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United Kingdom

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[[File:noframe|250px|frameless|United Kingdom]]
Location
[[File:noframe|250px|frameless]]
Flag
[[File:Uk-flag.png|108px|frameless]]
Quick Facts
Capital London
Government Constitutional Monarchy (but without written constitution)
Currency Pound Sterling (GBP)
Area total: 244,820 sq km
water: 3,230 sq km
land: 241,590 sq km
Population 60,441,457 (July 2006 est.)
Language English, Welsh (about 26% of the population of Wales), Scottish form of Gaelic (about 60,000 in Scotland), some speakers of the Irish form of Gaelic in Northern Ireland
Religion Anglican and Roman Catholic 40 million (66%), Muslim 1.5 million (2.5%), Presbyterian 800,000 (1.3%), Methodist 760,000 (1.3%), Sikh 336,000 (0.6%), Hindu 559,000 (0.9%), Jewish 267,000 (0.4%), Buddhist 152,000 (0.25%), no religion 9,104,000 (15%)
Electricity 230V, 50 Hz
Country code +44
Internet TLD .uk
Time Zone summer: UTC +1
winter: UTC

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the United Kingdom or the UK) [1] is a constitutional monarchy in northern Europe.

The Union 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 counts Ireland, France, Belgium and Netherlands as its nearest neighbours. The Isle of Man and the various Channel Islands are "crown dependencies", linked to the UK by various ties and mutual obligations but not part of it (or of the EU). Gibraltar is a British territory within the EU with its own autonomous government.

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 city of the United Kingdom (and the largest city) is London.

Home nations

Map of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a union made up of several 'home nations' and territories:

Great Britain
England the largest component, in terms both of size and, by far, population.
Scotland situated in the north of Great Britain.
Wales located within the largely mountainous western portion of Great Britain.
Ireland
Northern Ireland occupies the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland.

'Great Britain' (or 'GB', or 'Britain') means Scotland, England, and Wales taken together (as a purely geographical term, GB refers just to the biggest island). GB became the UK when the Irish and British parliaments merged in 1801 to form the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". This was reduced to '... and Northern Ireland' when all but six Irish counties left the Union to form an independent state in the 20th century. However, 'Britain' is often seen as shorthand for the whole of the United Kingdom ("British Government", "British Subject"). Note that a UK visa is valid for traveling in all parts of the Union and there are no internal border controls between the four constituent nations.

The flag of the United Kingdom is popularly known as the Union Jack, but is correctly known as the Union Flag. It is comprised of the flags of St. George (of England), St. Andrew (of Scotland, also known as the Saltire) and the St. Patrick's Cross (of Ireland) superimposed on each other. Within England and especially Scotland and Wales, the flags of each nation are commonly used, as is the Red Dragon in Wales. The St. Patrick's Cross flag is never seen in Northern Ireland, since it largely represents the pre-1921 era when the whole of Ireland was part of the UK. Instead either the Union Flag, or the Red Hand of Ulster (similar in appearance to the St. George's Cross flag of England) is flown - particularly in Unionist areas.

Referring to someone's nationality

  • English, Welsh, and Scottish ('Scotch' for products or objects, 'Scots' for a language, and 'Scottish' for everything else) people are all different, but are all British. To refer to a Welsh person or a Scot as 'English' is both inaccurate and offensive; but to say 'we thought he was Welsh, but he turned out to be British', or to refer to a person from England as 'Scottish' or 'Welsh' will merely make you seem daft.
  • Although most people tend to use the more precise term (e.g. Welsh) for their nationality these days, it is perfectly OK to say 'British' if you don't know where someone is from. A keen nationalist may then correct you ('I'm not British, I'm Scottish') but is unlikely to take offence if none was intended.
  • On the other hand, British is sometimes preferred. There are many people who self-identify (on surveys, etc) as 'Black British' or 'British Asian', apparently feeling that 'English' etc are descriptions of ethnicity, while 'British' is an ethnically-neutral reference to UK citizenship. There is no objective reason why a person should not self-identify as 'Black English' or 'Welsh Asian', but this is definitely not common.
  • Some residents of Northern Ireland may describe themselves as 'British' (referring to their UK citizenship); others prefer 'Irish' (referring to their geography and their ethnicity). If you are unsure which is appropriate, then 'Northern Irish' is a fairly safe way to avoid offence, because the person concerned can chose for themselves whether to interpret it as a political or geographical term. Some people feel strongly that Ireland should always be referred to as a single entity and will usually avoid reference to 'Northern Ireland', referring instead to 'The Six Counties' or some other phrase which avoids reference to the political border.
  • Almost no-one will mention the 'UK' when asked their nationality, perhaps because there is no easy way to add a suffix to 'United Kingdom' to make an adjective ('United Kingdom-ish'?) and because the alternatives ('UK citizen') sound a bit of a mouthful—or simply because most people just don't use the term 'UK' in everyday conversations. However, if someone asks a Brit where they come from they will often say 'I'm from the UK'.
  • Outdated terms: Britisher sounds very odd these days. Brit is only used either patronisingly, or self-consciously, or by newspaper headlines, for brevity. Briton is most commonly used in newspaper headlines or serious conversation; the Ancient Britons were a Celtic people who lived in England/Scotland before the Anglo-Saxons arrived, and had their culture largely taken over. Pockets of 'Celtic' culture remain in Cornwall, Cumbria, Wales, Ireland, London and Scotland.

Crown Dependencies

The Channel Islands: Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney and Sark.
The Isle of Man.

The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not strictly part of the UK, but rather are 'Crown Dependencies'. This means that they have their own democratic governments, laws and courts and are not part of the EU; but they are not entirely sovereign either.

See also: Ireland (not part of the United Kingdom).

Cities

Many cities and towns in the United Kingdom are of interest to travellers outside the capital city of London. Following is an alphabetical selection of nine - others are listed under their specific regions:

  • Belfast - capital of Northern Ireland
  • Birmingham - central England's main city and England's second city, features great shopping, and is home of the famous Balti
  • Brighton - Victorian seaside retreat turned into one of the UK's nightlife capitals.
  • Bristol - an historical city famed for its Georgian architecture and nautical heritage.
  • Cardiff - capital of Wales, host to varied cultural events and many other modern and historical attractions.
  • Edinburgh - capital of Scotland, home to the largest arts festival in the world and numerous tourist attractions
  • Glasgow - Scotland's largest city, new cultural hotspot, former European City of Culture
  • Manchester - north-western England's main city, thriving bohemian music scene, gay quarter and dozens of tourist attractions
  • Newcastle upon Tyne - largest city in the north east of England with a busy nightlife, a rejuvenated cultural scene and Hadrian's Wall.

Other destinations

National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK

Parks and areas of natural beauty

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.

Landmarks

  • Stonehenge - an ancient stone circle located near the cathedral city of Salisbury in Wiltshire.
  • The Georgian architecture and Roman baths in Bath.
  • York Minster (Cathedral) in the historic city of York.
  • Canterbury Cathedral - the seat of the head of the church of England. Located in the city of Canterbury in Kent
  • Shakespeare's Birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
  • The ancient and world-renowned universities of Oxford and Cambridge
  • The Eden Project near St Austell, a massive botanical gardens including indoor rainforest and mediterranean biodomes.
  • The Giant's Causeway sixty miles from Belfast on the north coast of Northern Ireland is a World Heritage site and a natural wonder.
  • Portsmouth Historic Dockyard home to three of the most important ships ever built and 800 years of naval history.

Understand

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, with a queen (or king) as the head of state, and a prime minister as the democratically elected head of government. The prime minister ("PM") is not elected as an individual, but is the leader of the largest party in Parliament (or a coalition), which is invited to form a government. Members of Parliament ("MPs") are elected by district from throughout the UK, with the Lords of Parliament (the "upper" house of the UK legislature) either inheriting or appointed to these seats. In response to movements in Scotland and Wales for national autonomy/home rule, these have recently formed parliaments with some internal law-making and tax-setting powers, while still sending MPs to the UK parliament in Westminster, London, which remains responsible for all other matters, including international ones. England has no national government of its own, and is directly governed by Westminster (although recent years have seen growing concern in this factor). Northern Ireland was always self governed in the same manner that Scotland and Wales are today but rising political tensions led to this being dissolved in 1973. Self government was returned to the province in 2007.

