There’s nothing quite like a great British music festival. Whether you opt for the sophisticated stylings of Glyndebourne or the muddy fields of Glastonbury, there’s a real camaraderie in music lovers coming together to take a chance on the dicey British weather in order to see all their favourite performers in one place.
Well, it’s time to grab your SPF50 and your anorak. After a dire year for the music industry, which saw all of 2020’s festivals cancelled, this year festival season is back – and promises to be bigger and better than ever. From independent family-friendly set-ups to grand gigs with huge headliners, here’s our guide to the best festivals taking place in the UK in 2021.
Kaleidoscope, Alexandra Palace
Ally Pally has a long history playing host to some of the world’s most famous musicians, with The Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, The Who and Blur, among many others, gracing its lauded stages. Its one-day festival, Kaleidoscope, however, is more relaxed than rock’n’roll, with this year’s headliners including Groove Armada and The Coral. There’s a festival-within-a-festival for families, featuring arts and crafts workshops, pop-up theatre and face painting, as well as tents dedicated to literature and comedy starring the likes of Irvine Welsh and Phil Wang. For those who do want to party into the night, however, DJ sets by Norman Jay MBE, Greg Wilson and Matt ‘Jam’ Lamont promise plenty of after-dark entertainment. If you’re looking for an easy-going festival experience that is close enough to home for you to sleep in your own bed, this is the one to book now.
Isle of Wight Festival, Newport
One of the UK’s longest running music festivals, the Isle of Wight Festival put itself on the map in 1970 when it attracted more than 600,000 people hoping to catch Jimi Hendrix’s last live performance – a crowd that is still thought to be one of the largest human gatherings in history. After a council-enforced hiatus, the festival was revived in 2002 and now draws a much more manageable 60,000 people. This year’s event will be headlined by an eclectic line-up including Liam Gallagher, Tom Jones, Snow Patrol, David Guetta and Duran Duran, while a stellar roster of support acts features Sophie Ellis-Bextor, All Saints, James Arthur and Kaiser Chiefs. Suffice to say, whatever your musical tastes, you’re likely to find something to satisfy here.
Founded in 2017 and seen by many as a welcome replacement for T in the Park, which held its final event the year before, TRNSMT has quickly become the premier rock and pop festival north of the border. While its city setting means there’s no camping, TRNSMT is a classic music festival in every other way. You won’t find any comedy or theatre tents here and children under 12 are strictly banned. Instead the focus is all on the music, which this year will see acts such as The Courteeners, Liam Galllagher, The Chemical Brothers and Ian Brown take to the event’s three stages.
Kendal Calling, Kendal
The bucolic surroundings of Lowther Deer Park in the Lake District might not seem the obvious venue for one of the north’s most exciting music festivals but, for the past 15 years, Kendal Calling has been attracting some of British music’s biggest names to this remote spot of countryside. This year’s line-up include Stereophonics, Supergrass, The Streets and Dizzee Rascal, among others, while the event’s numerous secondary tents play host to the best in new music, dance, reggae, hip-hop, indie, acoustic and afrobeats. If you’ve had your fill of music, you’ll find comedy, theatre, spoken word and immersive arts experiences hidden among the woodlands, while those with a taste for the finer things in life should book a spot at Deer Lodge, Kendal Calling’s boutique camping village.
Manchester's premier music festival serves up a healthy slice of genre-spanning acts in the usually peaceful surrounds of Heaton Park each year. There are a staggering eight stages so you'll need to plan in advance to catch all the acts you want to see – and there will be plenty to add to your list. 2021's packed line-up includes the UK festival exclusive of Dave alongside Megan Thee Stallion, Skepta, Disclosure, Jamie XX and Eric Prydz. Comfortbale shoes highly recommended.
Glyndebourne Festival, Lewes
Musical tastes skew more towards classical and opera than rock and pop? The internationally-renowned Glyndebourne Festival is for you. Held in the grounds of the Grade II-listed Glyndebourne House in East Sussex, the extensive programme promises nearly three months of world class performances, with this year’s highlights including Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Rossini's Il Turco in Italia.
If this is your first time, however, there are some things you need to know. Leave the cut-off denim and washed out band tees at home: Glyndebourne maintains a formal dress code so tuxes and floor-length gowns are the order of the day. Food is also a big draw here, with two on-site restaurants offering relaxed British classics and afternoon teas alongside fine dining from the Michelin-starred Galvin Brothers. Alternatively order a classic Glyndebourne picnic to enjoy among the house’s beautiful landscaped lawns.
Big Feastival, Cotswolds
If foodie festivals are your thing, Big Feastival (as the name suggests) will be right up your street. Founded by Blur bassist Alex James in 2011 and still held on his farm in the Cotswolds, the emphasis here is on equal parts great music and even better food. 2021’s headliners, for example, include Nile Rodgers & Chic and Rag’n’Bone Man alongside Nathan Outlaw and Mark Hix. Cooking demonstrations, Q&As and tastings abound, while the Alex James Cheese Hub promises an unusual combination of two-floor nightclub and self-proclaimed ‘world-beating cheese innovation’ (your guess is as good as ours). Offering an overtly family-friendly vibe, there’s plenty to keep little ones entertained across the weekend, as well as a Friday night supper club, decadent brunches and feasting experiences to satisfy even the biggest of appetites.
At Home Farm, Elstree
Home Farm, best known as London's favourite glamping spot thanks to the fact you can get there by Thameslink, is taking a novel approach to its inaugural festival this year. Instead of hosting a blowout weekend of frivolity, At Home Farm will instead see a series of live music, gastronomy, theatre and wellbeing events pop-up across the summer. The season will open with Jack Garratt live in concert while further highlights include a woodfired banquet by Ben Quinn, a staging of Macbeth by all-female troupe The HandleBards and Slapstick Picnic’s theatre-meets-food version of The Importance of Being Earnest. There are also child-friendly circus workshops and outdoor adventure sessions as well as some seriously chic camping in the form of yurts and bell tents.