Best summer festivals on the Greater Anglia network
If you didn’t get tickets for Latitude don’t fret. This summer, East Anglia is hosting a multitude of smaller, quirkier festivals. Whether you’re into folk or food, books or Beethoven, gin or jazz, there’s something for everyone
By Ianthe Butt
THE CLASSICAL ONE
Aldeburgh Festival, Suffolk
What’s it all about? Virtuosos, violinists and an intellectually vivacious atmosphere, this concert series – founded by Benjamin Britten – sets the bar for classical music shindigs. Spanning old-school (Mozart, Schubert) to contemporary (Broadway hits), orchestral and operatic performances take place in the historic Snape Maltings Concert Hall.
The vibe Composers and natty-tied cellists sipping Champagne and having highbrow debates.
Highlights Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard for next-level ivory tinkling, Emily Howard’s new opera To See The Invisible, and Welsh warbler Sir Bryn Terfel.
Added extras Bag event tickets on consecutive days, and pair them with a seaside weekend getaway in Aldeburgh; bring a deck chair for free lunchtime concerts on the beach.
Getting there The nearest station is Saxmundham, followed by a short taxi ride.
THE CURIOUS ONE
East Anglian Storytelling Festival, Suffolk
What’s it all about? Myths, legends and chilling true-life tales, told at bedtime or over a cuppa – who doesn’t love a well-spun yarn? This three-day festival – the brainchild of a collective of East Anglian storytellers – celebrates storytelling in the gorgeous surrounds of Jimmy’s Farm. Imaginations will be set on fire with vibrant performances from local and international narrators during join-in story rounds and kids’ storytime sessions.
The vibe Eccentric yarn-swapping, and established artists sharing their know-how.
Highlights Tales from the first storytelling Laureate Taffy Thomas MBE.
Added extras It’s possible to visit for a day or the weekend. Buy camping tickets online, or simply ‘pay what you feel’ on the day.
Getting there Ipswich station.
THE ONE IN A CHURCH
Thaxted Festival, Essex
22–24 June, 29 June–1 July, 6–8 July, 13–15 July
What’s it all about? Four weekends of exciting music concerts in Thaxted’s pretty medieval Church. With its roots in composer Gustav Holst’s early-20th-century Whitsuntide Festivals, expect choral recitals to cool jazz ensembles, plus (on some nights) traditional Morris dancing in the streets.
The vibe Musical couples with kids in tow (especially for the family concert on 30 June) and toe-tapping jazz maestros, all found nibbling on homemade lemon drizzle during the interval.
Highlights Cello virtuoso and BBC Musician of the year Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Ronnie Scott’s Big Band, and The Brandenburg Sinfonia performing works by Bach.
Added extras Sign up for the Thaxted Music Lovers supporters’ scheme for early bird information about events and priority booking.
Getting there Head to Stansted airport station, then hop on the number 6 bus.
THE HISTORICAL ONE
Wimpole History Festival, Cambridgeshire
What’s it all about? A happy marriage between the Cambridge Literary Festival and the National Trust, at the elegant country mansion and parklands of Wimpole Estate. Last year’s debut was a huge hit, bringing to life times past from the Vikings through to the Victorians. This year’s event marks the centenary of female suffrage and Kate Pankhurst (descendant of Emmeline) will speak on game-changing women through the ages, while British Museum curator Tom Williams will deep-dive into Viking Britain. There will also be a range of interactive events for little ones.
The vibe Laid-back cerebral pondering and re-enactors dressed head-to-toe in Tudor garb.
Highlights Mary Beard and David Olusoga discussing BBC’s Civilisations.
Added extras Pack your own picnic hamper and laze in the leafy grounds, which come complete with pleasure grounds, a walled garden, and parterre.
Getting there Cambridge station, then take the number 75 bus.
THE BOUTIQUE LITERARY ONE
Felixstowe Book Festival, Suffolk
29 June–1 July
What’s it all about? Quaint seaside town Felixstowe – all Edwardian houses and sweeping beaches – hosts a literary love-in with talks on everything from Medieval knights to 1960s counterculture, across venues including the Palm Court at Harvest House (where Wallis Simpson secretly hid while awaiting her divorce) and brightly-coloured beach huts. Expect poetry readings and workshops – crime writing or comic arts anyone?
The vibe Intellects-on-hols and wannabe writers, biros tucked behind ears.
Highlights Horatio Clare and Rose George – who joined container crew ships – reveal all about the shipping industry, plus kids’ animation workshops with Peter Bunzl of The Cogheart Adventures fame.
Added extras There’s no camping, but bedding down at the historical Orwell Hotel (theorwellhotel.co.uk) is a smart choice.
Getting there Felixstowe station.
THE INDULGENT ONE
Norwich Gin Festival, Norfolk
What’s it all about? The UK’s largest gin festival touches down in The Halls in Norwich. Leave the kids at home for this over-18s affair, which brings together a plethora of global gins alongside music and sampling classes. Whether you want to talk botanicals with experts or prop up the bar with a cold G&T, this mini-festival (day and evening slots) is just the thing.
