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United Kingdom travel guide - Travel S helper

United Kingdom

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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (abbreviated as the UK or the United Kingdom) is a constitutional monarchy that spans the majority of the British Isles. It is a political union comprised of four nations: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, each of which offers something distinct and interesting to the traveler while being unmistakably British.

The United Kingdom is a mix of indigenous and immigrant cultures, with an intriguing past and vibrant contemporary attractions. This is a nation renowned for its quirky and rebellious popular culture, for inventing five main sports (golf, rugby football, cricket, lawn tennis, and, of course, association football), and for possessing perhaps the world’s finest music scene. Thousands of years of history are on display. Stone rings, castles, thatched cottages, and palaces; these islands encapsulate the essence of the past.

London is the capital and biggest city, a genuinely global metropolis unlike any other, and many of the country’s smaller cities are also worth seeing. To appreciate their enormous variety, contrast elegant Oxford with gloomy Edinburgh, gentrifying Manchester, sports-mad Cardiff, Birmingham’s cultural melting pot, or freshly flourishing Belfast, while keeping in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg. While Britannia no longer controls the seas, it retains a tremendous amount of influence in the broader globe, with over 30 million tourists each year.

Whether you want to walk in the footsteps of giants in Antrim, immerse yourself in Celtic culture at Eisteddfod, pound the streets of an English urban jungle, climb, ski, or snowboard in the Cairngorms-style, or simply fantasize about having tea with the Queen, the United Kingdom has something for everyone.

The United Kingdom occupies the whole of the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and most of the other British Isles. It is important to recall that the Republic of Ireland is a country completely separate from the United Kingdom, which seceded from the Union and gained independence in 1922. The Isle of Man and the various Channel Islands are dependencies of the Crown, which govern themselves through their own legislatures with the consent of the Crown. These dependencies are not part of the UK or the EU, but neither are they fully sovereign nations in their own right. The United Kingdom’s closest neighbours are Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The Union is made up of four constituent nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each nation has its own capital: in Scotland it is Edinburgh, in Wales it is Cardiff, and in Northern Ireland it is Belfast, while London is the capital of England as well as the entire UK.

The “Great” within Great Britain comes from the fact that it is the largest of the British Isles, and also to distinguish it from another, smaller “Great Britain”, which is Brittany in the north-west of France. This terminology has been used since the time of Ptolemy.

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United Kingdom - Info Card




Pound sterling (GBP)

Time zone

UTC (Greenwich Mean Time, WET)


242,495 km2 (93,628 sq mi)

Calling code


Official language


United Kingdom | Introduction

Home nations

Geographically, “Great Britain” (“GB”) refers only to the largest island, i.e. Scotland, England and Wales combined. Great Britain became a political entity in 1707, after the union of the Scottish and English crowns. Ireland had become a papal possession in the 12th century, over which the English monarch held lordship. The English monarch paid tribute to the Roman Catholic Church, which was taken from the Irish people. The Irish seigneury became a kingdom in 1542 and entered into a political union with Britain in 1801 to form the United Kingdom.

Its full title was then changed into ” United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland “. This term was changed to “…and Northern Ireland” when all but the six counties of Northern Ireland seceded from the Union in 1927, some five years after a treaty granted autonomy to the Irish. “Britain” has often been used as an alternative name for the United Kingdom. The Union Flag of the United Kingdom is commonly called “Union Jack”, even on land. It consists of the flags of St. George of England, St. Andrew of Scotland and the cross of St. Patrick of Ireland, superimposed. In England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the flags of each nation are used together.

The flag with the St. Patrick’s Cross is often seen on St. Patrick’s Day in Northern Ireland. However, since the secession of the Republic of Ireland from the United Kingdom, the St. Patrick’s saltire is no longer used for Northern Ireland as it represents the island of Ireland as a whole, but the flag still represents Northern Ireland within the Union Jack. In the 1920s a flag was designed for Northern Ireland, known as the “Ulster Banner” or simply “the flag of Northern Ireland”. It was based on the flag of Ulster and was similar in appearance to the flag of the St George’s Cross of England, but included an Ulster Red Hand and a crown. Although the use of the flag was controversial during the so-called Troubles (from the late 1960s), it can still be seen in Northern Ireland, particularly by Unionists and at sporting events. Since Wales had been politically integrated into the English kingdom for centuries before the creation of the United Kingdom, the Welsh flag was not incorporated into the Union Jack. The flag of Wales signifies a red dragon on a green and white field.

Crown Dependencies

Both the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands have their own democratic governments, laws and courts and are not part of the EU. Nor are they fully sovereign, being under the control of the British Crown, which chooses to entrust the British government with the management of defence and foreign affairs. Individuals are British citizens but, unless they are directly related to the UK by a parent or have lived in the UK for at least five years, they do not have the same rights to work or live elsewhere in the EU.

Overseas Territories and Commonwealth countries

They are also not constitutionally part of the United Kingdom, but are for the most part former colonies of the British Empire. All Commonwealth countries are independent, although some (e.g. Australia, Canada, New Zealand), known as ‘Commonwealth Realms’, still have the same monarch as the UK as head of state. The Overseas Territories tend to enjoy a degree of self-government, although some are still under the control of the UK Government (mainly for foreign affairs and defence), and their citizens still have British citizenship, although with the exception of Gibraltar, they are not part of the European Union and their citizens do not have the same right to work or reside in the rest of the EU, unless there are special circumstances. The British monarch continues to be the “Head of the Commonwealth”, although this position is purely symbolic and carries no real power. Citizens of Commonwealth countries that are not overseas territories or EU countries are subject to roughly the same entry and immigration rules as other non-EU citizens.

Referring to nationality

Be careful when referring to British citizens as “English” as this may not be accurate and may even be considered an insult in some situations. Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish are not originally from England. If you need to refer to a person’s nationality, using the term ‘British’ will make you feel safe and not likely to offend you, and you may be asked to use the more precise terms ‘English’, ‘Northern Irish’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘Scottish’. To be even safer, you can simply ask someone from which part of the UK they are from.

This is particularly important in Northern Ireland. Irish nationalists may avoid referring to Northern Ireland and refer instead to the ‘Six Counties’ or ‘North’, or they may refer to ‘Ireland’ as a whole. The term ‘Northern Ireland’ is less offensive, while referring to a person from Northern Ireland as ‘British’ or ‘Irish’ may be offensive, depending on political ideology.

Although it is only one county in England, the issue of identity in Cornwall is sensitive for some people and it is best to refer to everyone you meet in Cornwall as ‘Cornish’.

As a foreign visitor, you are unlikely to commit a serious offence. At worst, you will get a bit of a show off and a statement of nationality, such as “I am not English”. I am Scottish”.


The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy whose reigning monarch (Queen Elizabeth II) is the nominal head of state – the usual phrase is “Her Majesty reigns but does not rule”. It has the original bicameral parliament: the House of Commons, as it is called, traditionally represents the people. It is elected by the people and is responsible for proposing new laws. The House of Lords, known as the House of Commons, traditionally represents the nobility and mainly reviews and amends laws proposed by the House of Commons. The House of Lords is unelected and consists of hereditary peers, whose membership is guaranteed by the birthright, life peers, who are appointed by the Queen, and Spiritual Lords, who are bishops of the Church of England.

Usually the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons, is the Prime Minister, which is the head of government.  Each constituency elects a local Member of Parliament (MP) who then goes to the House of Commons to debate and vote. In practice, the Queen’s role is essentially ceremonial, and the Prime Minister has the greatest authority in government, although all bills passed by both Houses of Parliament require Royal Assent by the Queen (which she can theoretically refuse) before becoming law. In recent British politics, there have generally been two dominant parties: the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, the latter being the only party in government since May 2015 after a five-year coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Majority voting ensures that smaller parties are only represented in Westminster if they have a strong local support base, such as the Scottish or Welsh Nationalists and parties of all stripes on the Northern Ireland issue, while non-majority parties with national support such as the Liberal Democrats, the Greens or UKIP fight for seats in proportion to their share of the vote, if at all.

In addition, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have their own elected parliaments, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Each of these devolved governments has a First Minister and varying degrees of power over the internal affairs of their country, including the passing of laws. The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, for example, exercises power and passes laws on almost every subject in Scotland. In those areas where it is in power, the British government has no role to play. As a result, institutions and systems can differ radically between the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom. England does not have a similar body, as all government comes from Westminster.

There are also local government authorities responsible for services at local level, which vary considerably in size and remit across the UK. Some of these local authorities cover only individual towns (e.g. Cardiff) or even parts of towns (e.g. London Borough of Islington), while others cover whole counties (e.g. Northumberland) or large regions (e.g. the Scottish Highlands).

Using maps and postcodes

Most of the mapping is carried out by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain  (OSGB) and the  Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland, and most maps use this data. Ordnance Survey grid references are often used in guides and other sources of information. They are usually in the form of two capital letters followed by a 6-digit number (e.g. SU921206), and allow you to quickly find any location on a map. If you use a GPS, set it to the British National Grid (BNG) and the OSGB reference system.

The Ordnance Survey maps at 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 scale are surprisingly detailed and show contours, public rights of way and access areas. They are practically indispensable for activities such as walking and, in rural areas, they show individual farm buildings and (on a larger scale) field boundaries.

Another company, Harvey Maps, produces specialised maps for outdoor activities such as walking, climbing and mountain biking. These are studied independently of the OSGB, although they use the same grid reference system. They cover only a selection of popular locations. They have certain advantages over OSGB maps: they are printed on an impermeable material, they are scaled according to the requirements of the activity and the location (up to 1:12500 for complex mountainous areas) and they contain less intrusive detail that is not relevant to the specific activities for which they are designed.

Each postal address has a postcode, either unique or shared with its immediate neighbours. UK postcodes are in the form (AAnn nAA), where AA stands for 2 or 1 letters representing the town or geographical area, immediately followed by a 1 or 2 digit number nn representing the district, a space, then a number and 2 letters nAA. Most Internet mapping services allow you to locate places by postcode. Because of London’s huge size and population, there is a distinct variation of the postcode system where the city code AA is replaced by an area code indicating the geographical part of the city – for example N=North, WC=West Central, EC=East Central, SW=South West; and so on.

Weather & Climate

The UK has a mild, humid temperate climate, tempered by the North Atlantic Current and the proximity of the sea. The hot, humid summers and mild winters offer temperatures pleasant enough to enjoy outdoor activities all year round. However, the weather in the UK can be changeable and conditions are often windy and wet. British rain is world famous, but in practice it rarely rains more than two or three hours at a time and often some parts of the country remain dry for many weeks, especially in the east. The sky is more often cloudy or partly cloudy. It is a good idea to be prepared for a change in the weather when you go out; a jumper and mackintosh are usually sufficient, unless it is winter. Summer temperatures can reach 30ºC in places and winter temperatures can be mild, for example 10ºC in southern England and 0ºC in northern Scotland.

As the United Kingdom stretches from one end to the other for almost a thousand kilometres, temperatures can vary considerably between north and south. Spring and autumn often show the greatest regional differences in temperature, with single-digit readings in the north compared to the mid-1920s in the south. There are also marked differences in precipitation between the drier east and the wetter west. Scotland and the north-west of England (particularly the Lake District) are often rainy and cold. The mountains of northern Scotland experience alpine conditions in winter with heavy snowfall. The North East and Midlands are also cool, although with less rainfall. The South East and East Anglia are generally warm and dry, and the South West is warm but often wet. Northern Ireland and Wales generally experience cool to mild temperatures with moderate rainfall, while the hills of Wales occasionally receive heavy snowfalls. Although the highest land in Britain rarely exceeds 1300 metres, the influence of altitude on precipitation and temperature is great.


The United Kingdom’s total area is approximately 243,610 km² (94,060 sq. mi.). The country occupies most of the British Isles and includes the Isle of Great Britain, the sixth northeast of the Isle of Ireland and some smaller surrounding islands. It is situated between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, with its south-east coast less than 22 miles (35 km) from the coast of northern France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. In 1993, 10% of the UK was forested, 46% was used for pasture and 25% was cultivated for agriculture. The Royal Greenwich Observatory in London is the reference point for the prime meridian.

The United Kingdom is located between latitudes 49° and 61° N and longitudes 9° W and 2° E. Northern Ireland borders the Republic of Ireland with 360 km of land border. UK’s coastline is 17,820 km long. It is linked to continental Europe by the Channel Tunnel, which is the longest underwater tunnel in the world at 50 km (31 miles) deep.

England represents over half of the total area of the United Kingdom with a total surface area of 130,395 km2 (50,350 sq. mi.). The majority of the country is flat, with a mountainous area to the north-west of the Tees-Exe line. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and Humber. The highest mountain in England is the Scafell Pike (978 metres) in the Lake District. The main rivers are the Severn, Thames, Humber, Tees, Tyne, Tweed, Avon, Exe and Mersey.

Scotland represents a little less than one third of the entire United Kingdom with an area of 78,772 km2 , which includes approximately 800 islands, most of which are to the west and north of the continent, including the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. Scotland is the most mountainous country in the UK, and its topography is shaped by the Highland Boundary Fault – a geological rock fault – which runs through Scotland stretching from Arran on the west side to Stonehaven on the east side. The fault separates two distinctly different regions, the Highlands to the north and west and the Lowlands to the south and east. Most of Scotland’s mountainous terrain is located in the rugged Highlands region, which includes Ben Nevis, the highest point in the British Isles at 1,343 metres. The plains – particularly the narrow strip of land between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth known as the Central Belt – are flatter and home to most of the population, including Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, and Edinburgh, the country’s capital and political centre, although the highlands and mountains are in the Southern Uplands.

Wales represents less than one tenth of the total area of the United Kingdom, with a surface area of 20,779 square kilometres. Wales is predominantly mountainous, with South Wales being less mountainous than North and Central Wales. The main industrial and population areas are in South Wales, consisting of the coastal towns of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, and the valleys of South Wales to the north. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia and include Snowdon (in Welsh: Yr Wyddfa), which at 1,085 metres is the highest peak in Wales. The 14 or perhaps 15 Welsh mountains over 910 metres high are known as the Welsh of the 2000s. Wales has 2,704 kilometres of coastline.

Northern Ireland, which is separated from Great Britain through the Irish Sea as well as the Northern Channel, covers a surface area of 14,160 km2 and is predominantly hilly. Northern Ireland includes Lough Neagh, which is the largest lake in the British Isles by area (388 square kilometres). The highest mountain in Northern Ireland is the Slieve Donard in the Mourne Mountains at 852 metres.


Every ten years a census is carried out simultaneously in all parts of the UK. The Office for National Statistics is responsible for data collection for England and Wales, the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency are each responsible for censuses in their own countries. At the time of the 2011 Census, the total population of the United Kingdom was 63,181,775. The United Kingdom is the 3rd biggest country in the EU, 5th in the Commonwealth and 22nd in the world. In mid-2014 and mid-2015, long-term net international migration contributed further to population growth. In mid-2012 and mid-2013, natural changes contributed most to population growth. Between 2001 and 2011, the population grew at an average annual rate of about 0.7%. The 2011 Census also confirmed that the proportion of the population aged 0 to 14 years almost halved (31% in 1911 versus 18% in 2011) and that the proportion of people aged 65 and older more than tripled (from 5% to 16%). It is estimated that the number of people over the age of 100 will increase sharply, reaching more than 626,000 by 2080.

England’s population has been estimated at 53 million in 2011. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 420 people per square kilometre in mid-2015. particularly highly concentrated in London as well as in the south-east. At the time of the 2011 census, Scotland had 5.3 million inhabitants, Wales 3.06 million and Northern Ireland 1.81 million. In percentage terms, England had the fastest population growth of any country in the UK between 2001 and 2011, with an increase of 7.9 per cent.

In 2012, the average total fertility rate (TFR) in the UK was 1.92 children per woman. Although the rising birth rate is contributing to current population growth, it is still well below the peak of the 1964 ‘baby boom’ (2.95 children per woman), below the replacement rate of 2.1, but higher than the record rate of 1.63 in 2001. The lowest TFR in 2012 was recorded in Scotland (1.67), which was followed by Wales (1.88), in England (1.94) and in Northern Ireland (2.03). 47.3% of births in the UK during 2011 involved unmarried women. According to a government estimate, the UK has an estimated 3.6 million homosexuals, representing 6% of the population.

Ethnic groups

Historically, it is believed that the first inhabitants of Great Britain are descended from the different ethnic groups that settled here before the 11th century: Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Norwegians and Normans. The Welsh are perhaps the oldest ethnic group in Britain. A 2006 genetic study shows that more than 50% of the gene pool of the English contains Germanic Y chromosomes. Another 2005 genetic analysis shows that “around 75% of the traceable ancestors of the modern British population arrived in the British Isles around 6,200 years ago, in the early British Neolithic or Stone Age.

The UK has a history of minor non-white immigration, with Liverpool having the oldest black population in the country, dating back at least to the 1730s, at the time of the African slave trade, and the oldest Chinese community in Europe, dating back to the arrival of Chinese sailors in the 19th century. In 1950, there were probably less than 20,000 non-white residents in Britain, almost all of whom were foreign-born.

Considerable immigration since 1948 from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia is a legacy of the ties established by the British Empire. Immigration from the new EU Member States in Central and Eastern Europe since 2004 has led to an increase in these populations, although some of this immigration is temporary. Since the 1990s, the immigrant population has become considerably more diverse, with immigrants to the UK coming from a much wider range of countries than in previous waves, which tended to see more immigrants from a relatively small number of countries.

Academics have argued that the ethnicity categories used in UK statistics, first introduced in the 1991 Census, imply confusion between the concepts of ethnicity and race. In 2011, 87.2 per cent of the British population identified themselves as white, meaning that 12.8 per cent of the British population identified themselves as belonging to one of the many ethnic minority groups. At the time of the 2001 Census, this figure was 7.9 per cent of the British population.

Due to differences in the wording of census forms in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, data on the ‘Other White’ group is not available for the UK as a whole, but in England and Wales this group grew fastest between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses, increasing by 1.1 million (1.8 percentage points). Among the groups for which comparable data are available for all regions of the United Kingdom, the category “Other Asians” grew significantly, from 0.4 per cent to 1.4 per cent of the population between 2001 and 2011. In 2001, people in this category represented 1.2 per cent of the UK population; by 2011, this proportion was 2 per cent.

Ethnic diversity varies considerably across the UK. In 2005, it was estimated that 30.4 % of London’s population and 37.4 % of Leicester’s population were non-white, while according to the 2001 Census, less than 5 % of the population in North-East England, Wales and the South-West had ethnic minority backgrounds. In 2011, 26.5 % of primary school pupils and 22.2 % of secondary school pupils in public schools in England were members of an ethnic minority.

Ethnic group Population Percentage
White 55,010,359 87.1
White: Gypsy/Traveller/Irish Traveller 63,193 0.1
Asian/Asian British: Indian 1,451,862 2.3
Asian/Asian British: Pakistani 1,174,983 1.9
Asian/Asian British: Bangladeshi 451,529 0.7
Asian/Asian British: Chinese 433,150 0.7
Asian/Asian British: Other Asian 861,815 1.4
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British 1,904,684 3.0
Mixed/multiple ethnic groups 1,250,229 2.0
Other ethnic group 580,374 0.9


Forms of Christianity have now dominated religious life in the UK for over 1400 years. Although in many surveys a majority of citizens still identify with Christianity, regular church attendance has declined dramatically since the mid-20th century, while immigration and demographic change have contributed to the growth of other religions, notably Islam.

In the 2001 Census, 71.6 % of respondents said they were Christian, with the most prevalent other religions being Islam (2.8 %), Hinduism (1.0 %), Sikhism (0.6 %), Judaism (0.5 %). 15% of the respondents said they had no religion, and 7% said they had no religious preferences. A 2007 Tearfund survey showed that only one in ten Britons actually attend church each week. Between the 2001 and 2011 censuses, the number of people reporting that they are Christian fell by 12%, while the proportion of people reporting no religious affiliation doubled. On the other hand, the number of other traditional religious groups increased, with the number of Muslims increasing the most, by around 5% overall. The Muslim population increased from 1.6 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2011, making it the second largest religious group in the UK.

In a survey on religious affiliation carried out in 2015 by the BSA (British Social Attitudes), 49% of respondents said they belonged to “no religion”, while 42% declared themselves to be Christian, followed by 8% who indicated belonging to other religions (e.g. Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, etc.). Among Christians, the followers of the Church of England accounted for 17%, the Roman Catholic Church – 8%, other Christians (including Presbyterians, Methodists, other Protestants, as well as Eastern Orthodox) – 17%. Among the other religions, Islam accounted for 5%.

The Church of England is represented in the British Parliament and the British monarch is its supreme governor. The Church of Scotland is recognised as the national church in Scotland. It is not subject to state control and the British monarch is a full member. Upon accession to the throne, he must take an oath “to preserve and maintain the Protestant religion and the government of the Presbyterian Church”. The Church of Wales was dissolved in 1920, and as the Church of Ireland was dissolved in 1870 before the partition of Ireland, there is no established Church in Northern Ireland. Although there are no UK-wide data on membership of different Christian denominations in the 2001 Census, it is estimated that 62% of Christians are Anglican, 13.5% Catholic, 6% Presbyterian, 3.4% Methodist and a small number of other Protestant denominations such as the Open Brethren and Orthodox churches.



English is spoken throughout the UK, although there are parts of major cities where a variety of languages are also spoken due to immigration. English spoken in the UK has many accents and dialects, some of which may include words unknown to other English speakers. It is quite common for a Southerner and a Northerner not to understand each other straight away; don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves. To illustrate the variety of accents, it is easy to distinguish the English of a person from Northern Ireland from that of a person from the Republic of Ireland, or even to determine the origin of a person from a particular city in a county, such as Leeds or Whitby (both in Yorkshire, England). In Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is relatively easy to speak English. The different dialects can be extremely different in both pronunciation and vocabulary.

When you emigrate to the UK, you are likely to meet people from all over the UK and beyond wherever you go. It is rare to find a place where all adults have the same accent or dialect.

There is an old joke that people in the United Kingdom and the United States are “separated by a common language”. Travellers from English-speaking countries outside the UK may have difficulty understanding certain words with a strong regional accent, but there should be no major difficulties in communicating. The British understand English spoken with a foreign accent, and visitors who speak English as a second language should not be afraid to make mistakes. You may have a slightly blank look on your face for just a few seconds after finishing a sentence while they “decode” it internally. Most British people will not criticise or correct your speech, although some are very keen to promote British over American usage when speaking to people whose first language is not British.

