How to Plan a Trip to the UK
Home to an impressive 25 World Heritage Sites, the UK, which includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, has hundreds of museums to explore, thousands of parks and gardens to stroll through, and tens of thousands of communities to discover. From Land's End in the south to John O'Groats in the north, the UK's tourist attractions that can fill a range of itineraries. With nearly 30 million tourists visiting every year, the UK is ranked among the top ten holiday destinations in the world. Known for its royalty, this country also represents a diverse patchwork of native and immigrant cultures. Although Britannia no longer rules the waves, it possesses a captivating history and a dynamic modern culture, both of which remain hugely influential on the rest of the world.
Places to Visit in the UK
Countries of the UKEngland
: From its bustling multicultural cities to the charming villages that dot the countryside, England is a fascinating land with a rich history and distinctive culture. Scotland
: Scotland's wild and romantic stretches of nature beckon visitors from around the globe, but many find its dynamic cities the real highlight of their UK vacation. Wales
: Centuries-old castles, towering mountains, and strong Celtic traditions contribute to the mythical feel of the "Land of the Red Dragon."Northern Ireland
: Decades of political unrest kept Northern Ireland off the tourist trail, but peace and recent prosperity attract more visitors to hip cities, a thriving culinary scene, and a dramatic coastline.
Regions of the UKYorkshire
: England's largest county, Yorkshire boasts many historical UK attractions, complemented by breathtaking natural scenery.Kent
: Blessed with a long coastline and scenic countryside, Kent has attracted holidaymakers for centuries. North Wales
: A hotbed of Welsh culture and language, North Wales boasts towering mountains, a magnificent coastline, and enchanting 13th-century fortresses.Devon
: A haven for outdoor adventuring, rural Devon offers everything from wakeboarding to forest foraging. Scottish Highlands
: A breathtakingly beautiful region, the Scottish Highlands' wilderness areas top many UK itineraries. County Down
: In this region, you can test your skills and endurance on world-class golf courses and challenging mountain hikes, then explore quaint shops and excellent seafood restaurants. Cornwall
: Famous for its rugged coastline, Cornwall also features ancient castles, charming fishing villages, and a vibrant arts scene. Scottish Borders
: The battleground for many territorial disputes, the Scottish Borders region is scattered with intriguing ruins of castles and abbeys.South Wales
: Home to Wales' capital city and the Brecon Beacons mountain range, this diverse region showcases both rural delights and thriving urban centers. Cumbria
: Straddling the border between England and Scotland, Cumbria includes Lake District National Park, a picturesque coastline, and a number of attraction-rich cities.
Top Cities in the UK
- London: The starting point of many UK tours, London has been one of the world's most influential cities for ages.
- Edinburgh: A World Heritage-listed city, Edinburgh is made all the more enchanting by its scenic backdrop, which includes the North Sea and verdant hills.
- Liverpool: The birthplace of The Beatles, this maritime city includes a number of World Heritage Sites.
- Belfast: The city has exuberantly emerged from its dark decades to offer fantastic nightlife, charming pubs, and a pleasant waterfront area.
- Glasgow: Scotland's biggest and busiest city, Glasgow serves as one of the UK's premier cultural centers with a particularly lively music scene.
- Cardiff: One of Europe's youngest capitals, Cardiff nevertheless boasts a long history, evidenced by its five castles and numerous industrial heritage sites.
- Bristol: A walk through the southwest's largest city reveals fine Georgian architecture, a bustling harbor area, and countless works of colorful street art.
- York: With its 2,000-year-old heritage and Roman and Viking relics, York ranks as one of the most popular UK vacation destinations.
- Caernarfon: Arguably the epicenter of Welsh culture and history, this walled city is famed for its Edwardian castle and stunning Snowdonia backdrop.
- Manchester: The country's second city, Manchester is famous for its nightlife, shopping, dining, and culture spots.
Things to Do in the UK
Popular UK Tourist AttractionsBritish Museum
: Home to one of the largest collection of artifacts in existence, this UK tourist attraction outlines the development of human culture on each of the seven continents. Edinburgh Castle
: Perched upon a craggy rock, this 12th-century castle boasts three military museums and serves as the permanent home for Scottish crown jewels. The Roman Baths
: A glimpse into life in Roman Britain, this museum displays a public bathhouse from around two millennia ago and a host of original artifacts.Great Orme
: Known for the many native species of birds and butterflies that live there, Great Orme is accessible by vintage tram or modern cable car. Tower of London
: One of history's most storied castles, this UK attraction served as a prison for famous figures like Anne Boleyn and Guy Fawkes. Giant's Causeway
: Considered one of the UK's greatest natural wonders, World Heritage-listed Giant's Causeway encompasses around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns protruding from the coast. St Fagans National Museum of History
: Learn about the changing lifestyles of Welsh people with a visit to this open-air museum, home to historical buildings from across Wales.York Minster
: The largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, York Minster boasts a fascinating 1,000-year history revealing much about the city of York. National Museum of Scotland
: With one venue dedicated to Scottish antiquities, culture, and history and another to technology, natural history, and international cultures, this museum provides an in-depth look into the rich heritage of a small nation.
Planning a UK Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in the UK with Kids
Major cities, such as London
, offer engaging museums and immersive historical sites ideal for a bit of learning on vacation.
For a more relaxing UK holiday, consider a seaside resort. The UK boasts a long coastline with countless beach destinations. Llandudno
deliver budget-friendly seaside pastimes, such as donkey rides, amusement arcades, and sandcastle building.
Active families should consider national parks. Snowdonia National Park
, Peak District
and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
offer fantastic hikes and accommodating villages.
Things to Do in the UK with Kids
While children may not find ancient churches or historical post offices interesting, including a warship or a castle on your UK trip will likely excite even the youngest members of your group.
Climb aboard HMS Belfast
or HMS Trincomalee
to learn about life on a British warship.
Fortifications like Powis Castle and Garden
and Dunluce Castle
encourage children to explore and offer kid-friendly activities.
When you have enough of towers and dungeons, treat the children to a theme park. Large parks like Alton Towers
and Chessington World of Adventures Resort
boast a wide array of roller coasters, but can be pricey.
Cost-conscious visitors can opt for a smaller seaside amusement park like Adventure Island
or The Pleasure Beach
If you're planning a city-based UK vacation, use the metropolitan parks so your kids can stretch their legs and expend some energy.
London boasts a particularly fine selection of green spaces, including the 142 hectare (350 acre) Hyde Park
Tips for a Family Vacation in the UK
The UK is well connected by public transport, but once you reach the rural areas you may find local transport links lacking.
Outside cities and major towns, buses are infrequent at best and sometimes costly for larger families. If you're keen to tour the UK's famed countryside, consider renting a car.
Also keep in mind that cobblestoned historical town centers make pushing a stroller challenging.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in the UK
Cuisine of the UK
Although uncomplex, traditional British cuisine is far from tasteless. Hearty meat stews and roast dinners (meat accompanied by roasted potatoes, a selection of vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding) are ideal for a rainy day at the pub, while fish and chips are best sampled by the beach.
On your UK trip, you will also encounter the famous full English breakfast, generally made with eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, black (blood) pudding, and toast.
Many associate the British with afternoon tea. Introduced by the English aristocracy in the 19th century, this light meal typically includes sandwiches, cakes, scones, and cups of tea.
The UK is home to many high-quality crafted foods, particularly cheese. The British Cheese Board confirms over 700 named cheeses produced in Britain--the most famous of which is certainly Cheddar
The UK produces world-class meats, such as Aberdeen Angus beef, native to Aberdeenshire
Immigration from former colonies has significantly influenced modern British cuisine. The UK's major cities play host to restaurants serving dishes from all over the world, with Indian food generally the most popular option.
Shopping in the UK
Few places in the UK can top the capital city for its variety of shopping destinations, which have earned it a reputation as one of the world's best places to shop.
One of London's most luxurious stores, Harrods
has become a major UK tourist attraction, even if many of its visitors cannot afford the designer items it sells.
The seaside city of Brighton
is a paradise for those looking for retro clothes, colorful artwork, and quirky household items, with much activity centered around The Lanes
Atmospheric places to shop exist all around the UK. Consider Cardiff's Castle Quarter Arcade
13th-century timbered high street, and Belfast's St. George's market.
Sample the nation's culinary delights at specialist food stores and farmers markets across the country. Small towns like Helmsley
have a particularly fine and authentic selection.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to the UK
History of the UK
In 43 CE, Romans invaded southern Britain, commencing their 400-year rule of the region and building the defensive Walltown Crags - Hadrian's Wall
, a World Heritage Site.
By the 5th century, the Roman Empire's rule collapsed as Germanic Anglo-Saxons began settling the area. Gaelic speakers in the north of Britain united with the Picts, creating the Kingdom of the Scots by the 9th century.
Viking raids led to the formation of Scandinavian states throughout Britain. York served as the capital of the Danish Kingdom for 100 years, while the Norse people colonized the Northern Isles of Scotland and some Highland territories.
