For a lot of Americans traveling to the UK, it’s easy to get caught up in activities that can be labeled as “touristy.” You may spend a few days and nights in London experiencing the city, taking photos of Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, and exploring various museums. You may book a tour that takes you through some of the beautiful countryside and not-so-remote castle ruins. Or, for a slightly more adventurous trip, you may venture to an historic site like Stonehenge, or a national park area like the Lakes District. All of these are perfectly worthy activities that can expose you to beautiful and fascinating locations. However, none of them really exposes you to the culture and atmosphere of the country.
This is why it’s also a good idea to find a few specific events to take in when booking a trip to the UK. Festivals, gatherings, athletic contests, etc. are often some of the best places to enjoy yourself abroad. So, while you should absolutely take the time to see the famous sights while visiting the UK, consider planning your trip around one (or a few) of these annual events as well.
Up Helly Aa
Two words: fire festival. You won’t find many gatherings as unique, strange, or oddly enjoyable as Up Helly Aa, which is essentially a Scottish celebration of Viking culture and heritage. Held each January in Lerwick—it’s an area that once belonged to Vikings—the celebration is like diving back in time for 24 hours. There are Viking costumes, lit torches, various fire-related displays, and a main event that consists of lighting a replica Viking ship aflame out on the water. The Telegraph’s incredible gallery of images from events past will give you a clear idea of what sort of atmosphere to expect.
Cheltenham Festival & The Grand National
These are two of the UK’s largest and most celebrated horse racing events, and both take place in the spring of each year. The Grand National race is seen by most as the biggest single competition at either event, but for many the Cheltenham Festival represents more of a total celebration. Consisting of four days of races and revelry, it truly is a spectacular event. Most spectators take it as an opportunity to “let loose,” so to speak, while displaying bold, playful fashions (as is customary at races) and enjoying a few afternoon cocktails. But it’s the races that matter most, and you’d be best served brushing up on your knowledge of the competitors if you plan on attending. Betfair’s horse racing tips section will be updating with news on the various favorites (as well as betting odds, for those inclined), and keeping an eye on the news will help you to enjoy the actual races that much more.
The Boat Race
Sticking with festive competition, The Boat Race is another annual UK event you’d do well to take in if you ever have the opportunity. Think of the great college sports rivalries in the United States: Michigan-Ohio State football, Duke-North Carolina basketball, and even the Yale vs. Army series, in any sport. Then imagine if those contests dated back 150 years! That’s more or less what you get with The Boat Race, which is a rowing event on the Thames River that has been contested between Oxford and Cambridge for well over a century. Naturally, it’s a highly engaging event, even for those with little interest in the sport of rowing.
Not a whole lot needs to be said about Wimbledon. The tickets are expensive, but it’s viewed by most tennis fans as the grandest of the grand slam events. Many would describe it as quintessentially British as well. If you’re visiting the UK in late June or early July, consider splurging on a day or two and watch the world’s best tennis players compete at the sport’s most famous venue.
England’s Medieval Festival
Let’s be honest: one of the most fascinating chapters of history is the age of chivalry and knights,. Even though much of what we perceive as medieval lore comes from fictional Arthurian tales, many of us associate the time period with England. And England’s Medieval Festival is designed to celebrate just that! Basically, it’s a huge festival at Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex, consisting of jousts, battle reenactments, archery, and all manner of additional medieval activities. Check out this video of the action for an idea of what you can expect at the festival!
Naturally, these are only a few of the events, festivals, athletic events, concerts, and so on that can be enjoyed throughout the UK on an annual basis. The selection should give you a good idea of the various cultural celebrations you can look into attending if you’re planning on taking a trip, though!
Which festival would you like to attend? Leave your answers in the comments below.