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Bedford River Festival


A navigable waterway connecting Bedford and Wash was completed in 1978, and the Bedford River Festival was established to commemorate this accomplishment. The “Bedford Regatta and Riverside Festival” was the original name of this event, which was a much more intimate gathering than it is now. One of the biggest free outdoor events in the UK, the festival has grown dramatically over the years.

Originally held every year on the late May bank holiday, it has been held every two years over either the second or third weekend in July since many years ago. Over the course of the weekend, the festival draws some 250,000 visitors, including boat owners from all over the country. After the Notting Hill Carnival, it’s thought to be the second-largest free outdoor event in the UK.

Every second year in July, Bedford hosts the Bedford River Festival at a location that effectively takes over the entire town for the weekend, encompassing Russell Park, The Embankment, and St Mary’s Gardens, to mention just a few places.


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The Bedford River Festival, which is put on by Bedford Borough Council, features numerous river activities, live music, and sports. Another important aspect of the festival is food and alcohol. The council spends about £500,000 to organize the festival. However, it earns back more than half of that through sponsorship and concessions.

Along with the fantastic selection of restaurants and bars in Bedford, there are numerous markets and food vendors. The festival includes raft racing and dragon boat races on the water, as well as a classic automobile show in the town square.

Where to Eat at the Bedford River Festival?

Riverside Bedford is among the greatest places to eat at the River Festival. It’s a terrific place to meet friends and enjoy the weekend ambiance of the river festival because it has a great river view and is only a short walk from the town center and Bedford high street. 

Mercure Bedford Centre Hotel: The Higgins Bedford art gallery and museum is a 4-minute walk from this unassuming hotel on the banks of the River Great Ouse, and Bedford train station is a mile away. From their spacious restaurant with one of the best views of the river, you may eat brunch, afternoon tea, or dinner while taking in the festival. In addition to being conveniently accessible by car, the hotel also features the Riverside Restaurant and Bar. If guests would rather use the train, Bedford Train Station is nearby.

Eat Italian at Zizzi: Italian restaurant chain Zizzi operates in the UK and Ireland. At Zizzi, you can enjoy Italian food and have a fantastic view of the river festival. They offer delicious, traditional Italian fares like pizza, spaghetti, risotto, salads, and decadent desserts. A broad variety of soft drinks, cocktails, wines, beers, and ciders are available, including the Sicilian lager Messina, Zizzi’s newest creation, Wild Goose Chase, and Aspall Isabel’s Berry Suffolk Cider. 

Foxy Wings: Visit Foxy Wings at Riverside Bed for succulent wings and call wings, as well as a selection of sides and sauces that are influenced by many cultures. They also serve artisan beer, excellent wine, and fantastic cocktails. All of this is provided in a stunning, recently constructed restaurant with a river vista that provides a wonderful perspective of the Bedford River Festival. 

Wagamama: Wagamama offers a variety of fresh and energetic cuisine that will tickle your palette and stimulate your soul. These delicacies are inspired by the vibrant and unique dishes of Japan and Asia. A wide range of appetizers, such as edamame beans served with salt or chili sauce, as well as a variety of main courses, such as pad thai, curry, and a number of light salads with Asian influences, are available.

There was a large selection of wines, soft drinks, and regressing beers, such as Ashai, Singha, Kirin, and Kausho, to choose from for beverages ( a lime and ginger pale ale). Teppanyaki, Donburi, Ramen, and Omakase are the most popular menu items at restaurants.

Pistachio Café: Without being constrained by your diet, you can enjoy delectable desserts at Pistachip Café. At this welcoming and enjoyable dessert establishment, there is always something new to choose from thanks to the allergy-friendly menu and the abundance of delectable gluten-free and vegan options.

What are the Stages of Bedford River Festival 2022?

With five stages, including the main stage, two community stages, an acoustic stage, and a dance music stage; boat parades of narrowboats and yachts; a parade with floats of local organizations and businesses; races, including raft races, dragon boat races, and canoeing; a community field for local charities and organizations; a sports village; street food; an arts and crafts area; and a traveling funfair area; the Bedford River Festival has grown significantly in recent years.

On the 23rd and 24th of July, 2022, saw the Bedford River Festival. Numerous river activities and displays were part of the 2022 Bedford River Festival. For the weekend, there were many boats moored up along the embankment, participating in narrowboat and cruiser parades, water demonstrations, and races like raft races, dragon boat races, canoe races, stand-up paddleboard races, and an open water swim race organized by Canoe Trail, a favorite of the locals.


The parade of lit boats was the main event on July 23. Everyone got the opportunity to go out on the water because the John Bunyan Boat ran river cruises all weekend. The event featured eight locations for live music and performances, including the main stage in Russell Park, which also houses a funfair to occupy the small ones. In addition to sporting displays and stage entertainment, Sports Island had a water sports arena where canoeing, kayaking, and the renowned Newfoundland Rescue dogs were on show.

