So you’ve decided to visit the UK? Wonderful! Not that we’re biased or anything (we’ve lived in the UK for many years), but we think you’re going to love it here! We also hope you find this step-by-step guide on how to plan a UK trip helpful and chock-full of information and inspiration.
But first, can we take a moment to appreciate all the amazing things you’re going to see and do when you come to the UK?!
From stunning landscapes and countryside walks to towns and cities steeped in history, there are so many places and activities worthy of any UK bucket list.
And we can’t wait for you to experience it all first-hand yourself!
So, to help you with planning your bucket list trip to the UK, here’s what you’ll discover in this UK travel planning guide:
- A detailed step-by-step guide on how to plan your UK trip
- Important things to know before visiting the UK
- … with plenty of UK travel inspiration and travel tips thrown in for good measure!
Are you ready? Let’s go!
A Step-By-Step Guide To Planning Your UK Trip
We think planning a trip to the UK involves 7 key steps:
- Determine what your budget looks like
- Decide when you want to visit
- Decide where you want to visit
- Choose which activities you want to do during your trip
- Create your initial itinerary
- Choose where to stay
- Book your flights, accommodation, tours and activities
Let’s take a look at each of these steps in more detail.
Step 1: Determine what your budget looks like
Okay, okay, so this step comes into play for any trip you’re planning. But it’s an especially important step when you’re planning a trip to an expensive Western European country.
(Yes, the UK isn’t in the EU anymore, but it’s still a part of Europe. But we won’t get into that one just yet!)
Anyway, back to your budget. Will you stay in hostels or comfortable 3-star hotels? Or will you splurge on a luxury hotel in the middle of the country or a big city like London?
What about transport? Will you hire a car to travel around the UK? Join coach trips? Or will you use public transport like buses, coaches and trains?
The latter of which is probably best saved for those of you with a larger budget, by the way. Our trains are notoriously expensive – especially compared to other European countries.
These are all questions you need to ask yourself before planning your UK trip. Your answers will determine how long your trip to the UK will last and what you’ll see and do while you’re here.
Your budget may also help you decide when to visit the UK as – naturally – some times of the year are more expensive than others. Now for step 2!
Step 2: Think about when you want to visit
The peak travel season in the UK is usually during the summer months: June to August.
While I can understand why many people would think a trip to the UK is best in the summer months, I actually think it’s a pretty rubbish time to visit.
Yes, the weather is usually okay with the potential for temperatures to reach 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) and higher. But visitor numbers and prices also reach record highs.
Not only is the weather relatively good (temperatures are often in the high teens or low 20s Celsius while average rainfall is 4-5 inches), but you’ll also see fewer crowds and cheaper hotel and tour prices.
September is an especially good month to visit. You’ll often see summer-like weather, but as children have gone back to school, everything’s much quieter.
May and early June are also great times to visit the UK. The weather usually starts getting warmer, but it’s not yet the height of the peak travel season.
That said, other times of year are also beautiful, such as during Christmas time. We have some of the best light displays!
Of course, where you visit in the UK also might help you decide when to visit.
No matter when you decide to visit the UK, though, British weather is notoriously unpredictable. Be prepared to pack for almost all kinds of weather!
- His & Hers UK Holiday Packing List – What To Wear in the UK
- UK in Spring: Where To Go, What To Do & Things To Know
- UK Autumn Bucket List: 24 Fall Activities & Destinations You’ll Love!
- Autumn in England: When & Where To Visit
Step 3: Decide where you want to visit
As the name suggests, the UK (United Kingdom) consists of four different countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Unless you’re planning on spending several weeks or even months exploring the UK, you’ll probably only have time to focus on one or two countries during your visit.
Many first-time visitors to the UK try to visit both England and Scotland during their trips. While this is doable for 2 or 3 week trips, be mindful that you’ll probably spend more of your time in the northern parts of England than in southern England.
That’s not a bad thing, though! This part of England has some amazing places for you to explore, such as York, the Peak District, Lake District and much more.
That said, if you want to explore places in the south of England like London and the Cotswolds, then an itinerary combining England and Wales would be better suited.
