For many people, music festivals are the cornerstone of their summer activities. There’s no thrill like packing up the car with good mates, camping equipment and a carefully curated playlist for a music-filled sojourn. But the late nights and festival festivities can leave you feeling like you need another holiday to recover.
So why not extend your break by combining a holiday with a festival abroad? Across Europe, festivals of all shapes and sizes can scratch your particular musical itch, while introducing you to unique locations. Here are ten of the most scenic and unusual festivals happening this summer, a stone’s throw away from European capitals.
Meadows in the Mountains
6 – 9 June, Polkovnik Serafimovo, Bulgaria
Who’s playing? Kokoroko, Scott Xylo, and Ego Ella May
Some 850m above sea level in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains, Meadows in the Mountains provides both techno and tranquillity. As it works in harmony with the local village of Polkovnik, festival goers have the opportunity to camp or stay with local grandmothers, known as babas, and enjoy home-cooked meals alongside unique hospitality. The festival and its jaw-dropping views are a four-hour drive from Sofia Airport. Check it out if you’re into soundtracked sunsets and sunrises, views of surrounding forests and vistas of lakes, and want to switch off from the rest of the world for four days.
11 – 13 July, Lisbon, Portugal
Who’s playing? The Cure, Robyn, The Chemical Brothers
Rolling hills, hidden alleyway bars, a buzzing nightlife, white-washed walls and terracotta-topped horizon – Lisbon is one of the best destinations to eat, drink and party. NOS Alive brings some of the biggest names in rock, pop, R&B, dance and rap music to join the party in July. Never too far from rich culture, a dip in the sea or some pastel de natas, this is one festival city break that you can probably tell your parents about.
19 – 23 June, Domaine de Gayfié, France
Who’s playing? Blawan, Courtesy, Zenker Brothers
Tucked away in France’s sprawling Causses du Quercy Natural Regional Park, Monticule whisks music lovers away on a magical retreat, striking a perfect balance of music, wellness and hijinks. It's dotted with streams, woods, monastery ruins and an 80m-deep natural pool to explore, and it’s also one of Europe’s darkest places at night. The laid-back ethos is boosted by activities like yoga, meditation, astronomy lessons, cave visits and horse riding, while the line up is saturated with new wave, bass and techno acts.
21 – 23 June, Reykjavík, Iceland
Who’s playing? Patti Smith, Black Eyed Peas, Robert Plant and the Sensational Spaceshifters
As soon as you touch down in Iceland, the country’s dramatic landscape of black lava rocks contrasting with sharp blue skies is the first thing to greet you. A bucket list destination, Iceland has wildly varying conditions in summer compared to winter. Celebrating this, the Secret Solstice festival happens on the longest weekend of the year. In a country that experiences almost endless light during June and July, this festival is a non-stop case of shepherd’s delight. Festivals don’t get cooler than this.
3 – 10 July, Tisno, Croatia
Who’s playing? Andrew Weatherall, Ben UFO, Peggy Gou
Sun, sea and boat parties are a siren call for the heat seekers among us, and Love International has all of the above. Taking place in the usually sleepy Croatian town of Tisno, it takes advantage of its location on the Dalmatian Coast, with all night parties on secluded beaches, boat parties and an open-air nightclub. There’s an element of seaside glamour here but you can also explore the neighbouring Krka National Park – home to the 17 waterfalls that make up the Skradinski Buk. For one unforgettable week in July, Tisno’s rich green pine trees, rocky landscapes and fresh waters of the Adriatic Sea will be tinged with disco, house and techno beats.
11 – 14 July, Traena, Norway
Who’s playing? Kate Tempest, Tommy Cash, Bendik Giske
Trænafestivalen proves paradise doesn’t have to be in the tropics. As an island in the Helgeland district of Norway, Traena is accessible only by sea. Official party boats will run regularly from the mainland towns of Bodø, Stokkvågen, Nesna and Sandnessjøen. South of the Arctic Circle, bordered by the snow-kissed Saltfjellet mountains and the Svartisen glacier, this festival is a slice of cool paradise. Book if you want a break from the norm and a deep education in local music and the Norwegian way of life.
12 – 19 June, Dhërmi, Albania
Who’s playing? Hercules and the Love Affair, Hunee, Honey Dijon
Golden beaches and azure sea are appealing at the best of times, but Kala’s location on the Albanian Riviera takes it to the next level. Described as a ‘dance paradise’, the festival includes stages on the sands of Gjipe Beach – accessible only by boat – and private coves. DJs play extended sets, giving you have time to explore the ancient castles, canyons and pirate caves (apparently) in the area. With an eclectic line up of obscure and contemporary acts, as well as some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean, what’s not to love?
19 – 21 & 26 – 28 July, Boom, Belgium
Who’s playing? A-Trak, Young Thug, Charlotte de Witte
Tomorrowland is probably Europe’s most extravagant festival when it comes to dance music, technology, immersive installations and state of the art stage design. Making its home in the town of Boom, between Brussels, Antwerp and Mechelen, it’s an easy location to travel to from anywhere in Europe and as soon as you pass through the festival gates, you’ll feel like you’ve entered into a different realm entirely.
1 – 4 August, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
Who’s playing? Bombay Bicycle Club, Soak, Ólafur Arnalds
Wilderness takes place in Cornbury Park, a sprawling 690 hectare forested estate that allows you to feel like the lord or lady of the manor as you roam about the grounds of the 16th Century property. Aside from draw of eclectic music, Wilderness boasts a lush line up of outdoor activities like horse riding, nature therapy, foraging, paddle board yoga, and access to a lakeside spa and outdoor wood-fired hot tubs. There’s something quite grand about this festival, so much so that it might be hard to go back to city life once it’s all over.
Another Love Story
16 – 18 August, County Meath, Ireland
Who’s playing? Christian Loffler, The Redneck Manifesto, Maria Somerville
Another Love Story is one of Ireland’s best music festivals right now. The line up celebrates local and international acts on a site featuring chapel ruins in the forest, hot tubs in the Mellow Meadow and a riverside swimming deck. The ballroom acts as the main stage for the weekend, with music spilling out onto the lawns and fields through the sash windows. Gig goers can also enjoy talks in the library or nestle down in the cinema for some cosy moments.
If this article has you reaching for your backpack and blow-up mattress, check out our expert advice on how to pack for any festival.