The English language has the verb “to balkanize” which does not have a very positive connotation. However, there is more to the Balkans than a tumultuous political past, as its music festivals have been steadily climbing up the charts for two decades now. Mostly comprised out of former Yugoslav republics, the Balkan countries know how to party and more and more foreign partygoers are discovering this gem of the European music festivals scene.
The region is well-connected with the rest of the world so expect to be able to fly into most of the festivals. Many Balkan festivals offer shuttle buses that will take you to the venue straight from the airport or the nearest large city. Furthermore, the continental climate means that only winter is not suitable for festival-goers as the remaining seasons are warm enough to strip your shirt and dance to the music.
Speaking of music, you’ll find music festivals that feature different types of music to meet everyone’s taste. There is jazz, techno, rock, pop, folk music, reggae, and many other genres, often within the same venue, like in the Exit Festival.
Druga Godba Festival
Next edition: May 13th – May 16th, 2020
One of the largest Central European music festivals, the Slovenian Druga Godba Festival is a world music festival, unique to the region. It has a long history dating back to 1984 when its founders wanted to include different genres of music into the repertoire. It takes place in early May each year in Ljubljana, although the 2020 edition will feature concerts in Maribor as well.
If you fancy listening to melodies not often heard in Europe, then Druga Godba is the ideal place to visit. You’ll have a chance to hear everything from African-Cuban music to the Serbian Army Orchestra. For 2020, the main headliners are “The Comet Is Coming,” a groovy band from London. The tickets aren’t particularly pricy, as a full festival pass presently stands at 38 euros.
Mostar Summer Fest
Rodoč, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Next edition: June 25th – June 27th, 2020
There are numerous music festivals in Bosnia and Herzegovina but none is more popular than Mostar Summer Fest. Started 8 years ago, it features mostly regional artists that play all kinds of music. This charming music festival is not large in size but you can hear the biggest names of Balkan music there: Serbian rappers Bad Copy, Croatian band Prljavo Kazalište, and various up-and-coming DJs.
Next year, the festival will last the standard three days and you’ll have to register at the Festival’s website for a chance to get the early bird tickets. The lineup is yet to be announced but we can expect more regional headlines like Hladno Pivo and Partibrejkersi to appear. The industrial zone of Mostar is getting increasingly smaller to accommodate all the young people wanting to listen to authentic music from the Balkans!
Lake Jarun, Zagreb, Croatia
Next edition: Late June 2020, exact dates TBA
Since its inception in 2006, the INmusic festival has grown into pone of the most popular Croatian music festivals. What is Zrće beach and SONUS to the seaside part of Croatia, INmusic is to the capital Zagreb. Held in late June every year on an island in the middle of Lake Jarun on the outskirts of Zagreb, INmusic lasts three days. In the past, bands like The Cure (2019), Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (2018), and Arctic Monkeys (2013) played here. The festival pass goes for as little as 53 euros.
Bánffy Castle, Cluj, Romania
Next edition: June or July 2020
Ever since 2013, the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca had been organizing the Electric Castle festival. Its attendance of 200.000 people speaks of a festival that is a household name among lovers of alternative, electronic, rock, reggae, hip hop, and indie music. Nominated for numerous European music festival awards, the Electric Castle hosted such stars as The Prodigy, Franz Ferdinand, Skrillex, Fatboy Slim, Rudimental, Die Antwoord and many other performers.
Like with the EXIT Festival, the setting is the biggest allure in the case of Electric Castle. As its name suggests, the festival is held in the Bánffy Castle, a Baroque monument located in a village near Cluj-Napoca. The castle was originally built in the 15th century and the festival organizers are actively funding its restoration. If you are looking for accommodation, then know that the local community comes together to turn their village into an oversized hostel for the duration of the festival. Add a complimentary parking spot to the offer and you’re bound to have fun in Transylvania during the four days the festival typically lasts.
Petrovaradin Fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia
Next edition: July 4th – July 8th, 2020
The first-ever EXIT Festival took place in the year 2000 on the campus of the University of Novi Sad and it was a musical statement against the authoritative regime then in power in Serbia. Since then, the festival had grown so much that it has won the Best Major Festival awards (given by the European Festivals Awards) in 2013 and in 2017.
Over the past two decades, it hosted the biggest names in the entertainment industry, from David Guetta to Prodigy. One of the biggest attractions on EXIT is the venue itself. While the neighboring Sziget Festival in Hungary is held in the plains, EXIT’s venue is the 18th-century fortress of Petrovaradin, the second in size in Europe.
This year, Exit is celebrating its 20th anniversary so the festival organizers are bound to make it a special event. The EXIT 2.0 edition as it is officially advertised has already attracted the attention of 17,000 people from across the globe. Like every year, there will be a camp offered in Novi Sad for those who buy the tickets. A place in the camp is rather inexpensive as ticket sets go for anywhere from 50 to 100 euros.
The tickets are available online so you should hurry up to register for them, as their price nearly doubles on the day of the event. Once there, keep in mind that Serbian summer can get quite hot, up to 40 degrees Centigrade. On the other side, festival prices aren’t too high for Westerners, as all you need is a card that you use to pay at the festival that can be recharged at any given time.
