October 10, 2023
Destination: United Kingdom
Things to Know Before Going to the UK
From its bustling cities and quaint villages to dramatic historical monuments and miles of beautiful countryside, there’s no shortage of good reasons to visit the UK.
Rather than jumping right into planning your itinerary, though, it’s never a bad idea to take a step back and look at the basics. Which is why we’ve put together this list of things you need to know before you go to the UK.
What documents do I need to enter the UK?
You will need a valid national passport to enter the UK, showcasing your identity and nationality. Depending on which country you’re from you may need a visa, too.
Do I need a visa to visit the UK?
EU, EEA and Swiss citizens can travel to the UK for holidays or short trips without a visa; those staying longer than three months will need to check visa requirements. Irish citizens can enter and live in the UK and can travel using a passport card.
If you’re coming to the UK from the United States as a tourist, you can stay for up to 6 months without a visa.
If you’re a non-EEA family member of an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen you will need a valid passport and a visa (entry clearance certificate) to enter the UK.
If you’re unsure, use the UK Gov website – Gov.uk – to find out if you need to apply for a visa to enter the UK.
What currency is used in the UK?
The UK uses the pound sterling, or GBP (£), as its official currency. (Fun fact: having been around for over 1,200 years – dating back to Anglo-Saxon times – the British pound is the world’s oldest continuously used currency.)
What countries are in the UK?
The United Kingdom (UK) is a collection of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
What language is spoken in the UK?
English is spoken in the UK, but it’s not the only native language. You may also hear Welsh in Wales, Irish in Northern Ireland, and both Scottish Gaelic and Scots in Scotland.
How do you get to the UK?
Flight times are approximately: 7 hours from the East Coast (New York City, Boston, and Washington D.C.); 8 hours from Chicago; 10.5 hours from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and 9.5 hours from Seattle.
Flights from Montreal take in the region of 6.5 hours; from Toronto approximately 7 hours; and from Vancouver, a little over 9 hours.
When is the best time to visit the UK?
The best time of year to visit the UK is between May and September. While you can never completely rely on the skies to be clear and sunny, these are the warmer months (particularly July and August).
Is the UK a family-friendly destination?
Absolutely. The UK offers fun and activities for the whole family; from museums and galleries, to the seaside, quaint towns, and, of course, beautiful countryside steeped in history.
What’s the best way to travel around the UK?
Trains are generally a great way of getting around the UK, with decent rail services going to the majority of major towns and cities across the country.
They can be quite pricey, but booking in advance or travelling on a group ticket is a good way to keep the cost down. Check out Trainline (Trainline.com) for more information and tickets.
If you’re exploring places like the more remote parts of Scotland, Wales, the Cotswolds or the Peak District, we’d recommend hiring a car, as some of most inviting areas won’t be reachable by public transport.
What’s the UK weather like? What essential clothes should you pack?
The weather in the UK can be on the unpredictable side. Even during the summer, cold spells or rain showers can come when you least expect it. There’s a notable difference between the north of the UK and the south, too, with southern England generally enjoying much milder weather.
No matter what time of year you’re visiting, we’d recommend packing a waterproof jacket (and trousers, too, if you are planning on doing a lot of hiking), and a couple of jumpers.
Depending on the season, you may also want gloves and a hat, but usually, that’s between November and March. In summer, you should be able to get away with lighter clothing most of the time.
What are the must-visit places in the UK?
London: Art, theatre, culture, dining, shopping, markets, parks, and more sights than you could possibly cram into just one trip… as the dictionary-writing doctor would have it, ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’.
Lake District: Beautiful market towns such as Keswick and Ambleside, breathtaking lakes like Windermere and Ullswater, and England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike.
Durdle Door, Dorset: An arch shaped by the forces of nature standing majestically out at sea.
Glencoe, Scotland: A beautiful village in the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by dramatic rocky peaks. A hiker’s paradise.
Pembrokeshire, Wales: On the south coast of Wales, Pembrokeshire has ample walking trails and plenty of beautiful beaches, some of which even offer great surfing.
Cambridge: Just 55 miles (89 km) from London, you can take the train to Cambridge for the day. Walk through the city, take a punting tour down the River Cam, and visit the Fitzwilliam Museum (Fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk).
Oxford: Harry Potter fans will enjoy a visit to this medieval city, where they can find the Great Hall in Christ Church College. During the festive season, the streets are lined with Christmas markets.
Stonehenge: 30 iconic stones, thought to be 5,000 years old.
Northumberland Coast: An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), covering 40 miles of coastline. Visit the 14th-century Dunstanburgh Castle (English-heritage.org.uk) and explore the grounds of Howick Hall (Howickhallgardens.com).
Hadrian’s Wall: A defensive 73-mile (117 km) long fortification in the north of England. It was built by the Romans sometime in the 2nd century AD to protect the northwest frontier of their empire.
Bath: On the edge of the Cotswolds, Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its Roman baths and Georgian architecture.
Peak District: For the outdoor adventurers, the Peak District is a beautiful hiking destination, and is also home to some grand houses like Chatsworth House (Chatsworth.org), and quaint market towns like Buxton.
Stratford-upon-Avon: While it’s obviously best known as the birth/burial place of the bard, there’s more to this charming medieval market town than just William Shakespeare.
Cornwall: Small fishing villages, delicious seafood, a dramatic coastline and sandy beaches. A perfect family holiday destination.
Edinburgh, Scotland: The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is full of history, with cobbled streets (also featured in Harry Potter), castles, entertainment, and, of course, whisky experiences, too.
Kent: Not content with just being a wonderful walking destination, Kent is now a key winemaking area. Immerse yourself in English wine and go on a vineyard tour at Balfour Winery (Balfourwinery.com), Gusbourne (Gusbourne.com) or Bibbenden (Biddendenvineyards.com).
For more of the UK’s most unique places to visit, see our pick of the Hidden Hundred.
Where can I visit for free in the UK?
Most national museums offer free entrance in the UK. In London alone, there are some brilliant cultural activities to do for free, including visiting the British Museum (Britishmuseum.org), the National Gallery (Nationalgallery.org.uk), the Natural History Museum (Nhm.ac.uk), V&A South Kensington (Vam.ac.uk), National Railway Museum (Railwaymuseum.org.uk), Tate Britain (Tate.org.uk)… and many more. Some of the exhibitions you will need to pay for but many are also free.
If you like walking, then the options are almost endless, with beautiful countryside stretching away in every direction.
You can head to Dover and walk along the White Cliffs; take in the beautiful scenery of the stunning Jurassic Coast, running from Dorset to Cornwall; take on stretches of the Cotswold Way or Fosse Way; or follow in the footsteps of Albert Wainwright in the Lake District.
Is the UK safe for solo travellers?
Absolutely. The UK is generally extremely safe for solo travellers. Of course, like anywhere, always remain vigilant and be aware of your surroundings, especially in larger cities or during the night.
The public transportation system is extensive and reliable. Between trains, buses, and underground services in cities like London, it’s easy to get around. Again, check out Trainline (Trainline.com) for bus and train tickets.
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