Using Maps

Most basic mapping in the United Kingdom is undertaken by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain (in England, Scotland & Wales) 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] (eg. [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. Therefore, a postcode will identify a location to within a few tens of metres 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.

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) stone walls.

Climate

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 quite often conditions are windy and wet. British rain is legendary, but in practice it rarely rains more than two or three hours at a time and sometimes parts of the country stay dry for weeks, especially in the East. More common are overcast or partly cloudy skies. It is usual to be prepared for a change of weather when going out; a jumper and a raincoat usually suffice when it is not winter.

Because the UK stretches nearly a thousand kilometres 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, with heavy snowfall in northern Scotland in winter. The north-east and Midlands are also cool, though with less rainfall. The south-east is generally warm and dry, and the south-west warm and often wet. Wales and Northern Ireland tend to experience mild temperatures and moderate rainfall. Even though the highest land in the UK barely reaches 4000 feet, the effect of height on rainfall and temperature is great.

Get in

Major airports and ferry foutes

The United Kingdom is physically linked to two other countries. The Channel Tunnel connects the UK to France, and Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland.

Immigration and visa requirements

  • Citizens of the European Union for the most part do not require a visa, and have permanent residency and working rights in the UK. Citizens of Ireland have additional rights allowing them to vote in elections.
  • Citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland also have permanent residency rights, but may require a work permit in some circumstances.
  • Citizens of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States do not require a visa for visits of up to 6 months, though require entry clearance for purposes other than visiting as a tourist.
  • Most other countries will require a visa, which can be obtained from the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.
  • All visitors should expect to be asked by the Immigration Officer upon arrival to demonstrate that they have a) a return ticket to leave the United Kingdom, b) a valid address at which they will be staying in the United Kingdom and c) sufficient funds with which to support themselves during their stay. An inability to demonstrate these three basics may lead to a refusal of leave to enter or a grant of restricted leave.
  • Commonwealth citizens who are 17 or over and have a British grandparent can apply for an Ancestry visa. This allows residency and work for five years. After this, permanent residence may be applied for.
  • The UK also operates a Working Holidaymaker Scheme for citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations, and British dependent territories. This allows residency in the UK for up to 2 years, with limited working rights. Work is restricted to a total of 12 months within the 2 year period.
  • Regardless of citizenship, passports are not required to enter the UK from the Republic of Ireland. Passports are required to enter the UK from all other countries, regardless of EU membership.

For more information of UK Immigration and visa requirements, see the British Home Office website [2]

By plane

London Heathrow Airport is the world's busiest international airport. Situated 15 miles west of Central London, Heathrow offers a large choice of international destinations, with direct flights to most countries in the world. British Airways has its hub at Heathrow and offers a wide range of international flights to Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Australia. There are fewer direct flights to South America, although many South American airlines connect to London via Spain. Other large airlines operating at Heathrow include bmi (formerly British Midland) [3], Virgin Atlantic and the main national airlines of most countries. London Gatwick Airport, 30 miles south of London in Sussex, is the second largest airport, and also offers a wide range of international flights. London Stansted Airport in Essex, and London Luton Airport are hubs for the budget airlines Ryanair and easyJet who offer direct flights to a wide range of European destinations. London City Airport is the most central airport in London, situated 7 miles east of Central London, but mainly serves business passengers to the main financial centres in Europe.

Outside London, many of the regional airports offer a wide range of direct links to European and some long haul destinations. Manchester International Airport in the North of England, is the UK's third largest airport serving many European and long haul destinations. Liverpool John Lennon Airport is the UK's fastest growing airport which is taking on more and more flights - located in North West England. Jet2.com is based at Leeds Bradford with many cheap flights to Europe and beyond, while easyjet, FlyBe, Ryanair and bmibaby maintain hubs at other regional airports. Other large airports in the regions include Birmingham International[4], Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Bristol, Southampton, Cardiff, East Midlands, Doncaster-Sheffield, Newcastle and Teesside/Durham Tees Valley. In Northern Ireland, Belfast International Airport is the major airport with international flights, although some transfer flights may take you to Belfast City Airport. City of Derry Airport also offers a limited number of international and domestic flights.

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 drivers license, national ID card etc.) is required for internal flights although no visas or travel permits are required.

Airport tax is applied to both international and internal flights (£20 on international flights, £14 on internal flights) so check if it is included in any quoted air fares.

Since fall 2006, British Airways use the same check-in procedure around the world: all passengers flying by BA are gathered into a single queue and processed without respect to their time-to-departure. Reportedly, this is done for cost saving reasons, but brings a real hassle to checking in.

By train

From Belgium and France

Eurostar services run between London's Waterloo Station and Ashford in Kent and Paris (Gare du Nord), Lille and Brussels through the Channel Tunnel. Journey times average two hours forty minutes from Paris. A second class return from Paris to London costs between €85 and €230, although it can be cheaper to fly from London to Paris using a low-cost airline (but bear in mind that the journeys to the airports will cost an extra €40-60). There are a limited number of direct services from other destinations in France also.

From Wednesday 14 November 2007 the London terminus of the Eurostar service will be moved to the newly reconstructed St Pancras Station. This will reduce travel times for London-Paris to just 2h 15m and London-Brussels to 1h 51m

The main benefit of using the Eurostar is that it runs between the central zones of its destination cities, removing the necessity of accessing the relevant airports on the outskirts of cities (potentially very time-consuming!), and of undergoing several uncomfortable modal changes.

From The Netherlands

Stena Line (Hook of Holland to Harwich) 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 more 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 allows a simple transfer to London Liverpool Street. The Dutch Flyer website [5]only gives prices for tickets purchased in Great Britain, it does however give timetable information. Stena's Dutch language website allows booking of tickets for journies starting from the Netherlands. [6].


From the Republic of Ireland

Cross Border Rail Services to Northern Ireland

From Dublin in Ireland, the Enterprise [7] takes just over 2 hours to Belfast and Irish Rail [8] is advertising return tickets from €36.50 (November 2006).

Services to the British Mainland

Combined Rail & Sail tickets are available from Ireland and Northern Ireland to any railway station in Great Britain. Although the SailRail [9] website only gives prices for tickets purchased in Great Britain, tickets can be bought from the railway company and ferry operators in Ireland, with a price of €35 to €41 one-way (January 2007); actual price depends on origin and destination, but (London-Dublin via Holyhead is €41). Through tickets are available via other sea corridors also. Fares are slightly higher during July and August. Virgin Trains [10] may be offering advance-purchase tickets from London to Dublin from £32 return, although these are hard to obtain and only possible for journeys starting in Great Britain. It is also possible to cross from Southern Ireland into South-West Wales on a Stena Line ferry which is met by a train on each side. The stations are immediately next to the mooring point.

By car

The Channel Tunnel has provided a rail/road connection since 1994. Shuttle trains 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. Car ferries also operate to many parts of the UK, see 'by boat' section. 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. 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.

By bus

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 hours.

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 24h+ bus journey.

Various other operators compete with Eurolines, mostly between Poland and the UK; these come and go.

By boat

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 Bergen in Norway and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Harwich has ferries from Esbjerg in Denmark, Cuxhaven in Germany (put out of operation in November 2005) and Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands. You can also sail from Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Zeebrugge in Belgium to Hull, or from Rotterdam to Rosyth (near Edinburgh). There is a regular connection between Ramsgate and Oostende in Belgium. There are 4 sailings a day and prices vary between 50 euro to 84 euro.

Dover is one of Britain's most popular passenger ports with sailings from Zeebrugge, Dunkerque and Calais 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.

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.

From Ireland, ports of entry include Swansea, Pembroke, Fishguard and Holyhead. There are sailings from Dublin to Holyhead, Mostyn and Liverpool. [NB:The service from Swansea is suspended until 2008 when the company will acquire a new ship]

From Iceland, the Faroe Isles, Norway and Denmark, a passenger ferry sails into Lerwick.

Get around

An extensive national public transport journey planner for the UK is available on the Traveline website [11].

Transport Direct also operate a website for all modes of transport, including planes, cars, and allows comparisons to be made with public transport options [12]

By plane

Given the short distances involved it may be more practical and cheaper to use other forms of transport than internal flights. The main domestic hubs are London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The arrival of budget airlines Ryanair [13] and easyJet [14] at London's Gatwick, Luton and Stansted Airports saw a boom in domestic UK air travel, and have forced the cost down considerably. In Scotland, Loganair operate a British Airways franchise serving remote destinations in the Scottish Highlands and Islands from Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports (flights are booked through the British Airways website).

