Europe’s best summer festivals for 2014

Europe has all the best tunes over the coming months, whether you want to shake your skirts, bang your head or dance until dawn. Experience sensory overload at these European festivals - sun, sounds and jaw-dropping locations guaranteed.

Sónar Festival, Barcelona, Spain

Sónar is Barcelona’s massive celebration of electronic music, featuring DJs, exhibitions, sound labs, record fairs and urban art. The programme at this super-cool city-based festival is split into ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ listings. ‘Day’ features new and up and coming acts, while the ‘Night’ programme features the big headline names, which this year include Massive Attack, Rudimental and Chic featuring Nile Rodgers. With venues around the city centre, you can take in the tourist sights between your preferred acts, but be warned - finding affordable city accommodation can be tricky.

When: 12-14 June 2014
Getting there: there are frequent buses from Barcelona’s El Prat airport and buses from Girona and Reus airports are timed to coincide with Ryanair flights. Venues are connected by metro and local buses.
Learn more: sonar.es/en/2014

Blue skies, sunglasses and big speakers, the perfect ingredients at Sonar Festival. Image by Matthias Mueller / CC BY 2.0

Blue skies, sunglasses and big speakers, the perfect ingredients at Sónar Festival. Image by Matthias Mueller / CC BY 2.0

Exit Festival, Serbia & Sea Dance Festival, Montenegro

Watching dawn break over the Danube from the 18th-century Petrovaradin Fortress after losing track of time at one of the best open-air dance floors in the world is a precious travel memory. Since 2000, Novi Sad has hosted Exit, a festival that started as a student movement fighting for peace and democracy in Serbia and the Balkans. More than 200,000 revellers congregate to celebrate the collision of activism and hedonism across 16 stages. Part of Exit’s appeal is the diversity of its headliners - Skrillex, Gloria Gaynor and Damon Albarn will all be gracing the stage this year. And how do you make an event voted the Best Major European Festival in 2014 even better? This year, for the first time, the four-day Exit Festival in Novi Sad will continue with a three-day Sea Dance Festival in Montenegro.

When: Exit Festival 10-13 July; Sea Dance Festival 15-17 July 2014
Getting there: the closest airports are Belgrade (1.5 hours) and Budapest (5 hours) airports with shuttles that can take you to Novi Sad.
Learn more: exitfest.org

Roskilde Festival, Zealand, Denmark

Most of the year, the university city of Roskilde on Zealand (the largest of Denmark's 406 islands) welcomes visitors keen to soak up the region’s Viking heritage. But every July since 1971, festival-goers have been heading here to witness history of a different kind. Roskilde Festival is northern Europe’s largest festival of music and culture, and this year’s week-long event will see headliners the Rolling Stones performing on the stage originally designed for one of their tours in the 70s. And when you’re not being entertained by rock royalty, you can revel safe in the knowledge you’ve done a good deed; Roskilde is a non-profit festival and every year all proceeds are donated to humanitarian and cultural causes around the world.

When: 29 June - 6 July 2014
Getting there: fly to Copenhagen, then it’s just a 35km train journey to Roskilde, where the festival even has its own train station.
Learn more: roskilde-festival.dk

A sea of tents at Roskilde Festival. Image by stefanravn / CC BY-SA 2.0

A sea of tents at Roskilde Festival. Image by stefanravn / CC BY-SA 2.0

Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, Spain

The four-day Festival Internacional de Benicàssim is one of Europe’s biggest festivals, which considering Benicàssim itself is scarcely a couple of blocks wide, is no mean feat. The Valencian town stretches for 6km along the coast and has been a popular resort since the 19th century, when wealthy families built summer residences here. The festival line-up tends towards the mainstream, but that doesn’t hinder the party atmosphere - things start late, with headliners sometimes not appearing until 2am and DJs playing long past dawn. You can camp on site, but tents get roasting hot early in the day, so getting an air conditioned room in town isn’t a bad bet - otherwise you may want to catch up on sleep under an umbrella on the beach, about 20 minutes’ walk from the festival. This year’s line-up includes Kasabian, Paolo Nutini and Lily Allen.

When: 17-20 July 2014
Getting there: the nearest airport is Valencia-Manises; the frequency and number of trains to Benicàssim double when the festival is on.
Learn more: fiberfib.com

Mud, glorious mud, an essential feature of Glastonbury Festival. Image by Peter Burgess / CC BY 2.0

Mud, glorious mud, an essential feature of Glastonbury Festival. Image by Peter Burgess / CC BY 2.0

Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, Somerset, England

Arguably the world’s most iconic festival, Glastonbury sprawls over hills and fields in rural Somerset. There are cities of tents, standing stones, hippies, spectacular art exhibitions, kids’ entertainment, and versions of both New York and an idealised English village. Indeed, there’s so much going on that the music is an afterthought for some festivalgoers, but there’s always a solid mix of big hitters (Arcade Fire, Kasabian, Dolly Parton and Disclosure are among the stars this year) and less mainstream acts. It’s a big, busy festival - tickets for 2014 are sold out already - that’s moved a long way from its anarchic early years, but from the roaring crowds of the Pyramid stage to curious corners in fields faraway, there’s always something to amaze.

