So you’re sick of rainy, cold UK festivals and want to make the leap to visit four-time winner of the International Live Music Conference’s (ILMC) ‘best festival in the world’. I don’t blame you. Why wouldn’t you want good food, good weather and most of all, good music?
But, like the wise soul you are, you want to be prepared so you’re not caught off guard in another country. Search for Rock Werchter and you’ll find outdated WordPress blogs and useless information from 2016. Fear no more, for we have filtered through the rubbish to provide you with the ultimate guide to Belgium’s biggest festival. From tents to toilets, to handy gig tricks and food recommendations, we’ve got it all (you’re welcome).
There are a number of ways to get to the festival site, be it by train, plane or car, so it’s worth exploring all options to work out the cheapest for you. The lovely people at Rock Werchter have made our lives easier because each festival ticket includes free parking and a free return train ticket from most stations in Brussels to Leuven.
Because of this, my friends and I decided it was cheapest to take the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Brussels Midi/Zuid/South (they’re just different names for the same station). From there we got the train to Leuven as it was free, and then the icing on the cake – Rock Werchter supply free shuttle buses from Leuven station to the festival site, so we hopped on one and saved a fortune!
Where to get the train from Brussels Midi is not entirely clear but Google Maps was pretty accurate, so we managed to hop on the first train stopping at Leuven. The whole journey was 30 mins and about 3/4 stops. When you reach Leuven, everything is clearly signposted, so if you just head towards the bus station outside and look for signs to Rock Werchter you should be able to find it naturally (if not then the station staff will be able to help you out).
I cannot stress the importance of packing lightly here. As we had to carry drinks and food on top of our other luggage, I was very much close to collapsing due to the heat/weight of it all. The shuttle bus from Leuven to the campsites is approx 30 mins, and then the walk to the festival site is another 10/15 mins but it felt like an hour. If you’re staying in the Hive Resort, you have to be bag searched for glass bottles and get checked in to your tent before you arrive so bear that in mind when bringing drinks.
The Hive Resort (Pre-Pitched Tents)
Since the idea of lugging my own tent through Belgium wasn’t too appealing, my friends and I paid just under 200 EUR each for a pre-pitched 4 man tent for 5 nights. This worked out at 40 EUR per night each. This may seem costly for just a tent, but this price puts you in The Hive Resort.
The Hive Resort is the camping area reserved for pre-pitched army tents, teepees and 2/4 man tents run by Festitent (you can check out their website for a complete range of their tent options). The resort has a quaint dining area/bar, communal hammocks, shower cubicles, morning yoga (yes, you heard right) and best of all, portaloos that are regularly cleaned with a constant supply of toilet roll!!!
There is also the option for lockers to rent for up to 6 days. Unfortunately it’s first come, first served and you can’t book a deposit in advance but it shouldn’t be that pushed for space in the Resort. Your best bet is sharing a small locker which also conveniently comes with a charging port (although the plug socket is European so make sure you have your adapter at the ready). We paid 35 EUR for 6 days, so not unreasonable at all!
The weather fluctuates from really hot during the day to chilly at night, so make sure you pack for all weathers. Our tent started to get scorching hot at around 10am so you kinda have to be prepared for cold nights and hot mornings (the best combo). There were also some thunderstorms forecast for the day we arrived too, so bear that in mind when you’re packing.
The Hive (Regular Camping)
Now as I wasn’t staying in this section I can’t tell you too much about it, but if you were to bring your own tent, you’d be placed in The Hive, which is a short walk down the road from the Hive Resort. This is your standard communal space of land dedicated for your own tent. Get there early to get a good spot because by 4pm the day before the festival, the queues are HELL. Most of all, pack lightly because you’ll be walking in the Belgian heat (don’t underestimate it!).
The entertainment/restaurants are better than the Hive Resort so if you’re staying in the Resort, you can just walk 2 minutes across the road to the Hive and enjoy some temporary tattoo stands, a camping shop, several food trucks, a confusingly named bar/restaurant called Waxbar, and an indoor big screen.
