2019 Festivals Guide: Music Festivals in Europe

There's great music to be found across Europe this summer; here are our highlights of this summer's European music festivals

Feature by Tallah Brash | 12 Apr 2019

While staying in the UK seems like the obvious choice for a music festival, there’s also a lot on offer, as it currently stands, across the rest of Europe (insert snide remark about the colossal fuck-up that is Brexit here), and it can, in some cases, be easier to get to, say, Poland, than it is an awkward corner of the UK. Tickets for a lot of EU festivals outwith the UK tend to be cheaper too, so why not pack up your troubles and go spend some time abroad while you catch some rays and watch your favourite bands.

Music Festivals in the Netherlands

Amsterdam has to be one of the easiest cities to get to from just about anywhere in the world. As one of the largest airports in the world, Schiphol Airport even has its own art gallery, and along with some choice sculptures dotted all across the airport it’s definitely one of the best for killing time between flights. Speaking of which, if you happen to find yourself there make sure you go and check out Maarten Baas’ impressive clock, which, trust us, is better IRL.

Airports aside, the music scene in the Netherlands is pretty bloody healthy at the moment and their annual festival calendar matches that. From city-based jaunts like Eurosonic (Groningen, 15-18 Jan 2020), a showcase music festival and conference series taking place at the start of the year, to the avant-garde Le Guess Who? (Utrecht, 7-10 Nov), there’s also something to be found for jazz fans with the North Sea Jazz Festival (Rotterdam, 12-14 Jul) which this year features performances from Macy Gray, Jacob Banks, Burt Bacharach, Chance the Rapper, Hall and Oates and Lauryn Hill.

For the fan of a festival in a field there’s Best Kept Secret (Beekse Bergen, Hilvarenbeek, 31 May-2 Jun) with Christine and the Queens, Bon Iver and Kraftwerk 3-D headlining; Down the Rabbit Hole (De Groene Heuvels, Ewijk, 5-7 Jul) with Janelle Monáe, Underworld and Foals, and Lowlands (Evenemententerrein Walibi Holland, Biddinghuizen, 16-18 Aug), which this year features Anderson .Paak, The National and Jorja Smith.

Music Festivals in Belgium and France

In Belgium, the absolutely gargantuan line-up of Rock Werchter (Festivalpark, Werchter, 27-30 Jun) will keep most music fans pretty happy with turns from The 1975, Lizzo, Ólafur Arnalds, P!nk, Robyn and more. Cactus Festival (5-7 Jul) then welcomes Cat Power, Parquet Courts, Band of Horses, Bloc Party and Aldous Harding to Minnewaterpark, Bruges, before A$AP Rocky, Vince Staples and Cypress Hill play Dour Festival (Dour, 14-17 Jul). The following month, Pukkelpop (15-18 Aug) welcomes Anderson .Paak to Hasselt. 

The summer season gets under way in France with Interpol, James Blake and Macklemore at Garorock (Marmande, 27-30 Jun), which isn’t very far from Bordeaux so if you’re a fan of wine maybe pop there for a few days before or after. In Brittany, things get well Celtic with Festival Interceltique de Lorient (Lorient, 2-11 Aug) before La Route du Rock lands in Saint-Malo a few days later (14-17 Aug). La Route also have a winter programme each year which is worth keeping your eyes peeled for, but so far no dates have been announced.

Also taking place in the winter months in France is Pitchfork’s Pitchfork Paris which takes over the Grande Halle de la Villette in the north of the city (dates TBC). While it always tends to land on the weekend of Halloween, it’s something they don’t really celebrate in France, so if you’re going to go in fancy dress expect more than a few funny looks – you have been warned. Trans Musicales (4-8 Dec) follows in Rennes, Brittany, and is great for discovering the next big thing. Nirvana played there in 1991, don’t cha know! And if you’re more a fan of the slopes, then Rise (14-21 Dec) in the incredible Les 2 Alpes resort could be the perfect end of year treat.

Music Festivals in Spain and Portugal

Back in the sun, Spain and Portugal are bulging with music festival options. Primavera Sound (Barcelona, 30 May-1 Jun) has been running since 2001 and is probably the best festival we’ve ever been to; there’s something very special about having that first ice-cold pint on day one at the Parc del Fòrum that’s hard to put into words, and their line-up is always nothing short of exquisite. 2019 sees them introducing their line-up as 'The New Normal'; packed with an array of incredible women, spanning all genres, we're pretty fucking excited! Their Portuguese edition, NOS Primavera Sound takes place the following weekend in Porto (6-8 Jun).

Other festivals to look out for in Spain are Azkena Rock Festival (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 21-22 Jun), Bilbao BBK Live (Bilbao, 11-13 Jul), Mad Cool (Madrid, 11-13 Jul), Sónar (Barcelona, 18-20 Jul), Benicàssim (18-21 Jul) and Rototum Sunsplash (Benicàssim, 16-22 Aug), which is one of the biggest reggae festivals in Europe.

Meanwhile in Portugal, NOS Alive (Passeio Marítimo de Algés, 11-13 Jul), metal festival Sonic Blast (Moledo, 8-10 Aug), and Paredes de Coura with Patti Smith, Julia Jacklin and Alvvays among others (14-17 Aug) should keep you happy. Gazelle Twin, Warmduscher and Afrodeutsche play Milhões de Festa (Barcelos, 6-9 Sep) and Nova Batida (LX Factory and Village Underground, Lisbon, 13-15 Sept) features Jon Hopkins, Akala and Ibibio Sound Machine.

