Located in northwest Europe, the UK is sure to appeal to anyone with an appreciation of history, inspiring landmarks, beautiful countryside, and lively, multicultural cities.
The United Kingdom consists of four countries; England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Each country has one or more vibrant towns or cities, and is steeped in history and rich in heritage. The culture is similar to Australia and English is spoken throughout, making it a popular destination for Aussie travellers.
Top 10 Things to Do in the UK
1. Tour a Major City
The capital of the UK is London. It is located in the south of England. There is truly something for everyone in this eclectic city, which is the largest city in the UK.
Famous for its premier league football team, Manchester United, Manchester is a major city in the northwest of England.
On the west side of England is Wales, which has its own capital, Cardiff. This port city has a new waterfront at Cardiff Bay; Wales Millennium Centre is an arts complex and the home of the national opera and orchestra.
Edinburgh in Scotland is in the north of the UK. This city is most famous for its incredible 12th century castle dominating the skyline on Castle Rock. Edinburgh is also synonymous with the world’s largest arts festival, The Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The largest city in Scotland is Glasgow, a centre for manufacturing and trade and a bustling, multicultural centre for style, culture, museums, galleries, and major events and festivals.
Northern Ireland is the northern part of the island to the west of the UK. Its capital, Belfast, means ‘the mouth of the sandbanks’ and is located on the River Lagan, which is an inlet of the Irish Sea.
2. Visit the Royal Family
Elizabeth II has been Queen since 1952. Buckingham Palace in London is the Queen’s main residence. Visitors can witness the changing of the guards, see the crown jewels in the Tower of London, and learn about the royal family's fascinating history in one of many museums.
3. Sample Some Historic Food
The following foods are iconic:
Haggis - Scotland - made from sheep’s heart, liver, lungs and other ingredients.
Black Pudding - Scotland - Made from pig’s blood.
Bacon Butty - England - Bacon sandwich laced with red tomato ketchup or HP brown sauce.
Lamb Cawl - Wales - A delicious lamb stew.
Dulse - Ireland - Dried seaweed.
4. Share in the Tradition of Football
Many people in the UK follow the Premier League, England’s number one football league. There are 20 Premier League football grounds in England and visitors to the country can sample a game at one of the stadiums located throughout England, or visit Wembley Stadium in London. Wembley is where major football matches are played, including the FA Cup Final.
5. Attend a Rock Festival
The UK hosts numerous live concerts and music, rock and pop festivals. The most famous festivals are Glastonbury, Bestival, and the Isle of Wight Festival. These usually take place during the summer or early autumn (June to September). If you don’t make it to a concert or festival, you can visit The Beatles Museum in Liverpool, or the home of Oasis (Manchester) or Radiohead (Abingdon). There is also the option of having your photo taken with a replica of an infamous rock star at Madam Tussauds Wax Museum in London.
6. Photograph a Famous Landmark
Some of the more famous landmarks include the following:
Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England
The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland
Loch Ness in Scotland
Snowdonia, a mountain range in Wales
White Cliffs of Dover in England
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London
7. Experience Harry Potter’s London
Fans of Harry Potter can follow in the footsteps of Harry, Ron and Hermione and visit some of the places in London that appear in the films and books. Visit Warner Bros. Studio in London and you can find out all about the making of the films. Pay a call to the Reptile House at London Zoo, Tower Bridge, Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross, Westminster Tube Station, and Leadenhall Market. You can book yourself onto a guided tour to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
8. Explore an Ancient Castle
There are hundreds of castles in the UK, including fortifications that date back to the Iron Age. Wherever you stay or visit, you won’t be too far away from a castle which is open to tourists. Some are ruins, some have been carefully restored, and some have evolved to be stately homes with wonderful parks and gardens.
Consider the following, which are among the best:
Windsor Castle in London is 900 years old and includes a royal palace as well as several homes and a church.
Edinburgh Castle in Scotland houses the Scottish crown jewels.
The Tower of London on the banks of the River Thames is over 1,000 years old.
Dunstanburgh Castle is a 14th century fortification on a remote headland in Northumberland.
9. Try Out London’s Transport
London is famous for its red double decker buses, some of which are open-topped and can be booked to take visitors on a tour of the city.
The most effective way to get around London is by using the Underground, or Tube, railway system. The first and largest underground system in the world, the London Underground is over 400 km long. Alternative methods of travel around the UK include train, bus or coach; these are all options which are much cheaper than flying. Buy a ticket online or at the station.
You can hail a black cab by sticking out your arm or waving your hand to get the driver’s attention. When the light on the roof of the cab is lit, it indicates that the cab is available. The drivers of London taxis are required to pass a test called ‘The Knowledge,’ which involves them memorising every street in central London. So when you get in a taxi, you will just need to say the name of your destination, not the address.
Mini cabs are a cheaper alternative, but they have to be booked in advance from a licensed minicab office. You cannot hail a minicab on the street, it is illegal and dangerous.
