Festival-adoring Belgium usually has something for everyone, and this upcoming summer is no different. Music-wise, the tiny nation enjoys an embarrassment of riches with fairytale DJ universe Tomorrowland, the festival whale that’s Rock Werchter, and separate, more snug occasions such as Jazz Middelheim and Reggae Geel. Add a tapas festival, plenty of parades, and a wacky bathtub regatta, and you’ve got yourself one doozy of a summer.
Late June – Early July
European festival mammoth and artist favorite Rock Werchter combines nostalgia-inducing headliners (Linkin Park, Blink 182, Dropkick Murphys) with fresh Belgian talent (Warhaus, Tout Va Bien, Bazart) and established singer-songwriters (James Blake, Passenger) this year. The festival grounds are only accessible from Thursday onwards, but in recent years, festivalgoers with a camping pass have started kicking off the party by dancing the night away at campsite DJ temple “The Hive.”
2017 date: Thursday, June 29th until Sunday, July 2nd
A cruel dilemma presents itself to the Belgian festival fan every year: will they attend Rock Werchter or Couleur Café? While Rock Werchter is the bigger name here, the lively Couleur Café in Brussels never fails to put together a diverse counter-program that this year includes the soulful, angel-voiced Lianne La Havas and turntable greats Birdy Nam Nam. The new venue for 2017, which is in the shadow of the Atomium, promises renewed energies, excellent R&B and hip-hop acts, and, as always, killer food trucks with flavors from across the globe.
2017 date: Friday, June 30th until Sunday, July 2nd
Brussels’ medieval splendor increases a thousandfold during the Ommegang, the annual procession and festival remembering the glorious welcome that was given to Emperor Charles V and his son Philip II in 1549. For four days, a medieval village with barbers and blacksmiths, a jousting tournament and over 1,000 extras in period garb turn back the clock. The reenactment parades on Wednesday and Friday are the absolute highlights, and you’ll need tickets to attend.
2017 date: Wednesday, July 5th until Saturday July 8th
For the 174th time, games, theater and music will fill the streets of Ghent this summer. Over the course of 10 days, over 360 spots dotted all over town will host festivities from children’s juggling classes in the park to fireworks exploding above the city’s charming canals to lively musical acts on the historic squares.
2017 date: Friday July 14th until Sunday July 23rd
Convivial, family-friendly, internationally inclined and even free, Sfinks Mixed is all about inclusivity. The festival runs thanks to the willpower of about 1,500 volunteers, and the acts range from contemporary Brazilian pop to psychedelic chamber music. The humming market overflowing with sandals, bright-colored scarves and the fragrances of simmering tajines is a pleasant maze in which to wander around for an hour or two.
2017 date: Thursday, July 27th until Sunday, July 30th
For all its glory as the world’s largest electronic music festival, Tomorrowland’s strongest feature must be the fairytale universe it manages to create for its guests—or “the People of Tomorrow”—time and again. Just a little over a decade in, the decadent festival now boasts stages shaped like enormous dragons and hosts all of the current DJ gods. Party flights from abroad are organized to make traveling to the venue an experience unto its own, and tickets (always artifacts with a story attached) sell out like hotcakes on their release.
2017 dates: July 21st–23rd and July 28th–30th
Beselare Witch Parade
The West-Flemish town of Beselare has traditionally been a bubbling cauldron of sorcerer’s stories, and during the biannual Heksenstoet (“Witch Parade”), the villagers celebrate their history of magical folklore with gusto. Present witches range from Sefa Bubbels, the town’s “head witch,” to local families who have dressed up as scary or cartoonish witches for the occasion and ride on castle-shaped floats. After the parade, witches are burned at the stake, and fireworks are lit to celebrate the end of a wicked day.
2017 date: Sunday, July 30th
Jazz Middelheim in the idyllic park of the Den Brandt Castle in Antwerp qualifies as one of Europe’s leading jazz festivals and has long been an opportunity for fans of the genre to come and enjoy soothing tunes in a romantic setting. The festival features both upcoming talents as well as international fixtures, and this year, the new organization has managed to snag living saxophone legend Charles Lloyd, his Marvels, and Northern Irish blues man Van Morrison.
2017 date: Thursday, August 3rd until Sunday, August 6th
A semi-large festival with all the laid-back summer vibes you could hope for, Reggae Geel is where people bring their own hammocks to hang around in the woods while reggae music blares out of the speakers. Europe’s oldest reggae festival (turning 39 this year) has a knack for bringing together multiple generations, as well as a high number of rasta caps and dreadlocks.
2017 date: Friday, August 4th until Saturday, August 5th
On the first Sunday of August, Leuven turns into a foodie’s playground as part of the historic student town’s summer program. All along the Muntstraat alley (the city’s gastronomic heart), the Tiensestraat, the Hogeschool Square, and the Grote Markt Square, an army of stalls serve up all sorts of tapas and snacks, with nothing costing more than five euros. On the Oude Market Square, special beer tastings are on the menu, and entertainment-wise, the traditional bartender’s race never disappoints.
2017 date: Sunday, August 6th
As a city with an eye for aesthetics, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Antwerp’s Pride is Fabulous with a capital “F” (they even have a “Fabulous Monday”). The year 2017 marks the gleeful event’s 10th birthday, so expect a rainbow party bigger and better than ever. The actual parade takes place on “Glorious Saturday,” while “Magnificent Sunday” takes over the city’s main market square for a series of DJ-led dance parties.
2017 date: Wednesday August 9th until Sunday, August 13th
A look back at a great Antwerp Pride 2016. Enjoy! #loveunited
Posted by Antwerp Pride on Wednesday, August 17, 2016
International Bathtub Regatta
The Régate de Baignoires in Belgium’s riverside Ardennes town of Dinant is not all whimsey, though there’s plenty of that too. Racing a bunch of old bathtubs without motors on them down the river Meuse is hard work. Perhaps the most joy comes from being a not-so-passive onlooker since they are allowed to impede the process of the dressed-up sailing crews and their makeshift “boats” by throwing water balloons at them. Though it doesn’t matter much who crosses the finish line first, the prize goes to the team that has put together the most original and beautiful boat, with extra points for matching outfits. The whole thing is a delightful, water-soaked mess, really.
2017 date: Tuesday, August 15th
Meuse river banks, kickoff at the Grand Casino of Dinant
Eight stages rich and four days long, Pukkelpop is August’s biggest Belgian ticket. Mumford & Sons, The xx, Editors, Chance the Rapper, London Grammar, Halsey, and Flume will be heading up 2017’s edition, and even though this list rings all of the bells, the festival remains a go-to for new discoveries, at least to those willing to step out of their comfort zone. Besides the main stage, there’s the “Boiler Room” for sweltering beats and “Booth” for promising new DJ talent. “Lift” will be tackling a different genre of music every day, and in total, 200 acts will be performing during the festival. There are “secret rooms” hidden on the grounds, pink inflatable churches to dance in, and a Food Wood filled with fairy lights and a plethora of quality food trucks.
2017 date: Wednesday, August 16th until Saturday, August 19th