Lifestyle & Culture

Pohoda Festival, Slovakia’s biggest, most diverse arts & music festival, is right on Vienna’s doorstep

As summer begins to approach, it’s time to start thinking about drinking beer outside with friends, listening to live music in the open air and vacations. Fortunately, all those things can be found conveniently wrapped up in one perfect package: music festivals. And luckily for people living in Vienna, one of the best festivals I have ever attended is a short 2-hour drive across the border to a private airport in Trenčín, Slovakia, the Pohoda Festival.

“Pohoda” translates to English as “comfortable,” and despite being the largest summer music festival in Slovakia, it lives up to it’s name. Accommodating up to 30,000 people per day (with roughly two-thirds of these people camping at the festival grounds) from Wednesday to Sunday in July, the festival never feels overwhelming or too big.

Having been to both small music festivals with 5,000 and mega-festivals with 150,000 people, I really feel that 20,000-to-30,000 attendees seems to be the magic number. It is enough people to feel exciting and exhilarating, but not so many that it’s overwhelming.

Concerts and performances are full but you never feel squeezed-in, the energy is tangible but not crushing, and facilities are usually not over-used or inadequate.

Well-organized

There is a perfect balance at any festival, and Pohoda manages to achieve this balance easily. And with tickets costing 130 euros for everything, it is an amazing deal for four nights of camping, free facilities and as many concerts as you can fit in!

There are a few vital and practical elements of every festival that need to be well-organized for people to remain comfortable, safe and happy.

• Food and drinks, toilets, water, showers, quiet and safe camp grounds, and a respectful group of festival workers all need to be well-organised. Having been to many festivals in my life, Pohoda really impressed me with it’s high level of organisation in all of these things, and may be one of the best experiences I have had because of it.

• Throughout the weekend, the entire area also remained clean and free of drifting trash and seemed as if it were always really taken care of.

• There were always enough toilets available, and were cleaned and stocked with toilet paper twice a day, which doesn’t seem extremely important at a festival, until you really need it!

• Trucks with fresh water taps were parked at each toilet area, so that it was always free and easy to refill water bottles or wash your hands without waiting in line, a huge bonus in the summer heat.

• And showers! Many festivals I have been to provide showers for a price, but at Pohoda there were two large shower tents with 50 cubicles each for free, complete with free bottles of shower gel and shampoo that you could grab from baskets at the entrance.

The festival area is fairly small, so that when the music is blasting all night long, there is not much escape from all-night techno beats. However, the festival really encourages people who want to stay up all night partying to do it in the festival grounds, as everything remains open 24 hours per day.

This means those who want to drink and dance all night stay at the concerts, leaving the campsites as peaceful and (relatively) quiet areas to rest.


The workers at the festival were also a huge addition to it’s peaceful and relaxing vibe.

Chill

Slovakia has a reputation for it’s people being chilled out and friendly, and this was clearly evident from everyone working at the festival. Always happy to answer questions, lend a hand or keep people safe, the people working were lovely. There are also a few Camp Manager tents open 24/7 for anyone who needs help or guidance.

It is often the small decisions that are most impressive, and that is true at Pohoda. I was extremely impressed that at each tent or stage, the employees and security standing at the front of the crowd at concerts always had cups and bottles of water to hand out, actively encouraged people to re-hydrate and to give others enough space to cool down.

It seems like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference when keeping people safe and happy when they are partying in high summer temperatures for days.

The planning of food and drinks was also perfect. With hundreds of food trucks and stalls providing every type of food you can imagine, there were so many options that you rarely need to wait for long to get something delicious to eat for very fair prices (5 euros-to-9 euros). The bars could get busy between concerts when everyone rushed there at once, but there were enough bars set up that if one was experiencing long lines, you only had to walk five minutes to another bar to skip the wait.

And at only 2 euros for a beer, a short wait is definitely worth it!

Nick Cave at Pohoda Festival in 2023

Pop, rock and EDM

Apart from facilities and organisation, of course the other most important things that define a good festival are the musical and artistic acts and the demographic of people attending. In both ways, Pohoda lives up to the reputation it has gained over the past 27 years.

The festival has always promoted itself as a general arts festival, not simply a festival for one genre of music. Naturally, the larger stages are reserved for more popular pop, rock and electronic dance acts, but the sheer diversity of the performances was inspirational.

As someone who enjoys (nearly) all types of music, it was a pleasure to wander between the 15 stages and be surprised and delighted by being able to walk from one musical world to another.

As an example, we can take my experience on Saturday at the festival in 2023.

After leaving the campsite to head into the festival grounds at 2 p.m. until 4 a.m. the next morning, I saw:

• a Czech orchestra,

• traditional Slovak folk-music complete with a folk-dancing lesson,

• Dutch ska on top of an old school bus,

• Ethiopian big-band jazz,

• Belgian/Sierra Leone heavy-metal-trance-jazz,

• Swedish rock,

• English pop,

• American rap,

• Korean traditional music/operatic hip-hop,

• Zambian pop-swing,

•Slovakian DJ’s,

• Ukrainian modern R&B,

• a very artistic and alternative cabaret act and a mix of European dance DJ’s late into the night.

And that was just one day!

For 2024, the lineup includes big names such as red-hot Berlin-based singer/producer/DJ Peggy Gou, Queens of the Stone Age from the States and British singer James Blake. You can see the full lineup here.

Pohoda also offers many cultural programs and discussions throughout the day, although of course these are in Slovak so not especially easy to access when you don’t speak the language. There are also circus performances throughout the day, roaming stilt-walkers and jugglers, and organised children’s games inside a giant dinosaur nest complete with glowing eggs, of course!

A comfortable space for all ages

This diversity lends itself to the last element of Pohoda that makes it such a fun, comfortable experience. Unlike many other festivals, 18-35 year olds only make up 56% of the attendees. Walking around, it was clear that the festival was open to everyone from 16 to 60 years old. I also saw a huge number of families with young children, just proving that the facilities and atmosphere of the place made it a safe and comfortable space for any age.

I have been to enough festivals filled only with university-age party animals, and so it was a pleasure to be somewhere that felt so relaxed, quiet and respectful. People clearly watched out for one another, helped each other when necessary and allowed everyone to enjoy their weekend in their own way.

So, as you may be able to tell, I’m a fan.

Of course, Austria has its own festivals in the summer, but they are mostly genre-festivals or pop festivals for tens of thousands of teenagers. Pohoda offers a diverse, fun, respectful and comfortable weekend each July, just a short drive from Vienna.

For those looking for a chilled-out but inspiring festival experience, I couldn’t recommend it more.

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See more about EDM festivals for 2024 here.

See more about Slovakia here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Thom here.

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Thom Harding was born and raised in the UK and USA, sharing his time between Bath and Boston. Upon completing his studies in Art History and Painting in Florence, Thom travelled around Mexico and India before moving to New Mexico to start his career as a Primary school teacher.

After completing his MA in Education, he now lives and works in Vienna, Austria and enjoys spending his free time hiking, reading, travelling and exploring around Europe.

See more of Thom’s work here in the Dispatches archive.

You can read more about Vienna here in the Dispatches archives.

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