THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO TRAVELLING THE UNITED KINGDOM
This is my ultimate guide to travelling the United Kingdom. Home of The Beatles, football, fish and chips, tea and the Royal Family. You can also find my travel guides and blog posts on places in the United Kingdom here. One of the most common mistakes people make is not taking advantage of the fact that the UK is small. So, don’t just spend all your time in London. When there are so many other great places to explore that aren’t that far away. This guide contains bucket list experiences, travel tips, costs, advice for solo travellers and budget travellers. I hope you enjoy it!
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Regions of the United Kingdom
Firstly, the United Kingdom is the collective name for four countries. Great Britain is the name of the island which includes Scotland, England and Wales. The official name of the country is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Best for history, art and national parks.
England is arguably the most popular part of the UK with tourists. In fact London receives around 20 million visitors per year. People are drawn to the history, palaces, art and pub culture. Despite its small size geographically, England has a great deal to offer visitors. It boasts 10 National Parks and 34 Areas of Outstanding National Beauty. Also, there is a great deal of history to discover, which is evident in cities such as; York, Cambridge, Norwich, Oxford and Bath. Some of the world’s most famous writers hail from England, such as Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling. You can visit the Globe theatre, Shakespeare’s birthplace and visit the Harry Potter sets and props in the studio tour. You can feast on English classics such as fish and chips, a full English breakfast and enjoy afternoon tea. There is a lot this tiny country has to offer, and it’s definitely worth exploring.
Best for scenery, mountains, walking and castles.
The home of Haggis, the highlands, whiskey and castles. Scotland is my favourite part of the UK to explore. There is just something about the sound of bagpipes, views of the highlands and taste of single malt whiskey. There are many distinct differences between Scotland and England, making it somewhere you should definitely experience and explore. Found in the north of Great Britain, Scotland comprises 790 islands as well as the mainland. The further north you go in Scotland the more rural and remote places become, the Isle of Rum for example has a population of 22 people! The best way to explore this beautiful country is driving, I recommend taking a road trip around Scotland and taking in its beautiful scenery.
*Something to Note: Scotland have an alcohol law which means you cannot buy alcohol in shops after 10pm.
Best for outdoor activities, ruins, beaches and moors.
The home of Gavin and Stacey, if you haven’t watched it, you need to. This is how to whole of the UK knows and remembers James Corden! Wales is located in the southwest of Great Britain. Wales is the land of sandy beaches, green hills, rarebit and welsh cakes. Snowdonia in the North is famous for outdoor activities and hiking. It is a popular holiday location for people in England, as Wales is easily accessible from the south, central and northern parts of the country.
Best for coastal towns, game of thrones locations and castles.
Northern Ireland is located in the north-east of the island of Ireland, sharing a border with the Republic of Ireland. Game of thrones was filmed across this region, with tours leaving from Belfast showing you the best of the filming locations. Belfast is filled with pubs boasting live music most nights, which along with the Guinness served, will remind you of Dublin. The Giant’s Causeway is also found here, the world-famous basalt columns on the coast, that are surrounded by stories and legends. You can also visit the Titanic museum, and learn more of the famous boat with the tragic story. There are also beautiful coastal views that will have you thinking you’ve been transported to the Mediterranean.
United Kingdom Blog Posts
Tips For Visiting
Best Time to Visit
Okay, so we don’t have the best weather in the UK and it’s very unpredictable. I would recommend visiting between May and September for the best chances of sunshine. But again, there isn’t any guarantee on that! The UK has 4 distinct seasons; Spring (March, April & May), Summer (June, July & August), Autumn (September, October & November) and Winter (December, January & February). The UK has an average of 133 days of rain per year, so don’t forget to pack an umbrella! Also, August is the busiest month for tourism.
The currency in the UK is the Great British Pound (GBP). Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own bank notes. These are legal tender and can be spent anywhere in the UK despite looking different to the ones used in Wales and England. One pound is made up of 100 pennies (pence). Bank note denominations are £5, £10, £20 and £50. Coins come in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2.
