Come peak festival season (May to September), the scene has become saturated with slightly sunburned, flower-crown-clad, welly-boot-wearing merrymakers at spots like Glastonbury and Coachella. But what if yours is a less mainstream way of life? Surely there’s a place for all kinds of revellers in this world?
We put our Lonely Planet Locals to the task of unearthing the best alternative festivals in their hometowns. So whether you want musical mayhem or to simply namaste in the company of like-minded yoga enthusiasts, glug a global selection of craft beers or wreak havoc with squeaky plastic hammers, we’ve got something for every carnival-loving character.
Dark MOFO, Hobart, Australia – 6-23 June 2019
Brooding in the winter half-light, there's an almost Gothic feel to the history and culture that pervades Tasmania’s far-flung capital city Hobart. Feeding off these undercurrents, Dark MOFO celebrates the cold southern winter with midnight feasts, eerie installations, poetry readings, film noir, bonfires, a mass nude solstice swim in the Derwent River and plenty of Tasmanian red wine. It’s an atmospheric alternative to Hobart’s hectic summer festival schedule, and has turned the locals’ appreciation of winter on its head.
Make it happen: Many Dark MOFO events are free or you can buy a ticket at the door, but book ahead for touring acts and small-venue performances. Hotel rooms evaporate: book as far ahead as possible.
Ex-Hobart writer Charles Rawlings-Way lives in desert-edge Adelaide these days, but he returns to his hometown as often as possible (preferably in winter). Follow his tweets @crawlingsway.
Festa de São João, Porto, Portugal – 23-24 June 2019
The indisputable pearl of Porto’s festival scene is the annual celebration of the city’s patron saint, São João (Saint John). On the night of 23 June, everyone flocks to the streets for an all-in, all-night party. Barbecued-sardine smoke clouds the streets, fireworks crack over the river and music swirls around the creaky old buildings. The jubilant atmosphere is augmented by the joyful freedom of strolling the streets bopping strangers on the head with plastic squeaky hammers. The whole event is weird, wacky and wonderful.
Make it happen: Accommodation is tight at festival time so book early. Once you’ve bagged a bed, just hit the streets and join the action.
Emily McAuliffe is an Australian travel writer and copywriter based in Portugal. Follow her on Instagram @mcauliffeemily.
Beerfest Asia, Singapore – 27-30 June 2019
Touted as the largest beer festival in Asia, Singapore’s annual Beerfest offers over 500 different labels for thirsty punters to enjoy. Aiming to introduce beer-lovers to brews they are unlikely to find at their local bar, the festival features beers from both international and up-and-coming Singaporean craft breweries. It's not all about the suds, though: live bands and DJs keep the crowds entertained while competitive folk battle it out on table football and beer pong tables. Educational workshops are available for those wanting a more in-depth beer experience, and there's even beer yoga to keep you Zen, just try make sure you're not too gassy!
Make it happen: Tickets are available via the official website. Venues change annually, however, thanks to Singapore’s great metro system, they're always easily accessible.
Ria de Jong is a travel writer based in Singapore. Follow her tweets @ria_in_transit.
World Yoga Festival, Reading, UK – 18-21 July 2019
This family-friendly celebration of yoga brings together some of the most respected teachers in the art of meditation. The vibe is part festival (camping and some live music) and part retreat (there is a focus on organic foods, alcohol and meat are banned). You’ll have a chance to learn new relaxation techniques, mingle with like-minded folk, and just generally ground yourself.
Make it happen: A full festival pass is available on the website for £169 (£84 for children), and covers everything except food and drink. The easiest way to get there from London is a train to Reading, then a taxi from Reading Station to Beale Park, the festival site. Camping accommodation is included in the price.
Will Jones is a travel writer and editor based in London. Follow his tweets @WillJackJones.
