The 14 best music festivals in Europe, from Primavera Sound to Rock Werchter

For thrill-seekers and sun-worshippers, there are plenty of options for those seeking to take their music obsession further afield. The Indy’s culture staff have picked out an eclectic list of the most impressive festivals around Europe, from Barcelona to Bulgaria

Sunday 14 May 2023 13:14 BST
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<p>The festivals we’ve picked will likely tempt music fans to swap mud-trodden fields for a week in the sun</p>

The festivals we’ve picked will likely tempt music fans to swap mud-trodden fields for a week in the sun

Festival-goers in the UK are being greeted with more options than ever before. Dance fans can sweat it out in the city; country music fans can grab some BBQ before a line-dancing class. Or if all you crave is dancing in a muddy field, there are plenty of those, too.

But for many, music presents an opportunity to escape – and this might mean getting out of the UK altogether to experience your favourite artists in incredible, different surroundings, whether that’s a dramatic mountain range or a sun-soaked Italian village.

Here are The Independent’s favourite music festivals in Europe.

Primavera Sound

Where: Barcelona, Spain; Porto, Portugal; Madrid, Spain

When: 29 May-4 June; 7-10 June; 8-11 June

It’s not for nothing that Primavera is known as the biggest party in Europe. The Barcelona-set festival has a reputation that precedes itself and a loyal fanbase that returns time and time again. It seems that winning combination of Spanish sun, a fantastic line-up and no camping necessary simply can’t be beat. This also means, however, that Prima – as it is so lovingly nicknamed by its attendees – is also commonly sold-out. Luckily, the festival has recently expanded with events taking place in Madrid and Porto featuring almost identical line-ups. Annabel Nugent

Meadows in the Mountains

Where: Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria

When: 1-5 June

The clue is the name! Meadows in the Mountains takes place in Rhodope mountain range. It’s a bucolic fantasy – that is, if your dreams are soundtracked to a thumping mix of techno and house music – and an unlikely combination that makes for a completely unique experience in rural Bulgaria. A far cry from Coachella vibes, Meadows in the Mountains isn’t interested in being cool. No one here is judging your festival outfit. The days are languid and euphoric, beginning with a pastel-washed sunrise and ending well, however you want it to. AN

The lineup for La Prima Estate 2023

La Prima Estate

Where: Camaiore, Italy

When: 16-18 June and 23-25 June

The promise of the beautiful Tuscan seascape, diverse music and more activities than you can shake a hand-carved stick at make La Prima Estate a veritable feast for the senses. Despite only being in its second year, the event is far from an amateur venture, having been organised by the founders of the storied, month-long Lucca Summer Festival. Held over two weekends in mid-June on the golden sands of Lido di Camaiore, La Prima Estate will see big names including Nas, Bon Iver, Alt-J and Metro Boomin take to the stage. You can also try your hand at a cooking masterclass, or dull your hangover with sunrise yoga. After all, you’re on holiday! Kate Ng

Roskilde

When: 24 June-1 July

Where: Roskilde, Denmark

When you’re in sweaty, sticky and unbearably hungover, sometimes all you need is a quick dip. At Roskilde Festival, there is an actual lake on-site at the festival, with most guests taking a refreshing bathe in the afternoon before the music kicks off when the sun descends. This year’s lineup might be one of the most impressive yet, with Kendrick Lamar joining Lil Nas X, Burna Boy, Central Cee, Latto, Blur, Lizzo and Rosalía. Ellie Muir

Solange performs at Roskilde in 2017

Rock Werchter

Where: Werchter, Belgium

When: 29 June-2 July

Looming over Belgium as the country’s biggest rock festival, Rock Werchter is a four-day, four-stage extravaganza that attracts some of the coolest crowds in Europe. Situated approximately an hour outside of Brussels, Werchter is a sleepy village that comes roaring to life for this annual, much-loved event. Some festival-goers adore it so much that you can spot them camping outside before the festival even opens. As its title suggests, Rock Werchter’s roster has headbangers aplenty, from Muse to Queens of the Stone Age. But with alt-pop superstar Rosalía, grime heavyweight Stormzy and Afrobeats showstopper Adekunle Gold also taking the stage this year, there is truly something for everyone. Nicole Vassell

Montreux Jazz Festival

Where: Montreux, Switzerland

When: 30 June-15 July

Montreux is undisputably the most prestigious music event in Europe, with artists as renowned as Prince, David Bowie, Nina Simone, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Aretha Franklin having graced its stages. Nestled between sloping hills and the tranquil waters of Lake Geneva, the festival invites its attendees to take in the gorgeous scenery and Belle Époque buildings. MJF takes place across two weeks, and this year organisers have outdone themselves. From illustrious acts such as Bob Dylan, Mavis Staples and Iggy Pop, to the decadent pop and hip-hop of Janelle Monae and Lil Nas X, MJF in 2023 is the place to be for the most passionate of music fans. ROC

Bob Dylan is performing at Montreux Jazz Festival this year

Bilbao BBK Live

Where: Bilbao, Spain

When: 6-8 July

Perched on the slopes of the sweeping mountains of Bilbao, this Spanish festival offers scenic views of the Basque Country, late nights and a stellar line-up. While the roster spans all genres, this year’s set of headliners cater to the pop and indie crowd, with The Chemical Brothers, Arctic Monkeys, Florence and The Machine and Idles all due to hit the stages later this summer. As with many European festivals, the set times are much later to avoid a lethal bout of festival-wide heatstroke, with most performances kicking off in the evening, rather than the afternoon. Plenty of time for a siesta, then. EM

