Choosing Fireworks: Guy Fawkes Displays

The one night you can usually go to town!

Bonfire Night (November 5th) is the highlight of the firework calendar. It’s the time when fireworks are traditionally used – and expected – in the UK and generally the one night away from New Year’s Eve when you can have a really good blast.

Getting started

If you haven’t already, have a read of the general advice section first which runs through some useful advice on choosing fireworks for displays in general.

Useful information: Display restrictions

This article is focused on displays where you’re free of the limitations that other types of display might impose on you. However, you may find the following sections more appropriate if your circumstances are different:

Displays in small gardens – if you are limited for space.
Low noise displays – if you want to keep the noise levels down.

If you’re a larger concern and are unsure whether employing a professional team would be a better option, have a read of my DIY or Professional Fireworks? guide.

For displays not on the 5th itself

You will have noticed in the UK that fireworks are generally let off over a much wider period than just one night – usually over a period of a couple of weeks, peaking the weekend before and after plus the 5th itself.

This spill-over from the 5th is in part due to major public events – organised displays by charities, clubs, schools and other organisations. If Guy Fawkes falls mid-week, it makes more commercial sense to have the event the preceding or following weekend. And doing so can help prevent clashes with other local events.

However, if you’re following suit and displaying in your garden on any date other than the 5th itself, please consider notifying your neighbours. This advice is particularly pertinent for displays after the 5th. Your neighbours might have thought it was all over once the 5th itself had passed. You can read more about this in my Responsible Fireworks Use article.

Spectacular effects are possible with consumer fireworks.

What fireworks to use

This is the one night you’ll be excused, where appropriate, for making a lot of noise. Get hold of a nice mixture of colour, noises and effects. Some tips for you:

  • Everyone loves sparklers and they make a nice icebreaker before your display. Consider glow sticks too as a safer alternative to these.
  • Include traditional items such as catherine wheels and fountains.
  • Keep a nice mix of ground based effects (fountains), medium level effects (cakes and candles) and high effects (rockets).
  • Have a nice finale and pair up some bigger fireworks for added impact or use dump cakes or large compound cakes.
  • A combined Halloween and Guy Fawkes party creates a great atmosphere with both fancy dress and fireworks too!
  • Larger cakes or compound cakes can provide a hassle-free way of making saturated, near professional effects by lighting one fuse, ideal for less experienced firers, or if you don’t have the time or inclination to set a full display up.

The normal curfew for fireworks (11pm) is extended to midnight on November 5th. Read more advice on various laws in my UK firework laws summary.

Display duration

Unlike most organised displays which tend to be around 5-10 minutes, many Guy Fawkes displays, particularly in the back garden, are a lot more variable. This is because of the informal nature of family Bonfire Night events. Some of you will enjoy the fun of taking out one firework at a time and making a night of it.

So there’s no right or wrong duration for back garden displays, but once you move away from family events to something more organised (or you simply want to do a better and more spectacular display), start thinking more about a definite structure and cap the duration to a length that will ensure your fireworks flow and your display won’t be overly long and drawn out.

My extensive setting up and firing sections – advice which applies equally to the back garden as it does to a bigger venue – will guide you further.


Whilst traditional guys seem to have fallen out of fashion (you’ll need to Google “penny for the guy” if you’re under 40 years old to know what I’m on about!), the British still love a good old bonfire. If you’re planning on having one, you’ll find some useful advice in my bonfire article.

Further information

The other Choosing Fireworks sections might also be of help in case your display also falls within the scope of those too.

If you’re a complete beginner and some of the terms used in this page are unclear then head over to the Beginners Start Here! page for a run-through of both fireworks and the extensive guides on my website.

The next step after narrowing down your choice of fireworks is buying them, arguably the most fun part! The Buying Fireworks sections will help you.

Then, it’s time to set up your pyro before firing it. The Setting Up Fireworks and Firing Your Display sections will guide you further.