There are dozens of fun festivals in the UK which are quintessentially British – you simply couldn’t find them in any other country. They celebrate the island nation’s remarkable history and folklore in some of the most bizarre ways possible. You really do have to see them to believe it!

    Not every major festival on the UK calendar has an ancient historical origin. Some are comparatively recent, but have become so popular in their short time that they’re now globally famous. If you want to check some of them out – and we strongly suggest you do – be sure to book everything early as transport and nearby hotels fill up fast.


    Jorvik Viking Festival

    February: York

    The ancient city of York is understandably proud of its history, particularly the period when it was known as Jorvik, and was the capital of the Danelaw – Viking-ruled England. The festival celebrating this period attracts tens of thousands of people from around the world, making it among the largest Viking events in Europe. Those with an interest in medieval history will enjoy the battle re-enactments, guided walks and historical crafts. Alternatively, you can have a bit more of a laugh with the Best Beard Competition and the Strongest Viking Contest.

    When: 2nd week of February


    Jack in the Green

    May: Hastings

    Jack in the Green is a particularly old English folk custom, with Pagan origins related to celebrating the start of spring. It’s celebrated in various parts of southeast England, but is especially popular in Hastings. The main attraction is a parade with a really bizarre leader – a man wearing a wicker frame covered in foliage, making him look like a walking tree. This figure is often followed by Morris dancers and musicians playing old English folk music. The festival is really popular, and keeps the ancient English May Day traditions alive and kicking.

    When: 1st May

    photo by Duncan Price (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Hay Festival

    May: Hay-on-Wye

    This tiny riverside village, right on the Welsh-English border, is a book-lover’s paradise. Aside from the many second-hand book stores, the village is home to the annual Hay Festival, which has rapidly grown from a tiny village fete to one of the biggest literary events of the year. The festival attracts big-name authors and readers by the thousands for the 10-day event around the end of May. While it was originally a purely literary festival, you’ll now also find music and films celebrated here.

    When: May

    photo by Andrew Lih (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling

    May: Near Gloucester

    There can be few more uniquely English events in the calendar than the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling. It involves rolling a round of Double Gloucester cheese down a steep hill and then chasing after it. At its heart, it’s just a downhill sprint, with the winner getting a well-travelled cheese. It’s extremely fun to watch, though, as the runners often take a tumble on the rough ground (though this can sometimes result in quite serious injuries). This bizarre contest has attracted spectators and even competitors from around the world, with past winners coming from the US, New Zealand and Nepal.

    When: Last Monday in May


    photo by michael warren (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Highland Games

    August: Parts of Scotland

    The Highland Games features competitions in virtually every activity you would think of as typically Scottish. The most famous of these is the caber toss – something like the Olympic javelin, but using a 79 kg log. There are also musical contests featuring the uniquely Scottish massed pipe and drum marching bands and even Highland dancing competitions. There's no single Games, like the Olympics, but several across Scotland, held throughout the spring and summer. The biggest of them is the Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, usually held over the last weekend of August.

    When: Spring and Summer


    Notting Hill Carnival

    August: London

    This huge street party is a dramatic demonstration of London’s amazing diversity. Notting Hill Carnival was started by the British West Indian community in the area, but it has massively expanded to embrace a wide range of minority cultures in the UK. It’s one of the world’s largest street parades, featuring flamboyant costumes, lively music and energetic dancing. The amazing atmosphere attracts about a million people to central London each year, so expect the city to be crowded.

    When: 1st Monday of August, and the Sunday before it

    photo by Cristiano Betta (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Robin Hood Festival

    August: Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham

    The Robin Hood Festival is a little like the Jorvik Viking Festival, only from a different time period and a different county. You still get the fun historical feel, the dramatic duals with period weaponry, unique stalls and interesting attractions. As the name suggests, this festival celebrates the iconic hero of British mythology. Expect something like a pop-up village to emerge in the historical woodland of Sherwood Forest, covering an area of about half a square mile, with archery lessons, jousting, fancy dress and folkloric theatre making it especially good for kids.

    When: 1st week of August


    Edinburgh Fringe Festival

    August: Edinburgh

    The Fringe started as an alternative to the traditional entertainments of the Edinburgh International Festival. Its massive popularity meant that it snowballed so much that it’s not only bigger than the festival it once fringed, but is bigger than any other arts festival in the world. Around 50,000 performers play at hundreds of venues across the city, showcasing modern theatre, comedy, cabaret, dance, magic and virtually any other kind of art you can name. It takes place across virtually the entire month of August and brings a lively bohemian atmosphere.

    When: August

    photo by Festival Fringe Society (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Bonfire Night

    November: Lewes

    Thanks to V for Vendetta, the British fondness for Bonfire Night is now world-famous, though perhaps a little misinterpreted. The festival celebrates the fact that the religious fanatic Guy Fawkes was stopped from blowing up Parliament, and traditionally involves burning an effigy of the luckless bomber. Nowhere in the UK does this more dramatically than Lewes in East Sussex, which adds street parades, rolling barrels of flaming tar along the streets and truly massive bonfires on the outskirts of town, with a stunning fireworks display to end it all. It’s a small town but a very popular festival, so expect a bit of a crush on the narrow streets.

    When: 5th November



    December: Anywhere in Scotland

    The Scots are famous for their strong whiskys and even stronger constitutions, so celebrating the New Year in Scotland is guaranteed to be a good night. The exact origins of Hogmanay are unclear (as are most things after such an epic party), but it’s thought to come from old Gaelic traditions. It’s an amazingly friendly festival, with special emphasis on greeting guests, even if they’re complete strangers. You can fully expect to get hugged and kissed by people you’ve never met before. Edinburgh is the best place to be, with street parties and fireworks, but it is a ticketed event, so be sure to book well in advance. Don’t forget to brush up on the words to Auld Lang Syne, and good luck remembering them when the clock strikes midnight!

    When: New Years Eve – 31st December

    photo by John Lord (CC BY 2.0) modified

    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

    Start planning your trip

    Keep exploring

    Back to top