Hey there fellow travel enthusiasts and welcome to my post where we will check out my 10 best festivals in the United Kingdom to experience this year. Now, as we know, the United Kingdom is more than just breathtaking scenery and dynamic cities.
It’s a land steeped in rich traditions and culture, and this heritage comes to life in the multitude of festivals that dot the annual calendar. From celebrating the nation’s history to immersing yourself in its music, art and bountiful harvests, the United Kingdom’s festivals offer a kaleidoscope of experiences for all tastes.
Map of United Kingdom Festivals
Here is a map with locations of the best festivals in Great Britain as per below.
Best Festivals in the United Kingdom
So, let’s dive into a world where tradition meets modernity, and where every festival tells a story of its own.
1. Jorvik Viking Festival
Step back in time to the Viking era at the Jorvik Viking Festival in the ancient city of York. With its rich history as the capital of the Danelaw during Viking-ruled England, York takes immense pride in its heritage, and this festival pays homage to that glorious past. Drawing in crowds from across the globe, it stands as one of Europe’s largest Viking-themed events.
For enthusiasts of medieval history, the Jorvik Viking Festival offers an array of engaging activities such as thrilling battle re-enactments or joining knowledgeable guides on historical walks through the city’s storied streets. Here you can also discover the intricacies of Viking culture through hands-on historical craft demonstrations.
But it’s not all serious history at this festival as there’s plenty of fun to be had too. Embrace your inner Viking with the Beserka Boot Camp, where young warriors aged 5-12 can prepare for battle under the guidance of Jorvik’s expert instructors. The annual Best Beard Competition welcomes men, women and children to showcase their most glorious facial hair, be it natural or creatively crafted.
For those seeking even more excitement, the annual Strongest Viking Competition is a must-see. Watch as Viking champions go head-to-head in a series of tests from hammer-holding to leg-wrestling and hand-to-hand combat, all in a family-friendly atmosphere that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Where: York, Yorkshire
2. Hay Festival
Nestled on the picturesque Welsh-English border, the quaint riverside village of Hay-on-Wye is a true haven for book enthusiasts. Beyond its charming second-hand bookstores and idyllic setting, this village plays host to the annual literary extravaganza known as the Hay Festival.
Founded in 1988 as a humble village fete, it has rapidly blossomed into one of the most significant literary events of the year, drawing in not only bookworms but also big-name authors and creative minds from all corners of the globe. This 10-day extravaganza, typically held at the end of May, seamlessly weaves together the worlds of literature, arts, music and film.
At its heart, the Hay Festival is a celebration of human creativity and its roster features a dazzling array of luminaries including authors, poets, playwrights, journalists, scientists, philosophers, musicians and cultural icons. Attendees can immerse themselves in a vibrant tapestry of events, from intimate author talks and panel discussions to spirited debates, readings, poetry slam, and workshops. It’s a literary feast that caters to diverse tastes and interests.
And whilst this is all going on, the festival grounds come alive with food and drink stalls as well offering a delightful array of local and international cuisines.
When: May 23 – June 2, 2024
Where: Hay on Wye, Herefordshire, HR3 5DG
3. Notting Hill Carnival
London’s Notting Hill Carnival is a grand celebration that showcases the breathtaking diversity of this vibrant city. Originating from the British West Indian community in the area, it has evolved into a colossal gathering that embraces the rich tapestry of minority cultures in the United Kingdom.
This carnival ranks among the world’s largest street parades where flamboyant costumes, pulsating music and exuberant dancing take center stage, creating an atmosphere that lures approximately one million people to central London each year.
Traditionally held over the August bank holiday weekend, the carnival unfolds in three captivating acts. It kicks off with the Panorama event on Saturday, followed by Sunday which is dedicated to families. The grand crescendo occurs on August Bank Holiday Monday when the main parade floods the streets with an explosion of colors, sounds, and infectious energy.
What distinguishes the Notting Hill Carnival is its status as Europe‘s largest free street festival and a tantalizing culinary extravaganza. Children’s activities add to the family-friendly atmosphere as well, while a multitude of Caribbean food stalls entices with mouthwatering delights too.
