This paper investigates if and how cities conceive of festivals staged in outdoor public space as a means of achieving cultural inclusion policy objectives. The inclusion of culture in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) creates an imperative for cities to scrutinize their approaches to making their cities inclusive. Festivals offer potential in this regard and this study examines the ways that Barcelona, Dublin, Glasgow, Gothenburg and London incorporate festivals into cultural inclusion policies. It relies on secondary research to critically analyse a range of current policy documents, informed by Ball’s ideas about policy contexts: (a) of influence, (b) of policy text production, and (c) of practice. Findings confirm existing assessments of the festival landscape as being complex. They show that while the cities studied have a long history of strategizing about festivals, this has not yet led to dedicated policy attention. Overall, in line with work by Whitford, Phi and Dredge, a market-led approach to festivals dominates, although evidence of a policy rhetoric linking festivals to cultural inclusion is present. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that policy thinking about how festivals can achieve cultural inclusion is neither sufficiently comprehensible nor “joined up” across relevant policy domains.