If you google “biggest festivals in the world” the results will yield four festivals that are not really music festivals. They’re one day events like Street Parade in Zurich every July or Summerfest in Milwaukee, USA. I have been to the latter and it ends at 10 PM every night.
The Hungarians do it a little differently. Every day for a week straight in Budapest 125,000+ people flood to the small island, also called Sziget, which is in the middle of the Danube River slightly north of the city. I met my friend NIko (pictured below) for a week of camping, music, workshops, and sitting down whenever we could.
Sziget is an experience. I will start there. There are about 10 stages, some with Hungarian music, some that play EDM all day and night (not an exaggeration), others with shows, and of course the main stage where I saw Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris, Justin Beiber, Stromae, Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon, Tame Impala, Rufus Du Sol, Lewis Capaldi, and more.
Where to Camp at Sziget Festival
This is a big factor at Sziget. Much of your week can be determined based on who you camp near and where that location is. Niko and I, when we planned the trip, did not have camping equipment. So I booked us 7 nights in what would turn out to be the final two beds in all of Budapest. This had its positives and negatives. We met plenty of people who got Airbnbs or crashed at hostels for the week and it’s definitely nice to have a bed…beats camping. The hostels were more expensive than typical in Budapest, due to the festival.
In the course of us planning, I acquired a tent, sleeping bag, and we stole pillows from the hostel, and then someone gave me a mat. We put some leaves together in a bed form underneath us and it was cramped in that tent, but doable. We fell asleep drunk every night so comfort was not an issue. We did the free camping, which I highly suggest. You can pay a few hundred dollars for a premium location, away from the main stage (and bathrooms) where we were. You can also pay even more for a double premium spot with a bed. These all looked like scams as 80% (by my eye count) of the festival goers were in a random free spot. There are tents everywhere at Sziget, it’s wild.
What Stages to Go to at Sziget
My stage of choice was the Party Arena. This was the one that played hardstyle EDM until 6 in the morning every night. I ended up at this stage on at least four of the six nights and two of those times I stayed until the last DJ finished at 6 AM. This was where Steve Aoki and Alan Walker were and those shows were absolutely packed and a ton of fun.
The Colosseum is an interesting place. They have a DJ playing EDM all day and night. I popped in a few times because there were people dancing in the center but most folks at this stage hang out around the perimeter, talking and drinking. The Urban stage was playing pop music at odd times, like 10:30 AM and 4 PM. There were few people at this stage all the time, except for when they offered yoga classes to 100+ people. The Europe stage was aptly named and exclusively had European artists. This one was sparsely attended, mostly by Europeans.
The other big one was a huge tent in the center of everything, just outside the Sziget sign that everyone takes Instagram pictures in front of, was the Mastercard stage. This one went from around 6 PM until 1 or 2 in the morning. It was not a late night spot but had a huge bar in the middle of it. Like every other stage, there were people sitting down on the floor while shows were going on (more on that later).
Where to Go Out at Night at Sziget
There are options a plenty but the thing to do was to make your way down to the beach whenever you wanted to finish your night. This could be at 3, or it could be at 8. I only did this once but wish that I had realized it earlier and gone down there more often. The thing is that the beach is out of the way. Moreover, the use of the term ‘beach’ is stretching it. You can see the Danube River but there is an ugly chain link fence that prevents anyone from going beyond knee deep in the water. People finish their beers and stuff them into the fence. I am ashamed to admit that I did a river shower with Niko’s soap at one point.
How To Pace Yourself
One of the most critical parts of Sziget is the value of sitting down. If you go for a full week, which is what the Europeans do, you will need to pace yourself. It is a grind to make it the full week. At the outset, I stayed out until 6 AM the first night and was so happy heading back into the city. I told myself that I would stay out every night until the last DJ at 6 AM. The next night I was asleep by 3. It is tooooooough to stay out late every night. Just outside the stages, at 3 AM, you will see groups of people sitting on the dirt just to get a rest.