When: 25-29 June 2014
Getting there: coaches run from numerous UK cities and shuttle buses connect the festival site with the rail network at Castle Cary.
Learn more: glastonburyfestivals.co.uk

Sziget Festival, Budapest & B.my.Lake, Lake Balaton, Hungary

Going strong since 1993, Budapest’s Sziget has grown into one of Europe’s biggest festivals. This year, Roma and Hungarian folk comes to the World Village stage while amateurs and professionals alike go acoustic at the Campfire Stage. Some of the big names to rock Óbuda Island on the Danube in 2014 include Queens of the Stone Age, Placebo, Lily Allen and Macklemore. But the party extends beyond the Island of Freedom – explore the city’s hip ‘ruin pubs’ and ‘garden clubs’ brimming throughout summer, then travel 90km southwest to the shores of Lake Balaton for Sziget’s official electronic-music afterparty, B.my.Lake (voted Europe’s ‘Best New Festival’ for 2013).

When: Sziget 11-18 August 2014; B.my.Lake 18-21 August 2014
Getting there: there’s a shuttle bus from Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt airport, while international trains arrive at the Keleti station, on the metro line. Lake Balaton is reached by train from Budapest’s Déli or Keleti stations.
Learn more: szigetfestival.com

Painted revellers at Sziget Festival in Hungary. Image by opethpainter / CC BY 2.0

Painted revellers at Sziget Festival in Hungary. Image by opethpainter / CC BY 2.0

Bilbao BBK Festival, Spain

The Bilbao BBK festival ticks a lot of boxes. Featuring some of rock and indie’s biggest names and set in a beautiful mountain setting, Bilbao BBK is also one of the easiest summer festivals to get to. Bilbao airport is just 9km from the city centre, with the festival site just 10 minutes further. Bilbao itself is a modern, exciting town with some great bars and restaurants in which to break up the partying. Want more? Bilbao is timed to coincide with Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermin, just a 1 hour 45 minute bus journey away. Headliners at BBK this year include Franz Ferdinand, the Black Keys and the Prodigy.

When: 10-12 July 2014
Getting there: there’s a bus from Bilbao Airport and shuttle buses to the festival venue.
Learn more: bilbaobbklive.com

The Garden Festival, Tisno, Croatia

This loved-up eight-day party, which inspired much of the burgeoning Croatian electronic festival scene, relies on its laid-back atmosphere and friendly crowd to keep its faithful fans coming back year after year. The setting couldn’t be more perfect – a natural amphitheatre overlooking a cove with crystal clear waters, just a short walk from the town of Tisno, where you can fill up on delicious local seafood. The action starts at midday on the beach stage, with plenty of other stages and boat parties kicking in later, and ends up at legendary open-air nightclub Barbarella’s, where blissed-out revellers dance the night away to deep house and feel-good sounds.

When: 2-9 July 2014
Getting there: the closest airport is Zadar, roughly 60km from Tisno, but Split airport is also relatively nearby - 75km away. The easiest way to get to the festival is on the dedicated shuttle buses, but it is also possible to travel by public transport or rent a car and drive.
Learn more: thegardenfestival.eu

Relaxing in a hammock at The Garden Festival in Croatia. Image courtesy of www.timertl.com

Relaxing in a hammock at The Garden Festival in Croatia. Image courtesy of www.timertl.com

Fortarock, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

The Netherlands’ oldest town will be unrecognisable this summer as extreme metal fans flock from all over Europe. Nijmegen, with its Roman ruins, gabled roofs and sleepy cafes, might seem an unlikely location for bikers to be sunning their pentagram tattoos. But Fortarock will see some of the world’s biggest heavy rock bands gracing Nijmegen’s Goffertpark. Old-school heroes like Iron Maiden will be sharing the limelight with Slayer, Carcass and Polish black metal titans Behemoth. If your ears aren’t ringing from the sonic assault, Nijmegen’s canalside chic is the ideal tonic for the morning after.

When: 31 May 2014
Getting there: there are frequent trains to Nijmegen from Amsterdam Centraal Station and directly from Amsterdam airport.
Learn more: fortarock.nl

Eurockéennes Festival, France

France isn’t shy when it comes to hosting music festivals but this one tops the charts for location. Spread out on the stunning site of Lake Malsaucy near Belfort on the France/Switzerland border, open-air Eurockéennes is one of France’s largest festivals. This non-profit, independent music festival runs over three days and nights promoting new and established bands taking to the water-surrounded stages. 2014 sees an incredible lineup with headliners including Pixies, Franz Ferdinand, The Black Keys, M.I.A and Skrillex. The perfect cure for an all-nighter is just lazing lakeside and taking in the spectacular surrounds.

When: 4- 6 July 2014
Getting there: jump on a TGV high-speed train from Paris to Belfort (approx. 4 hours) from where you can get a TGV shuttle to the festival site.
Learn more: eurockeennes.fr

Fez Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco

Ok, ok, we know Morocco isn’t in Europe, but we don’t want you to miss out on this one since it really is one heck of a music fest. ‘Sacred’ is a loose description of the music on the bill at this nine-day event, as it’s definitely not just for the religious. Instead it’s a massive feel-good get-together, featuring shows from all sorts of traditions. French gypsy songs, Chicago blues and nightly Moroccan Sufi performances are all on the bill this year, as is a Youssou N’Dour tribute to Nelson Mandela. You can’t top the setting either - concerts are held at atmospheric sites throughout the city, such as the 14th century Bab Al Makina, medina riads and the Batha Museum’s gardens.

When: 13-21 June  2014
Getting there: Fez Airport is about 15km away from the city centre - take a taxi or grab a shuttle bus into town.
Learn more: fesfestival.com