This Union is more than 300 years old and comprises four constituent nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It occupies all of the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern portion of the island of Ireland and most of the remaining British Isles.
It's important to remember that the Republic of Ireland is a completely separate state from the United Kingdom, seceding from the Union and gaining its independence in 1922. The Isle of Man and the various Channel Islands are "crown dependencies", possessing their own legislative bodies for domestic legislation with the assent of the Crown. They are not part of the United Kingdom, nor of the EU, but are not sovereign states in their own right either. The UK has Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands as its nearest neighbours.
The 'Great' in Great Britain (Britannia Major in Roman times; Grande-Bretagne in French) is to distinguish it from the other, smaller "Britain": Brittany (Britannia Minor; Bretagne) in northwestern France.
The UK today is a diverse patchwork of native and immigrant cultures, possessing a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture, both of which remain hugely influential in the wider world. Although Britannia no longer rules the waves, the UK is still a popular destination for many travellers. The capital and largest city of the United Kingdom is London.
"Great Britain" ("GB") for a geographer refers just to the single largest island in the British Isles that has most of the land area of Scotland, England and Wales. In normal usage it is a collective term for all those three nations together. Great Britain became part of the United Kingdom when the Irish and British parliaments merged in 1801 to form the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". This was changed to "... and Northern Ireland" when all but the six Northern Irish counties seceded from the Union in 1922 after a treaty granting Irish home rule. "Britain" is simply another name for the United Kingdom, and does include Northern Ireland, despite common misconceptions otherwise.
The flag of the United Kingdom is popularly known as the Union Jack or, more properly, Union Flag. It comprises the flags of St. George of England, St. Andrew of Scotland and the St. Patrick's Cross of Ireland superimposed on each other. Within England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the flags of each nation are commonly used. The St. Patrick's Cross flag is often seen on St. Patrick's Day in Northern Ireland. Since the Republic of Ireland split from the UK though, St. Patrick's Saltire is not used for Northern Ireland, as it represented the whole of the island of Ireland. A flag (known as the "Ulster Banner") was designed for Northern Ireland in the 1920s, which was based on the flag of Ulster (similar in appearance to the St. George's Cross flag of England) and includes a Red Hand of Ulster and a crown. Although the flag's official status ended with the dissolving of the province's devolved government in the early 1970s, it can still be seen in Northern Ireland, particularly among the Protestant community and on sporting occasions. As Wales was politically integrated into the English kingdom hundreds of years ago, its flag was not incorporated into the Union Jack. The flag features a Red Dragon on a green field.
The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not strictly part of the UK, but rather are 'Crown Dependencies: they have their own democratic governments, laws and courts and are not part of the EU. They are not entirely sovereign either, falling under the British Crown which chooses to have its UK Government manage some of the islands' affairs. The people are British Citizens, but unless they have direct ties with the UK, through a parent, or have lived there for at least 5 years, they are not able to take up work or residence elsewhere in the European Union.
Overseas Territories & The Commonwealth
Again, these are not constitutionally part of the United Kingdom, but are largely former colonies of the British Empire which are to varying degrees, self-governing entities that still recognise the British Monarch as their head of state. The key difference is residents of Overseas Territories still possess British citizenship, whereas those of Commonwealth nations do not, and are subject to the same entry and immigration rules as non-EU citizens. The British embassy in your home country however may accept visa applications to selected overseas territories and commonwealth nations.
Referring to nationality
Most residents of The United Kingdom, Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories are legally British, and referring to any as such will usually not cause offence.
Don't describe citizens of the United Kingdom as "English". The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish do not identify themselves as being from "England". If you need to refer to someone's nationality, you can use the most precise term, 'English', 'Northern Irish', 'Welsh' or 'Scottish'. To play safe, you can ask someone from which part of the UK they are from, as this covers every corner of the isles - including Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland and Scotland can be particularly problematic, and 'Scottish', 'Northern Irish', 'Irish', or 'British' can all be appropriate according to the political persuasion of the individual. Irish nationalists may avoid referring to Northern Ireland at all, referring instead to 'The Six Counties' or 'The North', or talk about 'Ireland' as a whole. 'Northern Irish' is less likely to offend, whereas referring to someone from Northern Ireland as 'British' or as 'Irish' can cause offence depending on a person's political ideology.
It is also worth noting that, while technically a county of England, the issue of identity in Cornwall is very sensitive amongst some people. It is best to refer to anyone you meet in Cornwall as Cornish, unless they have already explicitly stated their identity as English.
As a visitor from outside the UK, you are unlikely to cause serious offence. At worst, you will incur a minor rebuff and reaffirmation of their nationality, as in "I'm not English. I'm Scottish".
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with the Queen as the nominal head of state. It has a bicameral parliament: The lower house, known as the House of Commons, is popularly elected by the people and is responsible for proposing new laws. The upper house, known as the House of Lords, primarily scrutinises and amends bills proposed by the lower house. The House of Lords is not elected and consists of Hereditary Peers, whose membership is guaranteed by birth right, Life Peers, who are appointed to it by the Queen, and the Lords Spiritual, who are bishops of the Church of England. The Head of Government is the Prime Minister, who is usually the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons. It has a first-past-the post system divided into local constituencies. In practice, the Prime Minister wields the most authority in government, with the Queen being pretty much a figurehead, though all bills that have been passed in both houses of parliament require the Queen to grant royal assent before they become law.
Additionally, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have their own elected bodies (the Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly). These devolved governments have a First Minister and varying degrees of power over matters internal to that constituent country, including the passing of laws. For example, the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh exercises power and passes laws over almost every matter internal to Scotland. In the areas over which it has power, the UK government plays no role. As a result, institutions and systems can be radically different between the four constituent countries in the UK. England has no similar body of its own, with all government coming from Westminster. The exception to this is London, which owing to its huge size and population has partial devolved government in the form of an elected Mayor and assembly, which exercises a range of powers previously controlled by both central and local governments.
There are also local government authorities responsible for services at a local level. Each constituency votes for a local MP (Member of Parliament) who then goes to sit in Parliament and debate and vote - whether they do or not is another matter.
Using maps and postcodes
Most basic mapping in the United Kingdom is undertaken by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland. The maps found in bookshops may be published directly by those organisations, or by private map publishers drawing on basic Ordnance Survey data.
One consequence of this for the traveller is the widespread use of Ordnance Survey grid references in guide books and other information sources. These are usually presented [xx999999] (e.g. [SU921206]) and form a quick way of finding any location on a map. If using a GPS be sure to set it to the British National Grid (BNG) and the OSGB datum.
Alternatively, every postal address has a postcode, either a unique one or one shared with its immediate neighbours. British postcodes take the form (XXYY ZZZ), where XX is a 2 or 1 character alphabetic code representing the town, city or geographic area, a 1 or 2 digit number YY representing the area of that town or city, followed by a 3 digit alphanumeric code ZZZ which denotes the road and a specific section or house on that road. Therefore, a postcode will identify a location to within a few tens of yards in urban locations; and adding a house number and street will identify a property uniquely (at road junctions two houses with the same number may share the same postcode). Most internet mapping services enable locations to be found by postcode. Owing to London's huge size and population it has its own distinct variation of the postcode system where the town code XX is replaced by an area code indicating the geographic part of the city - e.g N-North, WC-West Central, EC-East Central, SW-South West; and so on.
The Ordnance Survey's 1:50000 or 1:25000 scale maps are astonishingly detailed and show contour lines, public rights of way, and access land. For pursuits such as walking, they are practically indispensable, and in rural areas show individual farm buildings and (on the larger scale) field boundaries.
The UK has a benign humid-temperate climate moderated by the North Atlantic current and the country's proximity to the sea. Warm, damp summers and mild winters provide temperatures pleasant enough to engage in outdoor activities all year round. Having said that, the weather in the UK can be changeable and conditions are often windy and wet. British rain is world renowned, but in practice it rarely rains more than two or three hours at a time and often parts of the country stay dry for many weeks at a time, especially in the East. More common are overcast or partly cloudy skies. It is a good idea to be prepared for a change of weather when going out; a jumper and a raincoat usually suffice when it is not winter. In summer temperatures can reach 30ºC (86ºF) in parts and in winter temperatures may be mild, eg: 10ºC (50ºF) in southern Britain and -2ºC (28.4ºF) in Scotland.
Because the UK stretches almost 800 miles from end to end, temperatures can vary quite considerably between north and south. Differences in rainfall are also pronounced between the drier east and wetter west. Scotland and north-western England (particularly the Lake District) are often rainy and cold. Alpine conditions with heavy snowfall are common in the mountains of northern Scotland during the winter. The north-east and Midlands are also cool, though with less rainfall. The south-east and east Anglia are generally warm and dry, and the south-west warm but often wet. Wales and Northern Ireland tend to experience cool to mild temperatures and moderate rainfall, while the hills of Wales occasionally experience heavy snowfall. Even though the highest land in the UK rarely reaches more than 1,100m, the effect of height on rainfall and temperature is great.
Bank (public) holidays
Each country within the UK has a number of bank holidays, on which the majority of people do not work. Shops, pubs, restaurants and similar are usually open. Many UK residents will take advantage of the time off to travel, both within the UK and abroad. This makes transport links busier than usual and tends to increase prices. If your travel dates are flexible you may wish to avoid travelling to or from the UK on bank holiday weekends.
The following 8 bank holidays apply in all parts of the UK:
Northern Ireland has the following two additional bank holidays:
Scotland officially has two additional bank holidays:
In practice, with the exception of Easter, Christmas and New Year holidays, UK bank holidays are virtually ignored in Scotland in favour of local holidays which vary from place to place.
Where a bank holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, it is moved to the following Monday. If both Christmas Day and Boxing Day fall on a weekend, the Boxing Day holiday is moved to the following Tuesday.
A full list of bank holidays for future years can be viewed here.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a union made up of the following regions, home nations and territories:
Many cities and towns in the United Kingdom are of interest to travellers. Following is an alphabetical selection of nine - others are listed under their specific regions:
While the UK is a member of the European Union, it does not fully implement the Schengen Agreement, which means that travel to and from other EU countries (except Ireland) involves systematic passport / identity card checks at the border and separate visa requirements for several countries.
Almost all passengers travelling to the UK from outside Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man go through systematic passport/identity card and selective customs checks carried out by the UK Border Agency on arrival in the UK. However, those travelling by Eurostar from Paris Gare du Nord, Lille Europe, Calais-Fréthun and Brussels Zuid-Midi stations and by ferry from Calais and Dunkirk undergo UK passport/identity card checks in France/Belgium before embarkation and selective customs checks on arrival in the UK. Those entering the UK by Eurotunnel from France go through both UK passport/identity card and UK customs checks in Coquelles before boarding the train.
Immigration and visa requirements
For more information of UK immigration and visa requirements, see the UK Border Agency website.
Customs and goods
The UK has relatively strict laws controlling which goods can and cannot be brought into the country. Selective customs checks are run by the UK Border Agency at arrival ports. Particularly stringent laws apply to the movement of animals, except from within the EU, where an animal passport system operates, providing proof of vaccination against rabies. The British Isles are rabies-free, and the government (and the people) want to keep it that way. Signs in several languages are displayed prominently at even the smallest of boat landings all around the coast.
Owing to the abolition in 1993 of customs duty on goods for personal use when travelling across EU borders, it has become popular among the British to bring back large quantities of alcohol and tobacco bought at lower tax rates in Continental Europe. However, the practice is open to abuse, with organised criminals trying to illegally import large amounts for the purposes of selling on at a profit. Customs laws are therefore strict for the importing of alcohol and tobacco for non-personal use and if a Customs officer thinks that the amount you are trying to bring into the country from the EU is excessive, particularly if in a commercial vehicle as opposed to a private car, you may be questioned further, or be asked to prove that it is for your own consumption, although ultimately an EU citizen is backed by the EU's free trade laws and allowed unlimited personal quantities. The fines can be severe, and you also run the risk of the goods (and the vehicle they are being transported in) being confiscated. Importing an excessive amount of alcohol in a private car is more likely to result in action being taken for overloading the vehicle, which is a police matter rather than a customs matter.
Just as in the rest of the EU, you must declare if you are physically carrying at least €10,000 in cash or other financial instruments into or out of the EU through a UK airport. In addition, if you are carrying at least £1,000, you must also be able to show evidence that you are entitled to possess the money in case a customs officer has questions.
Most ports of entry that receive traffic from non-EU origins use the European Union's red/green/blue channel system. Ports of entry from EU origins are still manned by customs officers who take more of an interest in controlled substances (e.g. illegal drugs) than alcohol or tobacco.
When flying to the UK you are most likely to arrive at one of London's five airports, although there are direct international flights to many other cities. KLM has a large number of feeder flights to almost every UK regional airport from its international hub in Amsterdam Schiphol.
Recently, many airports in southern England have added "London" to their names. Be aware that just because an airport has London in its name doesn't necessarily mean that it is near to, or easily accessible from, London. see London, by plane for more details...
Major airports outside of the London area:
Outside London and Manchester, many of the regional airports offer a wide range of direct links to European and some long-haul destinations.
Smaller regional airports include:
In Scotland, the major airports with links to London and abroad are:
Cardiff International, the only international airport in Wales, is a major hub of BA, Flybe and Thomas Cook, which has a few long-haul flights, such as Barbados. Anglesey Airport is the only other noteworthy airport of Wales, which has one flight a day to the Isle of Man and Cardiff.
In Northern Ireland, Belfast International Airport and George Best City Airport both serve the province's capital. Belfast International has several North American long-haul flights, while Belfast City is very conveniently situated 19 minutes from the centre of Belfast by local bus. City of Derry Airport serves the northwest with a limited number of international and domestic flights.
Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey all have their own respective airports, with well-serviced flights from around the UK, as well as to France and further afield. Flying is probably more convenient than ferry to these islands.
Due to an increase in airport security and aviation security in general, long delays are possible when checking in for a flight. Additionally a passport or valid photo ID (such as photo driving licence, national ID card, etc.) is required for most internal flights.
Eurostar high-speed trains run between London (St Pancras International), Ebbsfleet and Ashford through the Channel Tunnel to Paris (Gare du Nord), Lille (Europe), Calais (Fréthun) and Brussels (Zuid-Midi). During the summer an additional weekly train operates to Avignon and during the winter a weekly service runs a ski service direct to the French Alps. Through tickets and connections are available through Lille, Paris and Brussels from many European cities to most large UK cities.
Journey times to central London average two hours fifteen minutes from Paris and one hour fifty minutes from Brussels. A second class return from Paris to London costs between €85 and €230. While it can be cheaper to fly from London to Paris using a low-cost airline, bear in mind that the journeys to the airports can be expensive and time-consuming. When arriving in Calais, Lille, Paris or Brussels, there is no immigration or check - passengers simply walk onto the platform, then into the station. Transferring from the Eurostar to the metro/regional services can take less than 5 minutes, compared to over an hour from airports. Arriving in London's St.Pancras is slightly slower than on the continent, but it should still take less than 15 minutes from the Euroestar platform to the tube platform.
