Music festivals have their origins in the hippy era, but today the best festivals in the world go way beyond the mud, acid and rock music clichés of traditional UK and European festivals. From Tomorrowland’s day-glo EDM paradise to the annual gathering at Burning Man, the international festival scene has some unforgettable experiences to offer. So whether you want rolling fields, sun-kissed beaches or even a festival where the sun never sets, here are 50 music festivals to visit before you die.
RECOMMENDED: Everything you need to know about music festivals in the UK and London
Isle of Wight, UK
Festival heaven for: Big kids and little kidsFour days of fun, sun and music on the Isle of Wight, Bestival has a stellar reputation for awesome, eclectic line-ups. Also, as you’d expect from a festival that’s drawn comparison to Glasto, there’s plenty of oddball, anarchic stuff happening away from the main stage – everything from a fire-spewing steel spider to an inflatable church. Dorset-based, award-winning sister festival Camp Bestival (July 30-August 2) ain’t too shabby either. Heavy on kid-friendly activities (face painting, bouncy castles, go-karts, Dick and Dom – seriously, it has everything), it’s the perfect place to introduce your little ones to the festival merry-go-round.
Festival heaven for: Bearded hip kids
Field Day is a godsend for Londoners: a festival that doesn’t require a long trek outside the capital with a ropey old tent and a cumbersome 12 pack of Stella. Instead over two days in Victoria Park, you can drink delicious craft beer, wolf down delicious street food, party to dawn and still get the night bus home. Convenience is one thing but of course the main draw is the music: always a smart, eclectic mix of noisy indie, electronica and cutting edge artists. Unmissable stuff.
Festival heaven for: Ageing hippies, middle managers who work in the public sector, old-school socialists
Every year, the Big Daddy of UK festivals commandeers a chunk of Somerset for music, mischief, hippies, healing and a whole lot of cider. It’s difficult to convey quite how vast Glasto is, with whole worlds of activity taking place outside the arena as well as an awe-inspiring musical line-up ranging from pop to reggae to rock to dubstep to metal to folk to techno. Everywhere you turn there’s vitality to be found – especially if you stumble into some of the more anarchic cabaret tents and stages dotting the woods and fields far from the Pyramid-stage hordes. And in terms of sheer scale, Glastonbury remains untouchable as a pilgrimage for hedonists of all stripes, where all the ley lines of British pop culture converge. Usually, by day four, into an immense, blasted muddy heap on the floor.
Brecon Beacons, UK
Festival heaven for: Lefties and broadsheet culture vultures
The Brecon Beacons, specifically the bucolic parkland of the Black Mountains, is the setting for Green Man, one of the UK’s finest festivals. The location is perfect for such an eco-friendly and inclusive event, where every year so much goes on it’s hard to know where to start: film, comedy, family friendly areas such as Einstein’s Garden, great food and drink.
Festival heaven for: Thirtysomethings reliving their twentysomethings, people still in touch with their friends from university, little Terence and little Annabel
Begun in 2006 and championed relentlessly by the Guardian, Latitude has quickly established itself as Glastonbury’s more introverted, genteel little cousin. Set in a lakeside idyll near the sleepy holiday town of Southwold, its instant success has led to a glut of mini-me boutique festivals springing up across the UK in the past ten years. But while many have withered and died in a swamped market, Latitude’s family-friendly boho vibe, trademark rainbow-dyed sheep and unchallenged rep as a middle-class paradise have ensured its survival. The enlightened-indie music policy – angled just leftfield enough to see the inauguration of a BBC 6 Music stage in 2013 – shares the limelight each year with an impressive bill of cabaret and comedy acts. Only downside: it’s kind of remote transport-wise, almost impossible to get to by any means other than Suffolk cow.
Festival heaven for: Foodies and beach bums
Located in a handsome seaside village in French Basque country, Baleapop is more like a secret gathering than an international festival. Numbers are limited and some of the concerts are performed in the decidedly un-rock n’ roll surroundings of an old primary school. But despite its low-key set-up, the festival still manages to attract a great calibre of DJs and producers from the world of electronic music. Why? Well, the beachside setting and tasty regional food doesn’t hurt. Add in the easy-going atmosphere and, well, you’ve got yourself a gem of a festival.