The UK uses type G plugs. Make sure you buy a universal travel adapter before your trip so you can use the plugs. Plugs have 3 square pins, with a standard voltage of 230V, and standard frequency of 50Hz. You may need a converter for hair dryers and straighteners.
Tap water is safe to drink in the UK. And you can ask for tap water at restaurants and pubs etc. This is a great way to save money as bottled water is sold at premium prices. It is also a good way to be more environmentally friendly, by cutting down on the amount of single-use plastic bottles you use, which contribute to plastic pollution. So don’t forget to bring your reusable bottle!
Best Ways to Travel Around
The best way to travel around the UK is via bus or driving. Trains in the UK are expensive and are well known to run late often. They are one of the main thing we Brits like to complain about. Bus travel is the cheapest option. Megabus and National Express are the main coach companies which run throughout the United Kingdom. Megabus usually offer cheaper fares with tickets starting from £1. You can sometimes get good offers on train tickets if you book far in advance. You could also fly from England to Scotland or Northern Ireland. The drive from London to Scotland is long so to save time flying is a good option. The best way to travel around most of the cities in the UK is via bus, the exception of London. The best way to travel around London is using the London Underground.
Must See Things in the UK
Major Cities– London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Bristol & Birmingham.
Major Airports– The UK has 15 major airports; Aberdeen (ABZ), Belfast International (BFS), Belfast City (BHD), Birmingham (BHX), East Midlands (EMA), Edinburgh (EDI), Glasgow (GLA), Inverness (INV), Leeds (LBA), London City (LCY), London Gatwick (LGW), London Heathrow (LHR), London Luton (LTN), London Stansted (STN), Manchester (MAN) and Newcastle (NCL).
Major Attractions: Buckingham Palace, Harry Potter Studio Tour, Giant’s Causeway, Edinburgh Castle, the Cavern Club, Big Ben, the Natural History Museum and St. Pauls Cathedral.
Here Are Some Top Bucket List Picks
1Tour the Harry Potter Studios.
2Listen to Music at the Cavern Club.
3Visit the Roman Baths in Bath.
4Explore the Portobello Road Market.
5Discover the street art in Bristol, home of Banksy.
6Experience Winter Wonderland in London.
7Climb Arthur’s Seat.
8Explore the Manchester Christmas Market.
9Visit the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
United Kingdom Travel Resources
Megabus– Megabus provides the cheapest coach travel around the UK. It is easy to book through their website and they often have great offers. With prices starting from £1!
National Express– This is the other main coach company in the UK, fares can be slightly more expensive compared to Megabus. However they offer discounted rates for students and under 26 year olds. They also offer more routes. So it’s worth comparing your bus journeys between the two companies before booking.
TFL– Transport for London run all bus and underground transport in the Capital. You can check the prices of fares on this website, as well as planning your journeys using the journey planner tool. Also, you can check the status of underground tube lines to see whether there are delays.
EasyJet– This budget airline provides flights between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you are thinking of flying between the different regions of the United Kingdom, this is the best airline to check for flight deals.
Booking.com– My number 1 go to when booking accomodation. They regularly provide the cheapest prices and a range of benefits such as paying when you check-in (no deposit) and free cancellation. There are even more benefits if you are a Booking Genius, such as; money off, free welcome drinks, late check-out and early check-in.
Hostelworld– The best place to search and book hostels. You can see ratings from other travellers and they have handy lists of their facilities. They have a huge amount of hostel listings on their site, across 178 countries.
Premier Inn– This is a budget hotel company. With hotels in most cities and at most major airports. They also have a guarantee of a ‘good nights sleep’ promising you your money back if you do not receive this. This is my go to budget accommodation choice.
Travelodge– This is the other main budget hotel company, they are usually a little bit cheaper that Premier Inn, so I recommend comparing both sites when choosing budget accommodation. There are often multiple Travelodges in each city so you have options.
Viator– Viator is a great site to find day tips and tickets for things to do in the city your are visiting. It’s easy to book trips through this site and to find reviews from other travellers.
