At the ‘young at heart’ age of 57, I finally managed to go to my first music festival, ticking off one of my many bucket list entries. I love all sorts of music ranging from rock and pop through to folk and classical. My daughter and I chose to stay in Budapest and commute to ‘The Island of Freedom’ festival on a daily basis, using the metro and trains. I did not fancy camping, but many do, braving the inconveniences and seeing it as part of the overall festival experience.
Living in Hungary meant it was easy for me to access one of the largest music and cultural festivals in Europe. The Sziget (pronounced Zi-get) festival takes place annually on an island called Óbudai, a 266-acre green lush island in the middle of the River Danube. The island was reaching by walking through an old railway bridge, making this the main entrance to the festival. More than 1,000 diverse cultural performances take place each year, something for everyone even children. We bought a 3 day ticket (the last 3 days) which was ample time to explore the island and see the bands we wanted.
So as a ‘first-timer’ I thought it would be useful to share my tips and photographs with you on what to expect and how to enjoy the festival too its maximum. Fortunately my daughter is a seasoned festival goer which made things infinitely easier in a lot of respects.
My tips for First-Timers at Sziget Festival
Be prepared for changeable weather. The weather in Hungary is quite predictable usually with an accurate weather forecast. We realised that heavy thunderstorms were forecast on the final day so we decided to invest in waterproof capes to give some protection against imminent storms. The massive music screens also showed thunderstorms but to be honest it did not really matter. We watched bands on the main stage through dramatic forked lightning giving an amazing electric atmosphere but did not experience the rain until the final hours of the show. At the other end of the weather scale, the sun was scorching hot and sunscreen and hats were a must whilst walking around the festival.
Wear suitable footwear. As we were staying off-site we could choose what footwear would be the best. The festival site was absolutely enormous and there were lots of things to see and do. This meant we walked around 12km (7.4 miles) each day. I opted for comfortable trainers which I did not mind getting muddy if the ground got wet. I also had a pair of incredibly comfortable clogs but in spite of their comfort did end up with blisters! For the all week festival goers I would recommend hiking boots, as many people I noticed wore them.
Dealing with queuing. Be patient! When we initially arrived at the festival there were a number of places we needed to visit before we could enter the festival. First stop, and long queues, was a booth for showing our tickets and obtaining wristbands, getting our money pass and ‘passport’ festival schedule. Next stop was to go through security channels, similar to an airport. The guys were checking random bags for the usual contraband items and alcohol, as there was a no alcohol policy. I was thankful I had a small backpack, easily accessible and fitted all my essentials in. Once through the scanner we were in! It felt great to be there.
Cashless Festival. A definite advantage in my eyes. A well organised system was in place where we used a barcoded money pass to purchase food and goods throughout the festival. There were numerous booths dotted around the grounds where we could top-up our card if our funds ran low. Using this method of payment meant the queues were fast moving and you didn’t have to worry about exchange rates or the right change. At the end of the festival we went to the money booths and claimed a refund for what we had not spent on the card. Perfect.
Excellent food and drink outlets. We were amazed at the huge variety of different foods available to buy. The portions sizes were huge and also relatively cheap. There was no need for us to take any sort of food in as we were spoilt for choice. Alcohol was sold at every corner, again at a very reasonable price. We were spoilt for choice and tried many different dishes. We spied a huge choice of pizzas, pastas, burgers, fruit bowls, donuts, kebabs, pulled pork dishes, fish and chips, even gluten free options. I particularly liked the Falafel with Hungarian spicy sauce. We didn’t go hungry!
Plan your day. My daughter and I knew who the headlining bands were and had taken the time before coming to the festival to research as many bands as possible, to get an idea of what else was on offer. We wanted to get our money’s worth instead of aimlessly walking around. This proved to be invaluable and each morning we looked at the ‘festival passport’ to plan our day and evening. We managed to pack in as much as possible and saw lots of unique performances and even some we had not planned for. It was worth being organised.
Don’t be shy! We found everyone to be super friendly, sharing benches for eating with total strangers but chatting away as if they were long lost friends. Around 50% of the visitors come from outside of Hungary so it made for a great mix of nationalities. We found a lot spoke English and were only too happy to tell us where they were from and which bands they had come to specifically see. We saw absolutely no trouble at all the entire time we were there, so refreshing in this day an age.
Essentials to take. I appreciate everyone is different but these were the things that we took for the festival in my backpack that I considered to be essential: Hand sanitiser, tissues, lip balm, suncream, mobile phone/camera, power-pack for recharging, tickets/money/ID, sunhat, sunglasses and some sort of waterproof. I am sure others would add to this list but it worked for us.
Below are a few of my memories of the great time we had at Sziget festival 2019.
My experience of attending my first music festival was amazing and I shall always remember the care-free jovial atmosphere, the brilliantly organised events and realised that age was not a barrier when everyone was there for the same reason, to love and appreciate the music. This will not be my last festival for sure.
Here is just a short clip showing the excellent music and sights that my daughter and I experienced at Sziget festival 2019.
The official Aftermovie Sziget Festival 2019 –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MLLNEiAj0A
Foo Fighters were the AWESOME headliners of the whole festival, if you are a fan you MUST watch this very heartwarming inspirational documentary, about the man in the wheelchair…it brought tears to my eyes. Dave Grohl is one amazing man. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kD7BkZf5V_Q