|Government||Part of a constitutional monarchy, but no direct government|
|Currency||British Pound Sterling (£)|
White 79.2% Black 10.1% Asian 32.8% Other 9.7%
regionally spoken: Cornish
|Religion||Christian 72.4%, Non-religious 24.7%, Islam 11.2%, Other 12.5%|
|Electricity||230V, 50 Hz|
|Time Zone||UTC, UTC+1(DST)|
Not to be confused with the United Kingdom, of which England is a constituent country.
England (Cornish:Pow Sows) is the largest of the four “home nations” that make up the United Kingdom. It is also the most populous of the four with almost 52 million inhabitants (roughly 84% of the total population of the UK). On the island of Great Britain, Scotland sits to the north of England and Wales is to the west. Northern Ireland (also part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland lie across the Irish Sea to west of England (and Wales). France and the Channel Islands are across the English Channel to the south, and to the east is the North Sea.
England is a country well known for its dramatic scenery of countryside, rolling hills, green fields and forests, and rugged coastline. Historic country manor houses and and elegant landscape gardens are dotted around the country. Gothic cathedrals and university colleges stand tall after thousands of years. The Houses of Parliament and Palace of Westminster is referred to as the Mother of all Parliaments.
In geological terms, the Pennines, known as the “backbone of England”, are the oldest range of mountains in the country, originating from the end of the Paleozoic Era around 300 million years ago. Most of England’s landscape consists of low hills and plains, with upland and mountainous terrain in the north and west of the country. The northern uplands include the Pennines, a chain of uplands dividing east and west, the Lake District mountains in Cumbria, and the Cheviot Hills, straddling the border between England and Scotland. The highest point in England, at 978 metres (3,209 ft), is Scafell Pike in the Lake District. Their geological composition includes, among others, sandstone and limestone, and also coal. There are karst landscapes in calcite areas such as parts of Yorkshire and Derbyshire. The Pennine landscape is high moorland in upland areas, indented by fertile valleys of the region’s rivers. They contain two national parks, the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District. In the West Country, Dartmoor and Exmoor of the Southwest Peninsula include upland moorland supported by granite, and enjoy a mild climate; both are national parks.
The English Lowlands are in the central and southern regions of the country, consisting of green rolling hills, including the Cotswold Hills, Chiltern Hills, North and South Downs; where they meet the sea they form white rock exposures such as the cliffs of Dover. This also includes relatively flat plains such as the Salisbury Plain, Somerset Levels, South Coast Plain and The Fens.
The country has many outstanding areas of natural beauty and vibrant historic and modern cities rich in history and culture. Many of the world’s most celebrated scientists, thinkers, inventors, writers, intellects and artists were born in England. The English have played and continue to play an important role in the development of science and engineering. England’s rich landscape has witnessed periods of great change and evolution; the Industrial Revolution began in England throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and English entrepreneurship influenced much of the modern world.
England is a country that can be divided most generally into three sections, with deep historical and linguistic roots for each of them. These can be further divided into counties, which in turn consist of cities (most of which also have long histories, but have been revised in many cases for administrative reasons).
A vast and diverse metropolitan region to itself, the capital city of both England and the United Kingdom, a global
capital of finance, fashion, and culture.
| South East England
Broadly speaking, the area around and south of London, including the territory along the English Channel.
| West Country
The often-rugged peninsula extending southwest into the Atlantic and adjoining counties.
| East Midlands
The geographic centre of England, reaching to the North Sea.
Northern England (the North) is anywhere north of Staffordshire in the west and roughly north of the Humber river, in the east, up to the Scottish border.
Regarded as one of the most scenic, varied and interesting of all the traditional counties.
| North West England
Major industrial cities and breathtaking scenery between Wales and Scotland.
| North East England
The urbanised areas of Teesside and Tyne and Wear plus the largely rural large county of Northumberland with its sparsely populated borders with Scotland and beautiful countryside and coastline.
London is already the most touristy city in the whole world, however there are other cities to visit rich in culture and history. Listed below are nine of the most popular:
The beautifully preserved medieval streets in the ancient city of York
- London — largest metropolitan area in Western Europe, and a global capital of finance, fashion, art and culture.
- Birmingham — the UK’s second largest city (by population) in the industrial heartland.
- Bristol — vibrant music and art scene, lovely historic buildings, an attractive waterfront and a laid back, friendly, amiable, mellow atmosphere in the West Country’s largest city.
- Brighton — regency seaside resort and university town with quirky shopping, good eating, rich culture and vibrant gay nightlife.
- Liverpool — “The home of the Beatles”, a booming cosmopolitan city famous for its vibrant nightlife, rich cultural heritage, magnificent waterfront, superb architecture, and excellence in music and sport.
- Manchester — third most visited city in the UK, a cultural, sporting, entertainment, shopping and media hub.
- Nottingham — “Queen of the Midlands”, home of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest and Nottingham Castle.
- Newcastle upon Tyne — a thriving northern city with world-famous nightlife.
- York — ancient capital of Yorkshire, with Roman, Viking and Medieval remains.
England has many outstanding landmarks and sites of interest. Listed below are nine of the most notable:
Don’t confuse “England” with the the larger “Britain” or “United Kingdom”; see the United Kingdom article for details.
England has been stereotyped as being cold, grey and rainy since the ancient Romans wrote home, but this is not an entirely accurate picture. Temperatures rarely get very cold or very hot, and while the country certainly gets rain, it’s really not as wet as rumour has it. London alone has lower annual rainfall than Paris, New York and Sydney, and it’s not uncommon for parts of the country to go without rain for weeks. Parts of southern England often have summer water restrictions due to a lack of adequate rainfall during the previous winter. There is some scope for leaving your raincoat at home, but make sure you have one.
Northern and western parts are usually wetter than the rest of England due to the prevailing wind from the north west bringing down cold moist air from the North Atlantic, and the sunniest and warmest areas are in the far south and south east.
Winter and autumn are usually the wettest seasons where the weather is often very changeable and at times quite windy, especially in the north and west, where cold Arctic winds arrive. Spring conditions are very changeable: a day of hot sunshine is likely as not to be followed by a week of cold wind and rain; and vice-versa. Occasional snow even as late as May is not unheard of in northern England, but it will melt quickly. Snow is particularly rare in the south east. Summer is generally warm in the south with average highs usually ranging from 18-23°C, but be prepared for unsettled weather at any time of the year and make sure to check a weather forecast if you plan to be outdoors.
Hot spells of weather can occur from May to September where temperatures may reach 30°C in the warmest areas of England, typically London and parts of the South East. Central Europe has very hot summers and very cold winters, but England is both less extreme (surrounded by water) and milder in the winter (influenced by the warmth of the North Atlantic Drift). If it were not for the North Atlantic Drift, England would be much colder.
Heavy, prolonged snow is rare and temperatures are rarely below freezing for more than a few days. in some years, there will be a few days of road and rail disruption from snow – even the slightest amount of snow often causes delays on public transport, especially rail. Very severe weather conditions are rare and remedial action is usually taken promptly. Flooding and droughts are unlikely to affect the traveller. High winds occasionally disrupt travel, most often outside summer.
English people are said to have a passion for debating the weather: actually this is usually just an opening gambit to start a conversation with a stranger. Typically, these conversation openers are now heard only among the elderly members of society. Most discussions that do involve weather usually include criticisms of it – including (though perhaps not at the same time) both that it’s “too cold” and it’s “too hot”. Well-known conversational gambits (with due acknowledgement to Peter Kay) : “It’s too cold for snow”; “It’s that fine rain that soaks you through”.
The people of England, like their language, are a mixed bunch who have regularly been infused with new blood – from the Romans nearly 2000 years ago taking control of the ancient British in the region, to the later influences of Angles, Saxons and others from Europe. Then the Vikings, and the Normans about a thousand years ago. Since then, there have been Huguenots, Chinese, Jews fleeing pogroms, people from former British colonies in the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s, Indians expelled from newly independent former African colonies, workers from new EU member states such as Poland, not to mention people from other UK nations and the Republic of Ireland. The full list is very long, but England has long been used to outsiders making it their home – even before it was called England!
As in any country, you will get people who are unfriendly to foreign visitors, but England is noted as being one of the most tolerant countries in Europe, and racism is very low when compared with other nations. English people are polite and appreciate good manners. Almost everyone will treat you well if you are polite and make an effort to fit in. Smile, be polite, don’t be pushy if you can help it: that’s how to get on with the English.
The English are well used to foreign tourists. One thing to bear in mind is that many mostly elderly English people don’t wish to give offence and dislike lying, and so will try to avoid potential pitfalls by sticking to safe (often dull) topics of conversation, and occasionally doing the tricky job of avoiding offence by evading a question which worries them, while also trying not to offend you by point-blank refusing you an answer. This sort of thing generally wears off as people get to know you. The younger generation are often quite different as far as giving offence is concerned.
Big cities and even some rural areas, like those anywhere, have their social problems, but England is predominantly an affluent country with little visible poverty. Rough areas contain rough people in England, as in any country: muggings, car theft and other street crimes are common, unfortunately, in some districts of many towns and cities, but England is by and large a safe country as long as you use common sense.
In tourist destinations, you will mostly meet friendly people who will take the time to answer a stranger’s question, and who may speak English in a colourful or accented way but will be willing to standardise and simplify their speech if you’re struggling. Some would say there is a north-south divide, with people in the North more friendly and approachable (Liverpool, for instance, was voted the fourth friendliest city in the world by travel magazine Rough Guide in 2014), while the South (mostly just London, though) is a more closed culture with people less willing to stop and speak. However, don’t take offence; remember that most Londoners you see on the streets will usually be rushing to get to somewhere (eg. work) and simply don’t have the time to talk. If anything, the South of England is split between the “overheated” and overcrowded South-East, and the more rural, amiable South-West/West Country where a more relaxed, friendlier atmosphere beckons. The North/South divide is also somewhat confused by the fact that Bristol (the largest city in the South West) has a very laid-back, left field and mellow atmosphere that is completely different. And then there is the relentless, hedonistic atmosphere of the likes of Brighton and Bournemouth, and the conservatism of many cities in Southern England. In rural areas of the south, East Anglia and the West Country, people are generally much more laid-back and enjoy taking the time to have a chat with strangers. In most of England you will usually find that if you are polite and friendly, you’ll get the same in return.
London itself is a very international city where you may meet a variety of nationalities, depending on what part of the city you are in.
England has a long and colourful political history and has contributed greatly to political philosophy. England does not have a devolved Parliament like Scotland or Wales, but London’s Palace of Westminster on the River Thames has been England’s Parliament for centuries.
The English are somewhat both liberal and conservative in the British traditions. English people may value social liberalism, but enjoy preserving traditions such as the monarchy. The ruling Conservative Party represent modern British paternalistic conservatism; enterprise and entrepreneurship, technology and innovation, markets and values, environmental stewardship, law and human rights, etc.
Conservative Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party are considered England’s main political parties; all representing the British traditions of conservatism, liberalism and socialism.
The national flag of England, known as St. George’s Cross, has been the national flag since the 13th century. Originally the flag was used by the maritime state the Republic of Genoa. The English monarch paid a tribute to the Doge of Genoa from 1190 onwards, so that English ships could fly the flag as a means of protection when entering the Mediterranean. A red cross acted as a symbol for many Crusaders in the 12th and 13th centuries. It became associated with Saint George, along with countries and cities, which claimed him as their patron saint and used his cross as a banner. Since 1606 the St George’s Cross has formed part of the design of the Union Flag, a Pan-British flag designed by King James I.
There are numerous other symbols and symbolic artefacts, both official and unofficial, including the Tudor rose, the nation’s floral emblem, and the Three Lions featured on the Royal Arms of England. The Tudor rose was adopted as a national emblem of England around the time of the Wars of the Roses as a symbol of peace. The oak tree is a symbol of England, representing strength and endurance. The Royal Oak symbol and Oak Apple Day commemorate the escape of King Charles II from the grasp of the parliamentarians after his father’s execution: he hid in an oak tree to avoid detection before safely reaching exile.
Holidays and observations
|New Year’s Day||January 1st|
|Good Friday||April 10th|
|Easter Friday||April 13th|
|St George’s Day||April 23rd|
|Early May Bank Holiday||May 8th|
|Trooping the Colour||June 11th–17th|
|Spring Bank Holiday||May 25th|
|Summer Bank Holiday||August 31st|
|Bonfire Night||November 5th|
|Christmas Day||December 25th|
|Boxing Day||December 28th|
Unsurprisingly, English is the main language in England, though it is spoken with many different accents throughout the country. England has rich and diverse accents; sometimes unusual for a small island. An accent can change in every town and city. Generally, English accents can be broadly divided into Northern and Southern accents, with natives of Liverpool having a very distinctive accent that is easily distinguishable from that of someone from neighbouring Manchester.
No other languages are widely spoken, but with widespread immigration to England in the past few decades, you might also hear other languages such as Polish, Chinese, German, various South Asian languages or even various African languages being spoken in their respective communities. Cornish is spoken in Cornwall.
When an English person says “Meet me at half five”, they mean “Meet me at 17:30”. If the directions say “go to the top of the road”, that means the end of the road.
Some words mean one thing to Americans and something else entirely to British folks. When an English man says he shared a “fag” with his “mate” that means only that he smoked a cigarette with a friend. If he adds that they also had a “gorgeous” meal, it means it was followed by a nice dinner. If they had a “shag” it means they had sex afterwards. See our English language varieties article for more insights.
Then there are the words unique to British English; a sneaker or tennis shoe, for instance, is called a “trainer.”
Moreover, the diverse history of the country, and the influx of various cultures over the centuries (e.g. Vikings, Normans, Romans, Celtic peoples), have produced a very wide range of accents, and there are still traces of regional dialects (vocabulary and grammar). Do not imitate the accents, you will be perceived as mocking.
An accent will usually reveal where someone was brought up — sometimes to within quite a small area (a criminal was recently caught because his accent on a recorded phone call was traceable to a single neighbourhood). Today, even well-educated professionals are happy to keep their regional accent: the unhappy days when people from outside the South East felt that they had to hide their accent to “get on” have gone. It is now only people who go to public (i.e. private, fee-paying) schools who learn to speak in a “geography-free” way (the “upper-class accent” of colonial rulers, well-known from old British films, or modern parodies). Differences in accent are very real: a visitor who is expecting a particular accent they are familiar with from the cinema or television (perhaps “Dick van Dyke Cockney” or “Hugh Grant Silly Ass Upper Crust”) will usually have to wait a day or two to get really accustomed to the real accents they hear around them. Even English people, familiar with other accents from TV or by knowing neighbours or colleagues who have moved from other areas, can still struggle when far from home. “Geordie”, the accent/dialect of Tyneside, is a famously strong accent when spoken quickly amongst a group of people who do not know that a stranger is trying to tune in. Most people are happy to tone down (or slow down) their accent when a stranger is in difficulty. When encountering a broad Geordie accent it can be quite difficult for someone who is not accustomed to it to understand it, and there are still various dialectic words in common use such as hyem = home, gan/gannin = going, wor = our, divvint = don’t and howay = come on. England is a diverse country, and asking about someone’s accent is often a good way to start a conversation.
Dialects exist, but as a matter of interest, not confusion. People across England would expect to understand anyone from anywhere else in England, because the few everyday dialect words are usually well known from TV. Differences are interesting, but not critical. Some examples from the north of England: “ey up” (“Hello”), “aye” (“yes”, as in Scotland and the North of England); “tha” (“you”, as in thee and thou, still common in South Yorkshire). Real differences are of little consequence these days: for instance, people growing up in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield use “jennel”, “jinnel”, and “ginnel” as the word for a particular type of narrow alley between houses. Other common words are “wee”, “bonnie”, “lass” (small, beautiful and girl, respectively in Scotland).
A few useful words which may help you understand the English (particularly in the Midlands and North): “ta” = thank you, “ta ra/ta ta” = goodbye, “summat/summit/summink” = something, “nowt” = nothing, “owt” = “anything”, “dunna/dunno” = don’t know, “canna/cannit = cannot.
Be prepared to have to use English to make yourself understood. Few people here speak a second language fluently. However, most people were taught one second or third language (usually French, German, Italian, Spanish) at school, and may remember enough to be willing to help a stranger in difficulties (if they can get over the embarrassment of being seen to “show off”).
Because of immigration, especially from Commonwealth countries, many languages are spoken in the big cities. There are also smaller places where particular languages are common. Expect to hear (and even see signs in) Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Gujarati, Polish, Italian, Greek, Turkish and varieties of Arabic. Because of links with Hong Kong, many Chinese people live here (London and Manchester have thriving communities, and Liverpool has one of the oldest Chinese communities in Europe). Modern and ancient languages are compulsory taught in schools from the ages of seven. Immigrant languages are widely spoken in some ethnic minority communities. These are mainly Arabic, South Asian languages, African languages, and Polish, Lithuanian, Russian.
Another English peculiarity is the use of terms of endearment for strangers such as “darling”, “pet”, “love”, “hun”, “duck”, “bab”, “mate”, “sweetheart”, “flower”, “queen” and a few others. It can be confusing, or perhaps even embarrassing, for somebody who is not accustomed to this to be called “darling” by a total stranger; however, this is something which is nowadays mainly used by the older generation and found less in the younger generation although some younger males may call a woman “Darlin” this is usually either as a form of cat calling (and can often be followed by derogatory demands or language but is often harmless) or directed towards a female friend.
You will hear English people say “sorry”. This is not down to guilt or self-consciousness but simply because it is synonymous with “excuse me”, and is used to get somebody’s attention. Alternatively it can be synonymous with “pardon”. Any comments along the lines of “What are you sorry about?” are pointless, and even perceived as rude.
From outside Great Britain
Since England is on an island, it is not possible to drive directly into England from outside Great Britain. Motorists have two choices to enter England from outside Great Britain, by various car ferry routes, or the Channel Tunnel.
See “by boat” for further details.
From elsewhere in Great Britain
A number of roads cross England’s borders with its British neighbours. These roads range from the simple country lanes to motorways. There are no border controls with Scotland or Wales; indeed, on smaller roads the border may not be noticed at all.
There are no tolls to cross into England; however, motorists need to be aware that crossing from England into Wales via the M4 and M48 Severn Bridges will need to pay a toll. Also, there is a M6 toll road to bypass the congestion of Birmingham (England’s second largest city) on the main M6 motorway.
The most important road connections into and out of England are.
- A1 from Edinburgh to Eastern Scotland
- M4 from South Wales
- M74/A74/M6 from Western Scotland
- A55 from North Wales.
England has numerous airports:
London and the South East
The South West
- Manchester International  – largest UK airport outside London
- Liverpool John Lennon 
- Newcastle International 
- Leeds-Bradford 
- Doncaster Sheffield Airport 
- Humberside International 
- Durham Tees Valley 
- Blackpool 
Eurostar  operates regular high-speed trains to London at St Pancras International.
Trains run from Paris, France and Brussels, Belgium (via Lille and Calais) crossing into England via the Channel Tunnel (and often stopping at either Ebbsfleet or Ashford) before continuing to St. Pancras Station in London. Occasional services run from other destinations in France. Book as early as possible as fares can be considerably more expensive if trying to book at the last minute. While it can be cheaper to fly to London using a low-cost airline, bear in mind that the journeys to and from the airports can be expensive and time-consuming, and high-speed is easily the most environmentally friendly way to travel.
Passengers travelling by Eurostar to the UK from Paris, Lille, Calais and Brussels undergo UK passport/identity card checks before boarding. Passengers from all other destinations go through security checks in Lille, which unfortunately involves disembarking from the train and physically passing through customs.
The UK passport checks take place after the French/Belgian passport/identity card exit checks in the stations. However, UK customs checks sometimes also take place on arrival in the UK. In the reverse direction, passengers go through French immigration checks before boarding the train in the UK, and do not usually have to go through the checks again when arriving in France or Belgium.
From Wales and Scotland regular services cross the borders into England.
There are three principal types of rail pass available to visitors to the UK which permit inclusive rail travel throughout the UK.
- InterRail passes are available for EU citizens: Interrail Great Britain for travel in England, Scotland and Wales.
- Britrail passes can be purchased for travel in England, Scotland and Wales by any non-UK resident online or in their home nation before departing for the UK.
Britrail Passes are also available to non-UK citizens which allow the traveller unlimited rail travel in England on one ticket. Wikitravel has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.
With so much coastline and so many ports, England has extensive shipping links with many countries worldwide. Major ports are Dover, Folkestone, Harwich, Hull, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, Liverpool, Ipswich and Newcastle. See Ferry routes to British Mainland.
There are many ferry routes into the England from continental Europe. Newcastle serves a route from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Harwich has ferries from the Hook of Holland in the Netherlands. You can also sail from Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Zeebrugge in Belgium to Hull. There is a regular connection between Ostend in Belgium and Ramsgate. There are 4 sailings a day and prices vary between €50 and €84. Dover is the UK’s busiest ferry port with sailings from Zeebrugge in Belgium, and Dunkirk 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 Calais and Dover costs around €23 each way if on foot or bicycle, and around €50 for a car, although big discounts are available if booked in advance or with special offers. Passengers travelling from Calais or Dunkirk by ferry to the UK go through British immigration control after French exit checks and before boarding; UK customs checks are still after arrival in the UK.
If you’re visiting the Cardiff area in Wales during the summer, then there is the opportunity to sail to the West Somerset/ North Devon resorts such as Minehead, Ilfracombe, Bideford and Lundy Island across the Bristol Channel (the funnel shaped stretch of water that separates the coasts of Wales and the West Country) via the paddle steamers the Waverly and Balmoral (usually Penarth just to the west of Cardiff). This is highly recommended for a few reasons – firstly, the M5, the main route into the West Country is a busy road that is very easily prone to snarl ups – sitting on a hot summers day in a car stuck in traffic on the M5 is frustrating to say the least. Secondly, the journey from Penarth to Ilfracombe on a warm summers day, you can get to see a sea-going perspective of Minehead, Porlock, the picture postcard villages of Lynton and Lynmouth, the wild and raw Valley of the Rocks and the majestic “Great Hangman”, a 1043 feet hogback hill with a cliff face of 820 feet making it the highest cliff in Southern England. Heading west from Ilfracombe to Lundy Island is an opportunity to see the majestic Bay of Naples styled curve of Bideford Bay with the magnificent surf beaches of Woolacombe, Staunton and Westward Ho! in all their glory.
England has a dense and modern transportation infrastructure. The Department for Transport is the government department responsible for the English transport network. The London Underground is the oldest and longest rapid transit system in the world.
Please note that you can also find information on our Rail travel in the United Kingdom article.
Travelling by train is one of the fastest, most comfortable, convenient and enjoyable ways to explore Britain. From High Speed 1, which connects London to Kent and under the English Channel to mainland Europe, to preserved railways operating historic steam trains through idyllic countryside, to bustling modern commercial centres and small unspoiled villages, to the breathtakingly scenic lines of Scotland, the train can be an enthralling and affordable way to see all that the UK has to offer. In the last financial year ending in April 2014, 1.59 billion passenger journeys were made across Great Britain.
