Ranging from the epic to the absurd, Wales’ wealth of festivals sees all walks of life partying in muddy fields across the country. Many of the events on the nation’s annual calendar are uniquely Welsh with an ancient pedigree, notably eisteddfodau – age-old competitions in poetry and music – that still form the backbone of national culture.
Many towns and cities now have annual arts festivals of some kind, mentioned throughout the Guide and, in the case of the major events, in the list below. There are numerous other events with a distinctly surreal edge – from the Cilgerran coracle races to bizarre happenings like peat-bog snorkelling competitions and parading around Llangynwyd village with a horse’s skull to welcome in the new year (the Mari Lwyd). Rock festivals, DJ-led events and New Age fairs and festivals are another common feature of summer throughout Wales; these are usually publicized by handbills, posters in wholefood shops and cafés, and by word of mouth.
Visit Wales maintains a fairly comprehensive events list atvisitwales.com
, and we’ve covered folk festivals on.
Mari Lwyd (Jan 1; www.folkwales.org.uk/mari.html) At Llangynwyd, near Maesteg, the most authentic survivor of the ancient Welsh custom of parading a horse’s skull through the village streets.
Six Nations rugby championship (Feb–March) Last won by Wales with a tremendous Grand Slam in 2008.
St David’s Day (March 1) Wales’ national day, with hwyrnos (late nights) and celebrations nationwide.
Wonderwool Wales (Last weekend of April; wonderwoolwales.co.uk) Over 220 exhibitors of wool products at this two-day showcase, housed in 3 halls at the Royal Welsh Showground, Builth Wells.
Hay Festival (Late May to early June) One of the most feted literary festivals in the world.
St Davids Cathedral Festival (End of May to first week in June; stdavidscathedral.org.uk) Superb setting for classical concerts and recitals over ten days.
Urdd National Eisteddfod (End of May to first week in June; urdd.org) Vast and enjoyable youth eisteddfod – one of the largest youth festivals in Europe – alternating between north (Caernarfon in 2012) and south Wales (Pembrokeshire in 2013).
Cardiff Singer of the World competition (Mid-June; bbc.co.uk/cardiffsinger) Huge, televised week-long festival of music and song held in odd-numbered years, with a star-studded list of international competitors.
Criccieth Festival (Mid-June; cricciethfestival.co.uk) Music, theatre and art around the Llŷn town.
Great Welsh Beer & Cider Festival (Mid-June; gwbcf.org.uk) Three days to sample from almost two hundred brews (many of them Welsh) in the Cardiff International Arena.
Gregynog Festival (Last half of June; gwylgregynogfestival.org) Classical music festival in the superb country-house surroundings of Gregynog Hall near Newtown, Powys.
Gŵyl Ifan (Mid-June; gwylifan.org) A weekend of folk-dancing workshops, displays and processions in various locations in and around Cardiff.
Man Versus Horse Marathon (Mid-June; green-events.co.uk) A 22-mile race at Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys, between runners and horses with both equine and human winners in its time.
Tredegar House Folk Festival (Early June; tredegarhousefestival.org.uk) A weekend of international dance, music and song at this grand seventeenth-century mansion.
Beyond the Border (Early July; beyondtheborder.com) Three-day international storytelling festival at the fairy-tale St Donat’s Castle, Vale of Glamorgan, featuring stories from world cultures for adults and children, plus live music and street theatre fun.
Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival Early July; aberaeron.info/seafood) At Aberaeron, Dyfed, some of Wales’ best chefs whip up delicious morsels.
Fancy Dress Night (First Friday in July; llanidloes.org.uk) Llanidloes, Powys. Pubs open late, streets are cordoned off and virtually the whole town dresses up.
Gower Festival (Last half of July; gowerfestival.org) Two weeks of mostly classical music in churches around the Gower.
