If you are going to come to Bristol, then it appears that the summer is the time to do it. There appears to be a different festival every weekend, celebrating everything from barbecues to street art. Which ones are most worth going to seems to vary depending on who you ask, but the two biggest seem to be the Balloon Fiesta and Bristol Harbour Festival. I’ve been to the Balloon Fiesta a couple of times before (and intend to go again this year) but I had never been to the Harbour Festival before. Although the forecast looked terrible, we decided to brave the weather and I’m really glad we did.
The first thing you need to know about the Harbour Festival is that despite what it might seem like from its name, it’s not all about boats. In fact, you could quite easily enjoy the festival without even seeing a boat. You’d be missing out on a lot, but it is possible! Whilst there is a large selection of maritime activity happening over the course of the weekend, there are also markets, music, dance and a range of different activities to get involved with, so it is easy to see why it is popular with so many people.
We started our visit in Castle Park which seemed to have been set up as a family area. There were a range of different stalls, a circus stage and a poetry stage. We ended up spending quite a bit of time here, mainly because James and his brother were very keen to join in with the balloon tossing. They described it as the highlight of the festival and not to be missed under any circumstances. My own opinion of the event differed slightly (it’s basically a long line of people throwing water balloons to each other whilst a range of bawdy jokes are being shared with the audience) but it appears to be an annual tradition and was funny to watch, although I don’t think I need to see it again next year.
I can imagine that on a brighter day it would have been a great place to set up base with a picnic, but having seen a couple of acts I was happy to move on. Queen’s Square is where I would have happily spent a lot more time, mainly because this was where the dance stage was set up with a range of performances and opportunities to join in with different styles throughout the day. There were also food stalls set up around the edge of the square so this is where we ended up coming for lunch.
Having spent most of the afternoon without seeing any boats, it was about time we made our way along to the harbour side. Although it was busy, I would recommend getting one of the Harbour ferries for either a round trip or to drop you off further along the waterfront. This way you got to go through all of the decorated boats and see them from a different angle. We took the ferry a little way along the waterfront, stopped to get something to drink by the water and ended up in the middle of all the steam boats. We spent some time chatting to one of the boat owners (we’d mainly gone over because she had a gorgeous dog) and so it was interesting to find out more about the boats. They looked quite odd and had a bit of a steampunk vibe but it was good to see something different to the types of boats I had expected to see.
We then walked back along the waterfront, passing lots of different types of boats, music stages and more food stalls. It was much busier by the harbour than it had been in the other areas which is probably to be expected. We only went to the festival for one day and I think we saw the best of the weather. I enjoyed the afternoon we spent there, but I think next year I’d like to spend more time by the boats and seeing some of the activities taking place by the water. There were tall ships, flyboarding and even a cardboard boat race which I imagine would have been fun to watch.
The Bristol Harbour Festival happens annually and is free to enter.