Some examples of regional words that foreign visitors may not know:

  • Yes – yes (parts of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Northern England)
  • Cymru (pronounced “Cum-ree”) – Wales (Wales)
  • Dale / glen – valley (or the north of England and Scotland)
  • Fell – Mountain (Northern England, especially the Lake District)
  • Loch – Lake (Scotland)
  • Lough – Lake (Northern Ireland)
  • Kirk – Church (Scotland and North East England)
  • Poke – ice cream served in a waffle cone (Northern Ireland); a paper cone, especially one containing crisps or sweets (Scotland).
  • Wee – small (Scotland, Northern Ireland, some northern English), can also mean urinate (England)

In the world of politics, there are also some very common words that you can hear:

  • Downing Street – used to refer to the government (similar to “the White House” which refers to the President of the United States). “Buckingham Palace” is similarly used to refer to the monarchy.
  • MP – or Member of Parliament, not to be confused with “PM” – the Prime Minister
  • Westminster – used to refer to Parliament and the political system in general. “Stormont”, “Holyrood” and “Cardiff” refer respectively to the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Free slang is not a language but a collection of terms, some of them local and temporary, others so permanent that they are used by many people who do not know that they are naughty slang. An example of the latter is “raspberry” for the mocking sound called “Bronx cheer” in the United States – derived from “fraspberry tart”, which rhymes with “fart”.

The British have always been very tolerant of swear words when used in context. It is considered much less offensive to say taboo words like “cunt” or “twat” than in America, and can even be an expression of affection depending on the situation. Tourists should get used to hearing the word “mate” (and to a lesser extent “boss” or “bruv” in London) used in informal (often male-only) interactions between strangers and friends, and is akin to calling someone “buddy” or “pal”. The use of affectionate terms between the sexes such as ‘darling’, ‘love’ or ‘darling’ (or even ‘lover’ in some parts of Cornwall) is common between strangers and is not done in a sexist or patronising way. Also, the British tend to apologise for the smallest things, much to the amusement of some, and it can be considered rude not to do so. An example such as “I bumped into you” warrants a “sorry” and sounds more like a “pardon” or “excuse me”.

Other native languages

British Sign Language (BSL) is the main sign language of the United Kingdom. When interpreters are present at public events, they use BSL. In Northern Ireland, both BSL and Irish Sign Language (ISL) are used, and contact between the two gives rise to Northern Ireland Sign Language, or NISL. Users of Auslan or NISL can understand BSL because these languages are derived from BSL and share much of the vocabulary and the same two-handed hand alphabet. On the other hand, users of French Sign Language and related languages – such as ISL and American Sign Language – will not be able to understand BSL because they differ significantly in syntax and vocabulary and also use a one-handed hand alphabet.

Welsh (Cymraeg) is widely spoken in Wales, especially in the north and west. The number of Welsh speakers has increased in recent years, partly due to the promotion of the language in schools, but this bilingual population still only accounts for about 30% of the total population of Wales. Government departments whose remit includes Wales use bilingual (English and Welsh) documentation – see, for example, the Welsh version of the central government website. Street signs in Wales are bilingual. Even the non-Welsh majority in Wales know how to pronounce place names in Welsh. Once you know how to pronounce a name, try not to be offended!

Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) can be heard in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, but there are only 60,000 native speakers.

The ancient Cornish language (Kernowek) of Cornwall, in the far south-west, was revived in the 20th century, but is not always passed down from parents to children, as is the case with Welsh and Gaelic. Be aware, however, that there are place names in Cornish that are quite difficult for non-natives to pronounce!

Irish (Gaeilge) is spoken in some parts of Northern Ireland, especially in the border areas.

Scottish has many similarities with English and can be heard to varying degrees in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland (where it is known as Ulster Scots). It can be difficult to understand, so don’t hesitate to ask someone to repeat themselves or speak more slowly. Standard English is likely to be used with foreigners.

All speakers of these minority languages are fluent or almost fluent in Standard English, but respond well if you are interested in their mother tongue and culture. Wikivoyage has phrasebooks for Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx Gaelic.

Foreign languages

British students often learn a European language at school, although they do not usually go beyond basic level. In general, people in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland speak only English, although French, German and Spanish are the most widely spoken and understood foreign languages.

The UK is a popular destination for migrants from all over the world, so many parts of the major cities are home to migrant communities speaking a variety of languages from around the world, including Turkish, Polish, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali, Punjabi, Cantonese and many others.

Internet & Communications


In an emergency, dial 999 or 112 from any phone.

These calls are free of charge and are answered by an emergency service worker who will ask you what service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard or mountain rescue) and where you are.

You can also call 999 or 112 from any mobile phone, even if you have not activated roaming. As in all other countries, calling this number without good reason is a serious offence, with the semi-official criterion being a serious and immediate threat to life or safety. When placing an emergency call, provide as much information as possible about your location (and the location of the incident requiring attention); official emergency call boxes usually have a sign indicating this location, but it is also possible to provide the name of a street or building. In addition, the operator may ask you for additional information that will allow the emergency to be categorised in order to prioritise the response.

Non-emergency calls to the police should be directed to 101 and non-emergency calls for medical services should be directed to 111.

Telephone information (advice numbers) are offered by a number of operators, with 118 500 being British Telecom’s service, while other operators such as 118 118 offer additional services such as ‘business advice’ and information about events. Unlike in other countries, these services cannot do a reverse lookup (name from number).

The country code for the UK is 44. To call the UK from abroad, dial your international dialling code (00 from most European countries, 011 from the USA and Canada or “+” from any mobile phone) followed by the UK dialling code and the subscriber number. If the number you are calling is preceded by a 0 at the beginning of the area code, this 0 must be omitted when calling from abroad. To call another country from the UK, dial 00 followed by the foreign country code, area code and subscriber number.

When calling a UK landline number from another UK number, dial the area code (starting with 0) and the subscriber number. When calling from a landline to another landline in the same area, you can usually omit the area code, although omitting the area code is illegal in some parts of the UK.

When calling UK mobile phones from anywhere in the UK, all digits must be dialled by all callers.

If the building you are in has its own internal telephone system, the number of an outside line will be “9” (rather than the “0” that normally connects you to reception in the UK, as in many other countries).

Area codes in the UK have no set pattern, with London numbers starting with 020 (with 0208 and 0207 replacing the old 0181 and 0171).

Phone boxes are widespread, especially in train stations, airports, etc. You can also find them on the street in phone boxes, especially in the red ones, but there are different models of booths. Payphones usually accept cash (minimum 60p – BT, although some private booths may charge more); change is not returned, but you can choose to continue paying until the next call. Some newer payphones accept credit and debit cards and even allow you to send emails and surf the internet. Phone cards have largely been phased out, although a variety of prepaid phone cards can be bought from kiosks to make cheap international calls. Some BT phone boxes now accept euros.

An easier and often cheaper alternative for international calls is to use a direct dial service. These services can offer cheaper rates than the standard providers when called from a landline and do not require you to buy a card or set up an account. You simply dial a dial-in number (e.g. area code 0844 or 0871) and the revenue share of the call price is paid for the subsequent international call.

Whether you are calling someone in the UK or abroad, it can be important to know whether the phone number you are calling is a landline or mobile phone, as most operators have different rates for both modes in a given country.


Mobile phones are widely available. The main networks are Vodafone3O2, T-Mobile and Orange (T-Mobile and Orange are jointly managed by EE) and all use 3G services as well as GPRS (except 3). GPRS and 3G data services are available, mostly at a price per megabyte. GPRS coverage (voice, text, basic internet) is very well developed and covers 99% of the population, 3G coverage (MMS, video, internet etc.) is also very good in the UK (depending on the network) but can be lacking in rural areas. T-Mobile and Orange are both managed by EE, so these two networks share each other’s signal.

Calls you receive on your mobile phone are free, except for roaming calls; charges are only made for calls you initiate.

There are pay-as-you-go (prepaid) tariffs. It is possible to top up the phone with a top-up card or pay cash via a top-up terminal; there is no contract and no bill. Some operators also offer packages that combine text, calls and/or data at affordable rates. These packages can be provided with your first top-up or deducted from your credit.

If you have an unlocked GSM-compatible mobile phone (most dual- and tri-band phones are GSM-compatible), you can buy a SIM card at various electrical or phone shops, supermarkets or online. Please note that prices vary widely, from £5 (with £10 call credit) at Tesco Online (available in Tesco supermarkets) to £30 (with £2.50 credit) at Vodafone (available in all mobile phone shops). If you don’t have an unlocked phone, you can often find phone and SIM deals at great prices. At the time of writing you can get a very basic mobile phone with a SIM card for £18 at Tesco, but note that it will be a locked phone and will not work with other SIM cards.

The UK has extensive mobile coverage – 99% of the mainland is covered. Many cities also have 3G coverage.

Call costs can vary significantly depending on when you call, where you call from and where you call to. Calls from hotel rooms can be extremely expensive due to additional hotel charges; check beforehand and consider using the lobby phone booths instead. Calls from phone boxes and landline phones to mobile phones can also be expensive; if you have a choice, call the other party’s landline. Beware of calls to value-added services, which can be very expensive. Text messages from mobile phones cost around 10p per message and picture or MMS messages cost around 45p (20p on some networks).

Calls between landlines are usually charged at a uniform national rate. Some providers charge a higher rate for Jersey, Alderney, Guernsey, Sark and the Isle of Man.

If the source and destination codes are the same, the area code can be omitted when calling from a landline. Note that local calls are usually not free unless the person you are staying with has a special contract with their landline provider. The following table relates the first digits dialled to the call types so that you can avoid some of the pitfalls mentioned above:

Composite numbers Call type
00 International call
01 Call a landline number.
02 Call a landline number.
03xx A non-geographic number charged at the same rate as 01 or 02.
0500 Free calls from landlines and public payphones; 10p to 25p/min from mobiles. *
070 Call a personal number. These are very expensive.
073xx to 075xx Call to a mobile phone.
076 Call a pager. They are usually expensive.
077xx to 079xx Call to a mobile phone.
0800 and 0808 Free calls from landlines and public payphones; 10p to 25p/min from mobiles. *
0842, 0843 and 0844 Variable rate from 1p to 15p/min from landlines; 20p to 45p/min from mobiles.
0845 From 3p to 10p/min from landlines; 15p to 35p/min from mobiles.
0870 From 5p to 10p/min from landlines (usable in inclusive minutes with some providers); 15p to 35p/min from mobiles.
0871, 0872 and 0873 Variable throughput from 10p to 20p/min from landlines; 25p to 45p/min from mobiles.
09xx Calls at a special rate – up to €1.50/minute.


Internet cafés can be found in towns and villages; check the Yellow Pages. All public libraries in the UK offer access, often called the “People’s Network”, which is usually free or inexpensive, although time is rationed. Some hotels and hostels also offer internet access via their cable TV system or Wi-Fi, though prices are quite high.

A number of dial-up internet providers do not charge – they are paid by the telephone company; the cost of local calls is time-based. GoNuts4Free is an example of this.

There are a few Wi-Fi hotspots, although purpose-built, publicly accessible wireless connections are not yet widespread outside central London. Most McDonald’s restaurants in the UK now offer free Wi-Fi. Many cafés offer paid Wi-Fi services. The maximum price for Wi-Fi access across the UK is £1 for half an hour. Many café chains charge more without offering any added value. There is also an extensive BT Wi-Fi network that costs £4 for an hour and £39 for a month.

Most of the UK is covered by UMTS/HSDPA 3G, which allows download speeds of up to 7.2 Mbit/s, and GPRS coverage is also extensive. 3G data services must be able to be transferred seamlessly over UK networks, or you can purchase a prepaid SIM card for which you can buy credit, as with mobile phones. T-Mobile shops, for example, give you a free SIM card that you can top up as often as you like. Access costs £2 per day, £7 per week. 4G LTE is also being rolled out in major UK cities. Note that there are no 3G connections in Orkney, only GPRS.


The Royal Mail has a long history. Post boxes are still the traditional red colour (although Victorian green and gold ‘Penfold’ boxes survive in some areas, and a historically important blue box in Windsor). Mail can also be dropped off at post offices.

Postal rates

The Royal Mail has introduced a system whereby the price of mail in the UK is determined by size and weight. Size charts can be found in all post offices. Remember to follow them when sending a large envelope, parcel or package.

Stamps for the United Kingdom (including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) cost 55p/64p (1st/2nd class for envelopes up to size C5 that are less than 5 mm thick and weigh less than 100 g).

Stamps for the cost of international mail :

International Economy (formerly known as Surface Mail): 90p (postcards and small letters up to 20g, for destinations outside Europe only), £2.40 for a large letter up to 100g.

International Standard (formerly known as Airmail): £1.05 (postcards and letters up to 20g for destinations within Europe), £1.33 (postcards and small letters up to 20g for destinations outside Europe). Between £2.45 and £3.30 for large letters up to 100g.

Correct prices as of November 2016.

Stamps can be bought in supermarkets, kiosks and tourist shops. First-class domestic mail usually arrives the next day; second-class mail can take several days. Signs on all letterboxes indicate the last pick-up time at that location (usually around 5.30 p.m. on weekdays and 12.00 p.m. on Saturdays) and subsequent weekday pick-ups, which are available in many places at a central letterbox or sorting office. Delivery also takes place six mornings a week, from Monday to Saturday. There is usually no mail on Sundays and public holidays.

If you want to send something heavy, or if you want to send a larger letter or parcel to the UK, you will need to have it weighed and/or measured at the post office. The postal workers are very helpful, but avoid the lunchtime rush at 12.00-13.30, when the queue is often long and waiting times are more than 30 minutes.

Another interesting lead is to investigate the period in which the letterboxes were built, as some of them may be very old. The “R” stands for Rex/Regina and the first letter is the initial of the monarch who reigned at the time of casting. For example, a box made after 1952 would bear the initials “E II R” (Elizabeth Regina II or better known as Queen Elizabeth II). Finding a box with the initials “VR” (Queen Victoria, before 1901) is possible, but quite a feat.


UK addresses generally follow the format below:

Name of the beneficiary

Street/PO Box number

Location (if required)

City (in capital letters)


Note that British postcodes are alphanumeric.

Entry Requirements For United Kingdom

England is connected to France by the Channel Tunnel. Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland.

UK, does not fully implement the Schengen Agreement, which means that travel to and from other EU countries (except Ireland) requires systematic checks of passports/ID cards at the border and separate visa requirements for several countries. Similarly, a Schengen visa does not entitle you to enter the UK, so you will need to apply for a separate UK visa. If you enter the UK from a Schengen country, a one-off Schengen visa will become invalid and you will need to apply for a new visa to re-enter the Schengen area.

Almost all passengers travelling to the UK from outside Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are subject to systematic passport/ID checks and selective customs checks by the United Kingdom Border Force (UKBF) on arrival in the UK. However, persons travelling by Eurostar from Paris Gare du Nord, Lille-Europe, Calais-Fréthun and Brussels Zuid-Midi stations and by ferry from Calais and Dunkirk are subject to passport/identity checks in France and Belgium prior to boarding and selective customs checks on arrival in the UK. Those entering the UK from France via the Eurotunnel are subject to both a UK passport and ID check at Coquelles and a UK customs check before boarding the train.

Entry and visa requirements

Common travel zone

If you enter the UK via Ireland, you will have to pass through passport control on entry to Ireland, but you are not required to undergo UK passport control. However, your stay in the UK and Ireland is limited to three months only (or such other period for which you are granted permission to stay by the passport control officer in Ireland) if you are exempt from the visa requirement, rather than the usual six-month stay in the UK for nationals without a visa requirement. Therefore, especially if you are trying to enter the UK as a student visitor (i.e. a visitor studying for up to six months), you should not travel through Ireland unless you have a valid UK visa or entry clearance allowing you to stay for more than three months, or you intend to stay in the UK for less than three months.

However, if you require a visa for Ireland or the UK, you must have a visa from each country that requires a visa if you intend to travel to both countries – the only exceptions are citizens of countries that qualify for Ireland’s short-stay visa waiver programme, which is valid until October 2016 but can be extended; citizens of Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina &. Herzegovina, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, India, Kazakhstan, PRC and Uzbekistan who hold a UK ‘C’ tourist visa and have already entered the UK can then travel to Ireland for a maximum of 90 days or until the expiry date of their UK visa, whichever is shorter. If you do not go through passport control, you are not exempt from having a visa if it is required and you can be fined and deported if you are discovered without a visa.

There are also no passport controls from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man into the UK.

  • EU, EEA and Swiss citizens do not need a visa and can enter with a valid identity card or passport. They have the right to reside and work in the UK (although some work restrictions apply to Croatian citizens). Irish, Cypriot and Maltese citizens have additional rights, including the right to vote and stand in UK general elections.
  • Citizens of Anguilla, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, East Timor, El Salvador, Falkland Islands, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Montserrat, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Pitcairn Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. St Lucia, St Helena, Taiwan, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tristan da Cunha, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Uruguay, United States, Vanuatu, Vatican City and Venezuela (only for holders of Venezuelan biometric passports). A passport is required for entry, but no visa is required for visits of up to 6 months. Once in the UK, they are not allowed to work or access public funds (e.g. to claim state benefits). If citizens of these countries/territories wish to stay in the UK for purposes other than tourism, business or study (i.e. a visitor studying for up to 6 months) or stay in the UK for longer than 6 months, they must apply for entry clearance (i.e. a visa) before travelling to the UK. Nationals of these countries/territories who intend to stay in the UK as a student visitor must ensure that their passport is stamped with the code “VST” or “STV” at passport control, otherwise the education provider with whom they intend to study may refuse their enrolment.
  • A visa is required for citizens of most other countries to enter the UK and for a number of countries to pass through UK airside. It is available from the British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate where the applicant is legally resident. Unless they are 6 years old or under, or travelling directly to the Channel Islands rather than via the UK or Isle of Man, applicants for a UK visa must provide biometric data (10-digit fingerprints and a digital photograph) as part of the application process. As part of the visa application process, it is necessary to go in person to a UK visa application centre to provide your biometric data.
  • The UK has changed the old visa categories (with the exception of the visitor and transit categories) to a five-tier points-based system (PBS), which means that you must meet certain non-negotiable criteria before the visa is granted. The visa fee for the points-based system is very high, so it may be advisable to check whether the purpose of your visit can be fulfilled by another visa under the points-based system. For example, if you want to stay in the UK for 11 months to do an English language course, it would be cheaper to apply for a student visitor visa (£140) than a Level 4 student visa (£255).
  • Commonwealth citizens who are 17 years old or older and have a British grandparent (or an Irish grandparent before April 1922) can apply for an ancestry visa. This visa allows you to live and work in the UK for five years. After five years it is possible to apply for permanent residence (indefinite leave to remain); after 12 months of continuous permanent residence and five years of continuous residence in the UK, descent visa holders can apply for naturalisation as British citizens. All Commonwealth citizens living in the UK (regardless of what type of visa they hold and whether they have a British grandparent) can vote in all elections.
  • Nationals of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong (UK [overseas] passport holders only), Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan can apply for a Tier 5 visa under the Youth Mobility Scheme (the former Working Holiday Visa for all young Commonwealth citizens has been abolished). The Tier 5 YMS visa allows the holder to work in the UK for two years from the date of issue. Only a limited number of visas are issued for each nationality – for Japan and Taiwan in particular, demand far exceeds supply.
  • There is usually no immigration control when entering the UK from Ireland. However, visitors who are not Irish or British citizens must still comply with the entry requirements and carry their passport (with appropriate visa stamps, if applicable).

Other requirements

  • All visitors aged 16 and over who are not citizens of the EU, EEA or Switzerland (or their family members who hold a residence permit/card granting them freedom of movement within the EU, EEA and Switzerland) or Commonwealth citizens entitled to stay in the UK must complete a disembarkation card and present it at passport control unless they are in direct transit to a destination outside the common travel area (i.e. not the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man or Ireland).
  • Travellers subject to immigration control should expect that on arrival the immigration officer will ask them to prove that they (a) have a return ticket to leave the UK or sufficient funds to cover the cost of an additional air ticket, (b) have a valid address where they will be staying in the UK, and (c) have sufficient means to support themselves during their stay. If these three basic elements are not demonstrated, entry may be refused or limited leave granted.

Registered Traveller Service

Citizens of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and the USA can apply to join the Traveller Registration Service, which allows you to use the automated ePassport gates when entering the country, speeding up the entry process.

Personality aspects

Like many other countries, the UK requires good character from foreign visitors. Until recently, decisions about good character were made on a case-by-case basis, although under new rules that came into force in 2012, a potential visitor can be refused a settlement permit or visa/entry permit on grounds of good character if he or she does not have good character:

  • You have unserved criminal convictions that resulted in a total sentence of more than 12 months in prison.
  • Regardless of criminal history, questionable connections (e.g. organised crime, terrorism or hate groups) or underlying behavioural issues.

If any of these situations apply to you, contact your local British Embassy or British High Commission before making travel arrangements – you may need to apply for a visa even if you are from a country that does not normally require one. The UK Border Force also lists some other grounds for exclusion, although most of these (e.g. owing more than £1,000 to the NHS or not undergoing a medical examination) apply to people applying for a residence visa or other long-term visa and do not normally apply to tourists. Note that character requirements also apply to non-UK nationals of the EU, EEA or Switzerland and they may be refused entry on the grounds of serious criminal convictions or other public safety concerns.

Customs duties and goods

The UK has relatively strict laws controlling what goods can and cannot be brought into the country. Selective customs checks are carried out by the UKBF at ports of arrival. Particularly strict laws apply to the movement of animals, except within the EU, where an animal passport system is in place that allows proof of rabies vaccination. The British Isles are rabies-free, and the government (and the people) want to keep it that way. Signs in several languages are prominently displayed at the moorings of even the smallest boats all along the coast.

Since the abolition of customs duties on goods for personal use when travelling across EU borders in 1993, it has become commonplace for Britons to bring large quantities of alcohol and tobacco, purchased at reduced rates, into continental Europe. However, this practice is prone to abuse: organised criminals attempt to import large quantities of alcohol and tobacco illegally in order to resell them for profit. Customs laws are therefore strict on the importation of alcohol and tobacco for non-personal use, and if a customs officer believes that the quantity you wish to bring into the country from the EU is excessive, especially if you are travelling in a commercial vehicle rather than a private car, you may be questioned further or asked to prove that it is for your own consumption, even though an EU citizen is ultimately supported by EU free trade laws and allowed to import unlimited personal quantities. Fines can be high and you also risk having the goods (and the vehicle in which they are transported) seized. Importing excessive amounts of alcohol into a private vehicle is more likely to result in congestion charges, which are the responsibility of the police rather than customs.

Most entry points receiving traffic from third countries use the EU’s red/green/blue channel system. EU ports of entry are still manned by customs officers who are more interested in controlled substances (e.g. illegal drugs) than alcohol or tobacco.

You must make a declaration if you are bringing more than €10,000 in cash or other negotiable instruments into or out of the EU. If you are carrying more than £1,000 in cash, you may have to prove that you can legally dispose of this cash when questioned by a customs officer.

The UK has also tightened regulations on food that can be imported in recent years (partly in response to increased European biosecurity measures); Defra maintains official guidance on this (

How To Travel To United Kingdom

Get In - By plane

There are direct international flights to many cities other than just the airports whose name includes “London”. Recently, many airports in the south of England have added “London” to their names. Be aware that just because an airport has “London” in its name, this does not mean that it is necessarily close to London or easily accessible!

KLM offers a large number of feeder flights from its international hub at Amsterdam Schiphol to almost all regional airports in the UK.

Due to increased security measures at airports and aviation security in general, there may be long delays when checking in for a flight. In addition, a valid passport or photo ID (e.g. photo driving licence, ID card, etc.) must be presented at the check-in counter.