Nos Alive

Where: Lisbon, Portugal

When: 6-8 July

Right off the bat, Nos Alive has plenty going for it. Do you enjoy great weather, spectacular architecture and delicious food? Lisbon has it all. Even if endless sunshine and the city’s famous pastéis de natas aren’t your thing, the annual epic line-up should be enough to earn your festival loyalty. This year’s billing features Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Sam Smith and Rina Sawayama, along with a smattering of local Portuguese artists showing off their talents to the masses. With artificial grass covering the docklands setting, Nos Alive feels a lot like a musical playground for grownups. There’s truly nothing like it. NV

Metallica perform at NOS Alive 2022

Oyafestivalen

Where: Oslo, Norway

When: 8-12 August

This gem situated in the heart of Oslo offers the amenities of one of Norway’s coolest cities, and a lineup that tends to buck the trend of what’s going on elsewhere in Europe. So while every other festival seems to have hooked the Arctic Monkeys and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oya is hosting avant-garde pop acts such as Lorde, FKA twigs, and Caroline Polachek. This year’s headliners, meanwhile, include the reunion of Britpop stars Blur and Nigerian Afrobeats star Wizkid. You might want to start saving up, though, as Oslo is notoriously expensive. Dare we say it’s absolutely worth it? ROC

Mad Cool

Where: Madrid, Spain

When: 6-8 July

Want the Coachella experience without the unbearable influencers? Look no further than Mad Cool: the festival bringing desert vibes to Madrid – complete with palm trees, a ferris wheel and glorious weather you can bank on. This year’s lineup has plenty on offer for both rock and pop fans. One minute, you’re moshing to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Queens of the Stone Age. The next, you’re grooving to Lizzo and Lil Nas X. Spend a day lounging by the pool, before dancing beneath the palm trees in the cooler evenings. Sounds perfecto, no? Isobel Lewis

Lizzo is headlining Mad Cool this year

Flow Festival

Where: Helsinki, Finland

When: 11-13 August

Flow is an option for all you reluctant campers out there. The event takes place in a disused power station, a wonderfully uncomplicated 20-minute train ride from Helsinki’s central station. Don’t expect green pastures, though. This festival is an urban affair. (It is, however, more green than most when it comes to sustainability; it was one of the first to go carbon-neutral and continues to reduce its footprint each year). Born out of a small club event almost two decades ago, Flow retains its local allure to this day. Performing against the lilac sunsets, homegrown Scandi acts attract as big and raucous a crowd as the international heavy-hitters, which this year include FKA twigs, Christine and the Queens and Wizkid. AN

Ypsigrock

Where: Castelbuono, Sicily

When: 10-13 August

You’d be hard-pressed to find another festival in Europe held in as unique a setting as Ypsigrock. The festival takes place in the tiny Sicilian village of Castelbuono, around an hour’s drive from Palermo, with its main stage set up in the sun-drenched courtyard of an imposing medieval castle. If the jaw-dropping scenery and drool-worthy cuisine isn’t enough to impress you, the fact that Ypsigrock never books the same act twice should do it. While Sicily is becoming more of a tourist hotspot by the year – thanks in part to the success of the hit TV show White Lotus and celebrity endorsements from A-listers such as Madonna, Bradley Cooper and Katy Perry – you’re unlikely to hear many English voices in Castelbuono. Provided you know the words for “ice cream” (“gelato”), “Aperol Spritz” (”Aperol Spritz”) and “pizza” (”pizza”), along with your please-and-thank-yous, we reckon you’ll do just fine. ROC

Ypsigrock takes place in the tiny Sicilian village of Castelbuono

Rock En Seine

Where: Paris, France

When: 23-27 August

Why choose between a festival and a city break when you can have both? The rollicking action of Rock en Seine unfolds just west of the River Seine in the Paris suburbs. That means croissants by day and Kronenberg 1664s by night. On its 20th anniversary, the festival hosts an appropriately starry line-up with a heady mix of pop and rock, including Yeah Yeah Yeahs, boygenius, The Strokes and Nova Twins. When you’re drunkenly stumbling across the scenic 460-hectare park where Rock En Seine takes place, you can bask in the knowledge that you’re following in the footsteps of kings, emperors and even French star Louis de Funès – all probably drunk, too. AN

Sziget

Where: Budapest, Hungary

When: 10-15 August

For six days, this musical extravaganza takes over a whole island encircled by the Danube river. Complete with a beach and colosseum-style stage, Sziget is one of Europe’s largest and most impressive music festivals. Featuring acts from all corners of the world, the diverse line-up bounces from the dreamy sounds of Lorde and Arlo Parks to Yung Blud, David Guetta and Imagine Dragons. Also gracing some of the 60 stages are Billie Eilish, Loyle Carner, Macklemore, Sam Fender, Jamie xx, Mimi Webb and Bonobo. Still not enough to satisfy your thirst for culture? Head to the theatre, museum quarter, or... the circus! Meg Warren-Lister

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