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Exploring UK culture: a roadmap for international students

14 Mar, 2024
Exploring UK culture: a roadmap for international students

Studying abroad is a life-changing opportunity, and the allure of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) as an academic destination is undeniable. With a rich history, diverse cultures, and top-tier educational institutions, the UK promises a one-of-a-kind experience.

Your time in the UK as an international student is not just about academics—it's a holistic experience that can shape your worldview and enhance your personal development. By acquainting yourself with the social intricacies, daily life, and social/leisure activities synonymous with the UK, you are one step closer to a fulfilling and successful student life.

In this blog, we explore some of those aspects of British life and culture in more detail.

Table of Contents

Social etiquette and communication

Lifestyle and daily life

Social life and leisure activities

Social Etiquette and Communication

Upon arriving in the UK, you'll quickly find that the Brits have their own unique way of interacting and socialising. Understanding and adopting local customs will definitely help when it comes to integrating smoothly into daily life.

Politeness and punctuality

  • Brits place a very strong emphasis on politeness and punctuality.
  • It's expected that you offer a polite greeting when you meet someone, and always try to be on time (or even a few minutes early), even if you are just meeting someone informally.

Small talk

  • Brits are renowned for their use of 'small talk,' which the Collins dictionary defines as polite conversation about unimportant things that people make at social occasions’.
  • It often involves talking about the weather, current affairs, or mutual interests.


  • The importance of queuing in British life should never be underestimated! Always join the back of a line and do not attempt to skip ahead; it's considered very impolite.
  • Queuing is considered so central to the British identity that it’s even incorporated into the British government’s citizenship exam.


  • Tea drinking in Britain dates back to the 17th century, when tea was first introduced to England. It became one of the British Empire's most prized resources in the 18th Century.
  • Brits are known worldwide for loving a cup of tea or ‘cuppa’ as it’s often referred to and it has a far greater cultural significance than just a preference in terms of what to drink.
  • Often, if a Brit wants to carve out some time for a talk or ‘catch up’ with a friend or family member, they’ll suggest coming over, or meeting up, for a cup of tea.

Lifestyle and daily life

Adjusting to a different lifestyle is an important part of the international student experience, and it helps to be prepared about what you might encounter. Here, we look at some of the things you can expect from daily life in Britain.

Food and drink culture

From the allure of the full English breakfast to the polarising debates over Marmite, the UK's gastronomic scene is as diverse as its international student populace!

Cuisine and cooking

  • Traditional British fare includes well-known dishes like fish and chips, Sunday roasts (and Yorkshire puddings) and pies.
  • Indian dishes, such as Chicken Tikka Masala, have long been a popular in Britain but these days, most British people enjoy a diet which incorporates ingredients and recipes from many other different parts of the world; European (particularly Italian and French) and Asian foods all being popular.
  • If someone in the UK offers to cook for you, it’s seen as polite and friendly to bring a little something with you – for example a cake or some chocolates for the host.

Cafes and pubs

Photo by Christopher Eden on Unsplash

  • Pubs (short for public houses) are quintessential British institutions. While cafes are havens for a quick bite and catch-up, pubs are more about leisurely conversations over an alcoholic drink (or non alcoholic, if you prefer).
  • You need to be 18 to drink alcohol in licensed premises, like a pub or restaurant. Someone aged 16 or 17 and accompanied by an adult, can drink (but not buy) beer, wine or cider with a meal at a licensed premises (except in Northern Ireland). But it’s illegal for people this age to drink spirits in a pub anywhere in the UK, even with a meal.
  • If you go to the pub with friends in the UK, you might have ‘a round’ of drinks. This means each person in your group takes it in turn to buy drinks for everyone. People might say ‘It’s your round’ when it is your turn to buy.

Eating out

  • Eating out in the UK is a very popular pastime, and - particularly in large cities, which tend to have the biggest cultural and ethnic mix - there are a huge range of restaurants offering different foods. Whether you are looking for traditional English cuisine, or something more exotic, you should be able to find it in most big cities.
  • Tipping in restaurants is appreciated but usually not mandatory—10% is customary. It's also common to book a table in advance, especially during peak hours or for large groups.
  • These days, specific dietary choices or requirements, such as veganism, or a gluten free diet, are much more widely catered for so whether eating out, or at a friend’s house, be sure to let if known if you have special requirements.


