The guide to Glastonbury

Tomorrow the daddy of all festivals begins. Elisa Bray explains how to enjoy the music, the mood – and even the camping

The world's most famous festival has 177,000 people on site, about 300 bands on 10 main stages (and another dozen smaller ones) across 1,000 acres of land (that's the equivalent of 375 football pitches). That's enough to overwhelm the most seasoned of festival goers, let alone the many first-timers who will be heading for Worthy Farm, Pilton, this weekend.

As there is more happening on the opening day, Thursday, than ever before, it's best to arrive early to make the most of the bands and the films. Maximo Park are kicking off the festival at 4pm on Thursday at the Queen's Head venue – get there early because the capacity is just 1,500.

Between all the bands and the other entertainment on offer, you will be facing many decisions during the festival. But the primary decision will be where to pitch your tent. First, you need to ask yourself if getting sleep over the weekend is a priority, or if being close to main stages is more important. If you fit into the latter category, you can camp close to the main, Pyramid Stage. Between the Park and the Healing Fields, Pennard Hill Ground is a lively area. If you are the sort that needs their eight hours, you might prefer the quieter Limekilns and Hitchin Hill Ground. Avoid facing the Dance Village, the designated dance area which keeps going into the early hours. If you are arriving later and are stuck for a pitch, try to the west of the site near the Park where there is more space. And a little practical tip for the camping novices among you: if rain looks likely (and I don't mean to be negative, but rain is bound to feature at some point during four days in the English countryside), pitch your tent at the top of the hill rather than the bottom. If you own an iPhone, be sure to download "Tent Finder", a new application which comes with a handy flashlight to help guide you back to your canvas shelter. If you don't have an iPhone and you find yourself lost amidst a sea of indistinguishable tents, the Meeting Point (the one with the flowers) near the central Queen's Head Stage is your best bet to join up again with your missing companions. There are also six Information Points dotted around the site.

The next decision to be made – and probably the main reason that you find yourself in Somerset – is which bands to see. Don't limit yourself to a strict timetable. One of the best elements to Glastonbury is the wandering around and stumbling upon bands you might never have heard of. It was at my first Glastonbury that I was on my way to see the Happy Mondays, took a wrong turn, and discovered Muse. Bearing in mind that during the festival's peak flow – from Friday evening onwards – it takes 45 minutes to cross from the John Peel Stage to the Shangri La area, you should plot your band viewings realistically.

On Thursday, at the Queen's Head Stage, see Maximo Park play a ten-song set chosen by their Facebook fans, followed by a clutch of hotly-tipped newer acts, including Liz Green, Ebony Bones, Metronomy and Stornoway. At the Dance Lounge catch the multi-talented Beardyman, the UK beatboxing champion in 2006 and 2007.

On Friday you might find yourself torn between the Pyramid Stage and the John Peel Stage. Neil Young is of course the big highlight of the day, and to bag yourself a good spot at the front you could happily make your way to the Pyramid Stage early to see Fleet Foxes, Lily Allen's homecoming gig, The Specials and then Young. If you're more pop than rock, head for the John Peel Stage to see VV Brown, Metronomy, Little Boots, Jack Peñate and south Londoner Jamie T. Headlining there are Manchester indie-rock favourites Doves, a worthy alternative to the veteran star. Ray Davies headlines the acoustic stage, while younger festival-goers might prefer the Other Stage where The Ting Tings are followed by Bloc Party.

As usual, it's the Park Stage, run by Emily Eavis and her fiancé, Nick Dewey, that has some of the festival's best bands. On the Friday, it boasts Animal Collective as its headliner, preceded by The Horrors, who have been doing a good job of late proving that they are not just about style.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are Saturday's top draw, while Franz Ferdinand on the Other Stage, and Jarvis Cocker on the John Peel Stage are the alternatives, with the wonderful Bon Iver topping the Park Stage. Don't miss the Africa Express Soundsystem at Club Dada in Shangri La on Saturday and of course Blur's first major comeback gig, rounding things off on the Pyramid Stage on Sunday.

Centre stage: 10 acts you shouldn't miss

Bon Iver

From heartbreak and seclusion in a Wisconsin log cabin to last year's top album, For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver brings his haunting folk-rock to Glastonbury. The Park Stage on Saturday, Other Stage on Sunday.



The Low Anthem

With a raft of praise for their new album behind them, US band The Low Anthem bring their compelling harmonies and folk-rock to the festival for the first time. Queen's Head Stage on Friday, The Park Stage on Saturday.



Klaxons

A welcome return for the Mercury Music Prize-winning nu rave quartet who are special guests. The Park Stage on Saturday.



Speech Debelle

The socially conscious rapper, signed to Roots Manuva's record label, Big Dada, is set for big things. BBC Introducing on Saturday



Ladyhawke

The Eighties-influenced popster performs her irresistibly catchy songs 'My Delirium' and 'Paris is Burning'. John Peel Stage on Sunday.



Broken Records

The Edinburgh seven-piece wanted to stand out from the crowd, so they added violin, accordion, mandolin, pianos, trumpet, glockenspiel, ukulele and a full-time cellist. The result is an intoxicating and exciting blend of instrumental indie rock in the vein of Arcade Fire. Queen's Head Stage on Saturday.



Rumble Strips

With Mark Ronson producing their second album, the Rumble Strips might get the mainstream success they deserve for their stomping, brass-led songs. New single, 'Not The Only Person' will be a highlight. John Peel Stage on Friday.



First Aid Kit

These 16 and 19-year old Swedish sisters sound older than their youth suggests with their 'you've done me wrong' subject matter, playing charming, harmonious pop-folk. The Park Stage on Saturday.



Florence and the Machine

The winner of this year's Brits Critics Choice, Florence Welch has a voice to rival her peers. Hear her perform the exceptional songs of her debut album, 'Lungs'. John Peel Stage on Saturday



Dizzee Rascal

His new single "Bonkers" is in the charts and will be one of the hits of the summer, especially after Dizzee plays his biggest Glastonbury show yet. Pyramid Stage on Saturday.

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