Have you ever seen an entire city – parks, alleyways, squares and every little corner – turned into a stage? Luckily, we were accidentally in just the right city, Ghent in Belgium, at the right time to witness what is known to be one of the biggest Europe’s city festivals.

Ghent during Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe

When our Couchsurfing host wrote us back telling that Ghent was going to be crazy because the Gentse Feesten was going to be on, we didn’t actually understand what he meant. We’ve both been to music festivals before mainly in the UK, but they were limited to dedicated areas and usually out of town where music can be played as loud as possible without disturbing anyone.

The Ghent Festival is a whole different kind of event where the whole city changes to host any kind of performance you can possibly imagine.

People dancing at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Performing in the street at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Band playing in the street at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Hula hoop performance at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe

Ten days of non-stop music, live performances, dancing, theater shows, street artists, acrobats, great food and loads of drinking involved too. Yes, you read it correctly, 10 continuous days of party atmosphere for any kind of age, kids included.

A family at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Drinking a beer whilst watching live music at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe

I didn’t actually realise how huge the festival was until we walked through Ghent’s streets and squares. Everybody is in a very good mood, smiling and enjoying the shows and it’s all for free, how incredibly amazing is that? No matter if you are into jazz, electronic, rock, indie, classical or world music, Ghent Festival has it all. It’s a real mecca for music lovers and for whoever also enjoys animation, art and a good spectacle.

Street performer at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Cardboard Tower at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Street artists at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Performing at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe

A 170 Year Old Tradition

Ghent Festival isn’t recent, in fact it dates back to 1843 when it was originally held for the local farmers to help forget their everyday hard working life. The size and vigor of the festival has changed a lot during the years and it’s today literally for everybody to enjoy, and not only locals. Every year for ten days in July, Ghent is flooded with people coming from everywhere, attracted by the size and particularity of this open air festival that, ever since it’s initial first years, has always been free of charge which I personally find amazing, simply because it is so accessible to everyone who wants to enjoy live performances and wants to have a good time.

Dancing at Radio Modern at the Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Radio Modern at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Young street performer at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe

Apparently Ghent Festival is home for almost two million visitors every year and, despite the considerably large amount of people – and I’m not personally a huge fan of crowded places – we never really felt closed in by the crowd because the festival spreads everywhere in the city, meaning that people shift from one location to the other leaving plenty of space for everyone.

Crowd watching a show at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
People seating on the grass at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe

There are six different small sub festivals happening within the Ghent Festival to satisfy the different cultural backgrounds and ages of the various people attending it, and with both of us being big music lovers (especially live music) and having been kind of limited in watching live performances, we were super excited to find out who was going to play.

To our surprise we loved watching many completely unknown bands performing at Boomtownthe Pop and Rock part of the festival with different stages showcasing young talents from Belgium but also from all over Europe – but also two bands we already knew and we were super ecstatic to watch playing.

We were super excited to see EF, the Swedish post-rock band from Gothenbur, that put on an amazing concert that we both extremely loved, and also 65 Days Of Static, an instrumental electronic post/math rock band formed in Sheffield, England. Both bands were outstanding, we loved their live music performances maybe with a preference for EF that, even if they performed in the little tent instead of the main stage, were incredibly good.

Boomtown at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
EF performing at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe

We loved Ghent Festival and we would definitely return and recommend it to everyone. The best part of it was that from not even knowing about its existence, we ended up spending four fantastic days there full of music everywhere, it’s exactly what we needed! And that’s without even mentioning the incredibly delicious food we had too, we loved how easy it was for us to find vegan food in many of the pop-up restaurants and trucks around the festival especially considering we were on our 30 day vegan travel challenge. In fact we even succeeded in finding a vegan version of the Belgian waffle, how cool is that?

Vegan Food truck at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Vegan Food on sale at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Vegan burger at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe
Vegan waffle from Loving Hut Truck at Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe

If you are thinking of visiting Ghent, make sure you experience at least few days of this amazing free festival (apart from few selected paid activities), it’s something unique in its own kind that I would probably define like a huge cultural event, a popular feast with old traditions and background that has been on for almost 170 years, as well as a urban festival and a mecca for music lovers. What is not to like about the Ghent Festival?

T-shirt of Ghent Festival - The oldest free music festival in Europe

Do you enjoy going to festivals too?