UK traditions and culture

The UK is rich with culture and customs, from historic castles and buildings to beautiful gardens. We've written a short guide for international students in the UK.

You could see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or lavish firework displays on 5 November. Read more about our many festivals and celebrations, including Christmas, Burns Night and Bonfire Night. Click on one of the panels below for a summary.

From the traditional to the weird and wonderful

Last modified: 13 October 2023

There are some cultural experiences in the UK which may seem a little unusual when you first get here. From rolling a cheese down a hill to weaving ribbons around a pole, there are a lot of curious customs here in the UK. To find activities near you or to read more about them visit Conde Nast Traveller.

Food and drink

Last modified: 21 April 2017

Most known for our love of tea, scones and fish and chips in the UK there are a number of food and drink items you should sample while in the UK.

These can be found at various markets, shops, cafes and restaurants. Your institution may also be able to recommend the best, affordable places to eat in your area.

Learn about different UK food and discover haggis, bread and butter pudding and toad in the hole!

Unspoken rules and etiquette

Last modified: 17 December 2018

As with every culture, in the UK there are a number of unspoken rules that are often expected to be adhered to. Don’t worry about it too much – you’ll soon pick them up.

Most notable are;  punctuality - if you’re due to meet someone but are running more than five minutes late then you should let them know if possible, queuing (which we’re famous for!) and making small talk when first introduced to someone.


How to experience UK traditions

Last modified: 14 June 2016

Students’ Union

Your Students’ Union will most likely hold a range of cultural events about the UK and about other countries, for example a number of Students’ Unions hold celebration events during One World Week (the date varies depending on the institution so ask your Students’ Union for details or visit their website).


HOST is an organisation that links international students at UK universities with friendly approved hosts who offer an invitation to their home for a day, a weekend or at Christmas. Visit HOST for further information.


Festivals and celebrations

Last modified: 13 October 2023

Make the most of your time in the UK by experiencing some of our festivals and celebrations. We host a number of multicultural festivals. Highlights include:

Chinese New Year
Outside Asia, the world’s biggest celebration of Chinese New Year is in London – each year there is a parade through Chinatown in the West End. Chinese students are the largest group studying in the UK so there may also be events held at your university or college. Get in touch with them or your Students’ Union.You can see more about the Year of the Pig at the Independent.

Wimbledon Tennis Championships 
Wimbledon, the world’s oldest tennis tournament, is a summer highlight for sports fans. Held at the All England Club in London since 1877, Wimbledon is known for the tennis players’ white dress code and the tradition for spectators to eat strawberries and cream. 

Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The largest arts festival in the world, ‘the Fringe’ features over 40,000 performances and more than 2,500 shows at 250 venues. Any type of performance may participate, across theatre, comedy, music and dance, and many students visit Edinburgh to put on their own shows. 

Bonfire night
Historically, this marks the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ plot to blow up the House of Lords and assassinate King James I in 1605 – the failed 'gunpowder plot' is remembered in the children’s rhyme ‘Remember, remember the 5th of November; gunpowder, treason and plot’. Today, it is commemorated with spectacular displays of fireworks.

There will be firework displays in most cities, but one of the best places to be is in the medieval town of Lewes, East Sussex where you’ll witness a procession, colourful costumes and the traditional ‘guy’, an effigy made of straw or paper to burn on the bonfire.

Burns night

Burns Night is celebrated in Scotland around 25 January.  It commemorates the life of the poet Robert Burns, who was born on January 25, 1759. The day also celebrates Burns' contribution to Scottish culture. His best known work is Auld Lang Syne. Read more at Time and Date.

You may find your university, students' union or college serving typical Scottish food such as haggis, neeps and tatties. Read more at BBC Good Food

Most people in the UK celebrate Christmas, even if they are not religious. There will be Christmas trees, presents, carol singing, mulled wine (warm, spiced red wine), mince pies (small pies with a sweet fruit filling) and if it snows, snowmen and snowball fights! The traditional Christmas dinner is a whole roast turkey with roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy and Christmas pudding for dessert (a steamed sponge pudding with dried fruit) – but each family has its own variations. Read our Christmas survival guide for international students.