Festival heaven for: Insomniacs, beach enthusiasts, people who look attractive (or at least passable) naked, suntan lotion salesmen
There are a few reasons the Festival Internacional de Benicàssim – just Benicàssim to its mates – is one of Europe’s most enduringly popular weekends for artists and music fans alike. There’s the pretty town of Benicàssim itself, a 20-minute stumble away from the main site. There’s the irresistible Mediterranean beach next to the town, with the sapphire sea just waiting to absorb all hangovers and offer respite from the microwave heat of the day. There’s the fact that the music doesn’t really get going till the sun goes down, and then doesn’t really stop until it comes up again. And – though perhaps not for everyone, this – there’s the fact that the young, cosmopolitan crowd are so Iberianly cool that they think nothing of getting naked in the unisex showers and engaging in general chit-chat about this and that while washing their this and thats, not necessarily noticing or caring that they and everyone around them are naked. Oh yes, and there’s some music that goes on – which just happens to be one of the most consistently strongest line-ups in all of indiefestivaldom.
Novi Sad, Serbia
Festival heaven for: Risk-takers, ravers, nostalgic Serb protesters
Once a humble protest against the Miloševic regime, Exit has grown into one of Europe’s top festivals. Novi Sad’s breath-taking Petrovaradin Fortress has countless stages tucked within its winding passages and ornate arches, where the curious will find everything from mesmirising trance to bouncing funk ’n’ soul, to electro grooves and Serbian rap. Safety isn’t exactly a priority, so beware of loose cobblestones, but the risk is well worth it when you float outside of the throbbing dance arena to watch the sun rise over the Danube. Our tips: wear shorts and baggy tees to combat the sultry heat, and book an apartment rather than camp out if you want to remain unfried.
Festival heaven for: Nude anarchists, costumed radicals
Communal, countercultural and often described as the European Burning Man, anything goes at Fusion – including (gulp) naturism. Located, oddly enough, on a disused military airfield, the four-day programme is packed full of music and performance art, with art installations and sculptures also dotting the site. Tunes-wise it’s normally dance and electronic music. The emphasis isn’t just on performers to make art: attendees are encouraged to dress up, bring instruments and generally express themselves however they see fit. Note: the food sold on site is strictly vegetarian only.
Meadows in the Mountains
Rhodopes Mountains, Bulgaria
Festival heaven for: Yogis
This boutique festival in the jaw-dropping surroundings of Bulgaria’s Rhodope mountain range is your chance to commune with nature to a blissful soundtrack of afterhours house, disco and techno. There’s also an honourable commitment to eco-friendly partying: the organisers are committed to sourcing timber shacks, art installations and stages from the local forest. Appearing on those stages are all kinds of live bands: funk, dub, alternative and jazz and, of course, the obligatory earnest men with acoustic guitars. Our tip: stick around for the post-festival pool party, tickets for which are sold separately.
USA and Canada
Festival heaven for: Deep Web surfers, steampunks, metal sculptors, crystal healers
Undoubtedly, some guy sporting goggles and dreadlocks will tell you Burning Man is not what it used to be, man, before he speeds off in his solar buggy, and he’s probably right. Once an off-the-grid bacchanal-slash-art-installation akin to a Mad Max film, the desert party has become a Dionysian ritual for Silicon Valley rich looking to shake off the stress of countless 18-hour work days filled with coding, backstabbing and energy drinks. Still, an inimitable post-modern, cyberpunk, druggy spirit hangs about this remote pop-up on the north Nevada playa. The performing DJs are last-minute surprises – techy producers like Deadmau5 and Tyco – but that’s just part of the action in a place that has pyrotechnics and its own laser regulations.