As for Northern Ireland, it’ll probably make more sense for you to combine this with a road trip around the entire island of Ireland. Note: This would take you across the border into the Republic of Ireland, which isn’t part of the UK.
To help you make some tough decisions on where to visit, here are some of the most popular cities in the UK and why you might want to visit them:
- London: Given London is the UK’s capital city, this diverse metropolis is the UK’s most popular city. Here, iconic landmarks, world-class museums, pretty mews streets and much more await!
- Edinburgh: If your UK trip includes time spent in Scotland, then Edinburgh is a must. Especially to see Edinburgh’s iconic castle and the epic city views from the top of Holyrood Park.
- Belfast: Meanwhile Belfast is a must if you find yourself in Northern Ireland. Here, an interesting museum about the Titanic is well worth a visit. Not to mention, Giant’s Causeway is an easy day trip from Belfast, while Belfast itself is an easy day trip from Dublin.
- Oxford: Oxford is another iconic UK city where one of the world’s oldest universities and lots of centuries-old buildings await.
- Cambridge: Speaking of iconic cities and universities, Cambridge is another top UK city to visit. This time, a wander along the River Cam and through the city’s charming streets is a must.
- Bath: Infamous for its ancient Roman baths and Regency architecture, the entire city of Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is simply stunning.
- Salisbury: Found near Stonehenge, Salisbury is another historic UK city whose cathedral houses one of only four surviving Magna Carta documents from 1215.
- York: While in York, you can explore yet more historic streets and buildings.
- Bristol: Bristol is quite possibly the UK’s trendiest city where Banksy murals, hot air balloons and a rich maritime history await!
Alongside the big cities, there are also lots of charming towns and villages, which really must be on everyone’s UK bucket list.
Not to mention the UK is well-known for its incredible landscapes – from sprawling forests and National Parks to traditional British seasides and country estates.
You’ll find many of our favourite nature spots mentioned within these travel blogs:
- Tall Trees Trail, New Forest: How To See Giant Sequoia Trees in the UK
- Peak District Travel Guide
- Giant’s Causeway Travel Guide
- Beautiful Places To Visit in South England
- Beautiful Places To Visit in Somerset
- Beautiful Places To Visit in Cornwall
- Beautiful Places To Visit On The Isle of Wight
Alternatively, if you’d like to experience the best of the UK’s history and culture (another top reason to visit the UK!), then you might also like these travel blogs:
- Beautiful & Historic Literary Places To Visit in England
- Stratford-Upon-Avon Travel Guide
- Best National Trust Places You’ll Love!
- Best English Heritage Sites For Your Bucket List
- Avebury Historic Sites
- Incredible UK Filming Locations
Step 4: Choose what you want to do
Once you know which countries, towns and cities you most want to see, it’s time to think about the activities and tours you most want to do during your trip.
To help, we’ve written a mammoth UK bucket list, which I’m sure is full of inspiration ahead of your trip.
But if you don’t have time to read that, then here are the experiences we think every visitor to the UK should try at least once:
- Visit historic castles, palaces and estates: which you’ll find all across the UK!
- Try all things Harry Potter-inspired: like visiting HP filming locations, the Harry Potter Studio Tour near London and enjoying a magical Harry Potter weekend in London
- Partake in a posh afternoon tea session: check out this guide for some tips
- Try some deliciously British food: here’s what to eat
- Explore beautiful beaches during the summer months: Cornwall has some of the best ones!
- Enjoy a scenic road trip: for instance around Scotland, the Cotswolds or Cornwall
Step 5: Map out your itinerary
Once you’ve decided where you want to visit in the UK and what you want to see and do, it’s time to plan your UK itinerary.
We use Google My Maps for this as you can create “layers” for each day and see how everything looks on an actual map.
It’s helpful to see where places are in relation to each other, so you can make sure you’re not going back on yourself too many times as this eats into precious sightseeing time.
At this point, you’re only pencilling things in as you may need to make changes once you’ve booked everything and confirmed the dates of your flights and accommodation.
We usually go with the idea of having no more than two or three activities planned for each day. Of course, this changes dramatically if you’re booking full-day or half-day tours.
