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Bristol Harbour Festival

Updated on April 12, 2015


The Bristol Harbour Festival is an annual event held in the centre of the city of Bristol in England, which in 2015 is being held from 17th - 19th July 2014. This page aims to give a rough outline of the event, along with links for more information.


The Bristol harbour festival started in 1971 with events associated with the historic harbourside at it's heart. Originally the harbour festival was a strongly maritime event tied inextricably to the docks, but as time has progressed additional events have been added which occur in the surrounding streets.

The replica of John Cabot's Matthew within Bristol floating harbour.
The replica of John Cabot's Matthew within Bristol floating harbour.
An aerial view of the ciy of Bristol.  The harbourside area where the event takes place can be seen in the foreground.
An aerial view of the ciy of Bristol. The harbourside area where the event takes place can be seen in the foreground.

The centre of Bristol, particularly the docks has played a very important part in history of not only England but the world.  Bristol is perhaps most famous nowadays for being a key part of the slave trade, but Bristol's continent occurred before this.  Over 500 years ago John Cabot, on his ship The Matthew, set off to find a shorter route to East Asia from Bristol, but got interrupted by Newfoundland.  In doing so he was the first person to discover North America, and so to commemomorate the 500th anniversary a replica of The Matthew was constructed, and after replicating the journey of 500 years previously, now sits in Bristol.  Even after the abolition of slavery Bristol continued to be an important trading city.  In 1843 Brunel launched a ship from Bristol which was at the time the largest ship afloat, and was also the first boat of any considerable size to combine an iron hull and screw propeller.  This boat was the SS Great Britain, and now sits in the dry dock where she was first built. 

The festival today

Whilst the festival still contains a very strong maritime theme, it has also grown to include many events which are in no way linked to boats. However boats are still the main draw for many, with a wide variety of boats being shown, some of which have travelled a very long way to be at the festival. Some of these boats are shown in the Youtube video. Generally though there is at least one boat from the UK armed forces and sometimes visiting armed forces. In addition a number of tall ships also turn up, along with The Matthew which is based within the docks. It is not uncommon for round the world racing yachts to also turn up. These flagship boats are generally accompanied by a flotilla of smaller boats, numbering in the hundreds.

In addition to the maritime events there are events which occur on dry land.  A large stage is put up in Bristol's Events Square and live music is played throughout the days of the event.  There are performances on this stage of dancing and circus skills.  The streets around the harbourside are pedestrianised for the Bristol harbour festival, with various stall being set up, along with street performances.  Finally on the Saturday evening there is a large fireworks display, with some of the fireworks being fired off of the buildings surrounding the docks and some actually being launched off of the boats in the water.

Have you visited the Bristol Harbour Festival before?

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Would you like to visit the Bristol Harbour Festival in the future?

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    • BristolBoy profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Bristol

      Hi Dave. Thanks for providing that link to the Bristol Harbour Festival official site!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      The festivals website is at for those that want more information


    • BristolBoy profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Bristol

      Thanks for the comment Eonsaway. It must truly be quite an amazing experience.

    • eonsaway profile image


      11 years ago from New Mexico, USA

      What fun to cross the ocean and arrive at the festival by boat.

    • BristolBoy profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Bristol

      It is definitely somethign I would recommend if in the area. Also Bristol generally is a nice, and popular, city to visit for what travel agents describe as 'city breaks' and so if going on a city break to Bristol this is one of the best weekends for it (the balloon fiesta weekend is also amazing).

    • 2patricias profile image


      11 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Interesting Hub! Makes me think that I might like to go to the festival.

    • BristolBoy profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Bristol

      Thanks for the comment and indeed it is!

    • kappa022 profile image


      11 years ago from Florida

      looks like a beautiful place to visit!


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