From the rolling
countryside to the bustling capitals, the UK is a diverse
and fascinating place to visit. Each town and city has
its own unique features, which you can find out about
in the individual guides, however this section is intended
to provide information that applies to the UK as a whole.
There is often some confusion about what ‘UK’
actually means and you will regularly hear the term
being used interchangeably with ‘Britain’
and ‘England’, but this is incorrect. The
UK, meaning the United Kingdom, encompasses England,
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while the term
Britain only includes England, Scotland and Wales.
And although they are connected, England, Scotland and
Wales are separate countries but are mostly governed
by parliament in London (however devolution has meant
that London parliament is offering some power back to
Scotland and Wales). As for Ireland, even though it
is one island, it is spilt into Northern Ireland and
the Republic of Ireland (sometimes known as Eire), with
the Republic of Ireland being an entirely separate country
with its own government.
So the following information applies whether you are
visiting England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland
unless otherwise stated.
Click on the links to jump to specific area of information...
The UK has four
main seasons; Winter (December to February), Spring (March
to May), Summer (June to August) and Autumn (September
to November) and although this gives you a rough idea
of what the weather will be like at any time of the year
it is by no means accurate. The UK’s weather is
often the perfect example of the saying ‘four seasons
in one day’ with rain, sunshine, and wind being
a distinct possibility any day of the year, with snow
likely anywhere from November to March. But the weather
is part of the UK’s charm and so whatever time of
year you decide to visit they’ll be plenty to see
The best time to visit in terms of the weather is from
April to September, when you are likely to see more sunshine
than showers. You will also find that the temperature
is better ranging from 12„C (53F) - 32„C (89„F) whereas
the average temperature for the winter months is around
Another point to remember about the British weather is
that the weather is often different depending on where
you are, so while it may be a sunny day in one part of
the UK, it could be a dull and overcast day in another
The currency in
the UK is the Pound Sterling (£) and consists of
paper notes and coins. The smallest denomination of money
you can use in the UK is the one pence piece (1p) and
there are a hundred pence in a pound. Other coins available
include the 2p, 5p, 10p 20p 50p £1 and £2
coins. There are three main paper notes, the five-pound
note (£5), the ten-pound note (£10) and the
twenty-pound notes (£20). There are pound notes
with a higher value than this but you should be aware
that some smaller shops and businesses do not accept them,
and taxi drivers and bus drivers are unlikely to take
kindly to being presented with one.
Currency can be bought at post offices, banks, bureaux
de change and travel agencies. If you prefer to use travellers
cheques for their added security then these can be purchased
at banks or travel agencies, but you should be aware that
they are rarely accepted as payment so they will need
to be exchanged for cash before use. At some of these
outlets there will also be an extra commission charge
for on currency and travellers cheques, so don’t
forget to take this into account when changing money.
When you need money, there’s likely to be a cash
machine (ATMs) not too far away, and you can use these
to withdraw cash with your credit or debit card. However
you will need to check with your bank or card company
that this service is available to you before you leave.
Credit Cards such as Mastercard and Visa are widely used
in the UK, and Diners Card and AmEx are also accepted.
The majority of
people in the UK work during the week. The normal working
week is Monday to Friday 9:00am until 5:30pm and most businesses
work to these hours. Shops too will often work to these
opening hours, with most also open on a Saturday 9:00am until
5:30pm and some, open on Sundays as well (usually from
10:00am - 4:00pm or 11am - 5:00pm).
However supermarkets are generally open later than this
through the week with many out of town shops open until
8:00pm and some open 24 hours a day (except on Saturday night
through to Monday morning). Corner shops, Off Licences
and convenience stores will also have later opening times,
although these will vary from shop to shop. In addition,
some shops and shopping centres do have late night opening
on certain days of the week but check before you go.
The UK enjoys a number of public holidays and on these
days you will find that many shops and business are closed,
although certainly not all. The UK public holidays are:
New Year’s Day
Taken in Lieu
Taken in Lieu
January 2nd (Scotland Only)
Taken in Lieu
Taken in Lieu
St Patrick’s Day (Northern Ireland Only)
May Bank Holiday
Spring Bank Holiday
Battle of the Boyne a.k.a Orangemen's Day (Northern
When you’re in the UK there are many ways to keep in touch
with friends and family in other parts of the world as well
as in the UK.