Passengers travelling by Eurostar to the UK from Paris (Gare du Nord), Lille (Europe), Calais (Fréthun) and Brussels (Zuid-Midi) stations undergo UK passport/identity card checks in France/Belgium before boarding, rather than on arrival in the UK. The UK passport checks take place immediately after the Schengen passport/identity card exit checks in the stations. However, UK customs checks take place on arrival in the UK. Eurostar passengers not travelling to the UK (e.g. Brussels Zuid-Midi to Lille/Calais) are not required to go through UK passport/identity card checks as such journeys are within the Schengen Area.
From The Netherlands
Multiple daily connections from Dutch cities are possible via Brussels and the Eurostar to London. It can be cheaper (and more flexible) to book an 'Any Dutch station' Eurostar ticket that permits connection to/from any Dutch station provided the itinerary doesn't use the more expensive Thalys or ICE services.
Combined train and ferry tickets are available to travellers from stations in the Netherlands to train stations in East Anglia, Essex and East London. This service may be a useful alternative to Eurostar for travellers from Northern Europe, or for those wishing to travel to East Anglia. The interchange between the ferry terminal and the train station at both ports is very simple and user friendly. Express trains from Harwich International are timed to meet the ferry and allow a simple transfer to London Liverpool Street. The Dutch Flyer website  gives prices only for tickets purchased in Great Britain; it does, however, give timetable information. Stena's Dutch language website  allows booking of tickets for journeys starting from the Netherlands.
Cross-border rail services to Northern Ireland
Services to the British mainland
Combined Rail & Sail tickets are available from any railway station in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland to any railway station in Great Britain. Tickets can be bought from the railway company and ferry operators. Through tickets are available on most sea corridors.
Fares are slightly higher during July and August. Virgin Trains  may be offering advance-purchase tickets from London to Dublin from £32 return, although these are hard to obtain and possible only for journeys starting in Great Britain.
The Channel Tunnel has provided a rail/road connection since 1994. Shuttle trains operated by Eurotunnel carry cars from Calais, France to Folkestone, the journey taking around 40 minutes. Fares start at £49 one way and can be booked on the Eurotunnel website . On arrival at Folkestone, you can drive on to the M20 motorway which heads towards London. Passengers travelling from France to the UK undergo UK passport/identity card and customs checks in Coquelles after the French exit checks before departure, rather than on arrival in the UK.
Car ferries also operate to many parts of the UK from other European countries - see the 'by boat' section below.
Drivers entering Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland will usually find they have done so without noticing. There are no border controls, and only the major roads will display signs stating that you are leaving one country and entering the other. However, the appropriate travel documents for your nationality are still required for cross-border travel despite the lack of border controls and you are liable under the laws of the country you are attempting to enter if you don't have any. It should be noted that road signs in the Republic of Ireland are in kilometres while those in Northern Ireland are in miles so it is advisable to take note of the differences in signs and road markings when driving in border areas.
When first entering the tunnel waiting zones at Folkestone or Calais, you need to choose the correct type of lane (indicated by the symbols) so that the machine, or booth is on the easiest side of your car for you to reach. As you exit the tunnel onto the M20 in England you will be reminded in three languages to drive on the left.
Coaches are the cheapest way to travel to the UK from France and the Benelux. Eurolines offer daily services from Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels to London Victoria coach station. Daily overnight coaches and limited day coaches travel between the UK and Ireland. Connections are available to most parts of the UK via the domestic National Express coach system, for most destinations it is cheaper to purchase this when purchasing your Eurolines tickets as discounts are available. Journeys take about 8-14 hr.
Eurolines will also take you to/from other major European cities. Taking a budget flight is normally cheaper (but with a greater environmental impact) and spares you from a 24 hr+ bus journey.
Various other operators compete with Eurolines on some routes. Megabus competes with Eurolines buses between Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels and London. Other companies, such as Polonia Transport, compete with Eurolines between Eastern Europe and the UK; companies such as this usually come and go.
See the city articles for more details on routes, timings and costs. Ferry routes to British Mainland
There are a large number of ferry routes into the UK from continental Europe. Newcastle serves a route from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Harwich has ferries from Esbjerg in Denmark and Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands. You can also sail from Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Zeebrugge in Belgium to Hull. There is a regular connection between Ramsgate and Oostende in Belgium. There are 4 sailings a day and prices vary between €50 to €84.
Dover is one of Britain's most popular passenger ports with sailings from Calais and Dunkirk in France. The Dover-Calais route is particularly busy, with three companies competing and up to 50 sailings per day. The ferry between Dover and Calais costs around £12-18 each way if on foot or bicycle, and around £80 for a car, although big discounts are available if booked in advance or with special offers. Passengers travelling from Calais or Dunkirk by ferry to the UK go through UK passport/identity card checks after French exit checks before boarding, and UK customs checks on arrival in the UK.
On the south coast, Portsmouth serves ferries from Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, St. Malo and Bilbao in Spain and there are speedy services between Dieppe and Newhaven. The other route from Spain is Santander to Plymouth, Plymouth also has ferries from Roscoff, Poole has ferries to Cherbourg as well as the Channel Islands.
Freighter travel is also an option. As an example, Grimaldi Lines operates services from Italy, Cyprus, Israel, and Uruguay that allow up to 12 passengers to travel with their vehicles, in addition to a service from Nigeria, Benin and Côte d'Ivoire that carries 12 foot passengers only.
Given the short distances involved, flying is rarely the cheapest or most convenient option for domestic travel within the UK with the possible exception of between southern England and Scotland, or where a sea crossing would otherwise be involved, such as between Britain and Northern Ireland or travel to and from many Scottish islands. The main domestic hubs are London, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The arrival of budget airlines have seen a boom in domestic UK air travel, and have forced fares down considerably. 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, with connections to the nearest cities served by relatively expensive buses. Photo ID is required before boarding most domestic flights in the UK, although British Airways does not require this. Check your airline's requirements carefully before setting out.
'Screen-scraper' comparison websites can be a useful way to compare flight costs between airports or even city pairs (suggesting alternative airports, for instance). Beware that some airlines, such as Ryanair, object to being included in these searches, so these sites are not always comprehensive. Ryanair no longer operates any UK domestic flights.
The following carriers offer domestic flights within the United Kingdom:
See also Rail travel in the United Kingdom
The UK operates two railway networks. In England, Scotland and Wales the extensive National Rail network covers some 34,000km (21,000 miles) covering most of Great Britain, from Penzance in Cornwall to Thurso in the far north of Scotland and including over 2,600 stations. Train travel is very popular in Britain, with many services busy and passenger numbers rising steadily every year. A mixed system is operated, with infrastructure being state-owned while commercial franchises operate trains, to a destination and service pattern specified by the government.
In Northern Ireland there is a state-owned system called Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) which is separate and uses a different track gauge (the Irish gauge). For more details on rail travel in Northern Ireland, see Rail travel in Ireland; the remainder of this section will focus on rail travel in England, Scotland and Wales (i.e. the island of Great Britain).
While criticised by some as inefficient and there are issues such as overcrowding at peak times, the train is a very effective and enjoyable way to explore Britain and get around places of interest. It is also by far the best option for inter-city travel, with most inter-city trains travelling at 200 km/h (125 mph) and stations in most cities and towns being in the city-centre. Regional services travel up to 160 km/h (100 mph). While this means that services are not as fast as the high-speed lines of France, Germany or Japan, there is a relatively high standard of service on both main and secondary routes.
The quasi-privatised structure of the rail network has been under constant scrutiny and criticism since its conception in the mid 1990s and it continues to generate strong opinions amongst the British, with almost constant calls for its return to full state ownership. Not all of these criticisms are unfounded, but for the visitor however, it should be noted that most train companies offer good service and value for money, particularly on inter-city and mainline routes once you know how to buy tickets in the most efficient manner.
Despite the large number of companies, for the traveller the experience is remarkably well-integrated. Tickets can be bought from any one station to any other in Great Britain, no matter how far away, how many train companies or changes of train are needed to get there. However, you’ll find tickets cost less the further in advance you book – if you buy a ticket at the station on the day of travel, fares can be shockingly high (and surprisingly low if you book a few weeks in advance).
The track, stations and infrastructure (with the exception of preserved railways) belongs to the state-owned Network Rail. Trains are operated by privately-owned and commercially run Train operating companies (TOCs), although currently one company (East Coast) is state-owned by operated commercially. The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) represents all the passenger train companies, and brands them collectively as National Rail including using the iconic double-arrow which is displayed prominently at all stations.
Passenger rail companies
As of May 2012, the National Rail network of passenger operating companies consists of:
Planning your trip
The essential source for rail travel information in Great Britain is the National Rail website . It includes all timetables, an extremely useful journey planner (which is by far the easiest way to plan a journey), ticket prices and detailed information about every railway station in the country. You can also access this information using the National Rail Enquiries phone service on 08457 48 49 50 (premium rate from most non BT landlines and mobile phones).
However, National Rail do not sell tickets. You buy tickets from a station ticket office, from an automated ticket machine at a station, or (as British people increasingly do) over the internet, from any train company’s website or http://www.thetrainline.com thetrainline.com]. All train companies sell tickets for all services in Great Britain regardless of which company operates them, and the central ticketing means you buy a through-ticket from one station to any other in Great Britain irrespective of which train companies you’ll need to travel on or how many changes.
Here are two of the best websites for buying tickets. You can choose to have the tickets mailed to you, or to collect them at any automated ticket machine at a station you specify when booking.
Classes of Travel
Two classes operate: standard class and 1st class. Commuter trains and some local services offer standard class only.
In both 1st and standard class, most trains also provide:
There are also six scheduled overnight sleeper trains that operate every night of the week except Saturday:
Reservations are compulsory on sleeper trains, and a supplement may be payable on top of day-train ticket prices to reserve a berth. Advance-purchase tickets called Bargain Berths are available on London-Scotland sleepers from £19 to £49. They are only available from the ScotRail website. All sleeper trains offer:
Generally, the ticket prices for a particular type of ticket are the same regardless of operator you choose to travel on. However the cheaper or promo tickets will be restricted to one operator only.
On all except local and commuter routes and the new High Speed 1 from London St. Pancras to Kent, you save money by booking in advance (tickets normally go on sale three months in advance) and by travelling at off-peak times; peak train travel is much more expensive and stressful as many trains are seriously overcrowded with commuters. Off-peak is any time after 9.30am on a weekday, and all weekends and public holidays. Some train companies around London also have a peak in the afternoon rush hour. You must have a ticket before boarding a train, and many stations now have subway-style ticket barriers. An exception occurs if your station has no ticket office OR machine (i.e. it is a very minor or rural station) in which case you must buy a ticket from the conductor on the train at the first opportunity. If you do not you may be liable to pay a 'penalty fare'.
There are three types of ticket, which allow you to choose between flexibility and value. In increasing order of cost per mile, tickets are classed as:
Advance tickets are only sold as single (one-way) tickets; to make a return journey, simply purchase two singles. With the exception of some suburban and commuter trains, the cheapest fares are almost always Advance tickets. These are released for sale in limited numbers approximately 12 weeks in advance, and can only be used on the train specified on the reservation. If you travel on any other train or the wrong train, you will be charged an expensive full-price ticket or a penalty fare or else thrown off at the next station. When purchasing an off-peak or any time ticket, return fares are normally only a little more expensive than a single (one-way ticket).
A ticket does not guarantee a seat unless you also have a seat reservation. Depending on ticket type and train company, this may come automatically with the ticket or you may be asked if you wish to reserve a seat - ask if you are unsure. Some trains (mostly local and commuter services) do not have reserved seats. If you have no seat reservation, you may have to stand if the train is busy. Seat reservations are normally free. Within London, the Oyster smartcard system (refer to the main London article for details), is valid within the Greater London boundary on National Rail services - this is 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 are liable for a wallet-shocking penalty fare.
Discounts are available for:
See Rail travel in the United Kingdom for full details.
There are two principal types of rail pass available to visitors to the UK which permit inclusive rail travel throughout the UK. Supplements are normally payable for Eurostar and sleeper trains.
Ranger & Rover tickets
Ranger and Rover tickets are tickets that permit unlimited travel with relatively few restrictions over a defined geographical area for a period of anything from one to fourteen days. A full list of tickets is available with their terms and conditions from National Rail. These tickets include Rovers for almost every region of the UK, but notable tickets include:
Steam trains and preserved railways
These are enjoyed for their own sake at least as much as they are used as a means of transport. Most areas will boast a volunteer-run railway using steam traction especially during the summer months. Famous full-gauge railways include the Bluebell Line in Sussex, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway in Yorkshire, while the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway in Cumbria and Talyllyn Railway in central Wales are examples of narrow-gauge railways now primarily used for tourism.
Differing from most of Europe, the UK drives on the left. Most cars in the UK are manual ("stick-shift") transmission, and car rental companies will allocate you a manual transmission car unless you specifically ask for an automatic when you make a reservation. The cost of renting an automatic vehicle in the UK is significantly more expensive than renting a manual one (up to double the cost for the same class of car).
A car will get you pretty much anywhere in the UK. Parking is a problem in large cities and can be very expensive. Petrol (gasoline) is heavily taxed and therefore expensive and like most countries, petrol is sold by the litre. [Currently at around £1.37 per litre (around USD2.05 per litre, or $7.76 per US gallon). The cheapest fuel is usually available at supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Asda).
Like in the U.S. but unlike the rest of the world, the UK continues to use the imperial system (i.e. the old Roman system) which includes road signage though many height and width signage is now in metric as well and all weight signage is in tonnes (or Metric Tons in American English), plus all motorways/freeways now have locator indicators in kilometres situated at intervals of 500m but these display no unit size and are used for emergency vehicles rather than drivers. Therefore distance signage is indicated in miles, while speed limits are indicated in mph. Although some distances appear to based on kilometres - e.g. 1/3 mile is 500m, 2/3 mile is 1 km, 330 yds is 300m - the government has no interest in metricating the roads, meaning that visitors need to gain some understanding of imperial distances and speed limits, or at least a good idea of what they correspond to in metric units. Motorway signs tend to follow the same process of showing upcoming exits at a distance of one mile, then half a mile and then three signs showing /// for 300 yards, // for 200 yards and / for 100 yards. If you are unfamiliar with imperial distance then a good rule of thumb on a motorway is to read the first (one mile) sign to be about one minute from the exit and the half mile sign being 30 seconds to the exit while driving at a cruising speed. Note that distance signs that show "m" refer to miles, not metres.
