From knowing how transport works in the UK, to where you should go and what you should do, when is the best time to visit, why we love to hate the weather and what the deal is with Brexit, there are a number of things you need to know when planning a UK trip…
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About the UK
The UK is an island nation that’s made up of four countries: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. History reveals that the UK became inhabited more than 800,000 years ago.
Many different groups of people have lived here over the years, including the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, which means the UK has a very rich and diverse history.
You’ll see these influences in a number of ways and in a number of places.
For instance, did you know that towns ending in ‘cester’, ‘caster’, ‘ceister’, or ‘chester’ were originally built as Roman camps?
The UK has a Constitutional Monarchy in place. Although new laws are created by Parliament, there are a number of traditions that ensure the monarchy has their say in whether Parliament can actually implement those laws or not.
When travelling in the UK, you’re likely to find a number of different opinions about the monarchy, ranging from: “We love the Queen!”, to “I don’t think we need a monarchy anymore”, to “Whatever”. With such a differing view about whether the monarchy is an important part of the British culture or not, it’s best to avoid this subject. Asking “Do you know the Queen?”, for instance, is probably not something we want to be asked.
You’ll find a number of other etiquette tips and things to know about the British culture in this guide.
The UK has its own currency known as “the pound”, “pound sterling” or “GBP” (Great British Pound). As a note, we locals simply refer to our money as “pounds”.
In today’s money, notes come in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50, while coins include 1 penny, 2 pennies, 5 pennies, 10 pennies, 20 pennies, 50 pennies, £1 and £2.
Some countries will allow you access to the UK without a visa for stays of up to 6 months, for instance, if you’re travelling from most European countries, as well as the USA.
For other countries, you can check whether you need to apply for a visa on the official Government website here.
UK Trip Itinerary
- Days 1 & 2: London
- Day 3: Oxford
- Day 4: Cheltenham
- Day 5: The Cotswolds
- Day 6: Bristol
- Day 7: Brecon Beacons
- Day 8: Bath
- Day 9: Stonehenge & Salisbury
- Day 10: London
Alternatively, if you’ve got two weeks or more to spend in the UK, then you should definitely take a slight detour through Devon and onto Cornwall to see places like Exmoor National Park, Dartmoor National Park, the Eden Project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Lands End and some of the best Cornwall beaches. You could easily do this detour after visiting Bristol or Bath if you’re following the above itinerary.
You could also skip Oxford, Cheltenham, the Cotswolds and Bristol in order to head straight to Devon and Cornwall from London if preferred. If you do this, you should set aside around 3 or 4 days to see the best of these two counties.
Best Things To Do in the UK
Although there’s a lot of amazing places to visit and things to do in the UK, you can’t possibly visit this remarkable little country without trying the following:
- Scenic road-trip; for instance around Scotland, the Cotswolds or Cornwall
- Fabulous city break; great options include a long weekend in London or a day or two in Bristol
- Explore beautiful beaches during the summer months; Cornwall has some of the best ones!
- Get lost in a historic city… or two… or three; top spots include Bath and Cheltenham
- Partake in a posh afternoon tea session — check out this guide for some tips
- Try all things Harry Potter related — click here for a whole host of inspiration or have a jam-packed and totally magical Harry Potter weekend in London
UK Packing List
When travelling in the UK, you can expect all types of weather, no matter what time of year you visit.
Our UK holiday packing list is by no means an exhaustive list, but should give you a good idea of what to pack and what to wear in the UK across each season.
Best Time to Travel to the UK
In our opinion, the UK is magical to visit at any time of year. However, for the absolute best of the best, we’d recommend travelling during the shoulder seasons (e.g. spring and autumn).
There are far fewer crowds during this time, prices are cheaper and the seasonal colours are stunning to look at. However, these seasons also come with the most unpredictable British weather so be sure to prepare for all weathers.
Some of the best months to visit the UK are: March, April, May, September and October, although other times of year are also beautiful, such as during Christmas time (we have some of the best light displays!)
The weather in the UK has always been a notorious subject. Locals love to complain about the weather – it’s a great ice breaker!
But in all seriousness, the UK does have some contentious weather. It rains a lot, and has been known to be very unpredictable.
“Micro climates” exist throughout the country, so don’t be surprised if it’s overcast when you leave the house, sunny twenty minutes down the road and pouring down with rain forty minutes from the house. Our best advice is to pack for all weathers, even in the summer!
Just all I can say is don’t let our touchy weather put you off. Because it rains so much, we have some of the most beautiful, green countryside in the world. And I can tell you, we do see some sunny days throughout the year… so fingers crossed you’ll be lucky during your next trip to the UK.
There are a number of different transport options around the UK, depending on which city you’re in. Generally, you’ll have transport options including driving, taxis (aka cabs), trains and buses, with some cities offering extra options such as the tube (aka subway/metro), trams and ferries.
Driving in the UK
You may already be aware that we drive on the left in the UK. Our roads vary quite considerably across the country, but you’re more likely to come across motorways, A-roads and B-roads when driving.
Motorways have a max speed limit of 70 mph. There is no minimum speed limit, although the general rule of thumb is to not dip below 60 mph, unless there’s roadworks, heavy congestion or some other type of obstruction.
A-Roads, such as the A1474 or A303 are another type of “main” road in the UK. They can be either single or dual carriageways, and the max speed is 60 mph and 70 mph respectively. Some counties (such as Dorset) don’t have motorways at all running through them, which means you’ll be likely to drive along A-Roads when visiting.
