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The UK is one of the easiest countries to travel to and around, in transportation terms. However, preparation is key to visiting any country and the UK is no different.
This UK travel planning post lists a number of factors that will need to be considered when planning your trip. Also listed are a number of tips to help you get the best out of your holiday.
UK TRAVEL PLANNING: PRACTICAL FACTORS TO CONSIDER
WHAT IS THE UK:
Let’s get some essential terminology out of the way. The UK is officially known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It’s a sovereign state but is actually a federation of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain comprises England, Scotland and Wales. London is the capital city of both England and the UK.
In terms of UK travel planning, bank holidays (i.e. national holidays) will impact on your plans, hence why they get priority on this list.
All of the UK take the following days as a bank holiday:
- New Year’s Day
- Good Friday (date varies)
- First Monday in May
- Last Monday in May
- Christmas Day (25th December)
- Boxing Day (26th December)
Extra bank holidays are taken in some places but not others:
- 2nd January (Scotland)
- St. Patrick’s Day (17th March – Northern Ireland)
- Easter Monday (Date varies – England, Wales, Northern Ireland)
- 12th July (Northern Ireland)
- First Monday in August (Scotland)
- Last Monday in August (England, Wales, Northern Ireland)
- St. Andrew’s Day (30th November – Scotland)
WHEN TO VISIT:
In terms of weather, the climate varies considerably between the four countries. For example, the temperature between Inverness (north Scotland) and London can vary by up to 10°C (50F). Expect rain at any time of the year everywhere, although the south coast experiences the least amount of rainfall. April to September is the best time for sightseeing throughout the UK.
London can be visited all year round as it has so many indoor attractions plus a comprehensive underground transport system that will keep you dry and warm in the most miserable of weather. Visitor attractions in London are busy during July and August.
The currency throughout the UK is pound sterling (GBP/£). It is one of the world’s strongest currencies which means a poor exchange rate when converting from most other currencies. This alone can make the UK an expensive country to travel to.
There are two price levels: London and everywhere else. London is one of the most expensive cities in Europe for holiday accommodation and dining out. However, accommodation and dining in the rest of the UK is reasonably priced. Bank holidays make accommodation options considerably more expensive and scarce.
There is good news for those opting for self-catering accommodation: The price of supermarket goods in the UK are cheaper than Western European counterparts.
London is one of the world’s busiest transport hubs so you really need to have your homework done when it comes to journey planning. Most major UK cities have their own airport with a few exceptions: London has six airports, Glasgow and Belfast have two each.
My favourite way of travelling around the UK is by train. The UK’s excellent motorway system means coach travel is another good option for inter-city travel. Bear in mind that large cities can have multiple train and bus stations. Routes are operated by various companies so for the best train and bus deals for all companies, book in advance on the Trainline website. Seat availability is scarce on bank holidays so advance booking is essential.
The best way to travel around London is the underground system (aka the Tube). Get a map in advance to plan your journeys on this large 11-line system that serves 270 stations. An Oyster card is the best way to pay for multiple London journeys as trying to figure out payment zones is an art in itself.
Several cities have their own light rail systems (e.g. Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Nottingham).
Car rental is recommended if travelling in rural areas (e.g. Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Scottish Highlands) but there are drawbacks. Car rental is expensive and the sheer volume of traffic on the roads can make it a nerve-wracking experience. Driving is on the left which isn’t a problem for me but is for visitors who come from countries where driving is on the right-hand side. Road distances are measured in miles.
OTHER UK TRAVEL TIPS
The UK’s international dialling code is +44. Drop the 0 of the city code when dialling from abroad. For example, Heathrow Airport’s phone number is 0844 335 1801. From abroad it will be +44 844 335 1801
Plugs are the 3-pin square 13 amp variety which is the same as the Republic of Ireland (Type G on the World Standards chart).
Tipping etiquette is similar to the rest of Europe. Round up taxi fares and tip 10-15% on meals that don’t have a service charge.
Queue jumping is a big no no in the UK, thankfully. Expect everyone in the queue to have frank words with you if you attempt it. Pushing in a queue equally frowned upon.
In terms of safety, the UK is well policed but there are unsafe places in most cities. Anti-social behaviour can be a problem on public transport within cities, although I once had the displeasure of sharing a train carriage with football hooligans when travelling inter-city.
Expect alcohol-fuelled rowdiness on Friday and Saturday nights in most city centres.
THINGS TO DO:
Opinion is divided as to whether Stonehenge is over-rated. Unless pre-historic monuments are your passion, I’d give it a miss. What the UK does best is quaint towns and villages. And of course, don’t miss London.
As for things to do, attending a theatre performance should top the list. The UK’s theatre scene has a rich history and delivers top quality performances, even at amateur level.
Another must-do is traditional foods. Shepherd’s Pie, Steak and Kidney Pie, Fish and Chips are main courses to be tasted. Yorkshire puddings can come as part of a meat-and-two-veg meal. Cornish pasties are a delicious calorific snack. And Spotted dick is not a typo. It’s a baked pudding with dried fruit!
English may be the predominant language but the various accents will make it sound like another language. The individual Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish area accents are difficult to distinguish to outsiders (e.g. Glasgow v Edinburgh accent).
The English regional accents are much easier to distinguish. Cockney (London), Brummie (Birmingham), Scouse (Liverpool), Mancunian (Manchester), Geordie (Newcastle) and Yorkshire are just some examples.
London has some of the most iconic buildings in the world. Check out my Famous London Buildings post for great sites to see when in the UK capital.
Day Trips from London by Train is a post outlining 6 great days trips from the UK capital. The destinations cover a variety of experiences such as a royal castle, centres of academic excellence, sand and sea, and a UNESCO-listed cathedral.
My Day Trip to Cardiff post covers a rugby-themed day trip to the Welsh capital.