John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. Former automatic-transmission repairer, welder and hobbyist game developer.
Volkswagen has become the source of perhaps one of the most vibrant enthusiast scenes in the automotive world. With classic Volkswagens being coveted collectors items, and in particular their range of camper vans, a number of festivals have sprung up around the brand.
As a regular attendee at VW Festival, Leeds, I thought I’d give you a run down of what to expect from this particular event. But this article is not aimed mainly at Volkswagen enthusiasts; there is a legitimate case to be made for VW Festival as a general fun-for-all-the-family event, whether you like the cars or not.
So let’s get into it.
VW Festival 2018 Show Video
What is VW Festival
Taking place on the grounds of Leeds’ historic Harewood House in West Yorkshire, England, the self-proclaimed “UK’s largest family friendly VW show” is a three day event that can be attended with either a one-day pass or a full weekend camping pass. The fun starts Friday and ends Sunday.
The festival itself contains a great deal of entertainment. There are fairground rides, live music acts, children’s entertainers, and often other forms of entertainment, such stunt bike shows and cinema tents, though these vary from year to year.
On the Volkswagen side, there are a huge range of classic, modern, modified, and quirky vehicles on display, with a number of prizes up for grabs. Though I maintain VW Festival is great fun regardless of whether you’re a Volkswagen enthusiast, you certainly won’t be disappointed if you are there for the cars.
There is a huge range of stalls selling a wide range of products. Obviously there is a strong lean towards automotive and/or Volkswagen related products, but there is plenty on offer. From garden fire pits to second hand guitars, there’s a good chance you’ll find something of interest.
On the catering side, VW Festival always has a wide range of food and drink stalls to choose from. In the past they’ve had everything from gourmet burgers to fish finger sandwich stalls.
Camping at VW Festival is much like camping at any festival. The campsites are split into two areas; regular and family. The main difference being that there is an earlier curfew on excessive noise in the family campsite, as well as a general expectation that behaviour will be more… family friendly.
Both campsites are situated right next to the festival grounds, and have toilet, shower, and water facilities. The toilet set up (in previous year, at least) is a typical festival porta-loo affair. If you’re not a seasoned festival goer, I would advise you to bring your own toilet paper. It’s not a fault of VW Festivals really, just a reality of festival life.
On arrival you are given a wristband that will allow you to enter and leave the festival grounds as you please, so if you’d rather make your own dinner, or pop back to the tent for a nap before the evening’s entertainment, it’s no fuss.
The campsite’s close proximity to the festival grounds, while convenient, has some drawbacks. If you are a light sleeper and you want an early night, you should pitch up at the opposite end of the campsite to the festival entrance. The live entertainment tents are right near the entrance and it can be near-midnight before the noise dies down. Obviously, if you’re not in the family camping area, you shouldn’t expect peace and quiet until quite late on.
It’s my personal opinion that VW Festival is only a few big name performers away from being as much a music festival as it is a car festival. In the recent years I have been attending, there have been two music stages, both of which command an increasingly packed and lively audience as the evening wears on. The acoustic stage provides an intimate setting for people to enjoy some music sat on the grass with a cider or ice cream in hand, while the main music tent provides a more traditional live music setting for the rest of the evening.
As the festival winds down at the end of each day and the stalls close, it’s the main tent that most festival goers will gravitate, and the scenes in there as the Sun goes down wouldn’t look out of place at any music festival in the country.
There is also a children’s entertainment tent for the younger festival goers. There are typically some music acts on here as well, however a lot of the entertainment put on here is more variety in nature. In the past I’ve seen puppeteers, gymnasts, comedy acts that use giant inflatable props, jugglers, interactive story tellers, and much more. Many of these acts tend to involve the audience so it’s often a great show for children.
Away from the music side of things, there are the vehicles, of course. A huge selection of cars are on show for festival goers to look around, take photos of, and generally admire. From souped up race cars to luxury campers to immaculately restored vintage models, and a host of other themes. There is also a raffle to win one such immaculately restored vintage model, a beetle to be precise. The winner of the raffle is picked at the end of the weekend when the awards are handed out for the best vehicles in various categories.
In previous years there have also been stunt bike shows, a graffiti display tent, wandering entertainers, and of course the aforementioned fairground rides. And if that wasn’t enough, the festival takes place in the grounds of Harewood House; a tourist attraction in its own right.
Stalls and Catering
In the vein of more traditional trade shows, there are a huge number of market stalls on display at VW Festival. As mentioned above, they are not simply limited to automotive or Volkswagen products (though there is a definite bias towards that). In addition to things like clothes, confectioneries, toys, and many other types of things to buy, there is also the Auto Jumble, which is essentially a corner of the festival turned into a jumble, or car boot sale. Perfect for those who like to hunt for a bargain. Of course if you are looking for automotive or Volkswagen related products, there’s plenty on offer. From generic accessories to entire VW Camper internals.
On the catering side of things, there are a huge range of options on offer. If you haven’t had breakfast, or you don’t fancy heading back to the tent to make yourself a snack, you have plenty of options in the festival grounds themselves.
An entire section of the festival is dedicated to food and drink, so you won’t have to wander all over to find the stall you want. Many food styles are covered, whether you’re looking for pizzas, burgers, kebabs, pancakes, hog roasts, and, as mentioned, even fish finger sandwiches or cheese toasties. Drinks-wise, there are a number of places you can buy alcohol, and (in previous years at least) you are allowed to bring up to two of your own drinks into the festival grounds, though you have to empty them into a plastic cup before taking them in. The catering area also contains seating, as well as plenty of space to sit on the grass if the weather allows, which it has more often than not in the years I have attended.
On top of everything mentioned above, each year comes with a theme (toys, Halloween, movies, etc), with “Best Costume” bragging rights on offer. The costumes tend to come out in the evening, more so on the Saturday night, making for an entertaining, if somewhat surreal, night.
The festival is dog friendly, so you can bring your little furry friends as well as your (probably) less furry children. There are around 20,000 people attending VW Festival on average, and around 6,000 of them camping, so be sure your dog is okay with crowds before bringing them.
Obviously it’s difficult to properly encapsulate the experience of a three day event in written words, but VW Festival is a great day and/or weekend for the whole family, whether you’re into Volkswagens or not. There is plenty to keep the children entertained, and the experience of camping at a festival is fun in and of itself. I thoroughly recommend it.
Clique53 - VW Festival 2017
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 John Bullock