  • Getting a takeaway delivered to your house can be a great way to bond with your flatmates and relax in your own surroundings. Services such as Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber eats offer delivery from a range of local restaurants.

Public transportation

The UK has an extensive system of public transport, which on the whole is quite efficient. Whether you’re using it for your daily commute to college or university, or to explore different parts of the country, there are significant discounts available for students.

Buses and trains

  • Local bus services are offered in most cities and towns, and national coach services are available through National Express.
  • The extensive railway network makes it easy to travel within the UK, with all major cities and towns connected.


Photo by Tomas Anton Escobar on Unsplash

  • London, Glasgow, Liverpool and Newcastle all have underground rail systems.
  • Travellers on the London Underground (often referred to as the ‘Tube’) can save money with a top-up Oyster card. You can add pay-as-you go credit as you need it, or buy a weekly, monthly or annual travel card.
  • You can also get a Student Oyster card, and even add a 16–25 Railcard or 26-30 railcard to your Oyster card, to get further discounts including a third-off all off-peak travel within the network.

Taxis and ride shares

  • The black cabs of London are a cultural symbol but, can often be an expensive way to travel around the capital city.
  • All cities and most towns have regular taxis, which are generally more affordable than in London.
  • Opting for ride shares like Uber often provides a more budget-friendly alternative. These are available in most big cities.


  • With more and more dedicated bike lanes and bike rental schemes in many cities, the UK is increasingly becoming bike-friendly.
  • Many universities have cycling clubs or cycle buddy schemes and run workshops on bike safety and maintenance. It's a cost-effective and healthy mode of travel.

Shopping and currency

Understanding British shopping and financial systems will help you make the most of your time, and your money, as a student here.


  • The UK is home to a variety of supermarkets, from small convenience stores to large chains that offer everything from groceries to clothing.
  • Many cities also have specialist supermarkets, including those selling solely international foods. A few in London, for example, are Loon Fung Supermarket in Chinatown (Chinese), Green Valley, Marble Arch (Lebanese) and Mestizo Mexican Market, Camden (Mexican).
  • Britain is a country that embraces many different religions, and therefore - in large cities particularly - it is easy to find foods for specific religious groups. For example if you practice Islam, you should be able to find shops offering Halal foods.
  • Most big supermarkets offer online shopping options now, enabling people to have their shopping delivered to their house for a fee if they prefer.


  • The British currency is known as the Pound Sterling. Notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20, and £50, and coins are 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, and £2.
  • Value-Added Tax is included in most price tags, so the price you see is the price you pay.

Healthcare system and medical services

Access to healthcare is a crucial aspect of living in the UK, so it's important to be informed.

National Health Service (NHS)

  • Created in the 20th century after World War II, the NHS is the UK's public healthcare system. It provides free medical care (except for dental and eye care) to residents and international students studying for at least six months.

Registering with a GP

  • You should register with a local General Practitioner (GP) immediately upon arrival. Your university or college can usually assist with this process.


  • If you, or someone else, has a medical emergency in the UK, you should dial 999 for an ambulance or visit the accident and emergency (A&E) department at the nearest hospital. 999 is the number call for all emergency services - ambulance service, police, fire service or coastguard.

Social life and leisure activities

A significant part of your UK adventure will be the social contacts you make and the leisure activities you undertake. Here are some tips to get involved in the vibrant social scene.

Student societies and clubs

Great Britain’s universities offer a wealth of clubs and societies, from sports teams to cultural organisations and even volunteer work.

  • Joining a society is an excellent way to meet new people, learn about UK culture, and share your own experiences.
  • Many universities host dedicated events, such as international student mixers, to help students network and form friendships.

Sports and recreation

Sports play a significant role in British culture and offer a great way to stay active and sociable.

Football (Soccer)

  • Football and especially the the Premier League is a national obsession, and no matter where in the country you study there should be a Premier League ground within easy reach.
  • Many people choose to play for local football teams, of which there are many!

