We have visited AstroFest in London for a number of years, but this year we decided to visit the International Astronomy Show (IAS) near Coventry. The IAS celebrated its fifth year in 2016 so we had to see what the IAS was all about and if we are missing out. Should the IAS takeover from Astrofest?
Astrofest for me is in a good location in Knightsbridge, London. I don’t live in London, I live near Cambridge, but I find it easy to get down to North London then jump on the tube across London. I would never dream of attending Astrofest and travelling to London on a Friday so we have always attended on the Saturday.
IAS is outside Coventry and for us about a 200 mile return journey – around 2 hours with no traffic. You approach Stoneleigh Park and follow the signs and you actually park inside one of the covered halls. It’s a short walk to the entrance.
Astrofest exhibitors are split over three floors, so you really never get a feeling of how many exhibitors there really are. The problem with the three floors is that the stands do seem crammed in and it’s difficult to move around them sometimes and actually see what is being sold – especially on the Saturday.
The IAS exhibition hall is large, open and spacious, nowhere near as crammed as Astrofest. It’s a real breath of fresh air. We attended IAS on the Friday, so it may be busier on the Saturday. But on our visit on the Friday, it allowed us to get close to the equipment and have a good chat to all stall holders. It did seem like there were more exhibitors at IAS than Astrofest, that could be because at IAS all stands are on one level. There were certainly some stall holders we had never seen at Astrofest before.
The lecture hall at Astrofest is very large and well attended – sometimes sold out. The reason may be because at Astrofest you choose your session AM or PM and the day and then you get to see all those lectures in that session compared to IAS where you pay for each one you want to attend.
The catering at Astrofest has been in decline over the years and there are only a few seats. At Astrofest you used to be able to get toasted sandwiches, tea, coffee and the odd drink, but there does seem to be less choice there now. I suppose Kensington High Street is on your doorstep so you could step out and find something close by.
At the IAS the restaurant area is large with lots of seating. There is a coffee bar and a separate fridge containing sandwiches and rolls. There is even a hot meal option, including breakfast and lunch. We paid £6 for a large fishcake, mushy peas and chips. Although you could choose anything and mix it up and just pay £6 per plate. The tills were even contactless!
Ignoring the cost of travel (as that varies for everyone) the price of entrance and two talks at IAS is just slightly more than entrance to Astrofest and an afternoon of talks (usually 4 talks).
Overall it’s a difficult call to say which one is better. The problem may be because Astrofest feels like home as we’ve been so many times. IAS does seem a long way to drive for us, but I do like the extra space in the exhibition hall at IAS, it is horrible being crammed in at Astrofest. The lecture halls are nicer at Astrofest and you get more talks for your money. The catering is miles better at IAS, but you don’t really have any other choice at IAS like you do being in the centre of London. At the moment I’m torn between the two, but I may be slightly leaning towards IAS. What do you think?