The best festivals in East Anglia in 2019
Bookworm or history buff, music lover or aeroplane aficionado – there's a festival for everyone in East Anglia this year.
Classical and cultural festivals
Felixstowe Book Festival, Suffolk
Quaint seaside town Felixstowe – all Edwardian houses and sweeping beaches – hosts a literary love-in with talks on everything from Tudor bed-hopping to passport fraud, across venues including the Palm Court at Harvest House (where Wallis Simpson secretly hid while awaiting her divorce) and brightly coloured beach huts.
Highlights: Sharp-eyed satirist Jonathan Coe discusses the state of Brexit Britain with fellow novelist and festival patron Esther Freud.
Nearest station: Felixstowe
Aldeburgh Festival, Suffolk
Featuring 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.
Highlights: Spellbinding Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan will sing, narrate and recite. Top tenor Mark Padmore features in no less than seven concerts. And Royal Opera House maestro Antonio Pappano leads a week-long masterclass.
Nearest station: Saxmundham, then a short taxi ride.
Wimpole History Festival, Cambridgeshire
This collaboration between the Cambridge Literary Festival and the National Trust takes place at the elegant country mansion and parklands of Wimpole Estate. Now in its third year, the family-friendly festival brings leading historians to the rolling acres and book-lined halls of Cambridgeshire’s stateliest home.
Highlights: High-profile historians including Antony Beevor, Lucy Worsley and Neil Oliver hold forth. And beloved children’s author Michael Morpurgo delivers a special musical performance of his novel The Mozart Question.
Nearest station: Cambridge, then the number 75 bus.
Cambridge Festival of Ideas
If you want to explore the thorniest issues of our times, Cambridge’s annual fortnight of debate and discussion is the ticket. Gathering many of the university’s world-renowned arts, humanities and social sciences academics, topics range from Brexit to sex, food to fundamentalism. With talks and workshops at various university venues, it’s a chance to engage with academic life in this most intellectually stimulating of cities.
Highlights 2019: Programme to be confirmed.
Nearest station: Cambridge
Thaxted Festival, Essex
Weekends of 21 June–14 July
Thaxted’s pretty medieval church hosts four weekends of exciting concerts. With its roots in composer Gustav Holst’s early 20th-century Whitsuntide Festivals, expect choral recitals to cool-cat jazz ensembles and Latino toe-tappers.
Highlights: A former BBC Young Musician, pianist Martin James Bartlett performs Bach and Schumann, while world-class choral ensemble Tenebrae sing Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and other Russian choral treasures.
Nearest station: Stansted airport, then the number 6 bus.
Food and drink festivals
Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival, Suffolk
There’s a festival for most things (music, poetry, theatre) in Suffolk’s most genteel seaside town but, for pure self-indulgence, this food and drink extravaganza the one to visit. Top chefs and food writers mingle with the best local producers at Snape Maltings for a weekend of unadulterated yumminess.
Highlights: Tucking into the best of wild Suffolk at over 100 stalls.
Nearest station: Saxmundham, then a short taxi ride.
Ely Eel Festival, Cambridgeshire
This slipperiest of celebrations marks the ancient connection between the fenland city and its namesake fish. Over a weekend, you can truly have your fill of all things eel – seek them out on the city’s Eel Trail, eat jellied eels in the food and drink market, and even see how far you can throw one (or at least a stuffed toy lookalike).
Highlights: Celebrity chef Aldo Zilli will be among the big names at the foodie festival around Ely Cathedral.
Nearest station: Ely
Crab & Lobster Festival, Cromer
Cromer and Sheringham – friendly rivals on the beautiful north Norfolk coast – get together for this annual crustacean celebration. Kicking off with a concert of sea shanties, the weekend features crabby cooking demos and over 50 stallholders selling local food and drink. Incidentally, the crabs and lobsters are especially good here because they feed off what has been dubbed Norfolk’s Great Barrier Reef – the world’s longest chalk reef, just offshore.
Highlights: The ultimate crab sandwich competition, judged on Saturday.
Nearest station: Cromer
Bury St Edmunds Food & Drink Festival, Suffolk
Loosen your belts for this two-day culinary feast, featuring cooking demonstrations from celebrity chefs, a farmers' market, and lots of artisan food stalls where you can gorge on local cheese or warm sourdough. Kids will love the cheeky pygmy goats at the mini farm, and there are Punch and Judy shows too.
Highlights: Celebrity chefs Nick Nairn (Ready Steady Cook) and Dean Edwards whipping up a storm in the display kitchens.
