The top highbrow festivals in the UK

  • 10th May 2014

As the sun comes out across Europe and we approach the festival season we wanted to share with you some of the most popular highbrow festivals this year.

Hay on Wye Festival

22 May – 1 June 2014

Bill Clinton who visited this festival a few years ago described it as a “Woodstock for the mind”. Hay on Wye is a literary festival but also covers all kinds of music, comedy, current affairs and even activities for children. It’s a favourite annual haunt for the educated classes and is now celebrating its 27th year. The festival starts this coming weekend and lasts until the end of the UK Spring bank holiday.

The festival outgrew the small town of Hay on Wye which is famous for its myriad of second hand book shops and now takes place in a field about a mile from the town centre, surrounded by beautiful green rolling hills. You can sit in a range of large marquees to hear extracts from the novels of first time authors or listen to interviews with more famous writers such as Steven Fry or BBC personalities like Joan Bakewell. Topics include poetry, history, science, food, travel and the classics.

Hayon Wye Festival-10_original

Photo Credit: Hay on Wye Festival

Anyone who loves to chill out in the lovely Welsh countryside with a book will enjoy this festival and there are even deckchairs scattered around the festival site for just this purpose – weather permitting of course!

Hay on Wye Festival Site Credit Kathryn Bullock_original

Best to bring an umbrella as the weather can be unpredictable and some comfortable shoes as you’ll end up walking to and from the town to find food and drink as the festival site can get crowded. It’s best to book tickets in advance as many sessions sell out.

Accommodation in the town sells out about a year in advance but as long as you’re prepared to drive at least 30 minutes to the festival you can choose from a good range of campsites, B&Bs, hotels in the surrounding towns and villages and even luxury tepees for those who want to try “glamping”, a new style of glamorous camping.

If you like to combine your book sessions with something a bit more active the River Wye nearby offers some spectacular canoeing and you can sail down river and camp on the riverside which is highly recommended. The town of Hay on Wye offers places to hire your kayak or open topped Canadian canoe.

Ticket Prices: From £5 – £9 per hour session

Location: Hay On Wye, Wales, UK. Approximately 2 hours drive from Birmingham

Bath International Music Festival

16 – 26 May 2014

This is a popular festival and within close proximity of flights into Bristol. You can still catch the last few weeks of this festival which include performances by:
– the jazz singer Stacey Kent featuring some Bossa Nova classics,
– Iiro Rantala – one of Finland’s best known classical and jazz pianists playing Goldberg Variations,
– Musicians of the Globe who sing about tales from the restoration period including one of a death by custard!

Ticket Prices: £5 – £28

A Bank Holiday Weekend Jazz Pass for £60 gives you entry to any of the Guildhall jazz events for the three days from 24-26 May 2016.

Location: Bath, Avon, UK. 45 mins from Bristol by car or train.

Glyndebourne Festival

17 May – 24 August 2014

This world famous festival of opera has been running since 1934 with a break for the war and takes place at a beautiful English country house from which it takes its name. The resident orchestra is the London Symphony Orchestra which also features one of the productions at the Proms in London. The festival is most famous for its Mozart operas. The performances start in the afternoon with a long interval to allow for a picnic in the gardens which are legendary as they are inevitably done in style.

The festival features the following opera this season:

Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss
Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Don Giovanni and La finta giardiniera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
La traviata by Giuseppe Verdi
Rinaldo by George Frideric Handel

Opera Ticket Prices: £50 – £215. Booking for Glyndebourne on tour will open on 9th June 2014.

Location: Lewes, East Sussex, UK

If you don’t manage to make it to the festival itself, three performances are being screened for the cinema and the operas will go on tour in the UK from October to November 2014 visiting smaller towns such as Norwich, Milton Keynes and Plymouth.
Bath Cinema Ticket Prices: From £13 Live screenings on 8 June, 6 July and 10 August.

Glyndebourne Festival

Locations: Norwich, Milton Keynes (1 hour 15mins from Birmingham) and Plymouth (2 hours drive from Bristol).

English Haydn Festival

3 – 8 June 2014

Bridgnorth img_1226591249_14941_1233426245_mod_319_349_original

Bridgnorth on River Severn Photo Credit: © E Brown

This is the 21st anniversary festival to celebrate the music that Joseph Haydn wrote for his visits to England. The festival also covers his busy composing career during the years between performances of his Paris and London Symphonies which are called “The Golden Years” as many of these commissions were paid with gold.

The festival takes place in various churches across the picturesque town on the edge of the River Severn and offers meals in a large festival marquee. The English Haydn Orchestra conducted by Anthony Halstead is the mainstay of the festival with a range of visiting string quartets from across the UK.

Ticket Prices: £16 – £28 per performance

Location: Bridgnorth, Shropshire UK (1 hour’s drive from Birmingham or 1 hour 20 minutes from East Midlands Airport).

Oxford Leider Festival and the Schubert Project

10 October – 1 November 2014

The Sheldonian (one of the concert venues) Photo credit:

The Sheldonian (one of the concert venues) Photo credit:

This classical music festival was started in 2002 and begins with an opening concert with Sarah Connolly CBE. This year it will be the first complete performance ever of all of Franz Schubert’s 650 songs at a single festival with a series of more than 50 concerts.

In addition to the concerts there will be a series of other Viennese themed events happening across Oxford, including Austrian food, special exhibitions at the local museums, a study day and a Schubert pop up salon.

Ticket prices vary from free to £42 for each event. General booking opens on 2 June but you can already buy festival passes online from £270 to £600.

Location: 10 different venues in Oxford renowned for their acoustics, UK (1 hour and 30 minutes drive from Bristol).

All the festivals shown above are accessible from bmi regional UK destinations such as Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands and Norwich.

Watch out for our forthcoming blog in June on more fascinating highbrow festivals across Europe. What’s your favourite festival? Do share with us on our Facebook page.