Other popular sports

  • Rugby, cricket, and tennis have strong followings as well.
  • You can watch matches at local sports venues, or even national venues such as Twickenham, the Oval or Wimbledon, or participate in these sports through your university.

Recreational options

Whether it's jogging in the park, hiking in the countryside, or trying your hand at water sports along the coast, the UK offers a plethora of recreational activities for nature lovers and sports enthusiasts alike.

Cultural events and festivals

Alongside religious events such as Christmas, Easter, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali and Hanukkah, there are cultural events and festivals all year round in Britain.

Spanning literature, theatre, music and even food, they combine to celebrate and represent the cultural and religious diversity of the UK, and the history which formed it into the country it is today.

Below is a selection of some of the best known annual festivals that continue to attract visitors not just from the UK but from all around the world.

Hay Literary Festival

Held in the town of Hay-on-Wye which although officially in Powys, Wales, is just on the Welsh/English border, Hay Festival is one of the most renowned literary festivals, with over 100,000 visitors over 11 days. There are talks within the realms of literature and the arts, with appearances from a host of authors and celebrities within the arts arena.

The Wimbledon Championships

Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and has been held at the All England Club in Wimbledon since it was founded in 1877. It is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, with the others being the US Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open.

Although a sporting championship, there is an undeniable cultural element to this prestigious event, which attracts a host of celebrities, glitterati and even members of the royal family! Tradition dictates that those attending should enjoy strawberries and cream (and Pimms, an alcoholic drink, if permitted).

The Gemini Boat Race

The Boat Race sees the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club battle it out on a 6.8km stretch of the River Thames from Putney to Mortlake in South West London. A long-serving tradition, the men's race debuted in the 19th century and has been held annually except during the First and Second World Wars (although unofficial races were conducted) and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of the greatest celebrations of arts and culture in the world and takes place every August in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city.

It features tens of thousands of performances by both established and emerging artists from all over the world. When it comes to ticketed events, only the World Cup and Olympic Games outrank the number of tickets sold!


Britain has a very strong musical heritage, having consistently produced groups and musicians that have become famous the world over - from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd to Adele and One Direction, there are literally thousands spanning all genres. There is no better stage for the world’s best musical talent than Glastonbury, a unique concert venue in the rolling hills of South West England which, every summer, welcomes hundreds of thousands of festival goers who brave the crowds (and often the mud!) to have the unforgettable experience of watching musicians old and new perform in the open air.

While Glastonbury remains the largest and most iconic of the UK music festivals, Wales’ Festival No.6 and Scotland’s T in the Park are among some of the many new and grassroots festivals emerging across the country too.

Notting Hill Carnival

Held in London over the August bank holiday weekend, Notting Hill Carnival is the biggest street carnival in Europe.

Two million carnival-goers dance the night (and day!) away to calypso music and enjoy Caribbean food as they watch the colourful parade pass by.

Guy Fawkes Night

Bonfire night, often referred to as Guy Fawkes' night, originally marked the anniversary of Guy Fawkes - an English conspirator in the 17th-century Gunpowder Plot, who, with other Catholic plotters, tied to assassinate Protestant king James I and his parliament.

All across the UK, you will find bonfire nights from villages, to towns to big cities. Generally, organised events include a big bonfire and spectacular fireworks displays.

Exploring the UK and traveling

Your university experience is not confined to the city where your campus is located. The United Kingdom is a patchwork of different regions, each with its own charm, culture, and opportunities. While London is a world in itself, there's a host of landscapes, cultures and histories beyond its boundaries to be explored. Some of the other areas of the UK and their highlights are as follows.


Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

  • Scotland is known for its beautiful landscapes; the stunning Highlands region in particular as well as its many (over 900!) offshore islands; the western isles of Lewis and Harris, for example, and Shetland and Orkney to the north. It is home to the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis.
  • The iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct (pictured above) is famous for its inclusion in the Harry Potter films, and Edinburgh itself was where J.K Rowling wrote this world-famous serious of books.
  • Edinburgh is the home of the Scottish parliament, and home to a host of fantastic attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, a royal fortress perched on volcanic rock that offers panoramic views that dominate the city skyline.
  • Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, is also well worth a visit, with a vibrant cultural scene, bags of history and some beautiful architecture.