Nearest station: Bury St Edmunds
Maverick Festival, Suffolk
Maverick is an American roots hoedown with country, bluegrass and blues artists performing across five stages set among the bucolic Easton Farm Park. Many acts hail from the US – this year’s headliners include rockabilly singer and guitarist Rosie Flores and Appalachian multi-instrumentalist Chance McCoy. The Texan barbecue and Thai bites on offer are best washed down with a pint of Suffolk cider.
Highlights: The moonshine cocktail bar and Hawaiian guitar-backed hula hooping.
Nearest station: Wickham Market, then a short taxi ride.
Latitude, Southwold, Suffolk
35,000 people can’t be wrong. Famous for big-name bands and a family-friendly vibe, this much-loved extravaganza is as much about theatre, dance and swimming in a lake as it is about moshing to George Ezra (though you can do that this year too). The landscaped grounds of Henham Park play host to half-a-dozen music stages, one of Europe’s biggest comedy line-ups, several kids' zones, yoga and healing spaces, and much more besides.
Highlights: George Ezra, Lana Del Rey, Snow Patrol and Underworld headline.
Nearest station: Diss, then take a festival transfer bus.
Cambridge Folk Festival
Founded in 1965, this is one of the world's longest running music festivals – and a treat for both dyed-in-the-wool folkies and those who are simply curious. Spread out across the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall to the south of the city, it draws international big names as well as up-and-coming musicians. Local boy and Mercury Prize nominee Nick Mulvey is this year’s guest curator.
Highlights: An intriguing collaboration between Malian funksters Amadou & Mariam and Grammy-winning gospel singers the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Nearest station: Cambridge, then a short taxi ride or bus journey.
Maui Waui Festival, Suffolk
With 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 (from electro-swing to trance), circus and cabaret. Extravagant creativity reigns supreme, with a body-painting competition, and budding musicians on the Flavour Parlour stage. Ethical food stalls and a kids’ area give it a fun family feel.
Highlights: Aerial stunts workshops and Afrobeat bands on the new World Music Cafe stage.
Nearest station: Saxmundham, then a short taxi ride.
First Light Lowestoft
New for 2019 is this summer solstice celebration with a twist. Designer and social entrepreneur Wayne Hemingway curates a free, 24-hour multi-arts party at the precise easterly point – Lowestoft South Beach – where the sun first hits Britain. Stay up on this shortest of nights (sunrise is at 4.30am) and enjoy silent discos, film screenings, kids foraging areas and a foodie night market – plus dance tunes from big-name DJs.
Highlights: DJ Gilles Peterson builds a suitably transcendent mood through the night. Mercury Prize-winning musician Talvin Singh greets the dawn on a euphoric high.
Nearest station: Lowestoft
Norfolk & Norwich Festival
Move over Edinburgh – Norwich’s multi-arts festival traces its roots back to 1772, making it one of the oldest in the UK. As ever, a world-class programme will bring an eclectic mix of performers to venues across the city, from spiralling circus troupes to world musicians.
Highlights: Pioneering world music collective Las Maravillas de Mali get their Afro-Cuban groove on at the Theatre Royal, while gravity-defying acrobatic troupe A Simple Space do unbelievable things in mid-air.
Nearest station: Norwich
Holt Festival, Norfolk
With its antiques shops and Georgian buildings, Holt is a crowd-pleaser. The icing on the cake is its week-long 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, 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.
Highlights: Yet to be announced for 2019, but 2018 crowd-pleasers included veteran BBC correspondent John Simpson and 1970s pop heart-throb Leo Sayer. [2019 HIGHLIGHTS ANNOUNCED ON 8 MARCH]
Nearest station: Sheringham, then take the number 44 bus.
Duxford Air Shows, Imperial War Museums Duxford
25–26 May, 13–14 July & 21–22 September
Chocks away – the Imperial War Museums’ Duxford site hosts three spectacular air shows this year. First up is Duxford Air Festival (25–26 May), where planes from every era of aviation history will tear up the Cambridgeshire skies. Next up is Flying Legends (13–14 July), one of the world’s greatest gatherings of vintage planes, from Spitfires to Warhawks. Finally, Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show (21–22 September) recreates Duxford’s finest hour as a Second World War fighter base.
Highlights: The mass Spitfire flypast at the Battle of Britain Air Show – a genuine lump-in-throat moment.
Nearest station: Whittlesford Parkway, then walk to Duxford Road and then catch the 7A bus.
Out There International Festival of Circus & Street Arts, Great Yarmouth
Norfolk’s favourite resort is transformed into a baton-twirling, fire-breathing big top for one of Europe’s leading street arts and circus skills festivals. Hosted outdoors throughout town, last year’s event attracted around 50,000 spectators and 150 performers from 10 different countries – and it’s completely free.
Highlights: Expect the unexpected – and polish up your juggling skills.
Closest station: Great Yarmouth