When: Usually takes place every last weekend of August
Where: Typically streets of London W10 and W11, around Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Grove, Westbourne Park and Kensal Road
4. Edinburgh Fringe Festival
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, born as an alternative to the traditional entertainments of the Edinburgh International Festival, has evolved into a cultural juggernaut that not only dwarfs its predecessor but stands as the largest arts festival globally. This magnificent extravaganza, which spans nearly the entire month of August, transforms the historic city of Edinburgh into a vibrant hub of artistic innovation and expression.
At the heart of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is an astonishing array of talent with around 50,000 performers gracing the stages of hundreds of venues across the city. Together, they form a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of modern theatre, comedy, cabaret, dance, magic and virtually every conceivable form of art.
It’s a testament to the boundless creativity of the human spirit, where established artists and emerging talents converge to captivate and inspire audiences from around the world. Furthermore, the city’s thoroughfares become a haven for artistic expression, where performers transform every nook and cranny into a stage, beckoning passersby to partake in the spectacle.
Where: 180 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1QS, United Kingdom
5. Bonfire Night
Bonfire Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Day, is an annual festival celebrated throughout the United Kingdom on the 5th of November. Across the nation, Britons come together to light bonfires and set off fireworks, creating a dazzling display of lights and colors. While these festivities traditionally took place in back gardens and streets, today, organized events in public parks have become increasingly popular. But what lies at the heart of this vibrant celebration is the historical event it commemorates.
Bonfire Night harks back to the fateful night of the 5th of November in 1605 when a Catholic man named Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the Protestant Houses of Parliament. His plot, known as the Gunpowder Plot, was foiled, and the day has since been marked as a momentous occasion in British history.
For those seeking the pinnacle of Bonfire Night revelry, a visit to the charming town of Lewes in East Sussex is a must. As dusk falls on this special day, the town comes alive with seven bonfire societies parading through its streets, bedecked in vivid costumes and carrying effigies, including those of the Pope and Guy Fawkes. The air is electric with excitement as enormous flaming crosses light up the night.
When: November 5
Where: Lewes, East Sussex (although you will find celebrations all over the U.K.)
6. Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling
One of England’s most uniquely thrilling events on the calendar, the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling extravaganza is a spectacle like no other. At its core, it’s a delightfully eccentric competition that involves rolling a hefty round of Double Gloucester cheese down a steep hill and then embarking on a mad dash to chase after it. But make no mistake, this isn’t your typical downhill sprint; it’s a heart-pounding, gravity-defying race that has become a legendary test of courage and agility.
The rules are simple: a wheel of 7-9 pounds of Double Gloucester cheese is sent tumbling down Cooper’s Hill, setting the stage for an adrenaline-pumping pursuit. The objective? To catch the runaway cheese wheel. However, the cheese isn’t one to take things lightly. It can reach staggering speeds of approximately 70 mph (about 110 km/h), making the chase an incredibly daunting task.
As competitors descend down the treacherous hill, they are not only pitted against each other but also against the formidable force of gravity. Spectators line the course, cheering on the brave souls who dare to take on the challenge. And while it’s a race, the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling is as much about sheer survival as it is about winning. Runners often find themselves tumbling and somersaulting down the uneven and rocky terrain, leading to both laughter and gasps from the crowd – and even the odd ambulance ride or two as well.
When: Last Monday in May
Where: Gloucester, England
7. Jack in the Green
The Jack in the Green is a time-honored English folk custom deeply rooted in the country’s history and carrying echoes of ancient Pagan traditions that herald the arrival of spring. While this vibrant celebration takes place in various parts of southeastern England, it finds its zenith in the coastal town of Hastings, where the festivities are nothing short of spectacular.
At the heart of the Jack in the Green celebration is a grand parade, a procession that takes a distinctive and whimsical turn. Leading this merry spectacle is a figure like no other – a man donned in a wicker frame adorned with lush foliage, creating the illusion of a walking, living tree. This enigmatic character, the “Jack in the Green” himself, serves as the embodiment of nature’s rejuvenation and the burgeoning of life with the arrival of spring.
