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Music and arts festivals: The ultimate UK guide

©VisitBritain / Paul Underhill

By Ellie Buchdahl and Lisa Hansson, 23 May 2014; Updated June 26 2015

Summer in the UK means it’s festival time! And that means the UK is the place to be – whether you’re into music, drama, literature, art, food, or just hanging out in the sunshine with your friends and seeing what the line-up brings.

We’ve scoured the festival calendar for 2015 to bring you the hottest bands, the maddest comedians and actors, the richest literature and the tastiest recipes.

So get out your sun cream (and your most waterproof wellington boots, just in case) and join us to find the best festival for every taste.

Click to go straight to:
Edinburgh Festivals
V Festival
British Summer Time in Hyde Park
Reading and Leeds Festivals
Cambridge Folk Festival
Godiva Festival
Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival
Hay Festival
Big Feastival

Best for mudlarks: Glastonbury
Pilton, Somerset, 2428 June

Glastonbury 2000 ©VisitBritain / Britain on View
Tent-setters: Camping is a big part of the Glastonbury Festival (Picture ©VisitBritain / Britain on View)

The world’s largest festival in a field is attended by around 175,000 people every year, and keeps to its 1970s hippie roots with areas including ‘Healing Fields’ and hedonistic sunrise climbs up Pennard Hill.

Being on the last weekend of June, you’d think it would all be bathed in summer sun… but alas, ‘Glasto’ also has a bit of a reputation for attracting some serious summer downpours.

Don’t let that put you off – lots of Glasto-goers think ‘roughing it’ with a tent (and sometimes even a canoe in the rainiest years!) is part of the fun. This year, Florence + the Machine will be headlining, and joining an eclectic bunch of artists including The Who, Lionel Richie, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West.

Revellers covered in mud at the V Festival ©VisitBritain Simon Winnall
Mud madness: It doesn't always rain at UK festivals... but there's nothing wrong with a bit of a wallow when it does! (Picture ©VisitBritain / Simon Winnall)

Bring your best waterproofs as well as your sunhat, and prepare for one of the most exciting, diverse and memorable weekends of your life.

Best for drama queens and kings: Edinburgh Festivals
Edinburgh, JulySeptember

Edinburgh Festival ©VisitBritain / Grant Pritchard
Class acts: Street performers hit the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh Festival (Picture ©VisitBritain / Grant Pritchard)

If you’re in the Scottish capital anytime from the end of July to the beginning of September, expect to be accosted by people in full costume, comedians, musicians and dancers, as the city gives itself up to the Edinburgh Festival – a collective term for a whole series of arts and cultural festivals that take place in the city.

The largest are the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe (known as ‘the Fringe’), which draw in performance groups from top-class professionals such as the Moscow State Circus and Royal Shakespeare Company to hundreds of university and amateur drama societies. Venues including university buildings, pubs and hotels around the city offer up performance spaces.

Edinburgh ©VisitBritain / Grant Pritchard
Jam-packed schedule: A performer at the Edinburgh Festival hands out flyers to a show (Picture ©VisitBritain / Grant Pritchard)

There are lots of free events, if you’re on a budget, and we thoroughly recommend you come for a few days to see as much as you can. Even better, come as a performer –if you’re into acting, see if your school, college or university has a drama group putting together a play for Edinburgh.

Some other festivals taking place around the same time include the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June, the Edinburgh Art Festival from June to August, and the Edinburgh Book Festival from August 9-15. A browse around an artistic ‘open house’ display or a lecture from a top author can be a great break from the madness of Princes Street and the Royal Mile, where much of the Fringe action takes place.

Get more information in Edinburgh Festivals: The ultimate guide.

Best for metalheads: Download
Donington Park, Derbyshire, 1214 June

V 2009 mud ©VisitBritain Simon Winnall
Survival kit: A V Festival veteran has come prepared for all eventualities (Picture ©VisitBritain / Simon Winnall)

Since its first show in 2003, Download has become arguably the main summer rock and metal festival. This year’s line-up includes (as just a taster) Slipknot, Judas Priest, Muse, Marilyn Manson and Five Finger Death Punch.

If the idea of ‘heavy metal’ scares you, don’t worry! The festival might draw a core crowd of serious head-bangers, but many people come for the fun and the summer sun.

