There are so many times I’ve travelled abroad and not known the right thing to do or say. I wish I’d had some tips and advice to read before going abroad. In today’s blog we’re giving out some top tips for tourists when travelling to the UK.
Tips for Transport
Drive on the left of the road
The UK is one of the few countries in the world that drives on the left-hand side of the road. If you’re visiting, check you’re driving on the correct side and going left around roundabouts. This is also important for pedestrians as you’ll need to look right to see if there’s a car coming before crossing a road. Check both ways, just to be sure!
Use a railcard, check for discounts
Travel in the UK can be really expensive but there are some great discounts available. One of the best for train travel is the Railcard. Anyone can apply for this and can be applied to your Oyster card and London travel tickets too.
Book tickets in advance
Travel is very “organised” in the UK meaning you need to book your tickets in advance. The closer you book your tickets to your travel date the more expensive it’ll be and smaller chance there’ll be any available! Check out our travel blog to learn more about travel in the UK and trips from native speakers.
Know what you’re doing
Travel around the UK isn’t too bad and travel staff tend to be very friendly and helpful. Having said that, London is a bit of an exception. People are always in a mad rush in London, especially on the tube, so I highly recommend learning how it all works before your journey. Have your ticket ready so you don’t hold up the Londoners and know which line and direction you need. We have a whole host of travel tips for London in our blog.
Avoid rush hour and bank holiday weekends
Bank holiday weekends can be a nightmare for travel. We don’t have many of them and the whole country heads to the beach or city centres on these days. You could spend your whole trip stuck in a traffic jam! I also recommend avoiding rush hour, which is different in each city, although generally between 7.30am and 9.30am in the morning and 4pm and 6pm at night. Tickets and travel are also more expensive during this time, so try to find off-peak or super off-peak hours.
Tips for Attractions
Use discount cards
Travelling around the UK can be really expensive and a tourist attraction entrance fee for a family of four can easily go above £100. Luckily, there are some discount cards that provide year-round discounts. Our favourites are the National Trust membership and English Heritage membership. They run various historical or nature sites around the UK and you can get free or discounted entrance with these memberships. If you visit the UK more than once a year, this can be really beneficial.
A lot of tourist attractions also have tickets valid for 12 months so don’t throw any tickets away in case you travel back within the year. It’s also worth typing into a search engine “discounts for attractions in the UK” and you can often find vouchers or codes there. When I toured London a few years ago, if you had a valid train ticket, you could also get a discount, so there are lots of discounts available. It’s worth asking at your accommodation for some more information.
Research free attractions
There are actually loads of free attractions around the country. In London, most of the museums are totally free, it’s just individual exhibitions that may cost, so take advantage of the free attractions. One of my personal favourites is the Walkie Talkie building on Fenchurch street to get a view of Lonodn skyline.
Try walking around
I know this isn’t always possible with young children or if you’re not a great walker but the attractions in most cities are within walking distance. Even in London, you can walk around from one attraction to another and it’s a great way to take in the culture, observe the buildings, especially if it’s lovely weather.
Book in advance - especially in summer
The summer months get exceptionally busy in the big cities and attractions may be fully-booked. It would be pretty disappointing if you travel all the way to the UK but can’t enter any of the attractions. So, take a look before you come over and book some tickets. Often, you get a discount by booking online and in advance too.
Be aware of ticket touting
If you’re going to an event, such as the theatre in the West End, a football match, a concert or festival, be aware of ticket touting. Sadly, people copy tickets, sell them for ridiculous prices and as this isn’t allowed, you won’t be given entry to the event, so you end up losing a whole lot of money as well as missing out on the experience. So, try to buy from the company themselves or a registered ticket office.
Tips for Restaurants
Ask for tap water
Tap water is safe and totally free in restaurants/ cafés in the UK. If you ask for water when you sit down at the table, you will most likely be brought costly bottled water. Just ask for tap water instead at no extra cost.
Restaurants close early
Restaurants close relatively early in the UK because our meal times are quite early. Restaurants may even stop serving food after 10pm, so if you have a reservation, double-check what time the kitchen closes and if you’re spontaneously popping out for a meal, be prepared as you probably won’t find too much open after 11pm.
Check the dress code
A lot of restaurants have a dress code and may not let you in if you’re not wearing the correct clothing so, again, look it up before you visit. Most places, particularly in London, may be “smart”, which normally means no flip-flops, shorts or sometimes even jeans.
Service might be added
Some restaurants tend to add service automatically to the bottom of the bill, so read through everything and see if it’s been added already. You can ask for this to be taken off if you don’t want to pay it but you don’t necessarily need to leave a tip if service has been added. If it hasn’t, it’s polite to leave a tip of 10% of the bill total.
Tips for Money
Learn the currency
The currency in the UK is the Pound Sterling, so it’s a good idea to get to grips with the currency before landing here. Be aware that, post-COVID, most people deal with card only. A lot of local or corner shops will have a minimum spend to use card too.
Use notes smaller than £50
When you get your home currency exchanged into pound sterling, try to ask for denominations smaller than £50. A lot of shops don’t accept notes of £50 or don’t have the machines to check it’s a real note and will simply reject it. Ask for smaller notes, such as £20, £10 and £5.
Get VAT back
If you’re doing a big shop in the UK and are a non-EU citizen, you can claim back VAT at the airport. Ask for a VAT form when purchasing an item and show this at customs and you can receive the VAT back. Be aware that some shops don’t participate in this scheme and on some occasions there is a minimum spend too.
Random Random Tips
Check the sockets
The plugs we use in the UK are different to other countries, so check you get the right ones before you travel. Adaptors can be exceptionally expensive to buy at an airport and in the UK, so I recommend trying to get them before you arrive here. Also note that most sockets in the UK have a switch and that must be turned on for the socket to work.
Be prepared for all weathers
British weather is very unpredictable, no matter what the forecast says. You may well need sun cream and a sunhat in the morning but an umbrella and rain poncho in the evening. Be prepared for all weathers!
Learn how to queue
British people take queueing very seriously, you can’t just barge in, otherwise you could wreak havoc. Waiting for the bus, getting into a restaurant and buying tickets for an attraction are some typical situations you will most likely need to queue.
Wifi is mostly free
Most restaurants, cafés, shops and even city centres have free wifi. All you need to do is ask for the wifi password to access it. This can save you using up all your data!
Tipping is 10%
Tipping is seen as common courtesy in the UK and it should be 10%. In service-based businesses, such as restaurants, bars, pubs and even taxis, this is the norm and expect to spend a bit on this.
Hopefully these tips will help you take advantage of your trips to the UK. Do you have any other tips for our readers? Let us know in the comments below.
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