Travel to and around Britain
This page provides information for travellers and also gives details about local customs.
The Following is covered:
There are several major International airports in Britain and a host of smaller local ones.
London currently has three airports, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead. Be aware that these can take anything up to an hour to travel to Central London from by public transport such as rail.
Birmingham, Manchester, Luton, Edinburgh, Prestwick also have major airports.
There are a number of airlines operating in the country although the national carrier is British Airways.
A number of car hire firms operate in Britain. If you are from a large country such as the United States you will probably find the journeys short on average. Britain has a very well established network of motorways and major (A) roads but these are some of the busiest roads in Europe so times can often be slow.
To hire a car in Britain you will need to hold a clean driving license.
Petrol and diesel prices are not standard in in Britain and you will need to fill up where you see a competitive price offered. Avoid motorway service areas which tend to be expensive because they have a monopoly. Although urban areas are well served for filling stations other areas are not. You will probably find that in the National Parks and major open country locations such as in Scotland and Wales such stations are few and far between.
Avoid city centre driving if at all possible as they all have very complicated one way systems and very little or extremely expensive parking. In London it is often quicker to walk one mile than to drive because of the volume of traffic. London has an excellent Underground railway system but other cities and towns rely on local buses and a few light rail or suburban rail systems. Local police forces are trying to crack down on speeding and speed cameras which attract fixed penalty fines are being set up in many areas in towns and countryside alike.
Possible road traffic congestion throughout Great Britain can be found on the Frixo site which uses live traffic sensors and is updated every three minutes.
National Express is the major national carrier linking large cities and towns throughout the country. Ticket prices are significantly cheaper than rail but journey times are often much longer and can be subject to traffic delays on Britain’s busy roads and motorways. Tickets can be booked through Travel Agents.
There are also many other coach firms operating journeys to specific places and a network of local buses in each location operated by different companies.
Although the rail network is owned by one company different companies actually run the trains on these tracks so it is vital to purchase the correct ticket for the actual journey you want to make. Some companies will link the same two cities but one will provide express services and another stopping trains so be aware of your exact needs. Prices can vary dramatically.
Times of trains are published at all railway stations, by phone and on the Internet. (Check online timetable here). Phone enquiries can be costly and will very often require you to wait in a long queuing system.
Some journeys will require a change in trains at certain stations. Many trains do not run on time and only major services are held up if a connecting train is late so plan your journey times accordingly.
There are also many ticket prices for the same journey with the same company. These will depend on whether you book in advance, want return tickets within a specified period or whether you want to travel at peak times of the day or on public holidays. Always ask for the cheapest way to travel to your destination stating where and when you want to go and what day and time you want to come back.
There is also a choice of First Class or Standard Class tickets.
Only major Inter City trains have refreshments on board and only large stations have refreshment facilities. Most trains have toilets on board.
Engineering works are a fact of life in Britain and are often done at weekends. Always ask if there are any specific delays or alterations to the printed timetable
SHIPS AND FERRIES:
The major ferry ports connecting Britain with Europe are mainly on the South Coast. These include, Dover, Folkestone and Newhaven. However there are major ports at Hull and Newcastle for the north of England.
Ferries to Ireland depart mainly from the Welsh coast at Holyhead or the Scottish Coast at Stranraer.
Britain is made up of many islands particularly in Scotland and there is a network of local public ferries. For instance the Isle of Wight ferries mainly leave from Portsmouth, the Isle of Mann ferries leave from Liverpool and many of the Scottish ferries leave from Oban, Mallaig or Aberdeen.
Southampton, despite the advent of air travel, is still a major international passenger port.