To get the best fare, it is advisable to book as far in advance as possible. It is worth noting that most UK regional airports are not connected to the national rail network, with connections to the nearest cities served by expensive buses.

Photo ID is required before boarding domestic flights in the UK.

The following carriers offer domestic flights within the United Kingdom:

  • British Airways - Aberdeen, Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Islay, Isle Of Man, Jersey, Kirkwall, London City, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, Londonderry, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay, Shetland Islands (Sumburgh), Stornoway, Tiree, Wick airports.
  • FlyBE - Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Doncaster-Sheffield, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Guernsey, Inverness, Isle Of Man, Jersey, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool, London Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay, Norwich, Southampton, Southend airports.
  • Eastern Airways - Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Durham, Humberside, Inverness, Isle Of Man , Leeds/Bradford, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham East Midlands, Southampton, Stornoway, Wick airports.
  • bmi - Aberdeen, Belfast City, Durham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Jersey, Leeds/Bradford, London Heathrow , Manchester, Norwich, Southampton airports.
  • easyJet - Aberdeen, Belfast International, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Liverpool, London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, Newcastle airports.
  • bmibaby - Aberdeen, Belfast International, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Jersey, Manchester, Newquay, Nottingham East Midlands airports.
  • Ryanair - Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Glasgow-Prestwick, Inverness, Liverpool, London Stansted, Londonderry, Newquay, Nottingham East Midlands airports.
  • Air Southwest - Bristol, Cardiff, Jersey, Leeds/Bradford, London Gatwick, Manchester, Newquay, Plymouth airports.
  • Aurigny Air Services - Alderney, Bristol, Guernsey, Jersey, London Gatwick, London Stansted, Manchester, Southampton airports.
  • Blue Islands - Alderney, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cardiff, Guernsey, Isle Of Man, Jersey, Southampton airports.
  • Loganair - Eday, Kirkwall, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Sanday, Stronsay, Westray airports.
  • Euromanx - Belfast City, Isle Of Man, Liverpool, London City, Manchester airports.
  • Isles Of Scilly Skybus - Bristol, Exeter, Isles Of Scilly (St. Mary's), Newquay, Southampton airports.
  • Jet2 - Belfast International, Blackpool, Leeds/Bradford, London Gatwick, Newcastle airports.
  • Thomsonfly - Cardiff, Coventry, Doncaster-Sheffield, Jersey, London Luton airports.
  • VLM Airlines - Isle Of Man, Jersey, Liverpool, London City, Manchester airports.
  • Air Berlin - Belfast City, Glasgow, London Stansted, Manchester airports.
  • Highland Airways - Angelsey, Benbecula, Cardiff, Inverness, Shetland Islands (Sumburgh), Stornoway airports.
  • XL Airways - Brize Norton (RAF Station), Glasgow, London Gatwick, London Stansted airports.
  • British International - Isles Of Scilly (St. Mary's), Isles Of Scilly (Tresco), Penzance airports.
  • flyWhoosh - Belfast International, Birmingham, Dundee airports.
  • Go One Airways - Coventry, Gloucestershire, Oxford airports.
  • ScotAirways - Dundee, Edinburgh, London City airports.
  • Air France - Belfast City and London City airports.
  • Atlantic Airways Faroe Islands - Stansted and Shetland Islands (Sumburgh) airports.
  • Flyglobespan - Durham Tees Valley and Jersey airports.
  • MyTravel Airways - Belfast International and Glasgow airports.
  • Zoom Airlines - Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester airports.

By train

UK Rail Network

The UK has an extensive privatised train network, covering most of the country, from Penzance in Cornwall to Thurso in the North of Scotland. There is a huge multitude of different train tickets avaliable, which can often make travelling by train in the UK fairly complicated. Generally, if you book 7 to 14 days in advance the journey is often cheaper. Avoid travel during peak times (6-9.30am, 4-7pm Monday to Friday) as trains are often crowded, and in the former tickets prices are extremely high. Visitors from outside of the United Kingdom may also purchase multi-day passes which allow for unlimited rail travel on nearly all rail lines. These are available for the area around London, the entirety of England, the entirety of the United Kingdom and even a pass that includes the Republic of Ireland. These can be purchased in four, eight, and fifteen day incriments (and either successive day or "flexi" which allows the days of uses to be spread out). These are available through independent providers and must be purchased before arrival in the United Kingdom.

Train services seldom match their high-speed counterparts in France or Germany (the UK does have high-speed rail links up to 125mph, however these are no match for the TGV in France and the ICE train in Germany), but nonetheless are often faster than driving a car. Train frequencies are generally very good. and punctuality has improved greatly over previous years, with almost 96% of all trains arriving at their destination on time or up to 10 minutes after the scheduled time.

The railways in England, Wales and Scotland were originally built and operated by numerous private companies, mostly in the 19th century. After nearly 150 years of independence (and successive amalgamations which consolidated them into four large companies by 1923) they were nationalised as 'British Rail' in 1947, but they were privatised again in the 1990s. The track has recently reverted to state control as 'Network Rail', but the trains are run by a number of different private operators referred to as the 'Train Operating Companies'.

Privatisation has resulted in a huge range of quality and price of rail services. While some connections and companies have poor standards of speed, reliability and cleanliness others offer excellent service and value for money. However tickets can be bought from any station for travel to and from anywhere on the network and it is perfectly normal to get a connection changing from one company to another.

Probably the best place to find all train times and fares as well as buy fares for collection from a machine at the station can be found on the National Rail website (run by the train operating companies) or by calling 08457 484950 from anywhere in the UK. Tickets can also be booked online through various private agents such as thetrainline and Qjump. The websites can be slow but they do the job nonetheless. Fares vary widely depending on when you travel and when you book.


Tickets can also be booked online through various private agents such as . The websites can be slow but they do the job nonetheless. Fares vary widely depending on when you travel and when you book. Often it is quicker and cheaper to purchase by phone. Privatisation has resulted in a huge range of quality and price of rail services. While some connections and companies have poor standards of speed, reliability and cleanliness others offer excellent service and value for money.

A second class return ticket from London to Manchester can cost anything from 20 to 219 pounds, depending on how, when and where the ticket is booked. As a general rule, tickets should be booked as early as possible. Also bear in mind that it is sometimes cheaper to buy a return ticket than a single so check the price of both. If there are 3 or 4 of you, ask if you can get groupsave tickets. Most routes, off peak, allow a group of 3 or 4 to travel for the price of 2.

International guests have the opportunity to pre-purchase rail passes that are not available in the UK. These "BritRail" passes give access to the complete network for a set number of days. The passes also allow travellers to hop on and off trains at any station. These passes can be bought online though BritRail.com. Inter Rail tickets may be used in Britain but not Eurail tickets.

The main cross country services are:

  • The Cross Country network, operated by Virgin-Stagecoach XC Trains serves most British cities using it's new fleet of "Voyager" diesel trains, Cross Country's hub is Birmingham New Street station, from where it runs services to Manchester, Preston, Leeds, several Welsh destinations, Scotland and many others.
  • The Caledonian Sleeper Services operated by First ScotRail, runs between London Euston and destinations in Scotland. There 2 services that leave every night (except Saturday), the Lowland Sleeper and the Highland Sleeper. The Lowland sleeper leaves Euston then picks up passengers at Carlisle and Carstairs it then splits. Half the train heads to Edinburgh and the other half goes on to Motherwell and Glasgow. The Highland Sleeper stops at Crewe and Preston to pick up more passengers before splitting up into 3 trains that terminate at Aberdeen, Fort William, and Inverness and stopping at many stations on route. There are 3 classes available, First, Standard and Seated Sleeper. First and Standard have cabins with full beds in. First Class gives you a private cabin, is higher quality, includes food and has other benefits. Standard class has a shared cabin with washbasin, includes a morning tea/coffee and a snack. Solo travellers are warned that they may have to share the cabin with a fellow passenger of the same sex. Seated Sleeper gives you and airline style reclining seat. There is a lounge car for use of First and Standard passengers, food and drink may be bought here either to be consumed the lounge car or in your cabin. Tickets, particularly for Standard and Seated Class are lower if booked 7 days in advance. Booking cannot be done though the normal National Rail booking system. It is best to book direct with First ScotRail online, by phone (08457 55 00 33) or at Euston or any of the main Scottish stations.