Here are some of our most popular UK travel itineraries to help you with yours:
- 10 Day UK Trip Itinerary
- 4 Day Driving Itinerary For Scotland
- South Wales Weekend Itinerary
- Isle of Wight Weekend Itinerary
- 3 Day Cornwall Itinerary
- 5 Day Cornwall Itinerary
You could even combine your trip to the UK with a trip to the Republic of Ireland and even continental Europe as well.
While within a relatively short 2-4 hour flight, you could be in the south of France, the Portuguese island of Madeira, Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Geneva in Switzerland to name just a few options available to you.
Need even more help? Do you know about our itinerary planning service? We can help you create your own bespoke UK itinerary! Find out more here >>
Step 6: Choose where to stay
Once you can see where you’ll spend most of your time within the UK, you’ll better understand which towns and cities are best for you to stay in.
If you’re not driving, then you’ll also need to consider what public transport options are available near your accommodation.
One thing I do want to call out, though, is that you won’t be able to stay in a central location within the UK and use day trips to get to places far and wide. You’ll quickly run out of time and spend most of your trip driving to and from your accommodation.
Instead, we’d recommend moving around the UK according to your itinerary, which might mean checking in and out of hotels. But you’ll enjoy much more sightseeing time!
Or, if you’d rather try camping, then here’s a great website to help you find campsites within the UK.
Step 7: Book everything!
So, by now, you should know:
- What your budget is
- When you want to visit the UK
- Which countries, towns and cities you’ll visit
- What you want to see and do during your trip (especially the amazing bucket list activities!)
- What your ideal itinerary looks like
- Where you’re going to stay during your trip
This means there’s only one thing left to do… book everything! And then patiently wait for your trip to start.
In case it helps, we use the following websites when booking our trips:
- Booking.com for its wide range of hotels, B&Bs and other accommodation
- Get Your Guide for tours and activities with free cancellation should your plans change!
- Google Flights and Skyscanner for great flight deals and to see when it’s cheapest to fly to the UK
Important Things To Know Before Visiting The UK
And finally, you might want to save this section for later because here are some important things to know before visiting the UK.
The UK’s currency is called Pound Sterling (£)
The UK has its own currency known as “the pound”, “pound sterling” or “GBP” (Great British Pound). Note: We locals refer to our money as “pounds” or “quid” (e.g. “It cost me a couple of quid.”
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.
Check if you need a visa to visit the UK
Some of you will be allowed to visit the UK without a visa. For instance, you don’t usually need one if you’re travelling from most European countries or the US.
You’ll usually be allowed to stay visa-free for up to 6 months. But you can double-check whether you need to apply for a visa via the official Government website.
The weather here is very unpredictable
When travelling in the UK, you can expect almost all kinds of weather, no matter what time of year you visit.
The weather in the UK has always been a notorious subject. Locals love to complain about it and it’s a great icebreaker!
But in all seriousness, the UK does have some contentious weather. It rains a lot and has been known to be very unpredictable.
“Microclimates” exist throughout the UK. Don’t be surprised if it’s overcast when you leave the house, sunny 20 minutes down the road and pouring down with rain 40 minutes later.
Our best advice is to pack for all kinds of weather – even in the summer!
But don’t let our touchy weather put you off. Because it rains so much, we have some of the most beautiful green countryside and landscapes in the world.
And I can tell you, we see plenty of sunny days throughout the year… so fingers crossed you’ll be lucky during your next trip to the UK.
Our UK holiday packing list is by no means an exhaustive list but should give you a good idea of what to pack for your UK trip.
Driving in the UK is an interesting experience!
You may already be aware that we drive on the left in the UK.
Our roads vary considerably across the country, but you’re most likely to come across motorways, A-roads and B-roads when driving.
Motorways have a max speed limit of 70 mph. There’s no minimum speed limit, although the general rule of thumb is to stay above 60 mph unless there’s roadworks, heavy congestion or some other type of obstruction.
A-roads, such as the A4174 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 usually known as the UK’s “minor” roads. You’ll often find them when driving outside of main towns or across the countryside – especially if you follow Google Maps!
