celebrating its great historical achievements. Away from the festival, Leipzig remains an artistic powerhouse, and a tram ride to the suburbs takes you to the Spinnerei, a gallery and studio complex founded by noted Modern artist and Leipzig local Neo Rauch; well worth a visit in its own right. Tickets are expensive and often sell out fast, but there are numerous concessions available.

5. The Proms, London

One of the world’s oldest musical festivals, the Proms have been going since 1895. Despite the great age, they are far from moribund however; every year an ever increasing number of concerts are crammed into the Royal Albert Hall between mid-July and early September. Do not be put off by the braying hordes escaped from Henley who turn up for the last night; the programme explores the full, extraordinary range of Western classical music, and invariably hosts the world’s best orchestras and soloists. As the great Czech conducter Jiri Belohlavek says: ‘the Proms is the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival’; unlike almost every other festival across every genre, the Proms are open to all for as little as £5. The full programme is released in June.

This guest post was written by Jude Harrison.

  • Theo Martin
    Posted at 15:00h, 09 May

    I made many European festivals and a road trip through Europe in 2009 took me in Hungary and to Sziget festival.

    It was crazy! The festival is in the heart of Budapest on an island on the middle of river Danube, creating a special atmosphere with the unique mixture of party, city and nature.

    It is the longest festival, 7 days of music, cultural programs and exhibitions. But it is also the largest with 400,000 persons from everywhere in the world and the most diverse line up, you will find what you like in every hour of the day on one of the 30 stages of the Island.

    You add a huge Party Arena and some parties places with several DJs 24h/7, cheap drinks and food.

    I finished this experience in one of the baths of the city on Monday afternoon.

    A week of madness, i didn’t believe what I was living!
    Live it, you will enjoy it!

    To have an idea of this amazing event, watch that!

  • Stan | Best All Inclusive Resorts
    Posted at 21:08h, 20 July

    I’m an old metal dude, so I’d definitely vote for Donnington and Rock Am Ring as the best ones.

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