Festivals & events in the South Downs

There are a whole host of festivals and events occurring all year round in the South Downs National Park. They range from traditional wood fairs and open farm days to foodie-themed fun, including sparkling wine festivals and apple tasting days. If you’re looking for things to do you won’t have to look too far.

Kat Beer is responsible for sustainable tourism in the South Downs National Park: “We have lots of seasonal festivals, and arts and craft fairs in the South Downs. Wood fairs, especially, are really worth supporting. It’s an opportunity for local craftspeople to showcase their work and show visitors some of the old methods of producing furniture, for example. You can find out more about sustainable woodlands and how local craftspeople use wood from these specific forests to produce traditional crafts.”

One of the best ways to experience an event is to time a holiday to coincide with the date the event is taking place. Staying at a locally owned B&B or small guest house is a great way to really get to know a place and get all the top tips for walks or other things to do in the local area. Campsites, too, are another excellent option if you’re thinking of attending an event in the South Downs. Many of the independent local beer festivals and smaller village fairs take place in the summer. What better way to help celebrate than a short walk across the Downs before stumbling back to your tent?

There are also lots of food festivals and events in the South Downs that celebrate seasonal local produce. These are great to visit if you’re staying locally and really help to aid interaction with local people, as well as getting to taste delicious food and drink that you won’t find in any supermarket.

“You’ll find many events that take place on the outskirts of Brighton, Lewes and Chichester. Smaller events such as open farm days (May-June), the Chilli Fiesta in West Dean, Ditchling village fair and the South of England Show in Ardingly, for instance, are really worth supporting,” says Kat beer. “These types of local events provide a platform for musicians, poets, artists, food producers and independent breweries to engage with local communities and the general public.”

Below are some more of the small local events and festivals that Kat Beer and the national park team recommend if you’re planning on visiting the South Downs.

The best South Downs festivals

Hampshire Food Festival is a one month long foodie fiesta, celebrating the plethora or producers the South Downs have to offer. With farm tours, local food-themed festival menus, hands-on cookery, chocolate and jam-making workshops, butchery master classes, brewery tours, vineyard tours and wine tasting, cookery demonstrations, barbecues, lavender farm walks, lavender chocolate-making and lavender teas, an amateur chef competition, bakery and fish filleting demos, food and farm festivals, farmers' markets and more.

Winchester Cathedral Harvest Festival celebrates the food and farming heritage of its region at this important time of year for farmers. At the beginning of October, they host a farmers' market in the tree lined street leading up to the cathedral, a mobile farm, children's activities, displays, craft demonstrations and a programme of musical entertainment - all taking place in the Cathedral Close. There will be free entry into the cathedral throughout the Festival as well as a Harvest Service.

Brighton Food Festival runs twice a year, at Easter and in September. It is a typically buzzy Brighton affair and if you take the train or bus direct to Brighton, you can gorge gourmet style all morning and then hit the hills of the South Downs to walk it off in the afternoon. There is also a Brighton Foodies Festival in May.

Horsham Food and Drink Festival is a celebration of local produce throughout the month of September. There is plenty of local beer around here, so all the more reason to leave the car at home for this one and take the train to Horsham.

Steyning Food and Drink Festival is a month long feast prepared by the gourmet greats of Steyning, Bramber, Ashurst, Wiston and Edburton every September. With hedgerow workshops, a pub and breweries walk and a safari supper as just a few examples of their impressive programme, check out the full selection here. Take on the walking trails around Steyning, as detailed in the South Downs National Park Discovery Map and your visit is complete.

Dark Skies Festival

This event runs for two weeks every February and helps to celebrate the South Downs National Park becoming an accredited Dark Sky Reserve. Star parties are indoors and outdoors in Dark Sky Discovery Sites close to Steyning, Lewes, Petersfield and Midhurst. There are lots of fun things for families to do, including jigsaws, fancy dress and astrophotography workshops, as well as talks by local astronomy groups and the chance to see the Milky Way through a giant telescope.

Dan Oakley is a park ranger and dark skies expert: “The Dark Skies Festival is important to the South Downs because 50 percent of the time the national park is in the dark. Darkness is a habitat within itself and often an environment that we miss. Getting outside in the autumn and winter, especially, is a great way for people to connect with nature on an intergalactic scale. Also, the festival is incredibly popular. Everyone loves looking at stars and, as an organised event, the Dark Skies Festival is the park’s third most attended.”

Wild Chalk Festival

This six-day Wild Chalk Festival in Brighton, East Sussex, takes place in July to celebrate the lifegiving properties of the South Downs chalk grassland. A variety of talks, workshops and exhibitions run by park rangers, local farmers and wildlife experts help to showcase the importance of wild chalk grasslands to the South Downs and what we can do to help to preserve it for future generations.

West’s Wood Fair

From chainsaw carving and traditional thatching to lumberjack display teams and whittling workshops, West’s Wood Fair is a weekend of wood that takes place at the start of June at East Dean near Chichester. Alongside a wide range of family-friendly activities and examples of sustainable wood carving, you’ll find live music, freshly pressed cider and loads of lovely local grub.

Apple Tasting Day

Celebrate all things apple (and pear) related in Blackmoor, in the heart of rural Hampshire. This one-day charitable event in mid-October is where you’ll find a whole host of traditional craftspeople, local produce suppliers and Morris dancers making the most of the harvest. There’s a great yurt campsite on the South Downs that’s just only 15km from Blackmoor, if you fancy staying locally for longer.


Several of the South Downs slopes are great for growing grapes. The award-winning vineyards at Ridgeview Wine Estate near Lewes are no exception, and you’ll be hard-pushed to find a more peaceful setting from where to sample some sparkling Sussex white wine. Ridgefest is a one-day event at the end of August featuring local food and drink, live music and guided tours around the vineyards and winery.

Langham’s beer festivals

Langham Brewery is an independent craft ale producer in the South Downs and well-known for hosting beer festivals and charitable events at independent local pubs throughout the region. Local Langham’s sponsored beer festivals that are well worth attending include: Horsham in September; Shoreham-by-Sea in April; and the Petersfield Beer and Cider Festival that traditionally takes place in February.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: GlennD] [Intro: © Jo Glyde/SDNPA] [Dark Skies Festival: © John Dominick/SDNPA] [West’s Wood Fair: © Sam Knight] [Ridgefest: © SDNPA]