People come to our blog for information about every aspect of expat living, from practical guidance about the working practices in various nations to night life, fun and entertainment in your their new home country. This week we thought we’d look at a few of the major music festivals in Europe, and related events, simply because these days festivals are amongst the most popular summer events for people of every age and taste.
There are many reasons for choosing somewhere new to live, from the food to the arts, music, the countryside, sport, healthcare standards, job opportunities, the weather… you name it. Here’s some insight into festival-related entertainment and recreational activities available across various locations in Europe, to help you choose a new home country that offers the kind of cultural events you appreciate most.
Top music festivals in Europe
Whether you love classical music festivals, hip-hop, dance, trance, rock or a heady mixture of every musical genre, the best music festivals in Europe await you. As do the finest performance, arts, poetry and spoken word-related events. Some are carnival-style festivals with floats and parades, others are purely music oriented. Some are thoroughly contemporary, feasts of modern musical talent, others are pagan, welcoming spring or celebrating the solstices.
Music festivals and more – What’s big in Britain?
Britain is a hotbed of summer festival action, including the world famous Glastonbury music festival and, of course, Edinburgh Festival, home to the world’s best comedy. Ireland celebrates St Patrick’s Day with nationwide music, song and dance every March, a tradition that spills over into the UK.
Then there’s Italy, home to the breathtaking Viareggio Carnevale in Tuscany, a thrilling affair that brings the Mediterranean resort to vibrant life. Iceland, home to the super-cool Iceland Airwaves festival. And Barcelona’s famous Les Festes de la Merce. But what are the best-loved and biggest festivals in Europe? Here are seven of the continent’s finest.
Music festivals Europe – 7 of the biggest and best
Electronic music – Sonar – Barcelona – June
The Sonar music festival has been going since 1994 and bills itself as more than just another music festival. The founders Sergi Caballero, Enric Palau and Ricard Robles like to break the rules and push the boundaries, which means you get more than the usual musical line-up. The event blends a classic festival experience with trade shows, conferences and the classroom in a host of ways through electronic music at its best, including industrial, hardcore, electronica, ambient, breakbeat, drum and bass, disco, house and more.
Music, theatre, dance and performance – Oerol – The Netherlands – June
Oerol is a fabulous Dutch festival held on the remote island of Terschelling in the Wadden Sea. It’s a wonderland of classical and contemporary music, performance, plays, dance, theatre and art installations, all of which are specially created to match the surroundings. The end result is both awe-inspiring and breathtaking, transforming the island into a fairytale landscape full of adventures and exotica. Here’s what Wikipedia says about Oerol:
“Oerol is the name of a Frisian summer festival that takes place each June on the island of Terschelling. The 10-day festival is focused on live, public theatre as well as music and the visual arts.In the Terschelling dialect, Oerol means “everywhere” or literally “overall” in the sense of covering the entire land (oeral in standard Frisian). Oerol takes its name from an old Terschelling tradition, when for a short time in early spring cattle were allowed to roam freely on the island, grazing on any and all available greenery.
The oerol tradition continued until the arrival of paved roads, since cars and bicyclists collided at night with sleeping cattle; it was finally ended during the German occupation of the island in World War II. The premise of the festival is to use the entire island as a stage, although two primary stages (Groene Strand and Westerkeyn) are set up. Beaches, woods, dunes and other landscapes can function as performance spaces, and shows have also taken place in farm sheds, boathouses and an army bunker.
Tickets are sold in the form of “passports” allowing access to the island for part or all of the week, and then tickets are available for the individual performances. Street theatre acts, art, and podium musical performances are free during the festival.”
Arts, performance and music – Fusion Festival – Mecklenburg, Germany – June
Fusion first happened in 1997. It takes place at Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, a few hours from Berlin, where there’s an abandoned Soviet military airport. The food is exclusively vegetarian, served amongst austere grey hangars and massive runways, and there are all night parties held in the woods. But it’s the creativity of the people who attend that makes it so special, many of whom join in to make an astonishing alternative reality with art installations, performance, music, poetry… an extraordinary temporary creative hotbed, perfect if you like your festivals more than just a bitdifferent.