Best for chart-toppers: V Festival
Hylands Park in Essex and Weston Park in Staffordshire, 2223 August

V festival ©VisitBritain
Bright young things: Two women show off some V festival fashion (Picture ©VisitBritain / Simon Winnall)

The ‘V’ stands for the record label ‘Virgin Music Group’, which sponsors this festival – so it makes sense that V is one for pop fans. Held at the end of August across two locations at the same time, the artists and line-up swap over from Saturday to Sunday.

Last year, Justin Timberlake, Ed Sheeran, The Killers and Lily Allen were among the stars strutting their stuff in the two parks – this year's acts are still to be announced, so keep your eyes peeled online.

Best for all-rounders: Latitude
Henham Park, Suffolk, 16–19 July

An outdoor performance at the Derby Feste VisitEngland
Summer heat: Expect all kinds of entertainment at festivals across the UK, such as these fire throwers at the Derby Feste (Picture © VisitEngland)

Dancing the day away to your favourite band can be quite a workout – but if you fancy giving your mind a workout too, by listening to a political debate or watching a play, then Latitude is the festival for you.

This year is Latitude's 10th birthday, so expect great names from the worlds of comedy, theatre, music and arts. Last year welcomed comics Dara O Briain and Kevin Bridges, performances from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre and the world-famous Sadler’s Wells ballet, poetry from Roger McGough and Gillian Clarke, and heaps more arty treats.

Best for city slickers: Belsonic
Belfast, August 15-26 (precise dates TBC)

Belsonic 2008 © Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Sounds of the city: Revellers pack Custom House Square at the Belfast Belsonic (Picture © Northern Ireland Tourist Board)

Four days of fabulous acts right in the centre of Belfast – what could be a better way of discovering the capital of Northern Ireland?

Every year 5,000 people fill Custom House Square over four days, to hear some of the hottest bands and musicians around. 

Best for Londoners: British Summer Time in Hyde Park
London, June 21, 26, 27

Proms ©VisitBritain / Jasmine Teer
Festival field: Hyde Park hosts several big events, particularly in the summer. Here people enjoy the sun at Proms in the Park (Picture ©VisitBritain / Jasmine Teer)

Festivals in London come and go, but you can always rely on this 142-hectare Royal Park to put on an incredible show.

This year, the buzz around BST (British Summer Time) Hyde Park is around Kylie Minogue, The Who and Taylor Swift, who all confirmed early in 2015. More acts will be announced.

Best for veterans: Reading and Leeds Festival
Reading and Leeds, August 2830
www.readingfestival.com and www.leedsfestival.com

Leeds castle ©VisitBritain / Alan Chandler
Beautiful backdrop: Many UK festivals, like this one at Leeds Castle, take place near famous landmarks (Picture ©VisitBritain / Alan Chandler)

Reading Festival in Berkshire, southeast England, is the world’s oldest running popular music festival (since 1971).

It grew with the launch of Leeds Festival in 1999, and since then the two have run over the same weekend, with the same acts switching between the two sites.

Reading was originally a jazz festival, but now major rock acts share the limelight with hard punk and alternative performers on the Lock Up Stage.

This year’s line-up over the three days will include Metallica, Jamie T and many more.

Best for folk: Cambridge Folk Festival
Cambridge, July 30August 2

©VisitBritain / Grant Pritchard
Tried and tested: Folk music is part of the UK's cultural heritage - especially when played in the pub (Picture ©VisitBritain / Grant Pritchard)

You’ll hear jazz, Scottish and Irish ceilidh, bluegrass, gospel, klezmer and more world music around the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall, the pretty house and park where this festival of all things folk takes place.

It’s a very family-friendly atmosphere, with lots of children’s activities alongside the top-notch performances and independent, quirky folk acts.

Best for free fun: Godiva Festival
Coventry, July 37 (TBC)

The Awakening of Lady Godiva in front of Coventry University and Coventry Cathedral, the opening ceremony of the 2012 Godiva Carnival
Living legend: The opening ceremony of the Godiva Festival celebrates its namesake, Lady Godiva (Picture © Visit England)

Festivals are great, but they can sometimes stretch the student budget a bit.

So thank goodness for the Godiva Festival, which has class acts including in previous years We Are Scientists, Happy Mondays and Funeral For A Friend – with no tickets or price tags attached.

Away from the main stage, you’ll also find a comedy tent and a ‘Godiva Calling’ tent for newer performers.

