The Gentse Feesten is the mother of all Flanders’ festivals not just because of its size (1.2 million visitors and counting) but also because of its diversity (street theatre, live music, a puppet buskers festival, a comedy festival and more) and its price (mostly free).
But what really sets the Gentse Feesten apart is the camaraderie. Everybody appears to be happy all of the time. This has something to do with the drink, no doubt, but it’s also about tradition: It’s time for the feesten; leave your troubles at home.
The Feesten is a fun festival to discover just by wandering around, though there are annual stalwarts: If you like folk music, you can go to the Baudelo Park where you’ll be surrounded by adults sporting dreadlocks who juggle and dance jigs. Baudelo is the place to go to escape the madness of the Feesten, with its traditional Turkish tea tent, its little stage devoted to kids’ circus acts and its dance lessons, where you, too, can learn to boogie in all kinds of styles.
For something a bit more wild, head for the exotic cocktail bars that line the Polé Polé Festival on both sides of the Graslei/Korenlei canal (pictured). Salsa, African, Latin, reggae, the whole world music scene is at your feet on a stage that bridges the two sides of the water.
The Vooruit hosts the tech fest 10 Days Off, the Kouter square is where you’ll find alt-rock space Boomtown, there are brass bands at Sint-Baafs, the Groentemarkt stages cover bands, and in the garden of the Huis van Alijn Museum, you’ll usually find a sing-along in Dutch dialect.
And you will find, remarkably, all ages everywhere. Because if there was ever a time when Flemish teenager find themselves wanting to sing 19th-century drinking songs with their granddads, it’s at the Gentse Feesten. This festival is a joy for young or old, for those who love or hate cover bands, for Gentenaars and for everyone else.