Glastonbury Festival: tips for enjoying England's biggest musical festival

Shirley Bassey Glastonbury Festival by Twiggy_34. CC SA 2.0

Location: Worthy Farm, Pilton, Shepton Mallet, SomersetEngland

Dates: last weekend in June. 26-30 June 2013.

Level of participation: 3 - groove on down in wellie boots

Welcome to Glasto. The colossal summer knees-up in King Arthur country is the world’s biggest and best music festival. It’s like Woodstock, except it takes place pretty much every year. The list of performers who have rocked the venue’s muddy fields reads like a who’s who of popular music: Dylan, Bowie, Oasis, Blur, Massive Attack, Orbital, Björk, Radiohead, The Cure.

And what a place to play. More than 175,000 revellers descend on 900 acres of farmland, bringing tents, 3L bottles of local West Country cider and, if it’s one of the ‘muddy years’, Wellington boots. As if following the local ley line, the atmosphere courses along the tree-lined tracks; often with more direction than festival-goers navigating both altered states of consciousness and the route to that amazing noodle van.

Much of the entertainment has nothing to do with the headline acts on the Pyramid Stage, which is the epicentre of a busy area nicknamed ‘Babylon’ by old hands. At the other end of the site, beyond the Jazzworld Stage, the circus and the tipi field, the Sacred Space is a focus for the spiritual, pagan aspects of the post-summer solstice event. Watching the sun rise above the stone circle in the hillside meadow is the perfect comedown from a night of electronica-powered crazy-dancing in the Dance Area or the Glade.

Nearby, Lost Vagueness is a theatrical alternate reality, where you can join a mass marriage in the Chapel of Love or Loathe, before hiring a ball gown or period suit so you look the part in the Lost Luck Casino and Slip Roller Disco. This quarter of Glastoville also contains the green areas. Unlike many large gatherings, the festival has environmentalism high on its agenda - not least because the site serves as a dairy farm for the rest of the year.

If you won’t let anything as trifling as a roller disco drag you away from your beloved music, Glastonbury might make you feel like a pilgrim arriving at a temple. By catapulting scores of bands to fame, it has shaped 35 years of musical history. One such band is The Smiths, booked in 1984 on the recommendation of the late, great DJ John Peel, who now lends his name to the new bands’ stage.

Critics accused organiser Michael Eavis, now a CBE (Commander of the British Empire), of selling out when he recruited the Mean Fiddler group to help in 2002. Certainly, the tightened security has altered the tone: tickets now bear holders’ faces. Offerings like the Paradise Lost Trailer Park, which has a butler service and Can Can dancers, are a far cry from the festival’s uncommercial, rural roots. But Glastonbury had to evolve. It was in danger of imploding, in the manner of the old Isle of Wight Festival, and anyway, the hippies who used to jump the fence have found a new way in as stall-holders.

Local attractions: can’t deal with consensus reality after a long weekend at Worthy Farm? Climb Glastonbury Tor for a 360° view and yet more King Arthur associations.

More info:

See other top festivals in June here.

This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.

This article was first published in December 2010 and was refreshed in April 2013.