Southwest England

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

  • England's South West is famed for its dramatic landscapes, including the magnificent seascapes of Cornwall and Devon and Dorset’s stunning Jurassic coast (pictured above).
  • Ancient woodlands give way to rolling hills dotted with picture-perfect villages, the inspiration for authors such as Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy whose novels were set in the region.
  • Bristol, the UK’s 8th largest city is one of the country’s liveliest, greenest and most progressive places, and beside it, Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage city famous for its Roman baths and stunning Georgian architecture.


  • Wales is known for its beautiful hills and valleys, and its spectacular coastline.
  • Its capital city, Cardiff, is home to the Senedd, the building which houses the Welsh parliament.
  • It is a bustling, friendly city with a vibrant nightlife and many cultural highlights. The newly regenerated Cardiff Bay area is world-class venue for sport, music and entertainment.

Northern England

  • The north of England is home to several stunning national parks, including the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Peak District.
  • It has a strong literary legacy, with authors such as Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth using their Lake District surroundings for inspiration, and the same for the Yorkshire based Bronte sisters.
  • There are a host of vibrant cities, many of which are home to excellent universities. From historical cities such as York and Durham to formerly industrial hubs that are now bustling, modern cities, such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, there are a variety of different places to visit.

Northern Ireland

Photo by Sean Kuriyan on Unsplash

  • Northern Ireland is renowned for its stunning landscapes and natural beauty. One of the most iconic attractions is UNESCO World Heritage Site the Giant's Causeway (pictured above).
  • Other popular attractions include the Cuilcagh Lakelands UNESCO Global Geopark, the idyllic Fermanagh Lakelands and the Mourne Mountains. Northern Ireland's landscapes have been used as the backdrop for the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, and fans can embark on a tour of filming locations including Winterfell Castle, Kingsroad and Riverrun.
  • The Northern Irish capital, Belfast, is a dynamic port city with a colourful past. Each of the city’s Quarters tells a story – from the history of one of the world’s most famous ships at the The Titanic Museum to tales of the city’s past at the Ulster Museum.


  • The Midlands of the UK is a varied area, encompassing both large and formerly industrial cities that are now thriving commerce and entertainment hubs, such as Nottingham and Birmingham, and smaller more historic towns and cities such as Oxford and Stratford upon Avon.
  • Oxford, or the ‘city of dreaming spires’ is of course home to one of the world’s most famous universities and its beautiful college buildings. Stratford upon Avon is an elizabethan market town in England’s West Midlands, and the 16th-century birthplace of William Shakespeare.

South east England

  • Outside of London, south east England comprises counties such as Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire, all of which are known for their verdant countryside and pretty towns and villages. Kent, Sussex and Hampshire also enjoy attractive coastline, with a mix of sandy and stony beaches that have long attracted visitors from London and beyond.
  • Popular tourist destinations include Leeds Castle (pictured) and the historic city of Canterbury and its beautiful cathedral in Kent.
  • Further west in Sussex, hip seaside city Brighton remains very popular as a tourist resort, as does the town of Hastings; site of the 1066 battle between between the Norman-French army of William, Duke of Normandy, and an English army under the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson.
  • Visitors to Hampshire often visit the New Forest national park, as well as Portsmouth-based attractions such as the Historic Dockyard and Charles Dickens' Birthplace Museum.

Learn More About Studying in the UK

We hope that this article has clarified some of the cultural elements of UK life, and given you an idea of what to expect as an international student here. Further articles about life and study in the UK can be found on our blog, Kings Life.

At Kings, we offer a range of pre-university programmes at our four UK colleges, from A-levels to specialist foundations for international students, such as the Advanced Level Foundation.

By selecting to study at our UK schools, you will maximise your potential, and be sure of a place at the best possible UK university.

For those who require English preparation, we also offer a range of English language programmes, from general English tuition to exam preparation courses and specialist English for career success.

If you would like receive more detailed information about the Kings and our programmes, please get in touch with us at