Ohrid Summer Festival
Ohrid, Northern Macedonia
Next edition: July 12th – August 20th 2020
Founded back in 1961, Ohrid Summer Festival attracts the largest crowds out of every festival in Northern Macedonia, even greater than music festivals in the capital Skopje. The festival always takes place from July 12th to August 20th, acting as the cultural milestone of the summer on the shores of lake Ohrid. Over the years, the festival attracted famous artists such as Andre Navarra, Ivo Pogorelić, Maxim Vengerov, Vadim Repin, Nigel Kennedy, Zubin Mehta, Ennio Morricone, and countless other performers.
The festival serves as a beacon of culture in Yugoslavia back in the 70s and the 80s and it continues to attract large crowds even today, 57 years after it was established. The tickets are quite cheap, partly because the event is sponsored by the state. In terms of accommodation, you will find affordable hostels in the city of Ohrid which boasts a rich cultural history. The festival itself takes place on more than a dozen locations throughout Ohrid, including an ancient amphitheater and the churches of St. Clement and of St. Panteleimon.
Žrće Beach, Novalja, Croatia
Next edition: August 16th – August 20th 2020
Known by almost every party-goer in Europe and possibly on the planet, Zrće Beach is a Mecca for electronic, house, and techno music. The first edition of the festival was back in 2013 when the island hosted a myriad of famous DJs. Last August, it was Boris Brejcha, a German DJ and a music producer who took the center stage at the festival. The SONUS is famous for lasting full five days of endless beats that echo around the island.
The festival takes place in local coastal clubs of Aquarius, Kalypso, Noa, and Papaya for performances that last all day and all night. In addition, there are boat parties on vessels anchored in the nearby harbor. For the 2020 edition of the festival, visitors can enjoy the music of Adam Beyer, Richie Hawtin, Joseph Capriati, Loco Dice, Apollonia, Rødhåd, Sam Paganini, Seth Troxler, Marco Carola, and many others.
The best way to travel to the festival is by plane, landing at any of the three airports in Zadar, Rijeka, and Split in the 200km radius. Of course, you have the budget option to travel by bus but prepare yourself for a long haul. Arriving by car, keep in mind that the local road network from Novalja to Zrće cannot cope with a large number of vehicles commuting across the island.
Unlike other festivals, you might want to dress up for this one. Girls usually put on some jewelry like the one manufactured by Moon Magic, which is quite popular among festival-goers.
Guča Trumpet Festival
Next edition: Seven days in August 2020, exact dates TBA
The country of Serbia has two major festivals: the aforementioned EXIT and Guča Trumpet Festival. The latter was started in 1961 in the local churchyard with only four bands from Dragačevo participating. The festival had grown so much over the past 60 years that now hundreds of thousands of trumpet-lovers flock each August to this sleepy Serbian village. The lineup is the same each year: trumpeters after bands of trumpeters.
The 2020 edition will mark six decades from the first Sabor so organizers are planning a festival that will last a whole seven days. During this time, guests get a chance to eat traditional Serbian food, buy memorabilia, and of course, listen to bands from all over the world. Guča is a three-hour drive from the capital of Belgrade and some half an hour from the nearest major city of Čačak.
Like for the Electric Castle festival, Guča locals open the doors of their homes during the festival so accommodation is easy to come by. However, you’ll have to book at least a year in advance if you are looking for B&B. The festival itself is open-air so there is no entry fee.
Sea Dance Festival
Buljarice Beach, Budva, Montenegro
Next edition: End of August 2020
Another part of the EXIT franchise, that is, the EXIT adventure is the Sea Dance Festival. It was started in 2014 at Jaz Beach in the Budva municipality – not far from Kotor in Montenegro. Since 2018, the venue had switched to Buljarice beach in the same city. It lasts three days, usually at the end of August and it was proclaimed The Best Medium-Sized European festival in 2015, hosting artists such as Jamiroquai, Hurts, and Roisin Murphy throughout its short, yet rich history.
Although the exact date for the festival is still to be announced for 2020, the atmosphere is going to be hot. Situated at a beach on the Adriatic Sea, Sea Dance offers plenty of chances to get a dip during the day. However, you might find it hard to find the right accommodation, although there is a camp smaller than the one for EXIT. Also, be aware that even after you are able to secure housing, there might be issues with running water, which has been a problem pestering the Montenegrin coast for centuries now.
Colour Day Festival
Next edition: To be announced
Speaking of music, one cannot skip Greece, the cradle of European culture. Needless to say, the country boasts a myriad of festivals but none is more unique than the Colour Day Festival. It mixes music noted and powdered color for a festival experience like no other. The festival was inspired by Holi parties that celebrate the ancient Hindi festivities. The average attendance is around 40,000 young people and those who feel young at heart. The usual headliners are award-winning DJs.
The venue, OAKA, served as a sporting arena back in 2004 when Greece hosted the Summer Olympic Games. One of the most popular festivals in Greece is easy to arrive but you’ll need special clothing. Namely, prepare yourself for a literal splash of colors that will destroy the T-shirts, shoes, and the shorts you came in. Another oddity of the festival is that it starts at noon on a Saturday and the party doesn’t stop until 11 PM that night.
The music festival scene in the Balkans is fairly rich. There are many more festivals than listed here and they offer a unique experience to party-goers. Apart from the great atmosphere, these events offer, the prices are the biggest allure. Concert tickets are rather inexpensive, as well as the surrounding venues. Since most countries are going through ha transition to full-scale capitalist economies, the prices of accommodation, food, and travel are still affordable. You get a chance to dance away at the Zrće beach or Petrovaradin Fortress for less than 100 euros.