Festival heaven for: Sun lovers, celebrities, fashion bloggers, those who use the Mayfair filter in Instagram
Deeper down the Coachella Valley, beyond the golf resorts and million-dollar mid-century modern homes, lies Indio, California’s new hub for spring hedonism and schmoozing. Held on polo grounds in the desert, Coachella is a camping destination, unlike most urban American festivals, though the sand-adverse seeking five-star shelter can shack up in nearby Palm Springs. Because it hits so early in the year, the two-weekend Coachella has a leg up on competition like Lollapalooza in terms of booking and buzz. It inherently seems like an industry leader, the first to announce big reunions and nab awaited comebacks, ranging from nostalgic critical bait (Ride) to dinosaurs (AC/DC, Steely Dan). Keep an eye out for daytime pool parties, and stock up on hats, water and sunblock. You’re going to need to hydrate well before the sun sets spectacularly behind the San Jacinto mountains. After 48 straight hours of vodka and moshing, you can wander east and recalibrate in Joshua Tree National Park. Like Bono.
Fun Fun Fun Fest
Festival heaven for: Locals who get the hell out of town during SXSW, the EDM allergic, tattooed home brewers
South By Southwest and Austin City Limits suck up all of the attention in the Texas capital – and Austinites would probably like us to carry on overlooking this off-season gem. Fun Fun Fun delivers copious amounts of Shiner Bock beer and decibels to a laid-back audience on the Auditorium Shores, just across the Colorado River from downtown. While the punk, metal and dash of comedy on offer instills a more leather-and-denim atmosphere. The autumn weather in Austin is warm and sweet, and as you watch swarms of bats flutter under the bridge while the bands play, rock 'n' roll nirvana is reached.
Los Angeles, USA
Festival heaven for: Pitchfork readers, vinyl buyers, city explorers, celebrity shunners
Because he was bored by big concerts and a teenager, Sean Carlson started his own damn festival in 2004 and dubbed it Fuck Yeah Fest. In the decade since, FYF has blossomed from hip clubs in Echo Park to being a major park-filler. Naturally, it’s since been absorbed by Goldenvoice, the folks behind Coachella, but the modest two-day event retains its local vibe and fanboy energy. The location has hopped around downtown parks over the last few years, but never out of sight of those often overlooked Los Angeles skyscrapers. The headliners are as a rule deeply cool. While the rest of the bill eschews filler, putting the buzziest names in SoCal punk, underground dance, garage, metal and minimalist electronic in the mix. Don’t sleep at this well-balanced underdog. Literally: get out there and stay in the real LA, not some temporary campground.
New York, USA
Festival heaven for: Brooklynites, urbanites, Urban Outfitters employees, tourists, the characters on 'Girls'
Though it moved from its more scenic original location on Governors Island, in view of the Statue of Liberty and the downtown skyline, New York City’s only major music festival is now more easily accessible on Randall’s Island, wedged up the East River between the Bronx, Queens and Manhattan. A ferry is still the best way to get to Governors Ball, but train, bus and walking over the RFK Bridge will deliver you, too. Attendance wise, it’s a fraction of the size of American fest like Coachella and Lolla, yet its bookings often trump the big boys. While the vibe is never as loose and celebratory as fests with campgrounds, afterward, you can lose yourself in the bustle of the Big Apple. That’s some perk.
Niigata Prefecture, Japan
Festival heaven for: Headbanging mountain climbers
Not many festivals require a trip up a mountain by cable car to see a band. But then Fuji Rock is something special. The 20 minutes of highwire travel it takes to reach the Daydreaming stage is a good illustration of the festival’s vast size –the largest in Japan – and its beautiful verdant setting in the Naeba resort. Thankfully the outdoor Green stage is somewhat more accessible.
Festival heaven for: Electronic music fans, star-gazers, yogis, culture vultures
Taking place in a seventeenth century Rajasthani palace outside of the pink city of Jai Pur, Magnetic Fields is a fully immersive experience with intimate stages set in and around the ornate grounds. Run by a community of forward-thinking promoters and artists from Bombay, Bangalore and Delhi, this is one of the only three-day music festivals in India with boutique camping and palatial suites. The carefully selected line-up merges international electronic talent with artists closer to home. The festival is growing in popularity and attracts a crowd of up-for-it Indian ravers, expats and globe trotters looking for a festival like no other.
