A “lorry” is a truck, a “boot” is a car trunk, and the “underground” or “tube” is a subway. There’s more than language lingo that first time travellers to Britain need to know. Shuttle buses, trains, and the underground run from the major airports to the centre of London. There are stairs to negotiate.
Here are some other helpful hints:
In London, ride the buses or walk to see the city. Use the underground for quick transportation, avoid it at rush hour if possible. Stand on the right side on tube escalators; walk on the left.
Purchase an Oyster Card to use in Greater London--it's a combination bus, underground, and Docklands Light Railway pass. You can buy them at any underground ticket office. It saves money and time.
A London A-Z street plan book is an invaluable resource.
Local bookstores are a rich source for cycle and walking maps and local history books.
If travelling by train, save money by purchasing a Railpass. Go outside of rush hours and save even more.
Outside the cities, buses are called coaches. They are slower than trains, but less expensive.
In the UK, cars drive on the left side of the road. Remember to look to the RIGHT before stepping off a curb.
If you hold a valid North American driver’s license, an international one is not necessary in the UK.
Standard shift cars are the norm. Unless you are comfortable with using your left hand to shift gears, reserve an automatic before you arrive. A 3-mile-to-the-inch road atlas is a necessity.
Driving in large British cities can be stressful. Book a room in a nearby village and use the bus or train to visit the city.
Petrol stations are few and far between, especially in rural areas. Keep your tank full. Stations are self-serve.
Roads don’t have shoulders and most rural roads are narrow.
B&B's serve traditional English breakfasts of fried eggs, sausages, bread, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Many also have a light buffet style breakfast--cereals, yogurts and such. If you want something different or have specific allergies, let them know beforehand.
Pub grub is quick, reasonable, and accessible, though not necessarily good. Local bakeries and deli’s offer take-away options. In the UK, french-fries (called chips) come with vinegar.
Ask for the “WC” or “toilet”. “Bathroom”, "washroom", and “restroom” are North American terms. Look for WC’s in museums, department stores, casual eating places, pubs, and train stations. Public washrooms can also be found at village and town car parks, historic homes, and castles. They are seldom found at Tourist Boards or in small shops or along the main streets.
Accommodations include university dorms (during out-of-school session), hostels (available to all ages), B&B’s, guest houses, and hotels. In rural areas and small villages B&B’s are more prevalent.
Use the local Tourist Information Centres (TIC) for information on attractions in the area, directions, and special events (concerts, ghost walks, historical re-enactments). Some can book a B&B locally or ahead for you.
Pounds, not Euro dollars, are the legal tender in Britain. In the country of Ireland, it’s Euros.
Value Added Tax (VAT) is 17.5%. Added to sales and services, it is included in prices posted or quoted.
Check with your bank to learn if your bankcard will work in British cash withdrawal machines.
Most British banks charge large fees to cash traveler’s checks; it's best not to use them.Traveller's checks on Barclay Bank are the easiest to cash as there is a Barclay Bank in most towns; cashing travel checks anywhere except on the bank they are drawn on is prohibitively expensive.
Most Bed and Breakfasts take cash only.
Newsagents sell phone cards. These are handier than using change for the phones, but some phones aren’t equipped for them. Be aware there are very few public phones.
A North American cell phones won’t work in Britain unless they are a tri-band (GSM) phone. You may still need to purchase SIM cards.
Contact your local phone company and ask for their “direct access” number to your home country. You save time and money by not going through a UK operator when calling home.
The emergency police/ambulance number in the UK is 999.
Go to the popular tourist spots early. You will avoid long lineups and wait times. Purchase tickets ahead online if possible.
Electric voltage is 240v as opposed to North American 120, so you will need a special plug for the wall. Most portable computer devices come with an adapter or converter but you still need the special plug. If you forget to purchase one before arriving, some hardware/electrical shops/travel shops have them. Some hotels and B and B’s supply them for use while staying with them.
A Bank Holiday is a three-day weekend. Businesses may be closed. Many special events take place on these busy weekends. Book your accommodation early.
Many attractions are closed off-season.
August is the busiest month for tourism in the UK.
Before you leave home, check with your email server for instructions on accessing your email through the web. Large cities, like London, have business operated cyber connections. Local libraries and some YMCAs have free-of-charge internet service. Many accommodations have Wi-Fi.
No special health precautions are necessary, but do purchase health insurance before you leave home.
Have your optometrist write out your eyeglass prescription before you travel. Without it you will be required to pay for an eye exam if you need to replace your glasses.
Take raingear. Weather in Britain is unpredictable.
Wear sturdy walking shoes. There are cobbled streets, uneven pavements, and worn stone steps to navigate.
Laundry facilities are scarce. Take easy-to-wash, quick dry clothing.
Visiting historic homes, ruined castles, and heritage sites can be expensive. Save money by purchasing a Great British Heritage Pass (1-888-239-3766). Alternatively, you may wish to join the National Trust, English Heritage, Cadw (Wales), Historic Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, and/or Historic Houses Association. Joining provides you with free entry to sites, guide books, maps, location directions, opening hours and days.
Always carry lots of change—you will need it for car parks. Lots of the car parks have peel-off tickets that you need to stick on your car window.
Carry a role of paper towels for picnics, clean ups , drying and wiping car windows, etc.
Carry a container of water for washing hands, car windows, picnic utensils, etc.
Carry bottled water for drinking—none is available. Coffee, tea and soft drinks are expensive.
Most towns/villages have bakeries, delis, meat markets, cheese and such for take-out. Green grocers sell veggies and fruit. Small markets have bottled drinking water, laundry soap, etc.
Dry your laundry on the back shelf of your rental car. If it’s sunny, by the end of the day, it should be dry.
The National Trust sites, historic homes, museums, and some cathedrals offer great meals for the price and are usually freshly cooked each day.
Try to avoid market days in a town or get to the town before 8:30 am; otherwise, there are huge traffic jams and you may not be able to find any parking.
Before you leave home get some bills and change in British money so you won't have to hunt up a bank as soon as you arrive. Exchange bureaus generally offer better exchange rates than banks.
Villages do not have banks; many small stores do not take credit cards; B & B's generally do not take credit cards.
There are lots of good maps and local guide books in the W. H. Smith stores in the larger (10,000 or more) towns.
Because an accommodation is on the Visit Britain Tourist Board list does not mean that it is clean. Price has nothing to do with a place being clean or nice.
Washcloths/facecloths are not generally provided in accommodations.
If you have not pre-booked accommodation, ask to see a room before you decide to take it; don't stay if it isn't satisfactory.
If you pay a booking fee to a Tourist Board for a room, be sure to deduct it from what you owe the establishment—some places forget to take it off.
Cars seldom stop for pedestrians; cross any street at your own risk.
Sometimes there are buttons you can push for the light to turn red so you can cross a major street or highway, but don't count on the cars stopping.
Even though Britain is an English-speaking country, things can be different from home. Visit the villages and roam the countryside. And above all, enjoy the people who live here.
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