So, you’re making the trip down to Makhanda for the National Arts Festival. You’re ready to brave the cold, the potholes and the donkeys for the unique experience of stepping into a university theatre or an otherwise ordinary venue in an otherwise ordinary town, that’s been transformed into a gallery space, a stand-up comedy venue, or the stage for the next great South African artist.
Whether you’ve done this many times before, or you’re about to experience your first ever National Arts Festival, it’s worth brushing up on the basics. Here are a few of the things you’ll need to know before you go.
Getting there and back
A roadtrip to the National Arts Festival is a rite of passage, but if driving or catching the bus isn’t an option, you can fly into Gqeberha on a direct flight from Durban, Johannesburg or Cape Town. The drive from Gqeberha to Makhanda is about 120km and the distance from East London is much the same. Hire a car, or take one of the many busses and shuttles providing regular trips to Makhanda from Gqeberha and East London.
Finding a place to stay
No couch to crash on? Makhanda has a surprisingly wide range of accommodation. From student digs and self-catering set-ups, to luxury guest houses, you can do the Festival on a budget or you can treat yourself to a much-needed getaway. If staying in town isn’t a priority, there are also plenty of idyllic guesthouses in neighbouring towns like Kenton on Sea. Many of these places are available to browse and book on AirBnB, but you can also visit the National Arts Festival website for a breakdown of types of accommodation here.
What to see, do, and listen to
Making your way through the programme is, without a doubt, the most challenging part of attending the National Arts Festival. Live music, theatre, comedy, visual art, literature, performance art, talks and more make up this year’s monumental programme. Not sure where to start? You’re not alone. We scoured the 2023 programme and shared a few of our personal highlights here. May they serve as a starting point for your own must-see list.
Booking your tickets
On that note, the National Arts Festival remains paperless this year – no printed programme, and no physical tickets. That means all programme and ticket info will be found on the Festival website, and your phone will become the only thing you’ll need when you walk into a show. Make sure it’s charged!
Dress well. We’re talking functionality more than aesthetics here. It gets notoriously cold in Makhanda, so you’ll be in good company wearing a beanie, a scarf, a pair of gloves, thermals, and an extra pair of socks. That said, Makhanda is also prone to dramatic changes in weather in a single day, so make sure you pack something for those unexpectedly glorious sunny days.
Where to eat and drink
If you’re not seeing a show, listening to live music, or viewing an exhibition, you’re probably hunkered down in one of the town’s many restaurants or cafes, talking about what you’ve seen and still need to see at the Festival. New Street and High Street are home to some of Makhanda’s best-known pubs and eateries, the Longtable is an institution, and a few trips to the Village Green are guaranteed. Stumbling upon these places is a huge part of the Festival fun, but if you’d like to get a better sense of Makhanda’s restaurants ahead of time, head over here.
In case you missed it
Here are our top picks from the main programme: What to see on this year’s Curated Programme.
The line-up and info for the National Jazz Festival Makhanda.