There are no tolls on any roads with the exception of a few large bridges/tunnels, and one motorway in the Midlands. There is a levy (congestion charge) of £10 is payable for driving in central London.
Traffic can be very heavy, especially during 'rush hour', when commuters are on their way to and from work - typically 07:00-10:00 and 16:00-19:00. School holidays can make a noticeable reduction in traffic, however, particularly in the morning rush hour.
The M25 London orbital motorway is notorious - it is best avoided on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, use it only if you need to, and take local advice if you plan to drive to Heathrow to catch a plane. The M6 through Birmingham is another traffic blackspot as well as the M8 in Glasgow (the second most congested motorway after the M25). You can typically bet on finding a traffic jam if you drive for more than 90 minutes on the motorway system, especially as you approach cities. Checking local traffic reports on the radio or websites such as the Highways Agency or Frixo can help if you know you need to travel during busy hours.
Many cities operate a "Park and Ride" scheme, with car parks on the edge of the city and cheap buses into the city centre, and you should consider using them. In major cities (particularly London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Birmingham) it is usually a much better option to park on the outskirts and take public transport to the centre. This not only saves money on parking and fuel but also saves a lot of time as heavy traffic, twisty one way systems, and limited parking space causes long delays.
Parking on-street is usually heavily restricted. Never park on a white, double yellow or double red line (stopping on white or red lines is illegal. Parking on a single-yellow line is restricted (typically no-parking during the daytime e.g. 7am-7pm) and the restrictions are displayed on roadside yellow signs. Many residential streets require a resident's parking permit to park on the street, although outer suburbs have fewer restrictions. On-street parking in cities may be restricted to disability-badge holders or be heavily metered, and is often for no more than a 1-2 hours stay in the daytime but is often free at night. Surface car parks (parking lots) generally operate the "pay & display" payment system - you must buy a ticket from a vending machine, select how many hours you wish to pay and then place the ticket on your dashboard in clear view - these places are regularly patrolled and if you don't return to your car before the allotted time you'll get a penalty or get clamped. Often you'll need to enter the numeric digits from your car's number plate when buying the ticket to prevent people from 'selling on' tickets with leftover time. Multi-storeys are usually multi-level buildings or in larger cities may be located underground. Most have barrier-controls - you'll be issued with a ticket upon entry. When returning to your vehicle you must either pay on foot at a 'pay station' (a self-service terminal inside the car park's lobby) in which you insert the ticket and pay the required amount - the ticket will be given back to you and you must insert it into the slot at the exit barrier; or alternatively you will pay a cashier at the exit barrier - it'll normally explain the payment process on the ticket. Parking charges vary from less than 50p per hour in small towns to over £4 an hour in the largest cities. Many larger cities have digital displays on the approach roads indicating how many parking spaces are available in each car park.
In any town, expect regular bus services between the centre, suburbs and nearby villages, and less frequent services to more rural areas. London also has the largest mass-transit system in the world - the London Underground and an extensive overground system and bus network too. London, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Nottingham and Blackpool have trams covering parts of those cities. Outside of London, Liverpool has the most extensive metro system (Merseyrail), spanning from several stations in the city centre to those in the outer suburbs. Newcastle has a similar network. Greater Manchester also has an extensive local train network in addition to its expanding metro system. Glasgow has a small underground rail system in the centre and a local train network. In some cities buses can be slow moving due to traffic congestion.
The UK has a comprehensive system of road numbers. These generally take precedence on signs: British roads are signed on a route-based rather than destination oriented basis. Therefore, before setting out on a long journey, plan the route you are going to take and note the road numbers you will need to follow. It is very unusual to see destinations, signed more than about 50 miles (80km) in advance. Other than that, UK road signs are excellent and should be very easy to follow. Road numbers are indicated by a letter and a number as in the rest of Europe and sign colours and letters are generally the same as on the rest of European routes, whilst allocated, are unsigned.
Motorways (prefix 'M'- blue signs, white route numbers) are fast, long distance routes that connect the major cities. The speed limit is 70 mph/115 km/h for cars (lower for other types of vehicle) and certain vehicles, such as pedestrians, cyclists and those operated by learner drivers are prohibited. Junctions are numbered. The motorways are the best means of travelling long distances by car, but expect delays at peak times or in poor weather.
Primary routes (prefix 'A' - green signs, yellow route numbers) connect large towns with each other and with the motorway network. Primary routes usually offer fast journey times, but because they tend to go through towns rather than around them, expect delays at peak times.
Secondary routes (prefix 'A' - white signs, black route numbers) connect smaller towns, interchangeable with B roads.
B-roads (prefix 'B' - white signs, black route numbers) are the larger of the back roads.
Minor routes (white signs) like country lanes or residential streets.
A route number followed by (M) means upgraded to motorway standard - for example A3(M) means part of the route A3 that has been upgraded to motorway.
A route number in brackets means 'leading to' - for example A507 (M1) means you can reach the M1 by following route A507.
Speed limits for cars are 70mph (115km/h) on motorways and dual carriageways (i.e. roads divided by a grassy area or other hard barrier between opposing directions of traffic); 60mph (100km/h) on single carriageway (i.e. undivided) roads unless otherwise signposted; and 30mph (50km/h) in built-up unless signs show otherwise. The use of 20mph (30km/h) zones has become increasingly common to improve safety in areas such as those around schools.
Speed cameras are widespread on all types of road, though more used in some areas than others (England's largest county of North Yorkshire, for example, has a policy of using no fixed enforcement cameras on its highways). Static cameras are often well signed, painted bright colours with clear markings on the road. While this might seem rather strange, the idea is to improve their public acceptance as a 'safety' measure (rather than the widely held opinion that they're there to collect money).
There are some variable mandatory speed limits on the M25 to the west of London (enforced by cameras, again), and the M42 near Birmingham - these are shown on overhead gantries inside a red circle; other temporary speed limits shown on matrix boards are recommended but not mandatory. Apart from these and around roadworks, the motorways are generally free of fixed speed cameras. Speeds on motorways are generally much higher than the stated speed limit (usually at least 80mph/130 km/h). Driving at slower speeds in the outside (overtaking lane) may cause frustration to other drivers.
Driving standards are relatively well-maintained in the UK, with the road system being (statistically) among the safest in Europe. It has long been known by visitors that a foreign number plate makes you largely immune from speed cameras, congestion charge cameras and parking enforcement officers. If you choose to take your chances, be aware you may just hit upon the one camera operator/warden who can be bothered to take the trouble to track down your address from your home licensing authority. British authorities have access to vehicle registration databases from various other countries. Also, British hire car companies will charge traffic fines to your credit card, long after you have left the country. Traffic police patrol the motorways in marked and unmarked cars. Any police officers, regardless of their normal duties, will pursue a vehicle seen driving dangerously.
Don't drink and drive in the UK. The maximum limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08%) Going over that limit is a criminal offence, you will be arrested and spend a night in the cells. The police often patrol roads in cities and town centres on Friday and Saturday night, on the lookout for drink drivers. Enforcement of drink driving laws are extremely strict and police will always take action on those failing a breath test or those refusing to do so. Fines are up to £5000, minimum driving ban is 12 months for a first offence, and you may be imprisoned for up to 6 months.
Drivers from abroad should take note that many British drivers regard the flashing of headlights as a signal that they can proceed, rather than as a warning, or as a signal to slow down due to the presence of police. This misunderstanding has led to a number of accidents.
In a dangerous situation, where there is a risk of death or injury, sound your horn, even during the night. The inappropriate use of the horn is illegal between 23:00 and 07:30 (11pm and 7.30am).
It is also an offence to use your mobile phone whilst driving, although provision is made for the use of hands-free kits which are exempt from the law. Police will stop you for using your mobile phone and a £60 penalty will be issued on the spot. This fine will be accompanied with 3 points endorsed on your licence. Also, it is a legal requirement that all persons in a vehicle to be wearing their seat-belt. Persons not wearing a seat-belt may receive a £30 fine, although this does not come with any points. If a child is not wearing a seat-belt, the parent or guardian, normally the driver, is responsible and a fine will be issued for that offence also. Children under 1.4 metres (4 ft 7 inches) are also legally required to use a child booster seat for safety reasons. Use of fog lights where there is no fog is also an offence for which you may receive a £30 fine.
The road rules differ from other countries: side roads never have priority, there is no requirement to stop for school buses, overtaking on the left is illegal, and you may not turn left over a red light. There are no 4-way stop junctions in the UK; priority should be clearly marked on the road.
There are lots of roundabouts (traffic circles) across the UK, from large multi-lane roundabouts at dual carriageway junctions to small mini-roundabouts on local streets. The rules for entering them are the same - you have priority over traffic that has not yet entered it, and you must give way to anybody already on the roundabout (who would collide with your right side if you entered it). Be careful of two lane roundabouts, there are complicated rules for which lane you should be in which UK drivers learn and expect other drivers to follow. You should be fine provided you're cautious and keep an eye on other traffic. Some roundabouts are arranged in such designs and quick sequence that can make you dizzy. Take it easy until you get used to it.
For further information on driving in the UK, consult the Highway Code. 
Hiring a Campervan is one way to explore the UK. Some companies offer airport pick ups and drop offs. It can work out cheaper than flying/busing and staying in hostels and bed and breakfasts.
Smaller Campers are easier to park and enjoy the narrow lanes in the UK.
Some country pubs may let you use their parking lots for overnight stays if you ask.
By bus and coach
Local bus services (a categorisation which also includes many medium-haul inter-urban services) cover the entire country, but are of variable quality and cost. Rural bus services are in general better than in France and the USA, but not so good as in Italy or Germany. Services range from deep-rural village services operating once a week or less, to intensive urban routes operating every few minutes. All communities except the very smallest villages have some kind of bus service. All buses in the UK are required to display the route number and destination clearly on the front. Almost all are "one person operation", i.e. there is no conductor and you must pay the driver as you board. The vast majority of bus stops are "request stops", meaning that you must put your arm out as the bus approaches to signal that you want it to stop. Likewise once on the bus, you must ring the bell in advance of the stop you want to get off at.
In London, the iconic red buses cover the entire city, with most routes running at high frequencies from early morning until late night, and some operating 24 hours. Service frequencies are such that timetables are generally unnecessary for daytime travel. Comprehensive route maps are available from a variety of outlets and the Transport for London website, and stop-specific maps and timetables are displayed clearly at most bus stops. Buses are modern and highly specified, and are "low floor" offering easy access for wheelchairs, buggies and the elderly. Walk-up cash fares can be relatively expensive, but all-day and longer period tickets (including combined bus, rail and tube options) are available, offering excellent value. For travelling in London, the Transport for London website  is an incredibly useful website with a journey planner with maps, all fares, information on planned engineering works (there are plenty of those on the weekend) as well as live updates. It is an indispensible tool if considering even minor trips on public transport, which is an experience in itself.
Bus services in the UK outside of London are privatised and deregulated, with any licensed operator free to run any route and timetable that they wish. Therefore, co-ordination of services with each other and with rail services can be poor, and tickets often not inter-available. Return tickets are usually much cheaper than two singles, and most operators offer discounted fares for children. Most operators offer day or longer period tickets valid across their own network which can represent very good value, giving all-day travel for as little as £4, but are little use if you need to use more than one operator. However, combined day tickets valid across more than one operator's network are also available in some areas. Weekday daytime services are frequent and comprehensive in many areas, particularly larger towns and cities. However, almost universally, service levels reduce sharply in the evenings and on Sundays. In the larger cities, for example Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh, there is an extensive night bus network available.
In areas with a multitude of operators, obtaining comprehensive map/timetable information for the area can be difficult. It is not uncommon for operators to attempt to pass off their services as being 'the' network for the town or area in their publicity material - making no mention of the fact that other routes (or in some cases alternative departure times on the same routes) are available, operated by competitors. Many local authorities do attempt to produce comprehensive timetables and/or maps for all services in their area regardless of who operates them - these are well worth obtaining and are commonly available from Tourist Information Centres. However it is still worth checking with the operator(s) before travelling to ensure that the information is up to date, as timetables can change frequently.
Coach travel tends to be slower than train travel, as well as less frequent, although it is comfortable and often much cheaper. Coaches, like trains will also generally take you right to the centre of town.
The largest coach companies in the UK are:
There are two types of taxis in the United Kingdom:- Metered (black) cabs that can be hailed in the street and are mostly found in larger towns and cities; and minicabs (private hire taxis) which must be ordered by telephone.
Black Cabs These are useful for travelling within cities - the name originates from the old 1960s purpose-built Austin FX3 taxis which were originally painted black, but today are usually covered in advertisements. In major cities, custom-built vehicles which seat 5 people are commonly used as metered taxis, but in smaller cities regular cars or people-carriers are used instead. These taxis can be hailed on the street or picked up from a taxi rank (usually found near major shopping areas and transport hubs). The rate varies, typically starting at around £2-3 and rising at around £1 a mile, making them fairly expensive. Add night charges, waiting charges, luggage charges for large suitcases etc on to the meter as well, and travelling by taxi can be expensive unless you are in a large group. A short 10 minute trip would normally cost between £3-5. The 'Taxi' sign on the roof is illuminated when a taxi is available.
Minicabs More common in suburbs and smaller towns, minicabs can only be used by telephone ordering and charge fixed prices to different destinations. Local telephone directories usually advertise taxi companies, and the phone numbers are usually painted in big numbers on the side of their vehicles. Minicabs are usually much cheaper, fares for long journeys can often be negotiated (although you should agree the fare with the phone operator when booking, not with the driver) and most companies have a variety of vehicle sizes from small saloons (Ford Mondeo, Skoda Octavia, Peugeot 406 etc) up to large 12-seater minivans so if you have a large group you can specify the vehicle size. Some minicab firms specialize in serving airports and offer discounted rates.
Fake taxis Fake taxis are not a major problem and are mostly found around the major airports. A few tips: Check that the taxi has a rear taxi-licence plate on the rear bumper and that it carries the name of the local authoritative council. The driver's taxi licence should be displayed on the dashboard. The meter displays the correct rate (the metered fares are usually advertised on the side of the taxi). If calling a minicab, the taxi company will ask your last-name and your phone number - the driver should know this when he picks you up. If approached by a taxi driver claiming that you booked their taxi (particularly in airports or nightlife districts), ask them to confirm your name and phone number - if they don't know then it is most likely that they are fake. Most local councils require licensed taxis to be newer than 10 or 15 years old. Many fake taxis use older vehicles.
Ferries link the mainland to 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 and the Orkneys and Shetland Islands from Aberdeen and the far north of Scotland. There are also numerous car and passenger ferry routes between England and France and between Ireland and the UK. There are also regular ferry services between Northern Ireland and Scotland and these depart Larne, Belfast, Troon, Stranraer and Cairnryan. There are also routes from Northern Ireland to Birkenhead and Fleetwood (both near Liverpool in England).