A number of Norse sites still exist in Scotland, including Jarlshof
, the remains of a Viking settlement.
In 1066, William the Conqueror led the Norman invasion of England at the Battle of Hastings. Include Battle of Hastings site
on your UK itinerary for insight into the Normans' campaign in Britain.
Subsequent medieval kings completed the conquest of Wales but could not annex Scotland, resulting in a nearly perpetual conflict between the two crowns.
The Reformation and introduction of Protestant state churches engendered religious conflict in the early modern period.
The Kingdom of England incorporated Wales, and Ireland entered into a union with the English crown. In present-day Northern Ireland, the lands of Catholic Gaelic nobility were given to Protestants from England and Scotland.
Inheriting the English and Irish thrones in 1603, King James VI moved his court to London. The reign of his son, Charles I, brought domestic conflicts, leading to the temporary overthrow of the monarchy.
Although the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland was short lived, the parliamentary system that accompanied the monarchy's restoration significantly reduced the crown's power.
In 1707, England and Scotland unified to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, but Jacobite uprisings tried to remove the Protestant House of Hanover and restore the Catholic House of Stuart.
Visit Culloden Battlefield
on your UK tour to learn more about the failure of the Jacobite uprisings.
The 19th century brought the formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Industrial Revolution.
The UK emerged from this period as the world's principal naval power. Cities swelled with new arrivals from the countryside, forming a large urban working class.
Museums like Museum of Science & Industry
and Big Pit: National Coal Museum
detail the growth of British communities during this era.
The UK entered World War I in 1914, defeating Germany and taking several former German and Ottoman colonies. The British Empire encompassed a fifth of the world's land surface and ruled over a quarter of its population.
The UK entered World War II in 1939. Though victorious, the UK was severely weakened by years of conflict.
History buffs on tour of the UK will appreciate Imperial War Museum
and Churchill War Rooms
Following World War II, the Empire's territory steadily shrank, but a shortage of workers encouraged immigration from former colonies, giving the nation its present multiethnic character.
From the late 1960s, communal violence became commonplace in Northern Ireland. Nationalists demanded independence from the UK, while Loyalists remained determined that Northern Ireland stay within the UK.
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 ended the armed struggle known as The Troubles.
In 2014, a referendum on independence came before the Scottish people, but the voters elected to remain in the UK.
Customs of the UK
Standing in line is something you'll often have to embrace on your UK vacation. Never push to the front of the queue unless you want to be scolded by those behind you.
Across most of the UK, people will wait in line to board buses. This rule often goes out the window in bustling London, where people scramble to claim a seat.
Holidays & Festivals in the UK
Public parties rich in national pride mark Saint David's Day (Wales, March 1), Saint Patrick's Day (Northern Ireland, March 17), Saint George's Day (England, April 23), and Saint Andrew's Day (Scotland, November 30).
Learn about these four patron saints at Westminster Cathedral
, boasting a chapel devoted to each.
Food, drink, and music festivals take place throughout the year, most commonly during summer.
Some of the most famous include a music festival held in Somerset
Food Festival, and the Great British Beer Festival in London
UK Travel Tips
Climate of the UK
The UK enjoys an agreeable temperate climate in which temperatures rarely reach extremes.
In winter, it rarely dips below -10 C (14 F), while in summer it seldom exceeds 35 C (95 F).
The farther north you go the colder it will be, so dress warmly if you're visiting the Scottish Highlands
or their islands.
Transportation in the UK
You can take short internal flights between London-Edinburgh, Exeter-Belfast, and the Island of Anglesey-Cardiff. Although the flight itself may be quick, getting to the airport and checking in can negate the time saved on travel.
Trains often remain the best long-distance option. A comfortable 201 km/h (125 mph) train links London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, the Lake District, Carlisle, and Glasgow.
If you're on a budget, take a long-distance bus instead. The trip lasts considerably longer but is often the cheapest option.
To visit rural regions during your UK vacation, rent a car, the most convenient way to explore on your own schedule.
Languages of the UK
For a territory just over half the size of California, the UK boasts a diverse array of accents, dialects, and languages.
English is the common language spoken in the UK, but some Gaelic languages remain across the Isles. The most prevalent is Welsh, spoken by around 21.7 percent of the Welsh population and used on all road signs.
Tipping in the UK
Tips are considered an expression of gratitude for good service and should be left at your own discretion.
In sit-down restaurants, 10-15 percent tip is common. Some restaurants will automatically add a service charge.
Tips are not expected in cafes or pubs, although you might see a tip jar at the cash register.