When it comes to music festivals around Europe (including the oft self-separating UK), there’s big, there’s fun, and then there’s Sziget. In some half a century of modern music-related gatherings, many events, old and new, emerged at the forefront of the summer FOMO scene. There are the behemoths Werchter, Roskilde, and Glastonbury, the new blood such as Mad Cool and NOS Alive, but through it all, Budapest’s Sziget has been growing and glowing for 29 years now. This singular event, which we have written about over the years, logistically and thematically stands apart from everything else. It deserves all the praise and hype it’s accumulated over the years.
I can only recommend reading our past Sziget (p)reviews to fully appreciate the scale and scope of this event. In 2019, with over 500,000 visitors from more than 100 countries and more than 1,000 cultural and music happenings performed around the clock – so diverse as to include lectures and TED talks from academics or entrepreneurs (e.g., Jane Goodall), yoga and board game camps, or circus and opera performances – nearing its 30 anniversary, Sziget has long outgrown the basic tropes of party and bullshit. It is now likely one of the most diverse and inclusive cultural happenings to take place on the Old Continent and the biggest event firmly aimed at younger audiences thirsty for new experiences, learning, and activism. By now, it is clear that this reporter is a lifelong devotee. Dive in below and discover why you should become a Szitizen, too.
Sziget Festival 2022: The Music
Over six days, across about a dozen stages spread throughout the island, several hundred performers entertain the crowds of up to 60,000 (the maximum daily capacity of the Island itself is about 92,000). This year, Dua Lipa, Kings of Leon, Justin Bieber, Calvin Harris, Tame Impala, and Artic Monkeys, most of whom aren’t flaunting new releases but rather pure superstardom, will take over the Main Stage, supported by Bastille, Lewis Capaldi, Stromae, Alice Merton, Milky Chance, and many more. While the Main Stage and Freedome (up until 2019, the tent was known as A38) are the central venues, showcasing the hottest talent in pop and radio-friendly rock and indie, it is the Ticketswap Party Arena and Samsung Colosseum, two of the bigger EDM, techno and house stages Europe-wide, that keep the parties raging until 5:30 in the morning. This year, Nina Kraviz, Honey Dijon, Steve Aoki, Ofenbach, and a hundred more performers will take to the turntables to keep the crowds simmering for many hours after the main music program is done.
As is always the case with Sziget, special attention is further devoted to the European music and world music stages, a tribute band stage (usually packed throughout the day and mighty fun), and other smaller venues that mix diverse performances. There is the theater and dance field, the Global Village where anything goes (e.g., Ballet Camara, described as “acrobatic dances with giant calabashes and fire), the Chill Garden and Music Box where you can fully relax with appropriately toned-down concerts on the side, and much, much more. This year’s program additions are the hip-hop-oriented dropYard and the Lightstage, promoting emerging youth performers from around the globe. Find the details on the program inside Sziget Passport.
Sziget Festival 2022: The Logistics
Taking place around the second week of August each year, Sziget, meaning “island” in Hungarian, is exactly that – an entire island dedicated to partying, relaxation, and education. Budapest’s Óbudai (Old Buda) Sziget is a 108-hectare island on the Danube, merely five stops away by overground from the city center. The island is over a mile and a half long, secluded, and covered in breathtaking nature, yet it can be reached from downtown in under 30 minutes. (Getting there by boat is a spectacle in itself). Festival-goers, i.e., the Szitizens, get to combine the rarest holiday conveniences: a massive event in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. The marvelously hospitable and affordable Budapest is Europe’s largest low-cost hub, ideal for (still) affordable travel, and can be reached from most European cities for $100(US) or so.
To Sziget’s major credit, a team of 80 full-time organizers always strive to ensure that the attendees can enjoy the widest imaginable array of acts and activities at a price accessible to many: basic camping is free anywhere where permitted on the island, toilets with seats, running water and bathrooms with showers are distributed island-wide, supermarkets with retail-price goods are set up at multiple points, and one can even bring in their food and drinks in non-commercial quantities. Most of the 50,000 (!) campers seldom leave the island since the infrastructure onsite is elaborate enough to support any reasonable need. The services on offer are ever-expanding. There will even be an “Embassy 4 U” pop-up embassy this year for anyone who lost their documents. We can get help on the island without going to our respective consulates. A practical and cute overview of Sziget’s many concerts, activities, and possibilities can be found in its Passport, a booklet in which one can gather stamps to prove themselves the most wanderlusty Szitizen.
For those who wish to make the most of their island experience, from this year on, campers can enjoy a variety of on-site paid sleeping options, from simple pre-propped tents to cabins and even igloos. On the other hand, those who are sleeping downtown or only passing by need not dread the customarily horrific endeavor of traveling back: more than a thousand taxis circulate throughout the night, picking up guests at a designated lot right next to the festival entrance and ensuring you can arrive at your destination in 10-20 minutes for a fee of $15-20(US) at the most.
Finally, to secure a smooth-running operation, thousands of volunteers and more than 16,000 on-premises staff work around-the-clock for the programs and Szitizen support to function at maximum capacity.
Sziget Festival 2022: The Culture
As a cultural institution of record, Sziget is deeply entrenched in its fireside, Budapest’s glorious central European metropolis. A city with one of the richest histories in Europe, Budapest offers so much to do that a week at the festival seems not enough. Proud of their hometown, whose officials they collaborate closely throughout the festival, the Sziget team offers various discounted options for transportation, museum, thermal bath tickets, and more. This year there is also the possibility of attending two parties at Budapest Castle.
The island, bursting with life and nature, also forms the most elegant backdrop for open-air art installations, of which there are more than a dozen designed by emerging and established artists alike, but that’s not all. Giant Street Theatre, Cirque du Sziget, and walkabout street bands elicit laughs and awe each day through acrobatics and humor while blending in perfectly with the atmosphere. There is also the magnificent Magic Mirror, an LGBT+ venue promising (and delivering) glitter, cabaret, and extravaganza.
While it might sound like a bit much at times, bear in mind that there is more than enough room for everyone to retreat and enjoy the numerous quiet moments, chillout tents, and venues. Our favorites are Art Zone, offering anything from live clay making to painting and a contemporary architecture center that makes prints of Budapest’s iconic buildings, and the Gameland Hub, where you can put your brains and dexterity to the test by playing chess, darts, poker and board games against other Szitizens.
Sziget Festival 2022: Education and Activism
Sziget wouldn’t be what it is without a pronounced commitment to sustainability and education for its Szitizens. This year, Green Sziget invites you to offset your entire travel carbon footprint by sponsoring tree planting and learning the ways to minimize environmental impact; Tent Without Borders and NGO Island provide countless workshops and lectures on global social issues, while the Donate for Ukraine initiative supports refugees from the grotesque ongoing war. One of the most long-term initiatives will be the sustainability plan the organizers are developing with local environmental experts. Flora and fauna will be closely monitored relative to any human impact. The green pledge the festival made sounds like something every major event of any kind ought to do to preserve its surroundings and community.
For many years, Sziget has been too grandiose, too intense to appropriately summarize in a few paragraphs, and for a good reason. If all of the above sounds like an immense mishmash of tokens of arts and entertainment, rest assured it is exactly that. It is also one of the biggest multi-day parties and concert spectaculars worldwide. Visit Sziget Festival and see for yourself – it’s all part of life’s rich pageant.
Visit the festival’s official website for more information and to buy tickets.