Bristol has more festivals than you can shake your sparkly neon tail-feather at and if you’re into that kind of thing (which I am) then you’ll be spoilt for choice – especially in the summer months. There are tons of family-friendly festivals all year round, celebrating everything from hot air balloons to maritime Bristol, and the best part is, most of them are free to enter! Here’s my round up of the best family-friendly Bristol festivals to look forward to in 2020.
Family-friendly Bristol Festivals 2020
Slapstick Festival: Harry Hill’s Kidz Show – how to be funny for kids (26 January)
The UK’s biggest celebration of silent and vintage screen comedy arrives in January to cheer up the most miserable winter month. While the festival’s events are mostly aimed at adults (with comedy superstars Rob Brydon, Stephen Merchant and Bill Oddie among the hilarity heroes featured on the line-up), Harry Hill will be entertaining young wannabe gagsters in a live Show & Tell created especially for ages 6-16s and their families. Expect plenty of gags, slapstick tomfoolery and custard pies.
WokyFest (25 January)
WokyFest is Woky Ko’s Chinese New Year celebration at Wapping Wharf on Bristol’s Harbourside. 2020 marks the Chinese year of the rat – expect delicious Asian street food, music and a traditional Chinese Lion Dance.
Bristol Light Festival (27 February-1 March)
A brand new annual event on the city’s festival calendar, organised by Bristol City Centre BID. The Bristol Light Festival will be bringing colour, light and play to six city centre spaces with a series of commissions from local and internationally-renowned artists.
Pink Enchantment by Tine Bech Studio, image from Reykjavik City Hall Bridge, Iceland
Festival of Nature (24 April-7 June)
The UK’s largest free celebration of the natural world takes place in Millennium Square, Queen Square and Anchor Square. Discover how you can take action for nature through free family fun (think seed planting, clay model-making), hands-on activities, performances (such as live outdoor puppet shows) and free talks, plus local stalls selling eco-friendly wares and lots more.
Eat drink Bristol Fashion (2-3 May)
From Josh Eggleton (Michelin-starred Pony & Trap chef), Valley Fest (creators of super family-friendly Bristol festival) and Team Love (Love Saves the Day and The Downs Festival) comes this exciting foodie-focused festival in Castle Park. As well as live music from local acts and DJs, producers’ stalls, School of Food workshops and a banqueting tent with some thrilling collaborations, there’ll also be a range of kids’ activities on offer.
Bath Festival Finale Weekend (23-24 May)
Taking place at Bath Recreation Ground, a beautiful setting with views over Bath and the surrounding countryside, and withing walking distance of Bath Spa train station (so easy peasy if you’re coming from Bristol). As well as live music (including headliners McFly and UB40) there’ll be spoken word events, street theatre and a Kids Zone with live entertainment, crafts, storytelling and workshops to keep younger festival-goers happy.
Upfest (30 May – 1 June)
Europe’s largest live street art and graffiti festival returns from its fallow year, and with an additional venue – Greville Smyth Park. The huge walls and murals normally painted by over 250 artists over the course of the festival weekend, will be created in the two weeks leading up to Upfest; allowing more people a chance to watch the spectacular creations come to life. As well as live music stages and food and drink stalls, there’s always plenty for families (aside from the spectacle of watching artists at work), including kids workshops, a Posca doodle wall, dedicated Nacoa kids’ area where children can partake in all things sticky and colourful, badge making, face painting and creating huge pictures.
Image credit – Upfest
The Dig For Victory Show, Ashton Court Estate(13-14 June)
This 1940s family festival is coming to Ashton Court in June 2020 and bringing with it food, fun, dancing, live music, vintage stalls, classic vehicles, arena events and lots more. On the agenda for kiddos are old-fashioned games (like skittles and croquet), vintage fairground rides, children’s workshops, learning to salute, a fantastic assault course and a chance to see creatures great and small in the 1940s farm. Pop on your best tea dress, pin up your hair and party 40s style!
Bristol Pride (26 June -11 July)
Get the family dressed up in their rainbow-coloured togs for Pride – there’s always plenty for youngsters of all ages during Pride Day (11 July). As well as the phenomenally colourful parade, last year’s child-friendly events included Drag Queen Story Time, kite-making with the WI and Super Pirates who create colourful and wildly fun play areas, run by energetic play workers and trained actors.
Goram Fair, Blaise Castle Estate, Bristol (tbc June)
A festival for 2020 hasn’t yet been announced, but I’ll be keeping my beady eye out for this jolly little one-day festival which celebrates the legend of local Bristol giant Goram at the sprawling, green Blaise Castle Estate. Last year’s event included spectacular sculptures of Goram and his lady love, Avona as well as a dog display, games, stalls, crafts and a vintage funfair.
Bristol Shakespeare Festival (1-31 July)
Featuring some of The Bard’s best-loved works, this festival includes spoken word, circus and open-air theatre performances in venues across Bristol. Check their website for details a bit nearer the time for family-friendly shows in Brandon Hill Park, Brunel’s SS Great Britain and St George Park.
St Pauls Carnival (4 July)
Celebrate the best of Afro-Caribbean culture at one of Bristol’s most iconic festivals, St Pauls Carnival. This spirited community celebration is free to attend and showcases the area’s creativity, music and arts, with plenty of scrumptious street food to keep you dancing all day long. Don’t miss the carnival procession itself (midday), starring thousands of people of all ages, brightly-coloured floats, spectacular costumes, flamboyant dancing, samba drummers and musical performances.
Image credit – St Pauls Carnival
Bath Carnival (11 July)
If you’re looking for even more summer carnival action, hop on a 13-minute train ride to Bath. The city’s carnival festivities include a colourful street parade of fabulous costumes, dancing and live music as the city is transformed into one big party. Afterwards, head to Sydney Gardens for a free, family-friendly, post-carnival festival, with music, workshops, kids’ activities and food and drink stalls.
