9 Bristol Festivals You Need To Attend
Harbour Festival – July
Bristol’s historic harbour is decked out in bunting, but no one on the waterfront escapes the gay abandon in which banners, flags and fairy lights decorate the house boats and old sailing boats that line the waterway. Traditionally, this weekend long festival celebrates Bristol’s historic harbour which was once a major port for everything from food to slave trading (although the later is definitely no longer celebrated) as well as the city’s most famous pirate: Black Beard.
The festival itself features several stages set up along the banks of the river, in Queens Square and Castle Park to promote local musicians as well as dance acts, comedians and poets. An area designated to children teaches circus skills, art work and inflatables, whereas for the adults there are hundreds of food stalls, local crafts and outside bars to enjoy. Definitely one to visit during the day as it can get a bit crazy at night, and if you get a bit lost just look for one of the organisers that dress up as pirates for the event!
Balloon Fiesta – August
Probably Bristol’s most famous festival. Set in the historic estate of Ashton Court on the outskirts of the city, crowds flock to this festival to see the morning ascent, night glow (tethered balloons lighting up flames in time to music), and firework display. The festival isn’t just about the balloons, there is a small fairground, and of course plenty of food and drink on offer.
For those not wanting to fight through the crowds to get to Ashton Court a popular spot (and my particular favourite) is to take a bbq up to the Observatory in Clifton and watch the balloons and fireworks over the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge. This area has a much more relaxed atmosphere and plenty of people bring a frisbee and a couple of drinks with them to relax in the sun.
Grillstock – July
What can I say about Bristol’s barbeque festival? If you like your smoked meat in large quantities and served with a good dose of American soul then this is the place for you. Grillstock seeks to bring out the competitive eater within, with contests in hot wings, hot dogs, and an overall eating competition, you best arrive hungry. The competition doesn’t end there, with a King of the Grill, and competitive bbq team categories for those looking to prove themselves as a pitmaster as well as a battle of the bands, there is a competition for everyone. Music features heavily at Grillstock’s’ two stages, with great performers such as The Darkness and Hayseed Dixie on the main stage last year.
St Paul’s Carnival
St Paul’s is Bristol’s Caribbean carnival that used to attract a huge crowd, not only from the large Caribbean community in Bristol, but from the whole city. The afternoon procession featuring extravagant costumes and local schools starts off the festivities by snaking its way through what was once one of the most misunderstood areas of the city. Street vendors selling generous portions of curried goat and jerk chicken (as well as food from all over the world), coconuts filled with rum, and other Caribbean delicacies can be found all around Portland Square, albeit that a number of locals sell their own version from their porches. Music stages play a range of funky beats late into the night, and the party continues into the small hours.
In recent years costs have escalated (most likely to the increased costs in policing and clearing up afterwards), and as it is run as a charity reliant on donations it has not been able to run the last couple of years. Each year there is a promise that the next they will be back bigger and better than before. Fingers crossed they do, as if the carnival ever makes its way back to Bristol’s streets, you can bet I will be there!
Foodies Festival – May
Despite the frustratingly few Michelin starred restaurants in the city, Bristolians all seem to be obsessed with food. This gastronomic delight brings in top chefs from around the country for demonstrations, advice and of course to cook for the thousands of visitors that are attracted. As with all things in Bristol, there is a large focus on local producers and they are always out in force to showcase their food. Of course it would be silly for it to be entirely about food, alcohol is important here too. The festival showcases a number of local breweries and the likes of local gin distillery Psychopomp. All in all it is a great place to get inspired.
Dot to Dot – May
Dozens of venues dotted around the city open their doors to local and national artists in a one wristband to see all deal. Top venues such as Thekla, Mr Wolfs, O2 Academy, The Fleece, The Lanes and Bierkeller host the one day event in the city centre. As a result of the multi-venue approach this festival attracts musicians from all genre’s, with each venue catering for a different audience, and equally attracts a diverse crowd of music lovers.
Love Saves The Day – May
Wow has this grown in recent years! A small music festival that started off in Castle Park (until the rain and large crowds one year washed away all the grass and the Council got a bit annoyed) has found its new home in Eastville. Now a nationally recognised festival it attracts the likes of Fat Freddy’s Drop to bring some awesome summer beats. It truly is one of those feel good festivals where everyone is there to have a good time, unlike some of the bigger music festivals that are now as synonymous with gas canister fires and riot-like behaviour. Keeping it local, Love saves the Day is part of the Love Saves group that also run a number of venues in the city, like the Love Inn on Stokes Croft, and this mindfulness of what is good for the local community means the festival attracts the local crowd.
Pride – June/July
Bristol has always celebrated being a diverse city that welcomes everyone from all walks of life. Pride here is a big deal, and is growing massively each year. The parade of rainbows proudly stream around town before heading down the main party area.
The amphitheatre and Millennium Square area of the harbour side is transformed into a multicoloured frenzy of activity, designed to create a relaxed family friendly atmosphere that encourages people to just be themselves.
Pride is also probably one of the best nights out you will have in Bristol, with everyone still in a very inclusive mindset, people from all areas of the community party together. LGBT+ clubs such as the Queen Shilling and OMG are of course packed with party goers, and the entertainment there reflects the whole day, with drag queens and transgender cabaret acts, the official after party is at the O2 Academy with a Day+Night wristband.
Upfest – July
In a city famed for its graffiti, particularly the works of local artist Banksy, it is no surprise that the city comes out in force to celebrate the artwork that adorns so much of the centre of the city. In recent years the graffiti has changed from a few large scale pieces and a lot of tagging to commissioned graffiti style shop fronts and frequently changing political work. From large scale photo-realistic paintings, to conceptual murals there is a diverse range in styles, and much like going to a gallery there is something for everyone. Upfest celebrates this Bristolian tradition of showing its feelings on its walls with Europe’s largest free festival based around the Bedminster area south of the river. Watch local artists create new pieces, explore the meaning behind existing work and get involved yourself in special workshops. This is a festival for all the family to appreciate art in a less stuffy way. To top it all off local musicians amp up the atmosphere and bring a real carnival feeling.