The UK spans England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and each of these is virtually a country in its own right when it comes to culture and history. With the bulk of the population in England most travellers focus their efforts here, but with easy access to train and bus services it does not take much out of your schedule to visit the other areas of the UK.
- Currency: Great British Pound (£) £1 = 100 pence
- Time Zone: GMT
- Language: English
- Telephone Services: Country code +44, International Access code 00
- Emergency Numbers: 999 for all services
The climate in Britain is moderate in most respects; precipitation can be expected throughout the year but is worst in the winter periods. Summers can get reasonably warm but are generally short lived. Temperatures drop further north, the most northerly reaches of Scotland can be covered with a blanket of snow in the winter.
Things to see and do
England’s prime attraction is undoubtedly London, the capital. One of the largest cities in Europe it really does offer everything, from the glitzy Trocadero to the colourful markets of Camden and the bohemian delights of Covent Garden.
Whilst in London you will also have the chance to immerse yourself in a great deal of history and culture either at one of the many museums and galleries, such as the National Gallery, or by visiting some of London’s historic landmarks like Big Ben or the Tower of London. Newer sites include the London Eye and the eclectic O2 Centre.
You should not, however, limit your stay to only London, getting outside the urban sprawl offers its own unique set of charms. England is blessed with over 30 stone circle sites, the most prominent being Stone Henge in Salisbury. Sites like this offer a completely different experience, especially if you happen to be travelling on an equinox or solstice when you will be exposed to some very colourful locals!
If you would prefer a more active link to the past than standing stones, there is a Living Historical village in Gosport. An entire village circa 1642 has been recreated, complete with accurately costumed actors. This is more of a novelty than a history lesson; you will be able to try ale brewed using medieval methods and try your hand at other crafts and trades, but it is quite a good and unusual day out. You can find more information at the Living History Society website.
It is also worthwhile venturing a little way out into the country as some of the best English pubs lie tucked away down long, winding country lanes. These pubs usually offer an excellent selection of local ale as well as traditional bar food.
England, however, is not all quaint culture and historical relics. In any major town or city you’ll find all the exciting bars, clubs, cinemas and other nightlife you’d expect from a Western country, so if you feel like “living it up” for a night you will find plenty of opportunity.
Scotland is more sparsely populated than England, with only a shade over 5 million inhabitants, but some of the most spectacular scenery that the UK has to offer. The Scottish Highlands provide an excellent backpacking destination with plenty of rolling hills and beautiful vistas – mountains like Ben Nevis attract thousands of walkers every year. There are ample youth hostels and camp sites, and local facilities for tourists are generally well maintained and well run.
Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, is an incredibly multicultural city. Being both the centre for tourism in Scotland and home to 4 major universities there are plenty of people of almost every nationality present. It is not uncommon to overhear French, Spanish, German, and Chinese conversations in bars in the city centre.
From Edinburgh Castle to the infamous Ghost Tour, the Walter Scott monument and the Princes Street Gardens, there are plenty of things to see and do in this lively, historic city. Edinburgh also plays host to jazz and fringe festivals throughout the month of August, where you will be able to see a wide range of off-beat entertainment and, most importantly, drink in bars for 24 hours straight!
Glasgow, Scotland largest city and former industrial town, is Scotland’s nightlife and shopping hub. With a range of facilities only rivalled by the largest of English towns, Glasgow is the place to come to spend a few days doing some serious partying and spending some money. Less touristy than Edinburgh but still very popular with visitors, Glasgow is known for its friendly locals and vibrant city centre. The city has experienced extensive regeneration over the past few years.
Like Scotland, Wales is sparsely populated outside of the main cities, and there are huge areas of unspoilt wilderness in the country. From the mountains and valleys of Snowdonia to the famous gorge of Wye you will find a lot of natural beauty within Wales’ borders.
Particular attractions include: Caernarfon, known for its Medieval castle and walls; Snowdonia National Park, a well run mountain preservation area; and the imposing cliff tops of the Pembrokeshire coastal area.
Capital city Cardiff boasts all the facilities one would expect from a large UK city, and coming a close second Swansea also has an impressive array bars, pubs and clubs.