Taxis are expensive in Britain but ideal for short complicated journeys. There are two types of taxis. Those which pick up at ranks, such as at stations, which are licensed by the local authority and Private Hire Vehicles. These must be booked in advance and are not allowed to pick people up off the street but are often cheaper than the traditional black cabs.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to give it its full title, is made up of the once separate countries of England and Scotland and the Principality of Wales. Northern Ireland is still governed from London unlike the rest of Ireland which is now an independent republic with its capital in Dublin. Added to this there are other areas such as the Isle of Man, the Channel Isles, etc, and you will find that the country has a very rich geography indeed.
The hours of opening for Public Houses has been relaxed in recent years but you will still find some which are closed in the afternoon. All are open at weekends. Many cafe’s and small restaurants are not licensed to sell alcohol and those that are will only sell it if taken with a meal.
These are very numerous in large towns but less so elsewhere. They open on a rota basis on Sundays and holidays. Ask at a hotel or police station if you have an emergency need for one.
The currency is Pounds Sterling, sometimes known as British Pounds but Euros are accepted in some shops, etc in major cities. Money can be exchanged at Airports, Bureau de change and most banks.
One of the things which make Britain great is its free National Health Service. Accident and Emergency Departments exist in all major towns and cities. Where there is more than one hospital in an area the A + E facilities are clearly marked on road signs.
English is spoken everywhere although you will find that the Welsh language and increasingly Scots Gaelic and the Cornish tongue are attracting much interest and some parts of these regions have signs in dual languages. Regional accents are often very pronounced and local people proud of their regional roots. These Islands have welcomed immigrants from all parts of the world since Roman times and you will find groups of people speaking many of the European languages and also Asian tongues from the Indian subcontinent to China and Malaysia.
Another free service in Britain is its public library service. Here trained staff will be able to help you with information on a wide variety of topics and provide you with free access to the Internet. University and specialist libraries are only open to students or members of that Institution or by special appointment.
There is a first class and second class service for letters and postcards which cost different prices. First class are delivered quicker. Parcels are priced by weight and destination. Main post offices are in all major towns and cities and sub post offices can be found in smaller areas. These offer a slightly reduced service. In 2006 a large letter charge was introduced. Envelopes above a certain size or thickness cost more to post so if in doubt ask at the Post Office.
The main religion is Church of England or Church of Scotland which is Protestant Christian although there are now nearly as many Catholic churches in Britain. The country also supports and indeed was the founder of many other religious groups and sects. You will also find a wide range of international religions practiced such as Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, etc. Times of local services are published outside churches or in local newspapers.
Opening hours of shops is normally from 9 or 9.30 a.m. until 5.30 p.m. although there may be late evening opening in larger towns on certain days. Sometimes smaller towns have early closing days or full days when shops are closed. Please enquire locally. Sunday opening is now becoming common in most areas of the country except for many parts of Wales and Scotland for religious reasons. This is often 10.30 a.m. till 4 p.m
Public toilet facilities are provided by the local council for that area. These are adequate in major towns and tourist destinations but rare elsewhere. Public Houses (Pubs) and restaurants will require you to purchase something from them before you use their facilities.
The Tourist Information service operates offices throughout the country organised on a regional basis. Local literature on travel, things to do and places to stay can be sent to you free of charge. Please contact the relevant office. The major regions are:
- Northern Ireland
- The Channel Isles
- North West England
- The Heart of England
- East of England
These are commercial companies who have offices in most major high streets.
It doesn’t rain all the time in Britain. If you take an umbrella with you then it won’t rain and vice versa! Just because it is warm and sunny at 9 a.m. does not mean that it will not rain by lunchtime. British people talk about the weather all the time precisely because it is so changeable. You can have a hot day followed by a cold day followed by a hot day as the weather is by and large affected by winds coming in from the Atlantic but these can be ousted by winds occasionally from Siberia. Early autumn and early spring are often times of glorious dry weather but the weather in Britain is always dramatic and part of the landscape so enjoy it and keep some extra clothing in your bag. In general the further north you go the colder it becomes but there are often days when Scotland has better weather than the south of England (and if you were a Scots person you’d probably say all the time). Check the Meteorological Office Website here.