Bristol Harbour Festival (17-19 July)
This annual, free, family-friendly dance, music and arts extravaganza takes place along Bristol’s Harbourside, from Underfall Yard all the way to the Cascade Steps, Thekla and Queen Square. As well as live music and entertainment (look out for the baby racing!) there’s also comedy, aerial acts, circus acts, arts and crafts, a dance village, food markets and a whole host of maritime fun.
Valley Fest (31 July – 2 August)
Dig out your neon and pull on your dancing wellies for this unbelievably scenic family-friendly festival overlooking the Chew Valley lake and Mendip hills. Not far from Bristol, it’s a wonderland of fun for kids (veg picking, mini raves, crafting, circus games, face painting, ride-on tractors etc) with lashings of Somerset spirit. There’s also a huge foodie focus, with festivities including a six-course menu from Josh Eggleton of Michelin-starred pub, The Pony and Trap. This year’s headliners include Deacon Blue and The Cuban Brothers, with more to be announced soon.
Bristol International Balloon Fiesta (6-9 August)
One of the most famous Bristol festivals, this free four-day family-friendly event is the largest of its kind in Europe. Mass ascents of over 100 hot air balloons are scheduled each year for early morning and teatime each day, as well as spectacular nightglow shows (when the balloons illuminate their burners to music) and fireworks. Visitors can look forward to fairground rides, entertainment, live music and awe-inspiring aerial displays, all set in the beautiful grounds of Ashton Court Estate.
Colston Hall Hoo Ha Festival (date tbc)
Three, free jam-packed days of mayhem, games, workshops and splendiferous silliness are the order of the day at Colston Hall’s festival for kids. Go for music, merry-making and messiness, junior jungle raving, face paint and lots more.
This vibrant community festival held in East Bristol draws artists and performers of all kinds. Expect an exciting line up of family-friendly fun, live music, DJs, art, dance and film.
The Downs Festival (tbc)
The Downs Festival 2019’s scorching hot line-up included the star-studded likes of Lauryn Hill, Grace Jones, Loyle Garner, IDLES, Neneh Cherry and Madness doing their thing on Bristol’s Clifton Downs. Alongside the musical shenanigans, there’s normally a number of tents with activities for kiddos throughout the day, including crafting, games, model-making workshops, big bug talks, circus shenanigans and lots more. Fingers crossed for another festival in 2020!
Bath Children’s Literature Festival (25 September – 4 October)
Europe’s largest children’s literary event offers talks and activities for kids that will fuel their imaginations. The festival gives young book lovers a chance to meet the creators of their literary heroes and see illustrations come to life. Last year’s world-class line up of authors included Harry Hill, Cressida Cowell, Dougie Poynter, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler among many others.
Storytale Festival Bristol (24 October – 1 November)
Last year was the first week-long Bristol Storytale Festival founded by Bristol residents, Ellie Freeman and author Kate Frost. Celebrating the wonderful world of children’s books with the city’s talented authors and illustrators, the festival covered a wide variety of book types, interactive storytelling for tots, inspiring talks for teens and workshops looking at creative writing, drama, craft and more in venues across the city.
Longleat Festival of Light (7 November – 3 January)
Go on a luminous adventure through thousands of Chinese lanterns and stunning structures at the magnificent Longleat Festival of Light (9 Nov-5 January).
Experience a festive feast for the senses at Westonbirt Arboretum’s Enchanted Christmas, one of the most magical nights on the West Country festive calendar. Round every twist and turn rainbow light illuminates the woodland, creating dazzling scenes, glittering topiary and an enchanting stroll through the dark. Surprises await in this fairytale world of light – keep your peepers peeled for real-life twinkling fairies, talking trees, natural festive crafts and Santa himself.
Bristol Film Festival (various dates throughout the year)
Bristol film festival puts on a number of family-friendly pop-up cinema screenings throughout the year and ingeniously matches the movies to unique venues around the city. Classic films on the cards for 2020 include Addams’ Family Values and Airplane.
Festivals further afield
Light up Cheltenham (1-23 February)
Over 30 of Cheltenham’s landmark buildings will be dramatically lit up like never before for three weeks in February. Street theatre drumming group Spark! will amaze crowds during the first night and if you’re in town for Valentine’s Day, expect it to be glowing red to mark the occasion! A giant observation wheel in Imperial Gardens will give visitors a chance to see the light spectacular from above and guided tours of this beautiful Regency town will be available.
Farmfest, Bruton, Somerset (24-25 July)
Located about 1 hour and a quarter away from Bristol, this small-scale festival is set against a spectacular Somerset backdrop. Favouring electronic, indie, folk and world music, last year’s line-up featured Morcheeba, Craig Charles, Portico Quartet and James Holden among the 100 confirmed artists. It’s also popular with families, thanks to its kids’ workshops, comedy and poetry.
WOMAD, Malmesbury (23-26 July)
If Glastonbury seems a bit daunting with kids, WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) can fulfil your summer festival cravings. Taking place in beautiful Charlton Park in Wiltshire (40 minutes from Bristol), the festival brings together artistic performances from all over the world, across seven separate stages. Listen to the likes of Ziggy Marley and Robert Plant, hear fascinating talks and debate and let kids run wild in the childrens’ area.
Longleat Sky Safari (11-13 September)
If Bristol’s summer of balloons has given you a craving to see more floating over your head, you’re in luck! Just down the road (about 40-minutes drive) is Longleat Safari Park, which hosts one of the biggest annual hot air balloon festivals in Europe. During the course of the festival, the skies above this beautiful estate will come to life with hundreds of hot air balloons, followed by a spectacular night glow set to music on Friday and Saturday evenings.