Cold, dark winters lead to explosive, musical summers at these top music festivals in Scandinavia.
If there’s one thing Scandinavian people know how to do, it’s rock. And dance. And rock some more. Perhaps it’s the long, cold, dark winter nights, or the proximity to the magic of the Northern Lights, or simply that they love to let it all hang out and celebrate with the wild abandon of their Viking ancestors.
But whatever the case, the fact remains that Scandinavia is home to some of the greatest music festivals in the world. Here are a few Scandinavian music festivals that you may have heard of, and some that are a little more off the beaten track, but all of which are worth a visit next time you’re in the area!
1. Roskilde Festival, Roskilde, Denmark
The Roskilde Festival takes the place of pride in the pantheon of Scandinavian music festivals. It is not only the largest music festival in Scandinavia and all of Northern Europe, but also the first such festival to be created in Denmark.
Since 1971 the sleepy town of Roskilde, about 30 minutes by train from Copenhagen, explodes with fun seekers each summer at the end of June and beginning of July, literally tripling the population of the town for eight days. The Roskilde Festival is important among Scandinavian music festivals not only for the top tier acts it brings in—Taylor Swift, Gorillaz, Pearl Jam, Eminem, Bob Dylan and hundreds more have played or are planning to play there—but also because of its message.
The founders of the Roskilde Festival seek to not only create a fun space for people to enjoy the music, but also to plant the seeds of social change through activism, art, and more via workshops, lectures, debates, and how-to sessions on getting young people involved in making the world a better place.
Confirmed 2020 artists: Taylor Swift, Thom Yorke, Tyler the Creator, Deftones, Pusha-T, Cage the Elephant.
Dates: June 26 to July 4.
2. Way Out West, Gothenburg, Sweden
Heading over to Sweden, probably the next-best known Scandinavian music festival is the Way Out West Festival, which takes place near Gothenburg, Sweden. The 150-hectare Slottsskogen park is known as the “lung of Gothenburg” and is an urban idyll with a gorgeous pond, trees and open spaces.
During the festival it is home to five stages hosting such past acts as St. Vincent, the legendary Patti Smith, Cardi B, Stormzy and more.
The park hosts music—leaning more toward the rock, punk and hip-hop variety—from morning until well into the night. But it’s also packed with secret nooks and crannies where festival goers can discover an array of vegetarian food offerings, inspirational talks and debates, a film festival, and Dungen, an outdoor electronic dance music venue right in the park.
Way Out West organizers make the event one of the top Scandinavian music festivals by expanding their borders, partnering with numerous clubs and venues in the city of Gothenburg to continue the party each night until the early morning.
Confirmed 2020 artists: Bon Iver, Bikini Kill, Khalid, The Tallest Man on Earth, and FKA Twigs.
Dates: August 13 to 15.
3. Secret Solstice, Reykjavik, Iceland
Stepping outside of Scandinavia proper for a minute is worth it in this instance, as the Secret Solstice Festival in Iceland is among the most unique and beautiful of the Nordic music festivals.
Secret Solstice has only been around for less than a decade, but the festival has made a name for itself among not only Nordic music festivals, but around the world for the unique concept and execution.
Each summer at the solstice near the end of June, Iceland is far enough north that it experiences near-24-hour sunlight. So the festival, which takes place in the Laugardalur area of the capital city of Reykjavik, not only brings an eclectic lineup of artists of all kinds including past performers like Stormzy, J Hus, Steve Aoki, Bonnie Tyler and Slayer, but also celebrates the Norse mythology surrounding the solstice and the ancient religion commonly known as Asatru.
Secret Solstice organizers also take their festival to the next level among Scandinavian music festivals by creating a number of singular side events that can only be described as once-in-a-lifetime. Where else can you attend a rave in a glacier cave, or a concert in a lava tunnel?
Camping is plentiful, and a variety of rentals and hostels are available in Reykjavik for the festival’s three-day run as well.
Confirmed 2020 artists: Cyprus Hill, Lil Pump, Primal Scream, TLC, Meduza, Regard.
Dates: June 26 to 28.
4. Bergenfest, Bergen, Norway
When it comes to seeking out unique and eclectic Scandinavian music festivals, location is often one of the deciding factors on which ones to check out. Bergenfest in Norway’s “second city,” the lovely Bergen located on Norway’s west coast takes place at the UNESCO-listed site of Bryggen, home to the incredible Bergenhus Fortress.
