Travel guide for England

The British are unmistakably recognisable with their politeness, 5pm afternoon tea, black humor, and left-side driving. These peculiarities are what make them lovable. Their eccentric nature, as well as exciting nightlife and art scene are already reason enough to visit the island.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) is the largest island state in Europe and it is made up by England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the surrounding British Isles. With about 67 million inhabitants, the United Kingdom is one of the most populated countries in Europe.

The largest cities in the UK include the capital London and the metropolises Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol. On the island you can admire a total of 31 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, World Cultural Heritage Sites, World Natural Heritage Sites and a mixed cultural and natural heritage sites. UNESCO World Heritage Sites include the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church, Stonehenge, Avebury and the Tower of London.


Geography

The United Kingdom is an archipelago in northern Europe with an area of 243,610 square kilometers. It consists of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), Northern Ireland and about 800 smaller islands. The best known island groups are Shetland and Orkney and the Isle of Wight.

The only mainland border is between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is about 360 kilometers long.

Time zone

Great Britain is part of the Western European Time zone, commonly referred to as the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Climate and seasons

The weather in the UK is predominantly rainy and humid, but warmer than other places at the same latitude due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The weather is rather erratic. The south coast of England has the least amount of rain. In general, however, it can be said that the climate is warmer and drier in the south and east than in the north and west.

While the summer months are usually somewhat cooler than on the European mainland, it is usually somewhat milder in winter due to the island location and the influence of the Gulf Stream.

Climate chart (London)

 

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Highest temperaturesHighest temperatures

8

8

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12

11

Lowest temperaturesLowest temperatures

-1

1

2

5

9

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8

3

-1

Hours of sunlight per dayHours of sunlight per day

3

1

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Rainy daysRainy days

5

5

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5


Requirements for entering England

  • Due to new Brexit regulations, from 01 October 2021 you will need a passport valid for atleast 6 months to enter the UK. Before that date, travelling with an identity card is still allowed.
  • For non-EU travellers, please refer to the specific rules of your country.
  • Citizens with other nationalities may need a visa to stay in the UK. We recommend applying early as the processing time can be long. You can check if you need a visa here.
  • European air passenger rights no longer apply, except for flights from the EU to the UK or from the UK to the EU with a European airline. The UK's new air passenger rights are however similar.
  • Check with your health insurance provider to see what medical expenses are covered and think about getting an international health insurance for what is not covered. 
  • There may be higher roaming charges when browsing the web with your phone. However, many well-known mobile phone providers refrain from this and surfing the Internet will remain free of charge even after Brexit. It is best to check with your mobile provider before your trip.

Currency

The British pound, also known as the sterling, is probably the oldest currency in the world that is still in use. It was first mentioned in a French document in the 11th century and is therefore estimated to be about 1200 years old.

The design of pound bills has been subject to regular change since the first banknotes were issued in 1694.

With a currency converter, you can easily convert what the current conversion rate between your currency and pounds is.

Health care

Great Britain has a very good health care system, with great medical facilities and trained specialists. Health care in the NHS ( National Health Service) is free for all citizens to register with and use.

Costs that may occur in the case of sickness are usually covered by the government's insurance, provided that you are insured. You should make sure that you take all necessary insurance documents with you for such cases. Print versions of these should be available from your domestic health insurance company. Ensure that you have a travel health insurance and, if possible, a private health insurance that is valid abroad and is also applicable for the entire duration of your stay in the UK.

It would also be advisable to ask your health insurance company whether they will cover the costs in the case of sudden sickness or emergencies. When in doubt it is worth considering applying for a travel health insurance that will provide you with all the services that you may require. An example of a required services would be the free transportation back to your country of residence in the case of an emergency.

Please read through the UK's health information on the government and the NHS websites.

Packing list

Take a look at our packing checklist and make sure you have everything before departure day!


Religion

Around 59 percent of the the UK's citizens identify as Christian. Over 14 million inhabitants (approx. 25.1 percent) stated that they do not belong to any religion. Among Christians, most feel they belong to the Anglican Church, about 11 million people belong to other Protestant churches and just under 6 million Britons are Catholic. About 4.8 percent of the population are Muslims and 1.4 percent are Hindu.

