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Belfast International Arts Festival returns centre stage this autumn

The countdown is on to Northern Ireland’s leading contemporary multi-artform festival, which returns for its 59th edition

Save the dates: 6 October-7 November 2021

Compelling drama and dance, experimental genre-busting works, topical talks, the latest literary releases, classical music, toe-tapping folk and roots, independent film, contemporary visual arts, outdoor events – from October 6th to November 7th, more than 200 uplifting, joyous and thought-provoking events will be hosted across Belfast as #BIAF21 welcomes the return of live, in-person events. There will also be a number of special digital events to enjoy from home, so check out the Digital Pass.

The impressive programme connects NI, its artists and audiences with artistic practice from across the world, exploring matters such as identity, race, gender stereotypes, legacy, social justice issues and, of course, lockdown.

BIAF21 opens on  6 Oct with the premiere of The Border Game. This coproduction by Belfast’s Prime Cut Productions and The Lyric Theatre is a timely and powerful reflection on 100 years of the Border and how it has impacted those who live along it.

Ahead of COP26 is the Irish premiere of Sea Sick (16-17 Oct), award-winning Canadian science journalist Alanna Mitchell’s acclaimed production on climate change and the state of the global ocean.


The first in a triple bill of headline concerts at the Grand Opera House is The Great Irish Songbook (21 Oct). Dervish, one of the world’s most renowned and imaginative interpreters of Irish folk music, will be joined by very special guests Glen Hansard, Eddi Reader, Cara Dillon, Brian Kennedy, Karen Matheson and the Open Arts Community Choir. The following night is an already sold-out Glen Hansard concert. On 23 Oct, festival favourites the Ulster Orchestra and the “Irish Queen of Game Music” – conductor Eímear Noone – join forces to take video game music to a symphonic level with Electric Arcade.

Dance aficionados are in for a treat with Uncle Ray (13-14 Oct), a touching new dance duet by David Bolger, and the reflective and emotive Epilogue: A Dancer Dies Twice (11-13 Oct). Online audiences can access two recent dance for screen works by leading NI choreographer and dancer Oona Doherty: Hunter Filmed and The Devil (9 Oct-7 Nov).

There are also two exciting world premiere interactive theatre events from leading NI companies. Cahoots NI’s The Grimm Hotel (12-31 Oct) is an immersive spin on Grimms’ Fairy Tales featuring close-up magic and high-tech illusions in a walk-through theatre experience. And Big Telly smash together flash theatre and physical fiction in Department Story (20-31 Oct), a hybrid event in which an online audience colludes with a physical one to shape what happens live.

Circus, comedy, parkour and hip-hop abound in the free outdoor family friendly double bill Roll Up Roll Up and Routine at CS Lewis Square on (Sat 16-Sun 17 Oct).

Other spectacular music events at BIAF21 include Billy Bragg (2 Nov); Belfast Music Society’s Northern Lights Mini Festival; and The Bunting Collection (17 Oct), an exploration of Belfast’s unique place in the history of harp music by Laoise Kelly and Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn, narrated by Stephen Rea.

The BIAF21 Talks & Ideas strand brings together established names and newer faces to explore love, grief, modern life, exile and new beginnings across their fiction and non-fiction works. Among the 17 events are Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle, who paints a collective portrait of these strange times living under lockdown; Northern Ireland’s Lucy Caldwell and Jan Carson, who explore their latest collections of critically acclaimed short stories; Nikesh Shukla and Musa Okwonga, who discuss their powerful memoirs exploring race, racism, class, identity, and immigration; and Derek Scally and Susan McKay, who consider identity, religion, legacy and the potential futures of the North and South of Ireland going forward.

Among the five visual art exhibitions is Paul Seawright’s Beasts of Burden at Belfast Exposed, a powerful look at Rwanda post-conflict and the nature of trauma, reconciliation and community.

The best way to explore Belfast is by foot, so check out the popular Cultural Walking Tours led by highly knowledgeable Blue Badge guides. New this year is Walking with Beckett, a self-guided audio walking tour of Queen’s Quarter featuring some familiar and less-known characters and cameos from the works of Samuel Beckett.

In collaboration with Queen’s Film Theatre, BIAF will celebrate the influence of Hong Kong cinema with a season of films by renowned director Wong Kar Wai.

Stay, relax and soak up the atmosphere with luxury hotel group Hastings Hotels,  BIAF’s official accommodation partner. Check out the special BIAF rate (subject to availability), from £65pps double or twin including breakfast at the Grand Central, and from £45pps double or twin including breakfast at the Europa Hotel. Use promo code BIAF.

BIAF’s principal funder is the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. It is also supported by Belfast City Council, British Council, the Government of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Tourism Northern Ireland, and a range of project funders and sponsors.

So what are you waiting for? Book online 24/7 at or call Box Office at Visit Belfast Welcome Centre on 00-44-28-90246609