If you want to send letters or postcards, you will probably
need to go to a post office. Here you can purchase the correct
amount of postage to send your mail. If you know how much postage
you need, stamps can also be purchased at newsagents, supermarkets
and other outlets, however if you get the postage wrong your
mail may not reach its destination.
If you are sending post within the UK you will also need to
buy postage before you send it. Stamps are available for first
class postage, which should get your post to its destination
the next day, and second class, which takes slightly longer.
For more information on sending mail try the post office website.
Getting in touch by telephone is another way to communicate
with loved ones. To call abroad from England you will need to
dial 00 then your country’s three (or four) digit international
access code, then the area code (without the first 0) and then
the phone number. If you are unsure of the international access
code you need, look in a phone directory or click here
to search for international access codes.
If you are calling somewhere within the UK you will need to
dial the area code and then the number. And if you are calling
somewhere nearby then you may just need to dial the phone number,
but if in doubt always use the area code as well. If you have
problems making a call within the UK, dial 100 from any mainline
There’s likely to be a phone available in your accommodation,
but do check the call rates before you make you call. You can
also use public phones to make your calls, these can be found
dotted around towns and cities, some inside hotels, supermarkets,
train stations and other public service buildings, while others
can be found in booths on the street.
Most public phones only take coin payments however the newer
phones will accept a credit card payment for your call. To pay
for your calls you can also use a prepaid phone card, these
are available for the post office as well as a variety of shops,
just follow the instructions on the back of the card.
You may also be able to use your mobile phone (cell phone) to
make calls from the UK, however check with your phone company
that this facility is available to you before you leave. But
as a general rule you should be able to use your phone in the
UK, if it is from Europe or Australia but not if it is from
the USA or Japan, unless it had been specially enabled (i.e.
a tri-band phone).
If you prefer to communicate through electronic means then you
can, via the Internet. Your accommodation may have Internet
facilities, so check with them first. If not, you can use an
Internet café or local library to access the Internet
and send emails, the local Tourist Information Centre should
be able tell you where to find them. It is likely that you will
have to pay to use these facilities and cost is usually based
on the amount of time you plan to spend using the computer.
To drive in the
UK you will need to be at least 17 years of age and have
a valid driving licence. However to hire a car you will
probably need to be over 23 and have at least one year’s
worth of driving experience, although this varies between
car hire companies.
Probably the most important thing to remember is that
in the UK people drive on the left, and you will find
that the majority of cars in the UK seat the driver on
the right. This may take some getting used to so do take
some time to get used to it before you go on any major
There are four main rules of the road you should adhere
to in the UK:
When driving in the UK you and your passengers must
wear a seat belt;
Drivers should not use their mobile phone when driving
(unless using a hands free kit);
You must not drink too much alcohol and then drive
(you are only allowed to drink a small amount, but
to be totally safe, do not drink and drive); and
You must obey the speed limits
For cars, these are:
30mph (miles per hour) in a built up area
60 mph on a single carriageway
70 mph on a Dual carriageway and
70 mph on a motorway
Some roads are equipped with speed cameras to catch people
who are driving over the speed limit, while other roads
are occasionally patrolled by the police. If you are caught
exceeding the speed limit you will are likely to receive
a fine and are at risk of receiving a ban from driving.
For the definitive guide to the rules of driving in the
UK you should get a copy of the Highway Code.
The UK rarely uses toll roads, and only has one toll motorway,
the M6. If you do not wish to pay the toll you can still
use the M6, however paying the toll allows you to bypass
the congested parts of this road. You will also find that
certain bridges and tunnels require a toll to use them,
these include Dartford Bridge near London, Clifton Suspension
Bridge in Bristol, the Mersey Tunnels near Liverpool and
the Humber Bridge near Hull.
Another point to remember when driving in the UK is that
when a road sign indicates a distance, this is miles rather
If you want to bring your
cat or dog to the UK with you, there are two main ways to do
it. The first is to apply for an import licence from DEFRA (the
Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) and then
place your pet in quarantine for six months; the other way is
to enrol your cat or dog in the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). Many
countries in Europe as well as the USA, Australia, New Zealand,
Japan and other countries around the world are part of this
scheme, which allows you to bring in your pet into the UK without
the length quarantine period.
For more information contact the take a look at DEFRA’s website.
