One of my favourite things about living in Leicester is the sheer number of free family-friendly events in the city. The Riverside Festival is no exception – and as our third year there with the little one, we weren’t disappointed!
I know there is so much to do at the festival, but this review will focus on the family events, mainly to help anyone who might want to go next year.
The Riverside Festival is based in Leicester city centre and there are no tickets needed – it is all free to access all the festival areas.
It is pretty spread out, starting at the beautiful Castle Gardens, all along the riverside and then up to Bede Park. You also have a whole host of market stalls along Western Boulevard, running parallel to the River Soar, where you can find retail, local crafts, as well as food and drink stalls.
We were early, so walked along the riverside as the Castle Gardens were closed off until opening, and it was a lovely opportunity to see everything set up before the crowds arrived.
We took the pushchair – partly because it is so spread out, so I knew the little one would get tired, and also because I’ve a dodgy ankle!! I’m so glad we did though as both Lily and I needed it throughout the day – including to give her a bit of shade from the sun on the way home, although it was difficult to get through the crowds with it when it became busier.
As we walked along, we saw all the canal boats all decorated with bunting and flowers, their owners often dressed up for the occasion, and some of the boats had stalls for little crafts or tshirts. This area was often bottle-necked with people later in the day, but the atmosphere was great, and it was lovely to see such a special addition to a festival.
We watched some music acts on the House Boat of Verse, which was set up with a little stage at the back of the boat, and the steps by the bridge were all covered in blankets and cushions for people to sit on – it was really lovely!
Further along, you can also get involved with boat rides or canoeing on the river itself – something really for all the family to have fun with.
Bede Park was one of the main festival sites and where the main children’s areas are. Even though it isn’t a ticketed event, the area is cordoned off with barriers, helping the flow of people in/out, as well as the searches for everyone coming in, which were really good.
We got there for opening and were the first one in the under 5s area. We were instantly thankful as the lady gave Lily a special wristband with our number on it in case she went missing – a great addition to a festival.
There were tents and activities set up for little ones, with an under 3s sensory tent, musical instruments, as well as trays of water play and sand activities.
Alongside this were crafts for older kids, as well as the Book Bus (something else we love about Leicester!), with regular storytelling for kids throughout the day on the outdoor bean bags. There were also people there encouraging families to sign up to another Leicester initiative, to walk to the moon!
There was a huge Tipi set up in the middle of the park playing music and family-friendly throughout the day, and plenty of rides and eateries along the back and outside of the park. Portaloos were set up outside the fenced off area of the park, which aren’t easy with a small child, but there were plenty of them, so not long queues – always helpful with little ones!
We did spend a fortune on rides when we were in there, but Lily had so much fun, and since the festival was free anyway, we didn’t mind spending a little when we were there.
The main stage was situated just outside the park, with live music playing throughout the weekend. You can then head along Western Boulevard to check out all the shops, crafts, local arts and so much more. Even though it was really busy here, there was loads to see, as well as the chance to check out a retro fire engine and some amazing BMX displays too.
Further along, you could also check out the bike areas where you can try out cycling and different styles of bikes – always fun for the family, and great in a city which encourages cycling. The festival has 2 main bike areas too to encourage people to cycle in and leave their bikes safely.
By the time we got to Castle Gardens it was really hot and busy, but Lily loved everything on offer. There was a smaller stage, surrounded by rainbow coloured ribbons hanging from the trees, and everyone just sitting enjoying the music or dancing along – such a different atmosphere from the other side of the festival, but equally as fun.
There were plenty of stalls along here, with some crafts, face painting, food and more, before you came to a huge animal petting area for children to come up close to the animals, hold small animals such as rabbits or Guinea pigs, meet baby piglets, feed goats, and run around with the chickens.
Being so warm, I was worried about all the animals, but they were well cared for by the staff, and the queue helped manage the numbers of people going in/out. Lily really loved this, and it was a great addition to the festival.
We really enjoyed the festival once again. The atmosphere is always great, and despite there being so many people, there was always so much to do. We cooled down with slushies and ice creams, but brought along a packed lunch to enjoy by the river to save a bit of money (which went on the rides she insisted on going back to!).
It’s a great festival to go to for all the family, and something I would highly recommend visiting each year. Thank you again to all the staff involved for another great event in Leicester.
For more information, visit the website here
Tips for Visiting
- It is tricky getting through the crowds with a pushchair – but very worth it if your little ones get tired easily as it is quite spread out
- Avoid driving if you can – there is an eco-focus, so they really support public transport or cycling, but with the numbers of people, it is just easier anyway as parking is tricky. We used the new Arriva Click service in Leicester, which worked out cheaper with the family than taking the bus!
- The festival organisers always release a fantastic PDF guide before the festival, which can help with planning toilets/routes/events you want to go to – especially handy with families.