European music festivals have generally speaking been going from strength to strength over the last 15-20 years. Previously underexposed regions now host some of the biggest and best events going, and overall attendance continues to rise every year. The main drive being this growth is because where once most music fans would attend perhaps just a couple of festivals a year, there are now so many that it is possible to visit dozens now.
For instance, the UK saw a ‘festival crisis‘ just a couple of years ago because so many events were competing with each other and had to cancel simply due to calendar congestion. Sure, the big names continued to thrive despite ever-escalating costs (both on ticket price and additional on-site costs) but it may be a warning if they continue to grow. What bites the little fish may eventually take a snap at the largest. That being said, what are the top three attended festivals in Europe right now?
The longest established, most prestigious and largest music and arts festival in the UK (and second only until recently in the world) it is amazing to remember that on its debut back in 1970 only 1500 attended (many without tickets!). Now it regularly pulls in an estimated 130k attendees per day – many of which will be staying for the full three or four day long weekend. In recent years it has been attracting more diverse crowds for one-day tickets, especially by including popular favorites but not necessarily all that fashional artists to play supplementary stages. In a way, it has become much more kitsch and gentrified – but there’s still time for a mudslide most years too.
2) Roskilde in Denmark
Is now regarded as the second widest attended festival in Europe. As with all official numbers, the figures become skewed when considering ticket sales with distribution (many freebies are given out here to youngsters and ‘guests’). This has seen it rise from sixth to probably second in 2018, with around 130k daily attendees. It does not have the same ‘weekend aspect’ as many other festivals – plenty of people come for just a day and do not camp on site, but it has developed an amazing reputation anyway. While still attracting massive names, it also serves as a wider cultural event with a strong focus on environmental and social sustainability.
3) Rock Werchter, Belgium
Has now established itself as perhaps the biggest overall specifically rock based music festival in Europe. Sure there are the sidelines as you’ll find at any good festival, but this is really about the music. Most of the biggest global names have played here at least once, and thanks to a handy geographical location this small village is swamped by visitors from across the continent every year. 2018 estimates range at around the 110k daily figure, but do figure in that many of these will be there for the full multiple day events.
Elsewhere in Europe, there’s a good dozen or so festivals around all parts of the continent that deliver a steady 60-95k figure – and many of these are very recent additions (in festival terms!). A good deal of these also tends to be directed towards specific musical themes, or as a more general arts festival with music being the key attraction. Plenty of these is growing exponentially year on year and especially with international visitors. Tickets are cheaper in Eastern Europe, facilities are often better if not as good, and cost of transport/living are a fraction. Expect to see these grow, especially as ‘festival vacations’ become an ever more mainstream way of spending a few days.