Hidden Gems : Top 10 Summer Arts Festivals


Bored of big-name festivals with less than impressive line-ups? Feed your creativity this summer with something a little out of the ordinary


August 22-25

Located in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside, Shambala is an arts festival with a difference. Offering everything from a wide range of musical acts, to cabaret, workshops, stand-up comedy, circus and acrobatics, inspirational talks and debates, interactive theatre and poetry performances, the key to Shambala is participation. An award-winning green event with interactive art installations such as their ethereally named ‘The Enchanted Forest’, Shambala organisers encourage festival-goers to share their sustainable yet hedonistic vision and to ‘revel in being human’.

Manchester International Festival

July 4-21

If you’d prefer something a little less bohemian and a little more stylish, look no further than MIF. The festival’s artistic director asserts in this year’s brochure that ‘The arts are for everyone’. With tickets priced from £12, MIF’s affordability means that it really is for everyone. As an artist-led, commissioning festival MIF aims to present new works from across the spectrum of visual arts, performing arts, and popular culture. This year’s highlights include Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth and Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov starring together in Robert Wilson’s ‘The Old Woman’.

Hay Festival of Literature & the Arts

May 23 – June 2

With the Brecon Beacons National Park providing a visually stunning location for this literary festival, it isn’t hard to see why Bill Clinton called it ‘The Woodstock of the mind’. Attracting writers from across the globe, Hay festival celebrates the power of the written word with talks and workshops from big names in contemporary literature to lesser known innovative performers. Whether you’re interested in poetry, science, comedy, nature, travel, art or fashion, Hay festival’s incredibly diverse line-up has something for everyone.

The Larmer Tree Festival

July 17-23

Self-described as ‘the happiest, friendliest, quirkiest festival in the land’, this fiercely independent festival takes place every year in the picturesque Larmer Tree gardens on the Wiltshire/Dorset border. Spanning eight venues and boasting over a hundred performers, the festival focuses mainly on comedy, street theatre, and carnival performances as well as music and a variety of stalls. With over a hundred and fifty free workshops to choose from, stick it to the corporations and try something new this year at the Larmer Tree.

Ilkley Literature Festival & Fringe

October 4-20

Take a step outside the student bubble of Leeds this year. Celebrating everything Yorkshire, Ilkley Literature Festival & Fringe was first launched by W.H Auden in 1973 and since then has hosted numerous internationally acclaimed authors, Nobel Prize winners and poets like Yorkshireman Ted Hughes. The festival’s innovative project ‘Stanza Stones’ is what really sets it apart from other arts festivals, though. In 2012 Simon Armitage penned a series of poems inspired by the Yorkshire landscape. They were then carved into stones forming a poetry trail from his home in Marsden to the festival in Ilkley.

Brighton Festival

May 4-26

Brighton’s annual arts festival is a proud acknowledgement of the city’s vibrant and globally recognised arts culture. Events range across the artistic spectrum, but if you’re into theatre, dance and circus performance Brighton won’t disappoint. Highlights this year include an adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s internationally acclaimed novel ‘The Kite Runner’ and Cirque Éloize’s UK premiere of their circus spectacular ‘Cirkopolis’, described as fantastical escape into a dream world where dance, circus and theatre meet.


July 18-21

You might have heard of Latitude for its music (this year Bloc Party, Kraftwerk and Foals are headlining) but did you know the festival’s comedy line-up is just as impressive? This year some of the UK’s biggest names in comedy take to the stage at Latitude, with Russell Kane, Sean Lock and Lee Nelson being amongst some of the highlights. With Latitude’s artistic line-up comprising of theatre and dance performances, artist appearances, spoken word performances and appearances from established names in the literary and film industries, you’ll never be stuck for something to do.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

August 2-26

Set in the heart of Scotland’s historic capital, the internationally renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world. Every year hundreds of performance groups take to multiple stages across the city to  showcase the best in up and coming theatre, music, dance, comedy, cabaret, and spoken word performance. Bookworm? The Edinburgh International Book Festival runs in conjunction with the Fringe, where writers from around the globe gather to hold workshops, book signings, storytelling and panel discussions. Arguably the most exciting arts festival in the UK, Edinburgh Festival Fringe is not to be missed.

The Secret Garden Party

July 25-28

This year the fancy dress theme at The Secret Garden Party is superstition. Fairy tale themed and fuelled by creative expression, the festival is located next to a lake in the heart of the Cambridgeshire countryside and encourages festival goers to embrace their inner creativity. Art installations are dotted across the venue, and other acts include dance workshops, cabaret and circus acts and an eclectic music line-up. Audience participation is a huge part of the SGP, where fantasy, art and creativity collide to create an artistic experience you’ll never forget.

Galway Arts Festival

July 15-28

Head over to Ireland and take in the historic culture of Galway at their annual arts festival. The festival showcases a the best of Irish talent alongside international artists including indoor and outdoor theatre, visual arts, dance showcase, talks, discussions,  comedy and a huge range of musical genres from contemporary jazz to folk, the festival is Ireland’s largest arts festival and its creative reputation consolidates its popularity. Past highlights include appearances from the Royal National Theatre and the Bristol Old Vic.


words: Rebecca Wignall

photo: Zosia Gamgee

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