London has oodles of fantastic firework displays taking place in early November, but if you're willing to travel further afield, south-east England marks Bonfire Night in some truly spectacular ways, from burning celebrity effigies to bonfires on the beach.
Hastings Bonfire Night 2023, East Sussex: 14 October
The Hastings Borough Bonfire Society is the sole survivor of many bonfire societies that used to exist in the St Leonards and Hastings area. It was reformed almost three decades ago, and it claims to have the single longest bonfire procession in the world. It's an all-day event, with a children's Guy-making competition in the morning, and events and stalls in the town centre.
The torchlit procession begins after dark, kickstarted with a pyrotechnic salute, and culminating in bonfire and fireworks display on the beach, complete with a sizeable 'celebrity effigy', designed to celebrate something or start a debate (past effigies here). Oh, and do swot up on the Bonfire Chant before you go — it's shouted before the bonfire is lit.
Hastings torchlight procession, bonfire and fireworks, 14 October 2023.
Lewes Bonfire Night 2023, East Sussex: 4 November
The best-known Bonfire Night event in the country, and apparently the biggest one in the world, the celebrations in the otherwise-quiet town of Lewes are a sight worth seeing at least once.
Lewes and surrounding villages are home to several (friendly-ish) rival Bonfire societies, each hosting a celebration in the run-up to 5 November (seriously, Bonfire Night begins in September in this corner of East Sussex). Lewes' own bonfire night actually consists of six separate societies based in the town, all coming together.
On the night of the big event they each begin their own procession, the routes joining up to form one huge parade through the town. 17 burning crosses are carried to represent the 17 Lewes Martyrs, and a wreath is laid at the war memorial.
Crowds of around 80,000 turn up on to watch, so if you're planning to go, prepare for huge crowds, long queues, and no parking/vehicles in the town centre itself — many people walk from nearby villages. Note that due to concerns of overcrowding, no trains stop at Lewes for the event.
Lewes Bonfire Night, 4 November 2023.
Edenbridge Bonfire and Fireworks 2023, Kent: 4 November
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The Kent town of Edenbridge is better-known for its bonfire than its fireworks, consisting of all manner of effigies and guys. A torchlit procession tours through the town, led by bishop of the bonfire, with the Society’s effigies (Guy Fawkes, General Wolfe and Anne Boleyn, with her head tucked underneath her arm — the latter possibly a nod to nearby Hever Castle).
A carnival and marching band follows, before it's time to light the bonfire, complete with two 10m high effigies — one of Guy Fawkes, and one of whichever 'celebrity' the bonfire society chooses for that year. Past 'guests' have included Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Sepp Blatter, Katie Hopkins, Wayne Rooney, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. The victim is only chosen 10 days before the event, so we don't yet know who 2023's celebrity effigy will be — is Rishi Sunak too obvious a guess?
For the grand finale, a 20-minute firework display goes on over the heads of the burning effigies.
Edenbridge Bonfire, 4 November 2023.
Leeds Castle Fireworks Spectacular 2023, Kent: 4-5 November
For one of the prettiest firework displays around, head to Leeds Castle in Kent where the perfectly-timed whizzbangs are set off over the lake, making for some fantastic reflections, and all with the castle building in the background.
The event begins at 2pm with a funfair, live music, a maze and food stalls to keep you busy, as well as a chance to explore the castle grounds, with the display kicking off at 5.30pm.
Leeds Castle Fireworks Spectacular, 4-5 November 2023.