Bristol Festivals – The Best Festivals in Bristol 2023
Bristol, or Brizzle as it’s often affectionately referred to by locals, has well established itself as a jewel of the west for those living in and travelling to the region. A city full of things to do and see, places to eat and drink and events to visit, it is firmly on the map as somewhere to spend time to either pass a few hours or to make a day-trip or short break out of.
One such pull is the varying events and festival in Bristol, spanning a whole host of interests and industries at all times throughout the year. The first music festival held in the region was the Ashton Court Festival which launched back in 1974, giving local artists and bands the chance to perform alongside nationally-recognised headliners. It grew throughout the years and remained free for many until government legislation was introduced resulting in security fencing and compulsory fees.
Bristol Best Festivals
Perhaps the most famous of Bristol festivals is the traditional Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, pictures and videos of which are shared worldwide amongst media outlets and publications. The annual four-day (and still free!) festival enjoys crowds of 100,000+ daily and is one of the largest such events in Europe. It’s certainly something that everyone in the UK should try and see at least once!
The Bristol Harbour Festival is another such family-friendly event gaining vast popularity, aimed at celebrating the heritage and ongoing importance of the city’s harbour and maritime industry. Festivities take place city-wide and ships and boats visit from all over the continent during this time.
The newest Bristol festival is Forwards Festival, an international music-themed event that looks to blend a cutting-edge line-up from the latest names in emerging artists with a platform for social purpose and timely debate on current affairs. Still growing and set across the Bristol Downs, this event is surely likely to prosper in the years to come.
Bristol’s Famous Festivals
There are fewer things synonymous with Bristol than the balloon fiesta and its pirating history! Check out some of the most famous of the city's festivals that draw tourists and locals alike, year on year.
If you’re looking for an event that’s city-wide and sure to have something for everyone, Bristol Harbour Festival is the place for you. Set in Bristol since 1971, when it originated as an attempt to save the city’s docks from being filled in (a success, of course!), it is typically held across a weekend either at the end of July or the beginning of August.
Traditionally themed to celebrate the heritage and importance of Bristol’s docks, harbour and maritime industry, it now has broadened a little in its horizons to offer events of all types; albeit most of them still take place quayside, or on or near the waterfront of Bristol harbour.
Venues are both on-land and not, with several sea vessels mooring nearby. Boosted by the council to engage communities across the whole city, the impact of Bristol Harbour Festival is felt everywhere locally with dance acts, interactive theatre, music gigs and international circus acts touring all over.
This is one of the most family-friendly festivals in Bristol with interactive classes and lessons for people of all ages, a dedicated children’s area and a BBC Radio Bristol stage. Entertainment of previous years has included VV Brown, DJ Derek, Beth Rowley and the Hot 8 Brass Band.
Bristol International Balloon Fiesta
The most famous Bristol festival is, of course, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. Taking place in the city’s large Ashton Court estate, this annual four-day festival remains free and is an event for hot air ballooning teams from around the world to bring their balloons and participate in mass ascents.
As many as 100 hot air balloons take off at any one time, making for a breath-taking view that simply can’t be seen anywhere else in the UK; and makes it one of the largest hot air ballooning events in Europe.
First held in 1979, this Bristol festival has grown in popularity and now attracts crowds of 100,000+ people per days.
Mass launches are scheduled twice a day (at 6am and 6pm), dependent on the weather conditions throughout the event. On the opening Thursday night of the Balloon Fiesta, the ‘Night Glow’ event sees balloons and inflate and glow to music after dark (usually about 9:30pm), followed by an impressive fireworks display.
Where weather permits, this is often repeated throughout the weekend to allow more visitors the chance to enjoy it.
The hot air balloons created for the Balloon Fiesta are made up of a variety of custom shapes, primarily made by local manufacturer Cameron Balloons who are based just down the road in Bedminster. Previous balloons have included characters such as Bertie Basset, Rupert the Bear, Stuart the Minion and a Tesco trolley!
The event used to be held in September but the autumn weather resulted in so many cancellations and delays that it has now been brought forward to an August start every year.