GetyourGuide- Another great resource for booking day trips and experiences through. Most tours offer free cancellation (with 24-hours notice) and 24/7 customer service.
|Hostel Dorm Bed £20-30 per night||Supermarket Meal Deal £3-4||Bus fare in London £1.50 one way. Return bus tickets in other cities £4-5|
|Budget Hotel Room £50-100||Pub meal £10-15||London Underground single journey £3-5|
Average prices for a pint of beer or lager in pubs are between £4 and £6. A weeks worth of groceries from a supermarket can cost between £40 and £50.
Tips for Solo Female Travellers
The UK is a great choice for a solo traveller, ss English is pretty much a universal language, and most people at least know enough English to get by. Therefore if you speak English the UK would be a great place for your first solo trip as you wouldn’t have to worry about language barriers.
Staying safe as a solo female traveller is of the utmost importance. Overall, the UK is a very safe place to travel around. You can check out crime rates and stats for every country here.
General safety precautions should be taken wherever you are travelling to. These include not walking home alone late at night. Not drinking too much alcohol, as you are at your most vulnerable when drunk and anything can happen. Even if you’ve made friends you never know what will happen and can only rely on yourself to ensure you get home safely.
Pickpocketing can be an issue in the UK, particularly in tourist spots. Be cautious and keep an eye on your possessions at all times. Don’t carry too much cash on you, and if possible try to keep money on different parts of you body. For example you could have some cash in a hidden money belt. This avoids having all your cash in your wallet and flashing all your money every time you open it. Carry multiple debit/credit cards if possible, if anything happens you then have back up cards to use. Again don’t keep these all in the same place so that if your wallet is lost or stolen you still have cards to use. You could also use a theft-proof bag to keep your belongings safe. You should also avoid having valuables on show.
Trust your instincts. Always trust your gut, if something doesn’t seem right or you don’t feel comfortable with a situation remove yourself from it. An example of this is when I was in Malta, I didn’t feel comfortable in the hostel I was staying in. I trusted my gut and moved hostels and this allowed me to sleep peacefully and enjoy my trip.
Stay in hostels, this will allow you to meet fellow travellers with ease. There are also usually kitchen facilities, so you can cook your own food and avoid eating in restaurants alone if this makes you feel uncomfortable. You can book female only dorm rooms as well if this makes you more comfortable. Use the lockers available at hostels to store your valuables in, to keep them safe.
Use Uber where possible instead of cabs, as this allows you to track the route the driver is taking and has many extra safety features. It also avoids you being ripped off on the price, as the fare is stipulated before you ride.
Tips for Budget Travellers
The United Kingdom is not known for being a budget travel location, due to it being quite an expensive place to visit. However there are things you can do to make a trip here more budget friendly.
Couchsurfing is a great resource for travellers, allowing you to stay at a host’s home for free. This is good to delve deeper into the culture of a country, finding out how locals live, and they’ll have the best travel tips for you. Hostels can be found throughout the United Kingdom and are a great way of saving money. Prices vary depending on which city you are visiting, but are usually the cheapest accommodation available, and a great way to meet people. There are also a number of budget hotel chains such as; Travelodge and Premier Inn which often have deals making stays even cheaper for you. I recommend booking hotels in advance in order to find the best deals.
Things to Do
Most of the galleries and museums in London and other major cities are free to enter. This is a great way to save money and still have things to see and do. Free city tours run in most cities throughout the UK, these are one of my favourite things to do when travelling. You’ll see the best things to do, get a feel for the city and get invaluable knowledge from a local. Tipping your guide is encouraged! When choosing attractions to visit, try and choose cheap or free ones. And if you are a student, carry your student card with you to save on entry costs. Research attractions before you travel, to decide which ones you definitely want to do. Also, ensure it’s worth your while and you’re not wasting your funds on something you won’t enjoy.
