Wales is a small country with a big heart, and what better way to enjoy its rich culture and heritage than through the many festivals held around the country each summer. Here are nine not-to-be-missed, fun-packed events for all the family in 2017:
1 Hay Festival of Literature and Arts
On the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, the small market town of Hay-on-Wye, which hugs England on the Welsh side of the border, has been synonymous with books ever since the 1960s when Richard Booth opened the first second-hand bookstore in town. The number of bookshops grew over the years and Hay has since become known as the ‘National Book Town of Wales’ and hosts a major literary festival each May which brings together writers and readers to share stories and ideas in a host of events.
The brainchild of the book festival all came about in 1988 when aspiring actor Peter Florence wanted to promote his hometown and its literary pickings, and through a series of surprising events succeeded in snaring US playwright Arthur Miller to attend the very first festival. Since then it has grown from strength to strength, and Hay is now home to one of the world’s most well-loved literary festivals attracting the likes of Bill Clinton, Salman Rushdie and Desmond Tutu. It has even spawned International Hay Festivals around the world held in countries including Spain, Denmark, Peru, Mexico and Columbia.
This year, the festival celebrates its 30th anniversary and runs from 25th May to 4th June with speakers including Stephen Fry, Ian Rankin, Jeanette Winterson, Victoria Hislop, Tracey Emin, Michael Sheen and Brian May. And as well as the go-to festival for bibliophiles, the event is chock-full of exhibitors, stalls, workshops and activities offering fun for all the family.
2 Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod
Wales already has its National Eisteddfod celebrating Welsh language and culture (see below for festival details), and for good measure convenes an international version every summer in the lovely little North Wales town of Llangollen.
The event was first staged in 1947 with the initiative of using the Welsh Eisteddfod tradition to reinstate a sense of accord internationally following the Second World War. Originally playing host to artists from ten countries, music and dance shows traditional to their homelands were performed. And since those early days, the festival has earned an irrevocable place in world music, with the international pavilion today hosting around 4,000 performers from around 50 countries annually from as far-flung as the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan. It also draws upwards of 50,000 visitors to enjoy the exuberant combination of competition and performance displayed by talented amateurs over the six-day event, this year held from 3rd to 9th July.
At the heart of the festival is its message of international peace and friendship, and one of the highlights of the event is the esteemed ‘Choir of the World’ competition.
The festival also attracts a number of high-profile professional artists, and past performers have included Luciano Pavarotti, Kiri Te Kanawa, Nigel Kennedy, Elaine Paige, José Carreras, Joan Baez and Jools Holland. This year, Sir Bryn Terfel and the Manic Street Preachers will headline.
3 The Royal Welsh Show
Since 1904, the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society has been hosting the Royal Welsh Show as an annual shop window for all things farming. But this is no bucolic affair in some rural backwater, this is the biggest and best attended agricultural event of its kind – one of Europe’s largest – putting the Mid Wales market town of Builth Wells on the map each year with over 200,000 visitors to the showground annually.
Wales is very much a country with agriculture at its core, and this festival brings together the farming community and food production in celebration of its rich agrarian roots. As a keen supporter of farming practices, the Prince of Wales is a regular, as are attendees from over 34 countries across the world each year.
A festival about farming sound uninspiring?? Think again! There are so many exciting events to keep all the family engaged that the world of agriculture will never evoke ennui again! Expect sheep shearing competitions, tractor driving, falconry displays, livestock competitions, live music, quad bike stunts from the Kangaroo Kid, sheepdog trials, arts and crafts, the farmer of the year competition, horse and carriage driving, tree felling competitions, a multitude of trade stands, a food hall featuring delicious Welsh produce, and countless more displays and demonstrations over the four days of the show, which this year runs from 24th to 27th July.
4 The Big Cheese
Caerphilly in South Wales is synonymous with both cheese and its seamless medieval concentric castle, and it comes to life each summer for The Big Cheese, a festival celebrating the history and heritage of the town and attracting 80,000 visitors annually.
With roots dating back to AD 75 when the Romans settled in the area, Caerphilly has long been a site of strategic significance. The Anglo-Norman invasion of Wales gave rise to the construction of the town’s castle in the 13th century, and it remains a masterpiece of military architecture and Britain’s second largest castle after Windsor.
The fun-filled festival is set in the shadows of this fine example of a medieval fortification, and is an extravaganza of entertainment celebrating the town’s notable past, as well as its renowned cheese thought to have originally been created as nourishment for local coal miners.
This year, the annual three-day event celebrates its 20th anniversary and opens its doors from 28th to 30th July with a fun-packed programme promising music, dance, living history encampments, falconry demonstrations, fire-eating artists, The Great Cheese Race, a craft market and food stalls, a traditional funfair, minstrels, military re-enactments and much more.
5 National Eisteddfod of Wales
Highlights of our last Eisteddfod trip in 2014
A celebration of Welsh language and culture, the National Eisteddfod is Wales’s oldest and largest arts festival attracting more than 150,000 visitors annually. The event alternates between the north and south of the country, and this year will be held from 4th to 12th August on the isle of Anglesey in North Wales.
