Roskilde has an immersive artistic experience, Rock Werchter has the priciest and most popular rock lineup, Glastonbury has the most people, and NOS Alive has the most reasonable prices for what they offer. Budapest’s Sziget, on the other hand, has all that, and a whole lot more, for all who decide to move to its floating forest of bliss for a full week mid-August.
Seven days of non-stop music, art and entertainment activities; 500,000 visitors (Szitizens) from more than 100 countries; €22 million budget; more than 16,000 people working at the festival throughout the week; over 1,500 artistic and socially responsible programs across more than 50 venues—the incredible numbers speak for themselves. From August 9th through August 16th, the magnificent Óbudai-sziget (“Old Buda Island” in Hungarian) will be paid a visit by P!nk, Wiz Khalifa, Kasabian, the Chainsmokers, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, PJ Harvey, Biffy Clyro, Major Lazer, Interpol, DJ Shadow, Dimitri Vegas, and many more.
An impressive list of headliners aside, everything rings a bit hollow unless you are familiar with the gargantuan artistic (and logistical) endeavor that is Sziget. What was started by Károly Gerendai as a local student operation in 1993, grew into one of the largest arts and entertainment festival worldwide—for those interested to know more about the festival’s unique history, here’s a handy preview from last year. Nowadays the week-long, all-inclusive event is so big, not only does its management own and organize several local satellite festivals (such as the greatly successful VOLT), but it is scheduled to roll out globally following the sale of a 70% stake in Sziget Cultural Management to Providence Equity Partners. According to IQ Mag, the global asset management firm plans to launch between eight and ten new festivals over the next few years, with Sziget’s management due to continue running operations of all festivals in the future portfolio.
Certainly, all this is (at least now) business, and great business, at that. However, what always truly set Sziget apart from any comparable event, is its soul and the genuine intent to keep artistic and social discourse alive, all while delivering the single most comprehensive and dedicated customer experience you will ever witness. Giant Street Theater with trapezists and acrobats, more than 50 TED talks, jazz and opera stages, Cirque du Sziget, countless installation and performance venues, yoga workshops, theater and dance tent, open air cinema, I-Ching labyrinth, chess and poker tents, darts and board game clubs, an NGO hub, and the mesmerizing Museum Quarter. You will see and do all this during that one magical week. The sheer volume, not to mention the quality, of content, makes it impossible to overlook the cultural significance of the event. Let’s not even get started on everything I failed to list—there’s plenty more, especially the “Art of Freedom”, a collection of more than 60 aspiring artists’ installations, scattered all over the island. However, if there is one thing more impressive about Sziget than its superabundance of life and joy, it’s the flawless logistics.
The 108-hectare island, located five overground metro stops from the city center, invites all guests to willfully distance themselves from their everyday worries, and spend an entire week completely immersed in the festival and all it has to offer. Sziget management understands that more than 60% of all visitors are students and youngsters from all over the world, who could barely afford a ticket to Hungary. To this end, all visitors are welcome to make camp wherever physically possible on the Island, bring their own food and beverages (within reason), and enjoy a pint of cold beer whenever they please for under $3!
An all inclusive, seven-day ticket with camping, costs about $350. Once you’re there, across the island, you will found countless showers, wi-fi and charging spots, dozens of affordable world cuisine kiosks, ecologically savvy programs encouraging you to exchange of cans and bottles for gifts and free wi-fi, and even a fully fledged, pop-up supermarket. Budapest, itself a lovely fusion of two cities, Buda and Pest, are among the most affordable European capitals, a gorgeous, vibrant metropolis full of astonishing food and architecture (what else is there, really). It is also one of the world’s largest hubs for Wizzair and other low-cost airlines, easily accessible due to its central-European location.
Even if you’re not thrilled about camping among 50,000 other people for a full week, you can easily rent a centrally-located studio for one to four people for under $50 per night. If you’ve ever been to Sziget, you won’t need this article to convince you to go back to the “Island of Freedom”. If, on the other hand, you haven’t, don’t hesitate for a second - come celebrate a quarter of a century of music, art, and love.
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