Makhanda National Arts Festival 2019 Travel Guide

The Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) National Arts Festival kicks off on Thursday, 27 June 2019. Bringing you 11 days of amazing theatre, art, installation, film, music and more all in one small, windy town. But, navigating the festival can prove tricky, especially for first time visitors. If you are making the 969 km trek from Joburg down to Makhanda, we suggest you read our handy travel guide. Filled with tips and tricks for surviving the madness of Fest season, this is your ultimate go-to on making the best of your stay. Enjoy!

The Makhanda National Arts Festival

The Makhanda National Arts Festival has a history rooted in inclusivity and freedom of expression. Established in 1974, the festival has always welcomed people of all races, gender identities and cultural heritages. The NAF is an 11 day festival curated by an artistic committee and independent talent scouts. Spread over at least 90 different venues, the festival showcases both a Main programme, an Arena programme and the Fringe festival in association with the World Fringe Alliance. Artists of varying disciplines are invited to present their work. This includes theatre practitioners, fine artists, performance artists, film makers, musicians, academics and youth development organisations.

Makhanda National Arts Festival

Surviving the madness

The NAF experience is exciting, overwhelming and mind-blowing all at once. There is so much going on at all times, that it becomes difficult to choose what to see when. We recommend that before you make the 969 km trip down to Makhanda, you get your hands on the full festival programme. Available from for only R75, the programme covers the Main, Arena, Fringe festival and free events line-ups.

Alternatively, you can visit the NAF website to view and download the various programmes. Make a list of all the shows that set your heart a-flutter with excitement and anticipation. Draw up a budget for yourself, too. While most of the shows are ticketed for under *R200 per person, costs pile up as you add events to your daily schedule. Still, make sure to pre-book at least five shows before the festival, as tickets sell out fast, especially for Main programme events. But, don’t limit your schedule too much, as spontaneity is the order of the day in Makhanda. Leave yourself enough time to explore, make new friends and shop up a storm at the Village Green Fair hosted on the Victoria Girls High School’s Sports Field. 

Hint: Watch out for the donkeys! Or, cows. Each year the NAF is visited by an array of farm animals. No one knows where they come from, nor how long they will stick around for. Embrace the craziness of small town living and clear the path for Makhanda's VIP's.

Makhanda National Arts Festival

Village Green Fair

Getting around

Making your way around Makhanda during Fest is almost as complicated as navigating a Joburg taxi rank (okay, maybe not as complicated but nevertheless it takes a little practice). What we are about to suggest next may shock you, but bear with us - don’t travel by car. Entrust your feet with getting you around town. There is no better way to see and feel the spirit of the festival. And, it’s great exercise! We will warn you though that some venues are totally inaccessible on foot. The Monument, which plays host to most of the Main programme shows is situated up a gargantuan hill. Unless you are a former Everest climber or possess wicked Spidey skills, we don’t suggest that you attempt to scale this hill on your own accord.

But, never fear - the tuks tuks of Makhanda are here to save the day! These tiny yellow buggies can be found buzzing around the streets at all times of day and night. For minimal charge, they will cart you from one venue to the next. Make friends with your tuk tuk driver - they know all the best restaurants, bars and undercover venues. Keep their number handy, because you never know when you will need a lift. Alternatively, catch a Hopper - these good, old minibus taxis transport visitors to and from main venue points. Hoppers run on donations, so please be generous with tips.

Download the National Arts Festival App to find Hopper drop-off and pick-up points. 


Eating, drinking and sleeping

Makhanda streets are dotted with a number of quaint eateries. Whether you are looking for a hearty meal, a cafe-style snack or a hangover cure, there will be a restaurant to suit your needs. However, if you are looking for a place that caters to all three of these requirements, pop by Revelations Coffee Shop and Restaurant. Their menu features R50, R60 and R70 budget options meals. A favourite is the homemade chicken pie with thrice-cooked chips (yum!). Looking for something devilishly delicious? Try out Revelation's adult milkshakes. The Chocolate Velvet made with chocolate ice cream, Amarula and Cape Velvet is to die for.

Makhanda also offers a wide range of accommodations during Fest season. From high school boarding houses to luxury game lodges, there is somewhere to lay your head no matter the budget. For the brave, there are campsites available too. The most important factor to consider when choosing your digs is warmth. Makhanda weather is more unpredictable than a theatre diva on a diet. Make sure to check whether your hotel, BnB or university residence offers additional blankets and heaters. Also keep in mind that Makhanda is a water scarce town. There may be water restrictions in place, so please keep those showers or baths short. Rather layer up your clothing or grab a glass of Gluhwein at your nearest pub to keep warm.

If you are planning to eat out on the regular during Fest or are in need of last-minute accommodation, visit the NAF website. Browse through their online Hospitality Guide to find all the best restaurants and accommodation offers.

Revelations Coffee Shop

Revelations Coffee Shop & Restaurant

What’s On at NAF 2019

The NAF programme for 2019 is way too long to list here. However, we have spotted a couple of must-see shows to keep in mind when planning your trip.


Third World Bunfight - Samson by Brett Bailey

Brett Bailey's work is known for being controversial, difficult and an assault on the senses. But, don't let this scare you away. Third World Bunfight -Samson is Bailey's highly-anticipated new lyrical, sharp-edged, apocalyptic music-theatre piece. Catch it at the Rhodes Theatre between Thursday, 27 June 2019 and Saturday, 29 June 2019.


The Eastern Cape Jazz Showcase

The Eastern Cape Jazz showcase is an annual event at the NAF. Presenting the Eastern Cape's up-and-coming jazzists, as well as seasoned professionals, this is a feast for the ears. Catch it at Nombulelo Hall from Monday, 1 July 2019 to Friday, 5 July 2019. 


Sew the Winter to my Skin 

Sew The Winter to My Skin is a South African Western-style epic, set in a time when Apartheid was being written into law and Afrikaner nationalism was rising. If you haven't yet seen this Robin Hood-esque biopic, make time during Fest to catch at the Olive Schreiner venue. It will be screened on Friday, 28 June 2019 and Friday, 5 July 2019 at 20:30.

To book tickets to these shows and more, click here

For more information

The Makhanda National Arts Festival 2019 will take place from Thursday, 27 June 2019 - Sunday, 07 July 2019.

For more information, visit the NAF website. Give them a follow on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for festival updates.

Contact the Box Office on 0860 002 004 or via email at [email protected]

Happy Fest!

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