Other domestic rail services which are not part of the National Rail network include the Heathrow Express service between London Heathrow Airport and London Paddington, the London Underground system, and several smaller metro or light rail systems in other cities. For details of these see articles on the city in question.

Northern Ireland

Train services in Northern Ireland are operated by the state owned Translink, who also operate rural and urban buses within Northern Ireland. Train services in Northern Ireland are, however quite limited. The main line travels from Londonderry in the north west, hugging the north coast before it travels cross-country to Belfast. From Belfast, the cross-border Enterprise service operates with stops in Portadown, Drogheda, Dundalk and Dublin. Recent major investment has led to the vast majority of rolling stock in Northern Ireland being replaced. Train services in Northern Ireland are not part of the National Rail network. Train and bus times can be found on Translink's web site, or by calling 028-9066-6630 from anywhere in the UK or +44-28-9066-6630 from outside the UK.

By car

All of the UK drives on the left - the opposite side from Europe and the USA, but the same as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Africa. In general, driving in the UK could be a frustrating experience for visitors from countries that drive on the right - in one well-publicized incident, Hollywood actor Matthew Broderick was involved in an accident in Northern Ireland in which he plowed head-on into another car because he was on the wrong side of the road.

On the brighter side, a car will get you pretty much anywhere in the UK. Parking can be a problem in large cities, and especially in London, can be very expensive. Petrol (gasoline) is heavily taxed and therefore expensive, currently at around £0.95 per litre (around €1.41 per litre, US$7.40 per US gallon) . There are very few tolls (mainly on some large bridges/tunnels) but a levy (congestion charge) of £8 (€11.88, US$16.40) 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 7-10am and 4-7pm. The M25 London orbital motorway is particularly notorious (known to most Britons as London's car park because all the traffic comes to a standstill) - it is best avoided on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, and only use it if you need to. School holidays can make a noticeable difference, however, particularly in the morning rush hour.

Speed limits for cars are 70mph (113 km/h) (on motorways and dual carriageways; 60mph (100 km/h) on single carriageway roads unless otherwise signposted; and 30mph (51 km/h) in built-up unless signs show otherwise. The use of 20mph (30 km/h) zones has become increasingly common to improve safety in areas such as those around schools. Enforcement cameras are widespread on all types of road, though more used in some areas than others (North Yorkshire, for example, has a policy of using only mobile speed cameras operated by police). There are some variable mandatory speed limits on the M25 to the west of London, 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.

Despite the fact that the Traffic Police have now largely been replaced by speed cameras, driving standards still remain relatively well-maintained in the UK, with the road system being (statistically) among the safest in Europe. It has long been known by visitors (and an increasing number of British) that a foreign licence plate makes you largely immune from speed cameras, congestion charge cameras and Traffic (Parking) Wardens, but do not abuse this. 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 licencing authority. Police in some areas have started to occasionally stop foreign-registered cars at random to simply confirm that the owners are not in fact British drivers evading UK road tax / insurance / annual vehicle inspections etc. Although it is quite rare to see a Traffic Police car nowadays, some do still prowl the motorways in un-marked cars.

Don't drink and drive in the UK. The maximum limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08%) The police often patrol roads in cities and town centres on Friday and Saturday night, on the lookout for drink drivers. Police must have reason to suspect you have been drinking - they cannot randomly issue breath tests. Do not abuse this as penalties are severe. Fines are up to £5000 (€7400, US$10,256), minimum driving ban is 12 months for a first offence, and you may be imprisoned for up to 6 months. A conviction will triple your car insurance, the code will stay on your licence for 11 years, and can make it difficult to find employment.

By bus and coach

Local bus services 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. It is useful to note that many cities and large towns have day cards for there bus networks that can work out as good value. Locals and staff will be willing to help you if you are confused by timetables.

Coach travel tends to be slower (sometimes significantly slower) than train travel as well as less frequent although 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:

National Express is the largest long distance bus service in the UK, and services all major destinations on the mainland; they sell tickets online and at coach terminals.

CityLink services destinations in Scotland, they sell there tickets online, by text, or from the driver although it is always advised to book your tickets in advance.

Megabus is a relatively new service that goes between major destinations at cut-throat prices, as low as £1 (+50p booking charge) for some routes if booked well in advance. To get the cheapest fairs you should book a week or two ahead. However fairs are often still good value when booked with less time (sometimes £8 London-Manchester only booked 2 days in advance). Tickets must be bought online or using the booking line (0900 160 0900) and cannot be bought from the driver.

By taxi

There are different types of taxi in the UK.

In London, strictly regulated "Black Cabs" (not always Black) can be easily recognised by the unique vehicle type. The drivers must pass a strict test on the geography of London, known as "the knowledge". These types of vehicle are often found in other major cities, with similarly strict regulation.

Outside London, normal cars and minibuses can usually be licenced as taxis - it is up to the local council how they are distinguished, but they always carry additional plates, usually at the rear, giving details of their approval by the relevant local authority and number of passengers they can carry. Visual identification is almost always through an illuminated sign on the roof, and often through a distinctive colour paintwork.

Minicabs are normal saloon (sedan) cars or vans/minibuses, and are available nationwide. They are similar to taxis, but must be pre-booked from a minicab office or over the phone. Minicabs may be 'metered' as taxis and charge by mileage/time, or 'off-meter' and charge a set rate for a set route. Properly regulated Minicabs will always have a local authority approval plate as with taxis. (connect2taxi is a national portal for minicab firms, by calling connect2taxi you will be automatically connected to a minicab firm close to you, using location technology call: 0871 750 0303)

Any other car or driver offering to take you anywhere may not be licensed or insured; some large cities have a problem with such drivers touting for business so take care.

By boat

Ferries link the mainland to the many offshore islands including the Isle of Wight, Isle of Man, Orkneys and Shetland islands. There are also numerous car and passenger ferry routes between England and France and between Ireland and the UK.

By thumb

Hitchhiking on Motorways and Motorway junctions is illegal, as well as on certain primary routes, where pedestrians are banned, however, aside from those exceptions, it 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. 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 and Wales can be quite scarce.

Talk

"Two countries divided by a common language"


Speakers of American English will find some terms which differ in British English:

  • Crisps - potato chips
  • Chips - fries, which may be "french fries" or thick-cut traditional English chips
  • Jam - jelly
  • Jelly - jello
  • Biscuits - cookies
  • Trousers - pants
  • Football - soccer
  • Pavement - sidewalk
  • Rubbish - trash
  • Nappy - diaper


English is spoken throughout the country, although there are parts of major cities where immigration has led to a variety of different languages being spoken as well.

Welsh is widely spoken in Wales, particularly in North 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.

Gaelic can be heard in the Scottish Highlands and islands. The ancient Cornish language was revived during the twentieth century, but is no longer passed down from parent to child as Welsh and Gaelic still are.

Almost all speakers of these languages are fluent in English. Inner-migration in the United Kingdom means you are likely to encounter people from all over Britain no matter where you visit. There's an old joke that the people of the US and the UK are "divided by a common language", and travelers 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 very good at understanding English spoken in any 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. The British will not criticise or correct your language.

A few examples of words that overseas visitors may not be familiar with:

  • Wee - small (Scotland, Northern Ireland, some elderly English people)
  • Loch - lake (Scotland)
  • Aye - yes (some parts of Scotland, Wales N. Ireland and North England)
  • Poke - Ice cream served in a wafer cone (Northern Ireland)
  • Downing Street - used to refer to the Government
  • Cymru (which English-speakers may pronounce as 'Sim-roo' but some attempt more accurately as 'Cum-ree') - Wales (Wales)
  • Cockney slang is also spoken in parts South-East London, however it is unlikely that you will encounter it in everyday conversation.

Buy

Cost

Britain is an expensive country even for Britons (though average salaries are among the highest in Europe, the average purchasing power is among the lowest), and due to the strong pound, even more so for foreigners. The high cost of basics such as transport, accommodation and food means that you'll spend around £50 (approximately US$100) per day as a budget traveller and more if you want to afford luxuries such as taxis, 3 star hotels, and meals in restaurants.

London and the South East is up to three times as expensive as other parts of the country. Further North things are more reasonably priced.

Cigarettes and Tobacco

Cigarettes are heavily taxed and therefore very expensive, ranging from around £2 (just under $4)for 10 budget brand cigarettes e.g. Richmond, to £5.50 (around $10) for 20 premium brand cigarettes such as Marlboro and Benson and Hedges.

