This is why Cheltenham is the home of Festivals

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The incredible number of festivals that take place in Cheltenham makes Cheltenham the home of the festival and the Centre of the Cotswolds.

Cheltenham Horse Race Festival is the most popular of all the Cheltenham annual festivals. However, there are other annual festivals in Cheltenham apart from the flagship Horse Race Festival.

In this article, I walk you through the most important festivals in Cheltenham. 

I will explore in detail all you need to know about the following Cheltenham Festivals

  • Cheltenham Festival (Horse Racing)
  • Cheltenham Literature Festival
  • Cheltenham Science Festival
  • Cheltenham Jazz Festival
  • Cheltenham Music Festival
  • Cheltenham Food Festival

Apart from the Cheltenham Race Festival and Cheltenham Food Festival, the festivals listed are usually hosted by a charity organisation called Cheltenham Festivals.

Cheltenham Festival

The Cheltenham Horse Racing Festival is a four-day festival that takes place in March, annually at Cheltenham Racecourse in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. It usually coincides with St Patrick’s day and as such, have a lot of Irish visitors.

Initially, the festival was held for three days but a fourth day was introduced, with one championship race each day and the big climax of the Gold Cup on the last day. 

The festival features several races like the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and so on. The races are bet on and large amounts of money gambled away.

The racing festival is noted for its iconic Cheltenham Roar, which refers to the loud noise made by the crowd as the starter raises the tape for the first race of the festival. 

Cheltenham Music Festival

Cheltenham Music Festival is one of the United Kingdom’s best and finest classical music festivals. The first was held in 1945 and was said to be the country’s oldest music festival.

The Cheltenham Music Festival prides itself on presenting the best and world-renowned singers in majestic venues. In fact, the award-winning composer, conductor and arranger, Jules Buckley was the festival’s guest curator in 2020. 

The highly respected festival delivers music of every genre, presented in unforgettable and jaw-dropping performances. The festival explores not only traditional music but also features spoken words, dance, films, visual arts and so on. 

Usually, the festival opens with a weekend of free jazz, blues, classical and folk music. It also presents an engaging weekend of Beethoven at Syde Manor.

The main venue for the music festival is the awe-inspiring Cheltenham Town Hall. The town hall is a classic and magnificent masterpiece and boasts of excellent acoustics for its many musical performances. Other venues like Pittville Pump Room, galleries, churches, local bars and clubs are also used for the programme.

Aside from musical concerts, the festival also features free family workshops, young artists projects designed to showcase new talents and promotion of contemporary composers. The music festivals hold over 600 performers, 50 ticketed events and a lot of free ones too.

Artists featured in previous years include the Dante Quartet, Nicola Benedetti, Ingrid Filter, The Pavel Hass Quartet, Manchester Camerata and many others.

Cheltenham Literature Festival

The Cheltenham Literature Festival started in 1949 and is now seen as one of the country’s main literary events. It is the oldest running literature festival in the world.

The festival, described as ‘every literary lover dream’ was founded by the Spa Manager, George Wilkinson and John Moore, a Tewkesbury-based author, who served as its first director ever. The famous English actor, Late Ralph Richardson, launched the festival and Poet Cecil Day-Lewis read the first poem ever in the festival, a selection of contemporary verses. 

The festival’s official sponsor is the national newspaper, The Times and Sunday Times, making the full name of the festival The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festivals.

The artistic director for the festival is Sarah Smyth and its festival director is Jane Furze.

 The literature festival holds a range of events, like workshops, talks, interviews, seminars debates and so on in exquisite places like Montpellier Gardens, Imperial Square and the famous Cheltenham Townhall. 

The Literary festival boasts of showcasing award-winning authors, as well as up and coming literary talents. Every year, the festival presents the Nick Clarke Award for best broadcast interview. It encourages allows literary prize winners to discuss their recent works.

One thing worthy of note about the Cheltenham Literary Festival is that it explores the broadness of the term, “literature”, by exploring its every genre and welcoming writers from the vast world of literature, including politicians and even journalists.