Flying direct from Northern Ireland on long haul flights (over 2,000 miles) can save you a considerable amount of money as there is an exemption from Air Passenger Duty (tax) for long haul flights in the province.

Main airports

London Heathrow is one of the busiest international airports in the world. Located 24 km west of central London, Heathrow offers a wide choice of international destinations, with direct flights from most countries around the world. British Airways has its hub at Heathrow and offers a wide range of international flights from Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Australia. It is also home to Virgin Atlantic and is served by the national airlines of most countries. It is poorly laid out from a passenger’s point of view, always means a lot of walking even if you don’t get lost, and has 5 terminals. There are three different metro stations. So find out which one you should use before you get to the airport!

London Gatwick, 50 km south of London in Sussex, is London’s second largest airport. The North and South terminals are some distance apart. Therefore, before you arrive, check which of the two terminals is the right one to avoid missing a flight in case of a rush or a delay.

Manchester Airport in the north serves many European destinations and a reasonable number of long-haul destinations. This airport could be more convenient for visitors from North Wales, North England and Scotland, especially as it has a fully integrated main railway station. Local trains and trams also provide connections to Manchester city centre.

Belfast International serves Northern Ireland with North American and other long-haul flights.

Birmingham International has good European connections and some long-haul connections. It is an ideal gateway to the centre of England and Wales. Birmingham Airport also has a direct train service to London Euston (journey time approx. 75 minutes on the fastest trains) and is a hub for the low-cost airline FlyBe.

Bristol is a major airport for the West of England and South Wales, with a good number of European flights.

Cardiff is Wales’ only international airport and is a major hub for Flybe and Thomas Cook with some long-haul flights, such as to Barbados.

East Midlands Airport offers a range of low cost flights from European destinations near Castle Donington.

Edinburgh is Scotland’s busiest airport with a wide range of European and North American connections.

Glasgow International Airport is the second busiest airport in Scotland.

Liverpool John Lennon in the north-west of England is the fastest growing airport in the UK and is taking on more and more flights.

London City is London’s most central airport and is close to the city centre. Canary Wharf is easily accessible by DLR line or by Black Cab. Due to the short runway and noise restrictions, the airport is reserved for small aircraft. As a result, the service is more or less limited to domestic destinations in the UK and Western Europe – mainly financial centres such as Frankfurt, Madrid, Paris and Zurich. British Airways offers two daily return flights in business class to and from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

London Stansted is located north-east of London in Essex and is the UK’s third busiest airport with a stylish, modern terminal designed by Norman Foster. It is the largest hub for low-cost airlines Ryanair and easyJet and offers direct flights to a wide range of European and North African destinations as well as Asia. It’s often cheaper to arrive by plane, but remember that it’s about 60km from central London, so always factor in the extra travel time. There is an express train from Liverpool St that takes 45-50 minutes, but the easyBus is a cheaper option (although longer, 2 hours).

London Luton, northwest of London in Bedfordshire, is an important centre for easyJet and, to a lesser extent, Ryanair. Luton can offer much cheaper flights than Heathrow or Gatwick. Other airlines such as Thomsons and WizzAir also have more than 10 destinations each. Most flights are within the EU, although some Middle East routes are also served, such as Tel Aviv, Egypt and Dubai. Luton is not as far as Stansted and it is possible to take cheap suburban trains (First Capital Connect) from Parkway Airport Station to the London terminals.

Newcastle International has direct flights to Dubai. It is also a hub for easyJet, Thomson, Thomas Cook and, with flights to over 100 destinations.

Aberdeen International is the main airport for the north of Scotland.

Small regional airports

  • London Southend Airport is 55 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street station and 44 minutes from Stratford station. It serves as a hub for easyJet, Aer Arann and
  • ExeterCarlisleLeeds Bradford and Durham Tees Valley all have cheap flights from mainland Europe with Ryanair, Jet2, easyJet and Flybe.
  • Southampton and Bournemouth airports are medium sized but offer discounted flights with Ryanair and Flybe and are accessible by train from London Waterloo Station.
  • Glasgow Prestwick is served by Ryanair and some low-cost flights.
  • Robin Hood Airport has all the usual low-cost airlines as well as transatlantic flights operated by Aer Lingus.
  • Norwich is served from Amsterdam, and there are also Flybe flights throughout the UK.
  • Humberside has daily flights from Amsterdam and a very active service from the oil platforms in the North Sea.
  • Inverness is a small regional airport serving the north of Scotland.
  • George Best City Airport is 12 minutes from Belfast city centre by local bus.
  • Derry City Airport serves the North West of Northern Ireland with a limited number of international and domestic flights.
  • Blackpool has an international airport nearby that offers many package tour flights.
  • The number of flights at Newquay Cornwall Airport has fluctuated in recent years, largely due to the £5 ‘development tax’ introduced in 2006, but it is ideal for avoiding traffic congestion in this beautiful part of the UK.
  • To the south-east there is London Ashford Airport, also known as Lydd; the airport has more seasonal and limited services, as does Oxford Airport.

Orkney and Shetland airports both have flights to Scandinavia, in addition to domestic flights within the UK.

Get In - By train

From Belgium and France

Eurostar provides regular high-speed services to London (St Pancras International), Ebbsfleet and Ashford via the Channel Tunnel from Avignon (TGV), Brussels (Zuid-Midi), Calais (Fréthun), Lille (Europe), Lyon (Part-Dieu), Marseille (Saint Charles) and of course Paris (Gare du Nord). There are also less frequent connections from Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy (Disneyland Paris) and in winter from two resorts in the French Alps (Aime-la-Plagne and Bourg-Saint-Maurice), but these are mainly useful for holidaymakers from the UK. Tickets and connections from many European cities to most major British cities are available in Lille, Paris and Brussels.

The average journey time to central London is 2 hours 15 minutes from Paris and 1 hour 50 minutes from Brussels. A return second class ticket from Paris to London costs between 85 and 230 euros. It may be cheaper to fly from London to Paris on a budget airline, but bear in mind that the return journey between airports can be long and expensive.

Passengers travelling to the UK on the Eurostar from Paris, Lille, Calais and Brussels will be subject to a UK passport/ID check before boarding. Travellers from all other destinations go through security checks in Lille, which unfortunately includes disembarking from the train and physically passing through customs. British passport checks take place after exit checks of French/Belgian passports/ID cards at the stations. However, customs checks sometimes take place on arrival in the UK. Conversely, travellers go through French immigration control before boarding in the UK and do not usually have to go through the controls again on arrival in France or Belgium.

From the Netherlands

Direct Eurostar trains across the English Channel from Amsterdam and Rotterdam are just around the corner, but at the moment many travellers prefer a combined train and ferry journey via the Hook of Holland and Harwich. With the Dutch Flyer, passengers can travel from any station in the Netherlands to any Abellio Greater Anglia station in England (the Abellio network includes East Anglia and East and Central London) with a single fare. For travellers from Northern Europe or for those wishing to travel to East Anglia, this service can be a useful and convenient alternative to Eurostar in Brussels. The interchange between the ferry terminal and the railway station of the two ports is very simple and user-friendly. Harwich International express trains join the ferry for an easy transfer to London Liverpool Street in less than 90 minutes.

From Germany

Deutsche Bahn is not yet (mid-2016) running trains to London. And this despite earlier plans (2012) and the testing of an ICE in the tunnel. However, Deutsche Bahn offers an almost unbeatable “LondonSpezial”, with which you can travel from anywhere in Germany with unlimited changes on a Deutsche Bahn train to Brussels and from there with the Eurostar to London. Prices start at €59 (second class, one-way) and €109 (first class). As discounted tickets for the most popular dates can sell out quite quickly (the NFL international series is particularly popular with Germans visiting London), you can book 91 days in advance as this is the earliest possible time to buy tickets online.

The Republic of Ireland

Cross-border rail connections to Northern Ireland

From Dublin (Connolly Station) in Ireland, the company takes just over 2 hours to Belfast Central. Tickets are available from Irish Rail (in the Republic) and NI Railways in Northern Ireland.

Services to the British mainland

Combined Rail & Sail tickets are available from any station in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to any station in Great Britain. Tickets can be purchased from the rail company and ferry operators. Direct tickets are available on most shipping routes. Fares are slightly higher in July and August.

Get In - By car

The Channel Tunnel has provided a link between rail and road since 1994. The shuttles operated by Eurotunnel transport vehicles from Calais to Folkestone in Kent in 35 minutes. Fares start at €32 each way and can be booked online. After arriving in Folkestone, you can continue directly on the M20 motorway, which leads to London and the rest of the UK’s national road network. Passengers travelling from France to the UK will be subject to UK passport, ID and customs checks at Calais following French exit checks before departure, rather than on arrival in the UK. In the opposite direction, you go through French passport control in the UK before boarding the train.

Car ferries also serve many parts of the UK from other European countries (see the By Boat section below).

Motorists entering Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland usually find that they have done so without realising it. There are no border controls and even on the main roads there are usually no signs indicating that you are leaving one country to enter the other. However, cross-border travel still requires travel documents that correspond to your nationality, despite the lack of border controls. In the Republic of Ireland (as in the rest of Europe), signs are expressed in kilometres, while in Northern Ireland they are expressed in miles. The two countries use very different types of road signs, so it is advisable to be aware of the differences in road signs and markings when travelling in border areas.

Get In - By coach

Coaches are the cheapest way to travel from France and the Benelux countries to the UK. Eurolines offers daily connections from Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels to London Victoria coach station. Night buses and limited day buses run daily between Ireland and the UK. There are connections to most parts of the UK via the National Express national bus network. For most destinations it is cheaper to purchase this service when buying your Eurolines tickets as discounts are available.

Eurolines will also take you to and from most other major European cities, although an economy flight is usually cheaper (but with a greater environmental impact) and saves you a potentially very long bus journey.

Several other operators compete with Eurolines, mainly between Poland and the UK.

OuibusFlixbus and some others operate the London-Paris route (via the Channel Tunnel). Prices are usually much lower than Eurostar to compensate for the much longer journey time.

Get In - By boat

There are a large number of ferry services to the UK from mainland Europe. Newcastle operates a line from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Harwich has ferries from the Hook of Holland in the Netherlands. You can also sail to Hull from Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Zeebrugge in Belgium. There is a regular service between Ostend in Belgium and Ramsgate. There are 4 crossings per day and prices vary between €50 and €84.

Dover is the busiest ferry port in the UK, with connections from Zeebrugge in Belgium and Dunkirk and Calais in France. The Dover-Calais route is particularly busy, with three competing companies and up to 50 departures a day. The ferry between Calais and Dover costs around €23 by foot or bike and around €50 by car, with significant discounts available if you book in advance or take advantage of special offers. Passengers travelling by ferry from Calais or Dunkirk to the UK pass through UK immigration control after French exit control and before boarding; UK customs control always takes place after arrival in the UK.

On the south coast, Portsmouth receives ferries from Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg and Saint-Malo in France, and Bilbao in Spain, and there are fast connections between Dieppe (France) and Newhaven. The other route from Spain is from Santander to Plymouth. Plymouth also has ferries from Roscoff (France), Poole has ferries from Cherbourg and the Channel Islands.

From the Republic of Ireland, the ports of entry are Pembroke, Fishguard and Swansea. There are also connections between Dublin, Holyhead and Liverpool.

You can also board the Queen Mary II, or one of the other Cunard Line ships – they leave New York about every month. The crossing to Southampton takes between six and seven days. Prices start at around $1,300.

Other ships operate from various ports around the world – the RMS St Helena connects Ascension Island, St Helena, Walvis Bay (Namibia) and Cape Town (South Africa) with Portland (near Weymouth) twice a year and Grimaldi Lines provides a car and passenger service from Rio de Janeiro, Santos and Paranagua in Brazil to Felixstowe approximately every fortnight.

Get In - By bike

Bicycles can be taken on the Eurotunnel ferries and shuttles. They can also be taken on planes, but you should check with your airline beforehand: Bicycles are often considered “oversized baggage” and you may be charged an additional fee for checking them in. You may also be asked to partially dismantle your bike, but this rule varies from carrier to carrier. Eurostar allows folding bikes on all its trains and offers a more limited service for other bikes, but has quite strict and specific rules that are worth reading before your journey.

How To Travel Around United Kingdom

Get Around - Plan your trip

With public transport

  • Traveline, +44 871 2002-233 (calls cost £0.12/min from the UK). Traveline provides an online travel planning service for all public transport in the UK, excluding air travel. They also have separate planners for specific regions. You can also download their free apps for iPhone and iPad and Android.
  • Translink, +44 28 9066-6630: For navigation, Translink is the Northern Ireland version of Traveline, although they also operate most of the province’s bus and train services themselves.

By bike

CycleStreets. A national route planner for cyclists. Free of charge.

At the wheel

Planning a route in the UK is easier than ever with the advent of GPS and online services like Google Maps and others. Nevertheless, you should take a paper road map with you for those times when you don’t have wifi and satellite navigation doesn’t work, which inevitably happens when you get lost on the roads of a foreign country!

The AA series of road atlases are widely regarded as the best among them (AA here refers to the Automobile Association of the UK). Other reliable brands include CollinsMichelin and RAC. All these brands also have online route planners, although ironically most of them rely on Google to plan their routes.

Navigating urban roads and small rural roads not included in major road atlases can be particularly challenging, but finding the right map for the job is not necessarily easy. Geographers’ road atlases (usually called “to z“) offer the best selection of road maps for towns and cities, while the Ordnance Survey‘s (OS) Landranger series is the essential map for rural areas. All tourist information centres, most petrol stations, supermarkets and newsagents, and many WH Smith branches sell regional and national road atlases, in addition to the a to z and OS maps for the local area.

Get Around - By plane

Due to the short distances involved, air travel is rarely the cheapest or most convenient option for travel within the UK, with the possible exception of travel between southern England and Scotland or when crossing the sea, such as between Great Britain and Northern Ireland or to and from many Scottish islands. The main domestic hubs are London, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The arrival of low-cost airlines Ryanair and easyJet has triggered a boom in domestic flights in the UK and significantly reduced airfares. To get the best fare, it is advisable to book as far in advance as possible. Many regional airports are not connected to the national rail network, so there are relatively expensive bus connections to the nearest cities. Photo ID is required before boarding a domestic flight within the UK. Check your airline’s requirements carefully before departure.

Comparison websites can be a useful way to compare the cost of flights between airports or even between city pairs (e.g. suggesting alternative airports). Beware, some airlines, such as Ryanair, refuse to be included in such research, so these sites are not always complete.

The following airlines operate domestic flights within the United Kingdom:

  • British Airways : Aberdeen, Edimbourg, Glasgow, Jersey, Londres Gatwick, Heathrow et City Airports, Manchester, Newcastle.
  • FlyBE – Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Doncaster-Sheffield, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Guernsey, Inverness, Isle of Man, Jersey, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool, London Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay, Norwich, Southampton und Southend Airports.
  • Loganair operates as a franchised carrier for FlyBe airports – Eday, Kirkwall, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Sanday, Stronsay, Westray.
  • bmi & bmi – Regionalaéroports d’Aberdeen Regional, Belfast City, Birmingham, Edimbourg, Glasgow, Inverness, Jersey, Londres Heathrow, Manchester, Norwich, Southampton.
  • Eastern Airways – aéroports d’Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Durham, Humberside, Inverness, île de Man, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham East Midlands, Southampton, Stornoway, Wick.
  • easyJet – aéroports d’Aberdeen, Belfast International, Bournemouth, Bristol, Edimbourg, Glasgow, Inverness, Liverpool, Londres Gatwick, Londres Luton, Londres Stansted, Londres Southend et Newcastle.
  • Ryanair – Aéroports d’Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Glasgow-Prestwick, Inverness, Liverpool, London Stansted, City of Derry, Newquay, Nottingham East Midlands.
  • Alderney Air Services – Alderney, Bristol, Guernsey, Jersey, London Gatwick, London Stansted, Manchester, Southampton Flughäfen.
  • Blue Isles – Alderney, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cardiff, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Southampton airports.
  • Manx2 – aéroports de Belfast City, Isle Of Man, Blackpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Oxford, Anglesey, Cardiff, Gloucester.
  • Skybus des Isles OfScilly – aéroports de Bristol, Exeter, Isles Of Scilly (St. Mary’s), Newquay, Southampton.
  • Jet2 – Airports from Belfast International, Blackpool, Leeds/Bradford, Londres Gatwick, Newcastle.
  • CityJet (now part of AF/KLM) – airports in Dundee, Edinburgh, Jersey, London City, Manchester.
  • Atlantic Airways Faroe Islands – Stansted and Shetland Islands (Sumburgh) airports.
  • Blue Islands Airline – Flights from Guernsey, Jersey, Southampton to Europe, the Channel Islands and the UK.

Get Around - By train

Rail travel is very popular in the UK. Many services are very busy and passenger numbers are increasing all the time. It is one of the fastest, most convenient, comfortable and enjoyable ways to explore Britain and by far the best way to travel between cities. From the high-speed Line 1 linking London to Kent and mainland Europe, to preserved railways with historic steam trains passing through idyllic countryside, to modern intercity services and the stunning routes in Scotland and the North of England, the train can be an exciting and affordable way to see all that Britain has to offer.

All infrastructure (e.g. tracks, bridges, stations, etc.) is owned by the state, while the trains are operated by private companies (usually multinational transport companies) that bid for certain concessions. The system is tightly controlled by both the national government and the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales. Despite the presence of many franchises, the network allows for uninterrupted travel, even when travelling on trains operated by different companies – tickets can be bought from any station in the UK to any other, regardless of the train company.

Unlike its continental European neighbours, the UK has relatively few high-speed lines. The only high-speed line is the HS1 from London to the Channel Tunnel. It is used by the “Javelin” high-speed trains between London and Kent and by international Eurostar trains to France and Belgium. According to the government’s plans, a high-speed network is to be built by 2030, connecting London with the Midlands and the north of England.

This section focuses on rail services on National Rail, the rail network of Great Britain (i.e. England, Scotland and Wales). The rail network in Northern Ireland is operated by Northern Ireland Railways (NIR), which is managed separately and even uses a different gauge (the Irish gauge),

Planning a train journey

The main source of information for rail travel in the UK is the National Rail website. It contains an extremely useful journey planner, ticket prices and detailed information about every station in the country. You can also access this information via the National Rail Enquiries telephone service on 0345 748 49 50.

However, the state railway does not sell tickets. You buy your tickets at a station ticket office, from an ATM in a station or (as more and more Britons are doing) on the internet. All rail companies sell tickets for all services in Britain, regardless of which company operates them. At the central ticket office you can buy a ticket to travel from one station to another in the UK, regardless of which train company you need to travel with or how often you need to change trains.

Travel classes

Two classes operate: standard class and first class. Some commuter trains and local trains offer only standard class.

  • In Standard Class, the seating arrangement is 2/2 or 2/3 on each side of the aisle, with a mix of tables of four facing each other and more private “aeroplane” seats.
  • In first class, the seating arrangement is 2/1, with a larger and more comfortable seat, with a good table, more legroom and, on intercity routes, a service with drinks, refreshments and newspapers instead of the seat (all services instead of the seat are not available on weekends).

There are also regular night train services between London and Scotland and Cornwall.


As a rule, the fares for a given type of ticket are the same regardless of which operator you wish to travel with. However, the cheapest tickets or promotional tickets are reserved for one operator only.

On all lines except local and suburban lines and High Speed 1 from St Pancras in south-east London to Kent, you save money if you book in advance (tickets are usually sold three months in advance) and travel outside peak hours; train travel in peak hours is much more expensive and stressful as many trains are heavily crowded with commuters. Off-peak times are after 9.30am on weekdays, as well as weekends and bank holidays. Some London train companies also have afternoon rush hours. You must have a ticket before you board a train (unless there is no ticket machine or ticket office at the station), and many stations now have underground barriers. If you don’t, you may have to pay a penalty fee, depending on the operator and their policies.

There are three types of grades that allow you to choose between flexibility and value. Tickets are listed in ascending order of cost per kilometre:

  • Advance – Buy in advance, travel only on a specific train on a specific day and time.
  • Super Off-Peak – Available on the busiest routes (usually to and from London), with a ban on driving during the morning and afternoon peak periods from Monday to Saturday.
  • Off-Peak – Buy anytime, travel off-peak (usually after 9:30am and all day on weekends).
  • Anytime – Buy anytime, travel anytime

Advance tickets are only sold individually (one-way); you only need to buy two individual tickets for a return journey. With the exception of some commuter and suburban trains, the cheapest fares are almost always advance tickets. These tickets are sold in limited numbers about 12 weeks in advance and can only be used on a specific train. If you travel on another train, you will have to pay the full fare or a reduced fare. However, if you miss your train due to a delay of another train (whether they were part of the same reservation or not), you will be put on the next train, regardless of the restrictions on your ticket. If you buy an Off-Peak or Anytime ticket, return tickets are usually only slightly more expensive than a single ticket.

ticket does not guarantee a seat unless you also have a seat reservation. Depending on the type of ticket and the train company, this reservation may be automatic or you may be asked to reserve a seat – ask if you are unsure. On some trains (mainly local trains) there are no reserved seats. If you don’t have a seat reservation, you may have to stand up if the train is full. Seat reservations are usually free. In London, the Oyster smartcard system (see the main London article for more details) is valid within Greater London for National Rail – it’s cheaper than buying paper Anytime tickets at the station, but only if you don’t intend to travel beyond Zone 6. If you stay on the train beyond Zone 6, you will face a purse shock penalty.

There are a number of discounts for different types of travellers (children, groups, cardholders, etc.).

Deliberate fare evasion on UK trains is a criminal offence and can result in criminal penalties. The maximum penalty on conviction is a fine of up to £1,000 or three months imprisonment.

Railway passages

There are two main types of rail passes for visitors to the UK, allowing travel by train throughout the UK. Eurostar and sleeper trains are normally subject to supplements.

  • InterRail and Eurail are passes for EU and non-EU citizens respectively. Eurail cards are not usually valid in all parts of the UK except Northern Ireland.
  • Britrail is primarily for visitors from the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and must be purchased online or in your home country before you leave for the UK.

Ranger and Rover Tickets

Ranger and Rover tickets are tickets that allow unlimited travel with relatively few restrictions within a defined geographical area for a period of one to fourteen days. A full list of tickets and conditions is available from National Rail. These tickets include Rovers for almost all areas in the UK, but also include

  • All Line Rover: 7 or 14 days – Allows 7 or 14 day travel on almost all scheduled rail services in England, Scotland and Wales. In May 2012 they cost £450 (7 days) or £680 (14 days) in standard class and £680 (7 days) or £1,040 (14 days) in first class, with discounts for children and railcard holders.
  • Travelpass for Freedom in Scotland: 4 days in 8 or 8 days in 15 cost £129 and £173 respectively, with discounts for children and Railcard holders.

Steam trains and preserved railways

We use it for ourselves at least as much as a means of transport. Many areas have a volunteer-run railway with steam traction, especially in the summer months. Famous standard gauge railways are the Bluebell Line in Sussex and the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway in Yorkshire. The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway in Cumbria and the Talyllyn Railway in Central Wales are examples of narrow gauge railways that are now mainly used for tourism.