Rolling tobacco is also very expensive, but much cheaper than pre made cigarettes. Rolling tobacco is sold in 12.5 gram, 25 gram and in larger shops 50 gram pouches, at around £2.50, £5, and £10 respectively. note 50 grams can make around 100 cigarettes (hand rolled) which would cost around £20-£30 for the pre made variants.

The age to purchase Tobacco throughout the United Kingdom has now been raised to 18.

Note Almost all shops sell tobacco, and most will also sell pipe tobacco and cigars of some sort, for a more extensive selection most towns and cities will have at least one specialist tobacconist.

Money

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). Coins appear in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2 denominations, while notes come in £5, £10, £20 and £50. English notes depict the Queen on one side and famous historical figures on the other. Scottish and Northern Irish banks issue their own notes in the above denominations, with their own designs. £100 notes and some old £1 notes are also in circulation in Scotland. Some vendors are reluctant to accept Scottish and Northern Irish notes outside their respective countries.

You may also hear the slang term quid for pounds. It is both singular and plural; "three quid" means "three pounds".

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.

The £50 note is best avoided; very few establishments are happy to take a £50 note for purchases any great deal cheaper than £50, due to their rarity and the risks of forgery for such large notes. Most high street banks will not change notes or coins unless you have an account with them, this is very annoying if you have a legitimate £50 note no shop will accept! However, you can have your money changed without you having to pay commission or own an account at certain post offices. Also use a credit or debit card for expensive purchases over approximately £100. Do not carry large quantities of cash notes around - many £10 or £20 pound notes are not always accepted if paying for items over approx £100.

ATMs, which are often labelled in the UK as cashpoints, cash machines or less formally 'holes in the wall' are very widely available and usually dispense £10 and £20 notes. Traveller's cheques can be exchanged at most banks. Be aware some non-bank ATMs (easily identified, usually kiosk style units, as opposed to fixed units in walls) now charge a fee for withdrawing money and your home bank may as well. On average it's about £1.75 per withdrawal, but it will always inform you of this and allow you to cancel the transaction.

Visa, Mastercard and Maestro, are accepted by most shops and restaurants, although American express is usually only accepted in large stores, and it is worth asking if unsure, especially if there are long queues. Since February 14, 2006, Chip and PIN has become nearly compulsory, with only some 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.

Although the UK has an independent central bank, the Bank of England, notes can be printed by seven different regional banks, which can often lead to confusion for travellers. Visitors to only England and Wales should not experience any difficulties as notes used here are circulated by the Bank of England. These notes are also both accepted and circulated in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland notes printed by the Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank are more common. These will be accepted but not circulated by most major retailers in larger cities in England and Wales but some smaller shops, especially in the south of England, may refuse to accept Scottish notes. Scottish notes are both accepted and circulated without problems in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland can be the most confusing as there are four different types of Northern Irish bank note. These are accepted and sometimes circulated in Scotland without any problems and should be accepted in larger retailers in the major English and Welsh cities but are never circulated there. Smaller retailers, especially in smaller towns in England and Wales will almost always refuse to accept Northern Irish notes.

There is no exchange rate between English, Scottish and Northern Irish pounds as they are all considered Sterling but visitors, especially to Northern Ireland, should be wary if they choose to change their UK notes to Bank of England as the major ports and airports will charge for this service. It is advised to change such notes in hotels or banks where notes are changed pound for pound with no charge. Occasionally major retailers with outlets in all four UK regions will also do this without charge if asked. If unfamiliar with the currency it is perhaps wise to try and stick to Bank of England notes and Scottish and Northern Irish shopkeepers will not be offended if asked to give such notes in change, though it may not always be possible.

Shopping

Although shopping in Britain 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.

VAT (Value Added Tax - a mandatory tax on many goods and services in the UK) is 17.5%. For most High Street shopping, VAT is included in the sale price. However, for certain larger purchases, especially in the area of computers and electronics, stores may show prices without VAT, however these are clearly marked with "exc VAT" next to the figure. 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 UK, you can claim back the VAT before you leave the country. However, in order to do this, you must keep any receipts you receive from your purchase.

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.

Eat

Despite jokes and stereotypes, British cuisine has improved greatly over the past few decades. Restaurants and supermarkets in the upper/middle range have consistently high standards, and the choice of international dishes is the best in Europe. However, British eating culture is still in the middle of a transition phase. Unlike their continental neighbours, many (especially poorer) Britons still eat to live rather then live to eat, and as a result, food quality is variable on 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 then ones say, 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 £15. Chicken tikka masala with rice is sometimes claimed as the UK's most popular dish, though roast beef is a more traditional national dish.

Many large shops, especially department stores, will have a coffee shop or restaurant.

Smoking is now banned in all restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs - there are no exceptions.

Examples

Fish and chips - deep-fried, battered fish (usually cod or haddock) with rather thick "chips" always made from real chunks of potato, not thin tubes of extruded mashed potato. It is often served with "mushy peas" (in England), and dressed with salt and malt vinegar (or 'Sauce' in parts of Scotland). "Proper" fish and chips can only be bought 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 is considered to do quite good fish and chips: their original Yorkshire shop was a legend). However, a "proper chippy" (a backstreet "fish and chip shop", or just "chip shop") is the quintessesntial place to buy fish and chips.

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, see below, can be found in town centres. They can be spotted by the illuminated sign which usually has a picture of a fish (often smiling delightedly at what is about to happen to it) and a name: either punning and piscine ("Codroephenia", "The Codfather") or proud and proprietorial ("Fred's Chippy") or both ("Jack's Golden Plaice").

The ultimate find, though, is a "sit down chippy", a chip shop with a separate dining room. If this is the "perfect" sit down chippy (no real one will be exactly like this, though most elements will be present) the room will be brightly lit and decorated in a nautical theme (at least one fishing net and one anchor) with yellow or blue formica-topped tables.

A waitress will take your order for a "Cod Meal" (or "Haddock", or "Plaice"), and within five minutes a huge fish-motif plate (probably oval) will arrive, covered by a huge fish, a mountain of chips, and, if you weren't brave enough to refuse, a green mound looking like refried beans and smelling vaguely of peas.

Accompanying it will be a sachet (or little dish, if a very posh place) of tartare sauce, a slice of lemon (extremely posh!), a big plate of bread-and-butter, and a pot of tea.

If this is "Chippy Nirvana", there will be a separate pot of hot water, either to dilute the tea if it is too strong for you 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. There may even be a tomato-shaped plastic container of ketchup (more common in "caffs"). If you find such a place, you will never accept a substitute again. Fish and chips bought from a pub (or hotel, or non-specialist restaurant) will be almost totally unlike the meal bought from a chippy. In particular, if you see a meal labelled "Traditional fish and chips" on a menu labelled "Traditional pub fayre" then neither the pub nor the fish and chips is traditional — go elsewhere!

Take-aways

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 sandwich shop, a popular choice at lunchtimes; they often sell pies and cakes also. Alternatively, most towns and many main road routes have a selection of fast food chains. Various types of take-aways are present in nearly all towns: ranging from fish and chips (genuine "chippies", specialist fish and chip shops, some of which have a "sit down" section, are still very common, but are no longer ubiquitous); to "Indian" (often 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.

Food in Pubs

See below for general points about pubs.

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 varies enormously, and you should seek local advice if you have particular requirements/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). 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. Smoking in all pubs and restaurants is banned throughout the UK.

Restaurants

Larger towns have a range of restaurants to suit most tastes and you will find a very broad range of different cuisines, including India, China, Thailand, France and Italy. Waiters generally expect a 10% tip 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.

Balti

One of the most popular types of restaurant in Britain is the Indian restaurant. Most common in certain areas of large cities and not often found directly in city centres or other tourist traps, 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 (of Portuguese origin). A recently fashionable 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.

Motorway Service areas

Motorway Service areas (Motorway Services listed on Wikipedia) are notoriously expensive places to eat, though they are open 24 hours by law. Most contain fast food outlets and all have toilets. 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. Try 5 minutes away a web site listing facilities no more than (yes you guessed it) 5 minutes drive from a motorway junction.