Roskilde festival – Zealand, Denmark – June/July
With a multitude of household name acts and bands, Roskilde takes place on the Viking island of Zealand. It dates back to 1971, when a couple students decided to create a Danish festival with the same feel as big music festivals. The first ever event featured just twenty bands, now there are more than ten stages spread across a massive 200 acre site, with 180 or more performers, 100,000 attendees and 25,000 staff. Perfect if your taste is eclectic, featuring rock, dance, jazz and blues, hip-hop and pop music.
Montreux Jazz Festival – Switzerland – July
More than 200,000 people attend over the two weeks Montreux takes to town, one of the world’s most famous jazz festivals. Here’s what the Montreux Festival blog says about its history and origins:
“Founded by Claude Nobs in 1967, over the years the Montreux Jazz Festival has become an unmissable event for music fans in Switzerland and around the world. Its stages have been graced by all of music’s greats, from Miles Davis to Ray Charles and from David Bowie to Prince.
Whereas Jazz constitutes the Festival’s historic core, other styles of music were quickly integrated into the Festival, bound together by a common thread of mutual curiosity and enthusiasm.
Having made its reputation with its ambitious programming choices, the Montreux Jazz Festival offers musicians an ideal platform and an intimate setting for the duration of its two weeks.”
Exit – Serbia – July
As well as mainstream performers, Exit opens its doors to an incredibly diverse array of artists including underground electronica, metal, punk and a variety of truly experimental genres. The festival was created in 2000 in protest against Slobodan Milosevic’s government, but now has less of a political agenda, being more about having a fantastic time experiencing amazing music.
Salzburg Festival – Austria – July/August
If classical music is your thing, you can’t get much better than the Salzburg Festival, dating back to 1920 and one of the world’s biggest events for opera, drama and classical concerts. The event caters for children as well as adults and the venues are spectacular, a variety of beautiful, ancient halls, ethereal churches and grand cathedrals, all with superb acoustics.
Music festivals Europe – The continent’s most unusual event
Spain is your destination for the Festival of Near Death Experiences, possible Europe’s most eccentric and unusual festival. Here’s what Lonely Planet says about it:
“In an unlikely group therapy session, people in northwest Spain who have had near-death experiences climb into coffins. The boxes are carried into Santa Marta de Ribarteme, the church dedicated to Mary Magdalene’s sister, with the coffins’ inhabitants playing dead or cheekily peering down at their solemn bearers. Pilgrims without relations to shoulder them must lug empty coffins.
Afterwards, the procession heads up the hill to the cemetery, then returns to the church, where a statue of Saint Martha is produced. Chanting ‘Virgin Santa Martha, star of the North, we bring you those who saw death’, participants offer the shrine financial tokens of gratitude that their loved ones scraped through their scary experiences.
The festival combines Christianity with paganism and, typically, a large dose of profanity. The stories of those who saw their life rush past them must compete for attention with brass bands and fireworks. Stalls flog plastic religious souvenirs or octopus cooked in copper cauldrons.”
In fact Spain is home to plenty of strange, weird and wonderful festivals, music-inspired and otherwise. It’s the perfect expat destination for adventurous types who love to immerse themselves in a culture that’s truly unique and often very strange indeed!
Discover Welsh eisteddfods
Head for Wales if you love traditional music, the biggest festival of which is the National Eisteddfod of Wales, a massive event that’s all about competitive music and poetry, and Europe’s biggest. Lasting eight days, it’s a feast of competitions and performances, all in Welsh, usually with competitions taking place between north and south Wales. Around 6,000 people take part and the event attracts more than 150,000 visitors.
Arts festivals in Europe
More or less every town in Britain has its own festival these days, a fascinating mix of art, comedy, poetry, spoken word, theatre, performance and music. Most European cities also hold their own arts festivals, and the continent is strewn with irresistible and unusual events.
If your life revolves around music and entertainment, it’s a matter of picking the country that offers the best of what you love most. If unsure, you could always pick a new home country bordering on several others and become a multi-national festival buff!
European music festivals, dance, theatre and more – Useful resources
Here are three handy resources to help you discover exactly what’s out there in the festival world.
What’s your favourite European festival, and why? We’d love to share your experiences with our expat community.