Speed limits on these roads differ, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the road signs.
These roads can be tricky to navigate for drivers who aren’t used to hills, narrow lanes or hairpin turns. You can find an abundance of these on B-roads.
Trains in the UK are notoriously expensive
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 called 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 CrossCountry.
Most major towns in the UK 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 walk, or another mode of transport.
If you want to experience the great outdoors during your trip to the UK, then you may not be able to get a train the whole way. You may need to combine a train with buses, taxis and walks.
Note: Trains in the UK are notoriously expensive – especially compared to other European countries. Prices go up every year and we now have one of the most expensive rail networks in the world. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to purchase a rail card to save money. But travelling around the UK by train is still reserved for those of you with a larger travel budget.
Buses are a popular way to get around
Almost all UK towns, cities and villages have a bus network. Timetables differ across the country and across bus routes, so you’ll need to look online to find out which services you need and when they operate.
Common companies operating public buses within the UK include Stagecoach, First Bus and TFL (Transport for London).
You can also catch a coach to and from most large towns and cities with companies like Megabus and National Express offering some of the best routes.
The best way to get around London is via the “tube” (aka the London Underground)
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.
While it’s possible to buy individual tickets for the tube, generally, it’s cheaper to buy a day pass than lots of individual tickets.
Alternatively, you can purchase an Oyster Card and top it up when you run out of money on it. You can also use a contactless debit or credit card in the same way as an Oyster card.
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 routes to finding tube maps and operating hours.
Some – but not all – UK cities have trams
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, we Brits are still getting used to them as well!
You can catch ferries to various British islands
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 UK has a vast and rich history
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. This 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
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 a 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. These range from: “We love the Royal Family!” to “I don’t think we need a monarchy anymore” to “Whatever”.
With such a varying view about whether the monarchy is an important part of British culture or not, it’s best to avoid this subject.
You’ll find a number of other etiquette tips and things to know about British culture in this guide.
British food is very diverse, but traditional British food is a must!
As the UK is a highly multicultural country, you’ll find all kinds of cuisines available.
But if it’s traditional British food that you’re after, then your best bet would be to find a charming countryside pub.
That’s where you’re going to find some of our most traditional food, 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 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 English Breakfast: This consists of bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, sausages and fried bread or buttered toast. Best served with a cup of tea.
Some regions also have traditional local foods, which are well worth sampling while you’re there.
Well-known examples of these include haggis in Scotland, Welsh cakes, Cornish pasties, Yorkshire puddings, Bakewell tart and Cumberland sausages.
We talk about this more in our guide to traditional British foods.
Don’t forget to take some food home with you as a souvenir, too. Here are some ideas!
Take note of our emergency and medical information
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 at explaining when it’s best to use 111. And this guide is great for showing the differences between each of the services.
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.
A quick heads up about Brexit
While the UK voted to leave the EU (European Union) back in 2016, it took several years of debates and discussions to finalise everything.
We’re now fully out of the EU. However, only 52% of voters chose to leave the EU, so it was a very close vote and one that surprised most of us (including those who voted in favour of Brexit).
Since then, many people who voted in favour of Brexit have changed their minds. Quite simply, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows like many were led to believe.
Given all this, it’s probably best to stay clear of mentioning Brexit while you’re here. It’s still a sore and contentious subject and is likely to remain that way for many, many years to come.
Read Next: Our Popular UK Travel Blogs
We have over 150 articles about the UK on our travel blog. You can find them all here, or use our search bar.
But if you don’t have time to scroll through all of those, then here are a few of our UK travel guides that we think you should start with:
- 100+ Incredible UK Bucket List Ideas & Destinations
- 10 Day UK Travel Itinerary
- UK in Spring Travel Guide
- UK in Autumn Bucket List
- Autumn in England Travel Guide
- Our Guide to Traditional British Food
- His & Hers UK Packing List
- British Etiquette Tips & Things You Should Know About Brits
Psst! Need help planning a trip to continental Europe? We also have a guide for that! >>
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to planning a UK trip and that it was helpful. Should you want to ask us any questions about your trip, please drop us a line in the comments section below and we’ll reply asap.
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