EuNIC-Europe: European Information Center for Culture

Culture in the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is an island nation in North-western Europe formed by what are known as the four home nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A constitutional monarchy, the UK has its main seat of government at Westminster with devolved administrations in three of the other four constituent parts. As the UK is made up of four distinct countries, the culture of the UK is not a homogenous one, although there are elements of what is known as Britishness that are shared across the nation.

The UK is a majority Christian nation with the Anglican Church of England the established church of the state. Mass migration in the post-war years has changed both the demographics of the UK and the religious and ethnic make-up, adding to the diverse nature of the nation’s culture. English is the dominant language with minorities speaking Scots Gaelic, Welsh and Irish Gaelic.

Literary giants

Arguably the most recognisable facet of UK culture is its literature with some of the greatest writers in history hailing from its shores, including Shakespeare, Dickens, Kipling, Scott, Stevenson and Orwell among a myriad of literary talent. Collectively, their works contribute to an idea of Britishness that perpetuates. Theatre, too, plays a huge role in the culture of the UK and while London’s West End is the most visible sign of the theatrical tradition, the annual pantomimes that are performed each festive season in theatres across the country perhaps best exemplify a shared British culture.

Music, from classical to rock and pop, is another defining element of UK culture and one that is shared across the four nations. Within each of those individual nations, there is also a long-standing tradition of music that is peculiar to them; for example, the bagpipes and fiddles of Scottish folk music and the vocal and choral tradition of the Welsh.

Myths and legends

Much of the folklore of the UK actually predates the union that brought the nation into being and demonstrates the disparate nature of the countries brought under the Union flag. However, much of the folkloric tradition is now considered British and so is an accepted part of UK culture, such as the Arthurian myth, the story of Robin Hood and the legend of the Loch Ness Monster.