The big festivals aren’t cheap: it’s a fact. My parents have told me stories of the days they were able to sneak into Glastonbury by hiding under a duvet in the back of a van – and that was back when it only cost £10 to get in.
Today, you’re looking at around £250 plus car parking and travel. This would be great, considering tickets for some of the acts you see are around £70.
But with the commercialisation of UK festivals degrading the quality of music, it might be worth venturing further.
With festival season quickly approaching I want to suggest an alternative: European festivals.
Last year I attended Rock Werchter, my first EU festival, in Belgium. It was my first time travelling without my parents, so it was daunting but so worth it.
For me to travel to Rock Werchter wasn’t much dearer to what I’d travel in the UK.
From Oxfordshire, we got the tube into London St Pancras, where we changed to the Eurostar for a two hour and 10 minutes journey to Brussels Nord. The ticket was £45 for a return.
Rock Werchter tickets also include a free train fare to Leuven station to encourage people to use public transport.
The change between the platforms was really short and simple, helpful considering we both had rucksacks and a tent to carry.
Trains from Nord to Leuven run every fifteen minutes and the journey itself only takes twenty minutes.
There were obvious festival goers on the train but the frequency meant we had a comfortable seat for the journey.
Outside Leuven station was a shuttle bus service to take ticket holders to the site – as it’s a little further outside of the town.
Here we had to queue for about an hour and a half, however, the queue was constantly moving and they were giving out free magnums – so it wasn’t all bad.
The transfer took another 20 minutes, but it dropped us right at the entrance to the festival, so we didn’t have to carry all our gear all that far.
Any Download or Reading Festival fans know those walks from the station/car park to the entrance can be a killer.
The shuttle buses also ran frequently throughout the festival, so we were able to return to the town for food/drinks whenever we pleased.
Generally, the line up of Rock Werchter supersedes those of its UK counterparts.
Last year Rock Werchter hosted Pearl Jam, Gorillaz, Arctic Monkeys, The Killers and Queens of the Stone Age as headliners.
If we compare this to Reading and Leeds Festival last year, the headliners were less exclusive: Travis Scott, Panic at the Disco, Kings of Leon, Kendrick Lamar and Fall Out Boy.
By the time we had arrived at the festival, it was already the afternoon. The festival was opening the following morning. By this point, a UK festival campsite would be rammed full and I would have had to camp in a field further away from the festival.
However, Rock Werchter allows you to choose your camp before you arrive, and you are given a separate wristband accordingly. This ensures campsites don’t become overcrowded, unlike what happens at UK festivals.
I’d advise picking ‘The Hive’. It has the best atmosphere, it’s about a ten-minute walk to the main arena and it’s where all the fun after the festival is.
Within the campsite are showers and loos, as well as food trucks and communal eating areas.
These areas provided us with shade and a place to sit and relax when we weren’t listening to music. In the evening it was turned into a dance area with a bar.
Being located in Belgium, the warm weather was guaranteed. Being a pale Welsh girl, I’m not too acclimatised to this weather and it was a lot to deal with.
However, anyone who’s been to a UK festival knows the weather isn’t guaranteed, so it’s down to you whether you prefer the wet or sweat.
The organisers are aware of this and have organized the festival accordingly.
Many of the stages are constructed indoors, like mini venues, protecting you from the sun. Because of this, there are barriers in and out, ensuring the stage doesn’t become too overcrowded.
This caught us out sadly when we wanted to see Ben Howard in The Barn but it was already full. As long as you’re prepared this shouldn’t be an issue.
Keep an eye out for the brands giving away free hats too, maybe not the most stylish, but definitely needed.
The festival also starts later in the afternoon, around 1, allowing you to avoid the sun when it’s at its most dangerous.
Because the festival isn’t located near any towns it can go on later, with some sets finishing around 1:30 in the morning.
I was shocked at the security in general in Belgium, but especially at the festival.
All bags were checked upon entrance to the campsite, mainly for glass but also to enforce the festivals no drugs policy.
To enter the festival we had to walk through a metal scanner, much like what you see at an airport. We also had to hand our bags over to be checked – I still somehow managed to sneak my flask in though.
Police officers patrolled these search points with sniffer dogs and at one point a girl next to me in the queue was signalled to by a dog and taken to one side.
After the security check, we then had to scan our wristbands. Each included a QR code which had to be scanned upon entry and exit to ensure no one was sneaking in.
Rock Werchter also works with a token money system. You buy your tokens beforehand and use the tokens for food and drink. Buying them before the festival ensures more value for money (€2.75 before, €3 at the festival). I’d recommend buying about 30.
This means you won’t have to carry any cash on you around the festival or leave some in a tent hidden in your pillowcase, hoping you don’t get mugged.
Food was generally of a higher standard here compared to UK festivals. You could have the classic burger and chips, noodle dishes, vegan meals and at one point I even came across a stall selling oysters.
So to summarise, if you can handle the heat, then it’s definitely worth venturing further afield. This year I’m staying closer to home, attending Truck Festival in Oxfordshire instead. Look out for posts about that coming soon!
Have you been to a European Festival? Or are you sticking to the UK this year? Let me know!