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Once a year, thousands of metalheads descend on a sleepy Flemish hamlet to attend one of Europe’s largest and most famous metal festivals, the Graspop Metal Meeting. For four days, the whole area thunders as the countryside is given over to hundreds of tents serving beer, merchandise, and entertainment. Fans from all over the world come to see many of the largest acts across the metal spectrum. I hope that this guide gives you all that you need to know about attending the Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium.
Getting to Graspop
The Graspop Metal Meeting is a yearly event in the countryside of north Belgium outside of the small town of Dessel, in an area called Stenehei. The area is remote, which makes getting there something you should think about well ahead of time.
The town is not serviced by regular public transportation. The closest accessible town is Mol, which can be reached by train. From there, it is possible to catch one of the festival buses provided specially for the event. The easiest city to come from is Antwerp, however, it is also possible to come from Leuven via Lier or Hasselt.
It is far more convenient to drive yourself. Graspop provides ample parking space for those who choose to commute in. The roads surround Dessel are all marked with large orange signs directed traffic to various fields where you may leave your car.
Lastly, it is possible to bike into Stenehei. The area is bike friendly and large amounts of space is set aside for bike parking. This is especially attractive if you are staying nearby.
Once you have arrived in Stenehei, you will likely have to walk some distance to reach the entrance. This can be easily accomplished by following other people. Closer to the entrance, columns with information will be erected to better guide you. However, memorize your route carefully if you drove. When you leave, you will have to navigate the countryside in the dark and there are many, many fields used for parking.
Finally, you will have to a large and well marked opening that signals the entrance to the main grounds. There is an outer layer of official vendors selling merchandise, food, and drinks. Then there is a layer of security past which are the stages (Note: the security is fairly serious and items like bags will likely be searched).
Where to stay near Graspop
There are only small towns surrounding the venue, so accommodations fill up quickly in the surrounding town. Book your hotel early if you don’t want to camp or commute from a further city.
Camping is also an option for those looking for a semi-budget accommodation. If you don’t have your own tent, the cost of camping per night was about 80 euros per night.
My wife ended up finding us cheap accomodations across the border in the Dutch city of Eindhoven, which was a forty minute drive. (Click for tips for visiting Eindhoven.) If you prefer to stay in a bigger city and don’t mind commuting, you can also commute from Antwerp. (Click for tips for visiting Antwerpen.)
What to expect inside Graspop
The stages of Graspop
Graspop has two main stages where major acts alternate. These stages are easy to locate as they are the centerpiece of the main grounds and draw the largests crowds.
In addition, there are three other stages. There is another open air stage that caters to more mainstream rock and roll audiences and two covered stages catering to more niche tastes.
Distinguishing between the two covered stages was a source of frustration to me. They were not clearly marked and I wanted to know which was which ahead of time so that I could be close to the stage for the first set. I was able to finally figure out which was which by looking at other people’s shirts.
Attractions and entertainment
Although you may be here to hear music, Graspop goes out of its way to make sure you are never bored. There are several tents dedicated to games as well as an area where guests can drive bumper cars. A ferris wheel is also set up. Much of it seems repurposed from your average carnival, but with metal iconography slapped on.
Food and drinks at Graspop
The walk to the entrance ends with a large spattering of tents that pop up serving food, and more importantly, beer. Many people stop here to eat and drink as the prices are lower than inside of the main grounds. These places accept cash exclusively, so come prepared.
Inside the main grounds, payment is done via tokens (called munten in Dutch). These can be purchased inside the main grounds at booths via cash or card. It is also possible to purchase them ahead of time with your ticket. They can then be picked up when you enter the first time.
The is a large selection of food to choose from, both inside and out. There really isn’t much to say except that there is something for everyone, and prices are predictably inflated.
Beer is sold in vast quantities. Although you are in Belgium, this is not the place to be choosy about your beer: the selection is basic.
After you’ve had your first few beers (or water), you will find the need to venture inside one of the bathroom areas. This is not pleasant. The areas are typically overcrowded, with agitated people crowded together trying to get access to some facility.
There is a garden of stand up urinals (each of which can accommodate four people) and behind them are rows of port-o-potties. The stench is putrid and even standing close to the entrance of this area is not recommended.
As the festival wears on, many find it more appealing to go and relieve themselves in the bushes surrounding the grounds rather than navigating the crowds and smells.
Choosing your ticket
Graspop last for four days and offers different tickets depending on which days you wish to attend. Not all combinations are possible of course, but they do a good job in giving you options. It is important to know that tickets will sell out very quickly, especially those that aren’t the full festival tickets. I purchased the full festival ticket after I was unable to purchase the weekend ticket.
While the bands are announced well ahead of time, their schedules are not finalized until just before the tickets become available. You will have to keep a close eye on the website and make your decision quickly.
Typically, the biggest acts are on Saturday and Sunday night. The acts stay on until 1 or 2 am, so it may be prudent to plan to take off work on that following Monday.
Choosing which acts to see at Graspop
As previously mentioned there are four stages, including two main stages. As usual, the major acts alternate between the two main stages to give their crew more time to erect their large sets.
There are three other stages and the schedules for each stage overlap. Choose which bands you want to see ahead of time and hopefully two of them aren’t playing at the same time.
I spent most of my time at the covered stage dedicated to extreme metal where I saw Vader, SepticFlesh, At the Gates, and Bloodbath. I also went to the main stage to see Arch Enemy, Kreator, and Iron Maiden. I unfortunately missed Ozzy as he played late at night and I needed to drive back to my accomodations. I never went to the other outside stage which showcased bands like Limp Bizkit.