With a history dating back to the 12th century when Lord Rhys would invite poets and musicians from all over Wales to a grand gathering at his castle in Cardigan, the Eisteddfod today continues the custom as an animated event showcasing music, dance, visual arts, literature and other arts performances in the Eisteddfod Pavilion. At its heart, it is a competition of artistic talent imbued with traditional ceremony, but it is also a vibrant festival with an Eisteddfod Field or Maes filled with tradestands and exhibitors vending arts and crafts, local produce, and a whole lot more. There are plenty of child-friendly activities on offer, and music and dance shows that go on well into the evening with food and drink stalls serving up plenty of local fare.
You don’t need to be a Welsh speaker to enjoy the festivities, but for a true taste of Welsh culture it’s the event in Wales to attend.
6 Burning Lantern
Brand new to the festival scene in Wales this summer, the Burning Lantern Fayre will be brought to you from the grounds of the National Museum of Welsh History at St Fagans near Cardiff on Saturday 12th August, a superb setting for this live music event showcasing big-name acts and international stars in a family-friendly environment.
Located in the grounds of St Fagans Castle and gardens, the open-air museum displays Welsh life from Celtic to modern times with over forty original buildings from different historical periods assembled in 100 acres of parkland including cottages, a schoolhouse, chapel, farm and workshops.
As a celebration of Welsh culture and tradition, the museum is the perfect venue for Burning Lantern, which promises to illuminate the day with a line up that includes Brit-award winning Tom Odell, Motown legends Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, singer-songwriter Jack Savoretti and Welsh pop new-comers Into The Ark.
Music performances will go hand-in-hand with oodles of family entertainment – circus skills, pony rides and arts and crafts for kids are on the bill – and a bounty of other amusements and culinary treats to create a fun country fayre atmosphere for all the family.
7 Green Man
The Green Man Festival has evolved into Wales’s biggest contemporary music and arts event over its 15-year history, and attracts upwards of 20,000 attendees annually. Brought to you from the spectacular surroundings of the Brecon Beacons National Park, this year the festival dates are 17th to 20th August.
It’s been called ‘the festival with personality’ and has found its place among likeminded alternative folk festivals as an ethically-minded, independent family-friendly event.
As well as putting on live music performances from the likes of Van Morrison, Belle & Sebastian and Super Furry Animals, Green man offers the whole package with plenty of entertainment for grown-ups and little people alike – comedy, spoken word, film, literature, theatre, science, massage & therapy, all-night bonfires and more all combine to create a hugely successful festival outing.
On the bill at this year’s event are PJ Harvey, Ryan Adams, Irvine Welsh and Billy Bragg. Expect more than 1,500 acts in all across 17 performance areas with enchanting names such as Einstein’s Garden, Fortune Falls and Babbling Tongues. The Settlement area is the campsite for festival-goers and is family-oriented with entertainment on offer day and night.
8 Festival No 6
The Italian-inspired village of Portmeirion is a visual feast of fanciful pastel-toned architecture and a prime tourist attraction in North Wales nestled in the hills above the Dwyryd Estuary. With a desire to capture the character of the Mediterranean, architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis conceived of and crafted the village over a period of 50 years and it has since been a source of inspiration for writers and other luminaries, and synonymous with the surreal following the filming of the TV series The Prisoner here in the 1960s.
The show was a cult spy drama and the central character named Number 6, naturally the inspiration for the award-winning music, arts and culture festival that now takes place each September on the Portmeirion site. With its magical village setting surrounded by the mountains of Snowdonia National Park, the No 6 Festival epitomizes a unique experience for visitors, and since its inaugural event in 2012 has become one of Britain’s most spirited, surreal and sophisticated summer celebrations of music and culture for all the family.
As well as mainstream music performances, the festival includes a whole host of cultural activities – comedy, readings, theatre & cabaret and lots more – a Sergeant Pepper’s themed carnival, vintage fair, hot tub sessions, health & healing, a torch-lit procession and plenty of food & drink indulgence.
This year, the festival takes up again for four days from 7th to 10th September and performers include Jarvis Cocker, Goldie, The Flaming Lips, Irvine Welsh, Charlotte Church and a multitude more.
9 Abergavenny Food Festival
© www. visitwales.com
Wales’s premier food festival was instigated in 1999 when two local farmers acted in response to the ‘mad cow disease’ crisis of the time which had caused a lack of consumer confidence in British produce. Their idea was to showcase the wonderful food Wales has to offer and the passion of those who produce it.
Eighteen years on and it’s grown into the largest and longest-running food festival in Wales, gaining an excellent reputation as a place for chefs and food businesses to come together in celebration of local produce.
Held in the attractive medieval market town of Abergavenny known as the ‘Gateway to Wales’, the festival has been flaunted by The Guardian as ‘Abergavenny is to food as Cannes is to film’, and each year attracts big-name chefs like Jamie Oliver, Anthony Bourdain and Rick Stein.
Headlining this year’s event – taking place on 16th and 17th September – are two-star Michelin and TV chef Tom Kerridge, and celebrity chef, TV personality and food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. And with tasting workshops, chef demos, food markets, kids’ activities and plenty more, the 30,000 visitors expected are certainly in for a crave-worthy treat.