Northern Ireland has sadly received attention in the press for all the wrong reasons. It is, however, a long time since atrocities like Bloody Sunday were committed in the name of a now defunct political cause. What violence still exists is now isolated between rival factions in very specific housing estates in Belfast. There should be no doubts as to safety when travelling to Northern Ireland, and as long as you stay out of the rougher areas of Belfast it is perfectly safe to visit the region’s capital city. In reality it is no more dangerous to visit Belfast than it is to visit some inner-city areas of London.
Some of the more famous attractions include the unusual volcanic geography of the Causeway coast and the charming and artistic county of Derry. Although not a major tourist destination, a short ferry trip will allow you to spend some time in Northern Ireland and could perhaps be incorporated into a visit to the more popular Republic of Ireland.
Travel is relatively easy but can be a little expensive throughout the UK. A key purchase if you’re under 25 is a Young Person’s Railcard. These passes cost about £20 and will save you 30% on most train journeys and some long distance bus journeys. They are available from all major railway stations.
BritRail offer a range of rather expensive unlimited travel passes which are accepted on most rail services throughout the UK. This could be a good bet if you intend to cover a lot of ground.
The National Express Tourist Trail Pass is a much more affordable means of getting around. This pass allows you unlimited travel on National Express buses (by far the largest inter-city operator) to any of over 12,000 different destinations throughout England.
When travelling in London by far the easiest and cheapest way to get around is using the underground (Tube) system. A one day travel pass can be bought at all Tube stations and allows you unlimited Tube and bus travel in marked “zones” of London. Be aware, however, that during rush hour the underground system is absolutely mobbed, and travelling during these periods can be an uncomfortable experience for first time travellers. In order to avoid this, simply avoid travelling close to 9am in the morning and 5pm in the evening – leaving a half hour leeway should give most of the crowds time to die down.
If you are staying in the UK for a long time, and you want to travel all of the UK, then it might be a good idea to look into buying a car. You can pick up a cheap car for less than £500. However, there are many extra costs to having a car in the UK. You must make sure that you have valid insurance, tax and an MOT. It is also a good idea to get breakdown cover if it is an older car. PetrolPrices.com have compared all the leading breakdown cover providers to help you find the best cover, whether you are traveling all of the country, or just want roadside assistance.
Accommodation is easy to find, although it can be quite expensive. The best bet for those on a budget would be to stay in bed & breakfasts (B&Bs) which are common in most large towns, or in Youth Hostels, which are also easily found.
Roadside Travel Inns on most of the UK’s main motorway routes aren’t too pricey and are convenient places to stop after are hard day’s travelling.
Healthcare is good in the UK. There are excellent health care facilities with well trained staff within easy reach of all but the most remote locations. You will receive a high standard of medical care should you fall ill or are involved in an accident; however, you are strongly advised to take out adequate insurance before travelling.
Tap water is considered safe to drink and there are no special immunisations required unless you come from an area with a high rate of diseases such as polio, typhoid or yellow fever. If this is the case you will need to have a vaccination and obtain a certificate to show you are not infected with any of these diseases before entry. These will be available from a local doctor.
Visit Britain is the UK government tourism website.
Tourist information for those visiting England.
Tourist information for those visiting Scotland.
Tourist information for those visiting Northern Ireland.
Tourist information for those visiting Wales.
Edinburgh Castle – Information on Edinburgh and of course the famous Castle.
Shaggy Sheep – Fun tours of Wales from London
National Express are by far the largest inter-city bus operator.
Rail.co.uk has general information on all rail services operating in Britain.
An Aussie in London – Tales of an Australian expat in London, with hostel listings and travel guides.
St Mawes & Roseland Self catering holiday cottages – Holiday cottages, self catering homes and apartments in and around St Mawes, Portscatho, Veryan and Tregony on the idyllic Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall.
Gatwick Guest House – Family run guest house with holiday parking just 5 minutes from Gatwick Airport.
Gatwick Holiday Parking – Small family run business offering reasonably priced holiday parking for London’s Gatwick Airport.