Say the word ‘festival’ and it’ll mean something different to all who hear it. To me it conjures images of mud-encrusted wellington boots; human hordes crushed tightly together, sweating in the blazing sun or lip-synching, defiantly, in the pouring rain: the weather never occupies a midpoint between these extremes, you see.
Whatever your visions of a festival, place the word ‘kids’ before it and a single word springs to mind: fun. Fun has many forms, of course. One child’s fun may be another’s dreaded chore – alas, little ‘uns can be famously difficult to please! The best kids festivals, such as they are, appreciate the fickle nature of our boisterous youngsters, building programmes to provide entertainment for all age groups. Yes, that means your excitable five-year-old and too-clever-by-half 14-year-old – the latter firmly in the ‘believes (s)he’s always right’ phase – are catered for.
Photo: Camp Bestival 2014
Many an adult emerges from his own festival experience half-deaf, hungover and sunburned; kids festivals, on the other hand, are naturally rewarding affairs, merry get-togethers involving bouncy castles, circuses, go-karts, face-painting, puppet shows, camp-outs – and more. And the best part is, parents can join in too. Want to be a big kid again – for one day? Who doesn’t love to a toast a marshmallow on the open fire? And because many of the festivals are educational in nature, you might even learn a thing or two!
With summer in full bloom, treat your kids to a festival experience they’ll never forget. We’ve whittled the country’s best such galas – there are more than you might think – down to five that, if you’re quick enough (and in some cases lightning-quick: one starts tomorrow!), you can check out for yourself.
Camp Bestival, Lulworth Castle, Dorset, July 31-Aug 3
On your marks, get set…go! In case you’re in any doubt, that’s me gently urging you to head along to Camp Bestival, which runs from tomorrow until Sunday. This brilliantly-titled event is firmly aimed at youngsters, with an assortment of attractions ranging from a LEGO Imagination Factory to a Medieval Jousting show.
Wonderfully, the festival has both a Lower and Upper Kids’ Garden, the former pitched at slightly older kids – you know, those less interested in play-dough than pop music. There’s also a toddler zone, where babies can sing nursery rhymes, watch cartoons, colour in – or listen to Bach. The lone difficulty you might experience at Camp Bestival, then, is ticking everything you want to see and do off the list by Sunday.
Its vibrant fantasy world includes a mini pop-up city subdivided into nine districts.
Embrace the outdoors at Dingy Dell, the camp’s woodland refuge, and take a wilderness skills workshop, learning how to light a fire or craft a magic wand. Elsewhere, little ones can play detective on an interactive ‘Jurassic CSI’, piecing together clues from fossils and dinosaur footprints, or practise their moves in the Greatest Tent on Earth, home of a BRIT School dance workshop.
Fancy dress parades, BMX biking, inflatable churches, kids’ discos and a fantastic Horrible Histories stage show: what’s not to love about Camp Bestival? For the bigger kids, meanwhile, the line-up includes Basement Jaxxx, Chas & Dave, Johnny Marr and The Wedding Present.
- Weekend ticket prices, including camping: adult £195, student £180, age 15-17 £113, age 11-14 £88, age 5-10 £20, age 0-4 free (but ticket required)
- Day ticket prices: adult £60, age 15-17 £35, age 11-14 £30, age 5-10 £15, age 0-4 free (but ticket required)
Boomtown Fair, Winchester, 7-10 August
The Boomtown Fair is an über-cool music festival, now in its fifth year, that draws visitors of all ages into its vibrant fantasy world; it is, in fact, a mini pop-up city subdivided into nine districts, among them Wild West, Whistlers Green and KidzTown. Naturally, we’re concerning ourselves with the latter. An interactive zone where youngsters can boogie on down before their own bespoke PG-rated Sandcastle Stage.
Intrepid adventurers can channel the spirit of Robinson Crusoe in the High Seas.
KidzTown also helps little visitors expend their energy in other ways: by watching bike stunt shows, for instance, or taking horse and cart rides. For the even smaller ticket-holders, inflatable play areas, ball pools and sandpits open up a world of fun. Rug rats can even learn how to make pizza, or refine their handcraft skills in one of the many on-site workshops. The KidzTown suburb, like the other districts at Boomtown, has its own dedicated campsite, perfect for the family to settle down at the end of a tiring, fun-filled day.
Quirky exhibits like Horace the Travelling Pliosaur Cinema – a huge, mechanised Jurassic sea lizard into whose belly kids can wander before being caught up in a wild interactive rescue mission – ensure the festival is never less than cutting-edge. A treat for the whole brood.