A sensory area and inclusive activities might be found on the inclusion island. The Embankment and Mill Meadow were crowded with vendor and nonprofit stalls for the Festival Market, while St. Mary’s Garden was turned into Pirate Island with historical re-enactments. At the festival’s first stage, which supported unsigned, undiscovered, and under-the-radar acts, up on Castle Mound, Green EarthVegan Lounge featured plant-based meals. Street food vendors and bars were dispersed across the venue, and Russell Park featured a picnic area.

The Mercure Bedford Central Hotel offered Bottomless Brunches and Afternoon Teas all weekend long from its riverside bar and restaurant, and all reservations had to be made in advance. For the first time, Bedford’s famous Town Bridge was transformed into a performance space to serenade river activities and guests at the Festival of Motoring on the High Street, which featured the display of more than 100 exquisite vehicles down the length of the High Street and in the vicinity of St. Paul’s Square.

Everyone could witness how the town center was incorporated into the River Festival thanks to Bedford BIR’s sponsorship of the High Street shutdown. The Bedford Town Centre Priority Fund has provided assistance to the High Street.

  • Dragon Boat Races:

Races on dragon boats are a rapidly expanding water sport and an old Chinese tradition. On a thrilling new 200-meter course running alongside the scenic River Ouse, which is bordered on the south by St Mary’s Gardens and the north by Riverside Square, more than 20 teams were anticipated to compete. Each boat has ten paddlers, a drummer at the bow, and a helmsman at the stern who steers.

  • Raft Races:

The Rotary Club of Bedford Park sponsored the Bedford River Festival Raft Race. 15 members of the Rotary Club worked all day to ensure the event’s success and increase awareness of their club. On the Great Ouse River, amateur rafts with crews of up to eight rowers raced in two qualifying heats and a championship race. An audience of up to 10,000 individuals attends this race. The Club sponsored each and every raft, and the money was donated to the Bedford Hospitals Charity.

  • Live entertainment:

Although Bedford River Festival features three music stages, Town Bridge has become a destination for live music, attracting acts like Bedford Town Band among others. From 11:30 on Saturday and 11 on Sunday, there were concurrent performances on the main stage in Russell Park. Back in the 90s with Urban Cookie Collective, Dario G, and Capella concluding the performance on July 23, Oh My God’s genre-defying pleasure, and the Bedford River Festival were all highlights.

It features the Church, the Dekkertones’ ska, and reggae, as well as a live performance by the Ouse Valley Singles Club, a punk-skiffle band from the area. Due to some of the biggest artists in dance music living in Bedford, the dance music stage made its debut at the Bedford River Festival in 2018. For the first time, Green Earth Vegan Lounge and BBC Introducing Music co-hosted what was once known as the Community Stage on Castle Mound.

The famous Town Bridge in Bedford was converted into a performance space for the first time ever to enliven the river activity. 23rd, Luton Brass, Bedford Town Band On the special stage, Bedford Pipe Band, Hitchin Band, and MS Sax Cool band performed on the 24th after Milton Keynes Brass and Lickerish Allsorts Clarinet Band had already taken the stage.

  • Water Sports Arena:


You can watch daring canoe ramp demonstrations and participate in enjoyable water-based sports like zorbing, canoe polo, SUP obstacle course, GB Rafting, and cardboard box racing in the HSBC UK-sponsored Water Sports arena, which is situated right next to the Sports Village. This area was also the location of the Newfoundland Dog rescue demonstrations, which showcased the breed’s prowess in both swimming and rescue. 

  • The Sports Island:

The Sports Island had sporting events, demonstrations of martial arts, an action-packed stage with dancing and acrobatic performances, “have a try” games, and more. The University of Bedfordshire provided sponsorship for the sports island. Numerous visitors can participate in, observe, learn about, and enjoy a wide variety of sports, health, and leisure activities at Sports Island, which is close to the Butterfly Bridge.

Next to the Sports Village was the Water Sports arena, which was sponsored by HSBC UK. There, you could watch daring canoe ramp demonstrations and participate in enjoyable water-based activities like zorbing, canoe polo, SUP obstacle courses, GB Rafting, and cardboard box racing. 

  • Community Island:

The Harpur Trust sponsored Community Island, which included amazing performances from Bedfordshire residents. The objective is to interact directly with everyone in Bedford, to offer everyone engaged free opportunities and experiences, and to highlight some of the nonprofits they financially support. It is a method to help charity, raise thousands of pounds, and give them a platform to advertise their good deeds.

  • Inclusion Island:

 For tourists with disabilities and specific educational needs, Mill Meadows has an island called Inclusion Island. This area of the Bedford River Festival was created to highlight the assistance and services that are available to persons with disabilities and mental health issues, as well as to their families and careers.

Many large-scale projects in and around Bedford have been supported by Bedford Borough Council, and it will also sponsor a number of River Festival events, including the Embankment Stage, the funfair, the events at Castle Mound and Riverside Square, the parking lots, including the park and ride for the weekend, the festival’s website and program, and the mayor’s civic reception.

With thousands of attendees each year, the Bedford River Festival is one of the biggest outdoor festivals of its sort in the UK. A considerable investment in the town center and its surrounds has been secured and delivered in recent years thanks to the council’s diligent efforts. Families in Bedford Borough have a wonderful opportunity to join together at the river festival in the improved public space. 

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