Follow our exclusive guide to this weekend's harbourside frolics
1 Ship shapes and boating fashion
What began as a celebration of Bristol’s city centre waterways and nautical heritage always has seafaring craft at its heart and this year is no different. The Kaskelot, The Earl of Pembroke and The Phoenix are three handsome tall ships who share the distinction of being registered at the Port of Bristol. The Kaskelot is one of the largest wooden ships still being used and is a regular sight in the harbour. As well as these elegant reminders of days gone by, the Western Boat Show – making its Bristol Harbour Festival debut – will add a touch of 21st-century boating fashion to the weekend, displaying the latest in yachts, canal boats and everything inbetween for sale.
There will be live music wherever you turn this weekend, with plenty of individual stages and what looks to be a memorable launch concert. The Bristol Plays Music stage on Welsh Back will allow local talent to entertain the crowds while the Cascade Steps will be another great place to catch some tunes. There will also be music courtesy of the BBC stage over at the ss Great Britain, at The Grain Barge and two separate stages at The Thekla. It will all begin with Roots Manuva and the Outlook Orchestra playing to 5,000 fans at a sold-out gig in the Lloyds Ampitheatre on Friday evening.
3 Queen Square – food and dancing
Abba once sang ‘You are the Dancing Queen’ and we’ll all be strutting our stuff in Queen Square this year as the Dance Village will be all about taking part instead of just watching. Some of the most experienced dance tutors and groups from across the city will be assembling to teach a host of dance styles from blues and breakdance to salsa and waltz. And if you work up an appetite learning some energetic moves then luckily the ever-popular continental food market will be just yards away around the edge of the square, supplying moreish meals from across Europe.
4 Fun for families
A quarter of a million people enjoy the Harbour Festival every year and if you want to find a place away from the ever-moving crowds to relax with the family then make your way to Castle Park. Home to this year’s Circus stage, there will be free entertainment for families from noon until 6pm on Saturday and Sunday, led by Bristol’s very own circus skills specialists Cirque Bijou. This is an area for all ages from babies up to teenagers with juggling, street circus, aerial stunts and comedy on offer. The whole programme will be signed by BSL interpreters to make it as accessible as possible.
5 A classical curtain call
Bristol is known for doing things differently and a performance with an unusual twist will close this year’s Bristol Harbour Festival. Handel’s Water Music was first performed in 1717, 300 years ago, when King George I asked for a concert on The Thames. It’s only appropriate then, that Bristol celebrates such an important anniversary by playing the music as it was intended, with the Bristol Ensemble taking to a flotilla of boats to play these familiar pieces of classical music to the crowds.