Europe takes on the UK in the quest for the best festivals
“Dancing until the sun comes up at Croatia’s Hideout Festival is a must – you’ll never see a sunrise like it”
Indulging your wildest fantasies, dancing until dawn, living in complete freedom and waking up with glitter all over your sleeping bag – what is it about festivals that just captures the imagination? There’s something magical about them that sucks even the most boring individuals in to unleashing their wild side and giving in to that little fun devil lurking inside. In the UK, we love festivals, they are a huge part of British culture and we just can’t get enough of them. That is, to the point that many have said the market is saturated with huge events popping up left, right and centre. Now there really is an event for everyone, whether you prefer those massive events like Glastonbury, Download and Wireless – all aimed at different audiences but all providing total escapism for a weekend. For those who are less bothered about the huge acts, and instead love to discover new or unusual acts while having a whole other-worldly experience, there are events like Secret Garden Party and BoomTown Fair which promise an experience like no other. They for those on a slightly smaller budget, and for those who prefer the smaller boutique events, there are newer and smaller-scale festivals like Zoo Project Festival and We Are FSTVL – on a par with the huger events in terms of line-ups and yet more intimate and purse-friendly. All incredible events and you can understand why it is so difficult for the first-time festival-goer to choose.
“Croatia has a festival to suit all tastes and the sunsets are spectacular”
But what about all those European events? That’s right, the craziness doesn’t stop when you reach the shoreline of Great Britain, it long ago split over into neighbouring Europe and has been steadily filtering from West to East in search of new homes and audiences. Festivals have found new homes along the coastlines, in the cities, deep in the countryside and even high in the mountains – promising a wholly different experience to both the more experienced and novice festival-goer. Spain has been a long-time hotspot for music festivals with the likes of Benicassim and Primavera Sound taking place within the borders. But now it seems that Croatia is rising rapidly in the ranks and taking the top spot with a sudden introduction of several of the edgiest festivals, placing it firmly on the map as the place to be this summer. Events include the new Fresh Island Festival, Electric Elephant, HideOut Festival, The Garden Festival, Soundwave and Ultra Festival – a festival hotspot if ever I saw one! But it is the more Eastern European countries that seem to be edging their way towards the top – perhaps one to watch for the future – with countries like Bulgaria, Serbia and Budapest hosting huge events with top acts.
It seems festival-goers are overwhelmed with choices – but just how do you make that decision over whether to stay on home turf or whether to head for new pastures when booking those tickets? There are good and bad sides to both staying close to home and heading abroad, but as an experienced festival writer and editor for This Festival Feeling who has tried her hand at festivals all over the place, here’s a realistic look at the two:
“Quirkiness rules at BoomTown Fair in Winchester where the Arcadia Spectacular provides some fiery entertainment”
European festivals are amazing – let’s be honest, you’re combining a holiday and festival all in one and often for much cheaper than tickets for some of the most expensive events back at home in the UK. Who wouldn’t love raving to their favourite artists on a beach, or in the mountains in a beautiful new country? Yes European festivals are often cheaper, but there is also the flip side that you sometimes end up paying for accommodation like apartments if the festival doesn’t have camping on offer. If it does have camping, remember that often it will be much hotter than back in the UK and you are sleeping in what is essentially a stuffy plastic bag – in the baking 30 degree heat this is not a pleasant experience. But how better to deal with that than by waking up with a dip in the sea and a cocktail on the beach? Food and drink is often cheaper at these events than it would be at UK equivalents, but that probably evens out after you have paid for flights/trains to get there. The line-ups are fantastic – you can see some really huge acts on European stages which is great if you missed the chance to see them at home where demand might be higher, plus you have the opportunity to see lots of international and up-and-coming talent as well which is a great new experience. While some of the European festivals boast huge line-ups (particularly dance music) that strongly rival the UK’s line-ups, other events will see billings packed with unique and home-grown talents which means that although you are getting a cheaper ticket, you might not actually be seeing anyone you wanted to.
“Revellers can find all kinds of creative fun at Secret Garden Party in Huntingdon, where pig racing is just one of the many highlights”
Back at home in the UK, the biggest put-off for our festivals has to be the weather. Yes Britain is a bit of a wet country and several festivals including Glastonbury and Creamfields have been rained off in previous years, but don’t paint them all with that brush. In all my years of festivals, I have never spent one wet and muddy; I have been very lucky and have only seen a few where it has even rained. Last year I spent most of them sunbathing and swimming in lakes between the acts and actually came back with a better tan than friends who had been abroad. So don’t write off British weather because more often than not it is fine. If it does rain, yes it isn’t that fun to have soggy feet, but it does add to the charm of a British festival. And what would be the point in having those Hunter wellies if we didn’t have the chance to show them off? While UK festivals might not see you dancing on the beach or in the mountains, it does give you a welcome break over a long weekend without wasting all the time travelling across Europe. For those who can’t afford to travel or who can’t get the time off work, there is a wealth of musical talent on a stage just a few hours’ drive away. Festival fashion – sorry Europe but dancing in a bikini all day doesn’t really give us the freedom to be extravagant with such little material. UK festivals are packed with unique style statements, headdresses, face paints, glitter and fancy dress. It is so vibrant and colourful, and full of identity and character. You just don’t get that same British quirkiness when you travel overseas. If you truly want to lose yourself in another world full of weirdness then a UK festival will be just up your street.
Even after pointing out the good and the bad for each, I still don’t think I could choose one over the other. Both European and UK festivals offer something entirely different and it just depends on the kind of festival experience you are after. But any true festival-lover should make sure they venture out to both so they can compare for themselves.
Written by Lucy Ruthnum