Vegetarian/Vegan

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. However, 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/vegan food are specialist veggie pubs/restaurants, of which most major cities will have at fewest one, and Indian, Chinese and South-East Asian restaurants. These will normally have a range of vegetarian and vegan options. Ironically, one of the few places you may see without any meat-free food at all is an extremely expensive luxury restaurant. If you're fortunate enough to be dining in such a place, it may be worth ringing ahead.

Children

Children are not necessarily allowed in all pubs and restaurants, and high chairs are not always available. Most pubs that serve food will accept children, and it is usually rather 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 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.

Regional specialities

It should be pointed out that whilst these are foods famous for being found primarily in Britain, the British diet actually consists largely of imports, and the menu of even the cheapest pub will include many international dishes.

  • Black Pudding - a sausage made of congealed pig's blood and rusks cooked in an intestine. Available in all over the UK but a speciality of the north of England and the Black Country, and in actual fact, tastes better then it sounds.
  • Cornish Pasty - beef and vegetables baked in a folded pastry case. Originally a speciality of Cornwall, but now available throughout the UK. Usually very good in Devon and Cornwall, but can be of variable quality elsewhere. The variety sold in a plastic wrapper in places like petrol (gas) stations and motorway service stations are well worth avoiding.
  • Deep Fried Mars Bar - Orignally from Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, but now available in other parts of Scotland and usually by request in fish & chip shops throughout the UK.
  • Haggis - a mixture of sheep innards and oatmeal boiled in a sheep's stomach. Available widely, but a speciality of Scotland. Also available in many supermarkets, where it appears that many sheep have plastic stomachs - although the contents are often quite reasonable.
  • Lancashire Hotpot - a hearty vegetable and meat stew. A speciality of Lancashire, but available throughout the UK.
  • Laverbread - a puree made from seaweed, rolled in oatmeal, lightly fried and generally served with bacon rashers, though can be prepared as a vegetarian dish. Available in Swansea and West Wales.
  • Oatcakes - this speciality of Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire and Derbyshire is a large, floppy, oat-based pancake, eaten hot with a savoury filling. Not to be confused with the Scottish oatcake, a sort of biscuit.
  • Potato Bread - a mixture of potatoes, salt, butter and flour. A speciality of Northern Ireland, which when added to a Full English Breakfast (alongside Soda Bread) forms an 'Ulster Fry. This is also known as Potato Cakes in England and Tattie Scones in Scotland.
  • Yorkshire Pudding - a savoury side dish made from unsweetened batter. Squat and round in shape - often served with a roast dinner (consisting of roast potatoes, roast beef and yorkshire puddings). Originally a speciality of Yorkshire, but a popular side-dish throughout the UK.

Drink

The legal age to buy and consume alcohol is 18 (although teenagers aged 16 and 17 can have a pint of beer, cider or perry with their meals)but many older teenagers (younger than 18) have seemingly little problem in purchasing alcohol in smaller pubs and from off licenses (usually corner shops). Nevertheless, if you're over 18 but lucky enough to look younger, expect to be asked to prove your age (known as getting "IDed") when buying alcohol, especially in popular city spots. The most trustworthy form of ID is a passport or driving license which shows both your photograph and date of birth, and many vendors won't accept anything else. 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 was getting drunk it would likely be brought before the courts as child neglect.


Getting drunk is acceptable and often it is the objective of a party. 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.

Pub

The pub (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 one particular brand of Stout. 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. In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland 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 permissable.

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 (some of these have only a "token" barrel with low turnover and a strange taste: often, unfortunately, people's first and understandably only experience with "real ale"), only a "real ale pub" will have a wide selection. 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".

British people usually follow a kind of un-written code of conduct when in pubs, though types of venue can vary dramatically. Ranging from 'local' pub, usually a quiet place consisting of one or two rooms, to a chain pub (e.g. J.D. Wetherspoons) which are very large rooms capable of holding hundreds of people.

  • Don't tap money on the bar surface to attract the barman's attention.
  • Especially in a 'local' pub, keep your voice down and avoid drawing attention to yourself.
  • It might be best to avoid heated debates about controversial subjects in pubs and bars, if others get involved these can escalate.
  • If you require extra chairs, you may want to take one from another table. If someone is already seated (even if it is only one person seated at a six person table) you must ask if you can take the chair.
  • Waiting patiently at a bar is imperative. Pushing in line will not be tolerated and could lead to confrontation. If someone cuts in line before you, feel free to complain - you should get support from other locals around you.
  • In the male toilets, especially in big pubs or clubs, don't try to strike up conversation or make prolonged eye contact. UK pub toilets are very much "get in and get out" places - some drunks can take a casual remark the wrong way.

Pubs with a good choice of real ales may exhibit almost any pattern of ownership:

  • By a real-ale brewery (in which case the pub will serve all of the beers made by them, and perhaps only one "guest beer").
  • By a national or local pub chain who believe it is possible to serve a range of real ales at reasonable prices (their chain buying power can force down a brewer's margins) in a pub that non-real-ale-fans (often crowds of youths) will be willing to patronise.
  • By an independent landlord committed to real ale (usually the ones with the most idiosyncratic beers, and the hard-core "real ale type" customers).

Many pubs are very old and have traditional names, 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 in pubs is served in pint and half-pint measures, or in bottles. Simply ordering a beer on tap will be interpreted as a request for a pint, eg 'A London Pride, please'. Alternatively 'half a London Pride, please' will get you a half-pint. If you ask for a "half-pint of London Pride" 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 London Pride, please". Prices vary widely based on the city, the pub and the beer, but generally pints will be in the range £2 to £3.

Pubs often serve food during the day. Drinks are ordered and paid for at the bar.

When applying for a license, pubs can specify any opening times they wish; this can be challenged by neighbours, etc. The most common closing times at the weekends are between 12am and 1am and some larger pubs may apply for a license until 2am and clubs 3am or 4am. It is not unheard of that some bars have licenses 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 license, though few have done so.

Wine bars

In cities there are more modern wine-bars and café-bars, though the variable weather means that there is not as much of a 'street scene' as in other European cities.

Clubbing

Clubbing is popular in large towns and cities; Manchester, London, Newcastle and Sheffield have world-renowned venues as well as many alternative venues. 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. 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. Try and avoid the thugs, skanks, and pools of vomit as you leave.

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-£10. Large clubs, especially those in cities, that cater for a "dance" crowd will almost certainly cost over £10, though seldom more than £15.

Sleep

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 is 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 adverstise 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

  • YHA England and Wales [15], tel 0870 770 6113
  • Scottish YHA [16], Email - reservations@syha.org.uk, tel 0870 1553255
  • HI Northern Ireland [17], tel 028 9032 4733
  • In recent years an independent hostel scene has opened up, with some privately-owned hostels offering a more relaxed regime than the YHA. They're listed on the Independent Hostel Guide

There are also many campsites, with widely varying levels of facilities.

Many travellers to the United Kingdom decide on a campervan holiday, whereby your accommodation travels with you.... Most parts of the country have a good range of camping and caravan parks available.

As a more quirky option, the Landmark Trust [18] 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 01628 825925, mailto:bookings@landmarktrust.org.uk

Learn

The UK has been a centre of learning for the past 1000 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 Brits), but England also has several other world-class institutions, including several in London (notably Imperial College, Cass Business School, 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 Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, York, Nottingham, Bath, Loughborough, Newcastle, Warwick and Durham.

Scotland has its own semi-separate educational system, with universities in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh (Edinburgh, Napier, Queen Margaret and Heriot-Watt), Glasgow (Glasgow, Strathclyde and Caledonian), Stirling and St Andrews.

There are only 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 was comprised of four large universities: Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff and Swansea, but since many polytechnics 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 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.

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:

  • The British Council [19] offers courses and advice.

Work

Citizens of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland have permanent work rights in the UK. Citizens of Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, or Slovenia may need to to register under the Worker Registration Scheme. Generally the citizens of other countries will require a visa to work for more than six months in the UK. However, the UK has low unemployment, 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.

The UK does operate a working holiday programme, for citizens of Commonwealth countries which allow residency and limited work rights for 2 years.

For more details see the British Home Office's visa and immigration website [20].

Volunteer

  • WWOOF [21] arranges for volunteers to work for free on organic farms throughout the UK in exchange for room and board. This system provides an excellent means to experience life in the country-side, make friends and, at the same time, learn a little about organic farming.