Bristol Light Festival
Another one of the famous and free festivals in Bristol is the Light Festival. Filling the city with colour showcasing light art, this event takes place in the evenings and nights of February when the skies are dark and this vibrant, playful art form can really shine.
Each year, the Bristol Light Festival features world premier works as well as some of the UK’s best light art talent; all set in specific locations across the city.
Visitors simply need to wander the city’s streets in the evenings to see the art come to life and take advantage of the retail and hospitality businesses in the area at the same time. Several of the installations are interactive and all are accessible to all, providing you can get out of the house to see them!
Bristol Music Festivals
The Bristol music scene is always buzzing with gigs in its many small venues. The music festivals have really taken off in recent years though with new ones emerging constantly! Take your pick of the varied options below, with something to suit everyone.
Love Saves The Day
Love Saves The Day is a Bristol music festival spanning a wide variety of music genres. Taking place at Ashton Court (the same venue as the Bristol Balloon Fiesta), it occurs over a weekend in May where the site is transformed into a festival ground set with varying stages, street food trucks and fairground rides.
Originally happening in 2012, this festival has switched locations several time to accommodate its ever-growing size and now hosts some 50,000+ people each day!
The music featured at Love Saves The Day tends to be emerging DJs and artists from urban scenes; several of which have gone on to become very famous, including Stormzy, who played his first ever festival gig here.
Team Love, who are behind the Love Saves The Day event, and AEG combined to create Forwards Festival, an inner-city music festival taking place on the Bristol Downs every September.
Across two-days, musical artists and bands play across two main stages alongside The Information; a space for activism, debate, examination and understanding on a variety of current affairs and cultural issues.
With a programme of activists, artists, writers, politicians and inspirational experts in this space, Forwards Festival provides a facility for conversation as well as music.
Dot To Dot Festival
One of the more unusual festivals in Bristol is Dot To Dot Festival, an event that takes place across various venues in the city as well as in Nottingham and Bristol.
Similar to the format of the popular Slam Dunk festival, all artists play one city on one day and travel to the others for the following days.
Dot To Dot Festival has been on pause for the last few years due to the coronavirus pandemic but is back in May 2023, taking place in harbourside venues. The line-up for 2023 includes Yard Act, Alvvays, Finn Foxell and Kofi Stone.
Just outside of Bristol in Chew Magna is Valley Fest, a music festival that’s a mix of well-known and emerging artists and chefs from the local area.
Taking place in August, this event blends street food with music for an all-encompassing experience for the tastebuds and ears.
The Kooks are set to headline the 2023 event and a variety of food experiences, classes and tasting menus have already been released for festival-goers to book onto and enjoy.
Bristol Food & Drinks Festivals
For a city with such an amazing gastronomical scene, it's no surprise that Bristol hosts a few cracking food and drink festivals! The Foodies Festival up on the Downs is our top pick, and definitely worth booking tickets for to experience some incredible cooking and to chill out with friends in the sunshine.
The Bristol edition of the chain Foodies Festival takes place in May and combines a line-up of celebrity chefs providing cooking and baking demonstrations alongside famous musical artists and bands such as Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Scouting For Girls, Toploader and Natalie Imbruglia.
Masterclasses in cooking, baking and mixology make up for a busy day for festival-goers who can dance the night away at the end of it. There’s also a bookshop on-site, a dedicated kid’s zone and a whole host of tastings to take part in!
Bristol Beer Festival
CAMRA Bristol Beer Festival takes place annually in November with 100+ beers and ciders served through City Hall, College Green.
Festival-goers don’t need to be CAMRA members to attend, although tickets are cheaper if they do, and the programme includes live music and entertainment alongside the various breweries and street food venues serving.
Tickets include a commemorative pint or half-pint glass exclusive to the event and all drinks are purchased using a drinks token system.
Bristol Comedy Gardens
Another one of the varied festivals in Bristol combing food and drink with fun is the Bristol Comedy Gardens.
Set up across the Downs every June, this event allows visitors to browse the vast selection of bars and street food vendors (all with vegetarian and vegan options, and all accepting card) before sitting down to an afternoon and evening of comedy from big names such as Nish Kumar, Aisling Bea, Suzi Ruffell, Phil Wang, Joel Dommett, Ardal O’Hanlon and Al Murray.