- Weekend tickets including camping: adult £156, age 13-17 £85, age 7-12 £22, age 0-6 free
Just So Festival, Scholar Green, Cheshire, Aug 15-17
The thinking kid’s festival – and yes, there is such a thing – is Just So, which takes place in the viridescent Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire. Billed as a ‘magical weekend of creative adventures’, the event celebrates its five-year anniversary in 2014, and has devised a packed schedule of wholesome entertainment to mark the occasion.
Theatrical performances exploring myth and folklore, dancing tea ladies, clever puppet shows, a ‘missing fairy’ hunt and a comic-drawing workshop are all on the agenda. Intrepid adventurers can channel the spirit of Robinson Crusoe in the High Seas, an immersive pirate training camp, while smaller kids can learn how to fashion the ultimate paper boat in the Boatyard craft club. The Imaginarium, meanwhile, is chock-full of costumes, whether you wish to don the finery of a 1920s Hollywood starlet or a swashbuckling swordsman’s dashing vestments.
Expect to run into Alice and the Mad Hatter.
Keeping the bairns stress-free, meanwhile, couldn’t be easier: Weleda Baby will host baby massage and baby yoga, so mum and tot can be in complete harmony with their surroundings. There’s even a special ‘baby-feeding boudoir’, in addition to a baby-changing tent and nightly baby bubble baths. If all this sounds like music to your ears, you know what to do. As for real music, it’ll be provided by the spellbinding Gabby Young & Other Animals, a dynamic seven-piece specialising in rollicking fairground music: jazz, folk and swing. Enjoy!
- Weekend ticket prices, including camping: adult £105, child £45, age 0-3 free
- Day tickets for Sunday August 17: adult £40, child £15, age 0-3 free
Green Man Festival, Glanusk, Brecon Beacons, Aug 14-17
You may wish to drop in on the Green Man Festival for any number of reasons. Its sterling line-up is one of them – this year it invites Beirut, Sun Kil Moon, Mercury Rev and Kurt Vile to the stage. Its beautiful location in the Brecon Beacons is a second reason. We’re more interested in what our nippers can get up to, though – at Little Folk, the festival’s dedicated children’s quarter. The theme for 2014 is Carroll’s Wonderland, so expect to run into Alice and the Mad Hatter before long!
Cake stalls, chunky chip vans and juice bars do a roaring trade.
Kids can get to grips with the fairy tale over the weekend, with storytelling, stilt-walkers, fancy dress parades, hula-hooping, origami lessons, cake-making, circus workshops and lots more to keep them tumbling down the rabbit hole. If your pint-sized progeny’s a brainiac, they’ll love Einstein’s Garden, where universities from across the country pitch stalls and expand minds left, right and centre: Little Green Man’s Guide to the Galaxy lets you peer through a solar telescope, or you can play ‘climate change roulette’ – sounds fun and potentially catastrophic! – with the Met Office Meets Montecarlo. If you’ve a grumpy adolescent in tow, the line-up really is excellent – guaranteed to vanquish their ennui.
- Weekend ticket prices, including camping: adult £159, student £135, age 13-17 £85, age 5-12 (Little Folk) £5, age 0-4 free
When the little ones have had their fill of festivals, put them to sleep in a Brecon Beacons holiday home and put your feet up.
Lollibop, Hatfield, 15-17 August
Well, well, well: the weekend of August 15-17 is busy-busy on the children’s festival front. Imagine Glastonbury, T in the Park and Reading were all held over the same weekend. I digress… Lollibop is another heavyweight bash for kids aged ten and under, one that has a decidedly celebrity vibe! And no, we’re not talking about odious reality stars or tabloid Z-listers. We’re referring to the TV personalities your little ‘uns know and love: CBeebies favourites like Justin Fletcher, Mr Bloom and Sam and Mark, all of whom appear on the Main Stage.
Held in the gorgeous gardens of Hatfield House, the festival is divided into several areas, with live music, theatre, sport and dance just some of the offerings. I should think my eight-year-old self would have made a beeline for the Beano Arena, to hear Steven Butler, author of Dennis the Menace, explain what makes the boy in red-and-black such an enduring maniac. The apple of your eye can even rustle up a tasty treat for mummy and daddy after a cooking lesson in the Lollikitchen. With that being said, if your belly does rumble at any point it won’t be for lack of food options: cake stalls, chunky chip vans and juice bars do a roaring trade.
- Day ticket prices: adults and children £22, 4-person family £82.50, 6-person family £121, age 0-1 free
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