Best for classical: Orchestival
Bath, July 19

Kenwood Tosca Performance, Hampstead, London, London, England ©VisitBritain Britain on View
Outdoor orchestra: Orchestival takes on a UK tradition of outdoor classical concerts, like this one at Kenwood House in London (Picture ©VisitBritain / Britain on View)

Forget prim and proper classical concert halls.

Previous years have seen artists including Goldfrapp members, Squarepusher, and video game music composer SCORE; cutting-edge theatre companies give their takes on the great classical music pieces; and celebrity speakers turn up to debate and discuss.

The tagline of the whole festival is ‘setting music free’ – and you can see why.

Best for roughing it: Loopallu
Ullapool, Scotland, September 25–26

Lights, action: UK festivals carry on into the night... with all the fireworks this allows (Picture © 2014 Northern Ireland Tourist Board)

A festival that lets you get away from it all – Loopallu is in a little village beside a loch (Scottish for ‘lake’) on the West Coast of Scotland, 60 miles from the nearest town.

But if you thought that its remoteness would put off the stars, think again.

Pack your tent and your sailing gear for a real weekend of escapism.

Best for islanders: Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival
Isle of Wight, June 1114 and September 1013
www.isleofwightfestival.com and www.bestival.net

An appreciative and colourful crowd applauding the acts performing during the 2006 Bestival Music Festival ©VisitBritain Liz Gander
Pirate pack: Dressing up is a big part of the Bestival Music Festival (Picture © VisitBritain / Liz Gander)

A picturesque island south of the UK mainland, the Isle of Wight is perfect for outdoor activities such as surfing, sailing, adventure sports… and of course, music festivals.

The island’s two major music events top and tail the festival season: first, the Isle of Wight Festival  boasts headline acts including Pharrell Williams (of Happy fame), The Prodigy, Fleetwood Mac, Paolo Nutini and recent Brit Award Winner James Bay.

Then Bestival in September - where you can join Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Duran Duran and Lily Allen.

Visitors at the Isle of Wight Festival, Seaclose Park, Newport
Summer fun: Visitors at the Isle of Wight Festival, Seaclose Park, Newport (Picture © VisitEngland)

Bestival is known as a bit of a risqué, alternative show – it also has comics, burlesque shows and dance nights organised by some of the biggest nightclubs in the country.

Best for intellectuals: Hay Festival
Hay-on-Wye, Wales, 21-31 May

Looking over Hay on Wye at the time of its famous literary festival. Powys, Wales, UK Britain on View
'Woodstock of the mind': The town of Hay on Wye is filled with literature for the Hay Festival (Picture © Visit Britain /  Britain on View)

Hay on Wye's many book shops with the childrens author Jacqueline Wilson as part of the Literary Festival. Powys, Wales Britain on View
Famous faces: Children's author Jacqueline Wilson joins the festival (Picture © Visit Britain /  Britain on View)

‘The Woodstock of the mind’ – that’s how former US President Bill Clinton described this annual literature festival, which also includes music performances, film previews and stage shows in its 10-day run.

Hay-on-Wye is called ‘the town of books’ because of its literary tradition, and 80,000 people come every year to hear top authors, poets and public speakers discuss their works.

Best for foodies: Big Feastival
Chipping Norton, Cotswolds, 2830 August

©VisitBritain Grant Pritchard Fudge tasting at Arley Country Fair and Horse Trials held in the grounds of Arley Hall, Arley, Cheshire, England.

East Midlands Regional food and Drink festival. A young girl and others take part in a pork pie cookery session., Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, England ©VisitBritain Gary
Sweet or savoury? Food festivals like Big Feastival cater for all tastes (©VisitBritain / Grant Pritchard / Gary Latham)

Have you ever sat salivating over a Jamie Oliver cookbook?

This could be the festival for you – because the ‘Naked Chef’ himself (as the British TV celebrity cook is known) is the man behind this food and music festival, which raises money for Jamie Oliver’s Better Food Foundation for disadvantaged young people.

Some of the UK’s top chefs – including, of course, Jamie himself – will be creating edible delights for food lovers on the farm owned by Alex James (once the bass player in Blur, now an artisan cheese-maker!).

And the music headliner? Well, Fatboy Slim, of course.

V 08 Simon Winnall
Everyone's invited to join the UK festival atmosphere - come along! (Picture ©VisitBritain / Simon Winnall)

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