Llangollen International Eisteddfod (First or second week in July; international-eisteddfod.co.uk) Over twelve thousand participants from all over the world, including choirs, dancers, folk singers, groups and instrumentalists. See The Llangollen International Eisteddfod.
Really Wild Food & Countryside Festival (late July; reallywildfestival.co.uk) St Davids comes alive for a weekend of rural traditions, music, storytelling and great food.
Royal Welsh Show (Late July; rwas.co.uk) Europe’s largest agricultural show and sales fair at Builth Wells; an absolute Welsh institution and a top day out. You can watch the ultra-serious judging of prize farm animals, competitive sheep-shearing or wood chopping, displays of falconry and craftsmanship, or simply feast on farm-fresh produce. Hundreds of stallholders sell everything from artisan products to agricultural equipment (see Royal Welsh Showground).
Snowdon Race (Late July; snowdonrace.co.uk) A one-day race from Llanberis up Snowdon, attracting masochists from across the world, the best runners recording times of only a little over an hour for the combined ascent and descent.
The Big Cheese (Late July; caerphilly.gov.uk/bigcheese) Massive town festival and fun fair in Caerphilly, with a Big Cheese Race, tasting and more.
Brecon Jazz Festival (Mid-Aug; breconjazz.co.uk) Widely regarded as one of the best jazz festivals in Britain; run over three days.
Croissant Neuf Summer Party (Mid-Aug; partyneuf.co.uk). Small, friendly and green weekend festival near Usk that’s always fun and especially good for families.
Green Man Festival (Late Aug) Wonderful mid-sized, three-day music festival.
Gŵyl Machynlleth (Last week in Aug; tourism.powys.gov.uk) Wide-ranging arts festival, with a solid programme of chamber music at its core.
Llandrindod Wells Victorian Festival (Late Aug; victorianfestival.co.uk) A week of family fun, street entertainment and Victorian costumes rounded off with a fireworks display.
Royal National Eisteddfod (First week in Aug; eisteddfod.org.uk) The centrepiece of Welsh culture (originally meaning “a meeting of bards”), this is very much a Welsh festival (largely conducted in Cymraeg) and is Wales’ biggest single annual event. The vast maes (field) hosts art, craft, literature, rock music, Welsh-language lessons, theatre and major music and poetry competitions. It alternates between south (Vale of Glamorgan in 2012) and north Wales (Denbigh in 2013), is lots of fun and is worth seeing if only for the overblown pageantry.
World Bog Snorkelling Championships (Aug Bank Holiday Sun; green-events.co.uk) Muddy swim-off along a 60yd long bog course at Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys.
Abergavenny Food Festival (Mid-Sept; abergavennyfoodfestival.com) This weekend chow-down is Wales’ premier gastronomic event with a smorgasbord of fresh food showcased by celebrity chefs.
Cardiff Mardi Gras (First Sat in Sept; cardiffmardigras.co.uk) Cardiff’s lesbian and gay festival takes over Coopers Field with live music, market stalls and bars.
Tenby Arts Festival (Late Sept; tenbyartsfest.co.uk) Well-established week-long arts romp in Tenby, with a lively fringe too.
Swansea Festival of Music and the Arts (Oct; swanseafestival.org) Three weeks of concerts, jazz, drama, opera, ballet and art events throughout the city.
Sŵn (Mid- to late Oct; swnfest.com) This four-day showcase of the best in new music in Wales takes place at venues around Cardiff.
Bonfire Night and Lantern Parade (Early Nov) Superb procession in Machynlleth, culminating in fireworks and performance.
Dylan Thomas Festival (Early Nov; dylanthomas.com) In Swansea: talks, performances, exhibitions, readings and music with a DT theme.
New Year’s Eve celebrations (Dec 31) New Quay in Dyfed is the place to party on New Year’s Eve.
Real Ale Wobble (Mid-Nov; green-events.co.uk) Non-competitive mountain biking and real-ale drinking over 15, 25 or 35 miles at Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys.