United Kingdom is one of the most visited countries in Europe as well as one of the most influential countries in the world (I mean think that even the English language dominates the world). From an American perspective United Kingdom is like an Americans ease into Europe… like our cousin across the pond. After all America, like several countries across the world, got its independence from United Kingdom. United Kingdom is composed of 4 other “countries” which include England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (they are not true countries but have the status comparable to the American states). To come to United Kingdom one must visit London, the dominating city of United Kingdom for hundreds of years. The capital is now a modern metropolis mixed with buildings and architecture that have stood for centuries. Go outside of United Kingdoms capital and experience green pastures and small quaint villages. United Kingdom truly is an international country that is not to be missed thanks to its charm, history, culture and the influence upon the rest of the world. (Last updated March 2013)
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Getting to/around United Kingdom
Breakdown of Costs
Definitely Do’s and Don’ts
From Splurging to Saving
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Noteworthy Places I’ve Been To
London – Surprisingly the only city I’ve visited in United Kingdom is London; two times (one in 1999 and one in 2007). As a kid, London was always one of my favorite cities and I had always dreamed about setting foot there. London is a diverse city; a global city in every right. Today it is known as a financial stronghold across the world and has long been a symbol of dominance. Visit Buckingham Palace and watch the changing of the guards and take pictures with guards that don’t even flinch! The Tower Bridge is a world landmark and thousands of people visit and climb the bridge every-year. Definitely try an English breakfast which includes eggs combined with beans (weird I know) as well as sip some afternoon tea. At night go enjoy a pint of beer at an English bar. Some musts include riding the famous Tube, Big Ben, London Eye, Tower of London, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, Harrods, Watch a Rugby or Soccer match, Wimbledon, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, etc…
Getting to/around United Kingdom
By Plane – United Kingdom is an island and the best way to get there is by plane. From the United States there is direct service to United Kingdoms major airports which include London (Gatwick and Heathrow), Manchester, and Birmingham (although the majority of people will be landing in London. Heathrow is one of the busiest in the world offering flights from cities across Asia, North America, Africa, Europe, and South America. London can be an expensive city to fly into but there are deals from the states especially in the winter. I would try Kayak, Travelocity, Skyscanner, Farecompare and Momondo for tickets.
By Bus – I have learned that you can take a MegaBus and Eurolines from continental Europe and the rest of United Kingdom. They are cheap but will take you way longer than by train or plane. Greyhound and National Express offer service to the rest of United Kingdom and can be quite cheap with great service. Most of the buses are actually way nicer than an American bus service and offering amenities like WiFi.
By Train – If you’re coming from France or Brussels then it is possible to take a train into the United Kingdom. Just know that tickets for the train can be expensive if you don’t book well in advance. The high speed trains are actually very quick and only take around 2 hours and 15 minutes (from Paris). The train from Brussels takes around 1 hours and 50 minutes. Both are operated by Eurostar and go through the famous Channel Tunnel.
Getting around United Kingdom is fairly easy but can be expensive… but can be cheap depending how prepared you are. Renting a car in London would be a nightmare and I wouldn’t recommend it (London also has crazy car congestion on some highways like the M25 known as the “Road to Hell”). If you’re traveling to and from London you should be able to find train tickets relatively easy but it could cost more than you expect. Also once you’re out of London driving a car is relatively straight forward, however the British drive their cars on the opposite side of Americans. For instance if you’re traveling at the last-minute and want a ticket from Scotland to London… it could cost as high as 250 pounds (the British currency) or around 375 US dollars. Also there are cheap flights from European cities and within the United Kingdom… like Ryanair and Easyjet.
If you’re staying in London, London has one of the best public transportation systems that exist in the world. The famous Tube along with the Double Decker buses cover most of London as well as Greater London and are very efficient. If you would like to take a cab, remember that in London they are black cabs… affectionately known as cabbies (they are required to know every street by heart in London and will get you to your destination quickly). With these two systems you will get most places in London but of course you can walk, cycle, or even take a boat!
Breakdown of Costs
Hotels – Expect to pay around 75 – 150 pounds for a decent hotel in London. As you might have guessed London is quite pricey by American standards. You will find all types of budget ranges from hostels to 5 star hotels. Sometimes you can find a great deal with an American brand for as low as 50 pounds a night but this is not the norm. In general the west end is more expensive than the east end of London. Because London is a very heavy business city prices can be quite expensive during the week and actually be cheaper during the weekend. Some good ideas include staying just outside of the city and taking a train or the tube in. Another interesting idea is to couchsurf, which is staying on a welcoming Londoner in their own home.
Food – London has a lot of food markets and literally thousands of restaurants to choose from. London has every price range you can think of and it’s really your task as a traveler to find. Roughly from 0-10 pounds you can find take away places and fast food. They won’t be the highest quality of food but they can be pretty decent meal. From 10 pounds to 25 pounds you can have a pretty decent meal with good quality. Anything from 25 pounds to 50 pounds and you can eat at some more expensive restaurants with some of the best quality. Try some British dishes like the typical British breakfast (consist of gravy, beans, bacon and eggs) or United Kingdoms famous fish and chips. Some other dishes include pie and mash (originated from the working class of the East End).
Shopping – London is a shoppers paradise and there are several markets to high-end fashion to choose from. Some of the most famous streets for shopping include Oxford, Regent, Bond, Tottenham, Covent Garden, Charing Cross, Soho, Camden Town, Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Westfield, and Westminster. You can find most of the name brands as well as boutique shopping like on Brick Lane. British style is very similar to Americans as well as London tends to be more fashion forward.
Other Activities – If you’re staying in London then you’re really only going to have to worry about the public transportation and entrance fees for museums, etc… (unless you’re buying souvenirs as well). Prices to museums and other major sites are not very expensive and some are even free (like the gardens, etc..). You’re going to want some souvenirs and probably do some shopping while in United Kingdom so make sure to save some room in your luggage.
In general you can spend as much you like or as little as you like in the United Kingdom… United Kingdom is pretty easy to blow some serious money but if you come in with a budget and stick with it you can still do a lot of fun things. If you plan to go out at night make sure you plan to budget in for alcohol and club entrance prices.
British people are very polite, calm, maybe a tad prude (although further from the case with the younger generation), and have crazy cute accents. By most standards the British are generally like any average American and the British generally have the same customs as we do. Remember that in big cities crime could happen but on average United Kingdom is safer than the United States. As an American the biggest difference might be in the way we speak compared to the British and sometimes Americans get a reputation on being too loud in public spaces. However in cities like London on a Friday night you will find equally loud and obnoxious drunk British as well. In general the British are reserved and polite and will help the average tourist.
Well if you’re reading this than you speak English, the official language of United Kingdom. However United Kingdom is hope to hundreds of different cultures especially Pakistanis and Indians. It is possible to hear hundreds of different of languages in cities like London and it is possible that these people don’t know how to speak English. However most of the population speaks English and you should have no problem getting around. The only difference you will notice from American English and British English is the accent and some occasional words that the British use that we don’t use. Note your American accent also might be made fun of.
Definitely Do’s and Don’ts
Do visit London… the capital of United Kingdom. A global city that has endless amounts of events, museums, and monuments to see and do.
Don’t forget that crime can happen in big cities (well technically anywhere but more likely in the big cities). Make sure you keep any valuables that you can’t afford to lose at home. Crime is more rare in United Kingdom than the United States but crime is on the rise.
Do see the Crown Jewels which are located in the Tower of London. When I went to London back in 1999 I remember this was one of the highlights of the trip. The Tower of London is an ancient fortress located near the River Thames.
Don’t expect to find much of a bargain in the United Kingdom. Even though the pound is not exactly 2 to 1 to the dollar like it use to be… items in the United Kingdom are still expensive for an average American. Understand the pound to dollar conversation rate and stick to a budget!
Do take a stroll around London. London is actually a surprisingly compact city and walking can provide you some quintessential English views. Also you get to experience the touristy places as well as what an everyday Londoner would see.
Don’t forget to see the Buckingham Palace and the famous guards that surround it. This is one of the best known symbols of the United Kingdom and it’s not to be missed.
Do try to rent a car (if traveling outside of London and not in London), take a train, or fly to other destinations in United Kingdom. It is a small country so you won’t be traveling for a long time.
From Splurging to Saving
It’s easy to spend a lot of money in the United Kingdom. Come with a budget and stick to it. Get the sites you want to see in because they are worth it even if they are touristy. If you’re staying in London then I would recommend that you take a day and venture out to the countryside (England has a notoriously cute countryside). It can be expensive but you must do extensive research about the things you would like to do before you come to United Kingdom and see how much they are going to cost. Remember that the dollar doesn’t get you very far in the United Kingdom and prices are about the same if not more.
If you’re coming with a tight budget don’t get overwhelmed with the high-end costs of being in London. I would budget to spend around 200 dollars a day to be in London (including the hotel). This amount is comfortable where you could enjoy some nice meals and do all the necessary touristy things. If you want to skip the touristy parts of London then you won’t have to worry about the entrance fees for the museums, etc… Souvenirs shopping can be pricey but just stick to a budget and you’ll be fine. When you budget correctly you will feel more comfortable with your time in the United Kingdom and won’t be constantly thinking about how much money you keep on spending. Bring a credit card with you (just in case) and make sure you tell you’re bank that you are leaving for the United Kingdom. Most places in the United Kingdom will take an American credit card. If you have a higher budget than you will have a great time in the United Kingdom (just remember most hotels are European sizes and usually not like American hotels).
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Yes. United Kingdom is a relatively great place for being gay. About 1.5% of the United Kingdom recognizes that they are gay although this rate could be higher. Although United Kingdom is considered one of the more conservative European countries it actually has a very favorable attitude towards homosexuality. London has some of the best gay night scenes with most of the action around Old Compton Street, Soho and Vauxhall (although most of the neighborhoods and districts have some sort of gay bar, etc…)
Although United Kingdom has a favorable attitude towards gay, gay marriage still has not been approved (although this could change very shortly). Gays can still adopt and enter civil partnerships as of 2013. In general two men or two women could hold hands down any London street and nothing would happen. Of course if you’re running into more conservative people or someone older they might look on with disapproval or disgust. It has been as recent since the 50’s that attitudes towards homosexuals were generally poor.
In general homosexuals would have no problem in the United Kingdom and is a fantastic for gay travel.
Try some Fish and Chips… an English staple.
Go to Westminster Abbey… this place is ridiculously old and has so much history!
Don’t miss the department store Harrods, they have a special monument for Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed inside.
Try one of the several food markets that exist in London. Like the Borough (London Bridge stop) or Old Spitalfields.
Remember to convert to British Pounds…. and if you’re an American you’re getting a bad deal.
Like any touristy place… food is expensive around there… avoid it if you have common sense and go where there are more locals around.
(photos of my travels there to come! )
image by: uk defense images, shawnvoyage