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.
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 Collins, Michelin 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 “a 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.
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.
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.
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.
A 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.|
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.
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.
Long-distance bus travel is usually slower than train travel and less frequent, but comfortable and often much cheaper. Buses, like trains, usually take you to the city centre.
The largest bus companies in the UK are:
- National Express is the UK’s largest long-distance bus service, serving all major destinations on the continent and selling tickets online and at bus stations. Prices start at just £1 for a one-way journey on special fares between major cities, but are quite high on less competitive routes, such as to airports.
- Megabus is a service between a limited number of major destinations at exorbitant prices of just £1 (plus 50p booking fee) on certain routes if you book early enough. It is, of course, very popular with students. You get the cheapest fares if you book a week or two in advance. However, fares often remain attractive if booked for a shorter period (sometimes £8 for London-Manchester if booked two days in advance). Tickets must be purchased online or via the Premium Rate Booking Line 0900 160 0900 for a minimum of 60 pence per minute and cannot be purchased from the driver.
- CityLink serves destinations in Scotland. They sell their tickets online, by SMS or from the driver, although it is always advisable to book tickets in advance. Some lines also carry Megabus passengers.
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).
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.
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 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.
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 Avis, Rental Cars Uk, Thrifty, Practical 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.
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.
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.
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.