When travelling to the
UK you will need to have a valid passport, or if you are travelling
from Europe a national id card, which shows your identity and
your nationality may be sufficient. Without this piece of documentation
you are unlikely to be allowed into the UK.
The other important travel document you may need is a visa,
and it is always best to check what documents you need with
your local British Embassy before travelling to the UK.
However the general rules are that if you are from Australia,
Canada, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore,
South Africa, South Korea and the USA, you do not need a visa
to visit the UK as long as you stay for less than 6 months and
do not work while you are in the UK. And if you are from an
EEA (European Economic Area) country, you are allowed to enter
the country to visit, live or work as you wish.
The UK consists of four
countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
England is the biggest of these, with Scotland being two-thirds
its size and Wales and Northern Ireland being the two smallest
countries of the four.
England has a border to the north with Scotland, and a border
to the west with Wales and no physical connection with Northern
Ireland, which lies to the north west of England. But is surround
by the North Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean.
Each country in the UK can be broken down into counties, Northern
Ireland has six, Wales has nine, Scotland has 33 and England
has 39 traditional counties.
Although the UK is a safe
place for tourists to visit, you should keep in mind some standard
safety precautions for example:
- keep your eye on your purse or wallet
- be extra vigilant in crowded areas
- avoid poorly lit areas on your own
- make sure you are using reputable taxi companies, car hire
- Do not leave valuables on show in your vehicle or hotel accommodation
and so on..
Women wanting to travel in the UK should find it a welcoming
country to visit. As long as the above safety precautions are
followed you should feel free to explore what the UK has to
offer on your own or in a group.
Gay & Lesbian travellers
Although the UK has some vibrant gay scenes around the country,
for example Manchester, London and Brighton, you may find that
not everywhere is as welcoming, a while you may not come across
any outright hostility you may experience some disapproving
If you are over 55 (usually over 60 for men), you may find that
you are eligible for discounts on attractions, activities and
travel in the UK, although you will probably need to bring some
proof of age with you to get the discounts.
From October 2004 it is illegal to discriminate against people
with disabilities in the UK, according to the Disability Discrimination
Act. This means that many buildings are being converted, or
built with disabled people in mind. However, the UK is full
of historic streets, which can be narrow or cobbled, and buildings
that will take time to convert or provide alternatives, but
the situation is certainly improving for tourists with disabilities.
However it is a good idea to check with your accommodation and
the places you want to visit, what facilities they have for
disabled people before you visit.
Population: Around 60 million Capital City: London Time: Greenwich Mean Time but for British Summer
time the clocks go forward 1 hour at the end of March and go
back 1 hour at the end of October. Language: English (although Welsh is sometimes
spoken in Wales)
Monarchy or Republic: Monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as the
current head of state. Religion: The majority of the population is
Christian, however there are significant proportions of the
population that practice Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam
and Judaism. Voltage/Plugs: 240 v AC, 50HZ. A 13 amp rectangular
blade plug (square with three prongs) is required for appliances.
To use appliances from abroad you will need an adapter plug. Weights and Measures: Although there is a transition
towards metric weights and measures, you will find many are
displayed in imperial units i.e. pints, inches, pounds &
ounces, yards, gallons. Tipping: In restaurants a tip of around 10%
is expected, unless the service was particularly bad or a service
charge is automatically added.
Taxi drivers will also expect a tip; again 10% should be sufficient.
Water: On the whole it is fine to drink water straight from
the tap in the UK, signs will tell you when this is not appropriate.
To get married in the
UK you will need to be at least 16 years of age. If you are
over 16 but under 18 years old you will need to get a consent
letter from your parents or legal guardian and if you are not
a resident in the UK this will have to be witnessed by an authorised
person i.e. Commissioner for Oaths, a Consular Officer or a
notary member of the public such as a lawyer, Justice of the
Peace, police officer and so on.
Weddings in the UK can be either civil or religious but must
take place in authorised premises by an authorised person (i.e.
priest, vicar, registrar and so on…).
If you are coming from abroad to get married another important
point to remember is that you will probably need to fulfil a
residency requirement before you can marry. The amount of time
needed varies depending on which country you plan to marry in
(Scotland does not have a residency requirement) and whether
you plan have a civil or religious ceremony.
If you want to get married in the UK contact the registrar of
the registration district in which you plan to marry for further