Pedestrians are banned on motorways, motorway junctions, as well as on certain primary routes. However, aside from those exceptions, hitchhiking is not illegal. The British are very aware of safety, and you may expect a long wait for a ride.
If you use signs, it's fairly customary to use the number of the road on them rather than the destination. In other words, from Birmingham to London you wouldn't use a sign "LONDON" but rather "M25". Two places where signs are quite useful are Land's End and John O'Groats, the two extremes of the country, especially if your sign says the other.
Note that traffic in more remote areas of Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall can be quite scarce.
The UK can be both a cyclist's dream and nightmare. Fortunately cycling is popular as both a sport and a means of transportation. Bike rental exists in some cities e.g. Cambridge or Oxford and in some scenic areas.
The Barclays Cycle Hire scheme provides a network of approximately 8,000 bicycles and 570 docking stations across central London, covering an area from White City in the west to Docklands in the east. The scheme is available to walk-up users and charges a daily fee (currently £1, paid by credit or debit card) and, for journeys exceeding 30 minutes, a per-use fee is also charged. Between journeys, users are expected to return their bicycle to a docking station, taking another bicycle for subsequent journeys; the bicycles do not have locks, and journeys of under 30 minutes do not incur a per-use fee. It can be difficult to find bicycles (or spaces at docking stations, in the evenings) at the major rail termini during peak hours, as the scheme is popular with commuters. As well as on each docking station, cycle/dock availability and maps are available online. Should your intended docking station be full, you can request up to 15 minutes additional time free of charge.
The wheels of choice for most British cyclists is the hybrid bike - they have the comfort and practicality of a city bike combined with the performance (multi-speed gearing) and ruggedness of a mountain bike. Conventional mountain bikes and single-speed roadsters are also common, and folding bikes are becoming more popular in major cities. Bicycles are expensive in the UK - expect to pay £100 or more for a basic model. They are sold by individual manufacturer's dealers (e.g. Dawes, Raleigh, Giant), automobile product stores (e.g. Halfords), sport accessory stores (e.g. Decathlon) and through private bicycle retailers. Cheaper used bikes can be purchased online via websites such as eBay or may be advertised in newspapers, notice-boards etc.
Urban cycling varies city-to-city. Most cities have designated cycle-lanes although they are routinely ignored by drivers and are often shared with buses, motorcycles and taxis. Some major roads will have split-pavements for pedestrians and cyclists, whilst other times cyclists are expected to ride in the traffic. This can be dangerous if you're not a skilled cyclist and general traffic rules should be adhered to. It's a legal requirement to have reflectors and a bell, and front & rear lights must be used at night. Also many cyclists use standard arm-signals to alert motorists - if you are turning left or right you should raise your left or right arm respectively, and if you wish to stop then you should wave your left arm up and down. Cycling is banned on certain roads - all motorways and many primary (A) roads - a sign will indicate this.
Most cities will have designated bike-parking areas with bicycle racks and are almost always free. Carry a good lock with you as bike-theft is common. Bicycles are permitted on SOME trains, depending on the operator. Commuter trains generally allow folding bicycles only, some regional trains may have a rack that can carry 2-3 bicycles, while many intercity trains have a baggage car that can hold many bikes. Check with the operator before-hand - bikes will almost always require a reservation: on some trains for free, some for a small charge (typically half the adult fare) whilst others will require a full-fare ticket. Reservations can be made over the phone (via National Rail or via the train operator), or at the station ticket office. Long-distance coaches also allow bicycles, although again they must be reserved and there may be a surcharge. Local city buses and regional buses don't allow full-size bikes but some operators may permit folding bicycles - you should check before hand. If a bus is quiet then it's often down to the driver's discretion. Rapid transit systems also have varying bicycle policies e.g. London Underground allows folding bicycles at all times and conventional bicycles outside of peak hours as long as the train isn't crowded.
The SUSTRANS Cycle Network is a series of paved and unpaved cycle tracks covering the whole country, passing through some spectacular scenery on the way. Their website (www.sustrans.co.uk) has a comprehensive cycle-map and most cycle-stores, tourist information centres and youth hostels also sell their maps.
Until the 1950s and 1960s, many towns and cities had an extensive tramway system. Most were scrapped during this period, however trams have been subject to a revival since then. Modern tramway systems can be found in London (Croydon), Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester and Blackpool, with a line under construction in Edinburgh. There are also a few tram lines orientated towards tourists in Birkenhead, Southport, Llandudno and Crich (near Matlock).
English is spoken throughout the United Kingdom, although there are parts of major cities where immigration has led to a variety of languages being spoken as well. English spoken in the UK has several dialects, some of which may contain words which are unfamiliar to other English speakers. It is exceedingly common for a resident of the south and one of Yorkshire not to understand each other at first go, do not be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves. Your best bet would be to ask someone under the age of 30 as generally elderly people have thick unintelligible accents. A trained ear can also distinguish the English spoken by someone from Northern Ireland as opposed to someone from the Republic of Ireland, or even pinpoint their origin to a particular town within a county, such as Leeds or Whitby. English in Scotland and Northern Ireland can be spoken quite fast. The different dialects can be extremely different in both pronunciation and vocabulary. If you encounter difficulty please remember that this is still English and offence might be taken if you ask someone to speak English, instead they should be asked to speak slower.
Welsh (Cymraeg) is also widely spoken in Wales, particularly in North and West Wales. The number of Welsh speakers has risen over the last few years partly due to promotion in schools, but this bilingual population is still only around 30% of the total population of Wales. Government bodies whose area of responsibility covers Wales use bilingual documentation (English and Welsh) - for example, see the website of the Swansea-based DVLA. Road signs in Wales are bilingual. Even the non-Welsh-speaking majority in Wales know how to pronounce Welsh place names. Once you hear how to pronounce a name, have a go and try not to offend!
The ancient Cornish language of Cornwall, in the far south west, was revived during the twentieth century, but it is not passed down from parent to child as Welsh and Gaelic still are. Be aware, however, that Cornish place names remain and can be rather challenging to pronounce for non-locals!
Irish is spoken in some areas of Northern Ireland, particularly in the border regions.
Many in Scotland claim Scots to be an entirely different language to English, it is what people commonly speak in much of Scotland and to some extent Northern Ireland. In northern England similar dialects can also be heard, such as Geordie. It can be difficult to understand, so feel free to ask someone to repeat themselves or speak more slowly. Speakers are likely to use standard English with outsiders.
All speakers of these minority languages are fluent to near-fluent in standard English but react well if you show an interest in their native tongue and culture. Inter-migration in the United Kingdom means you are likely to encounter people from all over the UK and beyond no matter where you visit. It is rare to find a place where all adults have the same accent or dialect.
There's an old joke that the people of the US and the UK are "divided by a common language", and travellers from English-speaking countries outside the UK may have difficulty catching specific words where regional accents are strong, but still there should not be any major difficulties in communicating. The British are good at understanding English spoken in a foreign accent, and visitors who speak English as a second language need not fear making mistakes. You may just get a slightly blank look for a few seconds after the end of a sentence while they 'decode' it internally. Most British people will not criticise or correct your language, although some are very keen to promote British usages over American ones when talking to non-native-speakers.
A few examples of words that overseas visitors may not be familiar with:
British people have historically been very tolerant of swearing, when used in context. It is considered far less shocking to say taboo words like "Cunt" or "twat" compared to in America, and can even be a term of endearment depending on the situation. Tourists should get used to hearing the word "mate" (and "boss or "bruv" to a lesser extent in London) a lot which is used in informal interaction (frequently male only) between strangers and friends alike, and is something similar to calling someone "buddy" or "pal". The use of affectionate terms between the sexes such as "darling", "love" or "sweetheart" is common between strangers and is not meant in a sexist or patronising manner. Furthermore, British people are prone to apologising for even the smallest things, much to the amusement of some and can be considered perhaps rude to not do so. An example such as bumping into you will warrant a "sorry" and is really more like "pardon" or "excuse me".
British Sign Language, or BSL, is the UK's primary sign language. When interpreters are present for public events, they will use BSL. In Northern Ireland, both BSL and Irish Sign Language (ISL) see use, and a Northern Ireland Sign Language, or NISL, is emerging from contact between the two. Users of Auslan or New Zealand Sign Language may understand BSL, as those languages were derived from BSL and share much vocabulary, as well as the same two-handed manual alphabet. On the other hand, users of French Sign language and related languages—notably ISL and American Sign Language—will not be able to understand BSL, as they differ markedly in syntax and vocabulary, and also use a one-handed manual alphabet.
French (and to a lesser extent, Spanish and German) are taught in schools, although British people are generally not able to speak one of these languages at even a basic level. Immigrant languages are widely spoken in some ethnic minority communities. These are mainly Arabic, South Asian languages, African languages, and Polish, Lithuanian, Russian.
From Lands' End in the south to John O’Groats and Duncansby Head in the North, there is so much to see in the United Kingdom, which is home to 25 Unecso world heritage sites. There are hundreds of free museums to enjoy across the country, many thousands of municipal parks to stroll through, tens of thousands of interesting communities to visit and many millions of acres of countryside to ramble across . It is much more than just rain and seeing whether the Queen is at home at Buckingham Palace.
London – Samuel Johnson once wrote a man who is tired of London is tired of life. This is still true, as London is home to a wide range of attractions: art at galleries such as the National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, The Tate and the Tate Modern, amongst others. There are cultural treats in the theatres and cinema of the West End and South Bank, and the recreated home of Shakespeare in the capital, the Globe. There are all the traditional tourist sites 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 initially centred on the Old Town, the castle and Holyrood Palace, but the New Town is a Georgian masterpiece. Both the Old Town and the New Town are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Oxford and Cambridge – The two ancient university towns allow you to wander amongst the dreaming spires, to punt on the river and to at certain times walk through the college quadrangles.
Parks and Nature
The United Kingdom has an array of National Parks and designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that serve to preserve the country's natural heritage. There are 14 National Parks in total spread across England, Scotland and Wales (9 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 in both England and Wales). There are no Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Scotland, but there are the equivalent National Scenic Areas, of which there are 35 spread across the country
The British countryside has lots to offer, In the south there are the rolling countryside and picturesque villages of the Cotswolds and the Jurassic coast. In the east, there is the tranquillity of the Fens. The north has the magnificent scenery and outdoor activities in the Lake District and the Peak District. Wales offers the ruggedness of the Snowdonia National Park and the beautiful beaches of the Gower. Scotland has the vast wilderness of the Highlands and the beauty of the islands. Northern Ireland is blessed with the Giant's Causeway as well as the north Antrim coast.
History– Stone Age, Roman age and the Dark Ages – before 1066
The inhabitants of the United Kingdom have had a tendency to try to leave their mark on the landscape of the UK. For the length of recorded history they have been leaving little marks for the tourists of the future to enjoy. This started with our prehistoric cousins who left their mark in stone circles and mounds at such places such as Stonehenge and Avebury. Obviously these sites started as places of religious observance but today give us a glimpse of the past.
Then came the Romans, who as well as leaving roads, married the natives and left great marks such as villas at Fishbourne, Baths at Bath, Hadrian's wall in the north of England, and roman walls and building all over the country, including in London, Lincoln, York and Cirencester (The capitals of the four British provinces in the late Roman period)
After the Romans left, the United Kingdom fell along with the rest of Western Europe into the dark ages. Even during this period when much of the learning, cilivation and culture of the Roman period was lost, The people of the United Kingdom continued to make their mark on the landscape of the country, with elaborate burial mounds such as the ones at Sutton Hoo the treasures of which can now been see in the British museum. As time progressed waves of migrants and invaders came from the present day Germany, Denmark and Norway brought with them a new language and new culture.
History – Norman and Medieval periods 1066 to 1603.
1066 saw a major change in the history of the United Kingdom as the Kingdom of England was conquered by the Norman’s from Northern France. As a means to consolidate their power during the 11th and 12th centuries, they went on a building spree, building castles and churches, including the Tower of London and castles at Windsor, Durham and Warwick amongst others and wonderful cathedrals at Canterbury, Norwich, Lincoln, Durham and York. As the Normans extended their power in Wales in the 13th century, there was more castle building with Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech. In Scotland too, great castles were built at Stirling and Edinburgh.
History 1603 – 1900
Britain is littered with historical sites from the Stuart, Georgian, Regency and Victorian era. There are fine examples of English country houses at Blenheim, Chatsworth and the Royal pavilion at Brighton which shows royal regency splender by the sea. There are fine examples of classic Georgian cities in Edinburgh and Bath. The industrial revolution saw a huge increase in the population and a migration towards the cities and the development of heavy industry. Some key sites from this period include the Ironbridge, site of the world’s first all iron bridge, the mills of Saltaire and New Lanark. Other Victorian treats include St Pancras station in London, The Houses of Parliament, and the Royal Albert Hall, Tower Bridge in London, Forth Bridge in Edinburgh and Glasgow and Manchester Town Halls.
Modern Britain – 20th and 21st Centuries
The early 20th century saw the heyday of the British seaside resort, with towns like Blackpool seeing millions of visitors to their beaches, theatres and entertainment every year. In Liverpool the two great cathedrals of the 20th century dominate the skyline, and then there are other modern treats, the domes of the Eden project in Cornwall, the Angel of the North outside of Newcastle and the new Titanic Quarter in Belfast.
United Kingdom can be called the home of sport as it was the birthplace of four of the world’s major sports, association football, rugby football, tennis and cricket. There are shrines to these sports all over the country (Wembley, Old Trafford, Anfield and Hampden Park for football; Twickenham and Murrayfield for rugby; Lords for cricket and the All England club at Wimbledon for tennis).
Although most if not all visitors will probably visit London at some point, it is well worth getting out of the capital to get a real taste of the region and important to not forget the diversity one can find in barely 50 miles.
Whether it's the countryside, coast, historic towns or vibrant cities you are after, there's something for everyone.
Many of the cityscapes that were not destroyed by the Luftwaffe have suffered the urban blight of multi-storey car parks and the sort of insensitive shopping mall developments that Prince Charles moans about, but some cities have managed to preserve their heritage relatively intact, such as Edinburgh, Chester, Bath and York.
There is no getting around it, the UK is not a cheap travel destination. England is largely more expensive than the rest of the UK and London and the south east can be horrendously costly. On the plus side, many of the museums and parks in the UK are admission free for all. If one is on a small budget, for food it is best to check out supermarkets which sell an excellent range of food and essentials for competitive prices. Electronics however are competitively priced due to the competition in this sector, with large chains wanting to get the best share out of what is one of the largest consumer markets in the world. Video games are also far cheaper here than say, mainland Europe, though still more expensive than the United States. Costs for traveling basics such as transport, accommodation and food will means that you will spend at least the very least £50 per day as a budget traveler. This figure climbs much higher if you want to use taxis, 3 star hotels, eat in restaurants and admission prices to attractions.
