Whether or not you think the Brexit break-up is for the best, if you want to show some continental love, there are a few fab European festivals to consider. No hard feelings, eh…?!
In the name of topicality, we thought we’d do a little research into European festivals this year, especially some of the lesser-known ones. Although, perhaps they aren’t lesser-known to you – maybe we at Bristol Mag HQ are just that uncool. Either way, we found all sorts for every kind of audience and all types of musical/cultural taste – and are now just a hop, skip and a mouse-click away from booking. That is, once we can settle on which one to attend…
Sea Star Festival, Croatia
24 & 25 May; seastarfestival.com
Superstar DJs and Mediterranean pool parties sound like your thing? This coastal dance extravaganza comes courtesy of the crack team behind EXIT, so it’s no surprise that it’s been nominated in the Best Medium Sized Festival category in this year’s European Festival Awards – less than two years after its first edition (it was also nominated for Best New Festival last year). Sea Star will return in 2019 to the idyllic Stella Maris lagoon in Umag, with special opening and closing parties, over 70 artists across six stages – from local Balkan heroes to international superstars – and seriously high production values all wrapped up in a Mediterranean paradise. And if you need a time-out from dancing, Umag’s historic Baroque and Renaissance buildings and winding streets are a real hive of quaint bars and restaurants. Still, it shouldn’t be long before you’re drawn back to the lagoon with that infectious 4/4 pulse nearby… Acts announced so far include Nina Kraviz, Sven Vath and Illario Alicante.
Meadows in the Mountains, Bulgaria
6 – 9 June; meadowsinthemountains.com
If you ask us, this one sounds pretty flippin’ special. Guests in the Bulgarian village of Polkovnik (you can opt to stay with the villagers themselves or bed down within the forest), MITM festival-goers get a diverse musical offering across four stages as well as the chance to experience sunrise from above the clouds making the Rhodope Mountains. The wellbeing area has a diverse schedule with yoga classes plus workshops on everything from plant-based medicine to tarot, soulful celebrations with chanting, a cacao ceremony, and the village choir of local ‘babas’ dressed in full traditional attire alongside Kukeri dancers.
Secret Solstice, Iceland
21 – 24 June; secretsolstice.is
Glacier raves and surreal midnight sunshine in one of the world’s most beautiful countries – yes please. If a unique experience is top of the priority list, get thee to Secret Solstice in Reykjavik, where the sun doesn’t set for the whole 96 hours, and pool parties in bright sunshine during the wee hours are the norm. As well as offering an eclectic line-up of US, European and local acts (Rita Ora, Morcheeba and Pussy Riot among those announced so far) the carbon-neutral festival prides itself on using Iceland’s breathtaking natural spaces and rugged landscape as a backdrop so that, while the main stage hosts many of the blockbuster acts, there are literal underground vibes to be enjoyed in the glaciers and a 5,000-year-old lava tunnel. Catch DJ sets in naturally heated lagoons or at bucket-list boat parties while marvelling at glistening waterfalls, black sand beaches, caves and vast volcanic fields on special day trips.
EXIT Festival, Serbia
4 – 7 July; exitfest.org
For four days every summer, the 17th-century Petrovaradin Fortress opens its gates for this award-winning music festival in Serbia’s second city, Novi Sad. This year it’s hosting the likes of The Cure, Carl Cox, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike. EXIT began in 2000 as a student protest fighting for political change, and over the years it’s grown into one of Europe’s biggest festivals, with thousands partying in the citadel, perched high on a cliff overlooking the River Danube. The sense of activism lingers in the air, and each year has a specific theme (it was freedom in 2018). The line-up is undeniably diverse, with 20 outdoor stages featuring death metal, pop, indie, reggae, techno and everything in between, among cobbled paths, courtyards, grass verges, ramparts and underground tunnels. The dance arena is the hub – ravers in the fortress moat energetically await the moment the sun rises above the ancient walls. After Nina Kraviz closed EXIT 2018 with an extended set until 9am, she declared it one of the most special places on Earth.
Down The Rabbit Hole, Netherlands
5 – 7 July; rabbitresort.nl
Editors, Underworld, Thom Yorke, Foals, Robyn, Skepta, The Roots, Vampire Weekend and Beruit join Down The Rabbit Hole attendees in 2019 – for the adventure, surrealism and psychedelia that has been an inspiration for rockers, artists, designers and filmmakers since pop culture got unchained in the Sixties. Dine in restaurants from all corners of the earth, meditate in the forest, swim, strum by the campfire, discover hidden discos and have a ball with brand-new bands and classic artists. Get loose, maintain an open mind and stay sustainable: the Rabbit Hole is all about keeping it green and clean. Take your own camping gear or rent luxurious digs at the Rabbit Resort near Nijmegen – let’s get ready to tumble…
20 & 21 July; lollaparis.com
Beginning as a US-only festival, Lollapalooza has grown beyond the American event circuit to additional cities including Paris, to which it was introduced in 2016. It has varied French cuisine plus art exhibitions and it makes an effort to be eco-friendly – there’s also a space dedicated to those who want to learn how to help the world around them. This year notable acts at Hippodrome de Longchamp include The Strokes, The 1975, Jaden Smith, Ben Harper and Twenty One Pilots.
2 – 4 August; off-festival.pl
This boutique festival values experimentation and diversity above everything else – founder Artur Rojek’s hands-on vision inspires many ambitious promoters. OFF takes place in the ‘Valley of Three Ponds’, Katowice – a green hideaway in the industrial Silesia region. Popular trends tend to be ignored in favour of a curated programme of esteemed artists. The event was born back in 2006 as a way for Rojek to indulge his passion for sharing music, even if that meant a black metal band would play next to a techno DJ, a post-punk act, avant-garde noise-rock, hip-hop or jazz. With international underground heroes and forward-thinking creatives, it aims for a meeting of minds.
9 – 11 August; flowfestival.com
Held in the disused Suvilahti power station, built in the early 1900s, Flow is a pretty cool Nordic customer. A short walk from the centre of Helsinki, its industrial architectural site is brought to life with light design and decoration. The music ranges from indie and rock to soul and jazz; folk to contemporary club sounds – from both the Finnish and the international scenes. This year it’s attracted quite the line-up – think The Cure, Tame Impala, Father John Misty, Robyn and more. It’s also about urban spaces, visual arts, film, talks and design as well as food and drink. Spot the Balloon 360° landmark – a gigantic pressurised balloon of a stage.
16 – 18 August; lowlands.nl
Something of a rite of passage for the Dutch since 1993, Lowlands takes place in rural Biddinghuizen – only an hour away from Amsterdam if you want to add in a city break either side of the shindig. It’s a weekender where music, arts and culture collide, with installations, theatre, comedy, film, debates and even science workshops. Each stage is covered for partying come rain or shine, and the ‘Armadillo’ area offers quirky bars, DJ booths and artisan restaurant areas that outrank your regular festival stalls. The Dutch are known as expert organisers, and Lowlands is a smooth operator, intuitively laid out with decent facilities. It’s a bit of a ‘lost weekend’ too, with no day tickets, so once you arrive you’re all in…
Sea Dance Festival, Montenegro
30 August – 1 September; seadancefestival.me
The third sibling in the EXIT family, Sea Dance bottles some of the magic of its older sister’s dance stages, transporting it to the golden beach of Budva on the Adriatic coast. Even as a relatively new addition to the festival scene, Sea Dance has reputation for securing big names in electro. Top tip: Montenegro was recently listed by Skyscanner as the number-one cheap holiday destination, with mountain biking, hiking and watersports also available for those with all the energy.
Lead image by Aron Klein