Festival Fairytales

Artwork by Kacey Keane

Foreword by Kat Mallett

Once upon a time, a long time ago (before the global pandemic) people would travel to faraway lands to immerse themselves in foreign festivals – a seamless melange of music, food and fun. Whilst this year, most festivals have been postponed or gone digital, we have been seriously reminiscing. So, here are just some of the best international music festivals that deserve a spot on your post-pandemic bucket list.

Sziget Festival

By Eve Rowlands

Spanning the course of 7 days in August and taking place on its own Island on the Danube, Hungary’s Sziget festival is one of the largest music and cultural festivals in Europe, having over 50 stages dedicated to “love, art and freedom in all possible forms”. 

I went in 2016 with my best friend and it was one of the best weeks of my life. With the perfect balance of the summer heat in the day and coolness of a British summer holiday at night, the weather will not ruin your festival experience. Lasting from early afternoon — helping your recovery from previous nights antics — until dawn,  Sziget offers a humungous array of activities to keep you occupied. The festival hosts a variety of musical legends — I saw Rihanna, Muse, David Guetta, Bring me the Horizon, Bastille, the Last Shadow Puppets, Tinie Tempah, Manu Chao – and they were just on the main stage. Between shows you can also catch motivational speakers, art performances, Sport, Arts and Crafts (we did glitter face-paint) and soak up the sun on Sziget’s very own beach. Name it, Sziget has it. 

Just a stones throw away from the festival is the capital, Budapest. You can choose between accommodation in the city or camping out at Sziget. We decided to camp, and in my opinion, it’s the best way. You can’t go to a festival and not camp. It’s a crucial part of the experience. 

But please also explore the City! Buda’s rolling hills surround its Disney-esque Castle and contrasts to the concrete structures of Pest, and is split down the middle by the Danube. Immerse yourself in its history and culture — visit the parliament building, Danube promenade (bring tissues), Ruin bars and Natural baths. Budapest has a never-ending list of activities for a week in-between musical interludes.

Sziget Festival is an international dream; its Szitizens come from all over the world to have a good time and enjoy its cultural wonders in harmony. When asking my fellow Szitizen what she enjoyed about Sziget, she told me (apart from amazing music etc) “it feels class-less”, and I totally get what she means. Unlike that of reputable Glasto and Coachella, Sziget doesn’t have a ‘try-hard’ feel #forthegram. Everyone is there for the same reason. The website explains it as “This peaceful gathering of different cultures for the common cause of music, celebration and entertainment is what the Island of Freedom is all about.”

Accessible to all (tickets don’t sell out in 5 minutes flat), it’s so affordable for the amount of music and memories; for the early bird ticket it is €299 and that’s for 7 DAYS! What’s not to love? And if, like me, you can’t hack the baby-wipe cleaning routine, you will love the short wait to shower every day.  If you love aesthetically pleasing backdrops, the decor throughout the festival will not disappoint – think fairy lights, candles, rainbow umbrellas, Chalk Walls, glitter … all in all, Sziget is one for the bucket list, and once ticked off, a festival to return to at your earliest availability.

All this reminiscing means one thing. Sziget, I will see you in 2021. 

Photo Credit: Eve Rowlands

Paléo Festival, Nyon

By Sarah Belger

Quaint, narrow side streets, medieval castles, and a fairy-tale lake. When you picture yourself in a Swiss town of less than 20,000 people, the country’s largest open-air rock festival is probably not the reason you imagined you would be heading there. Just 25 kilometres away from Geneva’s city centre, Nyon town is popular among many professionals who work in the city but prefer to live away from the hustle and bustle. This prime location also makes it a great choice for a festival. If the idea of returning to a small, probably quite gross tent after a day at a festival puts you off going there entirely, you can quite easily catch a train into the city and stay in a hostel or AirBnB. The festival camping itself, however, is on-site meaning you’ve got easy access to the array of food and drink stalls and of course you’re able to show up early and get right to the front for all the artists you’re there to see!

Do not be deceived into thinking that this is a small-time festival with only some obscure Swiss folk bands; recent headliners have included Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foals, Lana Del Rey and so many more. You will also find light shows and art exhibitions as well as pop, electronic and rock stages spread out among the array of food stalls with cuisines from all over the world! With it being a week-long festival there is bound to be someone there for everyone, whether you go for the whole week or just pick a few days. 

Nyon, as well as the city of Geneva, are both worth visiting, festival or not. Despite being notoriously expensive, it is definitely possible to travel to Switzerland on a student budget. Being a university city, Geneva has a buzzing student community; still more expensive than Cathays but to be honest most places outside of Cardiff are! Plainpalais is a huge open square near many of the university buildings which is home to a flea market as well as a great choice of cafés and restaurants, often flooded with students and MacBook’s. Many of the beaches on the lake are free to access or only cost a couple of francs and you certainly don’t need to shell out on fancy meals when you see the amount of bread and cakes that you can buy in almost any Swiss supermarket. 

Bilbao BBK Live 

By Kat Mallett

There’s no better way to celebrate finishing exams, and with that 14 years of school, than jetting off on holiday, and what better place to go than an international music festival…

Escaping routine is the number one unwritten rule at any music festival – with days that are fuelled by music, memories, merriment and alcohol (of course). Bilbao BBK Live was no exception to this. Located on Mount Cobetas, with panoramic views of Bilbao, the festival stages are encompassed by breath-taking views. The festivals campsite is located on the adjacent mountain, the Arraiz, and you are easily transported the 3km by regular bus rides, provided by the festival. 

It’s not just the incredible surroundings that made BBK an unforgettable music festival, but undoubtedly, the music. A seamless blend of rock and pop music, from 80’s band Depeche Mode, to The Killers, to the crazy South African hip-hop group, Die Antwoord; it was a musical pick ‘n’ mix, with something for everyone. 

Visitors from all over the globe flock to Spain for BBK festival, and this hasn’t gone unrecognised as it has been nominated three times for the “Best Medium-Sized European Festival” at the European Festival Awards. It’s the little things that make this festival special, such as the contactless wristbands that make the festival a cashless affair, the reusable cups and various bins that make the festival sustainable and the amazing atmosphere that is quite simply unmatched. 

If the festival itself doesn’t satisfy your travelling tastebuds, Bilbao boasts tonnes to do that will keep you busy. The city is just a 30-minute tube journey to the beach, so you can soak up some sun and sweat off the previous night’s antics. And if you’re feeling up for it, a day of surfing at the beaches of Getxo or Sopela should not go a miss. 

A trip to Bilbao La Vieja (Old Bilbao), known as the city’s ‘hipster’ district, is a must. The streets are filled with urban wall art, ideal for that perfect insta selfie. You can then rest your tired, festival legs at one of the numerous cafes, restaurants or bars in the district, overlooking the river. Don’t forget to sample some of the regions famous pintxos or sip on an ice-cold craft beer, while reminiscing on an unforgettable festival experience.