Get Around - By bus and coach

Local bus lines (a categorisation that also includes many medium-distance intercity lines) cover the whole country, but vary in quality and cost. Rural bus services are generally better than in France and the United States, but not as good as in Italy or Germany. Services range from deep rural village services that run once a week or less to intensive urban routes that run every few minutes. All communities, except the smallest villages, have some form of bus service. All buses in the UK must clearly display the route number and destination on the front. Almost all are operated by one person, which means there is no driver and you have to pay the driver when you get on the bus. The vast majority of bus stops are “demand stops”, which means you have to hold out your hand when the bus approaches to signal that you want to stop. Also, once you are on the bus, you must ring the bell in front of the stop where you want to get off.


In London, the iconic red buses cover the entire city, with most routes running from early morning to late evening and some running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The frequency of the service is such that daytime timetables are usually unnecessary. Comprehensive route maps are available at various outlets and on the Transport for London website, and stop-specific maps and timetables are prominently displayed at most bus stops. The buses are modern and very specific. They are ‘low-floor’, allowing easy access for wheelchairs, pushchairs and older people. Single tickets can be relatively expensive, but there are full day tickets and tickets for longer periods (including combined bus, train and metro options) that offer excellent value for money. Tickets can no longer be purchased on board and you must use a non-contract Oyster Card or a paper ticket purchased before boarding. For travel to London, the Transport for London website is an incredibly useful website, with a journey planner that includes maps, all fares, information about scheduled works (there are many at weekends) and live updates. It is an indispensable tool if you are planning even small journeys by public transport, which is an experience in itself.


Bus services in the UK outside London are privatised and deregulated, allowing each licensed operator to run routes and timetables as they see fit. As a result, coordination of services between them and with rail services can be poor, and tickets are often not interchangeable. Return tickets are usually much cheaper than two single tickets, and most operators offer reduced fares for children. Most operators offer day tickets or longer-term tickets that are valid on their own network. These can be very cheap and allow you to travel all day for as little as £4, but are of little use if you need to use more than one operator. However, in some areas combined day passes are available which are valid on more than one operator’s network. On weekdays there are frequent and comprehensive services in many areas, particularly in the major cities. However, almost everywhere the level of service decreases sharply in the evening hours and on Sundays. In major cities, e.g. Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh, an extensive night bus network is available.

In areas where there are a large number of operators, it can be difficult to obtain complete information on maps and timetables for the area. It is not uncommon for operators to try to present their services in their promotional material as ‘the’ network of the city or region – not to mention the fact that other routes (or in some cases different departure times on the same routes) are available, operated by competitors. Many local authorities try to produce timetables and/or detailed maps for all services in their area, regardless of their operator. However, it is always a good idea to check with the operator(s) before travelling to ensure that the information is up to date, as timetables can change frequently.

Get Around - By boat

Ferries connect the mainland with the many offshore islands, including the Isles of Scilly from Penzance, the Isle of Wight from Southampton and Portsmouth, the Isle of Man from Liverpool and Ireland, the Hebrides from various ports in the Scottish Highlands, the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands from Aberdeen and the far north of Scotland. There are also regular ferry services between Northern Ireland and Scotland from Larne, Belfast, Troon and Cairnryan. There are also connections between Northern Ireland and Birkenhead and Fleetwood (both near Liverpool in England).

Get Around - By taxi

There are two types of taxis in the UK: metered taxis (black taxis), which can be hailed on the street and are mainly found in larger cities, and minicabs (private hire taxis), which have to be ordered by phone.

Black taxis

They are useful for getting around in cities – the name comes from the old Austin FX3 taxis from the 1960s, which were built specifically for this purpose and were originally painted black, but are now mostly covered by advertising. In larger cities, special 5-seater vehicles are usually used as shared taxis, while in smaller towns normal cars or shuttles are used instead. These taxis can be hailed on the street or picked up at a taxi rank (usually near major shopping areas and transport centres). Fares vary and usually start at around £2 or £3 and rise to around £1 per kilometre, making them quite expensive. When you add to the taxi meter the night charges, waiting charges, luggage charges for large suitcases, etc., taxi fares can be expensive unless you are part of a large group. A short 10-minute ride would normally cost between £3 and £5. The “Taxi” sign on the roof is illuminated when a taxi is available.


Minicabs, more common in suburbs and small towns, can only be used when ordered by phone and charge fixed prices for various destinations. Local telephone directories usually advertise taxi companies and the telephone numbers are usually painted in large numbers on the side of the vehicles. Minicabs are usually much cheaper, fares for long journeys can often be negotiated (though you should agree the fare with the telephone operator at the time of booking, not the driver) and most companies offer vehicles of various sizes, from small saloons (Ford Mondeo, Skoda Octavia, Peugeot 406, etc.) to large minivans seating 12, so if you have a large group you can specify the size of the vehicle. Some minibus companies specialise in serving airports and offer discounted rates.

Fake taxis

Fake taxis are not a big problem and are usually found near major airports. A few tips: Check that the taxi has a number plate on the rear bumper and that it bears the name of the municipality. The taxi driver’s licence should be displayed on the dashboard. The taximeter shows the correct fare; metered fares are usually announced on the side of the taxi. When you hail a minibus, the taxi company will ask for your surname and phone number – the driver should know these when he picks you up. If a taxi driver approaches you and claims that you have ordered his taxi (especially at airports or nightclubs), ask the driver to confirm your name and phone number – if he does not know them, it is very likely that they are wrong. Most city councils require licensed taxis to be under 10 or 15 years old. Many fake taxis use older vehicles.

By rule of thumb

Pedestrians are not allowed on motorways, motorway junctions and certain main routes. However, apart from these exceptions, hitchhiking is not illegal. The British are very safety conscious and you should expect a long wait.

When you use road signs, it is quite common to use the number of the road on the sign and not the destination. In other words, from Birmingham to London you don’t use the sign “LONDON”, you use “M25”. Two places where signs are very useful are Land’s End and John O’Groats, the two outermost points of the country, especially if your sign is pointing the other way.

Note that traffic can be quite sparse in the more remote areas of Scotland, Wales and Cornwall.

Get Around - By car

Unlike most European countries, driving in the UK is on the left-hand side. Most cars in the UK have a manual gearbox and car rental companies will assign you a car with a manual gearbox unless you specifically request an automatic vehicle when making your reservation. Hiring an automatic version of the same car is more expensive. Always compare prices before renting a car, or you can book online in advance to get cheap deals on sites like AvisRental Cars UkThriftyPractical and Easirent. The government offers advice on driving with a non-UK licence. Most rental companies will check your driving licence before you can rent a car.

A car will take you almost anywhere in the UK. Parking is a problem in big cities and can be very expensive, especially in London. It is often possible to visit small towns by train, but a car can be a good option for more remote destinations. Fuel is heavily taxed and therefore expensive, currently at around £0.99 per litre. Fuel is available at special ‘filling stations’ along the main roads. Branches of supermarkets Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Asda often have petrol stations in their car parks, which are often cheaper than the big brands found anywhere in the world.

As in the USA, but unlike the rest of the world, the UK continues to use the imperial system for road signs and speed limits are given in miles per hour (mph). However, many height and width signs are now also in metric measurements and all weight signs are in tonnes; all motorways now have location information in kilometres. If you are bringing your car from the Republic of Ireland or continental Europe, make sure you know the conversion from metric to imperial units (1 mile is approximately 1.6 km).

There are no tolls, apart from some major bridges and tunnels and a privately funded motorway in the Midlands. There is a congestion charge of £8 per day for driving in central London.

Traffic can be very heavy, especially during peak hours when commuters are travelling to work, usually between 7am and 10am and 4pm and 7pm. School holidays can lead to a significant reduction in traffic, especially during the morning rush hours.

The M25 London Bypass is known for its bad traffic (referred to by most Londoners as the ‘London car park’ as sometimes all traffic is at a standstill). It is best to avoid it on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, using it only when necessary and following local advice if you plan to drive to Heathrow to catch a plane. The M6 through Birmingham is another traffic hotspot, as is the M8 in Glasgow (the second most congested motorway after the M25). You can usually bet on finding congestion if you’re travelling on the motorway network for more than 90 minutes, especially as you approach cities. If you know you have to drive during rush hour, you can check local traffic reports on the radio or on websites such as Highways Agency or Frixo.

Many cities have set up a system of park-and-ride, with parking on the outskirts and buses or sometimes cheap trams to the city centre, and you should consider using these. In larger cities (especially Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Birmingham) it is usually best to park on the outskirts and take public transport to the city centre. This not only saves money on parking and fuel, but also a lot of time, as heavy traffic, confusing one-way systems and limited parking lead to long waiting times. In London, it’s best to leave the car at home as parking at stations and tube stations, even in the suburbs, can be very expensive and if you don’t arrive early enough you won’t find a space.

Motorways (prefix “M” – blue signs, white road numbers) are fast, long-distance routes connecting major cities. The speed limit is 115 km/h for cars (lower for other types of vehicles) and some vehicles, such as pedestrians, cyclists and those driven by learner drivers, are prohibited. Crossroads are counted. Motorways are the best way to travel long distances by car, but delays are to be expected during rush hours or in bad weather.

Major roads (prefix “A” – green signs, yellow road numbers) connect larger cities to each other and to the motorway network. Main roads usually offer fast travel times, but as they run through cities rather than around them, delays are to be expected during rush hours.

Secondary roads (prefix “A” – white signs, black road numbers) connect small towns and are interchangeable with B roads.

B-streets (prefix “B” – white signs, black street numbers) are the largest of the minor roads.

Secondary roads (white signs, mostly without route number) such as country roads or residential roads.

A road number followed by (M) means that the road has been upgraded to motorway standard – for example A3(M) means that part of the road A3 has been upgraded to motorway standard.

A route number in brackets means “leading to” – e.g. A507 (M1) means that you can reach the M1 by following A507.

The speed limit for cars and motorbikes is 115 km/h on motorways and two-lane roads (roads separated by a grassy area or other hard barrier between two opposite directions of traffic), 100 km/h on single-lane roads (non-segregated roads) unless otherwise stated, and 50 km/h in built-up areas unless otherwise stated. To increase safety in areas such as near schools, 30 km/h zones are becoming more common. Although national limits still apply on minor roads and byways, it is strongly recommended to drive according to these conditions.

Speed cameras are widely used on all road types, although they are more common in some areas than others (for example, England’s largest county, North Yorkshire, has a policy of not using fixed speed cameras on its motorways). Static cameras are often well signposted, painted in bright colours and have clear road markings. Although this may seem strange, the idea is to improve public acceptance of them as a ‘safety’ measure (rather than the widely held view that they are there to raise money).

On the M25 west of London (also camera controlled) and on the M42 near Birmingham, there are variable mandatory speed limits – these are displayed on gantries within a red circle; other temporary speed limits displayed on matrix signs are recommended but not mandatory. Outside these areas and near roadworks, motorways are generally free of fixed speed cameras. Speeds on motorways are usually much higher than the prescribed speed limit (usually at least 130 km/h). Driving at lower speeds outside (overtaking lanes) can be frustrating for other drivers.

The standard of driving in the UK is relatively good, and the road network is (statistically) one of the safest in Europe. It has long been known that a foreign number plate makes you largely immune to speed cameras, toll booths and parking attendants. If you decide to try your luck, be aware that you may encounter the only cameraman/guard who will bother to look up your address with the licensing authority in your home country. UK authorities have access to vehicle registration databases in several other countries. In addition, British car rental companies charge your credit card for parking tickets long after you have left the country. Traffic police patrol the motorways with marked and unmarked vehicles. Any police officer, regardless of their usual duties, will pursue a vehicle that is driving dangerously.

Do not drive under the influence of alcohol in the UK. Although the maximum limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08%), UK police have been known to ‘shoot’ drivers who are technically under this limit, especially if their driving is erratic or dangerous. Scotland has recently introduced a lower limit of 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Exceeding this limit is a criminal offence; you will be arrested and spend a night in a cell. Police often patrol the streets of towns and city centres on Friday and Saturday nights looking for drunk drivers. Enforcement of drink-driving laws is extremely strict and police will always take action against those who fail or refuse a breathalyser test. Fines range up to £5,000; the minimum driving ban is 12 months for a first offence. In addition to a 6-month custodial sentence for exceeding the limit, additional penalties may be imposed if the driving was dangerous.

Foreign drivers should note that many British drivers see the flashing of headlights as a signal that they can continue their journey, rather than a warning or slow-down signal due to the presence of the police. This misunderstanding has led to a number of collisions.

Sound the horn in a dangerous situation where there is danger to life or injury, even at night. Misuse of the horn is prohibited between 23:00 and 7:30 or when stationary.

It is also an offence to use a mobile phone or other hand-held device while driving, although the use of hands-free devices is exempt from the law. The police will arrest you for using your mobile phone and you will be fined £60 on the spot. This fine will be accompanied by 3 points on your driving licence.

All vehicle occupants are required by law to wear seat belts. Anyone who does not wear a seat belt will be fined £30, but no points will be awarded for not wearing a seat belt. If a child under 14 is not properly restrained, the parent or guardian, usually the driver, is responsible and a fine will also be issued for this offence. Children under 1.4 m and under 12 years of age are also required by law to use a child seat for safety reasons. It is prohibited to place a rear-facing child seat in the front seat with an active airbag. As far as possible, small children should always be seated in the rear of the vehicle. If the load is such that a child seat must be installed in the front seat, the front passenger airbag must be deactivated. Switch it back on if you subsequently carry an adult passenger in the front seat.

The use of fog lights in the absence of fog is also an offence punishable by a fine of £30.

The traffic laws are different from those in other countries: Side roads never have right of way, there is no need to stop for school buses, overtaking on the left is forbidden and you are not allowed to turn left at a traffic light. There are no 4-stop intersections in the UK; right of way must be clearly indicated on the road.

There are many roundabouts in the UK, from large multi-lane roundabouts at dual carriageway junctions to small mini roundabouts on local roads. The entry rules are the same: you have priority over vehicles that have not yet entered, and you must give way to anyone already on the roundabout (who would collide with your right as you enter the roundabout). Watch out for multi-lane roundabouts, there are complicated rules about which lane you should take that British drivers learn and expect from other drivers. You should be able to get out of them if you are careful and watch out for other vehicles.

For more information on driving in the UK, see the Highway Code.

For directions, you can consult the AA or CAR route planner.

With the camper

Hiring a campervan is one way to explore the UK. Some companies offer airport transfers. This can be cheaper than flying, driving and staying in hostels and guesthouses.

Small campervans are perfect for parking and enjoying the narrow roads of the UK.

If you request it, some countries allow you to use their car park for overnight stays.

Get Around - With the motorbike

Motorcycling is not a bad mode of transport. It is good for getting around in busy areas, such as central London, where motorcyclists do not have to pay the congestion charges that cars do. However, it is important to put your safety first: although motorcyclists are a minority of road users, they are responsible for the vast majority of deaths and serious injuries on British roads.

Riders and passengers of a motorbike are required by law to wear a motorbike helmet with a CE marking. It must be securely fastened. The only exception to this law concerns Sikh men, whose religion prescribes the wearing of a turban – they must remove the turban to put on the helmet. If you wear eye protection (visor on helmet or motorbike goggles), which is recommended, the visor or goggles must be marked with a red iron. You should consider buying a helmet with hearing protection. It is advisable to wear motorbike boots and gloves as well as a leather jacket and leather trousers or jeans, as these can also prevent serious injuries in the event of an accident.

It is illegal to carry more than one billion passengers. If you wish to carry more than one passenger, use a sidecar. The passenger is required by law to sit in a suitable seat on board the motorbike.

You may not carry a passenger or drive your motorbike on a motorway until you have obtained a full licence. To obtain a motorbike licence, you must pass a test and be at least 17 years old.

It is important that you can be seen day and night, from the sides as well as from the front and back. Wear a high-visibility waistcoat or fluorescent strips (during the day) and reflective strips (at night). A good idea is to wear a white or bright helmet. You can also dim your headlights in daylight to be seen better, but only turn them on fully at night.

Get Around - By bike

The UK can be both a cyclist’s dream and nightmare. Fortunately, cycling is popular both as a sport and as a means of transport. You can rent bikes in some cities, such as Cambridge or Oxford, and in some picturesque areas.

Santander’s bike hire scheme offers a network of approximately 8,000 bikes and 570 docking stations in central London, covering an area from White City in the west to Docklands in the east. The scheme is open to walk-in users and charges a daily fee (currently £1, payable by credit or debit card) and there is an additional usage charge for journeys over 30 minutes. Between journeys, users must return their bike to a docking station and take a new one for subsequent journeys; bikes are not locked and no user fee is charged for journeys of less than 30 minutes. At large stations, it can be difficult to find bikes (or spaces in the docking stations in the evenings) at peak times, as this system is very popular with commuters. In addition to each docking station, bike and space availability and maps are available online. If the designated docking station is full, you can request up to 15 minutes of free overtime.

Most British cyclists opt for the hybrid bike, which combines the comfort and practicality of a city bike with the power (multiple gears) and robustness of a mountain bike. Conventional mountain bikes and singlespeed road bikes are also common, and folding bikes are becoming increasingly popular in major cities. Bikes are expensive in the UK – expect to pay £100 or more for a basic model. They are sold through the various manufacturers’ dealers (e.g. Dawes, Raleigh, Giant), car dealerships (e.g. Halfords), sports accessory shops (e.g. Decathlon) and private bike shops. Cheaper second-hand bikes can be bought online on websites such as eBay or are advertised in newspapers, on billboards, etc.

Cycling in the city varies from city to city. Most cities have designated cycle lanes, but these are regularly ignored by motorists and often shared with buses, motorbikes and taxis. Some main roads have separate pavements for pedestrians and cyclists, while at other times cyclists are expected to ride in traffic. This can be dangerous if you are not an experienced cyclist and general traffic rules must be observed. It is advisable to wear a helmet, although the law does not require cyclists of any age to wear one. The law requires a rear reflector, pedal reflector and bell, and front and rear lights must be used at night. In addition, many cyclists use standard arm signals to warn motorists: when turning left or right, you must raise your left or right arm respectively, and when you want to stop, you must wave your left arm up and down. Cycling is prohibited on certain roads – all motorways and many federal roads (A) – a sign indicates this. Cycling on the pavement is not allowed. A fine of up to £500 may be imposed.

Most cities have their own bicycle parking areas with bike racks, which are almost always free of charge. Carry a good lock as bike theft is common. Bicycles are allowed on SOME trains, depending on the operator. Local trains usually only allow folding bikes, some regional trains have a bike rack that can hold 2 or 3 bikes, while many intercity trains have a luggage cart that can hold many bikes. Check with the operator beforehand – bicycles almost always require a reservation: on some trains they are free, on others there is a charge (usually half the adult fare) and on still others a full fare ticket is required. Reservations can be made by phone (through the national rail network or the train operator) or at the station ticket office. Bicycles are also allowed on long-distance buses, but again they must be booked and may incur an additional charge. Local and regional city buses do not allow full-size bicycles, but some operators may allow folding bikes – you should check beforehand. If a bus is quiet, it is often at the driver’s discretion. Local transport systems also have different bicycle policies. For example, the London Underground allows folding bikes at all times and conventional bikes outside peak hours, as long as the train is not crowded.

The SUSTRANS cycle route network is a series of paved and unpaved cycle routes that stretch across the country, passing through spectacular scenery along the way. Their website offers a comprehensive cycling map, and most bike shops, tourist information centres and youth hostels also sell their maps.

For cycling routes you can consult the route planner CycleStreets.

Destinations in United Kingdom

Regions in United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a union composed of the following original nations and territories:

  • England
    The most important component, both in terms of size and by far the largest component in terms of population. A ‘green and pleasant land’, England nevertheless has some of the most exciting and inspiring cities in the world, co-existing with ‘Merrie England’ of rolling countryside, leafy villages and traditional entertainment.
  • Scotland
    The second largest nation of origin occupies the northern third of the UK. Bagpipes, kilts and haggis may spring to mind, but the contrast between the isolated beauty of the islands, the cosmopolitan character of the Lowlands and the lonely vistas of the truly wild Highlands shows Scotland beyond the cliché.
  • Wales
    This hilly western peninsula of Britain is home to an ancient Celtic language and culture, spectacular landscapes of mountains, valleys and coastline, a unique industrial heritage and some of the most impressive defensive castles in Europe.
  • Northern Ireland
    Lies in the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, comprising six of the nine counties of the Irish province of Ulster. Although off the traditional tourist trail, Northern Ireland offers a colourful history, outstanding natural beauty, rapidly developing towns and friendly people.

Dependencies on the Crown

  • Channel Islands (Guernsey, Jersey)
    Technically not part of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands consist of four small islands off the French coast.
  • The Isle of Man
    Technically not part of the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man is a small island located between the United Kingdom and Ireland in the Irish Sea.

The UK also undertakes the diplomatic representation and defence of a number of overseas territories, including Gibraltar, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Montserrat, St Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, the Pitcairn Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. As most of these islands have their own immigration rules and the climate and travel options are very different from those in the UK, they are covered in separate articles.

Cities in United Kingdom

Many places and towns in the UK are of interest to travellers. Below you will find a selection of nine of them, the others are arranged by region:

  • London – the capital of the United Kingdom is one of the most influential cities in the world. It is home to most of the UK’s major tourist attractions and London’s monuments are instantly recognisable around the world as symbols of Britain.
  • Belfast – the capital of Northern Ireland is experiencing an urban renaissance and is fast becoming a popular tourist destination, partly because of its reputation as a little-known city, but also because it reflects the uniqueness of the city and its people.
  • Birmingham – Formerly known as the ‘workshop of the world’, the UK’s second largest city still has a strong industrial heritage, as well as department stores and the famous Balti cuisine, a product of modern British multiculturalism.
  • Bristol – a historic city known for its colourful Georgian architecture, impressive Victorian engineering monuments and nautical heritage. Today, Bristol is also known for its trip-hop music and gastronomic culture.
  • Cardiff – the capital of Wales is as proud of its coal mining past as it is of its rugby fan base. Visit the best museums in Cymru, stay in Doctor Who and the highly acclaimed regeneration of Cardiff Bay.
  • Edinburgh – capital of Scotland and the second most visited city in the UK. In August it hosts the world’s largest arts festival; all year round visitors can enjoy Edinburgh’s illustrious history, breathtaking views and quintessentially Scottish traditions.
  • Glasgow – Scotland’s largest city where you can go shopping and see better architecture. Glasgow’s former status as European Capital of Culture points to the strength of its creative arts scene and the beauty of its parks and gardens.
  • Liverpool – the city of the Beatles and famous for its domination of music, sport and nightlife, there is no place like Liverpool. For more than two centuries, the city was the largest port in the world and played an unfortunate role in the transatlantic slave trade, a fact not forgotten in its excellent art galleries and museums.
  • Manchester – the archetype of the “City of the North”, transformed from a textile town to a modern metropolis. Highlights of the city include a thriving bohemian music scene, the Gay Village and the world’s only festival of new labour art.

