Festival Season – Why Europe’s Beats the UK’s

13th June 2013

Last weekend saw the kickoff of my favourite part of the year – the annual festival season.  I myself attended a local affair known as “On The Bus” over the past weekend with some 500 others, whilst one of my colleagues journeyed north to attend Parklife in Manchester, with roughly 40,000 in attendance.

Just like the revellers that attend them, festivals come in all shapes and sizes, and cater to every musical taste imaginable, from the house, drum and bass and trance of places like Creamfields and Parklife, to the hard rock and heavy metal of Download and Bloodstock, to the contemporary pop and indie of Reading/Leeds and V.  And then there’s Glastonbury of course, which has just about every genre imaginable all on the same lineup, attracting 250,000 people to a quiet farm in Wiltshire.

Some of us like nothing better than spending 5 days away from the real world in a random field with a lot of people we’ve never met before, feeling that somehow it might be feasible to live in a tent forever.  However, what a lot of Brits don’t realise, it that we’ve lost sight of what festivals are all about, and have allowed them to become commercialised money-making machines.  If you compare our festival season to that of mainland Europe, it suddenly doesn’t seem that special anymore.

More and more Brits are slowly recognising it each year, as more and more flock abroad to spend their cash on festivals rather than stay on our shores.  Unfortunately this has had a somewhat bad effect on our festival scene, creating numerous casualties amongst festivals both large and small.  Some of the bigger names to cancel include Sonisphere at Knebworth (which cancelled in both 2012 and 2013), and Hop Farm Festival in Kent.  Meanwhile, festivals that used to sell out instantly as soon as tickets came on sale, such as Reading and Leeds, now don’t sell out at all.

This is down to several factors:

 1. European festival tickets are cheaper.  

In fact, some are so much cheaper, that you can even add the extra travel expense to your ticket and still be paying less than you would for ticket and travel.  They also have pretty much the same lineups – if not better – than those you find in the UK.   Just as an example, Benicassim in Spain costs £166, Pinkpop in the Netherlands costs £136, and Pukkelpop in Belgium costs £114.  Compare this to over £200 for Reading and Leeds or Glastonbury and you can already see the massive difference.

 2. The weather.  

Let’s face it, would you rather sit in a muddy, cold field somewhere near East Midlands Airport (as was my experience at Download 2012), or sun yourself in pretty much guaranteed sunshine in somewhere like Croatia?  In fact Croatia has become the surprising candidate for top festival destination, with over 16 successful annual festivals now taking place, attending mostly by Brits who would rather combine their summer holiday with their festival season, all in one package.

Top festivals in Croatia include Outlook and Hideout, which are selling out quickly every single year.  Temperatures regularly hit 30 degrees across the continent, and if it does rain then it’s warm rain, and everything dries out fairly quickly afterwards.

 3. The alcohol.  

It’s no secret that the alcohol on the continent is both cheaper and nicer.  At a German festival you can buy a litre jug of real beer, whereas at a British festival you are asked to pay near enough a fiver for a cup of watery pale lager.  Not to mention the supplies you bring with you to the campsite.

When I attended a couple of festivals in Germany a few years back, a crate of 24 pint-size bottles would set you back 6 euros, whereas in Britain you’ll be paying a tenner upwards for 10 cans if you find the right deal.

 4. The people.  

From personal experience, the people in mainland European festivals are far friendlier than those you encounter at British ones.  First of all they don’t seem so intent on nicking your stuff or setting fire to your tent or throwing things at each other (except this one time in Germany where people started throwing fireworks but that was all just a laugh…).

What’s more, when you’re travelling, they tend to give you helpful directions or advice.  I even had a time when walking down the road with a lot of supplies, a random stranger who didn’t speak English stopped the car and gave us a lift down the road to the festival site.

 5. The sites. 

Some European festivals are just in better places.  Rather than the grey concrete of Reading city centre, you can try an abandoned island fortress for example, which hosts Outlook festival in Croatia.

But quite simply, when you go to a European festival, there is usually a lot more to do and a lot more to see.  Your trip abroad needn’t be just about the festival itself.  Many festivals are in areas located near to major European cities such as Hamburg, Paris, Madrid, Dubrovnik and Milan.

You can fit a night out or two in some of the top clubs in the world if you still have the energy left, and be able to shower and sleep in a nice hotel bed before you have to go home.  It can actually help with the readjustment back to normal life following your wild weekend.


So in two weeks from now, when I’m taking a short break and leaving cheap calls in the capable hands of my colleagues so that I can sit in a field at Glastonbury, part of me will be planning ahead to next year, when I will make it top priority to once again attend a festival in Europe.  And I implore you to do the same, because you’ll never look back.



Robin James