This is one of the smaller of Scandinavian music festivals, as fewer than 10,000 tickets are usually sold, but it’s also one of the most venerable, having been created over 25 years ago, originally as a blues and Americana fest.
These days the organizers have broadened their musical palette, and past superstars to grace the stage in the shadow of the impressive fortress include Patti Smith, Queens of the Stone Age, Bon Iver and Liam Gallagher of Oasis fame.
Confirmed 2020 artists: Lewis Capaldi, The Specials, Robyn, Lars Vauler, Iris Gold, Myra, Ruben.
Dates: June 10 to 13.
5. Malmöfestivalen, Malmö, Sweden
Heading back over to Sweden, the lovely seaside town of Malmö plays host every year to some 1.4 million visitors who roll in to this town just across the water from Copenhagen to enjoy concerts, exhibitions, street performances, food trucks, and more at the annual Malmöfestivalen each summer.
One of the things that makes Malmöfestivalen rank among the most popular of Scandinavian music festivals is that the vast majority of activities available on the sprawling grounds are free, so if you are traveling on a budget, this is the place to be in August.
The festival has been put on by the city of Malmö every year since 1985, offering concerts that range from orchestral to jazz to rock and hip-hop, but in a more inclusive and family-friendly atmosphere than some festivals.
Dates: August 7 to 14.
6. Distortion, Copenhagen, Denmark
The Distortion Festival in Copenhagen is for lovers of dance music of all kinds and types. The festival bills itself as a “party tsunami” and celebrates new dance music throughout the streets of the Danish capital for five days before ending up on the edge of the harbor for an all-night party.
The festival takes on the best characteristics of the best Scandinavian music festivals, touting a not-for-profit ideology that even invites potential attendees to come with an attitude of “we’re all in this together” helpfulness to lend a hand when needed and keep everything running smoothly.
The dance parties roll through the streets for four days, winding up at the Distortion Club and nearby venues on the fourth night, only to then spill over to a green and hilly harborside area known as Distortion Ø to culminate in an all-night dance fest party.
Artists like the US’s Rico Nasty and the UK’s Nadia Rose will grace one of the six stages there to keep the dancing going until past dawn, along with a broad variety of Danish and other Scandinavian acts performing music ranging from techno to disco to rave to urban and even live acts as well.
Dates: June 3 to 7.
7. Øya Festival, Oslo, Norway
If you find yourself all danced out, you might consider heading up to Norway for the Øya Festival, home to alternative and indie acts from Scandinavia and around the world. It’s yet another venerable entrant among the list of Scandinavian music festivals, and the Øya Festival takes place each summer in a park right in the heart of the Norwegian capital of Oslo.
Festival organizers also take to heart a message and practice of reducing human impact on the earth by emphasizing sustainability and minimizing their carbon footprint.
In addition to past acts like Outkast and Nenah Cherry, you’ll find a wide variety of locally-sourced, organically produced food and drink, sustainably sourced electricity, and recycling wherever you go here in the heart of Oslo.
Once again heading a bit outside of Scandinavia proper to find some of the best Nordic music festivals we head to Helsinki, Finland to check out the Flow Festival. The Flow Festival is put on at the grounds of a disused power station called Suvilahti that is just a short walk from downtown Helsinki, and has been restored with artistic lighting design and tricked out with plenty of visual artists’ contributions as well.
The location in Finland makes the Flow Festival one of the most easily accessible of the Scandinavian music festivals to not only Nordic attendees, but also people from nations like Estonia, Latvia, Russia and more.
Flow began as a soul and jazz festival in 2004 but slowly morphed and grew to accommodate all kinds of performers, as well as embracing a political and progressive message on the dire nature of climate change and what the individual can do to get involved not just on a personal level but organizing against big polluters and intransigent governments.
Past performers include Patti Smith, Die Antwoord, Tame Impala and the Cure.
Confirmed 2020 artists: Bon Iver has confirmed as the headliner.
Dates: August 14 to 16.
9. Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavik, Iceland
So far we’ve just talked about the best Scandinavian music festivals that take place in summer, and that’s with good reason — it gets a little on the chilly side in winter!
However, the creators of the Iceland Airwaves music festival have decided to embrace the fact of life that is winter in Scandinavia and hold their festival in November every year.