Cigarettes and tobacco
Cigarettes are heavily taxed ranging to over £7 for 20 cigarettes. 50-gram pouches of rolling tobacco are around £12. Imported brands such as Marlboro, Camel or Lucky Strike are generally the most expensive as are well-known UK brands such as Benson & Hedges and Embassy. Popular and less pricey local brands include Lambert & butler and Silk Cut (a light cigarette similar to Marlboro Light), while the cheapest brands (Mayfair, Richmond, Superking, Windsor Blue) are cheap and cheerful. Low-tar cigarettes cannot be called 'light' so terms such as 'gold' and 'smooth' are used. Most cigarettes come in low-tar and menthol varients, and many brands also sell 'Superking' (100mm length) varients too. The cheapest prices will be found in the supermarkets at the customer service counter. Almost all newsagents, supermarkets and petrol stations sell tobacco, and most will also sell some brands of pipe tobacco and cigars. For a more extensive selection of tobacco products, most towns and cities will have at least one specialist tobacconist.
The minimum age to purchase tobacco is 18 however, smoking is legal at 16. Customers who appear younger than 18 (and, in some places, 21 or 25) may be asked to produce a passport or other identification.
In some places there is a black market in considerably cheaper, imported cigarettes and you may be offered such in some pubs by certain individuals (rarely the publican or bar staff!). The health warning on these is likey to be in a language other than English. This is best avoided as this is indeed an illegal trade, and counterfeits are common.
Smoking is illegal all enclosed public places with the exception of some hotel rooms (enquire when booking). For the purposes of the anti-smoking law, 'enclosed' is defined as having a minimum of three walls and a roof, so this can include things such as 'open' bus shelters. It is also illegal to smoke at railway stations. Penalties can include a £50 'on-the-spot' fine. Most pubs and nightclubs have smoking areas which fully comply with the relevant legislation.
The currency throughout the UK is the Pound (£) (more properly called the Pound Sterling, but this is not used in everyday speech), divided into 100 pence (p, pronounced 'pee').
Coins appear in 1p (small copper), 2p (large copper), 5p (very small silver), 10p (large silver), 20p (small heptagonal silver), 50p (large heptagonal silver), £1 (small, thick gold) and £2 (large, thick with silver centre and gold edge) denominations, while Bank of England notes (bills) come in £5 (green/light blue), £10 (orange/brown), £20 (blue (newer design) purple (older design)) and £50 (red), and depict the Queen on one side and famous historical figures on the other. The size increases according to value. It's often best to avoid getting £50 notes. £50 notes are often refused by smaller establishments - they are unpopular because of the risk of forgery, and because of the amount of change one needs to give on receiving one. Banks are also unlikely to change them to smaller notes for you, though a post office or bookmaker might.
However, Scottish and Northern Irish banks issue their own notes in the above denominations, with their own designs. If in doubt, check what you are given for the words "Pounds Sterling". £100 notes and some old £1 notes are also in circulation in Scotland. Bank of England notes circulate freely in the whole of the United Kingdom, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland it is quite common to receive change in a mixture of English and/or Scottish or Northern Irish notes. Welsh banks do not issue their own notes.
Some smaller English or Welsh vendors might refuse to accept notes issued by Scottish or Northern Irish banks mainly due to unfamiliarity. They are under no obligation to do so, so use them at a larger retailer, or change them for Bank of England notes at a bank. There should never be a charge for this - though foreign-exchange dealers at airports or ferry terminals might well try to charge you.
Coins are uniform throughout the United Kingdom. Non-English speaking visitors should be aware that the new coin designs (introduced from 2008) no longer show the value in numbers, only words.
You may also hear the slang term quid for pounds. It is both singular and plural; "three quid" means "three pounds". It is likely that people will use the slang "p" when they mean either a penny or pence. Note the singular is penny and the plural pence. Some people still use traditional terms such as a penny, tuppence and thruppence (1p, 2p and 3p). The words "Fiver" and "Tenner" are common slang for £5 and £10, respectively.
In general, shopkeepers and other businesses in the UK are not obliged to accept any particular money or other method of payment. Any offer to purchase can simply be refused; for example if you try to pay with notes or coins they don't recognise. If in doubt, ask someone when you enter the shop. If settling a debt, for example, paying a restaurant or hotel bill, usually any reasonable method of payment will be accepted unless it's been made clear to you in advance how you must pay. Travellers cheques in Sterling may accepted in place of cash but it is best to ask first.
ATMs, which are often known in the UK as Cashpoints, cash machines or informally as 'holes in the wall', are very widely available and usually dispense £10, £20 and sometimes £5 notes. Traveller's cheques can be exchanged at most banks. Be aware: some non-bank ATMs (easily identified, sometimes kiosk-style units, as opposed to fixed units in walls, and often at petrol/gas stations and convenience stores) charge a fixed fee for withdrawing money, and your home bank may as well. On average the cost is about £1.75 per withdrawal, but the machine will always inform you of this and allow you to cancel the transaction.
If a bank card is issued by a foreign bank, some ATMs will ask whether they should perform the conversion to the local currency, instead of debiting the bank account in GBP. This is almost always a worse deal than going with the conversion rate provided by the issuing bank, resulting in surcharges of sometimes over 5% on the withdrawal. . It is more prudent to choose the "Without conversion" withdrawal option, whenever this choice is presented.
Compared to the continent, the use of internationally-branded payment cards are much easier and ubiquitous in the UK. Visa, Mastercard, Maestro and American Express are accepted by most shops and restaurants, although American Express is sometimes not accepted by smaller independent establishments, and it is worth asking if unsure, especially if there are long queues. Internet purchases from a UK-based merchant with a credit card however usually incurs a 2-2.5% surcharge (this does not apply to a debit card, even those branded with Visa or Mastercard). Since February 14, 2006, Chip and PIN  has become nearly compulsory, with few companies still accepting signatures when paying by credit or debit cards. Customers from countries without chips in their credit cards are supposed to be able to sign instead of providing a PIN; however, it is wise to carry enough cash in case the retailer does not comply or the machine is having difficulty reading the card. When one has to sign for a debit/credit card transaction, the merchants in the UK are more particular about verifying the signature than elsewhere.
Although most small shops will take cards, there is often a minimum amount you have to spend (usually around £5). Anything under the minimum and they may refuse to accept the card, or charge a fee to process the payment.
Some stores in London and Northern Ireland accept Euros. This however is usually at an unfavourable exchange rate and should not at all be relied upon.
Although shopping in the UK can be expensive, it is generally regarded as a world-class destination for shoppers both in terms of variety and quality of products, depending on where and what you buy. Fierce competition has brought prices down considerably in the food, clothing and electronic sectors. Prices do vary and it is always worth visiting the various retail stores as bargains can often be found. Avoid buying from the tourist areas and stick to the High Street shops or the many 'out-of-town' retail parks where prices will be considerably cheaper. The retail market in the UK is a very competitive one and many bargains are to be had all year round. In the electronics sector, for example, it is becoming more and more common to ask for a price reduction at time of purchase.
VAT (Value Added Tax - a mandatory tax on almost all goods and services in the UK) is 20% with reduced rates of 5% and 0% applying to specific categories of goods (foodstuffs and most books, for example, are taxed at 0%). For all High Street shopping, VAT is included in the sale price. In many of the larger towns and cities, many shops have the blue "Tax-Free Shopping" sticker in the window, meaning that when you leave the European Union (not just the UK), you can claim back at least some of the VAT before you leave the country. However, in order to do this, you must keep any receipts you receive from your purchase and request a voucher from the store. Minimum purchase amounts at a store before claiming back VAT would normally start at £30.
Electronic items such as computers and digital cameras can be cheaper here than many European countries (especially Scandinavian countries), but do shop around. The internet is always a good way to judge the price of a particular item, also you can use this as a bargaining tool when agreeing on a price with some of the larger electronic retail stores. If visiting from the US, there may be duties and taxes charged that make some of these purchases much less of a bargain so shop wisely.
Beware of shopping on Sundays as some retailers only operate limited hours. Limited Sunday hours are in fact actually mandated by law (maximum of six hours in England) though in cities like London, if you entered the shop before closing you might still be able to complete the transaction after closing. Keep this in mind when planning shopping trips. Smaller corner convenience stores (i.e. off-licences), smaller grocery stores (e.g. Tesco Express or Sainsbury's Local) are not covered by this and will normally operate late into Sunday.
Despite jokes and stereotypes, British food is actually very good and internationally oriented British cuisine has improved greatly over the past few decades, and the British remain extremely proud of their native dishes. Restaurants and supermarkets in the middle and upper range have consistently high standards, and the choice of international dishes is among the best in Europe. However, British eating culture is still in the middle of a transition phase. Unlike their continental neighbours, many Britons still eat to live rather than living to eat, and as a result, food quality is variable at the budget end of the market.
The United Kingdom can be an expensive place to eat out compared to, say, the more southern European countries, but relatively cheap in comparison with countries such as Switzerland and Norway.
Many restaurants in city centres tend to be a little more expensive than ones in the suburbs, and pubs do tend to be slightly more expensive in the countryside, but generally, a three-course meal without drinks will cost the traveller anywhere between £10 and £25. Chicken tikka masala with rice is sometimes claimed as the UK's most popular dish, though roast beef is a more traditional national dish.
If all else fails decent picnic foods such as sandwiches, cakes, crisps, fresh fruit, cheeses and drinks are readily available at supermarkets. Street markets are a good place to pick up fresh fruit and local cheeses at bargain prices. Bakeries (eg Greggs) and supermarkets ( eg Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons and Asda) usually sell a good selection of pre-packed sandwiches, pasties and cakes along with a range of soft drinks, juices and mineral waters. In addition, most chemists and newsagents will have a basic supply of pre-packaged sandwiches and bottled drinks. However, it is worth looking out for independent sandwich bars and bakers, as the quality of the food and value for money that they provide is often far superior to the pre-packaged food stocked by national chains, which is often bland and tasteless.
Many large shops, especially department stores, will have a coffee shop or restaurant. British tolerance for poor quality coffee has lowered significantly in recent years, and it is not hard to find good quality coffee these days.
Smoking is now banned in all restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs - there are no exceptions. However some establishments have provided 'smoking areas' and smoking is allowed in the gardens/terraces outside pubs and restaurants unless otherwise stated.
The British breakfast generally consists of either cereal and toast with preserves or a fried breakfast of egg, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms and fried bread. The latter is known as a "full English/Scottish/Welsh breakfast", depending on where you are, or simply a "fry-up". In Northern Ireland it may be referred to as an "Ulster Fry". The Scottish variant may include haggis, and black or white pudding is sometimes included especially in the North.
Larger hotels may also offer croissants, pastries, porridge or kippers for breakfast. Some very large hotels will also provide an international selection including cold meat, cheese, boiled eggs and a variety of different kinds of bread.
Fish and chips
Deep-fried, battered fish (usually cod or haddock, though with a wider selection in some areas) with rather thick chips, always made from real chunks of potato rather than thin tubes of extruded mashed potato. Fish and chips are often served with mushy peas (in England), and dressed with salt and malt vinegar (or 'Sauce' in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland). "Proper" (authentic, for-the-masses) fish and chips can be bought only from either a backstreet "chippy" or a specialist fish and chip restaurant (the latter are mostly at the seaside, although there is a national chain, Harry Ramsden's, which does quite good fish and chips, but at "tourist prices"; Mr Ramsden's original shop, near Leeds, was a legend). However, a "proper chippy" (a backstreet "fish and chip shop", or just "chip shop") is the quintessential place to buy fish and chips. In the north you can also add mushy peas to your order. These are rarer in the south of the country. In Scotland, especially Glasgow, some fish and chip shops deep-fry almost everything they sell, including meat pies, pizzas, and even battered Mars or Snickers bars. In Northern Ireland, you can also order a Pastie (not to be confused with a Cornish Pasty). This is meat minced with onions, potato and spices, which is then battered and deep fried. It can be served in a bap (a soft bread bun), on its own, or with chips. Anything served with chips in Northern Ireland and in parts of Scotland is referred to as a "supper", eg, "a fish supper" or "a pastie supper".
The best ones are specialists, serving perhaps a few alternatives such as a selection of pies or sausages. They are usually located near where people live, though some good ones, especially "sit down" chippies, can be found in town centres. They can be spotted by the illuminated sign which usually has a picture of a fish and a name: either punning and piscine, such as "Codroephenia" and "The Codfather" or proud and proprietorial, "Fred's Chippy", or even both as in "Jack's Golden Plaice". Typically a lot of people eating or waiting is an indication of good food.
A "sit down chippy" is a chip shop with a separate dining room. Whilst no real one will be exactly like this, although most elements will be present, a stereotypical sit down chippie will be brightly lit and decorated in a nautical theme with yellow or blue formica-topped tables. Typically a waitress will take your order for a Cod Meal, alternatively Haddock, Plaice or another dish, and within five minutes your meal will be served: a huge fish, a mountain of chips and mushy peas. Accompanying it, in more up-market places, will be a sachet of tartar sauce, a slice of lemon, a big plate of bread-and-butter, and a pot of tea. Some will 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 out your first cup. On the table will be a large shaker of salt and a bottle or plastic squeezy bottle of brown malt vinegar, which is what most British will put on their fish and chips. There may even be a tomato-shaped plastic container of ketchup or a container of brown sauce. Fish and chips bought from a pub, hotel or non-specialist restaurant bear little resemblance to those from a chippy.
A 'take-away' is either a shop supplying prepared meals for people to eat elsewhere, or the meal itself. A very British take-away is the Fish and Chip shop; the sandwich shop is a popular choice at lunchtimes; they often also sell pies and cakes. Alternatively, most towns and many main routes have a selection of fast-food chains. Various types of take-aways are present in nearly all towns, ranging from fish and chips to "Indian", which can often be operated by non-Indians like Bangladeshi, and Chinese shops. Thai and Indonesian takeaways are becoming quite common, and lots of others in bigger towns. Generally the standard of take-aways is good, but the best guide is, as always, to observe what the locals are doing. In towns and cities these places tend to open late (sometimes till about 1AM) to cater for the so called after-the-pub crowd. At this time they tend to be busy and rowdy so to avoid the queues the best time for a takeaway is between 7PM and 11PM after the teatime rush but before the supper crowds.
Food in pubs
See below for general points about pubs. Pubs are typically places where you can sample British cuisine. There are no such things as a British restaurant per se, so these will be your next best bet; even if you are against drinking alcohol, you will find a more traditional and full menu then a cafe or chippy.