10. Cheer on the Aussies
While in the UK, you might want to catch a tennis match at Wimbledon, a golf tournament at St Andrews, a rugby game at Twickenham, or a cricket game at Lords in London. Check online for venue locations, ticket prices and dates.
The United Kingdom is made up of four countries; England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as some offshore islands. England, Wales and Scotland are on the island of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland is located a short distance west, across the Irish Sea.
The English Channel and the North Sea separate the UK from the Continent. France, Belgium and the Netherlands are geographically the closest to the UK.
Facts about the UK:
- The UK’s adjustment from Universal Coordinated Time is UTC+0.
- The population is roughly 64 million.
- The main religion is Christian.
- 87% are Caucasian.
- In an emergency or life threatening situation, dial 999 or 112.
- The dialling code is +44.
- The minimum legal age to drink alcohol is 18.
- Drive on the left hand side of the road.
- The currency is the British pound.
- Electrical devices need a three pin ‘type G’ 230V plug.
- Australians visiting the UK: for a stay of up to 90 days, a visa is not required as long as you don’t intend to work
Culture and Customs
Leaving a tip
Unless you are being served at a table in a restaurant, you are not normally expected to leave a tip when you pay your bill. Many people choose to tip taxi drivers, waiters and bar staff with loose change or by simply rounding up the bill. In some bars and food and drink establishments, there is a pot on the counter for you to leave a tip if you want to.
Speaking English in the UK
English is spoken throughout the UK and you are likely to be understood wherever you travel. Other languages are also spoken by locals, such as Welsh in Wales, Celtic languages, and Irish Gaelic in Northern Ireland, which you will not understand.
Also, local dialects and accents can sometime make English difficult to understand in some regions. However, you will not usually have a problem being understood.
Most British people call one another by their first names and they often use humour in their conversations. The local pub is an integral part of life for many British people as the pub is a place to meet friends and family, and relax and unwind after the working week. You might hear someone buy a pint of beer for a couple of ‘quid’ which is slang for the British pound. If they think you are mad, they might call you ‘barmy’ and say goodbye or ‘cheerio.’ If something is not their ‘cup of tea’ it means they don’t like it and someone agreeing with you in Scotland might say ‘aye’ instead of yes.
The Seasons and The Weather
It is advisable to check the weather each day when visiting the UK. It is common to experience unusual weather for the season, such as a cold day in summer or mild temperatures in winter.
Spring is March to May and this is the best time to visit the UK. The weather starts to warm up, nature comes alive, and the countryside, parks and gardens bloom. Average temperatures are 6º to 21º.
During late July and August, the UK and most of Continental Europe take a month long break. Many places become extremely busy and crowded, particularly coastal areas, but this is the time that many events are planned. Also, between June and August the weather is usually at its warmest. Average temperatures are 15º to 23º.
September to November is a wonderful time to see the stunning autumnal colours and the weather can be extremely pleasant into late September and October. Average temperatures are 7º to 16º.
Between December and February, you can expect colder weather, more grey skies and rain. Christmas is a wonderful time to visit the cities in the UK and the frost and snow look spectacular in the countryside. Average temperatures are 2º to 15º.
During its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the British Empire occupied over a quarter of the landmasses.
Staying Safe in the UK
Usually, UK hotels provide information in the hotel room to ensure their guests’ safety, as well as on their website. You should be able to find information including how door locks work, whether there is a hotel safe you can use for your valuables, where the smoke detectors are located, and evacuation procedures in the event of a fire. Check the information in your hotel room so you are familiar with the safety aspects of your accommodation and raise any concerns you have at the hotel reception desk.
Staying Safe Out and About
Do not leave bags, cameras, smartphones or any other valuables unattended, particularly in tourist areas and cities. Unattended baggage can also trigger security alerts as the UK is very vigilant to threats of terrorism.
Be very wary when using ATMs or cashpoints in case of ‘card skimming’ or ‘PIN surfing.’ Make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN and if you suspect in any way that an ATM has been tampered with, use another cashpoint.
Stay in well-lit areas at night and avoid waiting alone at bus stops or train stations. If you want to use a taxi, pre-book a minicab or private hire vehicle that is run by a licensed operator. Obtain a telephone number online or ask for a recommendation from your hotel.
Trips and Falls
When visiting castles, sites of historic interest, parks and attractions, be wary of uneven ground and worn steps. There will usually be plenty of warning signs and information at the site if the ground is uneven, including what routes are suitable for wheelchairs. Make sure you heed that advice if you are not steady on your feet. Be careful of slippy paths and mud because of rain and be wary of slipping at the tube station.
Sports fans are sure to enjoy going to see a football or rugby match while in the UK, but be aware of sports hooliganism. UK fans have a reputation for extreme behaviour at matches and football hooligans are associated with several teams in particular. Some venues and cities have restrictions on wearing team colours or football strips because it incites over the top behaviour, so do your research if you are a football or rugby fan travelling to the UK.
Check terrorism alert levels at smarttravller.gov.au before you travel to the UK.
Check your travel insurance covers you for medical treatment in the UK.
Consider travel insurance that covers cancelled or delayed travel plans.