Politics

Formally, the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as the current head of state. She is also Queen and official head of state of the 15 countries of the Commonwealth, a large part of which are former British colonies that have become independent states.

Theoretically, the monarch can depose the government at any time, though this has not been done for centuries. Since the royal family tends to stay in the background, many refer to the United Kingdom as having a parliamentary system of government in the form of a parliamentary monarchy. Parliament consists of the House of Lords (upper house) and the House of Commons (lower house). The current head of government is Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister selects the Cabinet and its members, who are then formally appointed by the Queen to form Her Majesty's Government.

Local language and communication

The official language in the United Kingdom is English.
However, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have their own officially recognized languages, which are, respectively Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, and Irish and Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland. Cornish (around Cornwall) and Scots (Scotland) are also spoken. Some of these languages are recognized as minority languages by the European Charter and are therefore protected.

Local dialects are also plentiful in the UK although they don't hold official status. Perhaps the best known dialect among them is the Cockney dialect, spoken in London. Cockney became famous because of George Bernhard Shaw's novel Pygmailion and the film adaptation My Fair Lady, in which the linguist Henry Higgins teaches the simple flower girl Eliza Doolittle to speak the finest English.

Public transport

Keep in mind that the traffic in the UK is on the left side of the road. This also means that public transport and cars drive on the left.

The characteristic red double-decker buses from London have become world famous and a symbol not only for the capital, but for the whole of England. These buses are known as 'coaches' in the UK. There are different kinds of coache whose name depends on the types of journeys that the coaches make. For example some of them only drive locally, while others drive across the country and others are only used for direct connections to airports.

Great Britain has a great transport system connecting the main cities. More information can be found here.


History

The first inhabitants of England were the Megalithic cultures around 4000 B.C. They created the mysterious stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury. Around 800 BC, Celts migrated from central Europe and brought the Gaelic and Breton languages with them to the island. These were followed by Julius Caesar, who came in the island around 43 AD. Caesar took England, which remained under the Roman Empire until its demise.

This was followed by the immigration of Germanic peoples such as Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who then created Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the seventh century. After that, mainly Danish Vikings came to England and took over the military rule. In the eleventh century, William the Conqueror and his Norman army reached the south coast of England and conquered the country.

The next centuries were characterised by frequent wars and conflicts, such as the Hundred Years' War with France, conflicts between heirs to the throne, and the war between the Church and the Crown. In the 16th century, Henry VIII's marital problems led to a break with the Roman Catholic Church and his declaration as head of the Church of England.

Important in the history of the country were England's colonisation ventures, such as the ones of the American coast as well as Canada and Australia. In the 19th century, England developed into an industrial center, with industrial cities springing up in the Midlands and driving global trade. Great Britain was the greatest power in the world during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).

In World War II, England was part of the Allies and played a major role in the victory against the Third Reich. In contrast, more and more colonies such as India, Malaysia and Kenya gained their independence.

Hardly any history fascinated the media as much as the British royal story. Numerous cinematic adaptations of the story have been created, including the Netflix series "The Crown," which deals with the life of the young Queen Elizabeth II, as well as "Reign," a series about the life of the young Mary Stewart at the French court, or the probably best-known series "The Tudors," about the scandalous monarch Henry VIII.

Festivals in England

Brighton Festival: The Brighton Festival is a multi-arts festival taking place every May of every year. The festival has been running since 1965, and has seen more than 500,000 people attend.

Great Escape Festival: This is one of the most popular festivals in the UK, showcasing over 400 up-and-coming artists from all over the world and a multitude of genres across 35 venues.

Brighton Fringe: (May - June) A festival of diverse arts. Every year you have the opportunity to see local Brighton artists. Best of all, most of the events are free!

Artists Open Houses: (May and June) A very special experience: over 200 artists open their houses to the public and showcases their art.

Comedy Festival: (October) The Comedy Festival is a local and national festival of artists with an incredibly varied and exciting program that will make you laugh until you cry!

Greenwich+Docklands International Festival: The Greenwich + Docklands International Festival in June and July brings you outdoor theater, dance, circus, art and music for all ages. Experience one of the biggest arts festivals in London taking place in the boroughs of Royal Greenwich and East London.

