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Five free festivals for families

Published 29 July 2014 by Daniel Griffiths

When you imagine a festival, you might have images of torrential rain, swamp-like campsites and a heavily party-focussed atmosphere. But while you’d probably be right in thinking some festivals aren’t suitable for children, there are plenty that are, and there are also loads that are free-entry taking place in convenient locations across the country this year.

So if you’re looking to keep the kids entertained for free and spend a day out in the sunshine listening to music, getting stuck into some arts and crafts or experiencing a new culture; we’ve highlighted five of the best festivals at which to do so.

1) Bristol International Balloon Fiesta: 7th – 10th August

A sure-fire hit with kids and adults alike, this festival is Europe’s largest ballooning event and sees over 130 hot air balloons take flight. With so many taking off at the same time, it surely is a sight to behold and should no doubt prevent any bickering between siblings.

Two mass take-offs take place, one each morning of the festival at 6am, and one each evening at 6pm. Although the morning kick-off might sound a little too early, it’s worth getting up for and you can buy breakfast and coffee while you watch, or you can bring your own to save a bit of cash.

Bound to impress both young spectators and adults are the ‘Night Glows’, which take place on Thursday and Saturday at around 9.15pm. These extra special shows feature 30 hot air balloons tethered and lit up, while music plays and fireworks cover the skyline.

You don’t have to just hang about waiting for the balloon shows either, as there’s plenty to keep you occupied in the meantime. The Fiesta fairground should provide some extra thrills, while the Bandstand features local musicians showcasing their talent and some great local food. Alternatively, you can bring your own BBQ and picnic blanket to relax on while your kids play and marvel at the balloon shows.

2) Tramlines Festival: 25th – 27th July

This growing urban music festival set in the heart of Sheffield has seen a number of great musicians play since its founding in 2009, but that’s not to say it’s all about the music. There are due to be attractions especially aimed at children all across the city in celebration of the festival, and you shouldn’t have to pay a penny to enjoy them.

Despite the fact a full weekend ticket will cost just shy of £30, Tramlines has organised for popular Sheffield areas like the Peace Gardens, Weston Park and Endcliffe Park to host completely free and exciting goings-on for little ones. There is set to be fairground rides, live spray-can art, live band performances, African percussion workshops, break-dancing battles, face-painters, a rodeo bull and woodcraft to name a few – so you shouldn’t have any issues keeping your kids entertained! You can find details of all the family-friendly fun going on here.

For the festival, Endcliffe Park will transform into the ‘Folk Forest’, offering a relaxed atmosphere far from the buzz of the city centre. With activities like parachuting, fire-lighting and ‘earthball’ (a giant inflatable football), what more could your sprogs want? Plus, if you want to access the venues and see some of the main acts, children aged five and under are admitted for free.

If you fancy getting into the festival spirit and having a go at something new yourself, there’s more than enough to sink your teeth into, including yoga taster sessions and iron smelting demonstrations.

3) London Mela: 31st August

Stemming from the first London Mela in 2003, this celebration of South Asian culture proves a huge success every year, with 80,000 attending in 2013. This year looks set to be no different and is a great way for you and your kids to experience something new and have fun at the same time.

The word Mela comes from the Sanskrit ‘to meet’ and it’s frequently used when describing a fair or festival. It’s one of the only melas in the country that commissions new work by artists and designers, and helps bring new and exciting British talent into the limelight. Taking place at Gunnersbury Park and infusing artists, dance, cabaret, comedy, circus, exhibitions and Asian-influenced street theatre, it will no doubt be a day chock-full of excitement.

Anyone can come along and get involved without having to leave London. There will be outdoor arts, dance, sports, children’s activities, fashion, craft, markets, a giant funfair, food from around the world and a fireworks display – so there shouldn’t be any bored faces.

4) Cardiff Festival: 21st June – 6th September

With a mammoth summer celebration spanning across nearly the entire season, the Cardiff Festival is sure to have something on offer for everyone. Plus, many of the events are completely free, and both residents and visitors alike will be able to enjoy the festivities.

This year’s thrilling line-up has events dotted all over the place that you can attend for free, including: the Cardiff Bay Beach (an urban beach with sand, a shallow water play area and loads of beach sports), the P1 Welsh Grand Prix of the Sea, a Classic Car and Boat Rally, Cardiff Carnival and White Water Fest. There’s so much going on that you might be tempted to visit more than once!

One of the highlights of this year’s festival is the Extreme Sailing Series, which is due to hit Cardiff on the August Bank Holiday weekend, and will see top-class sailing teams race in the Bay. Other venues this year include Sydney in Australia, Istanbul in Turkey and Singapore. Spectators are free to watch the excitement unfold, but the Harbour Festival inland provides an alternative with continental markets, live music and family entertainment.

To view the full schedule of what’s going and dates, head here.

5) City Festival: 16th – 25th August

Stretching for just over a week of fun-filled activities, this festival based in Leicester city centre is only in its second year - yet promises an explosive ten days of exciting entertainment.

2014 already looks likely to top last year, with numerous free activities suitable for all ages showcasing the city’s unique heritage and culture, including music, art and sports. Two new events for this year include Safe HouseSafe House – a huge outdoor performance featuring aerial acrobatics and projections, based on the importance of living as a community – and Night of Festivals, which hosts a carnival and a number of family-friendly activities over two days and celebrates freedom and independence through art.

The festival will encompass popular Leicester venues and events will be held at Leicester Market, the Clock Tower, Town Hall Square, Orton Square and Leicester Cathedral, to name a few.

These are just a handful of suggestions for you to try out, but there could be a great free festival near you that you’re hoping to attend. If there is, we’d love to hear about it and you can let us know via our Facebook page.