North Sea Jazz Festival

For more than 30 years, the North Sea Jazz Festival has been one of the liveliest festivals in Europe, brining the whole international world of jazz to Holland. After being held in The Hague since its beginnings in 1976, the North Sea Jazz Festival relocated to Rotterdam in 2006 and, incredibly, became even more popular – with visitors and artists alike.

North Sea Jazz festival
Photo Credit: Thomas Faivre-Duboz

The brainchild of jazz aficionado Paul Acket, the first festival set a standard that was to prove inspirational for the years to come, with more than 9,000 spectators. Now, during the second week in July each year, you can expect there to be around 70,000 of them – with about 1300 performers at fifteen first class venues, during the festival’s three days. It would be no exagerration to suggest that most of the jazz community’s greatest names have played the Festival at least once – Count Basie, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald and so many more.

The diversity of the North Sea Jazz Festival is such that, alongside the acknowledged ‘greats’ of the genre, the music on offer can cover a vast range of styles. It is common for blues, hip hop, soul, gospel – even drum and bass – to be showcased here. The performances take place simultaneously on the various stages within the festival venue – Ahoy. This impressive three – storey purpose built festival complex is a magnificent arena, allowing access between the various stages.

As well as concerts, however, festival-goers can be sure of a range of workshops, exhibitions, children’s activities and, of course, a plethora of food and merchandising outlets.

Although the festival itself is a three day event, it is always preceded by the North Sea Jaz Gala, which acts as an opening concert. Additionally, in what has become known as North Sea Round Town, visitors will find many jazz related events going on in the city itself before, during and after the programmed three festival days.

All of the excellent jazz on offer and traditional Dutch hospitality helped the festival to be voted ‘the best in Europe’ by the American Jazz magazine.

Tickets for the North Sea Jazz Festival normally go on sale at the beginning of May each year and are available on the festival website. It is possible to buy single day tickets, 3 day tickets and also tickets that gain admission to some of the ‘supplementary’ concerts held. As the programme is very detailed and such a lot of activities take place, visitors are advised to carefully select the ticket option that would be most appropriate for their particular needs.

Rotterdam, of course, is one of Europe’s most accessible cities – by sea and air. Ferry travellers can sail directly from Hull or alternatively go to the Hook of Holland which is only a short drive or train journey from Rotterdam. Although Rotterdam airport is quite small, there are some direct flights from the United Kingdom but the Schiphol airport at Amsterdam is only an hour away from the city by rail. Road links with northern Holland and northern France through Belgium are also very straightforward and many visitors to the city like to travel through the Cross Channel tunnel and then drive up.

The official festival website has links with hotels and hostels with which it has an association and there are many good places to stay in and around the city.

If you decide to travel to Rotterdam by car then you might still be advised to travel into the festival itself by public transport. There is limited parking around Ahoy but the venue is situated on more than 30 bus lines and is quite close to Zuidplein station on the Erasmuslijn on the subway system – which operates until 3.30 in the morning at festival time.

With some of the best jazz in the world – and in the country with some of the best beer – the North Sea Jazz Festival looks set to remain one of Europe’s favourite events.

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