Rock Werchter prides itself in a wide variety of food stretching from Chinese and to Belgian. There are plenty of food stalls, even some on the walk to the festival park, so you don’t ever have to worry about going hungry! The food options are better in the festival park than both Hives, so would be worth trying to eat in the festival park if you can, although restaurants in the Hive Resort and the Hive are still great. You’re limited to food in the Hive Resort as it only has one main bar/restaurant whereas the Hive has several food trucks as well as a main bar/restaurant.
The festival encourages payment by their own food tokens and this works out cheaper if you buy several in advance. 1 food token is worth 2.50 EUR and most meals are on average 3/4 food tokens. My friends and I had 40 tokens so we spent 100 EUR on food before we arrived, and this all lasted our entire stay. Of course, this depends on how much food and drink you’re intending to buy in the festival site but you can always keep costs low by drinking in your campsite as opposed to the festival park. You can also buy tokens when you get to the festival, but this is 2.75 if you pay by card and 3 if you pay by cash.
The main festival park is quite a bit out of the way from the campsites, so make sure you bear this in mind when you’re getting ready to see a popular act. The walk from both campsites to the festival park is a minimum of 15 minutes (potentially even longer if you walk slowly in the heat) so be prepared!
The Rock Werchter organisers have been quite smart and the areas closest to the stage have been sectioned off so only a certain amount of people can enter. There will be gates to enter the two front sections of the stage with stewards in charge of letting people in.
These sections will have a green arrow above them when you are able to enter and then a red X when the standing area has reached full capacity. So if you want to get a good spot for your favourite headliner, I would recommend going a minimum of 30 mins-1 hr before they start (the left hand side is the best spot). Although, the Belgian crowd are super tame compared to us rowdy Brits, so it’s never really that much of an issue.
As it’s the main stage, you can still get quite a good view from a distance and there are always at least two TV screens to see the acts so it’s not as much of an issue getting a good view than it is in The Barn and Klub C.
The Barn is an indoor arena, reserved for the somewhat established acts who are big, but not big enough to take main stage. 2018 included the likes of Khalid, Post Malone, George Ezra and Ben Howard.
The only major criticism I would have of this festival is that each act reaches full capacity very quickly, and as you can see, the red Xs on the door means that you can’t even think about entering the arena to see your favourite act. This rule applies to all stages apart from the Slope.
For other festivals with completely open-air stages, this isn’t an issue at all but at Werchter, you can forget about seeing the last song of a set if you want to see another musician in another venue immediately after. For the main stage this is understandable, but for an already stretched indoor venue this is an awful idea. Festivals are all about exploring new acts and going in and out of gigs!
However, if you can’t get in, there is a big screen next to the stage where you can sit on the bleachers, so all hope is not lost. This screen alternates between acts in KluB C and the Barn depending on timing/who’s on so you can still sit on the grass and enjoy the music.
Reserved for the up-and-coming young musicians, KluB C (another indoor venue) was probably my favourite. As a fan of the more intimate gig, the size was not as overwhelming as the Barn and as most acts that performed there were not too big, some of the time you could still get in about 15 mins before your act starting. In 2018 this stage played host to Anne Marie, Craig David Presents TS5, CHVRCHES and Sigrid, as well as a wide range of others.
The Slope is a literal slope covered with fake grass that overlooks the whole festival park and is a great place to sit and chill in-between acts (but good luck finding a spot).
On the other side of the Slope is a stage where small time acts play in the ‘food court’ area. This stage is essentially for those who are catching a bite to eat and want to watch an act. Although, one notable performer of the Slope this year was Wolf Alice, so it’s still one to look out for.
Rock on, Werchter!
All in all, we had an amazing time at the festival and saw some brilliant acts. This multi genre festival truly has something for everyone and it is honestly one of the best organised festivals you could attend. Props to the Belgians and roll on 2019!
If you’re planning to go to Werchter next year and have any other burning questions, Tweet or slide into my DMs (@funkycrimee) and I’d be more than happy to help.