Woodstock Winter Beer Festival, Cape Town – 27 July 2019
Beer fests abound in the Cape Town area, but this small-scale event has quickly gained a cult following. Local brewers bring limited-edition beers to the one-day fest, held at the 17th-century Castle of Good Hope. It’s a chilled event with grassroots bands, good food and, of course, a carefully curated selection of brews. Best of all, the tickets are half the price of many larger festivals, leaving you with plenty of rands left for tasting the wintry one-off beers.
Make it happen: Buy your tickets at quicket.co.za in advance as it usually sells out. Woodstock is easily reached by shared taxi or train, but it’s best to take an Uber or private taxi back to your digs in the evening.
Lucy Corne lives in Cape Town, where she writes on travel, food and beer. She conducts regular research into local beer festivals. Follow her tweets @LucyCorne.
Mamby on the Beach, Chicago – 23-25 August 2019
Sure, Lollapalooza boasts blockbuster acts and skyscraping scenery, but the hefty price tag and heaving crowds can be a buzzkill. Seeking a festival that’s a bit less over the top? In June, Mamby on the Beach takes over a South Side stretch of Lake Michigan, melding performances by indie, hip-hop, and electronic up-and-comers with chilled-out activities like beach volleyball, and panoramic skyline views for a vibe that’s one part urban, one part toes-in-the-sand.
Make it happen: Get tickets on the website. Nearby accommodation options are limited, but a free shuttle service makes more hotel-saturated ’hoods like the Loop easily accessible.
Cate Huguelet is a travel and food writer based in Chicago. Follow her on Instagram @catehuguelet.
Gradić Fest, Novi Sad, Serbia – 29-31 August 2019
The Petrovaradin Fortress of Novi Sad is home to the popular EXIT Festival – a riot of strobe lights and celebrities – as well as the lesser-known Gradić Fest. The festival combines music, film and art performances, bringing together artists and activists (both local and international) at the picturesque 18th-century Lower Town, just below the fortress. This ticket-free event is organised by the Street Musicians Festival, which has been turning the streets of Novi Sad into a colourful stage for almost two decades.
Make it happen: Unlike EXIT, Gradić doesn’t have its own camp, so you should choose one of Novi Sad's hotels, hostels or private accommodation. The Lower Town is easily reached from the city centre by local buses, but the best way to get there is on foot, crossing the Danube Bridge taking in the spectacular views of the fortress.
Mladen Savković is a Belgrade-based journalist who believes it’s important to keep our wanderlust alive in our hometowns. Follow him on Instagram @mladen.savkovic.
Oasis Festival, Marrakesh, Morocco – 13-15 September 2019
Groove to electro beats beneath the lofty Atlas Mountains at Oasis Festival, a laid-back dance party that’s determined to put some chill back into the Red City. Set within the tranquil gardens of the chic and luxurious Fellah Hotel, this reasonably-priced event rounds up techno and house artists from across the globe to provide the perfect soundtrack for three days of yoga, relaxation and late-night tunes. Experience Marrakesh away from the usual urban madness and lounge by the pool while Ibiza heavyweights take care of the playlist.
Chris Griffiths is a Marrakesh-based travel writer and photographer. Follow him on Instagram @chrisgriffithsphoto.
Festa de la Mercè, Barcelona, Spain – 20-24 September 2019
The highlight of Barcelona’s festival scene is the annual Mercè celebration, honouring the city’s patron saint, the Virgen de la Merced. The whole city comes together to celebrate La Mercè with a huge programme of events, from street theatre and concerts to interactive installations, an eco-funfair for kids and circus performances in Castell de Montjuïc. More traditional folkloric aspects of the festival include parades of gegants (giants) down La Rambla and correfocs (fire runs with firework-wielding devils).
Make it happen: In September, the number of tourists goes down slightly after the summer months, so finding accommodation shouldn’t be too much of a problem; however, booking in advance is always best. Grab a spot near the city’s Parc de la Ciutadella to be close to the fun.
Esme Fox is an English travel writer based in Barcelona and the UK. Follow her tweets @EsmeFox.