Other destinations in United Kingdom

  • Giant’s Causeway – 40,000 basalt rocks rise dramatically from the sea at the only UNESCO site in Northern Ireland
  • The Gower Peninsula – a picturesque corner of south-west Wales, perfect for relaxing walks along the coast.
  • Hadrian’s Wall – The Great Wall of Britain once defended Rome against the hordes of the Picts
  • The Isle of Arran – “Scotland en miniature”, with its mountains, sea, beaches, forests and geologically diverse landscape.
  • Lake District National Park – Wordsworth Country is home to the highest mountains and largest lakes in England.
  • Loch Ness – The most famous hole in the world certainly houses nothing unusual – or does it?
  • Peak District National Park – Britain’s first and most visited national park, loved by millions for its beauty and accessibility
  • Snowdonia National Park – Wales’ answer to the Alps is Britain’s place for extreme outdoor activities
  • Stonehenge – these 4,500-year-old stones still puzzle archaeologists, inspire believers and enchant visitors of all kinds.

Accommodation & Hotels in United Kingdom

The UK offers a wide range of hotels, rated on a star scale from 5-star luxury (and beyond!) to basic 1-star. There are also a large number of private B&Bs (short for “B&B”) offering rooms with usually a fried “full English breakfast”. You can also rent a private house that is let out as a holiday home; many of these holiday homes advertise on a variety of free websites or advertise on their own website. You can usually find good offers via a search engine for “independent holiday homes”.

Budget travelers can stay in a youth hostel or a backpacker hostel.

Another option is to stay in short-term rental accommodation. There are many such companies all over the country.

There are also many campsites with different levels of equipment. Not all of them are suitable for walkers: They are marked on Ordnance Survey maps with the symbol of a blue tent rather than a caravan. ‘Wild camping‘ on private land outside recognized campsites is a legal right in Scotland (but only within a reasonable distance of roads and inhabited buildings), elsewhere it can be difficult outside remote areas, although overnight camping is possible if done discreetly, or landowners give permission to camp in the wild for free or for a small fee if desired. There is an unwritten rule allowing wilderness camping at high altitudes in Snowdonia, North Wales, but no fee. Wilderness campers are expected to leave after two or three nights in the same location, partly to allow the ground to regenerate. Fires are generally discouraged (at best).

Some travelers to the UK choose to spend their holiday in a motorhome or caravan, which means their accommodation travels with them. There is a good range of campsites and caravans in most parts of the country.

If you are clever enough, you can hire a motorhome and park in secluded pub car parks [ask in advance] and enjoy the rural atmosphere and unique little pubs.

Couchsurfing is a great way to get to know both the people and the place. There are a large number of members all over the country and it is worth using this service as part of a trip as it provides insider knowledge.

More original (if sometimes expensive) is the Landmark Trust, a charity that buys historic buildings, follies and other unusual examples of architecture – especially those under threat of destruction – and renovates them to rent to holidaymakers.

Things To See in United Kingdom

From Land’s End in the south to John O’Groats in the north, there is so much to see in the UK. There are hundreds of free museums across the country, thousands of urban parks to browse, tens of thousands of interesting communities to visit and millions of acres of land to explore. And the country has 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There is certainly much more to do than talk about the rain and see if the Queen is at home in Buckingham Palace.


London – As Samuel Johnson wrote, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. This is truer than ever, as London offers a huge range of attractions to suit all tastes. Enjoy art at the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern, among others. The theatres and cinemas in the West End and on the South Bank, as well as the Globe, Shakespeare’s replica theatre, offer cultural delights. And of course there are all the traditional sights to see such as Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square and the London Eye.

Edinburgh – The capital of Scotland was originally centred on the Old Town and the Castle and Palace of Holyrood, but the New Town is a Georgian masterpiece. Both the Old Town and the New Town are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Oxford and Cambridge – In the two former university towns, you can walk among the dreamy towers, take a dip in the river and walk through the college quadrangle at certain times.

For a more complete list, see the Cities section of this article, or read the relevant pages for each country and region that interests you.

Parks and nature

The United Kingdom has a number of National Parks and designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty which serve to conserve the country’s natural heritage. There are a total of 15 National Parks in England, Scotland and Wales (10 in England, 2 in Scotland and 3 in Wales) and 49 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (35 in England, 4 in Wales, 9 in Northern Ireland and 1 on the Anglo-Welsh border). There are no Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Scotland, but there are 35 National Scenic Areas across the country.

The British countryside is unique and diverse. In the south of England you will find the rolling countryside and picturesque villages of the Cotswolds, the chalk hills of the Downs and the prehistoric cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. To the east you will find the tranquillity of the Fens Lowlands. The North of England offers beautiful scenery and outdoor activities in the Lake District, Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. Wales offers the ruggedness of Snowdonia National Park and the beautiful beaches of Gower. Scotland has the vast wilderness of the Highlands and the beauty of the islands. Northern Ireland is blessed with the Giant’s Causeway and the north coast of Antrim.


Prehistory – before the human species

The first scientific discoveries of prehistoric creatures (dinosaurs, marine reptiles and pterosaurs) were made in the 19th century in Dorset and Devon on the south coast of England. Today, visitors can go on a fossil safari along the beaches and cliffs of the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and see some of the original finds at the Natural History Museum in London.

History – Stone Age, Roman Period and Dark Ages – before 1066

People in Britain have long tended to leave their mark on the landscape. Throughout history, they have left their mark on the landscape for tomorrow’s tourists to enjoy. It started with our prehistoric ancestors who built mysterious stone circles and burial mounds at places like Stonehenge and Avebury.

Then came the Romans, who not only built the first roads, but also married the locals and left behind magnificent buildings, such as villas (e.g. Fishbourne), public baths especially in Bath, Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, and Roman walls and buildings all over the country, including London, Lincoln, York and Cirencester (the capitals of the four British provinces at the end of the Roman period).

After the Romans left, the British Isles fell into the Dark Ages with the rest of Western Europe. Even during this time, when much of the knowledge, civilisation and culture of the Roman period was lost, the people of the British Isles continued to leave their mark on the landscape of the country, with elaborate burial mounds such as those at Sutton Hoo and treasure finds such as the Staffordshire Hoard, whose finds can now be seen in the British Museum and the Birmingham Museum respectively. Over time, waves of immigrants and invaders from areas of what is now Germany, Denmark and Norway brought new languages and customs with them. English, Scottish and Welsh identities began to form during this period.

History – Norman period and Middle Ages 1066 to 1603

The year 1066 marks a major change in the history of the country, when the Kingdom of England is conquered by the Normans in northern France. The Normans introduced the system of feudalism into England and most of the population was forced to work the land in the service of their Norman masters. To consolidate this system in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Normans began a building race, building castles to intimidate and dominate, and churches to inspire and unite. Among the most notable castles were the Tower of London and those of Windsor, Durham and Warwick. Wonderful Gothic cathedrals were also built during this period, the finest of which can be found in Canterbury, Durham, Norwich, Lincoln, Salisbury and York, each of which also has an ancient city centre dotted with medieval buildings and streets. The Christian faith has developed even in the most remote parts of the country. Monastic communities have formed on Holy Island (Northumberland) and Mont Saint-Michel (Cornwall), cut off from the mainland by the tides. As the Normans extended their power into Wales in the 13th century, more castles were built at Cardiff, Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech. In Scotland too, which remained an independent kingdom from England throughout the Middle Ages, large castles were built in Edinburgh and Stirling. And in both England and Scotland, great centres of learning emerged with universities in Oxford, Cambridge, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St John’s.

As political stability increased and peasant revolts, the Black Death and the rise of a middle class diminished the power of the old feudal system, castles lost their importance. The monarchs of the Tudor dynasty preferred to live in the comfort of grand palaces rather than cold castles, and it was during this period that Hampton Court was built. In towns such as Stratford-upon-Avon and Chester there are many examples of middle-class townhouses built in the typical ‘black and white’ Tudor timber-framed style. Henry VIII’s reign also saw the Reformation, during which England broke its ties with the Roman Catholic Church and a new state religion, the Church of England, was founded. During this period, many monasteries and abbeys were destroyed across the country, although many ruins can still be visited, for example at Tintern in Monmouthshire and Rievaulx near Helmsley in North Yorkshire.

History 1603 – 1900

The UK is dotted with historic sites from the Stuart, Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras. Fine examples of English country houses can be found at Blenheim, Chatsworth and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, which shows the splendour of the royal regency by the sea. Cities with classical Georgian architecture include Edinburgh and Bath, and much of central west London. The neoclassical movements saw the construction of many new churches, including St Paul’s Cathedral in London, which has been rebuilt. The Union with Scotland also brought a resurgence of interest in castle life, and many members of the newly wealthy aristocracy and middle classes built luxurious houses in imitation of medieval fortresses to manage their own (often forcibly depopulated) Highland estates. Although there are many such buildings in Scotland and even in other parts of the United Kingdom, the most famous example is Balmoral, which has been the summer residence of the British monarch since 1852.

The founding and growth of the British Empire saw the expansion and professionalisation of the country’s armed forces, both land and sea, and a massive increase in trade around the world. The National Army Museum in London traces the long history of the British Army, while many garrison towns such as Aldershot have their own military landmarks. Chatham and Portsmouth each have historic dockyards housing some of the Royal Navy‘s finest ships of yesteryear, and Bristol is home to Brunel’s giant and revolutionary merchant steamer SS Great Britain. The Empire period also saw the modernisation of the Houses of Parliament into the iconic building we know today, including the construction of the famous Clock Tower, and the export of similar parliamentary systems of government around the world. Various financial institutions in the City of London, such as the Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange, are among the oldest in the world.

The Industrial Revolution, which began in England’s West Midlands and gradually spread to the United Kingdom and then the world, led to a huge increase in the British population, a one-way migration to the growing cities and the development of heavy industry. Key sites of the period include Ironbridge, the site of the world’s first all-iron bridge, the Saltaire factories, the Belfast dockyards, the coal mines of South Wales, the Lancashire cotton mills and London Docklands. Other Victorian gems include the fantastic transport infrastructure (the Manchester Ship Canal and London’s St Pancras station are just two striking examples), the Royal Albert Hall, Tower Bridge, Clifton Suspension Bridge near Bristol, the Forth Rail Bridge near Edinburgh, and the town halls and municipal buildings of many industrial cities such as Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Modern Britain – 20th and 21st Century

The early 20th century was the heyday of British seaside resorts, with towns such as Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton, Llandudno, Southport, Torquay and Scarborough welcoming millions of visitors each year to their beaches, theatres and entertainment venues. In Liverpool, the two great 20th-century cathedrals dominate the skyline, as do a wealth of Art Deco buildings (including some of the world’s first attempts at skyscrapers), and there are other modern treats across the UK: the glass domes of the Eden Project in Cornwall, the Northern Angel outside Newcastle, London’s famous mid-20th-century skyscrapers such as the BT Tower. Century and 21st Century icons the Shard and the Gherkin, the redeveloped Cardiff Bay and the new Titanic District in Belfast.


The UK can rightly be called the ‘home of sport’ as it is the birthplace of five of the world’s major sports: association football, rugby, tennis, cricket and golf. There are sanctuaries for all these sports throughout the UK: Wembley (London), Old Trafford (Manchester), Anfield (Liverpool) and Hampden Park (Glasgow) for football, Twickenham (London), Millennium Stadium (Cardiff) and Murrayfield (Edinburgh) for rugby, Lords (London) for cricket, the All England Club at Wimbledon for tennis and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews for golf.

The term ‘football’ of course refers to club football or soccer. It is by far the most popular spectator sport and is played throughout the UK at amateur and professional levels, with the most famous competition being the English Premier League. There is also the FA Cup, the oldest national football cup competition in the world. Although many teams have passionate fans, the days of widespread “football hooliganism” are largely over. Rugby comes in two forms or “codes”: Rugby Union has 15 players per team and is particularly popular in Wales, southern England and the Midlands, while Rugby League has 13 players per team and is popular in northern England.

Football and rugby are traditionally played in autumn, winter and spring, although the professional rugby league season is now played in summer. Cricket is only played in the summer and is most popular in England. One of the biggest events in the cricket calendar is the Ashes, a series of 5 Test cricket matches played each year between England and Australia, with the two teams taking turns to host the series. The five matches are played at various venues in England and sometimes Wales, with the famous Lord’s Cricket Ground always being one of the venues where England host the series. All of these sports attract large audiences, both at the matches themselves and on television, and it is very common to watch them on television in pubs and bars.

The championship, Wimbledon at the All England Club, is the oldest of the four major tennis slams, the only one played on grass courts, and is widely regarded as the most prestigious of the four tournaments. In golf, the Open Championship is one of the four major men’s golf tournaments and the only one of the four to be played outside the United States. The tournament rotates between different courses in the UK each year and returns to its home venue, the Old Course at St Andrews, every five years. Although the United Kingdom is no longer one of badminton’s strongholds, the All England Championships remains one of the biggest badminton tournaments in the world.

For rowing fans, a famous event in the calendar (in March or April) is the Boat Race, a race between the men’s rowing teams of Oxford University and Cambridge University. The event is a race between eight rowing boats and takes place on a course of more than 4 miles on the Thames, on the border between the counties of Middlesex and Surrey.

The United Kingdom has hosted the Olympic Games three times in its history and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London 2012 is still a major sporting venue and landmark in the capital. It is worth noting that the British team is the only one to have won at least one gold medal in every edition of the Summer Olympics since the modern Olympic Games began in 1896.


  • Big Ben (formerly known as Elizabeth Tower in Westminster, London), probably one of the most emblematic buildings in the world.
  • Edinburgh Castle is a royal fortress beautifully situated on one of the highest points in the city. The castle has been in continuous use for 1000 years and is in excellent condition.
  • Stonehenge, an ancient stone circle near the town of Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire.
  • Georgian architecture and the Roman baths of Bath.
  • York Minster Cathedral in the historic city of York.
  • Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the head of the Church of England. It is located in the city of Canterbury in Kent.
  • Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, is the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
  • The ancient and world-famous universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
  • The Eden Project near St Austell is a huge botanical garden with an indoor tropical forest and Mediterranean bio-domes.
  • The Giant’s Causeway, sixty miles from Belfast on the north coast of Northern Ireland, is a World Heritage Site and a natural wonder.
  • Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is home to three of the largest ships ever built and 800 years of naval history.
  • Angel of the North, an impressive contemporary steel sculpture in Gateshead.
  • Lincoln Cathedral, is the medieval cathedral of the city of Lincoln.

Things To Do in United Kingdom

Although most visitors will visit London at some point, it’s worth getting out of the capital to get a real insight into the country and it’s important not to forget the diversity that can be found within a radius of just 50 miles.

Whether you are looking for the countryside, the coast, the historic towns or the dynamic cities, there is something for everyone.

For the most beautiful scenery, head to national parks like the Yorkshire Dales or Dartmoor, perhaps for a day trip or a longer stay.

As the UK is an island nation, you can be on the coast within a few hours in any direction. The British coastline is diverse and spectacular, from the beautiful beaches of St Ives to traditional fishing ports like Whitby and seaside resorts like Blackpool and Bournemouth.

The UK is full of historic cities, including Edinburgh and Cardiff with their medieval castles, Bath and York with their Roman history.

Buyers looking outside the capital should visit Manchester and Leeds in the north, Bristol and Exeter in the west or Glasgow in Scotland.

The UK has an impressive musical heritage; see Music in the British Isles.

Food & Drinks in United Kingdom

Food in United Kingdom

Despite its unjustly negative reputation, British food is in fact very good and has improved greatly in recent decades, and many Britons are proud of their national dishes. Mid-range and upmarket restaurants and supermarkets are still of a high standard and the choice of international dishes is among the best in Europe. Unlike their continental neighbours, many Brits still eat to live rather than live to eat, and therefore the quality of food varies according to budget. As the UK is a culturally diverse nation, there are many different types of food due to the influence of immigration.

The UK can be an expensive place to eat compared to, for example, southern European countries, but relatively cheap compared to countries like Switzerland and Norway.

Many restaurants in city centres tend to be a little more expensive than those in the suburbs, and country pubs tend to be a little more expensive, but generally a three-course meal without drinks costs between £10 and £25. Chicken tikka masala with rice is sometimes considered the most popular dish in the UK, although roast beef is a more traditional national dish.

If all else fails, decent picnic food such as sandwiches, cakes, crisps, fresh fruit, cheese and drinks are readily available in supermarkets. Street markets are a good place to buy fresh fruit and local cheese at reasonable prices. Bakeries (e.g. Greggs) and supermarkets (e.g. Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons and Asda) usually sell a good range of pre-packed sandwiches, pastries and cakes, as well as a range of soft drinks, fruit juices and mineral water. In addition, most pharmacies and kiosks have a basic range of pre-packed sandwiches and bottled drinks.

Many department stores, especially department stores, have a café or restaurant.

Smoking is now prohibited in all restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs – there are no exceptions. However, some establishments have designated ‘smoking areas’ and smoking is permitted in gardens/terraces outside pubs and restaurants unless otherwise stated.

Fish and chips

Fried, breaded fish (usually cod or haddock, but in some areas there is a wider choice) with fairly thick chips, which are always made from real potato pieces rather than thin tubes of extruded mashed potato. Fish and chips are often served with rosewater peas (in England) and seasoned with salt and malt vinegar (or “gravy” in some parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland). The “real” fish and chips (authentic, for the masses) can only be bought in a “chippy” on the street, or in a restaurant specialising in fish and chips (the latter are usually by the sea, although there is a national chain, Harry Ramsden’s, which does good fish and chips, but at “tourist prices”; Mr Ramsden’s original shop, near Leeds, was a legend). However, a “real chippy” (a “fish and chip shop” or simply a “chip shop”) is the best place to buy fish and chips. In the north, you can also add peas to your order. These are rarer in the south of the country. In Scotland, especially in Glasgow, some fish and chip shops deep-fry almost everything they sell, including meat pies, pizzas and even breaded Mars or Snickers. In Northern Ireland, you can also order a pastie (not to be confused with a Cornish pasty). This is minced meat with onions, potatoes and spices, which is then breaded and fried. It can be served in a bap (a soft bread), on its own or with chips. In Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland, anything served with chips is called a “supper”, for example “a fish supper” or “a dough supper”.

The best are specialists who may serve some alternatives such as a selection of pies or sausages. They are usually located near residential buildings, but good ones, such as “sit-down” pies, can also be found in city centres. They can be recognised by the illuminated sign, which usually has a picture of a fish and a name: either puns and pools, like “Codroephenia” and “The Codfather”, or bogeymen and hosts, “Fred’s Chippy”, or even both, as in “Jack’s Golden Plaice”. In general, the fact that many people are eating or waiting is an indication of good food.

A sit down chippy is a chippy with a separate dining area. Although no real one is exactly like it, although most of the elements are present, a stereotypical sit down chippie is lit and decorated in a nautical theme with yellow or blue tables with ant wood tops. Usually a waitress will take your order for a dish of cod, haddock, plaice or some other dish, and within five minutes your meal will be served: a huge fish, a mountain of chips and rosewater peas. The posh places serve a bag of remoulade, a slice of lemon, a big plate of bread and butter and a cup of tea. Some have a separate pot of hot water, either to dilute the tea if it is too strong for your taste, or to “top up” the tea in the pot when you have poured your first cup. On the table is a large salt shaker and a plastic bottle or flask of brown malt vinegar, which most Brits put on their fish and chips. There might even be a tomato-shaped plastic container for ketchup or a container of brown sauce. Fish and chips bought in a pub, hotel or non-specialist restaurant bear little resemblance to those of a chip shop.


A ‘take-away’ is either a shop offering prepared meals for consumption elsewhere, or the meal itself. The fish and chip shop is a very British take-away; the sandwich shop is a popular choice at lunchtime; pies and cakes are also often sold there. In addition, there is a choice of fast food chains in most towns and on many main roads. Almost every city has different types of takeaway food, from fish and chips to ‘Indian’, often run by non-Indians such as Bangladeshis, and Chinese shops. Thai and Indonesian takeaways are becoming more common, and many others in the larger cities. The standard of takeaway food is generally good, but the best guide, as always, is to observe what the locals are doing.

In the cities, these places tend to open late (sometimes until about 01:00 at night) to meet the needs of the so-called “after-the-pub” clientele. They tend to be very busy and noisy at this time. To avoid queues, the best time for takeaway food is perhaps 19:00-23:00: after the tea rush, but before the dinner rush. In large city centres, takeaways can stay open for up to 3 to 4 hours for people coming out of the nightclubs; these are usually independent kebabs and chippies, as well as some fast food chains like Domino’s and Subway. This is not to be expected outside the big cities.

Eating in pubs

Pubs are generally places where you can enjoy British food. There are no British restaurants as such, so these establishments are your next chance; even if you are against drinking alcohol, you will find a more traditional and complete menu there than in a café or chip shop.

Almost all pubs (see below) offer food, although not during all operating hours. Prices for all these types vary enormously and you should seek local advice if you have any special requirements or standards. Do not sit at a table in a pub and wait for a waiter to take your food or drink order: Pubs almost always operate on the principle of “queue for drinks at the bar, order for food at the bar”. You go to the bar to ask for and pay for drinks and food. To avoid upsetting the customers behind them, groups usually order at once and “settle up” with each other later (see elsewhere for “buying rounds”). Normally you order your “entrances” and “exits” together (in catering establishments there are numbers screwed onto the tables that you can give, or they give you a number to take to your table). Etiquette dictates that if you see another customer at the bar, you ask them to order first. You then wait for your drinks and bring them to the table. When your food is ready, it is brought to you or, less frequently, you are told it is ready for collection. The person clearing your main course may ask you what dessert you would like, or you may need to re-order from the bar.


In the larger towns there are a number of restaurants to satisfy most tastes and you will find a very wide range of cuisines including Indian, Chinese, Thai, French and Italian. Waiters usually expect a 10% tip (but too often they don’t get it from the locals) and in some places this is automatically added to your bill. However, if you are not happy with the service in any way, you are not obliged to pay the service charge. The British are generally not big tippers. As a visitor, the 10% rule is more than generous and should be respected. Visitors from the United States and Canada are considered very generous tippers and even a little too gentle for some.

The usual fast food places (McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway and the local Wimpy chain) are very common in big cities, but not very common in small towns. They are usually located in large commercial areas, in or near major railway stations, in retail parks outside the city and at motorway service areas and airports (the latter two are usually more expensive). Prices are average – a hamburger, fries and a drink cost around £4-5. Most are open from 7am to about 10pm, but in larger cities some are open 24 hours a day. Fast food outlets outside the cities offer drive-through service. Delivery service is widely available.


One of the most popular types of restaurants in the UK is the Indian restaurant. They can be found in all and most towns and cities, large or small. There are now more and more quality Indian restaurants in major city centres. Indian restaurants serve a cuisine known to their customers by the generic term “curry”. The most common dishes in Indian restaurants are chicken tikka masala, biryani shrimp and the incredibly spicy vindaloo. A popular variation of curry is known as balti, probably after the metal bowl in which the food is cooked and served. Balti cuisine, as well as a number of other commonly served dishes such as the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, originated in Britain, although they are clearly based on food from the Indian subcontinent. Birmingham, in the Midlands, is considered the Baltic capital of the UK, as this is where the dish was developed. The Curry Mile in Manchester is definitely worth a visit when you are in town.

