As spring has arrived and people will soon be starting to plan their summer trips, I want to suggest a destination in Hungary: Budapest’s Hajógyári Island, where one of Europe’s biggest music and culture festivals takes place.
The Sziget Festival, an annual event since 1993, is held during a seven-day period in mid-August. Last year’s festival hosted 500,000 people from 100 countries around the world. It was named the Best Major European Festival by the European Festival Awards in both 2011 and 2014.
Every year, Sziget provides 15 stages that feature different acts according to genre and level of popularity. You can watch the biggest artists at the festival on the Main and A38 Stages; you can listen to bands playing acoustic songs at Campfire (next to an actual campfire!); you can discover new bands chosen by local Sziget communities across Europe at Europe Stage; or you can sample genre-based stages like the Blues Pub, the Classical, Opera and Jazz Stages, the World Music Stage and the Afro–Latin Reggae Village. Artists announced so far this year include Kasabian, Major Lazer, Alt-J, Interpol, The Kills, Tom Odell, Bad Religion, The Pretty Reckless, Oh Wonder and Bear’s Den; names of additional artists are continually being revealed.
Along with the festival’s musical side, I want to mention its cultural and social aspects. Even with its busy program of concerts and musical events, Sziget also manages to host a variety of other activities. There are dance shows, theater, cinema, game tents, discussion groups, bungee jumping, sports tournaments, a beach, street shows, a museum and workshops. As half of the visitors come from outside Hungary, Sziget also has a very international, friendly atmosphere that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Here are a few examples of things that might happen to you during the festival (of course these aren’t based on my own experiences!):
On the last night of the festival, you might come back to your tent and find it had collapsed because of the storm while you were getting all wet at an open-air blues concert. Then you might find out that your sleeping bag and all your clothes, not just the ones you’re wearing, are soaked. So at 2 a.m. you desperately spend an hour looking for a warm place, until you find out that no one has put out the campfire yet. Settling down near it, you try not to freeze and talk with a Hungarian woman you meet there about the cultural and linguistic similarities of Hungary and Turkey until sun comes up again.
After pogoing for an hour at a punk rock concert, while you’re on your way to your tent to get some sleep, two Italian guys might approach and convince you to go with them to another concert by a band you never heard of – to which you’ll actually never go but instead just sit in some quiet place and talk about why Shevchenko was the best forward ever to play in Serie A.
While you and a few other attendees are at a concert by a French band on Europe Stage, you might suddenly hear the screams of an Indian tribe, or at least some people dressed up as members of an Indian tribe, coming toward the stage. Then, while the tribe is performing Indian dances along with the songs, the number of attendees increases from only a dozen to a few hundred.
An hour after a concert by an Italian band, you might come across that band’s vocalist, who’ll hang out with you for a while and buy you a drink because you have almost the same hair as him.
This year, the festival will be held August 9-16. Make sure you check it out before planning your summer trip!