Next to Sziget Village, which is one of the camping areas at the back of the island, is a playground where people run, play pingpong, do pushups and pullups, etc. This was a nice break, I went twice during the week and it definitely helped keep my body tight.
The following are incredibly important to find: shade, a place to sit/lay, a place to charge your phone, & water. I took multiple naps with my shirt covering my head in a beanbag chair in the shade. I also went to the depths of the island in order to charge my phone and search for wifi (my phone works abroad but still). Water is also easy to find but it comes from the bathroom faucets and looks gross. You will get sick after Sziget, it is a certainty.
Guide to the Show
The shows change annually but I can describe what I saw in 2022. Cirque de Sziget was an interesting performance by a couple from Slovakia who told a weird ballad using balls. That was a waste of time. We watched something called the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show. A ton of people gathered around that and it was pretty entertaining. Right next door there were these African dudes who stood on 10 foot wooden poles and danced around, touching the poles to each other.
The highlight was everything that happened inside a place called Magic Mirror. I believe that the main show there every night repeats every year at Sziget but it was a mixture of strip tease, acrobatics, dancing, and singing. That was a sight and the packed house, standing room only crowd was rocking for an hour. In addition, we saw multiple stand up comedians in that arena. It was not a full house but they were mostly British and did some classic yank bashing, which I thoroughly enjoyed. If it wasn’t clear…all of this was free too.
How to attend
Like any music festival you can do a work option where you work for half of it and then attend the festival for the other half. I spoke to some of those people and they were mostly local Hungarians, working at the art stalls, providing information about random causes, etc. You do not get paid during this though.
We met a bunch of Americans who came for only one night, to see a specific artist. The place was absolutely packed on the Justin Beiber night, with people camping out at 9 AM. You could barely move and I was pumped to see him, I’m a fan of the Beibs. But then he started spewing some shit about how there’s a ton of racism in the world and I rolled my eyes and left.
Niko and I booked a hostel in town. I believe the initial plan was to leave the island every night and come back in the morning. That would have been better for our backs and sanity, maybe we would have drank less too. The bottom line is, there are plenty of free camping spots, not in the best locations, but sufficient enough. They’ll get the job done. We got the tent set up and I left after the first night and came back, preferring to sleep in the comfort of a bed. Niko did not leave the island for a full week and paid the price for it. He had a finger issue and had to have his fingernail removed the day after the festival in a Hungarian hospital. It only cost $200 though.
Lastly, the island is pretty far outside the city. It is five miles from downtown and we took a bus in. Just be aware, you can book an Airbnb or hostel near all of the attractions but it’s a bitch to get to the island. This gives you incentive to stay on the island for the entire week…which is dangerous.
Expected Budget for Sziget Festival
I bought us tickets on an app called Ticket Swap. This is a common way that Europeans use to exchange wristbands. I wish we had it in the US. Due to this being in Hungary, the listed price is $300. I got them for $200 each. Once you’re on the ground, there are a few options. To make it as cheap as possible: go free camping, sneak in alcohol (they check your bags when you bring it in so be aware), and do not overeat because the food is kind of expensive. I spent around a thousand dollars for everything. This includes a $350 expense for the hostel that we used twice in a week, this was easily cuttable but we didn’t know what we were doing at the beginning. So reasonably, you could do this festival for $500 if you time it all right. That is insanely cheap for a weeklong festival!!
I’m not sure I would go back, but I am happy that I went once to experience it. I would go again with the right group and I would go to a Tomorrowland type festival, which is a similar style (enormous European, EDM centric festival). Glastonbury is another option.
I am proud to say that Niko and I did Sziget right. We took part in all of the activities, workshops, yoga, swam, ate, drank, met new people, saw the main acts, partied until late, and most importantly for me…raged to some EDM DJs.
"Harvey Falcon" is the the senior adventure corespondant for Ski Bum Van Life. From Europe to Asia to South America and beyond Harvey offers an exciting take on adventure travel. Read all his stories here.
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