The festival capitalizes on diverse themes, like food, sports, fashion, politics and several others.

The festival is usually held in October and has over 500 events. The theme of the 2014 Cheltenham Literary Festival was “Brave New Worlds”.

The theme had talks on thought-provoking questions about the present and the future.

Insightful questions like: What future does the next century hold? What is the future for words? Is technology changing our brains? And so on, were deliberated upon.

One of the by-products of the literature festival is Beyond Words. Beyond Words is a programme that stemmed from the festival but is actually beyond it.

The programme helps young people in Gloucestershire who are unable to have a normal education due to severe physical or mental illness. The festival charity works in collaboration with Gloucestershire Hospital Education Service by giving the children the chance to work with a writer-in-residence.

The completed work is published in an anthology and the showcased at the festival to encourage the students.

Cheltenham Jazz Festival

The Cheltenham Jazz festival is fast becoming the most loved jazz festival in the country. Started in 1996, the jazz festival boasts of unique festival performances by the world’s greatest jazz icons and up and coming new artists. 

The festival is held right in the heart of Cheltenham, at the exquisite Montpellier Gardens, allowing guests to revel in the jubilant festival atmosphere.

The festival features a mouth-watering selection of food and drink stalls, free outdoor jazz music and fun-filled family activities. 

Jamie Callum, a renowned English Jazz-pop musician and previous guest at the festival said, “The great thing about Cheltenham Jazz Festival is that it brings together so many genres under the umbrella of Jazz.

I think it is one of the best Jazz Festivals in the world.”

Cheltenham Science Festival 

Cheltenham Science Festival was started in 2002. The Festival is a great educational programme geared at encouraging and engaging young brilliant minds in science. 

One of the main features of the festival is the Discover Zone, also known as “Interactive Science for all ages” where interactive exhibition space is created in Cheltenham Town Hall. 

Another notable feature of the festival is an international science-based talent competition called FameLab. FameLab was formed in 2005 by the Cheltenham Science Festival in collaboration with NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts).

The competition attracts hundreds of finalists from competitions held individually in countries around the world. The semi-finals and finals are then held in the festival. At the festival, the international finalists are allowed 3 minutes of presentations each.

The presentations are usually on STEM: science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

The participants are to carry out researches in any of the areas and present their findings in a way that will engage the audiences, even a layman and not only people who are knowledgeable about the area. 

The judges take into consideration the clarity, content and communicability of the participants, after which they question them vigorously on their topic of choice, before deciding on the winner. 

Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival

This festival is a popular yearly event for both locals and visitors.

The food fest provides an exquisite variety of mouth-watering delicacies from different kinds of baked goods to cheeses and jams, meats, cheeses and much more. 

The Cheltenham Food Festival features not only English cuisines but food from different parts of the world. Cooking demonstrations by local and guest celebrity chefs is one of the highlights of the events. 

In addition to this, there are international wine tasting classes as well as food and drink talks in an interactive and educative environment with world-class experts in the food and wine industry.

About Cheltenham Festivals (Charity Organisation)

Cheltenham festivals is a registered charity organisation that hosts festivals in Cheltenham, a large spa town in the county of Gloucestershire, England. This charity organisation holds a collection of festivals in literature, music, jazz, science and so on.

The core aim of Cheltenham festivals is to groom talents by engaging the community all year round. They do this by creating unique activities and specific events, tailored to extend beyond the festival limits.

Cheltenham festivals chairs four different festivals, each year: Music, literature, jazz and science festival. The first Cheltenham Music Festival was held in 1945 and is said to be the country’s oldest festival.

The first Literature Festival was held in 1949, while the first Jazz and Science Festival was first held in 1996 and 2002 consecutively.

It should be noted that these four festivals were held independently and linked with Cheltenham Borough Council before they became collectively known as Cheltenham Festivals in 2006.

Cheltenham Festivals, as a registered charity has its own teams, that help in the smooth running of the programmes. Teams, such as development, education, marketing and so on.

The charity relies on hardworking and diligent teams of volunteers and workers for the success of the festival.


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