Food and Drink
Cooking your own food is also a way to save money whilst travelling. Staying in hostels with kitchen facilities and buying food from the supermarket to cook, is a great way of saving money. Our main supermarkets in the UK are; Lidl, Aldi, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. Lidl and Aldi are the cheapest ones you can shop in. If you want to eat out, I’d recommend looking around for deals. Many restaurants have lunchtime deals, making this the best time to eat out cheap. You could also picnic in parks to save money. Buy food and drinks from a supermarket and relax in a park to enjoy your meal. You can also buy meal deals in most supermarkets which include a sandwich, drink and crisps for £3-4.
You can also take advantage of the number of pubs across the UK and eat and drink in these. The UK has a chain of pubs called ‘Wetherspoons’ these are great to eat and drink in as they are very budget friendly, offering deals such as a burger and pint of beer for £5-6.
Limit the amount of alcohol you buy in bars and restaurants. This is often the number one cause of breaking your budget. You go out and drink and before you know it you’ve spent way more than you meant to. Drink in hostel bars where possible, or buy alcohol from supermarkets. Also, make local choices when buying alcohol. Imported beers and branded spirits can be costly.
Buses are the cheapest way of travelling around the UK and around cities. Also, walking as much as possible is a great way of saving money. Use public transport only when essential. Walking is free and allows you to see the city at your own leisure. And stumble upon things you otherwise may of missed. You can sometimes also get cheap train fares if you book in advance, but as I’ve mentioned before our train service isn’t always the most reliable.
Tipping isn’t as common in the UK as it is in the USA, and it is often not needed. Save your money and tip only when service is really really good. You don’t need to tip for every drink your have at a bar, or your taxi drivers.
Ignoring your Change
Counting your coins may make your day, as our coins can easily add up to enough for a drink or lunch without you realising how much change you had in your pocket.
Spending too much time in London
People commonly forget how small and well connected the UK is and that you can easily travel to different cities and regions of the UK. Therefore one of my biggest tips is to not spend all your time in London. Your money will go further outside of London and there are so many things to do that you shouldn’t miss!
Skipping free attractions
Many museums and galleries across the UK offer free entry, and many of these are also some of the UK’s top attractions. Museums such as the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland are all free to enter. They are also vast museums that you could easily spend between half a day or a full day exploring. Galleries such as the Victoria Albert Museum, the Tate Modern and the Scottish National Gallery are also free to enter. These house world-renowned pieces of artwork and are not to be missed! I recommend not spending all your time in paid attractions when there are many amazing free to visit attractions available across the country.
Not buying an Oyster Card
A common mistake made is buying day tickets for the London Underground instead of buying an Oyster card. No matter how long you are spending in London, it is worth buying an Oyster card. They cost £5, but you can get this money back by turning your card back in at the end of your visit. Fares are much cheaper when using an Oyster card and there are daily limits, meaning you are capped after spending a certain amount on the tube daily, so the rest of your journeys are free.
Don’t Skip Breakfast
If breakfast is included in your hotel stay or hostel stay, don’t skip it! A full English breakfast is not only delicious but substantial. It can keep you full past lunchtime so is a great way to save money if its included in the cost of your stay.
Weird Things Us Brits Do That You Should Know
There is a great article about very British problems which you can find here. There are a lot of weird things that we do as Brits, but a few of them you should know before you travel around the UK.
- We queue everywhere. We love to queue, and there is even something known as ‘invisible queuing’ which is commonly done at a bus stop. People are not actually standing in a line, but everyone at the stop knows who was there first and everyone will get on the bus in the order they arrived at the stop. Don’t mess with the system haha!
- We stand on the right and walk on the left. This refers to escalators at underground stations. If you are standing still whilst riding the escalator, you stand on the right. If you are walking up or down the escalator you walk in the space on the left.
- There are hardly any bins in London, you may see people just leave their rubbish as there are cleaners who pick this up. The lack of bins stems for the past when the IRA were prevalent and people thought they may put bombs in the bins in London.
- We love to complain, mostly about the weather and trains.
- We love tea, we drink it all year around, even in the height of summer and we LIKE milk in it, but don’t put milk in first!!
I hope this has helped you understand more about the UK, why you should visit and how to plan your trip.
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