The EuroWhat? Podcast

We are a pair of Americans trying to make sense of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Things to Know When You Go to Eurovision

"Are you thinking about going to Eurovision 2018? Here are some tips to maximize your ESC experience.

I was fortunate enough to attend this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv, Ukraine. Kyiv proved to be a capable host, but it's understandable how Americans interested in going might have been intimidated by the prospect -- there's no real direct way to get to Kyiv and current foreign policy with Russia added a layer of excitement that had me bookmark the most direct route to the embassy.

Now that we know Eurovision 2018 will be in Portugal, here are some tips you can use to prepare for your first Eurovision experience.

1. Figure out your itinerary

My trip to Kyiv doubled as my honeymoon, so we decided to make it a European adventure. We flew into Budapest and spent a couple days there. We took the train up to Vienna, Austria, stayed there for the weekend, then took the train to Bratislava, Slovakia. We took a short flight from Bratislava to Kyiv in time for the first semi-final and stayed through the end of Eurovision weekend.

Not only did we get to experience four European countries in a single go, we saved a little bit of money, too. Budapest is inexpensive thanks to a favorable exchange rate.((Hungary is part of the European Union, but does not use the Euro.)) Ukraine also has a favorable exchange rate, meaning our jaunt through the Euro lands was the only pricey part of the trip. We also booked AirBnBs in most of our stops, which helped to keep costs low.

Careful sleuthing on travel sites like Kayak and Skyscanner should be able to help you hopscotch around the continent. Our flight from Bratislava to Kyiv was through the discount airline Wizz Air, which we would happily fly again.

2. Don't stress about tickets

Every year there are stories about how the Eurovision host's ticket site crashes or other major user frustrations. There's always the fear of the event being sold out, but remember that tickets are released in waves. The Grand Final will be the hottest ticket, but the semi-final shows are just as amazing.

Consider this: the first-semi final will likely be attended by the die hard Eurovision fans who purposely take off a week from work to go to the event. A good-sized crowd will be in attendance, but it is very unlikely the event will sell out completely. The second semi-final will mostly feature folks who decide to make a long weekend of Eurovision. Attendance will be greater than the first semi-final, but snagging tickets should still be a possibility.

3. Get tickets for EuroClub

EuroClub is the Eurovision night club and fan zone. During the day the venue hosts an internet cafe featuring visits from the performers and delegations. In the evenings the venue becomes a dance hall with DJs spinning all the fun Eurovision tracks. EuroClub is also where the afterparty happens after each live show, so you will likely cut a rug with the qualifiers.

The good news: you only need to buy one ticket for EuroClub. You'll receive a lanyard or wristband that will give you access for the remainder of the Contest. We were only able to attend once, but even that was worth the price of admission.

4. Chat up people in queue

Lines will happen at Eurovision, either at security, in the restrooms, or at the bar. You can rest assured that whoever is standing in front of or behind you is just as much of a Eurovision fan as you. The overall event is similar to a ComicCon or other fan convention((including cosplay)), so you know your conversation partner will have something in common with you. Some good intro questions:

  • What country are you from?
  • Which songs are you rooting for?
  • Have you been to Eurovision before?
  • What was your first Eurovision?

Keep in mind, if you are an American you will be a unicorn. Be prepared to explain how on earth you know about Eurovision and perhaps offer a theory or two about how to spread the gospel of the Contest when you get back to the States. You don't need to be a supernerd about the Contest -- those in attendance range from one step above casual fan and superfan.

When we were queued up for the first semi-final, the people behind us struck up a conversation when they heard our conversation in English and we ended up hanging out for the rest of the evening. They also offered tips (like going to EuroClub) to enhance our experience. One of the people in the group also marveled at my ability to sing along with the music. Speaking of...

5. Sing along to the music

One of my favorite moments of the entire Eurovision experience happened in the restroom at Euroclub.((This is safe for work.)) A short line had formed outside the stalls and the DJ had put on "Loin d'Ici" from last year's Contest. There were probably four or five guys in the restroom at this point, all quietly singing along to themselves.

I have no idea where these folks were from, but there is something profoundly awesome about folks from all over the world converging in a restroom in Kyiv singing along to the same song. This feeling also happened while waiting for the first semi-final to start, with folks of all backgrounds and experiences sharing this common language.

It's not too early to start planning for next year's Eurovision Song Contest. Hope to see you there!"