With summer gradually drawing to a close and autumn just around the corner, there is a wealth of colourful and diverse events to look forward to across Northern Ireland.
Whether you’re an art afficionado, a music lover, or a food fanatic, you will find an event to whet your appetite.
This month, keep pace with the Antrim Coast Half Marathon, find some inspiration and have a laugh at Bangor’s Open House Festival, or immerse yourself in the rich cultural diversity of Belfast Mela.
As September rolls around, check out an array of international and homegrown musical and artistic talent at the new look Culture Night Belfast, the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and Derry~Londonderry’s Carnival of Colours.
Or if going in search of some tasty treats is more your idea of a fun day out, then don’t miss the sumptuous Armagh Food and Cider Festival and NI Vegan Festival.
Finally, as October descends and the nights draw in, there will be some spooky goings on as Crumlin Road Gaol as the Jail of Horror bares its teeth once again.
Whatever your preference, Discover Northern Ireland has rounded up a list of the most unmissable events to wrap up the summer season and help kick start autumn in style.
Open House Festival, Bangor, County Down: 12 – 30 August
Open House Festival centres around a three-week series of events in the beautiful surroundings of the Walled Garden at Bangor Castle. Due to reduced capacity at this year’s festival, the music, comedy and spoken word events will be open air, with all guests being fully under a canopy. While many of the headline acts like Mary Coughlan, Paddy Raff and Shane Todd have already sold out, there are plenty of other performances and activities to enjoy such as walks, talks and tours around the seaside town. And don’t miss the free concerts in Ward Park on Sunday afternoons during August and September (restrictions permitting). www.openhousefestival.com/
Antrim Coast Half Marathon, Larne, County Antrim: Sunday 29 August
Set against the stunning backdrop of the iconic Antrim Coast Road, this is the fastest half-marathon on the island of Ireland and one of the fastest courses in Europe. Last year’s race was won by Sir Mo Farah and his love affair with the event continues as the four-time Olympic gold medallist will once again be attending in 2021. The race will include 100 elite runners and 10,000 mass participation runners as well as an after party and a finishing hub with 40 vendors, circus acts, street art, bar, live music, kid’s play zone and all for free. www.antrimcoasthalfmarathon.com/
Belfast Mela, Belfast: 23 – 29 August
Northern Ireland’s largest cultural diversity festival, the Belfast Mela, is set to return with a fresh look and a week-long programme packed with music, dance, cookery, art and theatre. The highlights of this year’s festival – now celebrating its 15th year – include a wonderful free ‘Mini Mela’ across the city centre on August 28, an exciting pop-up world music and dance event at Writers Square, and Cathedral Gardens will be transformed into Culture Land, where children will journey across the globe to explore cultures and traditions. www.belfastmela.org.uk
Hillsborough Honey Fair, County Down: 21-22 August
The stunning and historic surroundings of Hillsborough Castle and Gardens is set to open its grounds to over 30 high quality local producers and food vendors. Enjoy guided walks, demonstrations, family activities, storytelling sessions, foraging and live music. And of course, beekeeping experts will be buzzing to share fascinating insights into the world of bees. Tickets start at £13.50 for adults and £7 for children; family tickets are available. To book visit www.hrp.org.uk/hillsborough-castle
Belfast Maritime Festival, Belfast: 4 – 5 September
All aboard for a family-friendly adventure along Belfast’s iconic waterfront from Sailortown to Titanic Quarter. Check out an array of visiting vessels, street performers, walking tours, music and dance performances, water-based activities, as well as a food market on the historic Titanic slipways.
Carnival of Colours, Derry~Londonderry: 4 -5 September
A firm favourite in the north-west’s cultural events calendar, this year’s circus, arts and music festival will be making an exciting move to the city centre. Showcasing Derry~Londonderry as a must-see destination, the annual bash will feature street theatre shows wowing the audience with their scale and awe-inspiring talents, a groovy hippy disco, a night of music and cabaret at the Nerve Centre (restrictions permitting), street/caricature artists located across the city, and outdoor workshops in circus skills, dance and graffiti art.
Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Belfast: 2-12 September
After talking a year off, Belfast’s most dynamic and liveliest arts festival is back with an incredible programme of live music, comedy, literature, theatre and talks and tours. The 21st edition of the annual festival will make greater use of outdoor spaces and use larger venues to facilitate social distancing. Many of the shows will also be livestreamed for those unable to attend in person. The line-up of musical performances this year includes Bell X1 (SOLD OUT), Lisa Hannigan, Bronagh Gallagher, Kíla, The Adventures, Camille O’Sullivan, Ciaran Lavery and Grainne Duffy. Live comedy headliners include the welcome returns of Andrew Maxwell, Rich Hall (SOLD OUT) and Teresa Livingstone. Meanwhile, the live-theatre line-up includes Anthem by CQAF bursary award winner Alice Malseed and Sarah Baxter, and Bruiser Theatre Co present Owen McCafferty’s tour de force Mojo Mickeybo. To book tickets visit www.cqaf.com
Hit the North Street Art Festival, Belfast: 5 – 12 September
Centred around Belfast’s Union Street and Kent Street, this colourful event is back for its 9th year and has grown to be one of the biggest street art festivals on the island of Ireland. Having transformed the visual landscape across the city centre and Cathedral Quarter with over 300 murals painted to date, this year’s event will feature 50 local and international artists, with an array of styles and techniques on show.
