The UK has bad rap for being stuffy and overly serious. But UK culture isn’t just confined to tea, royal weddings, and crumpets (thank goodness).
Fantastic, fun, and totally bizarre, the UK’s weirdo festivals are at the heart of its history and culture. They’ll mostly amaze and charm you. Sometimes they’ll totally confuse you. But all of them are entertaining — and generally involve a lot of booze and fried foods.
So, let’s dig into 11 of the UK’s craziest festivals and where to find them:
One of the biggest festivals in the UK, Hogmanay is a giant New Year’s Eve celebration that runs from December 31st-January 2nd in Scotland each year.
When: December 31st-January 2nd
Look forward to: A parade of fire balls, endless street parties, neon lights, and live music.
Wackiest trait: The first footing: the first man who enters the house after midnight is expected to bring gifts and foods. Of course, the hope is that the first man that comes in is a tall, dark man, and the closer he is to this description, the luckier your year will be!
Pro tip: There are plenty of places to catch the festival, one of the most famous is the Edinburgh Street Party.
A super fun festival in the heart of York, the Jorvik Viking Festival honors the rich Norse heritage of the UK. This festival marks the end of the winter hardships and the beginnings of spring.
When: February (dates vary)
Look forward to: Competitions, incredible food and drink (think kegs and roasted meats), live history performances, longboat racing, and electrifying battle performances.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to dress up!
The UK has some amazing Pride Festivals to go celebrate and support the local LGBTQ+ community. One of our favorites is in Brighton: it’s the biggest in the UK and embodies everything we love about quirky Brighton and Pride.
When: August 2nd-4th
Look forward to: Pride in the Park and Love BN1 Fest. Also, don’t miss the Pride Carnival and Pride Village Party where you can enjoy live cabaret, drag performances, and more, all to raise money for the Rainbow Fund.
Pro tip: Book tickets in advance, especially if you want camping space.
One for the literature and dinner party lovers, Burns Night Festival embodies the cultural background of Scotland. Each year, Scotland honors the famous poet with a country-wide Burns supper: a time to gather, eat, and celebrate.
When: January 25th
Look forward to: Poetry readings, reenactments, lavish meals, haggis and whiskey.
Pro tip: This one you can celebrate anywhere, including your own home. There’s even a ready-made Spotify playlist for you to use. Otherwise, you can go wild at the Big Burns Supper, a festival and the biggest Burns Night Celebration on the planet.
If you find yourself in Wales, the land of beauty and song, then catch the Eisteddfod festival, a celebration that epitomizes the loveliness of Welsh culture.
When: August (dates vary)
Look forward to: Endless live music, literature readings (particularly poetry), and numerous cultural performances, including traditional Welsh folk dancing.
Pro tip: There are a few dates available so it’s one of the easier festivals to catch if you’re only visiting, but the main one is usually in the first week of August.
St Paddy’s Day is never dull, and where better to celebrate it than at the Belfast St Patrick’s Day Carnival? After you’ve had your fill of the parade, duck into any pub for a pint and you’ll find more folk music, more jigs, more colour, more chanting, and more celebration.
When: March 17th
Wackiest trait: St Patrick’s Trail: a 92-mile journey across the landscape that takes you on a tour of ancient and religious sites, each having some connection to the life of St Patrick.
Notting Hill carnival happens in summer in the streets of London between Notting Hill and Kensington. Yes, it’s very busy, almost one million people attend the carnival every year, but it’s worth battling the crowds and immersing yourself in the colors, music, and street food.
When: August (dates vary)
Wackiest trait: The celebrations of this festival involve wearing Caribbean costumes and dancing to reggae, calypso, merengue, zouk, and rumba music in the street alongside a huge parade.
One of our favorite festivals, not just for the excitement, but for its super strange origin. Recently popularised in the film and comic, V for Vendetta, Guy Fawkes famously plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament 5th November 1605. He very nearly succeeded, and since then, the failure of this devilish plan has been celebrated.
When: November 5th
Look forward to: Massive firework displays, giant bonfires, and plenty of opportunities to toast marshmallows and potatoes.
Wackiest trait: You’ll also see people dragging homemade figures of Guy Fawkes through the street asking ‘penny for the guy’. The figure then gets symbolically burnt on the bonfire.
Pro tip: If you want to see a special bonfire night, head down to Ottery St Mary in Devon for the Tar Barrels.
Perhaps the most infamous of our crazy festivals (thanks, viral videos!), the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival is an annual event celebrated during the Spring Bank Holiday. The oft-forgotten original purpose of this festival was to preserve the grazing rights of the common. If only all disputes could be solved in such a fun manner.
When: May 25th
Wackiest trait: This entire festival is about chasing cheese down a hill. The premise? 1) You take a giant round of cheese. 2) You roll it down a hill. 3) People run down the hill trying to catch it. 4) They end up rolling down the hill, too.
If you are looking for a sophisticated yet utterly mad festival in the UK, Lord Mayor’s Carnival is the one. Lord Mayor’s Carnival signifies 804 years of tumultuous history in London.
When: November 9th
Look forward to: Parades with marching bands, carriages, military detachments, giant contraptions, dance troops, and ceremonial displays.
Tips: Plan your travel ahead of time! It can be difficult to get around via car during the carnival time as most of the city shuts down.
For art lovers, you can’t do better than the Fringe Festival. It’s the largest arts festival in the world and lasts around twenty-five days. Obviously, street food and booze are free flowing throughout the event and there’s always more than one street party.
When: August (dates vary)
Look forward to: Thousands of different performances (comedy, music, and lectures) in hundreds of beautiful venues.
Tips: It’s an amazing place to meet like-minded people and the best way to experience it is to not plan too much, take some fliers, and go along to things you never thought you’d be interested in.