The vibe Fun and free-spirited: expect juniper junkies who can sniff out a Tanqueray 10 in seconds.
Highlights You’ll find tipples here that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Added extras Need more craft gin in your life? Visit the nearby Mash Tun pub’s Gin Palace (01603 660355) or do a distillery tour at the Ten Bells pub (thetenbellsnorwich.com).
Getting there Norwich station.
THE ALL- AMERICAN ONE
Maverick Festival, Suffolk
What’s it all about? Maverick is an American roots extravaganza with country, bluegrass and blues artists performing across five stages set amongst the stunning Easton Farm Park. While many acts hail from the USA, there’s a place for the likes of Nottingham folk-grassers The Most Ugly Child. Texan BBQ and Thai bites are best washed down with a pint of Suffolk cider.
The vibe Countryside cowboy garb, some cool Stetson-rocking pooches (kept on leads), and a great gee-taring good time.
Highlights The moonshine cocktail bar, Memphis soulsters Southern Avenue, and Hawaiian guitar-backed hula hooping.
Added extras Sleeping under canvas? Either pitch up your own tent or, for that authentic wild west feel, book one of the available tipis. Under 10s go free; yee-ha to that.
Getting there Nearest station is Wickham Market, then a short taxi ride.
THE ETHEREAL ONE
Ely Folk Festival, Cambridgeshire
What’s it all about? Cathedral city Ely might be small, but its folk festival has a reputation as one of the world’s best. Folk and indie acts take to three marquees at this bijou gathering, and you can brush up on your Flying Scotsman or Eva Three Step during a rousing ceilidh. Bring an instrument as impromptu jam sessions are common.
The vibe Kid-friendly, dog-friendly, and just all-round friendly – it’s a winner for all ages.
Highlights Poet Gareth Calway, one-man musical storyteller David Gibb and Highland-Fling exuberance and bagpiping from Skipinnish.
Added extras There’s also FolkEast (folkeast.co.uk; 17–19 Aug) in the grounds of Suffolk’s Glemham Hall and Cambridge Folk Festival (cambridgelivetrust.co.uk; 2–5 August).
Getting there Ely station.
THE ARTSY ONE
Holt Festival, Norfolk
What’s it all about? With its antiques shops and Georgian buildings, Holt is a crowd-pleaser. The icing on the cake is its nine-day festival when every nook (pubs, school halls, theatre-in-the-woods) bursts with arts talent. Ranging from talks and concerts to comedy and the visual arts, at this year’s tenth anniversary festival you’ll find mime artists gallivanting on the streets and poets having slam sessions. Actors and comedians arrive to perform, and to watch; Stephen Fry has been spotted in the crowd before.
The vibe Jovial local families hanging with ahead-of-the-curve arts connoisseurs.
Highlights Comedian Jasper Carrott, Leo Sayer and ‘in conversation’ with the BBC’s John Simpson.
Added extras There’s no designated camping, but Kelling Heath (kellingheath.co.uk) is close by. Some great free art exhibitions will keep you busy between ticketed events.
Getting there Sheringham station, then take the number 44 bus.
THE FLAMBOYANT ONE
Maui Waui Festival, Suffolk
What’s it all about? Gorilla-suited groovers and stilt-walking bees aboard a pirate ship with pyrotechnic cannons... shy and retiring Maui Waui is not. This under-the-radar festival in Theberton puts on a weekend-long riot of music (electro swing through to trance) circus and cabaret. Extravagant creativity reigns supreme, with a body painting competition, and budding Brit musicians on the Flavour Parlour stage. Ethical food stalls and a kids’ area (free for under 13s) give it a fun family feel.
The vibe Infectious kookiness. All-out fancy dress is thoroughly approved of.
Highlights Aerial stunts workshops and afrobeat bands on the new World Music Café stage.
Added extras Choose between weekend camping (‘quiet camping’ tickets offer pitches away from the hubbub) and day tickets. There’s even a ticket specially for teens.
Getting there Saxmundham station, then a short taxi ride to the festival site.
THE FOODIE ONE
Bury St Edmunds Food and Drink Festival, Suffolk
What’s it all about? Loosen your belts for this two-day culinary feast. Celebrity chefs sizzle during cooking demonstrations, there’s a farmer’s market, plus tons of artisan food stalls where you can gorge on the likes of local cheese or warm sourdough. Kids will love the cheeky pygmy goats at the mini-farm, and there are Punch and Judy shows too.
The vibe Fete meets food; discerning food safari-ers munching on farm-to-table fare and aspiring mini-chefs at the cake decorating classes.
Highlights Celebrity chefs Paul Rankin (Ready Steady Cook) and Jack Stein whipping up a storm in the display kitchens.
Added extras Entry is free, but bring cash so you can eat ‘til you pop and shop for top-notch produce.
Getting there Bury St Edmunds station.
Book your train travel early for advanced fares from only £10 one-way. For more information, visit greateranglia.co.uk