Motorway service areas

Motorway service areas in the UK vary in quality, although most of them (like those directly on motorways and some major roads) are required by law to provide certain services 24 hours a day. Some service areas have a notoriously expensive reputation. Most contain fast food outlets and all have (free) toilets. Some services may be limited at night, such as the availability of hot and cold food, but most have a selection of these available. With few exceptions, rest stops are not necessarily the place to find food that is cheap or does not match the chain shops. For more choice, the traveller can usually find better options within a few kilometres of a junction.


Vegetarianism has become widespread in Britain in recent decades. If you are invited into a British home, it would be polite to inform your host in advance of your dietary requirements, but this is not considered rude or even particularly unusual. If you are staying in a B&B, inform the owner when you arrive and you will often find that they will prepare a special vegetarian breakfast for you.

Remember that even if you call yourself a vegetarian, some people will assume you eat fish, so tell them if you don’t. These days it is rare to find a pub or restaurant without vegetarian options.

If you are vegan, be prepared to explain exactly what you are doing and don’t eat often enough. Outside of speciality restaurants, most places are unlikely to have a vegan main course. So be prepared to hunt, order small plates or settle for the ubiquitous bowl of crisps and tomato ketchup in a pub, and even then it would be wise to check whether the chips were prepared in animal fat, a practice that is fast going out of fashion.

In general, the best places to eat vegetarian and vegan are pubs and restaurants specialising in vegetarian cuisine, as well as Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian restaurants. Most major cities have at least one. Upscale restaurants may have fewer or no vegetarian options. If you are lucky enough to dine in one, it may be worth ringing ahead.


Children are not necessarily allowed in all pubs and restaurants unless there is a lounge area, and high chairs are not always available. Most pubs that serve food accept children and it is usually easy to tell which ones do. As a general rule, children are not allowed to sit or stand in the area where drinks are served, so if the pub only has a small room. Children are allowed in most pubs that only serve drinks, especially those with a garden, but again, they are not allowed near the bar. To be sure, ask a member of staff or call the location in advance.

Regional specialties

  • Black Pudding – a sausage made from frozen pig’s blood or, in the Western Isles of Scotland, sheep’s blood, rusk and sage or spices, cooked in a gut. Available throughout the UK but a speciality of the northern half of the country, particularly Bury, the Black Country, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In fact, it tastes much better than it looks.
  • Cheese – Although the British are not as famous or as proud of their cheese as their French neighbours, a wide variety of cheeses are produced, usually bearing the name of a particular region. According to the British Cheese Board, there are over 700 types of cheese in Britain. Well-known examples include Caerphilly; Cheddar, named after the village of Cheddar in Somerset; Cheshire; Lancashire, which can be “creamy” or “crumbly”; Stilton (named after Stilton but now produced elsewhere) – a blue cheese that rivals Roquefort or Gorgonzola; and Wensleydale, named after a valley in North Yorkshire. For a more complete list of regional cheeses, see an interesting map . The quality of the cheese varies enormously depending on where it is bought; the best place is probably a local market – so you should buy your Lancashire cheese in Lancashire. Supermarkets offer a wide range of cheeses but they are often of inferior quality.
  • Cornish Pastry – Beef and vegetables cooked in a folded pastry shell. Originally a Cornish speciality, it is now available throughout the UK. Generally very good in Devon and Cornwall but can be of variable quality elsewhere. The variety sold in plastic packaging in places such as petrol stations and motorways should be avoided. Cornish Pasties may only be called “Cornish” if they are made in Cornwall.
  • Deep fried Mars bar – Originally from Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, but now available in other parts of Scotland and sometimes on request in fish & chip shops elsewhere in the UK. It is generally not available in the South East of England where it is sometimes thought to be an urban myth.
  • Eccles cake – a popular leafy cake with sultanas from the small Lancashire town of the same name.
  • Haggis – a mixture of mutton tripe, minced meat and oatmeal cooked in a sheep’s stomach. Available everywhere, but a speciality from Scotland. Also available in many supermarkets where apparently many sheep have plastic stomachs – although the contents are often quite passable – sometimes slightly spicy. Usually cut with mashed yellow turnips “neeps” and mashed potatoes “tatties”, but you can also buy it fried with chips in Scottish fish and chip shops.
  • Lancashire Hotpot – a hearty stew with vegetables and meat. A Lancashire speciality, but available throughout the UK. In Lancashire it is often accompanied by pickled red cabbage or pickled beetroot.
  • Laverbread (Welsh: bara lafwr or bara lawr) – Seaweed puree rolled in oatmeal, lightly fried and usually served with slices of bacon, although it can also be prepared as a vegetarian dish. Available in Swansea and West Wales.
  • Oatcakes – this Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire and Derbyshire speciality is a large, soft, oat-based pancake that can be eaten warm, in place of bread for breakfast or with a savoury topping. Not to be confused with Scottish oatcake, a type of sponge cake.
  • The pasty specific to Northern Ireland should not be confused with the type of pasty associated with Cornwall and common throughout Britain. Recipes vary, but generally a pasty is made from minced pork with onions, potatoes and spices, in the form of a thick slice that is coated in batter and fried. Pasties are unique to Northern Ireland and are worth trying in a fish shop or chip shop.
  • Pork Pie – a pie made from pork, with an outer crust made from a particularly crispy type of dough. Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire is their spiritual home, but they can be found all over the country. They are served cold or at room temperature as part of a cold meal.
  • Potato bread – a mixture of potatoes, salt, butter and flour. A speciality of Northern Ireland, it is one of the main ingredients of an Ulster Fry, along with soda bread. Potato cakes sold in England and Tattie Scones in Scotland are similar, but not quite the same, as potato bread.
  • Sausages – Europeans will be surprised to find that the filling contains breadcrumbs, rusks or other fillers in addition to meat (the British think of frankfurters and firm meat sausages, similar to those from Germany or France). Generic sausages are nothing special and are a “mystery meat” experience. But not all sausages are made with pork; many are now mixed with beef, game, turkey or even soy. Recipes for regional specialities such as Lincolnshire and Cumberland Ring are worth trying in a pub. Some markets and butchers still serve archaic family recipes, such as in Oxford, where the sausage is skinless and looks more like a beef patty. Remember to get your money’s worth. Bargain” 2 or 3 pence firecrackers like Walls don’t taste very good.
  • Sunday Supper/Roast – this is a common meal throughout the UK. Traditionally eaten on Sundays, the meal consists of roast meat (e.g. whole roast chicken, leg of lamb, pork shoulder, etc.), roast potatoes and steamed vegetables. ), fried potatoes and steamed vegetables. Everything is served with a gravy (thick or thin, depending on the meat, prepared with the meat juices and stock). Yorkshire pudding (a pancake batter baked in a very hot oven) is traditionally served with roast beef, although some people enjoy it with any roast.
  • Smoked fish – protected as a regional dish in the greater Grimsby area. Haddock is generally the most popular type of smoked fish in this particular way. In Scotland it is traditional to eat smoked kipper or even porridge for breakfast.
  • Welsh Cakes – scone-shaped cakes, sprinkled with sultanas and topped with sugar. Available in bakeries across Wales and served warm on the grill at Swansea Market.
  • Yorkshire pudding – a delicious side dish made from unsweetened batter. Traditionally, a plate-sized pudding and gravy was served before the main course to encourage the economical consumption of expensive meat. Slim and round in shape – often served with a roast dinner (consisting of roast potatoes, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding). Originally a speciality of the old industrial towns in Yorkshire, it is now a staple of a beef dinner throughout the UK.

Drinks in United Kingdom

The legal age for buying alcohol or consuming it in a pub is 18, but many young people under 18 seem to have no problem buying alcohol in small pubs and without a licence. If you go out to eat in a restaurant, you must first be 16 to order alcohol. This also applies in a pub if you are having a sit-down meal, but remember that a packet of crisps does not count as a sit-down meal. Nevertheless, if you are over 18 but lucky enough to look younger, expect to be asked to prove your age when you buy alcohol (and in some places, if you are under 21 or 25, you will have to prove you are over 18, known as a ’21(25) challenge’), especially in popular places in town.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the drinking age is actually raised to 21 or 25 in these venues, it is just a ‘safety net’ to ensure that more young people are identified as over 18. Some venues require proof of age for all drinks after a certain time of the day, as the age of people allowed in these venues is restricted. The most reliable form of identification is a passport or driving licence that includes both your photo and date of birth. Identity cards can be accepted (as long as they are accompanied by a photograph) and there are proof of age cards that must be applied for by post and take several weeks to issue. Any other form of identification is not accepted. In private households, the minimum age for drinking is 5 years, although it is likely that if a 5 or 6 year old child etc. were drunk, the case would be brought to court as child neglect.

Getting drunk is acceptable and is often the purpose of a party, although the police often have a low opinion of those who cause alcohol-related problems. This applies to all levels of British society – it is worth remembering that former Prime Minister Tony Blair had to pick up his son Euan from a police station after he was found drunk celebrating the end of his GCSE exams at the age of 16. But the British have a great sense of humour and after a hangover all is forgotten, at least until the next time. Alcohol is an important part of British culture and although it is often complained about, it is still popular.

Although intoxication is not illegal per se, many pubs and retail outlets stop serving (or refuse to continue serving) people who show clear signs of intoxication. In the UK, the person serving the drinks has certain legal obligations as a condition of being allowed to operate the place or pub.

Urinating in public is illegal, anti-social and quite difficult to explain when applying for a visa. You should try to use the facilities where you drink.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and although (in 2016) the maximum limits are 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (0.05%) in Scotland and 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (0.08%) in England and Wales, most opinions are that there is no ‘safe’ level. It is easier to take a taxi home than an ambulance!

It should also be noted that boaters under the influence of alcohol can also be prosecuted, although the old phrase “the drunk is responsible for the boat” no longer applies.


The pub (or public house) is the most popular place to have a drink in the UK, although the types of pubs can vary greatly. They range from ‘local’ pubs, usually quiet places with one or two rooms, to chain pubs like J.D. Wetherspoons, which are very large spaces that can hold hundreds of people. Even small villages often have a pub serving spirits, wine, beer, cider, ‘alcopops’ and soft drinks, accompanied by chips, nuts and pork chops. Many serve snacks or meals. The largest number of drinks served are various types of beer, mainly lagers, bitters and port/stout (e.g. Guinness). People who don’t want to drink real ale can choose a pub based on location and character, as most of the national ‘sweet’ bitters or lagers advertised on TV are available in any non-real pub; however, even non-real ale drinkers often find that they prefer pub types with a selection of real ales, as these tend to be more ‘traditional’, have a more individual character and are less focused on jukeboxes, slot machines, fruit machines and large crowds.

Smoking is now banned in pubs and restaurants across the UK, although many pubs have outdoor areas, often called ‘beer gardens’, where smoking is (usually but not always) allowed. However, if you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be able to stay after the official closing time, this is called a “lock-in” and smoking is allowed if the pub owner permits it. This often happens after 11pm, and these lock-ins can last for any length of time. As they are considered private parties, they only happen in a few pubs, and often only in pubs with a more regular clientele, although this is not always the case. Once at a lock-in, you cannot leave and come back.

Real British ales, championed by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), are some of the best in the world – although people used to colder, fizzier beers may have to learn the taste. If you’re looking for real ale, you have to choose the right pubs, because although a lot of pubs serve one or two real ales, only a “real ale pub” will have much choice. British ale has a limited shelf life compared to most foreign beers, and as some pubs only have a “token” keg with low turnover, it is often long out of date and tastes strangely of vinegar. If you get a pint “off”, ask for a replacement at the bar, which is usually nearby.

The term “free house” was generally the most important indicator for those seeking a good beer selection, as it indicated that the pub was not owned by any particular brewery and served the beer that the owner thought would appeal to his customers. However, this factor is no longer important as most national pub chains are now owned by large conglomerates that negotiate centrally with brewers and offer the same consumer brands in all their pubs: These conglomerates (which are not breweries) can still call their pubs “free houses”.

The British generally follow a kind of unwritten code of conduct when they are in advertising. It is a form of self-regulation and mutual respect in an environment that can be very busy and chaotic, especially at weekends. The main points to consider:

  • Do not sit down and wait for table service. In almost all cases there won’t be any. You order, pay and collect your drinks at the bar. Some restaurants offer table service, including drinks, but only if you also have a meal.
  • Do not tap the bar surface with your money or shout to attract the bartender’s attention. All it takes is eye contact or a discreetly raised hand to let the bar staff know you are waiting.
  • You must pay for your drinks when you take them; it is very rare for a pub to offer to hold an ‘account’ for you (and only if you hand over a credit or debit card, which is swiped when you leave the pub). Payment in cash is normal and expected. Most pubs accept cards, although traditionally it is considered unwise to use a card to pay for a single drink and a minimum number of purchases may be required to use the card. However, as contactless card payments become more widespread, their use, even for a single drink, is starting to become more common in pubs.
  • Tipping is not a tradition in most pubs and you must take all your change with you. Regulars who have a relationship with the staff will offer to buy the owner or bar staff a drink. They may say something like, “A pint of Best, owner, and one for you”. Often the owner will keep the money rather than drink too much. But you don’t have to do it yourself. If you are short on change and feeling generous, there is often a charity collection box at the bar that you can use.
  • Especially in a “local” pub, keep your voice down and avoid drawing attention to yourself.
  • It is best to avoid heated debates on controversial topics in pubs and bars; if other people get involved, these debates can get out of control.
  • If you need extra chairs, you can take one from another table. If there is already one person sitting (even if it is only one person at a table of six), you must ask if you can take the chair. (Usually it is enough to say: “Excuse me, is this chair free?”).
  • In a bar, it is essential to wait patiently. Trespassing will not be tolerated and may lead to a confrontation. If someone beats you to it, don’t hesitate to complain – you should seek support from others around you. Remember that pubs are one of the few places in the UK where there is no official queue – you just crowd around the bar and when everyone who was there before you has been served, you can order. If a barman offers to serve you but the person next to you has been waiting longer, you may want to advise them to serve the person next to you, depending on the environment.
  • Standing (or sitting on stools) at the bar to have a drink is fine, but be prepared for people to have to stand near you to order their own drinks. Do not stand or drink at the hatch used by the bar staff to access the main area of the pub from the back of the bar.
  • If you are in a group (especially a large group in a busy pub), order your drinks together by taking turns to buy all the drinks or by each person paying an agreed amount into a single money jackpot. It is much easier and quicker for the bar staff to serve and settle a round than to order all the drinks individually. Each bar will provide you with a tray for multiple drinks if you wish.
  • Returning empty glasses to the bar is not necessary but appreciated by the staff – it saves them a job.
  • In men’s toilets, especially in large pubs or clubs, do not attempt to hold a conversation or make prolonged eye contact. British pub toilets are ‘in and out’ places – some drunk people can take a casual remark badly.

Pubs with a good selection of beers can feature almost any type of property:

  • From a real brewery (in this case the pub will serve all the beers they have made themselves, and maybe only one “guest beer”).
  • From a national or local pub chain that believes it is possible to serve a range of real ales at reasonable prices (their buying power can squeeze a brewery’s profit margins) in a pub that is also frequented by people who are not real fans.
  • From an independent owner dedicated to offering real ale (usually those with the most special beers and the most demanding “real ale” type customers).

Many pubs are very old and have traditional names such as Red Lion or King’s Weapons; before widespread literacy, pubs were recognised by most customers only by their signs. More recently, there has been a highly controversial trend in some circles towards chain pubs such as Hogshead, Slug and Lettuce and those of JD Wetherspoon. Another recent trend is that of the gastro-pub, a fancier traditional pub with a selection of quality food (almost at restaurant prices).

In pubs, beer is served in pints and half-pints or bottles. A pint is a little more than half a litre (568 ml to be exact). Simply ordering a beer from the tap (“draught beer”) is interpreted as asking for a pint, e.g. “a lager, please”. Or “half a pint of lager, please” will give you half a pint. If you ask for “half a pint of lager” in a noisy pub, you will almost certainly get a pint, because no one asks for “half a pint” and the barman will have thought you said “a pint of lager, please”. Prices vary considerably depending on the city, pub and beer, but generally pints cost between £3 and £4. Note that bottled beers often cost almost the same, although they contain much less than a pint (330 ml is the norm).

Spirits and shorts are normally 25 ml; although some pubs use a standard measure of 35 ml, in England, Scotland and Wales this is clearly stated on the optics in all cases. In Northern Ireland, the standard measure is 35 ml. In Scotland, the dram was traditionally a quarter of the gill measure, which is now 25 ml.

In pubs, wine is usually available in 125 ml (small measures) or 175 ml (large measures), but unless the pub specialises in wine, it is often of poor quality.

Food in pubs can range from nothing but chips and nuts, to simple ‘pub food’ (usually with chips), to standard restaurant food and beyond (some pubs even have Michelin stars). Pubs that specialise in food often have a separate area reserved for catering. However, the catering service often ends long before the pub closes.

When applying for a licence, pubs can specify the opening hours they wish; this can be challenged by neighbours, etc. Closing times are usually “last order” times: The pub is allowed to sell drinks before these times, and customers must drink and leave the pub within 20 minutes of the licence opening times. Staff normally call 10 minutes before the last order and again when the bar is closed.

Until the recent change in licensing laws, the closing hours were 11pm and 10.30pm on Sundays, and this is still quite common. The most common weekend closing times in cities are between midnight and 1am. Some large pubs can apply for a licence for up to 2 hours and clubs for up to 3 or 4 hours. It is not uncommon for some bars to be licensed until the early hours of the morning (6am), although this is rare as those who go out until this time are likely to go to clubs and then return home. In theory, a pub can apply for a 24-hour licence, but few have done so.

Wine bars

In the cities there are more modern wine bars and café bars (often simply called bars) alongside the traditional pubs, although the changeable weather means there is not as much ‘street life’ as in other European cities. However, depending on the weather, there are always more street cafés in the UK. Some areas in London, Manchester and other booming cities are good examples of this change in the scene.

Prices in bars tend to be higher than in pubs, with less emphasis on beer and more on wine, spirits and cocktails. Customers are often younger than in traditional pubs, although there is a lot of overlap and some bars are more ‘pubby’ than others.


Clubs are popular in most major cities and many of them have world-class venues as well as many alternative venues. There are large clubs in London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Brighton, to name but a few places. Prices in clubs tend to be significantly higher than in pubs, and opening hours may not be as attractive as they used to be, as pubs can now open late into the night. Most clubs do not accept children under 18. ID may be required at the door, but ID checks in bars are less common. Dress codes are sometimes enforced by bouncers or doormen before entry, sometimes not too consistently. Common dress codes are simply to dress smartly and avoid wearing sportswear, including trainers. However, “fashionable” sneakers, especially in dark colours, are increasingly accepted as part of smart dress. That being said, some high-end clubs will still insist on shoes and, if in doubt, will wear shoes to avoid being turned away.

Clubs are often cheaper on weekdays (Monday to Thursday) as many of these evenings are for students; however, you will usually have to pay an entrance fee. For a club in a small town (capacity 250-300 people) the price is usually £1 to £2 during the week, £2 to £3 at weekends and rarely more than £5 for special occasions. Conventional clubs in big cities and alternative clubs in towns cost between £5 and £10. Large clubs, especially in towns that host a ‘dancing’ crowd, almost certainly cost more than £10, but rarely more than £15. In cities with a large student population, it is often much cheaper to go to clubs on weekday evenings (Monday to Thursday) as many clubs advertise for students on these nights and offer discounted drinks and cheaper tickets.

Soft drinks

Tea is widely consumed in the UK. Most Britons drink black tea with milk and/or sugar. Tea consumption is widespread in the UK because India, the country where tea plants are found, was British territory until 1947.

Coffee is also popular in the UK, but not as popular as tea.

Money & Shopping in United Kingdom


The currency used throughout the United Kingdom is the pound (£) (more correctly called sterling to distinguish it from the Syrian or Egyptian pound, but it is not used in common parlance), divided into 100 pence (singular penny(p).

The coins appear in 1p (small copper), 2p (large copper), 5p (very small silver), 10p (large silver), 20p (small silver with square edges), 50p (large silver with square edges), £1 (small thick gold) and £2 (large gold) thick with a silver centre and a gold edge), while Bank of England notes come in £5 (green/light blue), £10 (orange/brown), £20 (blue) and £50 (red) and depict the Queen on one side and famous historical figures on the other. The size increases with the value. It is often best to avoid receiving £50 notes. £50 notes are often rejected by smaller establishments – they are unpopular because of the risk of counterfeiting and the amount of change that has to be given at reception. Note that the £1 gold coin, in use since 1983, will be replaced in 2017 by a new 12-sided bi-metallic coin (gold on the outside, silver in the middle) that is 0.75g lighter, 0.35mm thinner and 0.93mm wider than the old coin; the old coins will be withdrawn over a six-month period following the introduction of the new coin in March 2017.

Bank of England notes are widely accepted throughout the United Kingdom. Three Scottish banks (Bank of ScotlandThe Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank) and four banks in Northern Ireland (Bank of IrelandFirst Trust BankDanske Bank and Ulster Bank) issue their own banknotes with their own design. These notes have mostly the same denominations as the Bank of England notes, plus there are £100 notes. They are sometimes viewed with suspicion in England and Wales. However, these notes can be exchanged for Bank of England notes at any bank without charge. When leaving the UK, try to take only Bank of England notes with you as it can be difficult to exchange the rest outside the UK.

You may also hear the colloquial term “quid” for “pound”. It is both singular and plural; “three pounds” means “three quid”. Often people just say “pee” instead of “pence”. “Fiver” and “tenner” are common slang expressions for 5 and 10 pounds respectively.

Sometimes you can get into trouble if you try to pay for a small purchase with a £20 bill. Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes can also be difficult to spend outside these areas (see above); and in some cases you cannot pay with tickets at all (buses, for example, do not always accept them). When paying a bill (e.g. in a restaurant or hotel), any reasonable method of payment is usually accepted unless you have been informed beforehand. Travellers’ cheques in sterling may be accepted, but it is best to ask in advance.

Larger banks and post offices have bureaux de change (one of many examples of borrowing terms from English into French) that exchange most foreign currencies into books and vice versa, although they usually only accept foreign notes and not coins. Travel agencies and some department stores (e.g. Marks and Spencer) often have them too; and even small airports have at least one, although prices are often poor. It’s worth driving around the big cities to find the best rates. As ATMs in the UK accept foreign credit and debit cards, there is no need to bring large amounts of foreign currency with you anyway.


Opening a bank account is a relatively simple process, although proof of address is required. As most passports do not show your address, you should bring something that shows your address, such as a driving licence, ID card or bank statement from home. The “Big Four” retail banks in the UK are BarclaysHSBCLloyds Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

ATMs, often known in the UK as cash points, cash dispensers or informally as ‘holes in the wall’, are widely available and usually dispense £10, £20 and sometimes £5 notes. They accept almost all foreign debit and credit cards. Travellers’ cheques can be exchanged at most banks. Beware: some non-bank ATMs (easily recognisable, sometimes kiosk-type, as opposed to fixed units in walls, and often in petrol stations and convenience stores) charge a flat fee for cash withdrawals, and your high street bank may do the same. On average, the cost is around £1.75 per withdrawal, but the ATM will always inform you of this and give you the option to cancel the transaction.

