Grahamstown National Arts Festival

Just as there are specific ingredients needed to make a decadent chocolate brownie, there are also necessary ingredients needed to experience the heck out of a Grahamstown fest.

So here they are, the steps to follow in order to have the best Grahamstown Fest experience (in my opinion). 

Step 1: Smash a Nanaga pie in your face.

If you are travelling from the Port Elizabeth area, it is only standard to make a pit-stop at the ever popular Nanaga Farmstall. Here you will buy a pie. It may take you sometime to decide on which flavour to choose, this does not matter, buy two or three if need-be – they will not go to waste. Too early you may say? It is NEVER to early to eat a Nanaga pie. Fact. Let’s move on. To wash it down, a freshly bottled pineapple juice is necessary. This miraculous combination of pie and pineapple juice will correctly prepare you for the damage that the festival is about to inflict.

Step 2: Book show tickets at 1820 Settlers Monument.


As you arrive in Grahamstown it will be to your benefit to stop at the Monument. Booking for shows in advance will eliminate disappointment and standing in lengthy ticket queues. Here an array of posters/flyers will be displayed for your viewing. Take your time and look. Remember to never judge a show by the appearance of its flyer. Ask interesting people around you what shows they would recommend. Take a risk and book some shows that wouldn’t normally spark your fancy. While you are here, explore the building a little and immerse yourself in some artsy exhibitions.

Step 3: Get into festive spirits, toss a coin.



When you arrive in Grahamstown, you are bound to be greeted by some of the young local children trying to earn a buck. Although you have probably seen these amateur performers at work a number of times, get into the festival spirit, paint a smile on that face, stop for a minute to watch and put your hands together and get them clapping. Put your hand in your pocket and grab some of that small change probably going to be left on the bar table tonight and toss a coin into their jars. These tiny human statues transform into comical characters, and some may impress you with their slick dance moves. Appreciate the fact that these children are trying to earn their money and aren’t begging for it. Respect to these little dudes.

Step 4: Find parking and use your feet


Shoes are not a necessity, if your feeling free-spirited 😉


St Andrews College gardens

Head into town and hunt for a parking. Be pleasant on the roads,keep your blood pressure at a minimum and abide by the road rules. Remember everyone is hunting for the same thing as you are. Once a suitable parking has been found, do not move car from said parking spot until you are absolutely ready to leave the fest. Treasure it. Treat this parking bay like you would your last Rolo, give it to another person only once you are really sure. From now on using your feet is how you will get around. This way you can immerse yourself in the towns culture and stroll amongst the many historical buildings as you move from place to place. It is also a great form of exercise to those foreign to using their feet. 😉

Step 5: Visit The Village Green market



The The Cottenfields from Port Elizabeth 🙂

The Village Green is where all the hustle and bustle is. Here you will be handed even more flyers and be persuaded to watch shows, you may even score a complimentary ticket from a performer if your smile or beard is pretty enough. Take your time to browse through all the stalls(which are all under tents). Barter with the sellers, try out all the free tasters at the food stalls (good way to fill up if you are a poor student) and buy some uniquely made items. Or if your cash is at an all time low, play in the shreds of wood pieces that blanket the grass and watch some live entertainment on the stage.


There is a large array of clothing stalls if you are looking to buy some one-of-a-kind fashion items. There is everything from rainbow coloured pants to delicately knitted beanies to vintage sunglasses and boots. Garden decor, perfume, jewellery, wooden furniture, children’s toys, books and a ton of food stalls are some more things you can expect to see while stall browsing. Don’t be too shy to push and shove a little while shopping, the stalls can get quite crowded and is also a common place for people to bump into old friends and catch up – taking up the aisle between stalls in the process. Remember your manners, you are bound to be one of those people in a bit.

Step 5.1 Visit the Beer tent @ The Village Green market

Close up brewery worker examining beer in beaker

In between the show and lots of shopping, be sure to make time for the Beer tent @ The Village Green. If you’re with a large group of people, make sure you get there early to get a table. Do not be shy to venture into this tent during the morning, no judgement will take place. In fact, it is quite normal. Tables are available inside and outside of the tent, so don’t let the weather worry you. Here you will probably be approached by some more performers with flyers, some are sure to join your table while trying to convince you to watch their show. It is all part of the festival vibe, mingling with the performers is one of the best parts of fest. So many weird, wonderful and interesting people wanting to share their talents with you. Queues at the beer tent are not a big deal, you will manage to get drinks fairly quickly. If not, patience please. Sip a beer and take in the festivities. If it is Saturday, be sure to catch the sport on the flat screens set up in the tent. Make sure to get your fix of beer before the stalls start closing as the beer tent does not stay open after this.

Step 6: Catch some shows


Comedian: Dalin Oliver

Try to see as many shows as possible while at fest. If you may have been persuaded by festival goers or performers to watch a particular show, tickets can also be bought in the office just up from the Village Green. The shows are performed in halls, rooms, courtyards all over Grahamstown. You will now start using those feet. Most place are fairly easy to find and not too far from the centre of town, if you get lost just ask some passers-by. Late night comedy is a must, there will not be any disappointment. You will love some, be left speechless in some, feel bored or completely confused, but hey show some respect and leave when the show is over. Walking out during a show is just plain rude. Don’t be that guy.

Step 7: Visit the Village Green again


By now you may have worked up an appetite, allow the sweet aroma of caramalised cashew nuts to lead you back to the food tents. Have a panini, a kartoffel, a shwarma, a pancake, slap chips, doughnuts, a curry, peanut-butter and bacon biscuits…the possibilities are endless. Yes you heard correctly, peanut-butter and bacon biscuits. Try some before you judge. Allow your stomach to make the decisions for you.

Step 8: Say hi to the Rat and Parrot, Mr Friar Tuck and take a seat at a Looooong table.

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No, these are not animals nor are they the name of performers. These are the names of some of the most popular watering-holes in Grahamstown during fest. After your fix of shows, enjoy some drinks and continue your festival buzz at one of these places.

Step 9: BP is the place to be


You’ve had a good night of mingling and stellar performances and the alcohol buzz has worn off or taken its toll, it is time to visit the place with the bright green and yellow lights. BP garage visits are standard “Rhodent” tradition after a night out. Here you will make many forgotten friends and participate in ridiculously random conversations. Embrace all the weird and wonderfuls you will have the pleasure of meeting at this point of your evening. Stock up on whatever looks good. Enjoy the chilly walk back home and wrap up. The alcohol blanket you are wearing will prevent your body from feeling the true temperature you are about to endure, temperatures that will have your subconscious singing “Frozen” songs as you dawdle on oblivious.

Step 10: Pass out and repeat

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Once a bed of some form has been located, get comfy and catch some sleep. You’ll find yourself slurping down some strong coffee at The Village Green in the morning. Fuzzy head. Dry mouth. Lack of sleep. Man up! Time to do it all over again.



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