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Insiders Guide to Festivals in the United Kingdom

If you’re heading to the U.K., check out the lineup of festivals around the British Isles. The country offers numerous festivals for every interest and age. Check out a few of these festivals that often fly beneath the tourist radar.

Soul Circus

The Cotswolds, U.K.

This yoga and wellness festival int he U.K. will leave you feeling healthier and more relaxed than when you arrived. Experienced yoga and wellness instructors offer 20 classes a day in three different “experience tents.” The atmosphere is somewhere in between a DJ yoga rave and a mindful meditation. Spa tents revive both body and spirit. Music plays all day and far into the night by buskers and bands and a DJ late night party in the woods.
Organic food and drinks from home-grown sustainable sources put the “w” in wellness, and guests can attend workshops on healthy cooking. Inspirational talks from life coaches are on the agenda as well as soaking in hot tubs. Many people put up tents or tipis for total immersion. After such a rejuvenating weekend, even traffic can feel tranquil.

Robin Hood Festival

Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Taking places during the first week of August, this annual festival has grown into a pop-up 13th Century village with a square half-mile of woods full of stalls and attractions. Armor-clad knights hold frequent energetic jousts. Vicious fights erupt between Robin Hood and the Sheriff’s men. Children join impromptu, theatrical re-enactments of the Robin Hood story dressed as the mythical hero or Maid Marian in garlands of flowers. Archery lessons, pony rides, and discovery trails are the most popular attractions.
Jugglers, buffoons, and minstrels mingle with the crowds. There are exhibitions of falconry and alchemy. Magicians, storytellers, puppeteers, and musicians weave the wonder of a bygone time in and around the shade of The Major Oak, an 800-year-old tree. This festival celebrates Merrie Olde England without the Medieval scourges of plague and serfdom for a lighthearted immersion into a fanciful storied time.

Hampton Court Palace Festival

London, U.K. 

Big name acts perform at the annual summer music festival on the grounds of Henry VIII’s magnificent Tudor palace and world famous, extensive gardens. The intimate, open-air auditorium seats 3,000. Pre-concert festival picnics are elegant four-course seasonal meals including a cheese course and wine that attendees can enjoy at their leisure on the palace grounds.
You can reserve a gazebo and enjoy the luxury of a lake view and dedicated waitstaff. The exclusive and unforgettable VIP package includes dining in royal splendor inside the castle. Private dining apartments can be arranged. The VIP experience ends with champagne at a post-concert castle gathering that allows an inside look at King Henry’s public and private spaces.


Henham Park– Southwold, Suffix

Four days of music, art, theater, and unexpected experiences define this family-friendly festival. Each year in mid-July, people ditch the city to rent tents (some luxury) or pods and enjoy a multi-day get-away in the woods. Special areas and activities are set aside for kids and teens. Sheep are dyed funky colors, and surprising sights abound.
SOLAS is the hearth of Latitude for relaxation, yoga, and eclectic art immersed in a pine forest and serenaded by emerging U.K. and Irish talent from troubadours, ambient electro, folk music, and dark pop. Ambient soundscapes accompany slow-motion visuals. Spa treatments and workshops are set up to enhance wellness and wisdom.
This U.K. festival offers a large variety of entertainment in music arenas, film, theater, and dance arenas, a comedy arena, and more venues scattered around the park. Established talent join emerging performers for an eclectic variety of acts.
You can enjoy a game of croquet or sip Prosecco in a forest bar, swim in the lake and listen to live music all day. Late night dancing in the woods is an ethereal experience. You never know what’s around the corner in The Faraway Forest, but expect theatre performances, interactive art, and a visually stunning walk through a world of woodland imagination.
More than 80 of the U.K.’s finest street food vendors bring a world of tastes to the festival including modern Greek cuisine, wood-fired pizza, Himalayan soul food, Indonesian charcoal barbecue, and Portuguese prego along with the more traditional burgers and wings.
This festival offers maximum fun with minimal festival distress. You won’t get lost, wonder what to do with the kids, or have to leave any night but the last.

Twelfth Night

Bankside–London, Epiphany

This raucous Twelfth Night Celebration aspires to be biblical but has many pagan, pre-Christian elements. At London’s Bankside near the Globe Theater, the Holly Man, covered in fresh holly, glides along the Thames in a small decorated boat before joining crowds for toasts with mulled wine. Festivities incorporate a re-enactment of the story of St. George and the Dragon. Some revelers are costumed. Two audience members who find a bean in their Twelfth Night cake are crowned King Bean and Queen Pea. Revelers march on to the George Inn on Borough High Street for more dancing, mulled wine, the Kissing Wishing Tree, and storytelling. This coaching inn is one of London’s oldest pubs and can hold a large crowd. The George is famous for being the only galleried coaching inn still standing in London.

The Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss

Padstow, Cornwall

Reputed to be the oldest dance festival in the U.K., the Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss (Hobby Horse) sees thousands of people converge upon this small Cornish town, many with hobby horses of all types. The festival, celebrated each May Day, celebrates Celtic horse-worship, a pagan fertility parade. The festival was even used as a warning to would-be invaders of the portside fishing village.
Townsfolk decorate the village in greenery and erect a Maypole. Dance troupes parade down the streets, each led by an ‘Oss, a dancer costumed as a horse. “Oss’s” capture young women and conceal them in black capes, thought to be a pagan fertility rite. Another ‘Oss represents peace, and they duke it out. Traditional music is heard all day. Costumed troupes cavort around town before retiring to their stables — two local pubs — to be joined by townsfolk and visitors for a festive night. Revelers return to the town center to dance around the maypole at midnight.
The U.K. offers a multitude of music festivals all summer, but other seasons are festive as well. Be sure to check out the festivals happening during Christmas and Easter!


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