Stay safe

In any emergency call 999 or 112 (from a land-line, including pay phones, if you can) and ask for Ambulance, Fire, Police or Coast Guard when connected. In almost all forces throughout the country, calls are graded by the urgency in which police attendance is required. Where there is a significant risk to life or property, police will attend immediately, although for less serious offences, police attendance may be slow if any at all.

In some areas petty crime such as pickpocketing can be a nuisance more than a threat, but such crime is not very common in almost anywhere except city centres, etc. Some general points for the worried:

When out and about:

  • Avoid looking like a rich target, don't flash wads of cash or wear massive amounts of jewellery.
  • Keep your eyes open, if the area is heavily vandalised and there are groups of young people hanging around, perhaps it's not the best place to stop.
  • Try not to get too drunk. If you do then get a taxi home.
  • Like many Western countries, in recent years the UK has developed something of a "yob culture": disaffected, and generally younger people adopt anti-social behaviour - usually fueled by binge drinking - and may intimidate others by shouting obscenities or acting tough. They are best ignored. Their language and behaviour can be threatening, but in crowded areas they are usually not dangerous.
  • If in doubt or feeling threatened - head towards the nearest obvious authority figure. This can be anyone from a police officer to the local pub landlord.

When using a private car:

  • Keep the boot (or trunk) locked - in some areas thieves open the boot and snatch bags at the traffic lights.
  • Keep mobile phones and valuables out of sight - this goes double when you park the car.
  • Park in well lit places with no cover around the car - if there are bushes, etc. thieves can work on the locks out of sight.
  • It's worth extending your insurance to cover all costs of window / windscreen replacement, it's not uncommon for thieves to just smash the glass to get in.

When on public transport:

  • Buses and trains: Stay near the driver/conductor when getting on
  • Taxis: Use licensed black cabs when hailing from the roadside, or alternatively private taxis (minicabs) can be pre-booked. Do Not hail a minicab from the street as this is technically illegal under licensing laws, and the driver will charge you as high a price as he sees fit. When using any taxi it's always worth checking for a licence number, this is displayed next to the number plate. It is not uncommon for second hand black cabs to be put back to work without a licence late on Friday or Saturday nights.

When in public:

  • In some towns it is an offence to drink alcohol in public although this law is widely flouted.
  • Public nudity is very rare and while not strictly a criminal offence, you can be prosecuted if thought to be with the intention of shocking people.
  • Sex in public places is illegal.
  • The age of both heterosexual and homosexual consent is 16 (in Northern Ireland it is 17). However, the age of consent is still 18 where there is a "relationship of trust" (i.e. between teacher and pupil, counsellor and client etc).

Violent crime is generally perceived to be on the increase; statistics vary wildly from a drop of 10% in the past year to a rise of similar proportions. Much of this can be linked to drug or gang related tension in rougher estates around the major cities, although tourists are unlikely to be anywhere near this areas. The main causes of concern for most travellers will be at night when pubs and clubs close, especially at taxi queues and in areas where football rivalries are present. Some towns, particularly in the North have a reputation for being somewhat 'rough'. However the UK is no more dangerous on the whole than most other European countries providing sensible precautions are taken.

The police in the UK are very tolerant, although new laws have given them significant power to deal with what they may consider 'yobbish' behaviour. Swearing excessively when speaking to a police officer or to another member of the public may result in a person being placed under arrest or attract an £80 fine, approximately $150, on the spot.

There are now 'Police Community Support Officers' that patrol many areas. They are generally on foot and wear very similar uniforms to that of full police constables though they are not armed with a baton or CS Spray or handcuffs. They are however, not full police officers, but do have some powers to detain a person and issue fines for certain offences. Their powers vary widely across the country.

Non-Caucasian visitors are unlikely to encounter blatant racism or racially-motivated violence. The UK is generally regarded by its own immigrant population as being amongst the more tolerant countries in Europe in this respect (especially when compared to the more obvious 'street racism' met in some Eastern European and Balkan states), but as in every country, you may meet somebody (usually part of a loud group - where alcohol may be a factor) who is the exception to the rule. If any person makes any racially motivated comment that you find offensive, call the police. Race crime is a high priority for police and police action will be virtually guaranteed. There is no serious racial strife at the moment (the only recent issue being a discussion about the wearing of the more conservative face-obscuring veils by some Muslim women - which some British people find a little unnerving). You are very unlikely to come under any threat in public or tourist areas. As above; if in doubt - head for the nearest obvious authority figure.

Contrary to popular misconception, Northern Ireland is not a dangerous place for Roman Catholics.

Stay healthy

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.

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.

While all treatment by an NHS hospital or doctor is free to British citizens, people from outside the UK will, in many cases, be required to pay for treatment. However citizens of the EU and a small number of other countries can obtain certain treatment if they hold a European Health Insurance Card.

For advice on minor ailments and non-prescription drugs, you can ask a pharmacist (there are many high-street chemists, and all pharmacists must be Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) registered to legally practice, which involves a university degree and other exams and training), notable pharmacist chains include Boots and Lloyds and many supermarkets also have pharmacists.

STI's are spreading between young people, so make sure you practise safe sex. There are around 50,000 HIV victims living in Britain. However, HIV is very uncommon, but because of this, people have unprotective sex, getting the virus and not thinking they have it. So, like anywhere else in the world, safe sex is a must!

As a general rule, the further north you travel, the better quality the drinking water. However, tap water is safe to drink everywhere, unless otherwise stated.

Cope

Britain's electric outlets are the same as those widely used in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Brunei, Cyprus, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Hong Kong S.A.R. of China, Iraq, Ireland, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Macao S.A.R of China, Malawi, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, North Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Tanzania, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Zambia. Most tourist shops sell adapters--normally it's possible to buy one even in a night time.

The Electricity voltage in member countries of the European Union is 230VAC 50Hz

Respect

Whilst Modern Britons are much more relaxed about etiquette it is worth noting that politeness and manners are important in making a good impression on British people. Children are taught them from very early age. While you are generally not expected to know every custom and detail of etiquette, it is vital that, as a visitor, you are polite, well-mannered and understanding towards the British way of life. People will see you as extremely rude if you don't.

People in the UK are generally polite, friendly, and understanding towards tourists. Those who do not speak English should be prepared for difficulties as few people are conversant in other languages, even in tourist areas. The most widely spoken foreign languages are French, Spanish and German.

Though Britain is said to no longer have a class system, class divisions are still a lot more pronounced than in continental Europe or America. In the south-east of England, it is usually not common practice to speak to people you don't know other than to ask for help, with London in particular being something of a 'no eye contact' zone. Asking someone what they're doing is generally considered "nosy" and extremely impolite. However other people may be generally much more willing to speak to strangers, and are generally perceived by visitors as more friendly and accommodating.

Other than classic British reserve, public behaviour doesn't vastly differ from continental Europe. Public displays of affection are unlikely to cause offence unless you get carried away with it. Homosexual displays of affection are unlikely to cause upset or offence, though the occasional outburst is not unheard of. Again, subject to the above guidelines, particlarly in major, modern cities in Southern England (e.g., London, Brighton, Bristol) and cosmopolitan Northern cities {e.g., Manchester, Leeds) - however you may experience problems in certain areas. On hot days in the summer it is acceptable for men to walk shirtless outside, especially in parks, near the seaside, or other tourist areas, but not in places of business. Short trousers are acceptable anywhere in the summer, except for establishments with explicit dress codes. It is uncommon for women to sunbathe topless, but it is common for very young children to be on a beach unclothed. Nudist beaches can be found in Britain though most are found in secluded locations away from town and city centres. In public saunas, there tends to be gender-segregation, even though it is incredibly uncommon for people to be naked. Doing so is likely to shock or offend.

It's acceptable to address someone by their first name in most situations, though names are sometimes avoided among strangers to avoid seeming overly familiar. In very formal or business situations first names are not commonly used at least until people are more well acquainted; "Mr X", "Miss Y", or "Mrs Z" is used. Waiters, shop assistants and other people providing a service will often address you as "sir" or "madam", or possibly as "Mr X". It is customary to address elderly people as "Mr X" or "Mrs X", at least initially. British reserve is not what it used to be, and the prompt for you to switch from 'formal' to 'familiar' is when they say "Just call me (first name)", which they will often do very early in the conversation. If they give you a short version of their name (e.g. Pete, Sue, Tom, Liz, Dave etc), this is the prompt to abandon all formality, although many people in Scotland prefer to use the full-length version of their first name.

