Alternative Guide to Summer Festivals


Burning Man

29th Aug–5th Sept Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA

The organisers claim that trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been is like explaining what colour looks like to a blind person. It is essentially a ‘temporary community’. For eight days, you are invited to live outside conventional society, abandon preconceptions and ‘reinvent’ yourself for the duration of your stay. Experience interactive art, socio-political theatre performances and the communal burning of ‘The Man’ on the seventh evening…

Pro: Not many people can say they have witnessed the night time burning of a 100ft effigy in the middle of the desert.

Con: The ticket’s disclaimer: “You voluntarily assume the risk of serious injury or death by attending.”

What will you come home with? An experience of mind-altering freedom from everyday restrictions…

Only the most expensive tickets are still available at $320 (around £195) for 8 days

Taste of London

16th-19th June Regent’s Park, London

Experience the finest dining at the heart of London’s Regent’s park, this year featuring 40 of the city’s most highly acclaimed restaurants. ‘Crowns’ are the official currency of the festival, with £1 fetching you two. Starter-sized dishes average at 8-10 crowns (£4-5) – arguably reasonable considering the calibre and quality of the food. Live cooking demonstrations from Heston Blumenthal and Michel Roux, combined with a boutique food market ensure you will leave feeling satisfied.

Pro: Tasting delicacies from restaurants with a two-month waiting list and more Michelin stars than your can count on your fingers.

Con: Watching your precious Crowns whittle down in number with every bite.

What will you come home with? Indigestion.

Tickets start at £22, but be prepared to match or exceed this in the price of Crowns.


7th-10th July Novi Sad, Vojvodina, Serbia

With its roots in Serbian political protests, the most unusual aspect of this music festival is its location: hosted in the unlikely setting of an 18th century fortress, overlooking the Danube. Arcade Fire and Underworld will be gracing the Main Stage in 2011, but visitors can also expect to spend their weekend exploring the labyrinth that is the Petrovaradin Fortress, discovering smaller make-shift stages tucked in archways and hidden at the top of cobbled stairways.

Pro: Experiencing the likes of Hadouken! and Pulp within a historical, Serbian castle – for half the price of a UK festival.

Con: Novi Sad is not the easiest destination to reach via low-cost flights… and the acoustics inside a fortress may be questionable.

What will you come home with? A new knowledge of alternative music and a glow stick.

£89/4 day festival pass.


1-2nd July The Hop Farm, Kent

A music festival dedicated to providing a ‘back-to basics’ music experience: no VIP tickets, no sponsorship, no branding. The result: a 21st century Woodstock on a 500 year-old farm, combining musical legends with current favourites. Despite last year’s festival receiving mixed reactions, due to a failure of water supply, 2011 looks as if it may exceed expectations – Eagles and Morrissey headline, with Guillemots, Death Cab for Cutie and Lou Reed also performing.

Pro: A chance to experience a real hippy festival.

Con: Potential failure of water supply as in 2010.

What will you come home with? A floral crown and a new found love of 1970s rock.

£70/day ticket; £130/weekend ticket.

La Tomatina

Every year, 40,000 people flock to the small town of Buñol, near Valencia, to participate in a mass tomato-throwing fight. La Tomatina is not complete anarchy: traditionally, one brave reveller must shimmy up a two-story high greased pole to reach a prized ham, at which point water cannons are fired and the festival begins; water canons similarly mark the end of the battle. The throwing of ‘un-squished’ tomatoes is prohibited. Don’t forget a pair of protective goggles.

Pro: Where else can you throw tomatoes at strangers?

Con: Frolicking in a municipal tomato river is not everyone’s idea of a fun day out.

What will you come home with? Tomato-smelling hair

The event is free (the City Council provides all munitions)

Vintage by Hemmingway

29-31st July Southbank Centre, London

Designer duo, the Hemmingways, return with Vintage festival after their success at Goodwood last summer. You can expect to see OAPs, families and fashionistas alike, celebrating British style and culture. Attend a knitting masterclass, ‘Make Do and Mend’, rummage through the Vintage Marketplace, pick up some second-hand treasures and jam to psychedelic tunes (last year, Sandy Shaw rocked up!).

Pro: The closest you’ll ever come to stepping back in time.

Con: That ‘vintage’ mothball smell will haunt your clothes for days to come…

What will you come home with? Sore feet from ballroom dancing and a stack of vintage goodies.

£60/day ticket, From £75/ day and evening concert.


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