The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the United Kingdom or the UK)  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.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a union made up of several 'home nations' and territories:
'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 travelling in all parts of the Union and there are no internal border controls between the four constituent nations.
NEVER refer to the UK or Britain as "England". They are most emphatically not the same thing, and doing so will annoy (or possibly offend) British people.
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
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, falling under the British Crown which chooses to have its UK Government manage some of the islands' affairs.
See also: Ireland (not part of the United Kingdom).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 cool to mild temperatures and moderate rainfall, while the hills of Wales occasionally experience heavy snowfall. Even though the highest land in the UK rarely reaches more than 1,300 metres, the effect of height on rainfall and temperature is great.
Immigration and visa requirements
For more information of UK Immigration and visa requirements, see the British Home Office website 
London Heathrow Airport is the world's busiest international airport and argueably one of the worst. 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) , 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. Cardiff International is the main international airport in Wales, it is a major hub of bmibaby. Meanwhile easyjet, FlyBe, Ryanair and bmibaby maintain hubs at other regional airports. Other large airports in the regions include Birmingham International, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Bristol, Southampton, 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.
From Belgium and France
Eurostar services run between London (St Pancras International), Ebbsfleet and Ashford and Paris (Gare du Nord), Lille and Brussels through the Channel Tunnel. Journey times average two hours fifteen 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.
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 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. .
From the Republic of Ireland
Cross Border Rail Services to Northern Ireland
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  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  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.
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.
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.
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, Poole has ferries to Cherbourg as well as the Channel Islands.
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.
An extensive national public transport journey planner for the UK is available on the Traveline website .
Transport Direct also operate a website for all modes of transport, including planes, cars, and allows comparisons to be made with public transport options 
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  and easyJet  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:
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 available, 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 (and on some routes in the latter as well) 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 increments (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. (There is a rail pass available for travel within Great Britain for seven and fourteen consecutive days, which can be bought within Great Britain and by residents as well as visitors. This costs about twice as much as the pass available to tourists from outside the United Kingdom, and cannot be used on the London Underground or on Heathrow Express (or on Heathrow Connect west of Hayes & Harlington).)
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, although punctuality varies with operating company - some have dipped to 60-70% in recent years (arriving within 10 minutes of the advertised time). Delays of 30 minutes are not uncommon, so if you need to be somewhere urgently, get an earlier train.
Be aware that many popular tourist corridors have no rail service, or only an extremely indirect (and consequently slow and expensive) rail service. For example, there is no rail service to St. Andrews, and the rail routes between Carlisle and Stranraer (for ferries to Northern Ireland), between Cambridge and Milton Keynes or Oxford and between Kyle of Lochalsh and Mallaig are particularly indirect, lengthy and expensive.
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 National Express. Fares vary widely depending on when you travel and when you book.
A second class return ticket from London to Manchester can cost anything from one 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:
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.
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.
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-publicised incident, Hollywood actor Matthew Broderick was involved in an accident in Northern Ireland in which he ploughed 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 £1 per litre (around €1.32 per litre, US$7.17 per US gallon) . There are very few tolls (mainly on some large bridges/tunnels) but a levy (congestion charge) of £8 (€11.10, US$15.98) 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. Many cities operate a "Park and Ride" scheme, with car parks on the edge of the city and cheap buses into the city centre, and you should consider using them.
Speed limits for cars are 70mph (112 km/h) (on motorways and dual carriageways; 60mph (96 km/h) on single carriageway roads unless otherwise signposted; and 30mph (48 km/h) in built-up unless signs show otherwise. The use of 20mph (32 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. Apart from these and around roadworks, the motorways are generally free of fixed speed cameras. Speeds on motorways are generally much higher than the stated speed limit (usually at least 80mph), and visitors are advised to be aware of this and stick to the inside lane. Driving at slower speeds in the outside (overtaking lane) may cause frustration to other drivers.
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 licensing authority. Note that the British authorities have access to vehicle registration databases from various other countries. Also, British hire car companies will charge speeding fines to your credit card, long after you have left the country. Police in some areas have begun 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. Any police officers, regardless of their normal duties, will pursue a vehicle seen driving dangerously.
Don't drink and drive in the UK. The maximum limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08%) 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, however, the law is such that police may stop you for committing any moving traffic offence, for example, not having your seatbelt on or even failing to indicate at a junction. These minor traffic offences will give authority to police to conduct a breath test. The police may also stop you if they suspect the person to have been drinking alcohol or if you have been involved in a motor vehicle collision (Road Traffic Collision). Enforcement of drink driving laws are extremely strict and police will always take strict action on those failing a breath test or those refusing to do so. 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. Note that a refusal to provide a breath test will result in penalties almost as severe as those for drink driving itself. Failing a breath test or refusing to give a sample of breath when requested by police will result in your immediate arrest and transport to a police custody suite where a police doctor will draw a sample of blood. A separate charge of failing to provide a specimen of breath will be added to your criminal charges. 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.
Drivers from abroad should take note that many British drivers regard the flashing of headlights as a signal that they can proceed, rather than as a warning. This misunderstanding has led to a number of accidents. In a dangerous situation, where there is a risk of death or injury, sound your horn, even during the night (use of the horn is illegal between 23:00 and 07:30).
It is also an offence to use your mobile phone whilst driving, although provision is made for the use of handsfree kits which are exempt from the law. Police will stop you for using your mobile phone and a £60 Penalty will be issued on the spot. This fine will be accompanied with 3 points endorsed on your license. Also, it is a legal requirement that all persons in a vehicle to be wearing their seatbelt. Persons not wearing a seatbelt may receive a £30 fine, although this does not come with any points. If a child is not wearing a seatbelt, the parent or guardian, normally the driver, is responsible and a fine will be issued for that offence also. Children under 1.4 metres are also legally required to use a child booster seat for safety reasons. Use of fog lights where there is no fog is also an offence for which you may receive a £30 fine.