Music Festivals in Central and Southern Europe

Italy also has some pretty exciting options to get you through the summer. Metal festival Metalitalia (Trezzo sull'Adda, Milan, 1-2 Jun) starts of the season, followed swiftly by the completely free Beaches Brew (Marina di Ravenna, 3-6 Jun) with Courtney Barnett, Big Thief and Crack Cloud all on its line-up. It’s practically spitting distance from Bologna, and it's also not a million miles from either Florence or Venice. Italian road trip anyone? Speaking of Venice, that’s where you’ll find the Aphex Twin and Jon Hopkins-featuring HOME Festival (Parco San Giuliano, 12-14 Jul). Ypsigrock (Castelbuono, Sicily, 8-11 Aug) then follows with Spiritualized, Whitney and Let’s Eat Grandma.

While Croatia is perhaps best known for its dance music festivals, its biggest international open-air festival InMusic can be found in Zagreb (Lake Jarun, 24-26 May), with Foals, Garbage, The Cure, Santigold, Peter Bjorn and John, Kurt Vile and the Violators, Fontaines D.C. and The Hives all playing this year. In the neighbouring Slovenia, MENT returns to Ljubljana, early 2020 (5-7 Feb), while in Hungary, if you’re not completely repulsed at the thought of being in the same place at the same time as Ed Sheeran, then there’s plenty of other, not-generic stuff going down at Sziget (Óbudai-sziget, Budapest, 7-13 Aug): Jungle, CHVRCHES, IDLES, Big Thief and IAMDDB being just a few options.

If you ever fancied visiting Romania, then why not do it with music? This summer, Florence and the Machine and Nils Frahm play Electric Castle (Bánffy Castle, Bonțida, 17-21 Jul), while Lady Leshurr and Pussy Riot play Awake (Teleki Castle, Gornești, 15-18 Aug). Slovakia sees the return of multi-genre music and arts festival Pohoda (Trenčín Airport, Trenčín, 11-13 Jul), just 120km from Bratislava, with Lykke Li, Lianne La Havas and Mac DeMarco, and Latvia’s Positivus (Salacgrīva, 26-27 Jul) welcome Underworld, The 1975 and Cut/Copy.

Poland's OFF Festival (Dolina Trzech Stawów, Katowice, 2-4 Aug), just 80km from Kraków, features Stereolab, Superorganism and Loyle Carner. Over in the Czech Republic, at Colours of Ostrava (Ostrava, 17-20 Jul) you can party across 21 stages on the listed heritage site of a former ironworks, one of which is an auditorium in a former gasometer (!!!). Mogwai, Rosalía, MØ and Sons of Kemet are all set to perform.

Foals, Die Antwoord, Slipknot, Tenacious D, The Smashing Pumpkins, The 1975 and Alice in Chains kick things off in Germany at Rock Am Ring (Nürburgring, Nürburg, 7-9 Jun), before Melt! Festival, one of the biggest open-air festivals in the country comes to the Ferropolis open-air museum, near Gräfenhainichen (19-21 Jul) with Bon Iver, A$AP Rocky and Arca.

In Berlin, Pop Kultur’s programme includes live music, DJs, exhibitions, installations, talks and films at Kulturbrauerei (21-23 Aug). The following month, Billie Eilish, Scooter (!!!) and Sigrid are set to play Lollapallooza (Olympiastadion & Olympiapark, 7-8 Sep), the German leg of the Chicago-born festival. Reeperbahn (Hamburg, 18-21 Sep) then bids farewell to the summer months with a packed conference and music programme featuring Efterklang, Lisa Morgenstern and Anna Ternheim vs. Kaiser Quartett.

Nordic Music Festivals: Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden

Things kick off in Denmark with SPOT (Aarhus, 2-4 May) and a focus on showcasing up-and-coming Danish and Scandinavian talent. Roskilde (Roskilde, 29 May-7 Jun) then offers eight days of 'music, activism, arts, camps and freedom' with Bob Dylan, Parquet Courts, Tirzah and Tears For Fears, and back in Aarhus, Northside (6-8 Jun) welcomes Georgia, IDLES and Mark Ronson to the beautiful city on the east coast of the country.

As one of the world’s first carbon neutral festivals, Finland’s Flow Festival returns to Suvilahti, a former energy production area in Sörnäinen, Helsinki (9-11 Aug) with Erykah Badu, The Black Madonna and Yves Tumor all set to play, while on the same weekend Sweden’s award-winning Way Out West festival returns to Slottsskogen, Gothenburg (8-10 Aug).

Norway then offers up the ever-popular Øya (Tøyenparken, Oslo, 6-10 Aug) with Robyn, Sigrid, Tame Impala and Blood Orange among its line-up, and Midgardsblot (Midgard Vikingsenter, Borre, 15-17 Aug), an actual metal and Viking festival has our attention well and truly piqued. With a line-up that features an obscene number of undecipherable band names, a beer festival, Viking village and market, and a beach campsite, we are fully on board. Vikings!

The final destination on our festival circuit finds us in the breathtaking surrounds of Iceland's capital, Reykjavík, for one midsummer option and one winter. Secret Solstice (21-23 Jun), aka The Midnight Sun Festival, features the world’s only rave in a glacier cave as well as intimate performances in a 5000 year old lava tunnel. Big names on the bill include the Black Eyed Peas, Robert Plant, Patti Smith and Pussy Riot.

If 72 hours of non-stop daylight and music doesn’t appeal, then the much later in the year – with days that don’t get light until after 9am and are dark again before 5pm – Iceland Airwaves (6-9 Nov) could be for you. This way there’ll also be an opportunity to see the Northern Lights (!!!). The stunning Alexandra Stréliski is set to play this year alongside Hildur and Anna of the North, with loads more still to be announced.

And breathe. Whether you've been inspired to try something new this festival year, or you're a creature of comfort and decide to go back to your favourite, we hope you have a bloody excellent time. Yay for music festivals!