Eastern Cape / Events and Festivals

The Grahamstown National Arts Festival

Updated Thursday, 5 January 2017

At any other time of year, the little university town of Grahamstown, just 90 minutes from Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, is a quiet hub of students and families going about their daily lives. However, come June / July, this peaceful retreat suddenly erupts into a hive of excitement and activity for the annual Grahamstown National Arts Festival. Visitors from all over the country, and the world, make their way to this artistic epicentre to be a part of the festivities.


The National Arts Festival is organised by the Grahamstown Foundation and has been recognised as the most extensive cultural event on the continent. Much of its success is owed to the fact that it implements a fascinating fusion of local and international arts, crafts and performances. This gives it a multi-faceted allure that appeals to young and old, art enthusiasts and holiday-makers from South Africa and abroad.

For the entire 15-day duration of the festival, the more than 500 music and dance performances are, undoubtedly, the largest draw-card for visitors to Grahamstown during this time. Shows range from ballet, jazz and opera to stand-up comedy, interpretive dance, cabaret, folk music and parody. Every available space in the town is turned into a venue for such performances, just to accommodate the top-notch art forms being showcased.

While art, in its many forms, is certainly the focus of this event, the streets and town centres are also flooded with thousands of stalls. At these, visitors will find an endless variety of food, jewellery, clothing, accessories, curios, décor items, beauty products, and so on. The stalls and all of the people milling around and admiring the goods for sale create an unforgettable vibe.

For those planning their trip to Grahamstown for the next National Arts Festival, it is imperative to get the full schedule of events well ahead of time and to make the necessary bookings. Do not leave it too late, since tickets are sold fast and you certainly do not want to miss out.

The Cathedral in Grahamstown

There are several events for visitors to enjoy free of charge; including the daily Sundowner Concert, street theatre performances and formal art exhibitions. With these shows constantly on the go, the ambience retains an indescribable buzz.

Winters in and around Grahamstown can become extremely chilly. So, visitors to the Arts Festival are urged to bring plenty of warm gear and comfy closed shoes in which to peruse this historical hub.

Useful Grahamstown Links