England has one of the highest densities of railway lines per square mile in the world. There has been much improvement and investment in recent years to the railway network and rolling stock but delays and cancellations do occasionally occur. It is very easy to find train stations in the UK, as National Rail uses the historic British Rail double-arrow logo which is displayed prominently at all stations, and on road signs. You can access a train easily from London to many British tourist sites. Pedestrian signs in cities and towns will also usually have the logo on display.
The UK operates two rail networks for the two islands it inhabits. In Great Britain, the National Rail network covers some 34,000km (21,000 miles) covering most of England, Scotland and Wales, from Penzance in Cornwall to Thurso in the far north of Scotland and including over 2,600 stations. Train travel is very popular in Britain, with many services busy and passenger numbers rising steadily every year, with the UK having one of the safest railways in the world.
Most trains are modern, comfortable and accessible to people with disabilities. Following major investment in the past ten years, all are fairly new or have been comprehensively refurbished within that time. An achievement of British Rail which is still in place today is that you can purchase a through-ticket from any station in Great Britain to any other station, including whatever changes of train, operating companies or even London Underground connections are needed. It must be noted however that whilst individual companies may offer very cheap tickets for their own services, a through ticket using different companies’ trains may often be very expensive even for the same journey.
Steam trains and preserved railways are enjoyed for their own sake at least as much as they are used as a means of transport. Most areas will boast a volunteer-run railway using steam traction especially during the summer months. Famous full-gauge railways include the Bluebell Line in Sussex, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway in Yorkshire, while the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway in Cumbria are few strong examples of narrow-gauge railways now primarily used for tourism.
Buses are numerous, frequent and reliable in most of the larger towns and cities and an ideal way of getting around. Rural areas are less well served and hiring a car is often the best option to explore the countryside and villages.
The vast majority of bus stops are “request stops”, meaning that you must put your arm out as the bus approaches to signal that you want it to stop. Likewise once on the bus, you must ring the bell in advance of the stop you want to get off at. The majority of bus services, especially in urban areas, are fully accessible for disabled travellers, with either low floors or the use of a ramp facilitating access for wheelchair users. On-board there is space for pushchairs and wheelchairs.
There are taxi firms everywhere (many are by booking only – find the phone number of the local company and phone ahead), and every town has a bus service. ‘Black Cabs’ are also common in cities and can be hailed from the side of the road.
Sometimes in city centres, usually just after the nightclubs have closed, there will be queue for taxis which will sometimes be monitored by marshals or police. To be safe, make sure you take a registered taxi or black cab; despite government action these do have a reputation for being unsafe, particularly if you are a woman.
Unlike most of Europe, England drives on the left. Most cars in the UK are manual transmission, and car rental companies will allocate you a manual transmission car unless you specifically ask for an automatic when you make a reservation. Renting an automatic version of the same car will cost more. The Government offers advice on driving with a non-UK licence. Most hire companies will check your driver’s licence before you are able to hire a car.
The roads are of generally excellent quality (although can deteriorate in rural areas, with cheap materials often used to repair the roads). Potholes are repaired cheaply using a method called patching.
Care should be taken on rural and minor roads, some of which are extremely narrow, winding and poorly marked, while many are two-way roads and only wide enough for one car, meaning a meeting situation can be unpleasant. The signs and markings on most roads are clear, though roundabouts make traffic slow to a crawl during “rush hour”.
The main problem with driving in England is the sheer volume of traffic on the roads. Unfortunately this is not only limited to rush hours and large cities, and even cross-country motorways can slow to a stop as they pass urban areas. Prepare for travel times being longer than you’d normally anticipate in relation to the mileage. The speed limit, unless otherwise stated, is 30 or 40 mph in built-up areas, 50 or 60 mph (approx. 95 km/h) elsewhere and 70 mph (approx. 110 km/h) on motorways and other controlled-access roads. Speed cameras and traffic police are numerous, so caution is advised.
The traditional British ‘reserve’ and politeness may occasionally dissolve under the stress of congestion on the major routes, especially with the traffic problems in some of England’s larger cities, but generally driving around Britain is an enjoyable experience and it is polite to acknowledge the courtesy of another driver with a nod or the raising of the hand as a form of thank you. Drivers will often flash their headlights to indicate that you are clear to pull out, or otherwise to give way to you, and it is considered polite to say thank you by giving a wave or a quick flash of your headlights. However, be prepared for drivers who do not agree with speed limits, especially newly created ones on roads where, for example, the limit has been lowered from 60 to 30 after campaigns from locals. Even if you are driving at the posted limit, there is a chance you will be overtaken, and this will be more frequent if you have a sticker in your back window stating that you’ll be sticking to it. Drivers with this attitude often spend ages driving close behind you, as a means to make you increase speed, even if it means breaking the law. Ignore them and maintain your speed; you are in the right.
Flashing your hazards (ie, both indicators at the same time) is only used as an indication of danger. Usually it’s used to indicate that the car is broken down, or to warn other drivers of a hazard up ahead. But flashing your hazards a couple of times is another way of saying thank you. Brown and white road signs indicate nearby tourist attractions, and the blue i sign denotes Tourist Information.
England isn’t as bicycle-friendly as some other European countries, but it’s still a great way to get around. You’ll see a lot more from a bicycle, have the freedom to stop wherever you want, with no parking headaches and, once you’ve got the bicycle there is nothing to pay. It is unquestionably the fastest way around London and other major cities – it does have its dangers but it’s well worth the risk. There are many lovely cycle paths where you can avoid the traffic and soak in the cityscape or countryside. Rough examples of journey times at moderate speed: Buckingham Palace to Tower Bridge: 20 minutes; Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle: 2 hours; Central London to Oxford: 5 hours. A national online route planner can be found at Cycle Streets.
You can hire a bicycle from some local bicycle shops, or purchase a decent one privately for between £0-100 second-hand, as the UK has a surplus of old bicycles. You must use lights if you plan to ‘cycle after dark, and can be fined by the police for failing to do so. A front white light and red rear light are required. Flashing LED lights or bulb based bike lights both meet the legal requirements. Helmets aren’t compulsory. A decent lock is also essential, particularly in the cities, where bicycle theft is a common problem.
Some of the London Underground trains and all London Overground accept bicycles outside peak hours. Local buses and trams do not accept them. Mainline and suburban trains allow bicycles but normally have restrictions during peak hours on busy services. Policies vary from compulsory reservation of bicycle space to no bicycle during peak hours – its best to check with each rail operator or on the national rail web site for restrictions that could impact your planned journey. Folding bikes may travel at any time, as long as they are collapsed completely. Long distance coaches will normally let you on with a bicycle, as long as they’re not too full. Arrive early for coaches so you get a space in the luggage hold.
By bus tour operator
There are many tour operators in England, which can take you around the country with no stress. There are options from budget larger groups in coaches to smaller group tours in luxury mini-coaches. The guides may provide an insight into English history and culture that you may not be able to learn on your own.
Rabbie’s small group tours. Phone: +44(0) 131 226 3133 (lines open from 07:30 to 22:00 daily). The company provide tours of England’s tourist hotspots, such as the Lake District and the beaches of Cornwall, as well as taking you to off the beaten track attractions. They allow you travel without stress and take you to places that are harder to discover on your own, all with local guides. Tours include one day tours of Oxford and the Cotwold villages to an eight day London to Edinburgh adventure. Tours departing all year and daily departures in peak season from Edinburgh and London.
The Houses of Parliament and London Eye on the River Thames. The Royal Crescent, Bath, is a popular tourist destination in the county of Somerset.
London is the start and finish point for most international tourists. It offers countless museums and historical attractions and museums. It is considered a global center for the arts, culture and financial business sector. One of the world’s most visited cities, London has something for everyone: from history and culture to fine food and exceedingly good times.
To truly experience England, however, you must venture out of the hustle and bustle of the capital and see what the rest of England has to offer. You will find the rest of England very different to its capital city; indeed, if you only visit London, you haven’t seen ‘England’ – you’ve seen one city that bears few similarities with the rest of the country.
If short on time, you may find it more convenient to base yourself in a regional city and take day trips to the National Parks, coast and smaller towns. If you have plenty of time, then you could base yourself in a B&B (Bed and Breakfast) in any of the above. You will find that public transport to and within cities and large towns is completely acceptable, but that in smaller places off the beaten track then you should research your journey carefully, or consider hiring a car. Many of the most visited tourist spots of England are accessed via taking a train journey from London. Popular places to visit include the counties of Yorkshire in the East, and Cornwall in the South West of England, the National Parks listed above, and the historic cities such as York, Bath, Durham and Lincoln.
If short on time, then it is possible to use larger cities as a base for day trips, either by train or coach. For example Leeds, the largest city in Yorkshire makes a great base for day trips to the Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire Moors, York and Whitby, whilst offering its own selection of attractions such as the Royal Armories, famed nightlife, theatre and designer shopping in stunning Victorian arcades. Similarly Liverpool, as well as being a popular city break destination in itself with its Beatles heritage and maritime attractions, is centrally located for day trips to the Lake District, North Wales, and Yorkshire. The former industrial powerhouse has had to regenerate and now is a popular student city as well as a popular tourist stop.
Plymouth makes a good base for exploring Dartmoor, whilst allowing day trips to Cornwall and offering its own range of attractions and museums. Bristol, the West Country’s largest city makes for a very enjoyable weekend break. Although until recently overlooked by other Southern English cities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Brighton, Bristol has come into its own thanks to its leftfield attitude, laid back easy going groove, the West Country’s largest shopping complex, and above all its stunningly creative and brilliant music scene (a back catalogue containing the likes of Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky). Although Bristol doesn’t have any specific sights (apart from the Clifton Suspension Bridge), it’s a city to just browse and glide through at your leisure and soak up the mellow, amiable vibe of Britain’s most relaxed and laid back city.
The prestigious university towns of Oxford and Cambridge are popular tourist spots, and a short train ride from London. In the city of dreaming spires you can admire Oxford’s ancient and medieval colleges, explore museums such as the Ashmolean Museum or Pitt Rivers Museum and go punting along the college and town riveraways. Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and an 18th century stately home and landscape garden, is also a popular spot from the city. Oxford is surrounded around pretty countryside, hills and gardens. Cambridge is a popular tourist spot for countryside air and bucolic riverside walks as well as ancient colleges, punting, gardens, shops and museums. It is also known as a cycle friendly city.
York in Yorkshire is another growing tourist spot. Famous for its Viking and Roman roots, the medieval city hosts several tours throughout its well preserved medieval center. The city also houses the beautiful York Minster; the biggest cathedral in all Northern Europe, the extensive city walls, occupying 21.5 hectares, its ghost walks and spooky stories, the historic Shambles, gardens and museums. Castle Howard, near York, is a magnificent historic house in the north of England with ornate interiors, landscaped gardens.
In Kent, Canterbury is a popular tourist spot. Canterbury has been a European pilgrimage site of major importance for over 800 years since the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. Today it is one of the most beautiful and historic cities in England. Westgate Towers, for example, is the one of the main gates to the ancient walled city and, at nearly 640 years old, is England’s largest medieval gateway. Top rated attractions include Canterbury Cathedral, The Old City, The Canterbury Tales, Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Westgate Towers Museum & Viewpoint, and other gardens and museums.
If you have a little longer, you may be able to spend a week more locally based, for example staying in Ambleside in the Lake District. If you want white sand beaches, turquoise sea, Arthurian atmosphere and a raw, misty eyed Celtic landscape head to the West Country coastline of Devon and Cornwall – particularly, the magnificent surf blasted beaches of North Devon’s Bideford Bay and King Arthur’s birthplace in North Cornwall’s Atlantic coastline (Bude, Tintagel, Padstow, Polzeath etc).
England, together with the other parts of Britain, was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th to 20th centuries. Though many industries were shut down in the late 20th century, there is still much to see of Industrial Britain; mines, factories, and heritage railways.
A number of ‘umbrella’ organisations are devoted to the preservation and public access of both natural and cultural heritage. Membership with them, even on a temporary basis, means priority free access to their properties thereafter – travellers to England seeking to see a large number of sights would do well to join one or more of them:
English Heritage has an especially wide-ranging remit and manages more than 400 significant buildings and Monuments in England. They also maintain a register of thousands of “listed” buildings , those which are considered of most importance to the historic and cultural heritage of the country.
A blue plaque, the oldest historical marker scheme in the world, is a permanent sign installed in a public place in England to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event.
The English enjoy a wide variety of sports.
- Football is the most popular sport in England, with the English Premier League being one of Europe’s premier domestic competitions. Moreover, England is also home to the FA Cup, the oldest football tournament in the world.
- Rugby is also popular in England, with Union being the more popular code in the south, and League being the more popular code in the north. Thus, the code which the unqualified term “rugby” refers to depends on which part of the country you are in.
- Cricket is a popular sport during the summer. The main event on the cricket calendar is The Ashes, which is a series of five matches played regularly between Australia and England, with both countries taking turns to host the series.
- Tennis is a popular sport during the summer. The main event on the cricket calendar is Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is widely regarded as the most prestigious.
- Boat racing is a popular. Since 1829 an annual rowing race between the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club, rowed between men’s and women’s open-weight eights on the River Thames, has taken place. It is also known as the University Boat Race and the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.
World Heritage Sites
17 of the 25 United Kingdom’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in England. Some of the best known of these include Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, Tower of London, Jurassic Coast, Westminster, Roman Baths in Bath, Saltaire, Ironbridge Gorge, and Studley Royal Park.
The northernmost point of the Roman Empire, Hadrian’s Wall, is the largest Roman artefact anywhere: it runs a total of 73 miles in northern England.
Museums and galleries
Victoria and Albert Museum in London
Unlike other countries, state-run museums and places of cultural interest are free of charge to visit for visitors. The objectives of the policy were simple and clear – to provide universal freeadmission to the permanent collections of national museums and to broaden the range of visitors.
This include widely renowned museums in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Oxford, Cambridge and almost every English city and town. It is estimated that there are about 2,500 museums in the UK, depending on what you include. Almost 1,800 museums have been accredited. Some of the most visited museums are:
- British Museum
- Tate Modern
- National Gallery
- Natural History Museum
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Science Museum
- Royal Museums Greenwich
- Tate Britain
- Ashmolean Museum
- Walking/hiking – England has many places for walking in the country, which may be called hillwalking or fellwalking in some areas. The Lake District and Peak District are some of the places for more serious walks – see also the itinerary Hikes in the Lake District. The Pennine Way (463km) and Coast To Coast Walk (309km) are the best-known long-distance walks. There are public footpaths and public bridleways all over the country, and most areas of open land are now generally designated for unlimited access (more noticeably in upland areas). People have the right to walk along these and local councils are obliged to maintain records of the routes and keep access open, but do not maintain the paths. Paths are usually signposted where they meet a road, but may not be marked across fields. The paths are shown on the Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25000) and Landranger (1:50000) maps. Enquire locally for details of the best walks, and what kit (boots, waterproofs, etc.) you will need.
- Beaches Cornwall and Devon have some spectacular natural beaches that would rival those of Australia and California, although they are often much colder.
The currency in England is the Pound (£) (more properly called the Pound Sterling, but this is not used in everyday speech), divided into 100 pence (p, pronounced ‘pee’). Euros are generally not accepted, except in very rare circumstances. If you are travelling from continental Europe, you should change your Euros into Pound Sterling. Note that although Bank of England notes are accepted all over the United Kingdom, you may have trouble with using Northern Irish and Scottish notes in England due to shop staff being unfamiliar with them.
ATMs, which are often known in the UK as Cashpoints or cash machines are very widely available and usually dispense £10, £20 and sometimes £5 notes. Traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at most banks. Be aware: some non-bank ATMs (easily identified, sometimes kiosk-style units, as opposed to fixed units in walls, and often at petrol/gas stations and convenience stores) charge a fixed fee for withdrawing money, and your home bank may as well. On average the cost is about £1.75 per withdrawal, but the machine will always inform you of this and allow you to cancel the transaction.
Compared to the the bulk of the continent, the use of internationally-branded payment cards is much easier and ubiquitous in England. Visa, Mastercard, Maestro and American Express are accepted by most shops and restaurants, although American Express is sometimes not accepted by smaller independent establishments, and it is worth asking if unsure, especially if there are long queues. Internet purchases from a UK-based merchant (particularly in the travel industry) with a credit card however may incur a 2-2.5% surcharge (this does not apply to a debit card, even those with a Visa or Mastercard logo). Since February 14, 2006, Chip and PIN has become nearly compulsory, with few 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 or the machine is having difficulty reading the card. When one has to sign for a debit/credit card transaction, the merchants in England are more particular about verifying the signature than elsewhere.
Credit cards are accepted in most shops and restaurants. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted, though debit cards with the Maestro logo are also taken. American Express cards are accepted in fewer establishments, but most restaurants will accept it. Credit cards with a Chip and PIN have become nearly compulsory. Credit card agreements mostly require merchants to accept cards with a swipe and signature, however, it is wise to carry enough cash in case the retailer does not comply.
One thing to keep in mind is that due to credit card surcharges, some establishments and shops will only allow cards to be used (including debit cards) over £5 or £10.
Although shopping in England 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. England has a rich history of independent shops and small business, so much so England was called a nation of shopkeepers by Napoleon. 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. The retail market in the UK is a very competitive one and many bargains are to be had all year round. In the electronics sector, for example, it is becoming more and more common to ask for a price reduction at time of purchase.
Located at the heart of London’s West End, Regent Street is one of the world’s most prestigious lifestyle destinations, famous for its flagship stores and international brands. Side view of Berry Bros & Rudd Wine Merchants, 3 St James’s Street, London SW1.
VAT (Value Added Tax – a mandatory tax on almost all goods and services in the UK) is 20% with reduced rates of 5% and 0% applying to specific categories of goods (foodstuffs and most books, for example, are taxed at 0%). For all consumer shopping, VAT is included in the sale price – so unlike the United States for example, the price you see is the price you pay. The exception to this rule are most industrial goods – where VAT is quoted separately (by law the term “ex VAT” must be displayed next to the sales price), but tourists are unlikely to ever be exposed to this.
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 European Union (not just the UK), you can claim back at least some of the VAT before you leave the country. However, in order to do this, you must keep any receipts you receive from your purchase and request a voucher from the store. Minimum purchase amounts at a store before claiming back VAT would normally start at £30.
Electronic items such as computers and digital cameras can be cheaper here than many European countries (especially Scandinavian countries). 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. Plastic bags cost a minimum of 5p each from all large chains across the nation.
Beware of shopping on Sundays as some retailers only operate limited hours. Limited Sunday hours are in fact actually mandated by law (maximum of 6 hours in England) although in cities like London, if you entered the shop before closing you might still be able to complete the transaction after closing. Keep this in mind when planning shopping trips. Smaller corner convenience stores (eg Tesco Express or Sainsbury’s Local) are not covered by this and will normally operate late into Sunday. In England supermarkets are required by law to remain closed two days a year; Easter Sunday and Christmas Day.
The range of products in English supermarket stores is very diverse. The main supermarkets include Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Morrisons, Lidi, Marks & Spencers, Sainsbury’s and the The Co-operative. You will find aisles of English and international foods in all supermarkets. In England, many retail stores are open every day. Some large supermarkets are open for twenty-four hours (except on Sundays). Most stores do not open on Easter Sunday, New Year’s Day or Christmas Day and have reduced hours on other public and bank holidays. Typical store shopping hours: Mondays – Saturdays: 9:00 am to 5:30 pm, or 10:00 am to 8:00 pm/10:00 pm Sundays – 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, or 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, or 12 noon to 6:00 pm.
England has traditional dishes famous the world over from Beef Wellington and Steak and Kidney Pie to the humble sandwich. However, a modern English meal is just as likely to be Lasagne or Chicken Tikka Masala, with the traditional Italian and Indian meals taking on a decidely English flavour. The English are great adopters of other countries’ cuisines.
There are many low-quality establishments and mediocre chain restaurants, and the motorway services can often still manage to produce food that is barely edible, however, you can generally expect pubs and restaurants to provide interesting and well-presented meals.
A meal out is the usual way to celebrate a special family event, and people expect the meal to live up to the occasion. Cooking programmes are now among the most popular on the television, supermarkets have turned many previously unknown foods into everyday items, and Farm Shops and Farmers’ Markets have surprised all the commentators by becoming extremely popular weekend leisure destinations where people can buy excellent English meat, cheeses, fruit, breads and vegetables.
Traditional English food and dishes can include:
Deep-fried, battered fish (usually cod or haddock, though with a wider selection in some areas) with rather thick chips, always made from real chunks of potato rather than thin tubes of extruded mashed potato. Fish and chips are often served with mushy peas (in England), and dressed with salt and malt vinegar (or ‘Sauce’ in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland). “Proper” (authentic, for-the-masses) fish and chips can be bought only from either a backstreet “chippy” or a specialist fish and chip restaurant (the latter are mostly at the seaside.
The Pie is a central part of English Cooking. Coming with many different fillings, Steak & Kidney, Chicken & Ham, being two popular options of many. Can be served made with either Puff or Shortcrust pastry and eaten hot or cold.
The Sunday Roast is a traditional English main meal that is typically served on Sunday (hence the name), consisting of roasted meat, roast potatoes or mashed potatoes, and accompaniments such as Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, gravy and mint sauce. It is available between lunchtime and early evening in virtually any English pub serving food. Quality will vary greatly depending on how freshly cooked the food is (home cooked is invariably better).
Yorkshire pudding is a common English side dish, a baked pudding made from a batter of eggs, flour, and milk or water. A batter pudding served with a roast (usually beef); originally used instead of a plate and eaten with the meal. Giant version often appears on (not very refined) pub menus as a main meal item, with a “filling” (Giant Yorkshire Pudding filled with beef stew).
Toad in the hole or Sausage Toad is a traditional English dish consisting of sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter, usually served with onion gravy and vegetables.
Steak and kidney pie is a savoury pie that is filled principally with a mixture of diced beef, diced kidney (often of beef, lamb, or pork), fried onion, and brown gravy. Steak and kidney pie is a representative dish of British cuisine.
Lancashire hotpot is a stew originating from Lancashire in the North West of England. A hearty vegetable and meat stew from Lancashire, It consists of lamb or mutton and onion, topped with sliced potatoes and baked in a heavy pot on a low heat.
A pasty is a baked pastry, a traditional variety of which is particularly associated with Cornwall. It is made by placing an uncooked filling, typically meat and vegetables, on one half of a flat shortcrust pastry circle, folding the pastry in half to wrap the filling in a semicircle and crimping the curved edge to form a seal before baking.
A full breakfast is a substantial cooked breakfast meal, often served in the United Kingdom and Ireland, that typically includes bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, baked beans, tomatoes and mushrooms, toast, and a beverage such as coffee or tea. It appears in different regional variants and is referred to by different names depending on the area. While it is colloquially known as a “fry up” in most areas, it is usually referred to as a full English breakfast in England (often shortened to “full English”). Typically, the English perceive the ‘fry-up’ (as it is known) as a suitable meal to consume when hungover after a night of drinking or as a weekend treat. Any inexpensive café (of the type with day-glo price stickers in the window, and whose name is pronounced “caff” in Northern England) will have “all-day breakfast” on the menu (for the finest examples, look for the EBCB website).
A ploughman’s lunch is an English cold meal based around bread, cheese, and onions, usually accompanied by butter and pickles. Additional items such as ham, green salad, hard boiled eggs, and apple can be added. As its name suggests, it is most commonly eaten at lunchtime, is particularly associated with pubs, and often accompanied with beer.
Pubs are a good place to get reasonably priced food, though most stop serving food at around 9-9:30PM. Others may stop serving food between lunch and dinner. Pub food has become quite sophisticated in recent years and as well as serving the more traditional hearty English fare, more exotic dishes are now prepared in the majority of the larger pubs and specialist “gastropubs”.
English food has recently undergone a revolution with many larger cities having award-winning restaurants run by the many ‘famous’ TV chefs who have now become part of the English obsession with food. Eating out at a high-quality restaurant can be an expensive experience: at the very top end (Michelin Star level) expect to pay £100 per head including wine. A decent three-course meal out at a respectable restaurant will normally cost around £30-£40 per head including wine.
If good quality and cheaply priced food is more your choice, try one of the many ethnic restaurants such as Chinese, Asian or Mexican. Eating a curry or balti in an Indian restaurant is tantamount to an English obsession. These restaurants are found everywhere — even the larger villages have them — and usually the food is of good quality and they will cater for most tastes. A good curry with side dishes can be had for around £10-15 per head, and some without liquor licences allow you to bring your own alcoholic beverages in. Eating a curry out is a social occasion and often you will find the men try to challenge their own taste buds to a duel, opting for spicier curries than they find comfortable! In the towns and cities these restaurants are usually open late (especially on a Friday and Saturday night) to cater for people eating after the pubs have closed. It is at this time that they can get very busy and lively, so if you want to avoid the crowds then visit the restaurants before the local pubs shut.
Unlike many other European countries, vegetarian (and to a lesser extent, vegan) food is widely available and appreciated in pubs and restaurants with several dishes usually appearing on the menu alongside the more normal meat and fish options. However, vegetarians may still find the variety of dishes rather limited – particularly in pubs, where certain dishes such as “veggie” lasagne or mushroom stroganoff feature all too regularly.
The English take food hygiene very seriously; all pubs and restaurants receive regular hygiene inspections by the Food Standards Agency. It is responsible for protecting public health in relation to food in England. Restaurants and pubs are required by law to display their hygiene inspection rating. The scheme gives businesses a rating from 5 to 0 which is displayed at their premises and online so you can make more informed choices about where to buy and eat food.
Tipping is not expected in Britain the way it is in some other countries; however for the majority of people tipping in some circumstances is customary as a sign of appreciation. Workers do not officially have to rely on their tips to live, and all staff in England must be paid the National Minimum Wage and in some cases the National Living Wage. Sometimes, more often in London than in other areas, or at expensive restaurants, a service charge may be included in the bill, or added separately. 12.5% is reported as a common amount.
There are over 700 varieties of cheese produced in England. For a complete list of English cheeses and where they’re made, consult the British Cheese Board website. Most traditional English cheeses are made with cow’s milk, but the foodie revolution that has developed in England since the 1990s has increased the popularity of buffalo and goat’s cheeses.
Everyone is aware of the cheddar you can buy from the supermarket almost anywhere in the world, but this is nothing like the real thing named after the village of Cheddar in Somerset. There are many excellent small cheese shops in south west England where you can purchase the biting taste of a real mature cheddar, and one of the dozens of other varieties made in the region. Somerset is also famous for its brie, which at least in some circles is counted on a par with the French original. Further west, Cornish yarg is wrapped in nettles to mature; the result is soft and creamy on the outside, and crumbly in the middle.
Do not miss the chance to try stilton, the so-called “king of (English) cheeses”, which has a slightly sharp taste. Although named after a town in Cambridgeshire, it actually originates from Leicestershire; the town of Melton Mowbray is a good place to shop. Staying in the East Midlands, for a cheese of a different colour look out for sage Derby. The titular herb results in veins of green marbling and a very attractive, if unusual-looking, cheese. Head to the Yorkshire Dales for Wallace and Gromit’s favourite snack, wensleydale, which comes in several varieties. The original version is very pale, and can be made to contain cranberries or apricots. There are also mature, extra mature, oak-smoked and blue varieties.
Every English county has at least one local cheese, but some are much easier to locate than others. Whereas those mentioned above, plus double Gloucester, red Leicester, Cheshire and some others are readily available nationwide, many cheeses are sold only by specialist merchants in the areas they are made. Good places to look are delicatessens, farm shops and street markets. Cheese-lovers visiting London should check out Neal’s Yard Dairy, who sell a huge variety of English farm cheeses from their shop in Covent Garden.
For dishes, a ploughman’s lunch at a country pub with cheese, pickles and crusty bread is part of tasting rural English culture, and has been enjoyed since at least the 13th century. This is of course best consumed with a pint of the local tipple, usually cider in the Westcountry and beer elsewhere. A cheese board of different varieties of cheese served with crackers (biscuits made to accompany cheese) and grapes is also great as a snack, or as a course of a meal. You can expect at least two English cheeses, one of which will invariably be cheddar or stilton, and at least one foreign cheese, most likely French. Mac and cheese may have taken on decidedly American connotations, but the dish started life in England, and is still enjoyed today as macaroni cheese. Another common dish is cauliflower cheese, which is exactly what it sounds like. Visitors to the North East ought to look out for pan haggerty, a warming meal with a base of melted cheese, potatoes and onions which can contain almost any other ingredient from the soil or the sea.
The traditional drinking establishment is the “pub” (short for “public house”). These are normally named after local landmarks or events, and most will have a heraldic (or pseudo-heraldic) symbol on the sign outside; more recent establishments may poke fun of this tradition (e.g. “The Queen’s Head” featuring a portrait of Freddie Mercury, lead singer for the rock band Queen). England seems to have an incredible number of pubs. While in a city you are usually not more than a 5 min walk from any pub.
The pub is an English institution, though a declining one. Tastes are changing, smoking has been banned inside pubs, beer is ever cheaper in supermarkets, drink-driving is taboo, and pub landlords are often squeezed by sharp practice by the big firms which supply beers, and which also own many pub buildings.
There are many different kinds of pub. Some are traditional ‘locals’, and a real part of the community. In most neighbourhood pubs you will find all generations mingling together, which often gives patrons a feeling of community. It would not be uncommon to see three generations of one family congregating in a neighbourhood pub. Nevertheless, pubs can vary widely in character. Depending on the area, you can find a warm and friendly welcome, or drunken youths spoiling for a fight.
However, pubs are becoming more and more specialized. In city centres, many have been taken over by big chains; some are soulless, some are moderately pleasant. Some independent pubs have become wine bars or cocktail bars; perhaps the least pleasant are those pubs which pack in customers on their way to a nightclub, with loud music, no space, and super-cheap spirits to make sure their clients are as drunk as possible by 11pm.
However, many pubs are evolving in a more healthy direction. There are now many pubs which pride themselves on serving ‘real ales’ – beer brewed on a smaller scale to traditional English methods and recipes. Any visiting beer lover should track these down. Many pubs, both in the countryside and in cities, have moved towards serving good food. And while most pubs will serve food, it’s in these ‘gastropubs’ that you’ll find well-prepared food, generally a mixture of traditional English dishes and international influences. The prices will tend to match.
Pubs have a little of their own etiquette. At any proper pub, service is always at the bar. It’s polite to strike up a conversation with anyone else who is standing or sitting at the bar. And if someone buys you a drink, you will be expected to ‘stand your round’ later on, buying for whoever you’re drinking with. If you’re planning to leave promptly, or don’t have enough money, then you should politely decline the offer.
Although traditional pub licensing laws severely restricted their hours of operation, laws enacted in 2005 allow pubs to request more flexible opening hours. Few pubs have requested anywhere near the “24 hour drinking” that is theoretically possible: as a general rule more traditional pubs will close at 11PM still. Some of the more trendy bars will close nearer to 1AM, filling a niche in the market between traditional pub and nightclub. However in most cities and many towns, centrally located pubs and bars will stay open anytime from 2AM till 6AM, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Also, at public holiday times, many pubs extend their closing times — especially New Year’s Eve.
British people usually follow a kind of unwritten code of conduct when in pubs, though types of venue can vary dramatically, ranging from a ‘local’ pub, usually a quiet place consisting of one or two rooms, to a chain pub such as J.D. Wetherspoons which are very large rooms capable of holding hundreds of people.
- Don’t tap money on the bar surface to attract the barman’s attention.
- Tipping is not a tradition in most pubs and you should take all of your change. Regular customers who have a relationship with the staff will offer to buy the landlord, or bar worker, a drink. They may say something like this: “A pint of Best, landlord, and one for yourself.” The landlord will often keep the money rather than have too much to drink. However, you are not obliged to do this yourself.
- Especially in a ‘local’ pub, keep your voice down and avoid drawing attention to yourself.
- It might be best to avoid heated debates about controversial subjects (E.g. Brexit) in pubs and bars; if others get involved these can escalate.
- If you require extra chairs, you may want to take one from another table. If someone is already seated (even if it is only one person seated at a six-person table) you must ask if you can take the chair.
- Waiting patiently at a bar is imperative. Pushing in line will not be tolerated and could lead to confrontation. If someone cuts in line before you, feel free to complain – you should get support from other locals around you. Bear in mind that pubs are amongst the few places in Britain which don’t actually have formal queues — you just crowd around the bar, and when everyone who was there before you has been served you can order.
- In the male toilets, especially in big pubs or clubs, don’t try to strike up conversation or make prolonged eye contact. UK pub toilets are very much “get in and get out” places – some drunk people can take a casual remark the wrong way.
England is home to a huge variety of alcoholic drinks. As well as wines and spirits (mainly imported, but some local), all pubs sell several beers and at least one cider. The main types of beer you will come across are lager , bitter and stout. Real Ale is not a separate classification, it refers to beer made and served by traditional methods.
Predominantly the pilsner type: pale, fizzy and cold. Because of the popularity of this type of beer amongst the young, there are many mass-market national brands brewed in the UK (and widely advertised with “having fun” type ads) which may disappoint anyone wanting more than simply cold, fizzy, alcohol. Some national brands are much better, and often stronger, and may be sold in bottles as well as on draught. Purists often prefer imported European-brewed lagers. Lager is one of the most popular beers in England and it is widely drunk by young people between 18 and 30.
The most common example of the English type of beer technically called “ale” (see below). They are typically darker than lagers – they are called bitter because they have more hops than mild (another less-common kind of ale). Again, there are well-advertised national brands for the mass market, usually less strong than lagers. Most are now not “real ales”: they are not matured in the barrel; they are often called “smooth” or “cream” (which means that they are infused with nitrogen to give a small-bubbled head) and are often served very cold from a small tap on a tall, illuminated stand.
A dark, heavy, usually very bitter beer. Originally called Porter, Arthur Guinness decided he could do better and made Guinness which he branded a Stout Porter. Guinness is one world-famous Irish brand that is available almost everywhere in England, often in “normal” and “extra cold” versions.
All of the mass-market types above can be bought in cans – often with a “widget” that when the can is opened, forces nitrogen bubbles through the beer to simulate “draught” beer.
This is not simply another word for “Bitter” or “Beer”. Technically it simply means any beer other than lager (ie it is a beer brewed at cellar temperatures using floating yeast, ie bitters, milds and stouts). However, these days “ale” is often used a little self-consciously, usually either as a “matey” word for any type of beer (“Anyone fancy a few ales?”) or in a consciously “traditional” way (“Try a pint of good old English ale”). To ask for “A pint of ale, please.” would sound like a line from a period film. However “Real Ale” is an accepted term, so to ask “What real ales do you have on?” would be quite normal.
The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has been a very successful consumer campaign, its aims have been to ensure that mass-market beers do not completely force out beers made in the traditional way. CAMRA created the term “Real Ale” to summarise the type of beer they wanted to keep alive: it must be allowed to continue maturing after it leaves the brewery (ie not be pasteurised or filtered to remove living yeast; be stored and served without additional gas (ie does not have carbon dioxide or nitrogen forced into the beer); and be served at the appropriate temperature for the style: traditional ales are not generally served warm, as many people believe, but at the temperature of the ‘cool’ cellar they have been maturing in for several days (ideally, 8–12°C) . Most real ales are served from the distinctive “handpumps” which allow a pint to be “pulled” from the cellar by several full-length strokes requiring visible effort on the part of the server. Most “real ales” served in ordinary pubs are bitters, but these come in a wide range of strengths, colours, and bitterness. A majority of pubs now serve at least one or two national brands of real ale, and perhaps one or even two local ones.
“Real ale pubs” — At a pub which especially caters to lovers of real ale, or at a beer festival, there will be more local brands (and “guests” from some distance away) and a wider range of bitters, and even a good choice of other types. Expect to see summer ales, winter ales, exotic beers (containing ingredients such as heather, honey or ginger), light milds, dark milds, lagers, stouts and, increasingly, porters (like a stronger dark mild, or a lighter, sweeter stout). These will be served from a long row of handpumps or (even more traditionally) straight from barrels sitting on the bar or (especially at beer festivals) in racks. There will also be a wide range of “bottle-conditioned” beers (“real ale in a bottle”) usually either versions of English bitters, often called “pale ales”, or very strong beers from France or Belgium. There will also be several ciders and perries.
In England this means an alcoholic drink made from apples (often much stronger than beer). These are generally brewed in the West Country (Somerset, Devon & Cornwall) but not exclusively so as Herefordshire is also another region famous for its cider. Cider is one of the most popular drinks in the south of England and Herefordshire but not as widely drunk in the north of England. The more commercial brands of cider, served from pressurised kegs and so available at any pub, are clear, fizzy and cold , and quite strong (they are usually moderately or very sweet, so the high alcohol content may go unnoticed by a novice). A real ale pub will usually sell at least one “real”, unpressurised, cider, perhaps from a barrel sitting on the bar. This may may be clear or slightly cloudy, but will be almost certainly be still, not too sweet, and very strong (7% alcohol is only average for this type of cider). The most traditional cider is called Scrumpy and is usually very strong, very cloudy and possibly (but not always) rather sour. Some commercial ciders have “scrumpy” in their name, but these are not quite the same as a gallon jug bought at the farmhouse door. Cider can be from 4% to 8.5% however in recent years the government introduced the ban of strong white ciders in large stores due to anti social problems and the increase of homeless people.
Similar to cider but made from pears (is sometimes called pear cider, especially if imported). Farmhouse perry was always difficult to get hold of outside the West Country, but this is improving, and there will nearly always be some available at a beer festival. Keen perry-spotters might notice the sweetish “undercover” commercial versions : advertised nationwide with a “girls night out” theme and sold in wine-shaped bottles with “inexpensive white wine”-type labels bearing the legend “Perry” in small letters.
In cities, in additional to traditional pubs, there are more modern wine-bars and café-bars (often known simply as bars), though the variable weather means that there is not as much of a ‘street scene’ as in other European cities. However, depending on the weather, there are more and more pavement cafés in the UK than in the past. Parts of London, Liverpool and Manchester and other up-and-coming cities are good examples of this change of scene.
Prices in bars tend to be higher than in pubs, with less focus on beer, and more on wine, spirits and cocktails. Customers are often younger than those of traditional pubs, though there is much crossover and some bars are more “pubby” than others.
Clubbing is popular in most large towns and cities, and many have world-renowned venues as well as many alternative venues. Great clubs can be found in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Brighton to name just a few places. 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. Almost all clubs will only admit persons aged 18 and over. ID may be asked for at the door, but ID checks at bars are less common. Dress codes are sometimes applied by doormen or bouncers before entry, sometimes none-too-consistently. Common dress codes are simply to dress smartly and avoid wearing sports wear, including trainers. However “fashion” trainers, especially dark coloured ones are increasingly accepted when part of smart attire. That said, some upmarket clubs will still insist on shoes and if in doubt, wear shoes to avoid being turned away. It is far easier for women to get in than men, and on many occasions under-age girls will “doll up” to appear older.
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 and £10. Large clubs, especially those in cities, that cater for a “dance” crowd will almost certainly cost over £10, though seldom more than £15. For towns with a large student population, it is often much cheaper to go clubbing during week nights (Monday-Thursday), as many clubs advertise towards students on these nights, offering discounted drinks and cheaper entry.
The English drink a lot of tea; usually black tea rather than green tea, normally with milk and sometimes with sugar. In cafés and restaurants, tea is usually served with milk and sugar on the side for you to add to your taste; in private houses, particularly in more domestic and less posh settings, you may be asked to specify whether you want milk and/or sugar before the tea is made. In Britain ‘black tea’ is likely to be understood as by analogy with black coffee as ‘tea without milk’ rather than ‘black tea as opposed to green tea’. In the south and south-west of the country — Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire — and sometimes beyond, there is a traditional light afternoon meal called a ‘cream tea’: this is not tea whitened with cream, but tea served with milk and sugar, together with scones, jam and clotted cream.
Tea is widely drunk throughout the country, almost always hot, usually strong, usually with milk, and quite often with sugar. There are many popular brands (the most recognisable brands are PG Tips and Tetley). Tea is usually drunk at home or at work or to accompany breakfast in inexpensive restaurants (where it will usually arrive with milk in a separate jug), or with afternoon tea (scones, cream, jam, and cakes) at a “tea-room” (less-frequently seen these days, except in expensive hotels or in holiday areas). It is often the cheapest drink in coffee shops. Tea is often served in pubs and bars too.
As noted below it is common to be offered a choice of tea or coffee when visiting someone’s home. If you don’t want either, appreciatively declining should not cause offence. Although some British companies trade on the country’s international reputation for tea-drinking to sell premium tea, many British tea drinkers’ relationships with tea are remarkable more for their scale of consumption than for their connoisseurship.
In the UK, ‘lemonade’ is usually a carbonated, sweetened, lemon-flavoured non-alcoholic drink. ‘Ginger beer’ can mean either a carbonated, ginger-flavoured soft drink and therefore not really a beer at all, or a brewed alcoholic ginger-flavoured drink. Fruit juices are popular, particularly apple. Smoothies are becoming big too, and you will find many varieties at places like Starbucks.
Coffee is as popular as tea. Instant coffee (made with hot water, hot milk, or “half and half”) is much used at home and work, and in inexpensive restaurants. If it is made with just hot water, then it is “black coffee”; with added cold milk it becomes “white coffee”. Percolators are little used, and machines with paper filters are less common than they once were: they often fill a restaurant with a coffee aroma, but a mediocre restaurant will often leave the made coffee heating for too long. Therefore, at dinner parties or good restaurants, the “french press” (cafetiere) has become the standard way to serve “real” (“ground”) coffee: the customer can leave the coffee infusing until it as as strong as they like, then press the filter down to stop the brew and restrain the grounds from getting into the cup. The drinker then adds their own milk (hot milk is often provided; cream less often) and sugar. Seattle-style coffee bars serve the usual types of espresso-based coffees (but with a less-bewildering choice of combinations of coffee, milk, sugar, and flavourings). Decaffeinated coffee is available, but not standard. A Pub may serve coffee, and indeed chains (especially Wetherspoons) invariably do, but “Bar” type of pub (at a non-busy time of day) is a better option. International coffeshops such as Starbucks, Costa’s and Cafe Nero are very common in large towns and cities. These often serve a wide range of coffees, teas and hot chocolate.
England offers the usual Western assortment of sleeping options including
- Hostels Both private institutions and those part of a hosteling networking (which may require membership so check ahead) usually offer dorm style accommodations, sometimes with a simple breakfast included (think toast and tea). Many hostels in popular destination cities fill up during the busy summer season, so try to book ahead or at least call before you arrive.
- Self-Catering Cottages Several historical organizations within the country, i.e. the National Trust and Landmark Trust, offer restored historic buildings for visitors to stay in. These have been renovated to meet a modern living standard, but offer an opportunity to stay in many places one normally wouldn’t be able to explore, such as country follies, former train stations, school houses, and more.
- Bed and Breakfasts can range from a single room in a private home to large historical buildings with dozens of rooms. In many towns the tourist office has a list of rooms available and can help you call around.
- Hotels in cities and towns, and near motorway junctions, as well as some grand Country House Hotels. Cheap (yet excellent) Hotel chains include ‘Travelodge’ and the ‘Premier Inn’. They are simple, yet clean and comfortable.
- Motels Mostly in the form of large chains such as Travel Inn and Travelodge, with hundreds across the country.
- Camping There is a widespread network in country locations of campsites which welcome tents, caravans, or motorhomes. Sites may welcome some or all of these. But don’t expect to find many close to cities and major tourist attractions.
- Universities It has been possible to get accommodation in some Universities and Colleges out of term time for a while. However  is a bit better than most previous sites, in that it provides good information and tips about the places it covers, which include Oxford and Cambridge. However it does not cover all the places where accommodation is available.
While the rooms are generally comfortable, rooms at the lower end of the price scale may be small and usually come without air conditioning, cable TV, coffee machines, and other amenities. In very inexpensive accommodation, for example in dormitory style hostels, towels and soap may not be provided. Most hotels that provide breakfast will offer a choice between a full english (see above) or continental. The continental normally consists of bread rolls, croissant, cereal, pain au chocolat and cold meats such as ham and salami. Beverages such as fresh fruit juice, tea, coffee and hot chocolate are served too.
The UK has been a centre of learning for the past 1,000 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. Prominent people that have reached the apex in their respective fields have been products of British higher education. The two most oldest and prestigious universities are Oxford and Cambridge.
England also has several other world-class institutions, including several in London (notably Imperial College, the London School of Economics, University College London and King’s College London, all except Imperial are part of the University of London). Other top universities are located in Durham, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Exeter, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, York, Nottingham, Kent, Bath, Loughborough, Newcastle, Southampton and Warwick.
In state primary and secondary schools, the broad National Curriculum covers English literature, English language, maths, science, citizenship, history, geography, religious education, art and design, design and technology, ancient and modern foreign languages, computing, music and physical education. The National Curriculum promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society.
England has many options for foreign students to study; from language, history, geography and cultural short courses to advanced degrees at internationally renowned universities. Most cities have at least one institute of higher learning.
Students from countries within the European Union/Switzerland do not require a visa to study in England. University fees have two tiers, a home fee for UK and EU students, presently capped at £9000 + inflation per year, and a higher tier for students from outside of the EU, from £9000 to £35,000 per year. Fees are repayable after graduation for English students through general taxation, contingent on attaining a certain level of income, with the state paying all fees for students from the poorest backgrounds.