Almost all pubs (see below) serve food, although not all will do so during the whole of their opening hours. Prices of all these types vary enormously, and you should seek local advice if you have particular requirements or standards. Do not sit at a table in a pub expecting a waiter to take your order for food or drinks: pubs nearly always work on a "queue at the bar for drinks: order at the bar for food" basis. You go to the bar to request and pay for drinks and food. To avoid annoying customers behind them, groups usually order as one, and "settle up" between themselves later (see elsewhere for "buying rounds"). You normally order your "starters" and "mains" together (food-oriented places have numbers screwed to the tables for you to quote, or will give you a number to take to your table). There is an etiquette that if you see another patron at the bar, you should invite them to order first. You then wait for your drinks to be poured and carry them to the table. When your meal is ready, it is either brought to you or, less commonly now, announced when it is ready for you to collect. The person who tidies away your main course may ask you what dessert you would like, or you may have to order at the bar again.
Larger towns have a range of restaurants to suit most tastes and you will find a very broad range of cuisines, including Indian, Chinese, Thai, French and Italian. Waiters generally expect a 10% tip (but all too often do not get it from the native population) and in some places this is automatically listed on your bill. However, if you are dissatisfied with the service in any way, you are under no obligation to pay the service charge. Generally British people are not great tippers. As a visitor the 10% rule is more than generous and worth sticking to. Visitors from The US and Canada are seen as very generous tippers and even a bit of a soft touch by some.
The usual fast-food restaurants (McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway and local chain Wimpy) are widespread in larger towns and cities but uncommon in smaller towns. They are typically located in major shopping areas, in or around major train stations, in out-of-town retail parks and in motorway service stations and airports (the latter 2 are usually more expensive). Prices are average - a burger, chips and drink meal will cost about £4-5. Most are open from around 7:00-22:00 although some in large cities are 24-hours. Fast-food restaurants in out-of-town locations offer drive-through service. Delivery service is widely offered.
One of the most popular types of restaurant in the UK is the Indian restaurant. They can be found in every city and most towns large and small. There are now more and more upmarket Indian restaurants in the larger urban centres. Indian restaurants serve cuisine commonly known to their customers by the generic term "curry". Common Indian restaurant dishes include Chicken Tikka Masala, Prawn Biryani and the incredibly spicy Vindaloo. A popular version of curry is known as balti, possibly named after the metal bowl the food is cooked and served in. Balti cuisine, and a number of other commonly served dishes such as the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, originated in the UK though it is clearly based on food from the Indian subcontinent. Birmingham in the Midlands is considered the balti capital of the UK as this dish was conceived there. Curry Mile in Manchester is well worth a visit if you are in the city.
Motorway service areas
Motorway service areas are notoriously expensive places to eat, though the vast majority are open 24 hours by law. Most contain fast-food outlets and all have (free) toilets. Some services may be limited overnight such as the range of hot and cold food, although most will keep a selection available. Service areas are often best avoided as it is often possible to find cheaper and much better places to eat within a mile or two of a motorway junction. They have a poor reputation for hygiene and service; subsequently places like Little Chef have taken such a hit that many have closed. Try 5 minutes away , a website listing facilities no more than 5 minutes' drive from motorway junctions.
Vegetarianism has become more widespread in the UK over the last few decades. If you are staying as a guest in a British home it would be considered courteous to inform your host beforehand as to any dietary requirements, but this will not be considered rude or even particularly unusual. If you are staying in a B&B, let the owner know when you arrive, and you'll often find that they will cook up a special vegetarian breakfast for you.
Bear in mind that even if you call yourself vegetarian some people will assume you eat fish, so if you don't, then tell them so. Nowadays, it is rare to find a pub or restaurant with no vegetarian options.
If you are a vegan, be prepared to explain precisely what you do and don't eat on a fairly frequent basis. Outside of specialist eateries, most places probably won't have a vegan-friendly main meal, so be prepared to hunt around, order bits and bobs, or in a pub make do with the ubiquitous bowl of chips and tomato ketchup and even then it would be wise to check whether the chips have been cooked in animal fat, a practice quickly falling out of fashion.
In general, the best places for vegetarian and vegan food are specialist veggie pubs and restaurants and Indian, Chinese and South-East Asian restaurants. Most major cities and towns will have at least one. Expensive upscale restaurants may have more limited vegetarian options, and sometimes none at all. If you're fortunate enough to be dining in such a place, it may be worth ringing ahead.
Children are not necessarily allowed in all pubs and restaurants unless a lounge area is provided, and high chairs are not always available. British pubs and restaurants are subject to complex licensing laws and it is illegal for children under 16 to enter licenced premises unless accompanied by an adult. Under 18s may not purchase or consume alcohol, and it is an offence for them to do so. It is also an offence to serve them or for an adult to buy drinks for a minor. An exception is that 16-17 year olds may consume beer, wine or cider with a meal.
Licensees have discretion as to whether or not to allow children into their premises. Most pubs that serve food will accept children, and it is usually easy to distinguish those that do. The general rule is that children cannot sit or stand about in the area where drinks are being served. So if the pub has only one small room, they are often not allowed.
Children are permitted in most drinks-only pubs, especially those with gardens, but again, they are not supposed to come near the bar. To be safe, ask an employee or telephone the place in advance.
The legal age to buy and consume alcohol is 18, but many teenagers younger than 18 have seemingly little problem in purchasing alcohol in smaller pubs and from off licences. Nevertheless, if you're over 18 but lucky enough to look younger, expect to be asked to prove your age when buying alcohol (also, in certain places if you look under 21 or 25, you have to prove you're over 18, known as "Challenge 21(25)"), especially in popular city spots. However, supermarkets tend to ask everyone regardless of looks. Some premises will require proof of age for all drinks after a certain time of night due to restrictions on the age of people who can be on the premises. The most trustworthy form of ID is a passport or driving licence which shows both your photograph and date of birth. ID cards are likely to be accepted (providing there is a photograph) and proof of age cards are available which must be applied for by post and take several weeks to issue. Any other form of ID willl not be accepted. In private residences the minimum age to drink alcohol is 5 years old, although it is likely that if a 5 or 6 year old etc. were getting drunk, the matter would be brought before the courts as child neglect.
Getting drunk is acceptable and often it is the objective of a party, though the police often take a dim view on those causing alcohol-related trouble. This applies to all levels of the British society - it may be worth remembering that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had to collect his son Euan from a police station after he had been found drunk celebrating the completion of his GCSE exams taken at the age of 16. Nevertheless, Britons have a great sense of humour and everything is forgotten after a hangover, at least until the next time. Drinking is an important part of the British culture and, even though it is frequently complained about, it is as popular as ever.
Urinating in public is illegal (unless pregnant), and classified as indecent exposure, technically a sexual offence and quite difficult to explain when applying for a visa. You should try and use the facilities where you are drinking.
The pub or public house is the most popular place to get a drink in the UK. Even small villages will often have a pub, serving spirits, wines, beers, cider, and 'alcopops', accompanied by crisps, nuts and pork scratchings. Many serve snacks or meals. The greater volume of drinks served are various kinds of beer, mainly lagers, bitters, and porter / stout (ie Guinness). People not looking to drink real ale are free to choose a pub just on the basis of location, and character, because most national "smooth" bitters or TV-advertised lagers are available in any non-real-ale pub; however, even non-real-ale drinkers often find that they prefer the types of pubs with a range of real ales, because they tend to be more "traditional", with a more individual character and less oriented to juke boxes, games machines, fruit machines and large crowds.
Across the whole of the United Kingdom there is now a blanket ban on smoking inside pubs and restaurants, though many pubs have areas outside, often known as "beer gardens", where smoking is (usually, but not always) permissible. However if you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be able to stay after the formal closing hours this is called a "lock-in" and smoking may be ok if the pub landlord allows it. This will often occur only in the later hours after 11PM and these lock-ins can last any amount of time. As they are classed as a private party, they happen in only a few pubs, and often only pubs with more regular customers, although this is not always the case. Once at a lock-in, you cannot leave and come back in again.
British real ales, championed by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) , are amongst the best in the world - though people used to colder, blander, fizzier beers may find that the taste needs to be acquired. People looking for real ale will need to select the right pubs, because although a wide range of pubs serve one or two real ales, only a "real ale pub" will have a wide selection.
British ale has a limited shelf life compared to most foreign beers, and as some pubs have only a "token" cask with low turnover, it's often well past its prime and has a strange vinegary taste: often, unfortunately, people's first and understandably only experience with "real ale". If you do receive an 'off' pint, ask for a replacement at the bar, which will usually be forthcoming.
The phrase "free house" was usually the main indicator for people looking for a good choice of beer, because this indicated that the pub was not owned by a particular brewery and served whatever beer its landlord thought would appeal to their customers. However, this is no longer a significant factor, because most national pub chains are now owned by large conglomerates who deal centrally with brewers and serve the same mass-market brands in all their pubs: these conglomerates (not being breweries) can still call their pubs "free houses".
If you want to be certain of the quality of the real ale in a pub, look out for a "Cask Marque" plaque outside the pub. This is a stringent quality standard, and you can be sure that any pub displaying this plaque will serve good quality ale. Pubs serving a wide variety of real ales will usually be willing to pour small quantities for you to try before you decide to buy, so feel free to ask if you can taste the beer first.
Cider is available in most pubs, and is usually clear and sparkling. In the West Country, especially Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, a still, cloudy cider known as "scrumpy" is often available. Proper scrumpy will come from a wooden barrel, rather than the metal kegs used to serve the more common variation.
Scrumpy is often exceedingly strong, but is deceptively easy to drink. Thus it is easy to inadvertently consume large quantities of scrumpy, which can quickly rob the unwary of the power of speech and interfere with co-ordination, balance and fine motor skills. It should be approached with extreme caution.
Scrumpy can also be bought very cheaply direct from cider farms, so if you are travelling in the West Country, look out for signs advertising cider or scrumpy for sale. The person selling you the scrumpy may be difficult to understand, because of their regional accent and due to the effects of long-term scrumpy consumption. But don't worry - most British people can't understand them either.
British people usually follow a kind of unwritten code of conduct when in pubs, though types of venue can vary dramatically, ranging from a 'local' pub, usually a quiet place consisting of one or two rooms, to a chain pub such as J.D. Wetherspoons which are very large rooms capable of holding hundreds of people.
Pubs with a good choice of real ales may exhibit almost any pattern of ownership:
Many pubs are very old and have traditional names, such as the "Red Lion" or "King's Arms"; before widespread literacy, pubs would be identified by most customers solely by their signs. Recently there has been a trend, strongly resisted in some quarters, towards chain-pubs such as the Hogshead, Slug and Lettuce and those owned by the JD Wetherspoon company. Another recent trend is the gastro pub, a smartened-up traditional pub with a selection of high-quality food (nearly at restaurant prices).
Beer and cider in pubs is served in pint and half-pint measures, or in bottles. A pint is slightly more than half a litre (568ml to be precise). Simply ordering a beer on tap will be interpreted as a request for a pint, e.g. 'a lager, please'. Alternatively 'half a lager, please' will get you a half-pint. If you ask for a "half-pint of lager" in a noisy pub, you will almost certainly get a pint, because no-one asks for a "half-pint" and the bar person will have thought you said "I'll have a pint of lager, please". Prices vary widely based on the city, the pub and the beer, but generally pints will be in the range £3 to £4.
Spirits and shorts are normally 25 ml although some pubs use a standard 35ml measure, in all cases it will be clearly indicated on the optic, in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, the standard measure is a 35ml measure. A dram in Scotland was traditionally a quarter of a gill measure now 25ml.
Pubs often serve food during the day. Drinks are ordered and paid for at the bar.
When applying for a licence, pubs can specify any opening times they wish; this can be challenged by neighbours, etc. Closing times are typically the 'last order' time - the pub can sell drinks before this and customers have to drink up and leave within 20 minutes of the licensing hours.
Until the recent change in licensing laws, closing times were 11PM and 10:30PM on a Sunday, and this is still quite common. The most common closing times at the weekends in towns are between midnight and 1AM, and some larger pubs may apply for a licence until 2AM and clubs 3AM or 4AM. It is not unheard of that some bars have licences until the early hours (6AM) although this is rare as many who are out until this time are likely to go to nightclubs and then home. Theoretically, a pub can ask for a 24-hour licence, though few have done so.
In cities, in additional to traditional pubs, there are more modern wine-bars and café-bars (often known simply as bars), though the variable weather means that there is not as much of a 'street scene' as in other European cities. However, depending on the weather, there are more and more pavement cafés in the UK than in the past. Parts of London, Manchester and other up-and-coming cities are good examples of this change of scene.
Prices in bars tend to be higher than in pubs, with less focus on beer, and more on wine, spirits and cocktails. Customers are often younger than those of traditional pubs, though there is much crossover and some bars are more "pubby" than others.
Clubbing is popular in most large towns and cities, and many have world-renowned venues as well as many alternative venues. Great clubs can be found in London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Brighton to name just a few places. Prices in clubs tend to be considerably higher than those charged in pubs, and opening hours may not be the attraction they once were, as pubs can now open late too. Most clubs will not admit anyone under 18. ID may be asked for at the door, but ID checks at bars are less common. Dress codes are sometimes applied by doormen or bouncers before entry, sometimes none-too-consistently. Common dress codes are simply to dress smartly and avoid wearing sports wear, including trainers. However "fashion" trainers, especially dark coloured ones are increasingly accepted when part of smart attire. That said, some upmarket clubs will still insist on shoes and if in doubt, wear shoes to avoid being turned away. It is far easier for women to get in than men.
Clubs are often cheaper during the week (Mon-Thu) as many of these nights are designed to cater for students; however, you usually have to pay an entrance fee. For a club in a small town (capacity 250-300) this will usually be £1-£2 on week night, £2-£3 on weekends, and seldom more than £5 on special occasions. Conventional clubs in bigger towns and alternative clubs in cities will cost anywhere between £5 and £10. Large clubs, especially those in cities, that cater for a "dance" crowd will almost certainly cost over £10, though seldom more than £15. For towns with a large student population, it is often much cheaper to go clubbing during week nights (Monday-Thursday), as many clubs advertise towards students on these nights, offering discounted drinks and cheaper entry.
The British drink a lot of tea; usually black tea rather than green tea, often with milk and sometimes with sugar. In cafés and restaurants, tea is usually served with milk and sugar on the side for you to add to your taste; in private houses, particularly in more domestic and less posh settings, you may be asked to specify whether you want milk and/or sugar before the tea is made. In Britain 'black tea' is likely to be understood as by analogy with black coffee as 'tea without milk' rather than 'black tea as opposed to green tea'. In the south and south-west of the country — Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire — and sometimes beyond, there is a traditional light afternoon meal called a 'cream tea': this is not tea whitened with cream, but tea served with milk and sugar, together with scones, jam and clotted cream.