As the Jack in the Green takes center stage, he is accompanied by a lively group of Morris dancers and musicians who serenade the crowd with the enchanting strains of old English folk music. The streets come alive with the rhythmic beats of drums and the infectious melodies of accordions and fiddles, creating an atmosphere that transports revelers to a bygone era.
This festival, with its curious blend of ancient traditions and vibrant energy, has garnered a devoted following. It serves as a spirited reminder of the rich tapestry of English May Day traditions, keeping them alive and thriving in the modern age. The Jack in the Green festival is not only a tribute to the changing seasons but also a celebration of community, culture and the enduring spirit of England.
When: May 1
Where: Hastings, East Sussex
8. Highland Games
The Highland Games are traditional events held primarily in Scotland, but they have also spread to other parts of the world where Scottish diaspora is present as well. They celebrate Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands.
One of the most iconic and famous events within the Highland Games is the caber toss, a feat of strength and precision that can be likened to the Olympic javelin, albeit with a significant twist. Contestants hoist a hefty 79-kilogram log, known as a caber, and attempt to toss it end over end, aiming for the most precise and impressive flip. It’s a true test of both brawn and skill, and a spectacle that never fails to captivate onlookers.
But the Highland Games are not solely about displays of raw strength as they are also a showcase for the rich musical heritage of Scotland. At these events, you’ll find uniquely Scottish massed pipe and drum marching bands which fill the air with the stirring melodies of bagpipes and the thunderous beat of drums. These musical contests provide a symphonic backdrop to the festivities, evoking a sense of pride and nostalgia.
In addition to these captivating competitions, Highland dancing takes center stage with talented dancers adorned in traditional attire performing intricate and lively routines. The grace and precision of these dancers pay homage to Scotland’s cultural heritage.
9. Robin Hood Festival
At the Robin Hood Festival, you’ll find an array of activities and attractions that cater to history enthusiasts of all ages. Archery lessons offer the chance to channel your inner marksman, while thrilling jousting tournaments recreate the dramatic duels of yesteryear, complete with period weaponry to evoke the spirit of medieval England.
For the little ones, the festival holds particular appeal as children can revel in the opportunity to don fancy dress, transforming into knights, fair maidens or even the legendary Robin Hood himself. The festivities extend to folkloric theatre where tales of derring-do and daring escapades are brought to life in a way that captivates young and old alike.
Unique stalls also offer a treasure trove of wares from handcrafted goods to period-appropriate trinkets, allowing you to take home a piece of this immersive experience. The Robin Hood Festival is not merely an event – it’s an adventure that invites you to step into the pages of history and explore the enduring legend of Robin Hood.
When: 1st week of August
Where: Sherwood forest
Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year’s celebration, is a night of revelry and warm-hearted camaraderie that showcases the Scots’ renowned love for strong whisky and their robust spirits. While its exact origins remain shrouded in the mists of time, it is believed to have its roots in ancient Gaelic traditions, making it a celebration steeped in history and folklore.
One of the most striking aspects of Hogmanay is its extraordinary friendliness. Scots are known for their warm hospitality, and this festival exemplifies that spirit. Regardless of whether you’re a local or a stranger in their midst, you can expect to be greeted with open arms and it’s not uncommon to receive hugs and kisses from people you’ve never met before. The sense of community and inclusivity is at the heart of Hogmanay, making it a truly unique and heartwarming experience.
While Hogmanay festivities take place across Scotland, Edinburgh stands out as the ultimate destination for the grandest celebrations. The city comes alive with street parties and spectacular fireworks displays that light up the night sky. It’s a sight to behold and an experience that will leave you in awe. However, it’s important to note that Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations are ticketed events, so it’s advisable to secure your spot well in advance to ensure you don’t miss out on the revelry.
When: New Year’s Eve
Where: Anywhere in Scotland
And there they are, my recommended 10 best festivals you can attend while in the UK. Let me know how this article helped you, and as usual, let me know of your experiences here – or of course if there are any festivals I have missed.
Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, or corrections, or would like me to check anything else out for you.
Until next time.