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.
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 (known as "private hire vehicles" outside of London) 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, especially if you are female and travelling alone.
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.
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.
Welsh is widely spoken in Wales, particularly in North and West 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 travellers from English-speaking countries outside the UK may have difficulty catching specific words where regional accents are strong, but still there should not be any major difficulties in communicating. The British are 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:
Britain is an expensive country even for Britons, 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. 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. Customers who appear younger than 18 may be asked to produce a passport or other identification.
Almost all newsagents, supermarkets and petrol stations sell tobacco, and most will also sell some brands of pipe tobacco and cigars. For a more extensive selection of tobacco products, most towns and cities will have at least one specialist tobacconist.
Smoking is illegal in almost all buildings and on public transport. Some hotels have rooms where smoking is allowed; this must be specified when booking accommodation.
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". It is likely that people will use the slang "pea" when they mean either a penny or pence. Some people still use traditional terms such as a penny, tupence and thrupence (1p, 2p and 3p)
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.
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.
Despite jokes and stereotypes, British cuisine has improved greatly over the past few decades. Restaurants and supermarkets in the middle and upper 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 than 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.
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 quintessential 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 tartar 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!
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.
Larger towns have a range of restaurants to suit most tastes and you will find a very broad range of different cuisines, including Indian, Chinese, Thai, French and Italian. 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.
One of the most popular types of restaurant in Britain is the Indian restaurant. They can be found in every city and most towns large and small. 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 the vast majority are open 24 hours by law. Most contain fast food outlets and all have toilets. Some services may be limited overnight such as the range of hot & cold food, although most will keep a selection available. 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 5 minutes drive from a motorway junction.
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 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.
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.
The legal age to buy and consume alcohol is 18 (although teenagers aged 16 and 17 can have a glass 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 "IDeed") 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 be brought before the courts as child neglect.
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 permissible.
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.
Pubs with a good choice of real ales may exhibit almost any pattern of ownership:
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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  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:[email protected]
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:
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 .
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:
When using a private car:
When on public transport:
When in public:
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 not much more dangerous 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. While homosexuality is very much accepted in most major British cities, there are a few smaller rural towns (generaly the rougher ones) where many residents still frown apon it. Its best not to draw attention to your sexuality in these sorts of places if you want to keep out of trouble.
Contrary to popular misconception, Northern Ireland is not a dangerous place for Roman Catholics.
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.
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
People in the UK are generally polite, laid back and friendly. Despite popular belief, most Britons are actually very un-reserved and outgoing. It should also be noted that a good sense of humor goes a long way in Britain. The British are usually very understanding towards tourists, but 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. Most people know a few words of French, Spanish or German from school, but sadly many people are often unwilling to help.
Public displays of affection won't cause any 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. On hot days it is acceptable for men to walk shirtless outside, especially in parks, near the seaside, or other tourist areas, but generaly not in formal places. Short trousers are acceptable any time of the year, 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.
Many Brits use terms of endearment at the end of sentences to people they do not know, such as 'love', 'darling' or 'sweetheart'. This often comes as a surprise to Americans in particular who are far less likely to do this. This is just an expression of friendliness and should not be read into. Note that these terms are acceptable when said by a) a woman to a man, b) a man to a woman and c) a woman to a woman.
It is commonly said that the British are extremely indirect when requesting things from people they do not know. This is by no means true, they are always direct in their requests, and a direct request to them wont cause any offence.
Dining manners are pretty much the same as anywere else. Just basic common table mannors apply, such as not talking with your mouth full, not eating with your fingers (unless it is finger food such as pizza or chips),ect. Generally its very laid back, unless in a formal resturant.
When greeting or meeting someone, handshakes are usually expected; a moderately firm grip is best. Its polite to stand up when shaking hands. Greetings between friends and acquaintances tend to more casual and expressive, possibly including hugs and back-slapping, or (between women or between a man and a woman) a "continental" kiss on the cheek. Still, this informal greeting is still almost unheard of between men. With the exception of business environments, men rarely shake hands with women. Chivalry is generally alive and well in modern Britain, and it is not at all uncommon for men to hold doors open for women, carry heavy bags for women, or refuse to let women walk home alone. Most British men think that it is important to be a 'gentleman' in this respect, although some teenage youths are obvious exceptions.
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. Similarly, there is a degree of hostility to the EU and many Britons wish to withdraw, resenting what is seen as a loss of sovereignity and feeling that British culture is detached from that of the Continent. Again, this is never translated into hostility towards Europeans who are welcomed all over the country, as the recent wave of Eastern European immigrants will testify to. 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, as there are actually quite a lot of Britons who dislike the royal family, and again are probably best avoided.
Criticism of British 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. 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 very tolerant anti-racist; however some can be less so.
Though Londoners themselves may sometimes make tasteless jokes about the 7/7 London Bombings, it's still not a good idea make fun of the topic as a tourist - some Brits will be offended.
The British, are proud and often patriotic people and anyone who disrespects the British way of life will be treated in a bad way, despite the fact that British people criticise their own country much more than many other nationalities.
The more formal aspects of etiquette, are only really appropriate in highly formal situations, indeed in everyday life Britons may look at you strangly if you don't just relax and let the situation be your guide.
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 Call, Localphone, PocketDialUK, Abroadtel, Cleverates, PhoneBird, My Mondo, ExtraCall, GlobeCaller UK, Planet Numbers, Skinttariffs, Superline 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.)
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:
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).
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 .
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.
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.