Options for short-term employment include bar tending and waiting tables as well as more specialised work such as in the high tech / computer industry. Visitors from Commonwealth countries will have a much easier time getting a work permit, especially those under 30 as there are several programs.
Citizens of countries belonging to the European Union (Germany, France, Spain, etc) do not require a permit and are free to live and work in England, however, certain restrictions currently apply to certain new EU member states (such as Bulgaria, Romania, etc), so you will need to check this out on the Uk Border Agency website before travelling.
Visitors on a student visa can work up to 20 hour per week while in school and 40 hours per week while on break.
In any emergency call 999 or 112 (free of charge from any phone, including mobiles). All such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you which services you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard or mountain and cave rescue) and for your location. Be as precise as possible, and don’t forget to say the town or city, as the operator may be based remotely. Unlike many other countries, the United Kingdom does not have different numbers for different emergency services. In a non-emergency situation you can call 101 to report crime and concerns to the local police that do not require an emergency response. A similar service is available at 111 for health issues that do not require urgent A&E admission.
England by and large is a safe place to live and visit and English people take safety very seriously with violent crime against tourists and those who are different being rare, however you should always use general common sense to ensure you keep out of trouble. England’s crime rate is moderate for European standards and is decreasing year by year.
Likewise for most countries, in most of the major cities you will find outlying suburban and inner city areas where poverty, crime and gang violence are common. These areas can be particularly risky (by western standards) and should be avoided. Again, common sense is the best way to stay safe, and it is unlikely a visitor would end up in such areas anyway. In a situation where you feel uncomfortable out on the street (for example, if a gang of youths block your path and are behaving in a rowdy manner), its usually fine to simply cross the road and walk past and not to respond to them as they are not generally interested in harassing people as they may appear and will ignore you in most cases.
Crime rates are generally very low in rural areas, although some small poorer towns can be surprisingly rough. Take care when driving on country lanes as they can become very narrow and the lesser travelled ones are often in poor condition. It is worth taking extra care on public transport at night, as loutish drunks can be a problem. Also, in some cities, there have been incidents of street gangs carrying out robberies on buses and trains at night. Visitors should not be too concerned, however, as these are very rare occurrences.
Some town and city centres should be approached with caution during the later evening on Fridays and Saturdays in particular, as high levels of drunkenness can be rife. Late at night it is not uncommon to find rowdy groups of drunk people, especially young men, on the street, but unless you go out of your way to provoke trouble you are unlikely to experience any problems. The police have fairly wide ranging powers to fine or arrest people who are causing a disturbance, and although they can be more heavy-handed in major cities they are generally tolerant. Drinking alcohol in public (except outside a bar or pub) is not permitted in some towns and areas of cities. If you are stopped by the police, avoid arguing and be sure to appear respectful. Do not try to reason with them, and above all, do not swear, because although it has been ruled that swearing is not a crime, police will often arrest people who swear at them. At night it is also recommended that you use licensed taxis or licensed mini cabs.
Jay walking is not illegal except on motorways, but always try and cross at designated pedestrian crossings. Most operate a “Push the button and wait for the green man” system, but zebra crossings are also widespread, particularly outside of city centres – identified by white stripes on the road and yellow flashing spherical lights – pedestrians have right of way but it is advisable to make eye contact with the driver before stepping into the road. Unlike in many other countries British drivers tend to be very respectful of the laws around zebra crossings.
England’s transport network does not generally have any major safety issues. Major incidents are exceptionally rare (despite the media attention). Vigilance about security and safety issues (such as suspect packages) is however appreciated, and the employees of transport organisations are generally appreciative of appropriately voiced concerns.
The UK has very strict laws with regards to firearm ownership. Handguns such as pistols and revolvers, as well as semi-automatic rifles are prohibited, even for sporting purposes, while a licence is required to own, carry or use any other type of firearm. Bringing a firearm into the UK is extremely difficult, and all visitors who wish to do so are required to obtain a permit well before their arrival in the UK.
Racism is not common in England, and racially motivated violence is rare. Most English people are strongly opposed to racism. The main concern for English people isn’t racism; the government strongly encourages the notion of a multi-cultural society, but recent high levels of immigration have been of debate, and concerns over immigration. However, the UK is generally regarded by its own immigrant population as being among the most liberal and tolerant of European countries in this respect, but obviously there will be some people who are exceptions. Most English people will go out of their way to make tourists and immigrants feel welcome and it’s not uncommon for police to impose harsh punishments on any form racial abuse – physical or verbal. Current legislation prohibits hate speech as well as racial discrimination in a wide range of public spheres such as education and employment.
The age of both heterosexual and homosexual consent is 16 throughout the United Kingdom. British laws mostly support LGBT rights. Homosexuality is very widely accepted by the English public, and almost all discrimination and all hate speech relating to sexual orientation is illegal. You shouldn’t be discriminated against in any area of the UK. Some in British society are anti-gay, however, the UK and England regularly rank highly in gay rights in comparison to the rest of Europe. The British Parliament has some of the highest LGBT MPs in the world. There are some areas where you may want to not be overtly showing your sexuality. If they don’t show public affection, it probably isn’t safe to do that.
British police officers are professional and polite, and are generally less aggressive than law enforcement agencies in other developed nations. However, this does not mean they are lenient. They are trained to be always helpful, professional and trustworthy. Most police officers in the United Kingdom do not carry guns while on patrol with local exceptions. There is a special group of police officers that carry guns if needed.
Most officers will only speak English and you will be made to speak to an interpreter over police radio or will do so at a police station if you cannot communicate in English. You have the legal right to remain silent during and after arrest – but police in England and Wales will warn you that “You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do or say may be given in evidence”.
A typical UK police vehicle will have battenburg markings typically yellow and blue. All UK police law enforcement vehicles are blue emergency lighting. A marked police vehicle with a yellow dot in the front and rear is a armed response vehicle used by armed police. Police officers in Great Britain wear dark blue uniforms. Front-line police (in uniform) are also generally required to have shoulder numbers. Most British police are also required to carry a ‘warrant card’, and should under reasonable circumstances be willing to produce it, to confirm their authority.
No instant penalties are payable in cash to a police officer and street-level corruption is for all practical purposes non-existent. Under UK law, bribing a police officer is a very serious crime for both the officer accepting and person offering the bribe. In addition to police officers with full powers, in some areas the UK has Community Support Officers, whose powers are more limited, and are generally concerned with policing issues of a less serious nature, freeing up police officers to handle more serious offences.
In the United Kingdom, there is no cost to a patient at point of service, due to the welfare state system. In a medical emergency, dial 999. These numbers are free of charge from any telephone. For advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24 hour NHS 111 service. on 111 or check their website  for advice. However, hospitals are wary of health tourists and if obviously not from England, may ask where you are from and if within the EU, for your EHIC card (previously known as E111).
Emergencies can be dealt with under the NHS (National Health Service) at any hospital with an A & E (Accident & Emergency) department. At A&E departments, be prepared to wait for up to 4-5 hours during busy periods before being given treatment if your medical complaint is not too serious. Obviously, more serious ailments are usually treated immediately. Evenings are normally busiest, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays and in city centres. Walk-in centres also provide treatment for less urgent conditions on a first come first served basis.
Dental care is mixed NHS and private. Many dental practices reserve a few appointments each day for urgent and emergency treatments. Appointments are allocated on a first come first served basis, and often they will all be filled soon after the clinic opens. Most practices are only open Monday to Friday. For emergency out-of-hours dental care, call the NHS 111 number and they will check if your condition warrants emergency care and if it does give you the number of an emergency dentist.
In England, pharmacists are highly-trained medical professionals and can advise on minor ailments and medicines. For advice on minor ailments and non-prescription drugs, you can ask a pharmacist – there are many high-street chemists, and to practise legally all pharmacists must be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) which involves a university degree and other exams and training. These are increasingly using green signs similar to ones seen in Europe to identify them. Small pharmacies are also found inside many larger supermarkets. Major pharmacies are Boots and Lloyds, at least one of these can be found in any city or large town and quite often some smaller towns too. These two firms can issue drugs prescribed by a doctor as well as any over the counter drugs. Superdrug, Semi-Chem, Bodycare and Savers do sell some over the counter medication but are not to be considered as places to go for advice about minor ailments. A smaller range of medication can also be found in most supermarkets. ID is usually required when buying medication if you look under 25.
The medicine trade is strictly controlled in the UK and many medicines available to purchase from a pharmacy in other countries (e.g. antibiotics or opiate based painkillers) can only be provided if you have a doctor’s prescription. If you require specific medication, be sure to include a written prescription from a qualified medical professional. This is especially important if you have a medical condition that requires you to inject anything, lest you find yourself in trouble with the police.
Condoms are available in many public toilets (including in pubs and nightclubs), pharmacies and supermarkets. They are also available free from some NHS sexual health clinics, which also provide free testing and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections, even if you are not eligible for other NHS services. An estimated 100,000 people (0.16% of the UK population) are living with HIV. Chlamydia is common enough that people are recommended to be regularly tested. You can purchase tampons at pharmacies and supermarkets, though some sexual health clinics provide them free of charge.
Smoking is prohibited in all public buildings. It is also illegal to smoke at railway stations. Penalties can include a £50 ‘on-the-spot’ fine. All enclosed workplaces are lawfully required to be smoke free. Some restaurants provide separate rooms for smokers, and many pubs and cafés now have outdoor areas where smoking is permitted, while many places will have a group of people standing outside the front door or off to one side to smoke.
Tap water from restaurants, bars and homes is very safe to drink throughout England. Tap water is of a high drinkable quality, with non-drinkable water supplies clearly marked in practically all cases. In most regions, fluoride is added to the water. Mains water supply is practically universal, except in isolated rural settlements. Generally, the mains water in the South East and East of England is considered “hard”, whereas the water elsewhere in the UK is considered “soft”. Appliances using hard water are more prone to limescale, and you may find such water unpalatable unless refrigerated.
England has a rich broadcasting history. The BBC is a publicly funded broadcaster that has been in service since 1922, paid by taxation. Its mission is to inform, educate and entertain. The television channels include BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 as well as other television channels specializing in entertainment, drama, culture, arts, crafts, science, travel, nature, sports, comedy, etc. However, hotels may offer only basic television channels on Freeview.
Radio in the United Kingdom is dominated by the BBC, which operates radio stations both in the United Kingdom and abroad. The BBC World Service radio network is broadcast in 33 languages globally. Other radio broadcasters are Heart Radio, Classic FM and Smooth Radio as well as other radio stations. The most popular radio station by number of listeners is BBC Radio 2, closely followed by BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 1.
Popular newspapers include Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, The Sun and Daily Mail. The Economist is also a widely read magazine covering current affairs, international business, politics, science and technology.
A large range of magazines are sold in England covering most interests and potential topics. English magazines and journals that have achieved worldwide circulation include Nature, New Scientist, The Spectator, Prospect and the Radio Times. Apollo is a widely read fine arts magazine covering the arts of all periods from antiquity to the present. BBC History Magazine is also a widely read magazine devoted to history articles on both British and world history and are aimed at all levels of knowledge and interest. The National Trust and English Heritage have their own monthly membership magazines devoted to photography, heritage, nature, wildlife, landscapes and arts. Other popular magazines include BBC Gardeners’ World, BBC Good Food, Country Life, The World of Interiors and Classic & Sports Car.