B-Roads are known as “minor” roads within the UK, and are often found when driving outside of main towns or across the countryside. Speed limits on these roads differ, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the road signs in order to know what speed to go at. These roads can be tricky to navigate for drivers that aren’t used to hills, narrow lanes or hairpin turns – you can find an abundance of these on B-Roads.
Trains in the UK
The UK’s rail system is one of the oldest in the world, and has been running since 1825.
Although the network is mostly maintained by just one company: Network Rail, you’ll spot a number of different train operators running the actual trains. Common names to look out for include South West Trains, First Great Western and Virgin Trains.
All major towns will have train stations, but they’re not always found within town centres. They’re usually on the outskirts, so you’ll probably have to combine train travel with a bit of a walk, or another type of transport. If you’re intent on visiting the best of what the British countryside has to offer, you may not be able to get a train the whole way, so make sure to do some trip planning before you go. The National Rail website is great to use.
One contentious subject when it comes to trains in the UK is how expensive they can be. Prices go up every year, and we’re now recognised for having one of the most expensive rail networks in the world. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to purchase a rail card to receive money off train travel.
Buses in the UK
Almost all towns, cities and villages in the UK have a bus network (even some far reaching countryside destinations). Timetables often differ across the country, and across different bus routes.
Common companies operating public buses include Stagecoach, First Bus and TFL. You can also catch a coach to and from most large towns and cities, with companies like Megabus and National Express offering the best routes.
Trams in the UK
There are several trams operating across the UK, such as in Croydon, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham, Blackpool and the London dockyards.
As there are so few tram lines in existence, us Brits are still getting used to them as well!
Ferries in the UK
As an island nation, it should come as no surprise that there are a number of ferry options around the country.
Local ferries chauffeur us to smaller islands surrounding the UK such as the Isle of Wight, Isle of Man, Lundy Island, and the Channel Islands; while larger ferries can take you to Europe and even further afield as part of luxury cruises.
The Tube (aka London’s underground) is operated by TFL (Transport for London), and is one of the best public transport options in the country. Tubes run fairly frequently, although some stations close earlier than you might expect.
It’s possible to buy individual tickets for the tube. It’s generally accepted that buying a day pass is cheaper than buying lots of individual journeys. Or you can purchase an Oyster Card for £5 and top that up as and when you run out of money to use on it. Travelling with an Oyster Card is usually cheaper than buying individual tickets, or even a day pass, especially if you plan on using the tube a lot in one day.
The TFL website is your best bet for all things tube related, from planning trips, to finding tube maps and operating hours.
Emergency & Medical Info
Hopefully you won’t need them, but just in case, emergency services in the UK can be phoned on 999. You’ll be asked to select whether you need an ambulance, police or fire service when calling.
For less serious crimes, the police can be contacted on 101, while non-emergency medical calls can be conducted when dialling 111.
The tweet shown below from the NHS is pretty good for explaining when it’s best to use 111, while this guide is great to show the differences between each of the services.
— West Hampshire CCG (@WestHantsCCG) December 28, 2017
The UK has a public health service known as the NHS, which offers free and reduced care to residents. If you’re a foreign citizen holidaying in the UK and need medical help, then the NHS is free to use at the time of your appointment or hospital visit, but you’ll be sent a bill afterwards.
The UK also has many companies offering private healthcare.
As the UK is a highly multicultural country, you’ll find all kinds of cuisines available throughout the country, ranging from Italian, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Caribbean… you name it, we’ve got it.
But if it’s some traditionally British food that you’re after, then your best bet would be to find a quaint pub out in the countryside somewhere. That’s where you’re going to find some of our best food offerings, often referred to by locals as “pub grub”.
Here are some foods you must try during your trip to the UK:
- Roast Dinner – Chicken, Beef or Lamb recommended with all the trimmings
- Pie – Meaty, Vegetarian, Vegan, it doesn’t matter, just make sure it comes with mash and gravy
- Sausage & Mash – What it says on the tin, but can sometimes be called ‘Bangers and Mash’ on the menu
- Fish ‘n’ Chips – Best enjoyed by the seaside
- Full Breakfast or Full English Breakfast – This consists of bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, sausages and fried bread or buttered toast, best served with a cup of tea
There’s also a number of foods that are well known in certain counties such as Cornish pasties, Yorkshire puddings and Cumberland sausages. If you’re visiting one of these counties, make sure you check out their local food options too – they’re well known for a reason!
Brexit: What’s the deal?
Hopefully by now, you’ve heard of ‘Brexit’. This is just a popular way of saying that the UK has voted to leave the EU (European Union).
With only 51.89% of voters choosing to leave the EU, this was a very close vote, and one that surprised most of the country (including those who voted in favour of Brexit).
The Government is currently still in discussions with the EU in order to make a deal, with the aim that we would have left the EU by Friday 29 March, 2019. After that date, we’ll then be in what is referred to as a “transition period”.
As negotiations are currently still underway, no-one knows what effect leaving the EU will have in the long-term (especially for travel). If you’re planning on making a trip to the UK after March 29, 2019, you’d be best advised doing as much reading as you can on exactly what effect Brexit may have on your plans. This super detailed guide from the BBC (updated regularly) should help.
I hope this guide helps you with your UK trip planning. I’d love to know where you plan on visiting when you’re here, or if you’ve got any other questions that need answering. So feel free to jot down a few notes in the comments below…
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