Sports & Fitness

Popular sports in the UK

See a whole different side to your new home by checking out some of these popular sports in the UK.

UK sports

By Expatica

Updated 12-1-2024

If you’re a new arrival in the United Kingdom, getting tickets for a local sporting event might not be high on your to-do list for that all-important first week. However, there are few better ways to understand the culture and mentality of your new home than through the medium of sport.

Whether you’re an avid participant or an armchair supporter, there are plenty of sporting options across these islands. From the glamor of Wimbledon to the grit of grassroots rugby, read on to discover more about popular sports in the UK.


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An overview of sports in the UK

You won’t have to spend long in the UK to understand just how seriously the locals take their sport. Indeed, these often dreary islands definitely punch above their weight on the global sporting stage. The country has a rich pedigree in a number of sports and often performs well in the Olympic Games. The legacy of the London 2012 games can still be seen in the capital, including the iconic velodrome located in the city’s Stratford neighborhood.

UK fans at the olympic games

For new arrivals, UK sports can be a source of confusion. For some, such as football, the four nations of the United Kingdom – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, compete separately. However, for many, individual participants in sports such as tennis, swimming, or athletes, compete in the name of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. This includes the Olympic Games, where UK athletes are known collectively as Team GB.

How to watch sports on UK TV

Whatever your favorite sport, there are plenty of ways to watch it in the United Kingdom. While nothing comes close to seeing the action live, if you can’t make it in person why not tune in on TV instead? Generally speaking, only the biggest sporting events are available on free-to-air TV. This includes international football and rugby tournaments, the Olympic Games, and, of course, Wimbledon, among others.

The biggest home telecom companies in the UK, such as BT and Sky, offer sports channels as part of their TV and internet packages.

Be aware that certain streaming services also offer live sport in the UK, such as DAZN. When choosing your UK TV package, be sure you know what channels you’re getting. This is especially true if you’re a fan of a particular sport (such as golf or tennis), or a certain competition (such as the Indian Premier League or Super Bowl). For more information, read up on TV and radio in the UK.

Football in the UK

You won’t be surprised to discover just how popular football is throughout the United Kingdom. Indeed, it’s played by men, women, and children of all ages and abilities across the country. If you have kids, you’ll find a local youth team in most towns and many villages in the UK. Alternatively, if you want a kickaround yourself, you’ll also find plenty of adult teams, including Sunday league teams and the ever-popular 5-a-side options.

three England footballers celebrating on the pitch

As you might expect, the English Premier League is the most popular way for fans to follow the game. At the highest levels of the men’s game, Liverpool and Manchester United are historically the most successful teams. However, beyond the riches of the Premier League, there are many leagues in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland attracting fans of all ages. Search online for your nearest team. In the women’s game, be sure to check out the Women’s Super League, the highest level in England.

At an international level, the four nations of the United Kingdom compete separately. On the men’s side, England has been the most successful of the four, winning the World Cup in 1966 and, more recently, reaching the final of Euro 2020. For an unforgettable experience, try to get tickets to see two of the home nations match up – matches usually have great atmospheres. In the women’s game, none of the nations have won a major title – but the new generation of players will be hoping to change that.

Rugby in the UK

If you don’t feel like kicking a ball, then why not pick it up and run with it, instead? The game of rugby is an incredibly popular sport throughout the UK with local clubs for all ages and abilities. However, did you know there are actually two different types of rugby? Rugby league and rugby union. Across the former industrial heartlands of Lancashire and Yorkshire, it’s rugby league that reigns supreme. The top echelon is the Super League, and games are known for their excellent atmospheres, particularly when there’s a local derby on the fixture list.

Welsh rugby player kicking the ball

However, what is known simply as rugby in much of the world is typically called rugby union in the UK. The game is more popular in the south of England and throughout the other three nations. In the club game, the highest levels are the Premiership for men and the Premier 15s for women. For a look at the true passion of rugby, check out the international Six Nations competition, held annually. Head to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, the home ground of the Welsh national team for a unique game day. The locals are always in great voice, especially against fierce rivals, England.

Cricket in the UK

Looking for a sport that is quintessentially English? Look no further than the curious spectacle of cricket. The scoring system can be confusing and games can last days only to end in a draw, but this laidback sport is a mainstay of the great British summer. Indeed, drive through some of the country’s more rural areas, and you’ll see village greens littered with the traditional white clothing of the cricket season. Search online for your local club if you want to get involved. Clubs are typically friendly to newcomers and food is usually served after games so you won’t go hungry.

small crowd watching cricket match in English village

At the professional level of the game, men’s and women’s teams are located through England and Wales and compete in an often confusing number of different competitions. The most accessible for newcomers to the sport is the frenetic Twenty20 version of the game. These matches typically attract large crowds and can be great social events with friends or family. On the international level, England and Wales compete as one team and play test matches against other nations throughout the country on a rotation basis. Be sure to search online to see if the national team is playing near you soon.

Tennis in the UK

It will come as little shock to many to discover that tennis is one of the most popular sports in the UK. Although home to the iconic Championships at Wimbledon, there are actually a number of tournaments held in the country, typically in the weeks leading up to the grass-court Grand Slam. In recent years, Andy Murray has been the most successful British player, collecting three Grand Slams and two Olympic gold medals. On the women’s side, Emma Raducanu won the 2021 US Open, despite entering the draw as an eighteen-year-old qualifier.

crowds watching Wimbledon

If you feel like playing a little tennis, be aware that most courts in the UK are not grass but hard courts. Most towns and cities will have at least one tennis club, although membership prices can be expensive. However, some clubs have inside courts, which can be great for those cold and wet British winters. Alternatively, you will also find public courts in most areas, although the quality of these courts can be changeable.

Motorsport in the UK

If tennis is not your thing and you’re looking for something a little more full-throttle, you’ll be pleased to know that motorsport is one of the most popular sports in the UK. As home to some of the motoring world’s most iconic marques, you won’t be surprised to see plenty of options to catch some live action. The most famous of the UK’s many motor races is the British Grand Prix, held every year at Silverstone. Tickets aren’t cheap, but it’s your best chance to see local stars like Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris in action.

motorbike during the Isle of Man TT race

If the glitz and glamor of Formula 1 isn’t your thing, there are many more motorsport options in the UK. From superbikes to classic car rallies and much, much more, there really is something for every taste. However, if you’re looking for something truly unique, head over to the Isle of Man. Every year, the island in the middle of the Irish Sea hosts the iconic Isle of Man TT. The race attracts fans from all around the world to see motorbikes roar through the island’s quiet lanes. Definitely not to be missed!

Golf in the UK

Although these days it’s a game played throughout the world, the game of golf actually started life on the windswept eastern shores of Scotland. And if you’re looking to improve your handicap, you’ll find plenty of options throughout the United Kingdom. Of course, for a truly memorable game, you’ll want to head to the home of golf, the well-heeled Scottish town of St. Andrews. However, you won’t need to be Tiger Woods to hit your local public course or driving range. If you’re in the capital, be sure to check out the driving range near London‘s Canary Wharf.

crowds at tee-off during a golf tournament

If walking around 18 holes of pristinely manicured lawns doesn’t hit the spot, why not watch the professionals do the hard work instead? There are a number of prestigious tournaments held throughout the UK, including the annual British Open among others. This is where you’ll see the top names from around the world compete for the honors – but you might want to dress for all weathers! Alternatively, you can typically tune into the biggest golf tournaments on your TV in the UK. As ever, make sure you have the right subscription to cover your needs.