As noted below it is common to be offered a choice of tea or coffee when visiting someone's home. If you don't want either, appreciatively declining should not cause offence. Although some British companies trade on the country's international reputation for tea-drinking to sell premium tea, many British tea drinkers' relationships with tea are remarkable more for their scale of consumption than for their connoisseurship.
Coffee is also drunk widely. In homes it is usually made simply, and whitened with milk rather than cream. Coffee shops serving more complex ranges of coffee alongside other soft drinks are now common in cities and towns, and very common indeed in more cosmopolitan urban areas. Starbucks is fairly ubiquitous; Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero are two notable British coffee shop chains.
In the UK, 'lemonade' is usually a carbonated, sweetened, lemon-flavoured non-alcoholic drink. 'Ginger beer' can mean either a carbonated, ginger-flavoured soft drink and therefore not really a beer at all, or a brewed alcoholic ginger-flavoured drink.
The UK offers a wide variety of hotels rated on a scale of stars, from 5-star luxury (and beyond!) to 1-star basic. There are also a vast number of privately run bed and breakfast establishments (abbreviated as "B&B"), offering rooms with usually a fried 'full English breakfast'. Alternatively you can rent a private house which is let as a holiday home; many such holiday homes advertise on a wide variety of free websites or advertise on their own websites. Good deals can usually be found by using a search engine for "self-catering holiday accommodation".
Budget travellers can opt to stay in a youth/backpackers' hostel
Another option is to stay at short term rental apartments. There are numerous such companies around the country.
There are also many camp sites, with widely varying levels of facilities. "Wild camping" on private land outside recognised camp sites may be awkward outside remote areas, though one-night camping stops may be feasible if undertaken discreetly, or landowners may give permission to wild-camp for free, or for a small fee, if asked.
Some travellers to the United Kingdom decide on a campervan or caravan holiday, whereby your accommodation travels with you. Most parts of the country have a good range of camping and caravan parks available.
If you are smart enough you can hire a camper, and park in remote pub parking spaces (ask first) and really enjoy the country side atmosphere and unique tiny pubs.
As a more quirky (though sometimes expensive) option, the Landmark Trust  is a charitable organisation that buys up historic buildings, follies and other unusual examples of architecture - especially those in danger of destruction - and renovates them in order to rent them out to holidaymakers. For bookings, tel +44 1628 825925, mailto:email@example.com
The UK has been a centre of learning for the past 1,000 years and possesses many ancient and distinguished universities. Many former polytechnics and other colleges have been promoted to university status over the past 25 years , and there are now over 120 degree-awarding institutions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The two most famous (and oldest) universities are Oxford and Cambridge (often referred to as Oxbridge by many Britons), but England also has several other world-class institutions, including several in London (notably Imperial College, the London School of Economics, University College London and King's College London, all are part of London University). Outside of London in England the top universities are located in Durham, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Exeter, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, York, Nottingham, Kent, Bath, Loughborough, Newcastle, Southampton and Warwick.
Scotland has its own semi-separate educational system, with universities in Aberdeen (Aberdeen and Robert Gordon), Dundee (Dundee and Abertay), Edinburgh (Edinburgh, Napier, Queen Margaret and Heriot-Watt), Glasgow (Glasgow, Strathclyde and Caledonian), Stirling and the oldest and most traditional one at St Andrews.
There are two universities in Northern Ireland: the Queen's University of Belfast, and the University of Ulster (which has campuses in Belfast, Jordanstown, Coleraine and Londonderry). Although Queen's is the older and more famous institution, both are highly respected throughout the UK as centres of excellence.
Traditionally the University of Wales comprised four large universities: Aberystwyth , Bangor , Cardiff  and Swansea , but since many polytechnics and institutes were upgraded to university status the number of Welsh universities has increased.
Foreign students make up a significant proportion of the student body at UK universities, with over 300,000 foreign students in 2004. All undergraduate applications go through a central body UCAS , which acts as a clearing house passing applications to the universities for consideration and feeding their decisions back to applicants. Course fees for overseas students vary considerably, costing significantly more for the prestigious institutions. For postgraduate applications, applicants will have to apply directly with the institution.
In order to study, one needs to get either a student visitor for a 6-month course or a Tier 4 visa for something longer. In the case of the latter, you must have a confirmation of acceptance of studies from the institution, take an English Proficiency Exam (preferably the IELTS but this may be waived if you are a national of or took your previous education in a majority English-speaking country) and demonstrate that you have sufficient funds available to you for the duration of your course. Most importantly, students on a Tier 4 must be enrolled full time in an entire course of study, they cannot come just to study individual modules.
The UK - London, Manchester and Edinburgh in particular - remains an exceedingly popular destination for those seeking to learn the English language. A huge variety of organisations and companies exist to cater for this desire, some much more reputable than others:
Citizens of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland have permanent work rights in the UK. In general, the citizens of other countries will require a visa to work in the UK. The UK has had low unemployment in recent years, making it easier for those with specialist skills to gain working visas. A general shortage of skilled labour in the health sector means the British health service actively recruits abroad, making it easier for those with specialist health care skills to work in the UK. This however may change due to the large investment the British government has made into getting more nurses and doctors trained from the United Kingdom. There continues to be a severe shortage in dentists, with many British people travelling to Hungary or Poland for dental treatment.
Beware that all work, paid or unpaid, requires a non-EU/EEA/Swiss citizen to hold a visa with work permit in order to take part (tourist or visitor visas do not qualify). This includes, strangely, volunteer work.
Citizens of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong (British National (Overseas) passport holders only), Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan (as well as British overseas citizens and British overseas territories citizens) can apply for a Tier 5 visa under the Youth Mobility Scheme, which lasts 2 years and permits the holder to work.
Young people of other nationalities may be able to work on internships in the UK by applying for a Tier 5 visa under the Government-sponsored exchange category. Organisations such as IEPUK  can help to sponsor and assist a young people from aboard to applying for such a visa.
Most holders of a Tier 4 student visa are permitted to work for up to 20 hours a week during term-time and an unlimited number of hours outside term-time . Unused hours from a previous week however, cannot be carried over to or advanced from another week (e.g. you cannot work 10 hours during the first week and then work 30 hours during a different week or vice versa).
If you work in breach of your visa conditions, not only will your status be in jeopardy (you may face deportation, denial of entry next time, etc.) but your employer will also face a hefty fine.
The credit crunch, however, has caused many businesses to lose profit and go broke. Unemployment in 2008 reached its highest since the economic downturn of the early 1990s.
For more details on immigration rules relating to working in the UK, visit the UK Border Agency website.
In any emergency call 999 or 112 (free of charge from any phone, including mobiles) and ask for Ambulance, Fire and Rescue Service, Police, Coast Guard or Mountain And Cave Rescue when connected. The United Kingdom has this one, unified number for all the different emergency services.
British cities and towns can be dangerous in some parts at night as you can find rowdy groups of drunk people on the street, usually in nightlife and clubbing areas. Drinking alcohol in public (except outside a bar or pub) is not permitted in some towns and areas of cities. Crime rates in areas such as homicide are broadly in line with the European average (though there can be significant variations between different parts of the UK) and crime in general have been falling in recent years.
The police have fairly wide ranging powers to fine or arrest people who are causing a disturbance, and although they can be heavier-handed in major cities they are generally tolerant. If you are stopped by the police, avoid arguing and be sure to appear respectful. Do not try to reason with them, and above all, do not swear, because although it has been ruled that swearing is not a crime, police will often arrest people who swear at them.
Be wary of wearing football shirts or otherwise showing support for a football team – particularly on match days. Hooliganism has almost entirely vanished but some footballing rivalries are still taken very seriously. Generally it shouldn't be a problem but use common sense: for example do not wear a Liverpool shirt in Manchester – doing so will definitely draw you some very dirty looks at the very least!
Jay walking is not illegal except on motorways, but always try and cross at designated pedestrian crossings. Most operate a "Push the button and wait for the green man" system, but zebra crossings are also widespread, particularly outside of city centres – identified by white stripes on the road and yellow flashing spherical lights – pedestrians have right of way but it is advisable to make eye contact with the driver before stepping into the road. Unlike in many other countries British drivers tend to be very respectful of the laws around zebra crossings.
If you are bringing or hiring a car, be sure to lock the doors if you leave your car, and always park in a busy, well-lit area. Don't leave valuables on display in a parked car – satellite navigation systems are a particular target.
The age of both heterosexual and homosexual consent is 16 throughout the United Kingdom. British laws support LGBT rights and are some of the most progressive in the world. You cannot be discriminated against in any area of the UK for your sexuality. Recently, a gay couple won their case for discrimination after a B&B turned them away saying they were devout Christians and same sex marriage was legalised in July 2013.
British society is generally not homophobic and attitudes have changes beyond recognition in the past 30 years. There are some areas where you may want to not be overtly showing your sexuality (very remote villages, 'tough' places such as football matches) but even these in these environments attitudes have changed. Being homophobic is now the taboo in the UK where being homosexual used to be.
Racism is not common in the UK, and racially motivated violence is rare. Most Britons are strongly opposed to racism. The main concern for Britons isn't racism; the government strongly encourages the notion of a multi-cultural society, but recent high levels of immigration have been of debate. However, the UK is generally regarded by its own immigrant population as being amongst the most liberal and tolerant of European countries in this respect, but obviously there will be some people who are exceptions. Most Britons will go out of their way to make tourists and immigrants feel welcome and it's not uncommon for police to impose harsh punishments on any form racial abuse – physical or verbal.
On the whole, British police officers tend to be professional and polite, and are generally less aggressive than law enforcement agencies in other developed nations (however, this does not mean they are lenient). The vast majority of British police officers do not carry firearms on standard patrol, and the only time one would usually see a "Bobby" with a weapon is at ports or when there is a suspicion they will meet armed offenders. The exception to this is Northern Ireland, where all police are armed. Most officers will only speak English and you will be made to speak to an interpreter over police radio or will do so at a police station if you cannot communicate in English. You have the legal right to remain silent during and after arrest – but police in England and Wales will warn you that "You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence".
All illegal drugs in the United Kingdom are classified as 'A', 'B' or 'C'. Class A drugs are typically regarded as the most dangerous (not always the case) and attract severe prison sentences for supplying.
Class C are generally regarded as the least harmful (again not always the case) and thus attract lesser penalties. Remember: all of these drugs are equally illegal and you will be arrested for possession regardless of the class; the classes are used to determine policing priorities and penalties.
Class A drugs include ecstasy (MDMA), LSD, heroin and cocaine; penalties will mean arrest and possibly jail even for possession. Magic mushrooms were previously legal because of technicalities in the law, but are now class A.
Cannabis is now a 'Class B' drug. A first offence for possession will usually result in a formal warning, or an on-the-spot fine. This does not apply to other Class B drugs, such as speed. Subsequent offences may result in arrest.
Examples of Class C include ketamine, some steroids, some prescription drugs such as Valium (legal if they are prescribed for you), GHB, and some tranquillisers.
Prescribed drugs may sometimes require a letter from a doctor to be imported. This applies where the drug is a Controlled Drug (A,B or C) in the UK.
Drug use is a growing concern for authorities, with some of the highest levels in Europe. Cannabis and ecstasy are both very widely available and you could even be offered it if you are in the right location such as certain markets and clubs.
Although the act of prostitution is not in itself illegal in the UK, many laws criminalise activities associated with it.
Brothels of any kind are illegal under the 1956 Sexual Offences Act, and it's against the law to loiter or solicit sex on the street. 'Kerb-crawling' (driving close to a pavement in order to ask prostitutes for sex) is also banned, and is actively monitored for by police patrols in many towns and cities across the country.
It should be noted that although exchanging money for sex is not in itself prohibited, many legal grey-areas do exist in this department, and the attitude towards the trade is generally not as liberal as in many other European countries.
The local emergency telephone number is 999; however, the EU-wide 112 can also be used. For advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24-hour NHS Direct service on 0845 4647 (in Scotland on 0845 4 24 24 24)
Emergencies can be dealt with under the NHS (National Health Service) at any hospital with a Casualty or A & E (Accident & Emergency) department. At A&E be prepared to wait for up to 4 hours to be seen to if the medical complaint is not serious, depending on the time of day/night. The longest waiting times usually occur on Friday and Saturday nights. Emergencies will be dealt with immediately and before any question of remuneration is even contemplated. Walk-in centres also provide treatment for less urgent conditions on a first come first served basis. They are open to residents and foreign nationals.
All treatment at an NHS hospital or doctor is free to residents of the UK. All emergency treatment is free, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. As a result, an EHIC card is, in fact, not necessary (although advised for EU travel in general), as the UK is possibly one of the only countries to provide free emergency treatment without question or identity verification. This also applies to tourists, both from the EU and outside.
For advice on minor ailments and medicines, you can ask a pharmacist (there are many high-street chemists, and to practise legally all pharmacists must be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) which involves a university degree and other exams and training). Notable pharmacy chains include Boots and Lloyds, and many supermarkets also have pharmacists. It is worth noting that the medicine trade is strictly controlled and many medicines available to purchase from a pharmacy in other countries eg: antibiotics can only be provided on production of a prescription written by an authorised medical professional.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) are spreading between young people, so make sure you practise safe sex. There are around 50,000 HIV victims living in the UK. Chlamydia is common enough to warrant public health screening of young people. Condoms are available in toilets, pharmacies, and supermarkets. They are also available free from some NHS sexual health clinics (known as GUM clinics), which also provide free STI testing and treatment, even if you are not eligible for other NHS services.
Tap water is safe to drink everywhere, unless otherwise stated.
The electricity supply runs at 230V, 50Hz AC. Visitors from countries such as the US and Canada, where the voltage supply runs at 110V 60Hz, may need a voltage converter (which can be picked up in most specialist electronic shops). Many appliances needed whilst travelling (such as laptop chargers, shavers and the like) are designed to run off both voltages, however check on the label before setting off.
British plugs have three flat, rectangular pins which form a triangle. These sockets are the same used in Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and several other former British colonies.
Note that during the Christmas and New Year holiday period much of the country shuts down. During the week leading up to Christmas people will travel to their hometowns to visit their family, meaning that the motorway traffic can be very heavy and trains are much more crowded. Also, many people rush to shopping areas to stock up on food and drink and last-minute gifts. On Christmas Day, Boxing Day (Dec 26th) and New Year's Day most businesses will close (including supermarkets and most restaurants and bars) although major hotels remain open. If you need to purchase food, drink or cigarettes on these days then most petrol (gas) station convenience stores will still be open but almost everything else is closed, and on Christmas Day itself even many of these are closed. Many large shops are open (and extremely busy) on Boxing Day. If you don't have a car then avoid travelling on these days as the only available transport in many areas is taxis, which will charge up to three times the regular price. If you have a car then it is much better as roads are almost empty on Christmas Day and parking is often free - however many petrol stations are closed on Christmas Day (except those at Motorway Service Stations, which must be open by law) so plan your journey carefully if you will need to refuel. In many areas, bus and train services finish much earlier than usual on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, and do not run on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Buses also tend not to run on New Years Day, outside of major cities. During the week between Christmas and New Year, many transport services operate revised schedules and it is advisable to check with operators.
