British leisure activities and hobbies

What do the Brits do in their spare time?

Best-loved British pastimes

The Brits don’t enjoy venturing outdoors and having to deal with strangers by choice. They’d rather spend their spare time at home watching television, chatting online and browsing the internet, reading, or doing a spot of gardening and DIY.

While many leisure activities occur in the safety of their own homes, the Brits do enjoy being sociable every now and then. Common social activities include playing sport, heading down to the pub, or going out for a meal.

WWF UK identified the top 40 British pastimes from a survey of 2,000 British adults, and found (quite unsurprisingly) a walk in the countryside to be the best-loved British pastime.

British leisure activities Many top British pastimes are private activities

While television-watching made tenth place in the WWF UK survey, other national surveys have found it to be by far the most-loved domestic leisure activity in Britain.

British soaps

The average Brit spends over 25 hours per week tuning out in front of the telly, and nearly every single household owns a television set.

The Brits love a good escape from reality and particularly enjoy involving themselves in television soaps such as EastEnders and Coronation Street.

However, unlike American soaps where the characters and settings are glamorous and luxurious, British soaps feature plain, working-class people, living in ordinary houses and drinking in grubby pubs and eating at the local chippy.

The British tend to hold a mirror up to reflect their own ordinariness because they are obsessed with the real, concrete and factual, and have a strong distaste for artifice and pretension, explains anthropologist Kate Fox.

“Watching soaps… is like being allowed to peer through a spyhole into the hidden, forbidden, private lives of our neighbours, our social peers – people like us, but about whom we can normally only guess and speculate,” she says.

watching British television credit to Flickr EastEnders is a well-loved British soap Flickr / Toby Bradbury

A nation of couch potatos

British television-watching habits and the resulting ‘couch potato culture’ have raised concerns with the British Heart Foundation about a rise in obesity.

According to the foundation’s most recent survey, nearly half of adults admit to doing no exercise whatsoever

The health study found that just under 50 percent of Britons aged 18 to 60 described themselves as “slightly overweight” and 15 percent as “considerable overweight”.

However, the very same study found that almost as many Brits claim to be active and health conscious.

Good sports

Indoor swimming or diving is the most common sport for both men and women in the UK, according to a study by the Office for National Statistics.

The next most common sport for men was snooker, pool or billiards, followed by cycling and health, fitness, gym, football.

Women preferred fitness, gym or conditioning activities as well as aerobics and dance exercise.

But perhaps the most British and popular sport of all, is gardening and DIY.

British back garden The British love to do a spot of gardening on the weekends Flickr / scrappy annie

Garden and home improvement

From gardening to handiwork around the house, the Brits are forever fiddling with and fixing things.

This love affair with one’s garden and home is, according to Fox, directly related to the British obsession with privacy.

She uses the metaphor of a typically British garden to perfectly portray this obsession. The front garden, she explains, is a Brit’s public face or the “blank social smile” he or she presents to passers by.

The back garden, (which is often a tangled, rectangular mess) is the one the Brits are actually allowed to enjoy.

Perhaps the only thing more popular than gardening and DIY, is reading about gardening and DIY.

While the Brits have specialist magazines and books devoted to their favourite hobbies, they are more likely to stack these books in the bathroom for ‘bogside reading’ than actually practice the hobbies themselves.

British books The British are by far the biggest bookworms Flickr / scrappy annie

British obsession with words and reading

The British are particularly enthusiastic about reading, with England alone being home to more newspapers and books per head than any other country.

The most preferred book genres, according to a survey conducted by the Folio Society, are crime (64 percent), followed by autobiographies (55 percent) and historical fiction (53 percent).

Newspapers are equally popular with Brits opting for both the print and online versions of the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Guardian (depending on one’s social class).

If they are not reading a book or newspaper, it is highly likely they will be fully focused on completing a quiz, crossword or word game.

Even the rise of smartphones and tablets has not quelled this passion for wordplay. A study commissioned by the Internet Advertising Bureau found the most popular video games to involve trivia, words and puzzles.

This is not to say the Brits are a nerdy bunch. While they may bide their time on public transport by burying themselves in newspapers, books or word puzzles, they spend their free time doing exactly as they please.

It just so happens that after a long week, the average Brit prefer winding down at home and shutting out the rest of the world.



Header image: Flickr/ araor


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