If you use an ATM, beware of fraud, which is becoming increasingly common. In this scam, your card is either “skimmed” (by reading the details on the card with a device attached to the machine) or it is jammed into the machine and recorded with a hidden camera when you enter your PIN. Never use an ATM with a card slot that appears to be tampered with and always cover the keypad with your hand, wallet or purse when entering your PIN. If you find an ATM that appears to be tampered with or if it withholds your card, report it immediately to the bank that owns it and to the police. For obvious reasons, ATMs located in bank branches are much less susceptible to this type of fraud than those located outside.

Credit and debit cards

Visa, MasterCard, Maestro and American Express are accepted in most shops and restaurants, although American Express is sometimes not accepted by small independent establishments and it is worth asking if in doubt, especially if queues are long. However, internet purchases from a UK-based merchant with a credit card sometimes incur a 2-2.5% surcharge, especially for overseas travel products (this is not so much the case with a debit card, even if it is a VISA or MasterCard). Since 14 February 2006, chip and PIN cards have become almost compulsory for cards issued in the UK. Customers in countries where credit cards do not have a chip are supposed to be able to sign instead of entering a PIN code, but it is advisable to have enough cash on you in case the merchant does not follow this rule or the machine has problems reading your card. If your bank issues a ‘contactless’ VISA or MasterCard, or if you have an ApplePay device linked to these cards, you can use them at some merchants instead of entering a PIN, although each transaction is usually limited to a maximum of £30.

There is usually no minimum amount for traders who have a national presence. Although most small shops and local pubs accept cards, there is often a minimum amount that must be spent (usually around £5). Any amount less than this minimum may be refused by the merchant, who may then charge a fee for processing the payment.


The high cost of basic things like transport, accommodation and food means that as a low-budget traveller you are likely to spend at least £50 per day. The cost of taxis, comfortable hotels and restaurant food is much higher than in most other European countries.

London and the South East in general are much more expensive for accommodation and other costs.


Locals generally only tip in certain situations. In many restaurants with table service, a “service tax” on your bill replaces the tip; in the absence of a service tax, a tip of around 10-15% is common. Tipping in cafés and coffee shops is less common. In many restaurants, the tip can be added to the credit card bill, but it is generally considered better to leave cash at the table. This is because cash should be given directly to waiting staff, while credit card payments and cheques are legally payable at the restaurant. While a tip given by credit card or cheque is almost always passed on to the waiters, it is legal for restaurants to pay their staff less than the minimum wage if the amount given as a tip by restaurant management raises their salary to the minimum wage level.

It is not customary to tip for drinks in a pub or bar, although offering a drink at the bar is considered acceptable and you can then take money for a drink’s worth (which is indeed tipping). Most of the time, the tip is offered by saying “and one for you” when you pay. If the pub is also a restaurant, you can tip the service staff.

In many restaurants with table service – and in “gastro-pubs” – a “service charge” is added to the bill, usually (but not always) if the group exceeds a certain size, for example six people, in which case a higher tip is not expected. It is helpful to check the menu for service charges at the time of ordering.

There is a legal obligation to show prices including all taxes and other charges. Additional service charges in restaurants are uncommon. If this happens, it is legal to refuse to pay the service charge, but people tend to do this only if they think the service was inadequate.

Taxis are not usually tipped, but passengers usually round up the fare to the next highest pound sterling. If you have a lot of luggage and the driver helps you carry it, a tip of £2 to £3 is usual.

Historically, tipping can be seen as an insult; it implies that the recipient can be bought or bribed and that the person giving the tip is ‘better than you’. This is the origin of the custom of offering a drink to the barman/barmaid in a pub. You would not tip a friend or co-worker, that would be an insult, but it is normal to offer a drink.

In some establishments, tips are retained individually by the waiter or waitress, while in others they may be pooled and distributed among all employees (a “trunk”). In other cases, tips may be set aside for other purposes for the benefit of the employees, e.g. to finance a staff party or a trip.

Tipping for other services such as taxis, pizza deliveries and hairdressers is not expected, but sometimes tips are given for particularly good service. Although it is common to tip taxi drivers and hairdressers in some big cities. In taxis it is customary to round up the fare to the nearest whole pound, even if this means a measly tip of 10 pence. For example, if the fare is £4.90, it is customary to say, “Make it £5, just to make it easier”.

Any attempt to tip a police officer, firefighter, nurse, doctor or other public sector employee would be considered an act of corruption and could be treated as a criminal offence.

Cigarettes and tobacco

Cigarettes are heavily taxed; over £7 for 20 cigarettes. 50g packets of rolling tobacco cost around £12. Imported brands such as Marlboro, Camel or Lucky Strike are usually the most expensive, as are well-known British brands such as Benson & Hedges and Embassy. Low tar cigarettes cannot be described as ‘light’, so terms such as ‘gold’ and ‘smooth’ are used. Most cigarettes are available in low-tar and menthol variants, and many brands also offer “superking” variants (100 mm long). The cheapest prices can be found in supermarkets at the customer counter. Almost all kiosks, supermarkets and petrol stations sell tobacco, and most also carry some brands of pipe tobacco and cigars. For a wider selection of tobacco products, most towns have at least one specialised tobacco shop. New laws now stipulate that tobacco products cannot be displayed.

The minimum age for buying tobacco products is 18. However, it is legal to smoke at 16. Guests who appear to be under 18 (and 21 or 25 in some places) may be asked to show identification to prove they are 18 or over (passports, driving licences and cards with the PASS hologram are accepted).

In some places there is a black market for imported cigarettes, which are much cheaper and can be offered to you in bars by people (rarely bar or supply workers). It is best to avoid this as it is an illegal trade.

Smoking is not permitted in any enclosed public space, with the exception of certain hotel rooms (please enquire at the time of booking). For the purposes of the smoke-free law, ‘enclosed’ is defined as a place with at least three walls and a roof, which may include features such as ‘open’ bus shelters. Smoking is also prohibited in railway stations. Penalties can include a £50 “on the spot” fine. Most pubs and nightclubs have smoking areas that comply with current legislation.


Although shopping in the UK can be expensive, it is generally considered a top destination for shoppers, both in terms of variety and quality of products, depending on where and what you buy. Fierce competition has driven down prices significantly in the food, clothing and electronics sectors. Prices vary and it is always worth visiting the various retail outlets as they often have good deals. Avoid shopping in tourist areas and stick to high street shops or the many retail parks outside the city where prices are much lower. The retail market in the UK is very competitive and many bargains are available all year round. In the electronics sector, for example, it is increasingly common to ask for a discount when making a purchase.

VAT (“Value Added Tax” – a compulsory tax levied on most transactions in the UK) is 20%, with reduced rates of 5% and 0% for certain categories (e.g. electricity is taxed at 5%, while uncooked food, children’s clothing and books are taxed at 0%). For street purchases, VAT is included in the displayed retail price.

Reclaiming VAT when leaving the EU
Many shops selling luxury or high-end goods have a blue “Tax-Free Shopping” sticker in the window. This means that you can reclaim VAT before you leave the country if you are leaving the European Union (not just the UK).

There are at least three major tax refund service providers that take exorbitant fees in exchange for the convenience of refunding at the airport: Global Blue in Slovakia +42 1232 111 111; Premier Tax [email protected] 0845 129 8993; (higher rate from mobile phones) and Tax Free [email protected] +44 20 7612-1560

However, these systems are inferior to the direct opportunities offered by the UK government’s VAT Form 407 process, when you can get the retailer to credit your card or bank account directly on receipt of this Form 407 countersigned by a customs authority.

Officially, any unused purchase made within the last three months may be subject to VAT reclaim if you have convinced the retailer to apply the VAT 407 scheme at the time of purchase, and
– you have a permanent residence in a non-EU country, or
– You have a residence in the EEA and leave the EEA for at least 12 months

At the airport, you will find the customs office and the “Blue VAT rebate” office in the free zone of the airport. There may be a queue, so plan enough time to complete the formalities before your flight.

Electronic items like computers and digital cameras may be cheaper here than in many European countries (especially the Scandinavian countries), but you can buy them anywhere. The internet is always a good way to evaluate the price of a particular item. You can also use it as a negotiating tool when you agree on a price with some of the biggest electronics stores. If you are from the United States, you may have to pay duties and taxes that make some of these purchases less advantageous, so shop carefully.

Festivals & Holidays in United Kingdom

Public holidays

Every country (and sometimes some cities, like Glasgow and Edinburgh) in the UK has a number of (slightly different) public holidays when the majority of people are not working. Shops, pubs, restaurants and the like are usually open. Many UK residents use these holidays to travel, both within the UK and abroad. As a result, transport links are busier than usual and prices tend to rise. If your travel dates are flexible, you should avoid travelling to and from the UK on bank holiday weekends.

The following 8 public holidays apply in all regions of the United Kingdom:

  • New Year’s Day (1 January)
  • Good Friday (the Friday immediately before Easter Sunday)
  • Easter Monday (the Monday immediately after Easter Sunday)
  • Beginning of May, public holiday (first Monday in May)
  • Spring break (last Monday in May)
  • Summer holidays (last Monday in August, except in Scotland where it is the first Monday in August).
  • Christmas Day (25 December)
  • Boxing Day (26 December)

Northern Ireland has the following two additional public holidays:

  • St. Patrick’s Day (17 March)
  • Battle of the Boyne / Orangemen’s Day (12 July)

Scotland officially has two extra public holidays:

  • New Year’s Day (2 January)
  • St. Andrew’s Day (30 November)

In practice, with the exception of Easter, Christmas and New Year, UK public holidays are virtually ignored in Scotland in favour of local holidays, which vary from place to place.

If a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, it will be moved to the following Monday. If Christmas Day and Boxing Day fall on a weekend, Boxing Day will be moved to the following Tuesday.

Festivals in United Kingdom



  • Albion fairs
  • Aldeburgh Festival, Suffolk
  • Appleby Jazz Festival
  • Arundel Festival


  • Bath Fringe Festival
  • International Music Festival in Bath
  • Bath Literary Festival
  • Scarborough Stranded Festival
  • Bedford River Festival
  • Big Chill Festival in Eastnor
  • Birmingham: ArtsFest, Book Festival, International Carnival
  • Blackpool: Illuminations, Festival of Light, Festival of Rebellion
  • Blissfields, near Winchester
  • Bradford Mela Fest
  • Bridgnorth Folk Festival, Shropshire
  • Bridgwater: Guy Fawkes Carnival
  • Brighton Festival
  • Brighton Festival Fringe
  • Bristol : Ashton Court, Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, Harbour Festival
  • Bromyard Folk Festival
  • Bulldog Bash Motorcycle Festival
  • BunkFest
  • Castle Festival, Burton on Trent
  • Bury Festival, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
  • Buxton Festival, Buxton, Derbyshire


  • Cambridge: Folk Festival
  • Canterbury Cricket Week, founded 1842
  • Castlemorton Common Festival
  • Cheltenham : Cheltenham Festivals:
    • Cheltenham Jazz Festival
    • Cheltenham Literature Festival
    • Cheltenham Music Festival
    • Cheltenham Science Festival
  • Chicken Stock Festival, small arts festival near Malvern, Worcestershire.
  • Cleveland : Middlesbrough Music Live Stockton Riverside Festival
  • Clitheroe Food Festival, Lancashire’s premier food and drink festival, Clitheroe, Lancashire
  • Coventry : Godiva, Jazz, Town & Country, Kite, [3] Royal Show [4]
  • Creamfields Dance Music Festival
  • Festival of Cultures
  • Cyprus Film Festival in the United Kingdom


  • Deepdale Jazz Festival, Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk
  • Donington’s Rock Monster
  • Dover Carnival, Dover, England [5]
  • Download Festival, an annual rock festival held at Donington Park since 2003.
  • Durham Miners Gala


  • Endless feast
  • Esethvos Kernow, Cornwall


  • Frome Festival, Somerset
  • FuseLeeds


  • Glastonbury Festival
  • Glyndebourne Opera Festival
  • Godiva Festival
  • Golowan Festival
  • Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival, Colne, Lancashire
  • Green Man Festival
  • Green Belt Festival
  • Greenwich+Docklands International Festival
  • Guilfest


  • H2OFest
  • Harrogate: Harrogate International Festival, Great Yorkshire Show
  • Hay-on-Wye: Hay Festival for Literature and Art
  • Hemsby Fest
  • Henley Music and Arts Festival
  • HogSozzle Music Festival
  • Huddersfield: Caribbean Carnival, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Asian Mela


  • Ilkley Literature Festival
  • International Sea Festival
  • Great Britain International Guitar Festival, Wirral
  • Isle of Wight Festival 1968, 1969 and 1970


Jersey Eisteddfod


  • Keighley: Keighley Festival
  • Kendal Mountain Film Festival
  • Keswick Mountain Festival
  • Knebworth Concerts (occasionally)


  • Latitude Festival, Suffolk
  • Ledbury Poetry Festival, Herefordshire
  • LeeFest, Bromley
  • Leicester: Leicester Comedy Festival, Leicester Caribbean Carnival.
  • Letchworth Garden City: Rap-Aid Music Festival
  • Lichfield Festival
  • Liverpool: Liverpool Garden Festival (1984)
  • Londres : Carnaval de Cuba ; Carnaval Del Pueblo, le plus grand festival d’Amérique latine en Europe ; City of London Festival ; Covent Garden Festival ; Dollshouse Festival ; Festival of Britain (1951) ; Greenwich+Docklands International Festival ; Greenwich Film Festival ; Lesbian and Gay Film Festival ; Notting Hill Carnival ; Oktoberfest, le festival culturel allemand qui se tient à Richmond-upon-Thames ; Portobello Film Festival ; Spitalfields Festival
  • Ludlow Festival, Shropshire
  • Festival of Lights
  • Luton Carnival
  • Lyme Regis Fossil Festival


  • Middlesbrough : Middlesbrough Music Live
  • Montol Festival, Penzance


  • Newcastle upon Tyne: Hop farms
  • Fish Festival in Newlyn
  • Norfolk and Norwich Festival


  • Peak Literary Festival, Peak District National Park
  • Pershore Plum Festival, Pershore, Worcestershire
  • Peterborough Festival


  • Reading: Reading Festival, WOMAD
  • RhythmTree World Music & Didgeridoo Festival, Calbourne Water Mill, Calbourne, Isle of Wight
  • Ross on Wye International Festival


  • Salisbury International Arts Festival
  • Sathiyanathan Natarajan
  • Scarborough Literature Festival
  • Shakespeare School Festival
  • International Documentary Film Festival in Sheffield
  • Shifnal Festival
  • Sidmouth International Festival
  • Soundwave Festival
  • St Barnabas Community Day, Bow, London
  • Stonehenge Free Festival
  • Strawberry Market, Cambridge
  • The Rise of the Swans


  • Thames Festival
  • Three Choirs Festival
  • The Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival
  • Towersey Village Fete
  • Tramline Festival


  • V Festival
  • Vegfest (United Kingdom)


  • Warwick Folk Festival
  • West Country: West Country Karnevalstour
  • Weyfest
  • Wimborne Folk Festival
  • Wirral International Film Festival
  • Womad
  • Women in Tune
  • Worcestershire Literature Festival


  • Young Carer’s Festival, Curdridge, Southampton


  • Zebru Festival


  • Aberdeen: Aberdeen International Youth Festival, World Youth Arts Festival; Word; Wordfringe; Dance Live; Sound
  • Dumfries and Galloway: Gaelfest
  • Dundee: Dundee Flower and Food Festival, Dundee Guitar Festival, Dundee Blues Bonanza, Dundee International Book Award
  • Edinburgh: Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh International Science Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh Military Tattoo, International Sea Festival
  • Glamis, near Forfar: The Scottish Countryside Festival
  • Glasgow: Glasgow Jazz Festival; Celtic Connections; MovieMinds, ein internationales Online-Filmfestival
  • Hebrew Celtic Festival
  • Inversion: Festival Connect
  • Inverness: Highland Festival
  • Loopallu Festival
  • Pitlochry Festival
  • Shakespeare Schools Festival, at various venues
  • Shetland Folk Festival
  • St Magnus Festival, Orkney
  • Up Helly-Aa, Shetland


  • Abergavenny Food Festival
  • Brecon Jazz Festival
  • Cardiff Festival
  • Cardiff International Film Festival, Wales
  • Hay Festival for Literature and Art
  • Llangollen International Eisteddfod
  • National Eisteddfod of Wales
  • Pontardawe Festival
  • Shakespeare Schools Festival, at various venues
  • Festival of the Small Nations
  • Urdd National Eisteddfod

Northern Ireland

  • The Belfast Festival in Queens
  • Belfast Film Festival
  • Shakespeare School Festival, Belfast and Derry

Traditions & Customs in United Kingdom

In most social situations it is acceptable to address a person by their first name. First names are sometimes avoided among strangers in order not to appear too familiar. In very formal or professional situations, first names are usually not used until people get to know each other better. The best strategy is to use what they have introduced to each other. Officials (e.g. policemen or doctors), however, will always address you by your title and surname, e.g. “Mr Schmidt”.

The British can be extremely indirect when asking for things from people they don’t know. It is common for Brits to ask “right to left” when asking something: for example, you would be more inclined to say something like “Where can I find the cloakroom?” in a clothing shop than “Where is the cloakroom?”. Although it is quite common to ask questions directly, these can sometimes be seen as too blunt or even rude.

Similarly, saying “what” when you don’t understand something can be considered rude to authority figures or people you don’t know, so “excuse me” or “sorry” is more appropriate in situations with a stranger or superior. British people often apologise even when there is absolutely no reason to do so. For example, if someone accidentally steps on someone else’s foot, both people usually apologise. This is a British practice and if you harp on it (e.g. “What are you sorry about?”) you will be identified as a foreigner. Often a British person will ask for something or start a conversation with “sorry”. Not because he or she is sorry, but because it is used instead of “excuse me” or “sorry”.

Leave a personal space between you and others in queues and elsewhere. You will usually find this space in places like cinemas. Generally, you will find that unless people know each other, they will usually choose to fill each row of seats and keep as much distance as possible until it is necessary to sit right next to each other. Exceptions are high traffic situations where this is not possible, such as on the metro.

The greeting depends on the situation. In any situation that is not a work situation, a verbal greeting (e.g. “Hello (name)!”) is sufficient. Younger people usually say “Hello”, “Hiya” or “Hey”, although the latter is also used to attract attention and should not be used to address a stranger as it would be considered rude. Another British greeting (often used by young people) is “You all right?” or “All right?”. (sometimes abbreviated to “A” in the north of England), which is actually a combination of “Hello” and “How are you?”. This term can be confusing to strangers, but it is easy to either reply with a return greeting (which is much more common), or to say how you feel (usually something short like “I’m fine, how are you?”).

A greeting can sometimes be accompanied by a kiss on the cheek or, more rarely, a hug. The etiquette for a hug is somewhat complicated, so the best advice is to accept a hug (regardless of gender) when offered, otherwise a handshake is appropriate. In a formal situation or a first greeting between two strangers, a handshake is the right thing to do, it should be of appropriate (usually moderate) firmness.

For more details on unwritten rules about greetings, salutations, gossip, British hypocrisy, etc., read Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by anthropologist Kate Fox (ISBN 0340752122).

The Scots are Scottish, the Welsh are Welsh and the English are English. Calling them all “English” is not correct and can be insulting. Bear in mind also that most unionists in Northern Ireland do not want to be called Irish. On the other hand, most nationalists in Northern Ireland will identify themselves as Irish and register as Irish citizens and carry Irish passports, which all people born in Northern Ireland have the right to do if they so wish. You will also find that although all people in the UK are legally considered British, they often prefer to be referred to by the country in the UK where they were born rather than using the collective term British. It is also common to meet someone who may say “I am half Welsh, half English” or “my parents are Scottish and I am English”.

We have to avoid calling the Falkland Islands Argentine because it is quite a sensitive issue for some people: 250 British soldiers died in 1982 fighting to defend the islands against Argentine control. As the war was won by the British, the Falkland Islands remain a British overseas territory to this day. To a lesser extent, the same advice applies when it comes to Gibraltar, as Spain claims it as its own territory.

While many Britons regard the V-sign with the palm facing outwards as a sign of “peace” or “victory”, the opposite with the palm facing inwards is considered an insulting gesture equivalent to the raised middle finger.

Manifestations of same-sex affection are not likely to cause disorder or offence, except in certain rural areas or in the difficult neighbourhoods of certain cities. Cities with larger gay populations include London, Birmingham, Manchester, Brighton, Bournemouth and Edinburgh. Cities such as Brighton hold annual Pride Festivals. Civil partnerships have been legal since 2005 and same-sex marriage has been legal since 2014. However, a person looking for a fight may decide to use someone’s sexuality as an excuse. Try to avoid eye contact with drunk people in the city centre at night, especially if they are in large groups. It is also important to note that in Northern Ireland homosexual displays and activities are rarely shown outside of Belfast, where many people will still have conservative values. It should be remembered that in Belfast some areas are safer than others to show affection. Although ‘cross-dressing’ is not illegal in the UK, it is generally advisable to be modest in your choice of clothing unless you are familiar with local standards beforehand.

It is now illegal to urinate in public. If you are caught urinating, the police will caution you, fine you and in some places you will have to clean your own urine with a mop and disinfectant, which can be very embarrassing for offenders. In addition, “indecent assault” (defined as exposing genitals with the intention of shocking people who do not want to see them) is treated as a sexual offence.

Culture Of United Kingdom

The culture of the United Kingdom has been influenced by many factors, including: the country’s insularity, its history as a Western liberal democracy and great power, and the fact that it is a political union of four countries, each of which has retained different elements of tradition, custom and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, British influence can be seen in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies, including Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States. The significant cultural influence of the United Kingdom has led to it being referred to as a “cultural superpower”.


British literature” refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The majority of British literature is in English. In 2005, around 206,000 books were published in the UK and in 2006 the UK was the largest book publisher in the world.

The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest playwright of all time, and his contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson have also been consistently highly regarded. More recently, playwrights Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and David Edgar have combined elements of surrealism, realism and radicalism.

Pre-modern and early modern English writers include Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century), Thomas Malory (15th century), Sir Thomas More (16th century), John Bunyan (17th century) and John Milton (17th century). In the 18th century, Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) and Samuel Richardson were the pioneers of the modern novel. In the 19th century, Jane Austen, the gothic novelist Mary Shelley, the children’s author Lewis Carroll, the Brontë sisters, the social activist Charles Dickens, the naturalist Thomas Hardy, the realist George Eliot, the visionary poet William Blake and the romantic poet William Wordsworth continued their innovations. Twentieth-century English writers include science fiction writer H. G. Wells, children’s authors Rudyard Kipling, A. A. Milne (the creator of Winnie the Pooh), Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton, the controversial D. H. Lawrence, modernist Virginia Woolf, satirist Evelyn Waugh, prophetic writer George Orwell, popular novelists W. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene; crime writer Agatha Christie (the best-selling female writer of all time); Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond); poets T.S. Eliot, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes; fantasy writers J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling; graphic novelists Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.