It's acceptable to address someone by their first name in most social situations. In very formal or business situations first names are not commonly used until people are better acquainted. The best strategy is to use what they introduced themselves with. Officials, however, (like policemen or doctors) will invariably call you by your title and surname, for example "Mr Smith", or "Sir". Sometimes, strangers and friends address each other by "mate" informally, but this should not be used to people with higher status than you, and should be avoided in formal contexts.
If you travel to different regions in Britain, you will find a variety of British accents, such as Liverpool accent ("Scouse" [rhymes with "mouse"]), Newcastle ("Geordie") accent and even "cockney" accent in London. Provided you talk as you normally do, you will not have a problem, especially if your first language is not English; people may well modify their accent and – if they use dialect – will modify their speech accordingly. While it may be tempting to do, do not try to copy people's accents or dialect, as they will either think you are "taking the mick" or laughing at them, or you could find yourself being laughed at. In particular avoid trying to use local idiom such as Cockney rhyming slang in London, or the use of the word "gan" instead of "go" in the north east.
The British are said to be reserved and reluctant to communicate with strangers. This is a misconception. You will find that most people are happy to talk to strangers for small talk such as where you come from, if you're enjoying your visit, etc. The weather and football (more amongst men) are easy conversation starters. However, as in many other countries, it is best to avoid sensitive topics such as politics. Show some appreciation to something British – such as "I like the Beatles", which should go down well.
One thing worth noticing is that the British value privacy a lot, probably more than any other countries. When meeting with them for the first few times, avoid asking personal questions. Age is an obvious one (same for most other countries), but also martial status or if they have a girlfriend/boyfriend. Some questions considered ordinary in other countries are considered "too personal" in Britain, such as where do you live and what is your job. It is not uncommon for an British person not to know what their neighbours' jobs are for many years. A good tip for foreigners is to use the mirroring rule – if they ask you a personal question, it is safe to ask the same question back (but answer their question first!).
When you find yourself in a restaurant or being invited to someone's home for a meal, just general table manners apply (unless it is a top-class restaurant). Normally when visiting a house, the host will ask if you would like a cup of tea or coffee. You should do the same when you invite an British person to your house when you live in Britain. It is fine to let your host know if you are vegetarian or any dietary needs. On the other hand, it is rude to specify exactly what you would like to eat. Likewise, when you invite an British person to your house, besides finding out if they are vegetarians, you should also ask them if they are allergic to anything as many British people have different sorts of "allergy" such as nut allergy, wheat allergy and so on.
There are many traditional table manners rules but these rules are becoming less and less important and may just apply at a formal event or around older British citizens, otherwise no one will be concerned about these rules. However, there are a couple of rules which are worth bearing in mind. First, do not start eating when others have not yet started. Second, when eating with other people do not constantly use your phone such as texting or on facebook.
When you eat in a mid-range or high-end restaurant, the server may ask you "how is the food?". Just say "fine, thanks", even if you think the food is awful.
When you find yourself in a pub or bar with your British friends, be aware that there is an unspoken convention of "buying rounds" from each person. This normally works OK if it is a small group. However if the group is large, the "round" could be costly and that could lead to "binge drinking". It is absolutely fine to have non-alcoholic drinks though, or to avoid joining the round, especially if you are female or have to leave early. Even better, arrange to meet your friends in a restaurant or cafés (which have been increasing popular in Britain).
The British can be extremely indirect when requesting things from people they do not know. It is common for Britons to "ask around" questions when requesting something: for example, one would be more likely to say something along the lines of "Where can I find the changing room?" when in a clothes shop, rather than "Where's the changing room?". Similarly, saying 'What?' when not understanding something can be considered rude around authority figures or people you don't know, so 'Pardon?' or "Sorry?" is more appropriate to use in situations with a stranger or a superior. British people apologise a lot, even when there is absolutely no need to do so. For example, if someone trod on someone else's toe by accident, both people would normally apologise. You should do the same even for little things.
Allow some personal space between you and others in queues and elsewhere. It is said that the British invented queueing, and they become very annoyed if anyone jumps the line although it is not very "gentleman" for them to make noise about that.
When someone is right behind you when you open the door, hold the door for a second or two for the other person. This may not be a common practice for other countries but this is quite common here. If you are that person behind, say thanks or cheers to the one holding the door for you.
Greetings are dependent upon the situation. In anything but a business situation, a verbal greeting (such as 'hello, 'Hi,' 'Hiya,' or 'Hey' 'You all right?' or 'All right?') Etiquette for a hug is somewhat complicated, so the best advice is to accept a hug (regardless of the gender offering it) if it is offered, otherwise a handshake is appropriate. Kisses on both cheeks are not common but that could happen, so be prepared.
For more details on unwritten rules concerning greetings, addressing others, small-talk etc, read Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox.
The Scottish are Scottish, the Welsh are Welsh, and the English are English. Referring to all of them as "English" will probably offend. It's a potential minefield but "British" will always be safer than "English". Anyone who doesn't wish to be referred to as British will understand that you didn't mean any offence and will politely correct you ("I prefer to be called Scottish"). However, calling a Scottish, Welsh, or Irish person English will at best make you come across as ignorant and at worst actively offend. Your safest bet is to ask them what part of the UK they're from before referring to their nationality. Remember, too, most Northern Ireland Unionists would not want to be called Irish. (In contrast, most of the Nationalists in Northern Ireland will identify as Irish and register accordingly as Irish citizens and carry Irish passports, which all people born in Northern Ireland are entitled to do if they wish). You may also find that, even though all the people of the United Kingdom are legally classed as British, people's preferences are based upon which country in the United Kingdom they were born in, rather than using the collective term British. It is also common to meet someone who might say "I am half Welsh, half English" or "My parents are Scottish and I am English".
Never refer to the Falklands as being Argentinian, even if you are an Argentinian. Unless you are Argentinian this subject is unlikely to be mentioned, and if you are Argentinian, the British sense of politeness could result in the subject being avoided.
Same-sex displays of affection is acceptable to most people apart from some rural areas and in rougher parts of many cities (see Stay Safe above). On the respect side, if you see a pair of same-sex couple displaying affection, do not stare at them like animals in a zoo. Even if you don't like gay people, do not openly condemn or criticise them as you will be unwelcomed by others and seen as backward.
Despite the reputation, drunken behaviours are not acceptable in the UK and could get you arrested.
In case of emergency, call 999 or 112 from any phone. Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you for your location, and the service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard, mountain rescue or cave rescue). You can call this number from any mobile telephone as well, even if you do not have roaming or even any SIM card inserted. It is a very serious offence to call this number without due cause.
Non-urgent calls to the police should be made on 101 if you are in England or Wales and are charged at 15 pence per call. If you need non-urgent medical help call 111 (This number is gradually replacing 0845 46 47).
When calling the UK from overseas, dial your international access code (00 from most of Europe, 011 from the US and Canada or '+' from any mobile phone) followed by the UK's country code (44) and then the UK area code and subscriber number. If the number you are calling is shown with a leading 0 at the beginning of the area code, the 0 must be omitted when calling from abroad.
To phone another country from the UK, dial 00 followed by the overseas country code, area code and subscriber number.
When calling a UK landline number from any other UK number, dial the area code (beginning with the leading 0) and the subscriber number. If calling from a landline to another landline within the same area code the area code can usually be omitted.
For calls to UK mobile telephones from anywhere within the UK all of the digits have to be dialled by all callers. The same is true when you are doing the opposite.
When the building you're in has its own internal phone system, the number for an outside line is usually "9" (not "0", as in many other countries, which in the UK usually connects you to the operator or reception desk).
Payphones are widely available, especially in stations, airports, etc. Payphones usually take cash (minimum 40p - BT, although some private payphones may charge more); change is not given, but you can choose to use the excess on the next call. Some newer payphones accept credit and debit cards and may even allow you to send emails and surf the web. Phonecards have been phased out, though various pre-paid phonecards can be purchased from newsagents for cheap international calls. Some BT payphones now accept Euros.
A simpler and often cheaper alternative for international calls is to use a direct-dial service, these offer vastly reduced call rates over the standard providers and don't require you to purchase a card or sign up for an account. You simply dial an access number which is usually a more expensive revenue-share (084x or 087x) or premium rate (09xx) number.
Whether you are calling someone who is inside or outside the UK, it may be important to find out if the phone number being called corresponds to a landline or mobile phone as most operators have different rates for each.
Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are T-Mobile , Vodafone , Orange , 3  and O2 , and all have 3G services as well as GPRS (excluding 3). GPRS and 3G data services are available, usually priced per megabyte. GPRS (Voice, Text, Basic Internet) coverage is sparse in mountainous areas but reaches 99% of homes, 3G signal (MMS, Video, Internet etc) has similar huge gaps outside of urban areas (dependent on network) and may also be difficult to get indoors. T-Mobile and Orange are both now run by Everything Everywhere  and share each others signal. A 4G service has just started in a small number of the largest cities. OpenSignal provide independent United Kingdom coverage maps comparing network quality and data speeds.
There is no charge for calls that you receive on your handset except for those roaming; charges are only for calls that you initiate.
Pay as you go (prepaid) plans are available. Credit the phone with a top-up card or cash payment via a top-up terminal in a shop or at an ATM; there is no formal, paper term contract. Some operators also offer packages which mix texts, phone calls and/or data at affordable rates. These packages can come with your initial top-up or be deducted from your balance. These are usually more ideal if you intend to stay in the UK for a short period of time; getting pay monthly plans will save you more if you will reside in the UK for a longer time.
If you have an unlocked GSM-compatible handset (most dual- and tri-band phones are GSM-compatible) you can purchase a SIM card from several electrical or phone outlets, in supermarkets, or online (i.e. although giffgaff themselves only send sims to UK addresses, you can order a giffgaff sim abroad free > here.) Be aware prices do vary considerably – from £5 (with £10 call credit) from Tesco on-line (available in Tesco supermarkets) to £30 (with £2.50 credit) from Vodafone (available at all mobile phone shops). Often bargain handset-and-SIM deals can be found, if you don't have an unlocked handset - at the time of writing you can get a very basic mobile with SIM for £18 from Tesco, though this will be a locked phone and won't work with other SIM cards.
Costs for calls can vary significantly depending on when you call, where from and where to. Calls from hotel rooms can be spectacularly expensive because of hotel surcharges; check before you use and consider using the lobby payphones instead. Calls from payphones and wired, or landline, phones to mobile phones are expensive too; if you have the choice call the other party's landline. Beware of premium rate calls (070, 084n, 087n and 09nn), which can be very expensive, especially from mobiles. Text messaging from mobiles costs around 10 pence per message and picture or MMS messages cost around 45 pence (20 pence on some networks).
If you expect to frequently call abroad from your mobile phone, consider getting a sim from a virtual carrier. Carriers such as Vectone One, Lebara and Lycamobile offer deeply discounted rates to call or text phone numbers in other countries.
Calls between landlines are charged at national or geographic rate by most providers. Many mobile and landline packages provide inclusive minutes to call 01, 02 and 03 numbers either off-peak or at any time. Calls to the crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and the Isle of Man may be charged at a higher rate.
If the originating and destination area codes are the same then the area code can be omitted when calling from a landline. Note that local calls are charged at the same rate as other geographic phone calls, and are not automatically free unless the user has an appropriate contract with the phone provider. Non-geographic 08xx numbers used to be cheaper than their geographic counterparts, but this has effectively changed as an increasing number of calls are made using mobile phones, where such non-geographic numbers are charged higher and are rarely included in mobile phone plans. The following table relates the first few digits dialled to call types, so you can avoid some of the pitfalls above:
Where a call is chargeable, calling from a mobile telephone will usually cost more than calling the same number from a landline.
* These freephone charges can be avoided by using landline dial-around services like 0800Buster .
Internet cafés can be found in cities and towns; check the city pages for details. All UK public libraries provide access, often branded as "People's Network", usually at no or little charge, though time is rationed. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access either via their cable TV system or WiFi, although the prices are quite steep (www.spectrumineractive.co.uk provide the Scottish YHA with a network of broadband and WiFi-capable Internet terminals).
There are some Wi-Fi hotspots, although intentionally publicly available wireless is not yet widespread outside central London. Most McDonald's restaurants in the UK now offer free Wi-Fi. Many coffee shops offer paid Wi-Fi. The most you should pay for Wi-Fi access across the UK is £1 for half an hour. Many chain cafés will charge more for no extra value.
Most major UK population centres are covered by UMTS/HSDPA 3G coverage, giving download speeds up to 7.2Mbps, and GPRS coverage is extensive. However, in relatively rural parts of the country as well as in indoor locations, mobile broadband may become more limited. 3G data services should roam seamlessly onto the UK networks, or you can purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card for which credit can be purchased in the same way as for mobile phones. For example T-Mobile stores will give you a free SIM-card on which you can load any amount you want. Access cost £2 per day, £7 per week.
The Royal Mail has a long history. Postboxes are still the traditional red colour (although there are green and gold Victorian "Penfold" boxes retained in some areas and a historically important blue box in Windsor). To commemorate British gold medal winners at the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, some post boxes, usually located in the home towns of the gold medallists, were re-painted gold. Mail can also be posted at post offices.
The Royal Mail has introduced a new system where post within the UK is priced on size and weight. You can find size charts at all post offices but bear this in mind when sending a larger envelope, parcel or packet. Postage stamps cost 34p/24p (domestic 1st/2nd class for envelopes up to C5 size which are less than 5mm thick and less than 100g), 48p (Europe up to 20g), 54p (Worldwide up to 10g). Stamps can be bought at supermarkets, newsagents and tourist shops. Domestic first-class mail can usually be expected to arrive the following day; second-class mail may take several days. Signage on all postboxes displays the final collection time at that location (typically about 17:30 on weekdays and noon on Saturdays), as well as details of later weeknight collections that are available in many areas from a central postbox or sorting office. Deliveries are likewise made six mornings per week, Monday to Saturday. There is generally no post on Sundays or Public Holidays.
If you wish to send something heavy, or want to send a larger letter or packet within the UK, then you will have to get it weighed and/or measured at the post office. The staff at post offices are very helpful, but avoid the lunchtime rush at around 12:00-13:30 when there is often a long queue and 30+ minute waiting times.
One interesting side-pursuit is to look at when the postboxes were built since some can be very old. The 'R' stands for Rex/Regina and the first letter the initial of the monarch reinging when it was built. E.g. A postbox built after 1952 would have the initals 'E II R'. Finding a box with the initials 'VR' (Queen Victoria, pre-1901) is possible.