If you have always been tempted to head to a music festival with your kids but wondered whether a large festival would be suitable for children, then rest assured that our weekend at the Isle of Wight Festival, with our 8 year old twins proved that not only is this festival fine for kids, but that going as a family should be positively encouraged.
Our kids had been excited about the festival for weeks. They were planning what to take with them, enjoying listening to the singers and bands we were going to see and telling all their friends about their upcoming weekend at a music festival. This was lovely for me and my husband to witness and it really added to our enjoyment of the weekend.
For kids, The Isle of Wight Festival has the added bonus of a ferry trip, meaning that it feels like a proper holiday. Arriving at Portsmouth, you get your first feeling of being part of something special for the weekend; foot-passengers, cars and campervans are all undoubtedly heading to the same place, with music playing and plenty of whacky festival outfits to be seen. We’ve yet to make a crossing to the Isle of Wight that hasn't been basked in sun, giving even more of a holiday feel to the nearing green landscape of Fishbourne, the bobbing sailboats and the surprisingly un-English looking blue sea.
We stayed at Island Harbour Marina in our small camper for the weekend. This is just a few minutes’ walk beyond the main campervan section for the festival, but has the added bonus of being able to use the marina facilities – bar, restaurant, yacht club toilets and showers and, if you were feeling particularly frivolous, a shuttle service to the main stage (£30 per person, per day) along the picturesque river path. If you’re coming to the festival with a family, we’d probably advise not camping in the general camping areas as these can be a bit noisy. Other options for family are Family Camping, Respect Camping and Love Your Tent. These areas are separated by fencing, with security guards on the entrance, giving you peace of mind that this will be a more tranquil environment and more space for you and your little ones. It costs a little more to camp in these areas, but it would be well worth the extra money if you are coming with a family.
Wherever you decide to stay at the festival, one really important thing to bear in mind is the amount of walking involved. Camping and campervan areas are all around 30-40 minutes’ walk from the main stage. There are lots of different areas of the festival before you reach this – festival gear shops, bars, food stalls, funfair rides, kids’ zone and other, smaller stages – but it’s worth bearing this in mind for when you want to see the main acts. With young kids, this can be quite tiring and definitely not a trip you could make several times a day.
When you come to a large music festival with kids, you generally have a different set of priorities to your average festival goer. You tend to plan your time more carefully so that you are able to see the acts you want to; I suppose it depends on how demanding your kids are, but we found that, to a certain extent, we were unable to be spontaneous and wander in and out of different areas to see smaller acts. We tended to get to the stages with a bit of time to spare, in order to make sure we had a good, spacious spot. We also made sure that we stayed fairly close to toilets (these were surprisingly clean, by the way) and we wanted to get the balance right between our children watching bands but also do some more child-centred activities. The Isle of Wight Festival allows for all of this. The festival site, despite being quite large, is easy to navigate, there are loads of toilets, lots of free water refill points, a good amount of space towards the back of the main stage area (meaning you can easily set up with camping chairs or a picnic blanket) and a lovely little kids’ zone with free activities for children and families until 7pm every day.
The walk in to the festival is an event in itself for children. Pop-up shops, cafés, small music tents, fairground rides and, of course, the spectacle of the festival goers themselves (with many, this year, dressed in hippy “Summer of ’69” attire). This was a good distraction for our children from the long walk to the main arena, but we couldn’t really have done this more than once a day. So, we packed accordingly and took camping chairs and drinks and snacks for them. Be mindful of the fact that there is an abundance of fairground- type attractions and rides lining the route into the main arena and, depending on how easily deterred your children are or how fat your wallet is, this can be a source of contention between you and your kids. However, if you can manage to steer them swiftly to the kids’ zone, without too much damage being inflicted on your wallet (just one final helter-skelter right outside the kids’ zone entrance) then, once in here everything is free. We had a couple of lovely sessions here on the Saturday and Sunday with circus skills workshops, magician shows (the kids’ zone has its own stage area), dressing up, craft tents, a Lego tent, making your own poi (swinging things you juggle with), dressing up, face-painting and tattoos and lots more. At age 8, I think my children were probably nearing the upper age limit for the kids’ zone; there were many younger children there, but the range was probably from toddler to 10 years. The kids’ zone is a lovely quiet oasis away from the main festival and, as well as the kids’ entertainment, it offers a good resting place if you or your little ones need a rest or some time out of the sun.
However, ultimately, we went to the festival for the music and, for this, it really did not disappoint. The line-up at this year’s festival was amazing. We saw Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Bastille, Miles Kane, Madness, Richard Ashcroft, Biffy Clyro and Keane. There was so much more to see, but realistically, if you are festivaling with a family, you can’t expect to cram in seeing every act. Watching the acts and feeling part of the festival was undoubtedly our lasting memory of the weekend. We felt very relaxed being with children; the other festival goers were friendly and exceptionally considerate of us and our children. At times, one of them would be asleep on a camping chair and everyone around was really careful not to bump into them. We had lots of lovely chats with people about what a great festival The Isle of Wight Festival is for kids and many people went out of their way to come and tell us what cherished memories we must be making for our kids. Of course, this all added to making the weekend feel very special to us.
So, hopefully we have convinced you that a large music festival with kids is entirely do-able, but why the Isle of Wight Festival, in particular? We’ve been to a good few other festivals, with and without our children, and this is certainly one of the few large festivals we would attend with our kids. Why? Well, it feels really well organised, you feel safe and that the organisers go out of their way to make sure that there are no problems (from the amount of security staff to the cleanliness of the facilities and well- managed walkways). You feel like you are among like-minded people (of a wide variety of ages) who all love music and the unique atmosphere of a music festival, and the ferry crossing makes you feel like you are even more away from it all, on a true family adventure.
A big thank you to the kind man who took the time to come and congratulate us on being “awesome parents” and making memories for our kids. And thank you to the Isle of Wight Festival organisers. Another cracking weekend…we will definitely be back!