The UK as a whole is proving to be an increasingly popular travel destination, receiving close to 40 million overseas visitors last year and rising through the rankings to become the seventh most-visited country in the world according to the UNWTO. Unsurprisingly, London remains the most popular destination for visitors to the UK.

However, the majority of tourism growth is now being generated outside on the British capital, with major cities and rural areas now drawing record numbers of visitors. This is in part to do with intensive marketing on behalf of public organisations such as Visit Britain, as well as popular depictions of places such as Cornwall, Skye, Liverpool, and The Cotswolds on international film and TV releases.

Another factor fuelling tourist growth in 2019 is public and private events. Longtime annual festivals such as Edinburgh Fringe, alongside newer events like Sheffield Doc Fest have been drawing millions of people to the UK's shores. Spring 2019 looks set to be another record-breaking one, so here are the five biggest and most unmissable events that will be taking place across the country. 

Glasgow International Comedy Festival

microphone stage live

The largest comedy festival in Europe has been upping in the ante in recent years in order to present itself as a viable competitor to the currently much larger Edinburgh Fringe. Running throughout the month of March and up to the beginning of April, this year is expected to be even larger than the 2018 festival, which saw over 200,000 attendees and over 400 shows being put on. The biggest names in British comedy will be performing, as well as major acts from the US, Europe, and beyond. 

The Grand National

horse racing course

Arguably the biggest horse racing event in the world, the Grand National will be taking place this year at its historic home in Aintree, near Liverpool, where 150,000 people will descent for a weekend of revelry and intense betting. This year will be closely watched, as the winner of the £1 million prize money is currently anyone's guess, with the latest live odds collected by Oddschecker suggesting it'll be a very close race. The event is just as well-known for its outfits as it is for its high-stakes betting, so make sure to dress to impress. The fun kicks off on April 5, so get your tickets now. 

The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race

thames rowing team

For something a little more twee and just as quintessentially British, the historic rowing boat race between Britain's most prestigious universities is a truly unmissable event. Until just a few years ago the race, which has been televised by the BBC for decades, was still a strictly local affair. Nowadays however it is not uncommon for more than 250,000 people to descend onto the banks of the River Thames to watch the race in full, sipping champagne and gorging on strawberries and cream. This year's race kicks off on April 7 and is completely free to attend. 

Shakespeare's Birthday Celebrations

theater stage

The Elizabethan playwright has always been a valuable cultural export for the UK, with his birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors a year for close to a century. Recently, however, Visit Britain has poured significant sums into cultivating an international festival around his birthday (April 23). There will be plenty of cheap and free plays taking place in his hometown, as well as at his old stomping ground The Globe Theatre in London. It's a chance to see many of the most famous actors from the UK film industry taking on some of Shakespeare's most iconic roles and to learn more about this complex historical figure. 

Brighton Fringe

brighton street travel light house

The coastal town of Brighton has always been a refuge for hippies and alternative lifestyles, so it is perhaps unsurprising that it is now home to one of the largest alternative arts festivals on the planet. A full 550,000 people showed up for last year's Fringe, which featured plays, comedy acts, exhibitions, dance numbers and more from some of Europe's most exciting emerging talents. Brighton Fringe prides itself on being firmly opposed to the mainstream, making this a great place to embrace your weirdness and let your freak flag fly. The fun begins on May 3 and closes on June 2. 

Whether you're already planning a trip to the UK soon or just need an excuse to go, these are events that absolutely can't be missed. These celebrations of culture, tradition, history, and sport are some of the most exciting happenings not just in the UK, but the world.