Notting Hill Carnival: The Carnival at Notting Hill takes place in August and is quite an experience. It is the largest city festival in Europe as it welcomes more than one million visitors. It is also one of the largest Carnival celebrations in the world! This very colorful festival is bound to enchant you.

London Design Festival: In September you can explore the fascinating world of designs at the London Design Festival. You will be able to find artistic pieces created by Design artists from all around the world for an entire week.

Chocolate Show: An absolute must for all chocolate fans: truffles, bars, brownies and cakes in abundance await you at the Chocolate Show in October! It's the biggest celebration of the country's most popular desserts!

Winter Wonderland: Winter Wonderland takes place in the famous Hyde Park from November to January. It is the best way to experience London in the run-up to Christmas by skating to live music, marvelling at a circus performance, taking a ride on the Giant Observation Wheel, riding a carousel or roller coasters, and taking part in an ice sculpture workshop!

Holidays

In addition to the classic Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter, a few special holidays are also celebrated in the United Kingdom. However, not all holidays are celebrated uniformly in England, for example Saint Patrick's Day on March 17 is celebrated only in Northern Ireland.

  • The first Monday in May: Early May Bank Holiday
  • May 9: Liberation Day (celebrated only in Guernsey and Jersey)
  • Last Monday in May there is the Spring Bank Holiday for all
  • July 5: Tynwald Day, only celebrated on the Isle of Man to celebrate the bicameral parliament of the island in 979
  • July 12: the Battle of the Boyne holiday in Northern Ireland commemorates the eponymous battle on the River Boyne, in which King William III of England defeated the former King James II of the House of Stuart to conquer the island of Ireland

In England, Scotland and Wales, an August Bank Holiday is also celebrated. Here the date varies: in Scotland it's celebrated on the first Monday in August, in Wales and England on the last Monday in August.

Food

When you think of English cuisine, you immediately think of the famous of English Breakfast. This hearty meal classically consists of beans, fried or scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon and toast with salted butter. It is often accompanied by orange juice. In some variants, porridge (oatmeal) or mushrooms are also served.  

In general, British cuisine has a reputation for being very fatty and hearty. The most famous dish is probably fish and chips, deep-fried fish with French fries.

Through the Commonwealth, British cuisine received influences from all over the world. For example, a survey in 2001 found that the most popular dish among the English was chicken tikka masala, a cross-over combination of the Indian dish chicken tikka with a typically British spicy tomato sauce.

When it comes to sweet treats, cakes such as lemon cake are very common, just like crumbles, apple pie and scones. A scone is a bread-like sweet pastry often served with clotted cream and jam at tea time.


Common tourist mistakes

Never jump the queue! Queuing is very important to the English and jumping the queue is an insult to etiquette. Whether you are at the bus stop, the post office counter or at the checkout in the supermarket, watch closely how the English queue. A certain distance from the person in front must be maintained, and when a new checkout is opened in the supermarket, don't all run to it right away. Instead, get in line according to your previous positions in the old queues.

Don't stumble into every tourist trap. Of course you want to take a typical red double-decker bus in London, but but keep in mind that tourist buses cost around 20 pounds. However, you can also just take a public double-decker bus and have a similar experience for about 2 pounds.

In England it is common to stand on the right side of the escalator, and walk on the left.

Tips and advice

In England you will often find people saying "You alright" when passing each other. Depending on how well you know the person who says it, this does not always mean that they want to know how you are actually feeling. It is often misunderstood as such, but in truth it is a greeting to which locals would usually respond by saying "Yeah, you alright". If you know the person well you can of course then go on to talk about how you are doing. Otherwise this is just meant as a greeting and nothing more than the interaction stated above is expected.

If you go to a pub with collegues you usually do not pay for your drinks separately, but instead take turns paying for rounds of drinks. Even if you're not a fan of British royalty, it would be a breach of etiquette to be the only one seated when toasting the royal family.

If you are traveling by car in the UK, you should also keep in mind that the headlight flasher is not used here to give right of way and is not understood that way by the locals.