Not only will you get to see a wide and eclectic variety of Icelandic and Scandinavian acts as well as performers from all over the world, you’ll have the opportunity to visit thermal baths, go on whale-watching tours, and maybe even see the Northern Lights!
This top Scandinavian music festival features on-site acts running from about 7:00 p.m. through the wee hours, but during the day there are also a number of off-site performances taking place all over Reykjavik, including in not only bars, cafes and restaurants, but also laundromats, museums, churches and music shops.
Well worth braving the winter chill to see one of the most eclectic and unique of the Scandinavian music festivals.
The 2020 lineup has not yet been announced.
Dates: November 4 to 7.
10. Pstereo, Tronheim, Norway
Heading back over to Norway one of the big underground favorites among the Scandinavia music festivals is the Pstereo Festival that takes place each August in Trondheim, Norway.
While the music is of course the point of it all, with past acts including Bloc Party, First Aid Kit, Yeasayer, Little Simz and more, with an emphasis on indie, metal, hip-hop and underground artists, the scenery is a big star as well.
Pstereo may not be the biggest Scandinavian music festival, but since it takes place on the banks of the gorgeous River Nidelva, and the stages incorporate the scenic, natural beauty of the area, it creates a panorama that is not to be forgotten.
Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral and the cityscape of this former Viking-era settlement itself make Pstereo a hidden gem among the big Scandinavian music festivals.
Hey if you want off the beaten track, it doesn’t get any more off-beat among Scandinavian music festivals than the Faroe Islands’ own G! Festival. This festival takes place on the remote but ruggedly gorgeous Danish territory of the Faroe Islands, about halfway between Iceland and Norway in a tiny coastal town of just 400.
The festival’s stages are constructed on the beach and on football fields right in the village of Syðrugöta, where locals greet festival-goers from the windows of their houses, which are often right in the middle of the action.
The village forms a natural amphitheater, perched as it is between rocky, looming cliff faces and the sea in a small open area between the cliffs and the coast. It makes for an unparalleled music experience as well as featuring unique art installations, traditional food, and street performances.
Past performers include well-known artists like Fatboy Slim, Metronomy and Travis. The Blind Boys Of Alabama, and many more, but concertgoers unfamiliar with the Faroes’ strong tradition in their own unique, traditional and non-traditional music are in for a treat as well, as dozens of local performers get to share the stage and share the local Faroese culture as well.
Confirmed 2020 artists have not yet been announced.
Dates: July 16 to 18.
12. Tuska Festival, Helsinki, Finland
Leaving the Faroe Islands and heading back to Finland, it’s finally time to celebrate one the Scandinavian world’s favorite musical styles: metal. In Finnish the word Tuska translates as “pain” or “agony,” but the headbangers who flock to the Tuska Festival every June don’t appear to be feeling anything but sheer, unadulterated joy.
This Mecca for metal-heads celebrated its 20-year anniversary in 2017 as one of the best Scandinavian music festivals, and it’s still going strong, featuring three stages with top-notch world-class hard rock acts as well as up and coming local and Scandinavian artists.
Last year the festival was the biggest Scandinavian music festival centered around metal, drawing some 43,000 visitors. Past performers include Anthrax, Amorphis, The Hellacopters, Slayer, Opeth, and more.
In 2019 while the event became strictly over-18, they also opened their doors to Tiny Tuska, where 500 little moshing metal-kids were welcomed into the fold, giving metal-head parents a chance to pass along their love of their favorite music to the next generation.
Confirmed 2020 artists: Faith No More, Korn, Deftones, Gojira, Hacktivist.
Dates: June 26 to 28.
13. Lollapalooza Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden
In 2019 Stockholm played host for the first time to the venerable Lollapalooza Festival, joining cities like Berlin, Santiago, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Paris and more to host this musical lunatic circus.
Lollapalooza is the brainchild of legendary Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Farrell and has been expanding its global reach almost since its earliest days in 1991.
Last year Stockholm’s edition saw world-class artists like Lana Del Rey, Foo Fighters, and Chance the Rapper visit to perform in Gärdet, part of the Royal National City Park. They also offer a mini-fest for mini-rockers, and a progressive, environmentally conscious vibe.
Confirmed 2020 artists: Pearl Jam, Post Malone, Kendrick Lamar, The Killers and Ellie Goulding.
Dates: June 26 to 28.
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