Cheap flights, wanderlust, and a dearth of mud: the holy trinity that has put a rocket up European music festivals in the past few years. There’s simply no reason to ruin a perfectly good pair of Converse at a rain-splattered British festival when the cost of going abroad (cheaper tickets, no-frills flights, bargain booze and food) is often comparable.
But it’s not just about money, for the growing number of British travellers who venture abroad to festivals each year, it’s a chance to see new music in new places - with the option of tagging on a holiday afterwards. And if the idea of piecing the whole thing together yourself doesn’t appeal, specialist travel companies such as Planetfestival.co.uk, Festicket.com and, new this year, Festlane.com can package up tickets, accommodation and in some cases flights or coach transport. All prices below are for full festival tickets with booking fee, excluding travel and accommodation, unless otherwise stated.
Festivals are rapidly eclipsing the previous sun-and-fun hedonist hangouts such as Ibiza and Cyprus, and they’ve flung open the doors of “the new Europe”, tempting those who might never have headed east before to come for the tunes (and booze) and stay for the architecture and the landscapes. Pioneering city festivals such as Tallinn Music Week fly the flag for emerging music from Estonia and the Baltic States – this year’s edition has just come to a close, but look out for next year’s (late March/early April; tmw.ee; ticket prices TBC). During the summer months, Positivus (15-17 July; positivusfestival.com; €90) takes place in the Latvian coastal resort of Salacgriva - it’s the Baltic’s leading festival, with Grimes and M83 joining the country’s biggest indie band, Carnival Youth.
Further down the coast is Open’er (29 June-2 July; opener.pl; 565 zlotys/£107) at Gdynia in Poland, just outside the cultured former city-state of Gdansk. Headliners include Foals and Florence & The Machine.
Economically and culturally booming Poland is ground zero for cutting-edge festivals this year. In Katowice, Off (5-7 August; off-festival.pl; 340 zlotys/£64) dispenses with the usual headliners that tour the major festivals, plumping instead for an outre Pitchfork or All Tomorrow’s Parties vibe, with the likes of Lightning Bolt, Mudhoney and Sleaford Mods. Even more leftfield is Krakow’s Unsound (11-18 October; unsound.pl; ticket prices TBC) which pushes underground electronica in the style of a kind of less commercial Sonar ... and like Barcelona-born Sonar it’s expanded into spin-off events, everywhere from Minsk to New York and Adelaide.
If Ibiza is waning then the Balkans are waxing. Sick of high prices and staid clublife, punters started flocking to Croatia a few years ago, and they still do for events like the heavily UK-centric Electric Elephant (7-11 July; electricelephant.co.uk; £110) at the wonderfully chilled little cove of The Garden in Tisno. Exit (7-10 July; exitfest.org; £87) will see headliners including Ellie Goulding and Bastille perform in a historic fortress in the Serbian city of Novi Sad, but former Yugoslavia also offers newer festivals like Southern Soul (30 June-3 July; southernsoulfestival.me; €93) at Copacabana Beach in Ulcinj, Montenegro, this year featuring Ed Motta and Marcus Valle.
Spain and Portugal
In a few short years, Primavera Sound (1-5 June; primaverasound.com; only day tickets remaining, €88) has gone from an outside concern to one of the most important festivals in Europe, tempting huge numbers of Brits to Barcelona each spring (and now to Porto too, 9-11 June). The setting, in the surreal concrete Parc del Fòrum is one reason, the city itself is another, and the line-up doesn’t hurt: LCD Soundsystem and PJ Harvey are just two of the acts gracing the stage this year. In Lisbon, NOS Alive (7-9 July; nosalive.com; day tickets remaining, £49) is another popular choice. Radiohead and Pixies hit the stages near the Tagus in Belem, home of the Portuguese custard tart.
France and Germany
Melt (15-17 July; meltfestival.de; €136 including camping) is the quintessential German festival – taking place a couple of hours south of Berlin, at Ferropolis, an old mine that’s new an open-air museum rammed with terrifying bits of machinery. A perfect place then to listen to Teutonic techno like Boys Noize and Pan Pot. Even Jean-Michel Jarre (of "Popcorn" fame) will be there. Nuits Sonores (4-8 May; nuits-sonores.com; €143) is another event dripping with DJs and producers making music you can dance to. The dancing takes place in smashed up old factories, swimming pools and derelict hospitals all around Lyon. Moderat and Elektro Guzzi are two of the names to watch.
Beautiful people, festival sites laden with crisp design and bespoke art, and nights when the sun never goes down – what’s not to love about the Nordic festival experience? Helsinki’s Flow (12-14 August; flowfestival.com; €175) is one of Europe’s hippest bashes, like a fashion magazine come to life. This summer the lineup includes Iggy Pop and Four Tet. Denmark is festival-mad, with biggies like Roskilde (25 June-2 July; roskildefestival.dk; 2,020 krone/£218 including camping), but Northside (17-19 June; northside.dk; 1,425 krone/£154) is an up-and-coming choice. It takes place in Aarhus, next year’s European Capital of Culture, with headliners including Beach House, Beck and Wilco.Reuse content