Dining manners tend to be somewhat formal; British people usually eat pizza with a knife and fork when dining in a restaurant. Don't start eating until everyone has been served, and never talk with food in your mouth. The British eat with their fork in their left hand and the tines pointed downward, but unless you've had practise eating this way it might be less awkward to eat as you usually do; just try to keep the hand-swapping of the fork to a minimum (hint: cut up several forkfuls of meat at at time), as your companions will find it distracting. When you have finished eating, place your cutlery on the middle of the plate, side by side. When eating, putting one's hands to your face or placing your elbows on the table while you or others around you are eating, should be avoided. It must be noted also that the British will take offence at belching loudly in public and it is common to excuse oneself when leaving the table to attend the bathroom.

When someone enters a room, it is polite to stand. When greeting or meeting someone, handshakes are expected; a moderately firm grip is best. Men should not shake using a gloved hand or with the other hand in a pocket. Stand up when shaking hands; if this isn't practical (such as when seated in a restaurant), leaning forward or half-rising as if you wish to stand up will suffice. It is customary, but by no means necessary, for a man to remove his hat, gloves, and other accessories before knocking on someone's door or introducing himself; the practise of a man removing his hat and gloves should certainly be observed when entering someone's home. Greetings between friends and acquaintances tend to more casual and expressive, possibly including hugs and back-slapping, or (between women) a "continental" kiss on the cheek, albeit with typical British restraint. Still, this informal greeting is still almost unheard of between men.

As with many European nations, some factions of the UK may harbour anti-American sentiment which has been particularly triggered by the Iraq war, which many of the public oppose; US citizens should be wary of making casual remarks about it, but need not be afraid of being American, as the feelings are not personal but political. Americans will find most Britons are pro-American in general, although students and young people tend to favour America less. Some Britons are touchy about political matters, but the majority do not mind a discussion of politics. A debate, however, is considered hostile. Also anti-monarchist remarks may be met with resentment by some and should be made with caution. Indeed in areas near "Royal" tourist attractions, (e.g. Windsor in England or Braemar (near Balmoral) in Scotland), it would probably be unwise to make an anti-monarchist remark. Similarly pro-monarchist remarks may be met by equal resentment, especially outside England, and again are probably best avoided.

Criticism of British institutions, customs or other cultural differences can be met with hostility, particularly when comparing it to your country. This is not to say you are expected to say everything in the UK is better; more that a comment such as 'the sport here isn't as good as it is in my country' will be taken as offensive. However approached correctly, it is possible to have a constructive debate on such matters. Due to the reserved British nature, 'flashing your cash' or boasting about how much you have spent on something is considered quite distasteful. It is also usual for Brits to pick up on your nationality and make the occasional jibe (particularly towards Americans and Australians). This, however, is an example of British wit and should actually be seen as endearing.

Also be wary of talking about sensitive issues such as immigration, especially in cities such as Bradford; the latter town has been known for racial tensions and has had occasional riots. Most people are tolerant; however some can be less so.

It should also be noted that defaming the historical 'British Empire' can also cause offence; most people view that Empire in a more positive light than it is viewed in the United States for example.

Do not make fun of the 7/7 London Bombings!! If you do this even as a joke you will be met with repulsion and utter disgust.

The British are proud people and anyone who disrespects the British way of life will be treated in a bad way.

The more formal aspects of etiquette, are only really appropriate in highly formal situations and indeed in everyday life Britons may look at you strangly if you don't just relax and let the situation be your guide.

Contact

Telephone

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 or mountain rescue). You can call this number from any mobiles as well, even if you do not have roaming. It is a very serious offence to call this number without due cause.

The UK's calling code is 44. To phone another country, dial 00 followed by the calling code and subscriber number. If calling the UK from overseas, you'll need to drop any leading "0" on the area code; similarly, if calling in-country, you may need to add a leading "0" if you've dropped the country code.

Payphones are widely available, especially in stations, airports etc. Payphones usually take cash (minimum 30p - BT, although some private payphones may charge more); change is not given, but you can choose to continue your money on to 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 such as BellBazar, Cherry CallPocketDialUK, Abroadtel, Cleverates, PhoneBird, My Mondo, ExtraCall, GlobeCaller UK, Planet Numbers or Pat's Dial. . 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 numbers which are charged at different rates (e.g. 0870 at the non-geographical national rate).

Mobile phones are heavily used. 90% of the UK households have a mobile phone according to the latest report from Ofcom. The main networks are T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2, and are all currently GSM based. GPRS data services are also available, usually priced per MegaByte. Since 2003 new CDMA based 3G networks have begun to be deployed, 3, being the first commercial provider. The other four networks now have 3G services deployed, although good 3G coverage is mostly limited to cities, towns and some major travel routes. UK mobile phone tarrifs basically split into two types. (Unlike the way in which cell phone operators assess charges for calls in the USA, in the UK, and throughout Europe, there is no charge for calls that you receive on your handset; charges are only for calls that you initiate.)

  • Pay monthly (commonly referred to as contract) - a fixed monthly fee plus any call charges debited from a bank account or credit card, usually includes some call or text messages for free, contracted for 12 or 18 months (if you are staying for a long time in the UK it is often recommend that you obtain a contract)
  • Pay as you go - credit the phone with a top-up card or cash payment via a top-up terminal, no contract and no bills, Some operators also offer some free text messages.

If you have a GSM compatible handset (most dual and tri band phones are GSM compatible) you can purchase a SIM card from several high street electrical or phone outlets or buy online. However be aware prices do vary considerably – from £9.99 (with £10 call credit) from Fresh (available at the Carphone Warehouse) to £30 (with £2.50 credit) from Vodafone (available at all mobile phone shops). The UK has extensive mobile phone coverage - 99% of the UK mainland is covered. Many towns and cities have 3G coverage as well.

Costs for calls can vary significantly depending on when, where from and where to. Calls from hotel rooms can be spectacularly expensive because of the hotel surcharges; check before you use and consider using the lobby payphones instead. Calls from payphones and wired, or landline, phones to mobile phones can be expensive too, if you have the choice call the other party's land line. Beware of premium rate calls, which can be very expensive. Text messaging from mobiles costs around 10 pence per message and picture or MMS messages cost around 45 pence (20 pence on some networks).

Calls between landlines are charged at either local rate or national rate depending on the originating and destination area codes; if both are the same then the area code is optional and the call will be local rate. Note that local calls are not generally free. The following table relates the first few digits dialed to call types, so you can avoid some of the pitfalls above:

Digits dialed Call Type
00 International call
01 Call to a landline at local or national rate (see above)
02 Call to a landline at local or national rate (see above)
05 Free call
07 Call to a mobile phone, personal number or pager
0800 Free call
0844 Variable rate from 1p to 5p/min
0845 Call at 3p per minute daytimes and 1ppm at all other times + VAT
0870 Call at 6.73p per minute daytyimes, 3.36ppm evening and night times and 1.7ppm at weekends + VAT
0871 Variable rate from 6p to 10p/min
09 Call at a premium rate

Internet

Internet access is widespread. Internet cafés can be found in cities and large 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).

A number of ISPs charge nothing for Internet access by telephone modem - they get their payment from the phone company, local call costs are time related. Examples are GoNuts4Free, DialUKT.

There are some WiFi hotspots, although intentionally publicly-available wireless is not yet widespread outside central London. Consume.net provides a directory free hotspots. TotalHotspots provides a directory of pay-for WiFi access points, many in high-street coffee chains Caffè Nero and Starbucks.

Broadband is now available to 99.7% of British households using ADSL over the phone line or cable modem over the cable TV network where available. Several companies have started to offer one month contracts for ADSL, so if you have an existing BT phone line and are staying for more than 2 months, it is fairly straight forward to setup. This will either need to be already installed or you must be staying for long enough to make it worth your while. A good starting point is the thinkbroadband website, as they list all companies providing ADSL and the packages they offer [22].

It is also possible to access the internet using the GPRS mobile data service , but connection speed is limited to 56kbps ( i.e. a dial up modem) and the tariffs are based on amount of data downloaded. However GPRS is the best solution for mobile computing, unless you can find a WiFi hotspot.

The most you should pay for access across the UK is £1 for half an hour. Many chain cafés will charge more for little to no extra value.

Post

The Royal Mail has a long history. Post boxes are still the traditional red colour, (although there are green and gold Victorian "Penfold" boxes retained in some areas and an historically important blue box in Windsor). 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.

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.

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