Pentaport Rock Festival
Incheon, South Korea
Festival heaven for: Rain-loving indie kids
The ‘penta’ in Pentaport comes from the five main themes of the festival – music, passion, the environment, DIY and friendship (yes, friendship). And this Incheon-based event (the site is around 20 miles outside of Seoul), one of the top live music events in South Korea, delivers on all of them in abundance. One thing to be aware of if you make the trip: August is rainy season in South Korea so save the cut-offs and sunglasses for Glasto (hopefully).
Festival heaven for: Japanese musos and curious westerners
Located on the picturesque Suruga Bay coast, this eclectic summer festival is powered by bio-diesel fuel (as opposed to beer and rock like other festivals), making for a distinctly eco-friendly vibe. Itadaki’s largely homegrown line-up will smash your preconceptions of Japanese music – it’s not all cheesy j-poppers and Western copycats, y'know. Our tip: remember to bring a lighter to hold aloft during ‘candle time’, the late-night music sessions.
Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Festival heaven for: Dance heads and chin-stroking electronica nerds
The Japanese are fond of a mountainside festival (see Fuji Rock) and Taico Club is the one to book if you’re a fan of cutting edge dance and electronica. Set in the Kodama no Mori campsite in Nagano Prefecture, Taico Club is easily reachable from Tokyo (although it’s probably best to go by car rather than public transport) and offers up a mouth-watering mix of international artists and homegrown talent.
Festival heaven for: Nostalgic hippies and eccentric indie kids
Golden Plains is a beautiful festival throwback: a paean to a time before corporate sponsors came along and slapped their names on anything and everything. In keeping with the no-logo, collective ethos, visitors are encouraged to bring whatever they like to the campsite as long as it doesn’t ruin the communal vibe (even armchairs and a couch, according to their website). Over its nine-year history the festival has developed some quirky traditions: most famous of all is The Boot, a salute from the crowd to the best performers at the festival in the form of shoe or boot being held aloft (it beats chucking them at crap bands, I suppose).
Splendour in the Grass
Byron Bay, Australia
Festival heaven for: Party-starting intellectuals
After 14 years, Splendour in the Grass is becoming something of an Aussie institution. Thirty thousand punters regularly make the trip to North Byron Highlands for three days of fine music (including big name acts), art and camping. The site itself is sprawling: in some cases the stages are 20 minutes apart. So take plenty of water: you’ll be walking a lot in the hot sun. (And if you overhear the locals moaning about how their ‘thongs’ are rubbing, remember they mean their flip-flops). You can also exercise your brain at the Splendour forum: home to talks, comedy shows and much philosophical pondering.
St Jerome’s Laneway Festival
Festival heaven for: Aussie indie snobs
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow… once nothing more than a few bands performing at a hole-in-the-wall pub in Melbourne, Laneway is now one of Australia’s biggest and best festivals with bases in many of the country’s big cities – and even overseas in New Zealand, Singapore and the US. The line-up is always impeccably cool: with critically acclaimed indie types queuing up to play. Think Pitchfork festival in Chicago or the best All Tomorrow’s Parties of yore.
Festival heaven for: Pitchfork-reading watersporters
Festival, carnival and hipster honeytrap, Bahidorá is a 24-hour party, people. The setting is gorgeous: acts perform next to a sparkling blue river flanked by palm trees. The revellers are colourful: resplendent in jazzy beachwear and feather headdresses, with a fondness for spontaneous processions. As for the music, it’s a mix of carefully selected indie, electronica and hip hop. We’d also wager Bahidorá is the only festival in the world where you can learn circus skills AND kayaking. Just remember not to practice them at the same time.
Mexico City, Mexico
Festival heaven for: Rock-happy señors and señoritas
Every year, Latin and Spanish bands from around the world descend on Mexico City to perform at Vive Latino, arguably the most important Spanish-language rock music festival in the world. Naturally the predominant vibe is all things Latino, but bands of all nationalities and genres are welcome.
Festival heaven for: Sun worshipping Afro-pop enthusiasts
The blue lake and golden sands of Lake Malawi is the location for this magical African festival. When you’re not basking in the majesty of nature – sunrise over the lake is truly awe-inspiring – or enjoying the cheap beer, there’s plenty of music – a pleasing mix of international acts, homegrown talent and party-staring DJs – to see and hear.