Armagh Food and Cider Festival, County Armagh: 9 – 12 September
Scrumptious food, bubbling cider and a huge serving of top-end gastronomic experiences are all back on the menu in Ireland’s Orchard County. The event promises the finest recipe of outstanding culinary events from sumptuous undercover and outdoor dining experiences, to food masterclasses and demos, cider tastings and tours across a range of stunning locations, including Armagh’s historic Crannagael House, the multi award-winning Blackwell House and the rolling hills of Brookvale Farm. Book now at www.visitarmagh.com
Culture Night Belfast Presents the Garden City, Belfast: 17 – 19 September
Returning with a new Covid-safe format, this event will transform locations like Cathedral Gardens and Writers’ Square into colourful, nature-inspired areas, evoking the feeling of a garden in the heart of the city. www.culturenightbelfast.com
“This year’s Culture Night welcomes a new concept, presenting a unique and monumental immersive installation that will be showcased in Writer’s Square. The new COVID-safe approach to the event marks a significant change from the mixed city centre wide programme of previous years. The weekend event will run from September 17th – 19th and will incorporate an interactive trail to help visitors to explore the culturally rich Cathedral Quarter.”
NI Vegan Festival, Belfast: 18 September
This event will deliver a vegan market, cooking demonstrations, food garden, children’s entertainment and a simply outstanding vegan food in NI’s largest rooftop venue, CityScape Belfast located atop Belfast’s iconic CastleCourt shopping centre. Whether you are at the beginning of your journey into the world of the purely plant-based or you’re already some way down the road, this festival will be carried out in the spirit of full inclusivity for all.
Snow Water Festival, County Down: 18 – 19 September
A new immersive music and spoken word experience at the Ulster Folk Museum in Cultra, this two-day festival will feature over 35 of Northern Ireland’s foremost artists, with a focus on singer-songwriters and bands who have had international tours cancelled due to the pandemic. The event will also see a series of new collaborations and ‘in the round’ concerts with top musicians who have not performed with each other before. Meanwhile, film buffs will be catered to as NI Screen Archive will showing movies throughout the day. Tours of the Folk Museum by experienced guides, craft demonstrations and story-telling will also make this a unique family-friendly experience.
Jail of Horror, Belfast: 18 October – 1 November
One of the most fearsome events on the calendar, the Jail of Horror takes one of Belfast’s most haunted buildings, Crumlin Road Gaol, and opens its cells for a spine-chilling, nerve-shredding experience. Unwitting visitors will come face to face with scary inmates, killer clowns, witches and other ghastly ghouls. Meanwhile, the Paranormal Investigation tour takes visitors on a search for the spirits which many people believe still haunt the building. You will assist paranormal experts by conducting various experiments in the most haunted locations of the jail including the tunnel, infirmary, boiler room and hanging cell. Not for the faint of heart! www.crumlinroadgaol.com
Ultimate Strongman World Championship III, Belfast: 29-31 October
Taking place for the first time in Northern Ireland, in Crumlin Road Gaol, this family-friendly event for fans of all ages will showcase the biggest legends in strongman sport from around the world alongside a programme of entertainment. The event will be filmed for TV being shown around the world and will be streamed live on our Facebook page.
The City of Derry International Choir Festival (also available online): 20-24 October
The only international choir festival held in the UK, this event was conceived as a joyous celebration of all that choral singing has to offer. Its activities include concerts by world-renowned vocal groups, competitions for choirs, workshops and educational events for singers and conductors, community concerts and choral trails in landmark locations across the city and the surrounding area. And, following the success of the festival’s digital offer in 2020, the organisers will be offering a full programme for online audiences, accessible through Facebook, YouTube and the festival website. www.derrychoirfest.com
Belfast International Arts Festival, Belfast: 6 October – 7 November
Back for its 59th edition, Northern Ireland’s largest contemporary arts festival will offer an extensive programme of both live performances and a selection of online events that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. Featuring the best in theatre, dance and music performances, the festival continues to explore contemporary matters of interest to audiences such as gender equality, multi-culturalism, representation, the climate crisis, and democracy. The full programme is expected to be announced later this month.
Some events are taking place both online and in person in accordance with Government guidelines and in line with current restrictions. Be sure to visit each event website to purchase in-person tickets directly.
To help make your trip as run as smoothly as possible, Discover Northern Ireland has put together 5 top tips for visitors to be aware of:
- It is essential to pre-book and to check availability directly with each provider and to be aware of each venue’s cancellation policy when booking.
- When planning a trip, consider how to avoid traffic congestion by travelling at quieter times such as weekdays, be sure to check traffic ahead of time or consider taking public transport.
- To ensure you get the most out of your day-trip or staycation, and to avoid busier spaces, consider booking a mid-week break, or explore lesser known destinations.
- Embrace a Giant Spirit safely and take care of yourself, local business and the environment around you by signing the Visitor Charter Pledge on Discover Northern Ireland’s website. Visit: https://discovernorthernireland.com/know-before-you-go/giantdifference.
- Always follow current COVID-19 travel advice and guidelines before planning and while visiting. Visit nidirect.gov.uk and check that the provider has been accredited with the “We’re Good to Go” industry standard.
For more information on great places to visit and for things to see and do – check out www.discovernorthernireland.com.