See the United Kingdom article for more information
The English are in general very polite, well-mannered people who value basic politeness and manners, and like most other places it is considered bad manners not to say “please”, “thank you”, “cheers” or “sorry”. A nod or a smile are also often the response. The English are notorious for their overuse of apologising. Although many visitors regard this particular quality as annoying, it’s infact a cornerstone of English culture. You should do the same even for the little things, and even when the other person is in the wrong. This is a very British quality, and despite the lack of sincerity in the apology, not saying ‘sorry’ is seen as rude, and can even lead to a minor confrontation. It isn’t unusual to see a Brit apologise to an inanimate object after accidentally walking into it. The English do apologise a lot, whether it is their fault or not. You should do the same even for little things. Sometimes, strangers and friends address each other by “mate” informally, but this should not be used to people with higher status than you. As in any Western country, you may occasionally bump into rude people, but this is rare and generally frowned upon in English society, unless you have done something wrong.
If you travel to different regions in England, you will find a variety of English accents, such as Liverpool accent, a “Geordie” accent and even “cockney” accent in London. People from these regions might consider a very formal “Queen’s English” accent to be somewhat posh, but will generally not mind if it’s obvious you are a tourist. While it may be tempting to do, do not try to copy their regional accents when communicating with those people – you will probably do a bad job, and they might think that you are “taking the mick” or laughing at them. Don’t be afraid to ask about someone’s accent. England is a diverse country, and asking about someone’s accent is often a good way to start a conversation.
When driving on rural roads, particularly where a driver has to pull in to allow you to pass, it is customary to wave a thanks to the other driver, by raising your hand from the steering wheel. This is particularly prevalent in rural areas where many drivers will automatically wave at everyone who drives past them. A polite hand wave (or even with just the index finger raised from the steering wheel) is customary and will be appreciated. When accepting gifts, a polite refusal (such as, “no really you shouldn’t”) is common after the first offer of the item. Usually, this is followed with an insistence that the gift or offer is accepted, at which point your answer is likely to become more recognized. However, some people can be very persuasive – this isn’t meant to be over-bearing, just courteous.
One thing which some visitors may find disconcerting is the response an English person may give to a “thank you”. Most English people will respond with something along the lines of “It was nothing” or “not at all”. This does not mean that they didn’t try hard to please, but rather it is meant to suggest “I was happy to do it for you, so it was not any great difficulty” (even though it may have been!).
The English are said to be reserved and reluctant to communicate with strangers. This is not entirely true. You will find that most people are happy to help tourists with directions and practical advice but a general rule is that Northerners are more friendly and open to conversation with strangers than people from London and the South East of England. Entire carriages of people will sit in silence on the London underground so do not be surprised to be greeted with strange looks and annoyance if you strike up small talk with someone in the capital. Particularly if you are from northern England, do not tell Southerners they are from London unless they are from the city. Not all Southerners are from London. Some people will be very offended and you might get dirty looks or comments. However, as in many other countries, it is best to avoid sensitive topics such as politics.
The English in general are neutral communicators. The English try to take careful measures to remain polite throughout discussion, but in close personal relationships, communication becomes more direct. As a country priding itself on etiquette and professionalism, the English will often make no hesitation in confronting someone for behaving or doing something inappropriately. While this may come across as assertive, and sometimes rude, some English people may often engage in a confrontation for the silliest of reasons.
Always respect authority figures, including those older to you. If anyone in a position of authority (e.g. policeman, teacher, homestay) requests you to do something, you are expected to comply and do it. It’s considered very rude manners to disobey figures of authority, and you may be met with some harsh words if you object to a request. If you’re unsure about something, don’t hesitate to ask. A respect for the police is also a strong part of English culture. English police are polite and professional, and it is expected you show politeness and a level of respect back.
One thing worth noticing is that the English value privacy a lot, probably more than any other countries. When meeting with them for the first few times, avoid asking personal questions. Age is an obvious one (same for most other countries), but also marital status or if they have a girlfriend/boyfriend. Some questions considered ordinary in other countries are considered “too personal” in England, such as where do you live and what is your job. It is not uncommon for an English person not to know what their neighbours’ jobs are for many years. A good tip for foreigners is to use the mirroring rule – if they ask you a personal question, it is safe to ask the same question back (but answer their question first!).
It is said that the English invented queueing, and they become very annoyed if anyone jumps the line. However, you don’t usually see an obvious queue in bus stops and train platforms. This does not mean you could run over everyone there. You should always let people in the bus/trains get off first and then let the people in front of you get in first. Be sure to say thank you to the bus driver or transport worker after you reach your destination and leave the bus/train. It’s a strong English past-time and general politeness.
On buses and transport, seats are set aside for the disabled and pregnant women and women travelling with very small children. These seats are usually at the front of trains or buses. You can find pictures indicating which seats these are. It is permitted for anyone to sit in these seats, but the young, men, and the able-bodied are expected to give up their seats to the less able, pregnant women and the elderly, especially those seats clearly marked for such people.
It is very common to use “Sir” for a man and “Madam/Miss” for a woman, when communicating with a stranger. Use of the terms ‘Sir/Madam/Miss’ is seen as very polite. Punctuality is highly valued. As in many places around Europe, it’s considered rude to be late to a meeting or an appointment, and as such it’s advisable to arrive 5-10 minutes early to something so as to not stand out like a sore thumb.
When you find yourself in a restaurant or being invited to someone’s home for a meal, just general table manners apply. Normally when visiting a house, the host will say “shall I put the kettle on?” or “would you like a brew?” which means you are being offered a cup of tea, or another type of drink. Depending on the house you are visiting, manners can be either extremely important (you can be seen as a disrespectful person) or it can cause you to be looked well upon. Bring a small gift such as a bottle of wine or chocolates to show your appreciation, though this isn’t mandatory when visiting an English household. In some cases, bad table manners can be seen as uncivilised and as indicative of a bad upbringing. Regardless, it is generally important to have good table manners in any situation. Remember also to let your host know if you are vegetarian or vegan, as most English people will invariably cook a meat dish unless told otherwise.
When you find yourself in a pub or bar with your English friends, be aware that there is an unspoken convention of “buying rounds” from each person. This normally works ok if it is a small group. However if the group is large, the “round” could be costly and that could lead to “binge drinking”. It is absolutely ok to have non-alcoholic drinks though. Even better, arrange to meet your friends in a restaurant or cafes (which have been increasing popular in England).
Women are treated with a degree of chivalry. Female travellers should not act indignant or surprised if their male English friends open every door in front of them, offer their jacket to them, offer their seat to them, or help them out with anything that they need. Male travellers should also note that this all will be expected by English women too. This isn’t an act of love, it is just a polite thing to do.
When socialising, the English are quite laid back and happy to laugh at ‘English’ misdemeanors and faults. However, negative comments about the Royal Family (especially from a foreigner) should be avoided as some English people may be offended. Avoid criticising national institutions such as the NHS (National Health Service) and BBC. The English are proud of their healthcare system that provides free to the point of use high quality healthcare for everyone, no matter their income. The BBC is much loved by the English and is widely watched and its resources are widely admired.
Avoid criticising any sports teams or wearing rival t-shirts. Sports of all kinds are taken very seriously in the United Kingdom, and you will find that many, including the younger generation, are ardently and fiercely supportive of all kinds of sports, including football, cricket, and rugby. It is wise to refrain from criticising any sports teams and wearing rival jerseys as it could lead to some confrontations depending on where you go. Wearing a rival football team jersey in a pub for instance, could lead to violence. Especially on derby days, pubs and some city centres can be rife. Hooliganism has died down a lot but you should still use caution. If you do choose to wear a sports t-shirt, it’s best to wear one of the national team of any sport.
It’s advisable to err on the side of caution when discussing politics, and a safe bet would be to avoid discussing it all with strangers if you want to avoid the potential for an argument. If you are curious to hear the perspective of English people, most people will be happy to offer their opinion on the political situation in the country, though be aware that the country is currently quite divided on the issue of the UK’s impending exit from the European Union – requests for an opinion will go down well, unsolicited invitations to debate the issue will likely not. It is often rude to ask somebody who they will vote for in the elections unless you are very close friends with them. It is very rude to mock or say negative comments about a politician’s party especially if you’re foreign.
See Contact entry under United Kingdom for national information on telephone, internet and postal services. When traveling to UK, even though it may seem best to carry your cell phone along, you should not dismiss the benefits of the calling cards to call the ones back home. Get yourself a UK calling card when packing for your trip.
Also consider buying a pay-as-you-go SIM card for your phone, you can pick one up from most local stores for about £0.99. This will be very useful if you’re staying for more than 1-2 weeks and especially if you need mobile internet. Mobile signal is generally very good throughout England, apart from some countryside areas. Expect your signal to drop very frequently if travelling by train or car.
The main mobile networks are EE, Vodafone, Three and O2. However there are a host of MVNOs that use the infrastructure of these networks, these often offer plans tailored towards expat communities and tourist who wish to call abroad, the main players are LycaMobile, Lebara and giffgaff. Most of these sim cards can be picked up in local shops however giffgaff do not have shops and only post out sims to the UK – therefore if you’d like a giffgaff sim abroad you can order one here. If staying connected is a priority you may want to compare the data speeds of the networks, OpenSignal provide London coverage maps.
In the United Kingdom, area codes are two, three, four, or, rarely, five digits long (after the initial zero). Regions with shorter area codes, typically large cities, permit the allocation of more telephone numbers as the local number portion has more digits. Local customer numbers are four to eight figures long. The total number of digits is ten, but in a very few areas the total may be nine digits (after the initial zero). The “area code” is also referred to as an ‘STD (code)’ (subscriber trunk dialling) or a ‘dialling code’ in the UK.
The code allocated to the largest population is (020) for London. The code allocated to the largest area is (028) for all of Northern Ireland. The UK Numbering Plan also applies to three British Crown dependencies – Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man – even though they are not part of the UK itself. See Contact entries under individual cities for local information.
The Royal Mail has a long history. Postboxes are still the traditional red colour (although there are green and gold Victorian “Penfold” boxes retained in some areas and a historically important blue box in Windsor). To commemorate British gold medal winners at the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, some post boxes, usually located in the home towns of the gold medallists, were re-painted gold. Mail can also be posted at post offices.
The Royal Mail has introduced a new system where post within England 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 64p/55p (domestic 1st/2nd class for envelopes up to C5 size which are less than 5mm thick and less than 100g), £1.05 (Europe up to 20g), £1.05p (Worldwide up to 10g). Stamps can be bought at supermarkets, newsagents and tourist shops. Domestic first-class mail can usually be expected to arrive the following day; second-class mail may take several days. Signage on all postboxes displays the final collection time at that location (typically about 17:30 on weekdays and noon on Saturdays), as well as details of later weeknight collections that are available in many areas from a central postbox or sorting office. Deliveries are likewise made six mornings per week, Monday to Saturday. There is generally no post on Sundays or Public Holidays.
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. The staff at post offices are very helpful, but avoid the lunchtime rush at around 12:00-13:30 when there is often a long queue and 30+ minute waiting times.
Note that some shops and tourist attractions sell “international” stamps that are not issued by Royal Mail (and don’t have the Queen’s head on). They may cost the same as Royal Mail stamps, and you can post the letters in Royal Mail postboxes, but your letters will be routed via a different mail carrier to their destination. There are reports of such mail taking months to arrive and being damaged or defaced by the mail carrier. One interesting side-pursuit is to look at when the postboxes were built since some can be very old. The ‘R’ stands for Rex/Regina and the first letter the initial of the reigning monarch when it was built. E.g. A postbox built after 1952 would have the initals ‘E II R’. Finding a box with the initials ‘VR’ (Queen Victoria, pre-1901) is possible.
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