Mention the name of this island kingdom, and many people’s minds turn to images of quaint village greens, idyllic pubs bordering meandering rivers and chivalry.

Well, according to a Wall Street Journal survey, this is a distant truth. Brits are the party animals of Europe.

In the wide ranging survey, covering some 22,000 people in 21 countries, Britons were the only ones who rated going out higher than staying at home.

The British eat out more than any other nationality in Europe and are more than likely to drop in at the pub either before or after dinner.

Gastro-pubs

One major reason for this is that food in the country, not traditionally known for its fantastic fodder, has improved enormously over the past ten years.

Another is that people are working longer hours and often shy away from cooking after a lengthy day in the office.

Also, it would remiss not to mention that the Brits separate drinking, a sport at which they excel, from eating.

"When I was kid in the 1970s," says Julia Tompson, 36, "going to a restaurant was a proper occasion." Now, the girl from Surrey often eats out twice weekly.

No more "soggy white bread sandwiches" and "big, thick and soggy chips," she told the Wall Street Journal. "You know you're going to get a decent meal in a pub now."

Nights out on the town are also popular in the Netherlands, though less so than in the UK. More than half those polled in the lowlands of Holland listed going out for dinner, or for a drink amongst their top three favorite leisure pursuits.

No Michelin Stars

In France, home of the haut gourmand, as many as 17 percent of people surveyed said they almost never go out to eat. Thibault Louvet, a 25-years-old from Biaritz, says having people to dinner at home is an important aspect of the country's culture.

"Inviting somebody to a restaurant, it's not rude, but as soon as you get close to someone, you invite them home," he told the pollsters.

Dining out was most popular amongst the southern Europeans; namely the Italians, the Greeks and the Spanish. It was least popular in Germany, with 60 percent saying they eat out in restaurants less than a handful of times a year.

"We’re slaves of our bellies," says Evan Liaras, a 24-year-old native of Thessaloniki, Greece. “It's boring to be sitting at home, eating the same thing."

A shortage of restaurants in small towns and increasingly unaffordable prices, exaggerated by the introduction of the euro, are largely to blame, according to some Germans interviewed for the survey.

Ageing Populations

In Romania, gardening and home improvements showed strongly among favorite leisure-time activities. Some 56 percent of Romanian listed DIY as being in their top three.

In Austria and Sweden gardening and domestic-nesting activities came in a close second at 40 percent – a response perhaps best explained by their ageing populations, according to Guenter Bischof, a professor of history at the Center of Austria for Business and Commerce at the University of New Orleans

The Spanish also loved going to the cinema while the Finns topped the list of sports fanatics. The Danes seemed to favor live music.

It was the north Americans who piped the rest to the post in terms of being stay-at-homes. According to the poll results, some 84 percent of respondents said they prefer “cocooning” in their domestic surrounds.

The least-favoured leisure activity in Western Europe was spending their hard-earned free time watching live sporting events. The countries with the fewest fans in Europe were  France and Russia, where only 8% say they like to attend matches.