There’s big; there’s bigger, and then there’s Sziget. Described by Wikipedia, appropriately, as “one of the largest cultural events in Europe“, every August it runs for a full-week, stretches across an entire island, features more than 1,500 artistic acts performing on 34 stages, and is visited by about 500,000 people, with a daily capacity of 90,000. This year from August 8-15 the festival will celebrate its 26th year in action with a customarily eclectic lineup, ranging from rock (or is it jazz now?) juggernauts Arctic Monkeys, through Gorillaz, Kendrick Lamar and Kygo, all the way to Dua Lipa, Lana Del Rey, and Mumford and Sons, doing a one-off summer show. They will be accompanied by dozens of DJs, electronic arts representatives, world music acts, and no less than 1,000 performances and events focused on anything from applied art exhibitions, through TED talks, circuses, art installations, game tournaments, and even yoga classes (you read that right).
The reasons behind Sziget being able to pull in half a million people from more than 100 countries are now well-known, though novices to this unique event would likely appreciate some context.
Taking place on Budapest’s Óbudai-sziget, merely five overground train stops away from the center of the city, Sziget is one of the world’s largest music and arts festivals, transforming into the ‘Island of Freedom’ every year in August and welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitor from all walks of life. Fully sustainable on its own throughout the event and comfortably detached from civilization by the means of the Danube, it has always been Sziget’s intention to provide a wholly immersive arts and entertainment experience – it is a week-long event with tens of thousands of campers, after all, and the organizers are fully aware of the cravings for an around-the-clock amusement agenda.
The island itself is a shelter of sorts, with few designated camping areas, and the visitors are welcome to make camp, within reason, wherever possible. The entire enclave is adorned with lampoons, festive strings of colorful lights, tables, bean bags, and other surfaces to rest your exhausted feet; hundreds of food stands, with actual pop-up pharmacies and supermarkets, erected only to serve the purpose of supplying the masses during that one scorching week in August. The 266-acre island is more than capable of supporting the phenomenal infrastructure implemented by a full-time employed team counting hundreds in manpower – the many stages are cunningly spread throughout the island, just like the tents, shops, places to charge your phone or laptop, lockers, and food courts. Sziget is also famous for having the best-organized cab service in the whole wide world: throughout the day hundreds of cabs circulate continuously to and fro the island, meaning that a 100-strong waiting line would be catered to within 10 minutes.
Szitizens relaxing in the sun / Sziget Official Press Photo
With all this in mind, it’s all but obvious why Sziget is considered an oasis of fun, while the sheer beauty and affordability of Budapest can’t hurt its chances when summer vacation plans are to be set in motion. Last year the festival celebrated its first 25 years of love, with P!nk, the Chainsmokers, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Major Lazer, Wiz Khalifa and many more performing in front of nearly half a million people. For its efforts, the celebrated and much-beloved event won ‘Line-Up of the Year’ at the European Festival Awards 2017 after standing out among a group of festivals including Glastonbury, Roskilde, and Lollapalooza, for the second year running in a category compiled by experts and voted for by the public.
In 2018 and the future, Sziget will no doubt continue to grow; while the island is at the moment unable to accommodate more than 90,000 people per day, the event has always found a way to broaden its scale and scope, for more than a quarter of a century now. With a philosophy of providing something for everyone, be it pop, metal, electronica or jazz, it manages to retain old fans while attracting fresh blood, year after year. Not to mention the appeal of Sziget’s street circus and acrobats gliding on tightropes above the visitors’ heads.
The complete festival lineup, along with detailed schedules for 17 stages, can be viewed here. Day tickets start at 70 EUR, with three, five and seven-day tickets also still available. For more information, visit the festival’s official website, and see you on the Island of Freedom this August.