Scotland’s contributions include the crime writer Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes), the romantic literature of Sir Walter Scott, the children’s author J. M. Barrie, the epic adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson and the famous poet Robert Burns. More recently, the modernist and nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn have contributed to the Scottish renaissance. A darker perspective can be found in the stories of Ian Rankin and the psychological horror comedy of Iain Banks. Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, was named the first World City of Literature by UNESCO.

The oldest known poem in Britain, Y Gododdin, was written in Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North), probably in the late 6th century. It was written in Cumbrian or Old Welsh and contains the oldest known reference to King Arthur. From about the 7th century, the link between Wales and the Old North was lost and the focus of Welsh culture shifted to Wales, where the Arthurian legend was developed by Geoffrey of Monmouth. The most famous medieval poet of Wales, Dafydd ap Gwilym (fl. 1320-1370), wrote poetry on themes such as nature, religion and especially love. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest European poets of his time. Until the end of the 19th century, most Welsh literature was in Welsh and much of the prose was religious in nature. Daniel Owen is considered the first novelist in Welsh, publishing Rhys Lewis in 1885. The best known of the Anglo-Welsh poets are the two Thomases. Dylan Thomas became famous on both sides of the Atlantic in the mid-20th century. He is known for his poetry – his “Go not gentle into that good night; rage, rage against the dying of the light” is one of the most quoted verses in the English language – and for his “play for voices”, Under Milk Wood. The influential Welsh “poet-priest” and nationalist R. S. Thomas was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. Leading Welsh novelists of the 20th century include Richard Llewellyn and Kate Roberts.

Authors of other nationalities, including Commonwealth countries, the Republic of Ireland and the United States, have lived and worked in the United Kingdom. Notable examples over the centuries include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and, more recently, foreign-born British authors such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Sir Salman Rushdie.


Various styles of music are popular in the UK, from the indigenous folk music of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to heavy metal. Among the best-known classical composers in the UK and its predecessor countries are William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Sir Arthur Sullivan (who usually collaborated with the librettist Sir W. S. Gilbert), Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten, a pioneer of modern British opera. Sir Harrison Birtwistle is one of the greatest living composers. Britain is also home to world-famous symphony orchestras and choirs such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus. Among the most famous conductors are Sir Simon Rattle, Sir John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent. Film music composers include John Barry, Clint Mansell, Mike Oldfield, John Powell, Craig Armstrong, David Arnold, John Murphy, Monty Norman and Harry Gregson-Williams. George Frideric Handel was naturalised as a British citizen and wrote the British Coronation Anthem, while some of his best works, such as Messiah, were written in English. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a prolific composer of musical theatre. His works have dominated London’s West End since the late 20th century and have also been commercially successful worldwide.

The Beatles have sold over one billion units internationally and are the best-selling and most influential group in the history of popular music. Other British personalities who have influenced popular music over the last 50 years include the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, the Bee Gees and Elton John, all of whom have sold more than 200 million records worldwide. The Brit Awards are the BPI’s annual music awards. British winners of the Outstanding Contribution to Music Award include The Who, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and The Police. Recent British bands that have achieved international success include Coldplay, Radiohead, Oasis, Spice Girls, Robbie Williams, Amy Winehouse and Adele.

A number of British cities are known for their music. Liverpool is the city with the most hits per capita (54) in the UK charts worldwide. Glasgow’s contribution to music was recognised in 2008 when it was named a UNESCO City of Music, one of only three cities worldwide to receive this honour.

Visual arts

The history of British visual art is part of the history of Western art. Leading British artists include the Romantics William Blake, John Constable, Samuel Palmer and J.M.W. Turner, the portraitists Sir Joshua Reynolds and Lucian Freud, the landscape painters Thomas Gainsborough and L. S. Lowry, the Arts and Crafts pioneer William Morris, the figurative painter Francis Bacon, the Pop artists Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney, the duo Gilbert and George, the abstract artist Howard Hodgkin, and the sculptors Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Henry Moore. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Saatchi Gallery in London helped draw public attention to a group of genre-bending artists who would become known as the Young British Artists: Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin, Mark Wallinger, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Wood and the Chapman brothers are among the best known members of this loose movement.

The Royal Academy in London is an important organisation for the promotion of the visual arts in the UK. Major art schools in the UK include: the University of the Arts London, which has six schools, including Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Chelsea College of Art and Design; Goldsmiths, University of London; the Slade School of Fine Art (part of University College London); the Glasgow School of Art; the Royal College of Art; and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art (part of Oxford University). The Courtauld Institute of Art is a leading centre for the teaching of art history. Major art galleries in the UK include the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain and Tate Modern (the most visited modern art gallery in the world, with around 4.7 million visitors a year).


The United Kingdom has had a significant impact on the history of cinema. British directors Alfred Hitchcock, whose film Vertigo is considered by some critics to be the best film ever made, and David Lean are among the most critically acclaimed of all time. Other important directors include Charlie Chaplin, Michael Powell, Carol Reed and Ridley Scott. Many British actors have achieved international fame and critical success including : Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Michael Caine, Charlie Chaplin, Sean Connery, Vivien Leigh, David Niven, Laurence Olivier, Peter Sellers, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis. Some of the most commercially successful films of all time have been produced in the UK, including two of the most lucrative film franchises (Harry Potter and James Bond). Ealing Studios claims to be the oldest continuously operating film studio in the world.

Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry has often been marked by debate over its identity and the degree of American and European influence. British producers are active in international co-productions and British actors, directors and crew regularly appear in American films. Many successful Hollywood films are based on British characters, stories or events, including TitanicLord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean.

In 2009, British films grossed around $2 billion worldwide and achieved a market share of around 7% globally and 17% in the UK. Box office takings in the UK totalled £944 million in 2009, with around 173 million admissions. The British Film Institute has produced a ranking of what it considers to be the 100 best British films of all time, the BFI Top 100 British Films. The British Academy Film Awards are organised annually by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.


The BBC, founded in 1922, is the UK’s publicly funded radio, television and internet broadcaster. It is the oldest and largest broadcasting corporation in the world. It operates many television and radio stations in the UK and abroad, and its national services are funded through the television licence fee. Other major UK media companies are ITV plc, which operates 11 of the 15 regional television channels that make up the ITV network, and News Corporation, which owns a number of national newspapers through News International, such as the most popular tabloid The Sun and the oldest daily newspaper The Times, and has a significant stake in the satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting. London dominates the media sector in the UK, with national newspapers and television and radio having a strong presence there, although Manchester is also a major national media centre. Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Cardiff, are important centres of newspaper production and broadcasting in Scotland and Wales respectively. The UK publishing sector, which includes books, directories and databases, magazines and business media, newspapers and news agencies, has a total turnover of around £20 billion and employs around 167 000 people.

In 2009, it was estimated that people watched an average of 3.75 hours of television and listened to 2.81 hours of radio per day. In that year, the BBC’s main public service channels accounted for about 28.4% of all television viewing, the three main independent channels for 29.5% and the other increasingly important satellite and digital channels for the remaining 42.1%. Newspaper sales have been declining since the 1970s. In 2010, only 41% of people said they read a national daily newspaper. In 2010, 82.5 % of the UK population were internet users, the highest proportion among the 20 countries with the highest total number of users that year.


The United Kingdom is famous for the tradition of “British empiricism”, a branch of the philosophy of knowledge that asserts that only knowledge verified by experience is valid, and for “Scottish philosophy”, sometimes called the “Scottish school of common sense”. The most famous philosophers of British empiricism are John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume, while Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid and William Hamilton were the main representatives of the Scottish school of “common sense”. Two Britons also stand out for a theory of utilitarian moral philosophy, first used by Jeremy Bentham and later by John Stuart Mill in his short book Utilitarianism. Other notable philosophers from the United Kingdom and the Unions and countries who preceded him include Duns Scot, John Lilburne, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sir Francis Bacon, Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, William of Ockham, Bertrand Russell and A.J. “Freddie” Ayer. Foreign-born philosophers who settled in Britain include Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx, Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein.


Major sports, including association football, tennis, union rugby, league rugby, golf, boxing, netball, rowing and cricket, have their origins or significant development in the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. As the rules and codes of many modern sports were invented and codified in Victorian Britain in the late 19th century, IOC President Jacques Rogge said in 2012: “This great, sport-loving country is widely recognised as the cradle of modern sport. Here, for the first time, the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were codified in clear rules and regulations. In this country, sport was included in the curricula as an educational tool”.

In most international competitions, separate teams represent England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland usually field a single team representing the whole of Ireland, with the notable exception of association football and the Commonwealth Games. In a sporting context, English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish/Northern Irish teams are often collectively referred to as ‘Home Nations’. In some sports, a single team represents the whole of the United Kingdom, such as in the Olympic Games, where the United Kingdom is represented by Team Great Britain. The 1908, 1948 and 2012 Summer Olympics were held in London, making London the first city to host the Games three times. Great Britain has participated in all modern Olympic Games to date and ranks third in the number of medals won.

A 2003 survey found that football is the most popular sport in the UK. England is recognised by FIFA as the birthplace of club football and the Football Association is the oldest of its kind. The rules of football were first written by Ebenezer Cobb Morley in 1863. Each country of origin has its own football association, national team and league system. The English first division, the Premier League, is the most watched football league in the world. The very first international football match was played on 30 November 1872 between England and Scotland. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete internationally as separate countries. A Great Britain Olympic football team was formed for the first time to compete at the London 2012 Olympic Games. However, the football associations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland refused to participate, fearing that it would undermine their independent status – a fear that was confirmed by FIFA.

In 2003, rugby was the second most popular sport in the UK. The sport originated at Rugby School in Warwickshire and the first international rugby match took place on 27 March 1871 between England and Scotland. England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy take part in the Six Nations Championship, the first international tournament in the northern hemisphere. The sports federations in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland organise and regulate the game separately. If one of the British or Irish teams beats the other three in a tournament, it receives the Triple Crown.

Cricket was invented in England and its laws were laid down by the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1788. The England cricket team, controlled by the England and Wales Cricket Board, is the only national team in the United Kingdom with Test team status. Team members are drawn from the main counties and include players from England and Wales. Cricket differs from football and rugby, where Wales and England form separate national teams, although Wales has formed its own team in the past. Irish and Scottish players have played for England, as neither Scotland nor Ireland have Test country status and have only recently started participating in One Day Internationals. Scotland, England (and Wales) and Ireland (including Northern Ireland) have played in the Cricket World Cup, with England reaching the final three times. There is a professional league championship involving clubs from 17 English counties and one Welsh county.

The modern game of tennis originated in Birmingham, England, in the 1860s and then spread around the world. The oldest tennis tournament in the world, the Wimbledon Championship, was first held in 1877. Today, the event takes place over two weeks in late June and early July.

Thoroughbred racing, which originated under Charles II of England as the “sport of kings”, is popular throughout the UK, with world-renowned races such as the Grand National, Epsom Derby, Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham National Hunting Festival (including the Cheltenham Gold Cup). The UK is successful in international rowing.

The United Kingdom is closely associated with motorsport. Many Formula One (F1) teams and drivers are based in the UK, and the country has won more drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles than any other. The UK hosted the first F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950 and the British Grand Prix is now held there every July. The UK hosts stages of the Motorcycle Grand Prix, the World Rally Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship. The main national motorsport event is the British Touring Car Championship. Road motorcycle racing has a long tradition with races such as the Isle of Man TT and the North West 200.

Golf is the sixth most popular sport, in terms of participation, in the UK. Although the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in Scotland is the home of golf, the oldest golf course in the world is actually the Old Golf Course at Musselburgh Links. In 1764, the standard 18-hole golf course was created at St Andrews when members changed the course from 22 to 18 holes. The oldest golf tournament in the world and the first major golf championship, the Open Championship, is held every year on the weekend of the third Friday in July.

Rugby league was born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in 1895 and is usually played in the north of England. Previously, only one team, the Great Britain Lions, had participated in the Rugby World Cup and Test matches. However, this changed in 2008 when England, Scotland and Ireland competed as independent nations. Great Britain remains as a fully-fledged national team. Super League is the highest level of professional rugby league in the UK and Europe. It consists of 11 teams from the North of England, 1 from London, 1 from Wales and 1 from France.

The Queensberry Rules”, the general set of rules for boxing, were named after John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, in 1867 and form the basis of modern boxing. Snooker is another popular sporting export from the UK, with the World Championships being held annually in Sheffield. In Northern Ireland, Gaelic and Hurling football are popular team sports, both in terms of participants and spectators, and are also played by Irish expatriates in the UK and USA. Shinty (or Camanachd) is very popular in the Scottish Highlands. The Highland Games take place in Scotland in the spring and summer and celebrate Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, particularly that of the Scottish Highlands.


The flag of the United Kingdom is the flag of the Union (also called the Union Jack). It was created in 1606 by superimposing the flag of England on the flag of Scotland and updated in 1801 by adding the flag of St Patrick. Wales is not represented in the Union Flag as it was conquered and annexed by England before the creation of the United Kingdom. The possibility of redesigning the Union Flag to include the representation of Wales is not entirely ruled out. The national anthem of the United Kingdom is “God Save the King”, with “King” replaced by “Queen” in the lyrics if the monarch is a woman.

Britannia is a national personification of the United Kingdom, originally from Roman Britain. Britannia is symbolised by a young woman with brown or golden hair wearing a Corinthian helmet and white robes. She holds Poseidon’s trident and a shield on which the Union flag is depicted. Sometimes she is depicted as sitting on the back of a lion. Since the heyday of the British Empire in the late 19th century, Britannia has often been associated with British naval supremacy, as in the patriotic song “Rule, Britannia!”. Until 2008, the lion symbol behind Britannia was depicted on the British fifty pence coin and on the reverse of the British ten pence coin. It is also used as a symbol on the non-ceremonial flag of the British Army.

A second, less used personification of the nation is the figure of John Bull. The bulldog is sometimes used as a symbol for the United Kingdom and has been associated with Winston Churchill’s challenge to Nazi Germany.

Stay Safe & Healthy in United Kingdom

Stay safe in United Kingdom

In general, the UK is a safe country to travel to; you won’t make many mistakes if you follow the general advice and tips for Europe.

In an emergency, call 999 or 112 (free from any phone, including mobile phones) and ask for an ambulance, fire and rescue service, police, coastguard or mountain and cave rescue if you are connected. Unlike many other countries, the UK does not have different numbers for different emergency services.

In a non-emergency situation, you can call 101 to report crimes and problems that do not require an emergency response to the local police. A similar service is available on 111 for health problems that do not require urgent admission to the emergency room.

Late at night it is not uncommon to find groups of drunk people, especially young men, on the street, but if you don’t go out of your way to cause trouble, you are unlikely to get into trouble. The police have fairly wide powers to fine or arrest people who are causing trouble, and although they can be stricter in larger cities, they are generally tolerant. In some cities and urban areas it is illegal to drink alcohol in public (except outside a bar or pub).

The age of sexual consent is 16 throughout the UK, although young people under 18 are still legally considered children (if in doubt, ask for proof of age, such as a driving licence). Homosexuality is very widely accepted in the UK and almost all discrimination and hate speech related to sexual orientation is illegal.

On the road

Although crossing roads for pedestrians is not a criminal offence in the UK, care should be taken when crossing a road at anything other than a designated level crossing. A number of traffic light crossings (mainly in urban areas) will have a push button to turn the lights green. Pedestrians have priority at zebra crossings, which are marked by white stripes on the roadway and flashing yellow lights. It is advisable to make visual contact with the driver before entering the road.


The UK transport network generally does not have any major safety problems. Major incidents are exceptionally rare (despite media attention). However, vigilance on security issues (e.g. suspicious packages) is appreciated and transport staff generally appreciate that their concerns are raised in an appropriate manner.


Overt racism is not common in the UK and racially motivated violence is rare. The government supports the idea of a multicultural society, but recent high immigration numbers have led to debates and the emergence of political figures opposed to immigration numbers. Nevertheless, the UK is considered by the majority of its own immigrant population to be one of the most tolerant European countries in this regard. Most Britons go out of their way to make tourists and immigrants feel welcome, and it is common for the courts to impose harsh penalties on any form of racist violence, whether physical or verbal. Current legislation prohibits hate speech as well as racial discrimination in many public areas such as education and employment.


ID cards
Unlike many other countries, British people do not have an identity card and are not obliged to carry it with them at all times. A police officer will not arbitrarily ask for your ID, although it can save you a lot of time to have one if they think you are a ‘person of interest’. In addition, people under 25 who appear to be underage are routinely asked for official ID when they buy alcohol or tobacco or enter bars or nightclubs that are guarded at the door. The European Driving Licence is a popular form of identification in the UK, but a non-European driving licence, identity card or passport from your home country will suffice.

Overall, British police officers tend to be professional and trustworthy, and are generally less aggressive than police forces in many other developed countries. However, this does not mean that they are lenient. With local exceptions such as airports, nuclear power stations and some government buildings, the vast majority of police officers in the UK do not carry firearms on ordinary patrols, and the only police officers authorised to carry firearms are those in specialist firearms units. The exception is the police in Northern Ireland, who regularly carry firearms due to historical political tensions.

Most officers only speak English, but you can speak to a police radio interpreter if you do not understand English questions. You have the legal right to remain silent if you are arrested and to get an interpreter at the police station.

Police officers in Great Britain wear dark blue uniforms, while officers in Northern Ireland wear dark green uniforms. Front line police officers (in uniform) are also usually required to wear a shoulder number. Most British police officers are also required to wear a “warrant card”, which they must show to confirm their authority in justified cases.

There is no immediate penalty in the form of cash payable to a police officer and corruption at street level is virtually non-existent. Under UK law, bribing a police officer is a very serious offence, both for the officer accepting the bribe and the person offering it.

Policing on the continental rail network is the responsibility of the British Transport Police, which has similar powers and responsibilities to other police forces in the UK.

In addition to police officers with full powers, some regions in the UK have Community Support Officers with more limited powers, who generally deal with less serious policing matters, allowing police officers to deal with more serious offences.

Private security forces generally do not have any “police-like” powers. There are a small number of non-police officers who have limited enforcement powers in relation to specific local areas or specific activities, such as on-street parking, the use of public spaces or local ordinances. Railway staff also have specific responsibilities in relation to railway operating regulations.

Illegal drugs

In the UK, all illicit drugs are classified as ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’. Class ‘A’ drugs are generally considered the most dangerous and carry the most severe penalties (e.g. imprisonment), especially for supply. Class “C” drugs are generally considered the least harmful and therefore carry lesser penalties (e.g. a fine). Remember: All of these drugs are also illegal and you can always be arrested for possession, supply or consumption, regardless of class; classes are used to determine police priorities and penalties.

Class A drugs include ecstasy (MDMA), LSD, heroin and cocaine; penalties include arrest and possible jail time, including for possession. Magic mushrooms used to be legal due to technicalities in the law, but are now Class A drugs.

Cannabis is now a “Class B” drug. A first offence for possession of cannabis usually results in a caution or an on-the-spot fine. This does not apply to other Class B drugs, such as speed. Subsequent offences may result in arrest.

Class C includes, for example, ketamine, some steroids, some prescription drugs such as Valium (legal if prescribed), GHB, khat and some tranquillisers.

For prescribed medicines, a doctor’s letter is sometimes required for importation. This applies if the medicine is a controlled drug (A, B or C) in the UK.

Drug use is a growing problem for the authorities, with levels among the highest in Europe. Both cannabis and ecstasy are widely available and may even be offered to you if you are in the right place, for example in certain markets and clubs.


Attitudes towards prostitution in the UK are significantly less liberal than in other European countries and closer to the conservative views of the USA.

Brothels of any kind are illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, and it is illegal to loiter or offer sex on the street. Sidewalking” (driving near a pavement to solicit prostitutes for sex) is also illegal and is actively policed by police patrols in many cities across the country.

In big cities, the police have in recent years started to crack down on organised gangs that use trafficked women for prostitution businesses. The police are very critical of these activities and if you are caught on the premises of these gangs, the police will interrogate you at length or even charge you.

Stay healthy in United Kingdom

If you have a medical emergency, dial 999 or 112. In the UK, medical emergencies are prioritised on a clinical basis and the operator or dispatcher will ask relevant questions to ensure an appropriate response.

For less serious medical emergencies, go directly to the nearest accident and emergency department (or emergency room). Almost all medical emergencies can be treated at any hospital with an accident and emergency department, but be prepared to wait up to 4 hours for an examination, depending on the time of day or night, if the complaints are not life-threatening. The longest waits tend to occur on Friday and Saturday evenings. Walk-in centres also offer treatment for less urgent conditions on a first-come, first-served basis.

For advice on non-urgent medical problems, you can call the 24-hour service NHS Direct on 111 (NHS 24 in Scotland is also 111). These advice lines can make appointments at out-of-hours clinics if, after talking to you, they think you should see a doctor.

Although the NHS provides free healthcare to UK residents and no NHS emergency service would reasonably refuse to treat obvious emergencies, travel insurance (including extended health cover) is essential for overseas visitors. The NHS and other relevant government agencies will now seek to recover the cost of treatment for non-UK residents to offset the cost of providing a universal service and to curb so-called ‘health tourism’. Some hospitals may insist that non-UK residents pay a co-payment upfront (up to the full cost of treatment).

EU visitors are also advised to carry an EHIC card as citizens and permanent residents of certain countries (e.g. the European Economic Area) are entitled to certain discounted or fee-paying health services when travelling to the UK. Further details can be found on the NHS website. Long-term visitors on a work or student visa for more than six months have limited access to the NHS system.

For some healthcare services (especially in hospitals), you may also be asked to show photo identification (e.g. a passport). This is to ensure that staff know exactly who you are, to prevent misuse of resources and reduce the incidence of incorrect clinical decisions due to confusion. Pharmacists may also ask for identification at the time of dispensing as part of the control measures for certain medicines (including some contraband medicines).

For advice on minor ailments and medication, you can go to a pharmacist. Notable pharmacy chains are Boots and Lloyds (both have high street branches nationwide), many large supermarkets also have pharmacists in their branches.

If you need a particular medicine, be sure to include a written prescription from a qualified healthcare professional, as misunderstandings have sometimes occurred. The trade in medicines is strictly controlled in the UK and many medicines available in pharmacies in other countries, such as antibiotics or opiate painkillers, can only be dispensed on the basis of a prescription written by a qualified healthcare professional (usually a general practitioner – GP for short). In addition, a number of medicines (and in principle over-the-counter medicines) may only be sold by qualified staff. (To practice legally, all pharmacists must be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), which requires a university degree and further examinations and training).

It is also strongly recommended that you obtain written documentation from a qualified medical practitioner if you have a medical condition that requires you to inject anything, regardless of how it is classified or described. The UK police (and security at the door) will have no sympathy for their suspicions, however erroneous, of possible drug abuse.

There are about 50,000 people living with HIV in the UK. Chlamydia is common enough to recommend that young people get tested regularly. Condoms are available in toilets, pharmacies and supermarkets. They are also available free of charge at some NHS sexual health clinics (called GUMs), which also offer free STI testing and treatment, even if you are not eligible for other NHS services.

Tap water is safe to drink everywhere unless otherwise indicated. Non-potable water sources are usually clearly marked.



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