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What's in store at the Waterfront Festival?

Written by
Thom Archer

When its inaugural event took place in 2008, the Waterfront Festival had ambitions to bring local communities together and stimulate interest in Leeds' then-overlooked South Bank.

Eight years on, it's hard to imagine the South Bank being anything but the current hub of bars, restaurants, the hip 'young profesh' crowd, and high-profile showcase events at New Dock Hall, ranging from some of the most fearsome dinosaurs on the planet, to some of the most fearsome tattoo artists.

It's fitting then that as the area has developed, so has the Waterfront Festival; last year it had over 10,000 visitors, and this year's event boasts the most ambitious variety of events yet, sprawling between seven locations on both banks of the river.

While you can see a full list of events on the programme, here are some of the highlights that you won't want to miss out on and where to find them:

Dragon Boat Race

Flickr: Lucasz Koziol

This one goes without saying.  The gleaming jewel in the Waterfront Festival's crown; the Dragon Boat Race has been a fixture from the very start.  

Gather around the Folk & Ale (say it quickly a few times...) festival on Saturday afternoon to catch teams of locals compete to be the fastest, fanciest-dressed rowers of the weekend.

Steampunk market


A photo posted by Bruce Whistlecraft (@doktor_a) on

Steampunks were rocking impractical ninteenth-century sartorial flourishes and elaborate moustaches way before it was the compulsory uniform for a night out on Call Lane.

There's a market at Thwaite Mills all day Saturday and Sunday where you can pick up neo-Victorian inspired trinkets, if that kind of thing gets your cogs turning.

Salsa classes

Flickr: Clotee Allochuku

The dance, rather than the dip.  DJs will be bringing the Latino heat to Brewery Wharf from 12.30pm on Sunday afternoon and you're encouraged to join in.  

If you're not familiar with the style, just follow the instructor's lead – but there will be a bar on hand serving cocktails from around the world if you need a little Cuban courage.

Yarn bombing


A photo posted by @paulabshaw on

The Waterfront Festival is teaming up with craftsters OWL Industries to combine possibly the two most enduring icons of British Summertime: an ice cream van, and thick knitwear.  

They've been working tirelessly to cover a Mr. Whippy whip entirely in knitting and crochet, to be driven around UK Festivals this Summer, selling finger-puppets which fund children's educational projects in the UK and abroad.  

You can check it out all weekend next to the Silent Disco

Water zorbing

Flickr: tk_yeoh

You might be missing Kanye West at Glastonbury, but you could be developing a Jesus complex of your very own this Saturday, by walking on the water in Leeds Dock.  

Instead of walking though, you'll be zorbing – an activity which combines the excitement of 'Gladiators' and the comfort of bubblewrap, and is 300% more extreme than regular walking.  

You've probably seen it on Groupon and balked at the price, but at the Waterfront Festival you can get a taste of it for free.

Brutus Gold

Brutus Gold

Giorgio Moroder might currently be trying to follow in the footsteps of Nile Rogers' platform boots and be the latest disco legend to make a comeback – and good luck to them both – but Brutus Gold never went away.  

His annual Love Train parties are the stuff of local legend, and Leeds' answer to Disco Stu will be making a personal appearance at Brewery Wharf, Saturday at 3pm.

All of this, plus ale & cocktail bars, live music, international street food, handmade and artisan market stalls, and (fingers crossed) plenty of glorious sunshine.

Find more things to do in Leeds. 

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