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Every year on November 5th, Guy Fawkes Night sets Britain’s skies ablaze with fireworks. Also known as Bonfire Night, it’s a tradition dating back more than 400 years. Both public and private firework displays delight and dazzle kids (and big kids) to the appreciative murmurs of “ooh” and “aah.” Afterwards, a smoky autumnal haze descends on the streets like fog and the scent of gunpowder lingers.

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Why celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?

Bonfire Night celebrates the failure of Catholic zealot Guy Fawkes in his attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5, 1605. Fawkes was just one of 13 conspirators, but he became the face of the Gunpowder Plot since he was the only one caught. For the last 400 years, effigies called “guys” have been burned to commemorate the event.

Lewes, East Sussex | Photo: Monica Pedraja

These days, Guy Fawkes lives on as a global symbol of dissent in the form of a grinning caricature mask. If you have trouble remembering the date of Bonfire Night, memorize the rhyme that Brits learn at school (though only the first line is necessary):

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
Gunpowder treason and plot;
We see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

What can I expect at a Guy Fawkes event?

Bonfire Night is an assault on your senses. As soon as you arrive, you’ll smell a combination of street food—hot dogs, soup, doughnuts, cotton candy—and the smoke of the bonfire. The crackle of flames will give way to a muted pop, an ear-splitting bang or the rapid whoosh of a rocket before it explodes into an array of colors overhead.

Lewes, East Sussex | Photo: Monica Pedraja

It’s family-friendly with events taking place in the early evening throughout the first week of November. Some of the largest organized displays have fairground rides and live music. The atmosphere is festive and social with plenty of entertainment, food and games stalls.

Even small events in muddy fields will have stalls selling hot dogs, burgers, baked potatoes, roasted chestnuts and the obligatory toffee apples. Synonymous with Bonfire Night, these vivid red concoctions comprise a candy-coated apple skewered with a lollipop stick. Some places will sell Parkin, North England’s delicious traditional ginger cake. Wash your snacks down with hot chocolate or mulled wine.

What should I wear and bring?

November nights can be chilly so spectators usually wrap up warm in scarves, hats and gloves. Rain is always a possibility (welcome to the UK!) so it’s worth checking the weather forecast and bringing a waterproof jacket and comfortable shoes—you’ll be standing around in a park. You should bring earplugs or earmuffs for your children.

Sparklers are hugely popular at home events, but not allowed at public displays, which are too crowded to use them safely.

Where can I see the best firework displays?

Visitors can inadvertently watch displays for free just by wandering around town or looking out of a hotel window. But why stay in when you can experience the smells, sights and sounds of Bonfire Night at one of the many excellent public displays across the country?

Lewes East Sussex | Photo: Monica Pedraja

Every corner of Britain from the biggest cities to small villages will have some kind of Guy Fawkes celebration. The small town of Lewes in East Sussex hosts the biggest Bonfire Night in the country and goes all out with a parade and elaborately designed effigies of controversial figures.

The major cities pull out all the stops at big-ticket events. Most Guy Fawkes Nights will take place on the weekend closest to November 5. These are three of the best Bonfire Night events in London:

Alexandra Palace, November 1, 2
Ally Pally, as it’s known, has been the home of London’s ultimate Bonfire Night experience for 150 years. It’s so popular that it is now being held over two days. With tickets costing £12 (kids £8.50 and under-10s £1), it isn’t the cheapest, but you literally get a lot of bang for your buck. It also has the best views across London under the illuminated skies. If the fireworks aren’t enough, there’s a laser show, fire performers, a German beer festival, face painting, ice skating and a fun fair.

Battersea Park, November 2
The Battersea Park event sells out every year and tickets aren’t available at the gate, so you need to book in advance. This popular fireworks display has all the usual pop-up food stalls and entertainment from 6pm onward. But it’s unique in introducing an adults-only after party (until 1am) at Battersea Evolution, an events venue in the middle of the park. Stay nearby in this riverside apartment or ask for rooms with river views at the Battersea Crowne Plaza and enjoy spectacular panoramas of fireworks across the city on any evening during the first week of November.

Victoria Park, November 3
In the East End, head to Victoria Park, which is known for its theatrical displays that use the fireworks to tell stories. This year’s theme celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing so it should be out of this world! Best of all, it is one of the only free displays in the city. The fireworks start at 7pm.

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