UK Travel Guide: England, Wales, Scotland, North Ireland

Outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, England, UK

Outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, England, UK

Why travel in the UK?

This cluster of tiny countries comprising the United Kingdom – which is England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – has 5, 000 years of history and a brilliant variety of things to see and do, culture to nature, old to new, silly to serious, whatever suits the tourist, apart from serious sunbathing or skiing.

London and Edinburgh both offer top class arts and culture scenes with superb museums (mostly free), galleries and theatres in settings of great age and historical reference, while the rest of the island spills over with historic buildings, traditional villages, lovely gardens, parks and even mountains. If you want to take it easy and enjoy the best of the country without problems take a look at good quality UK tours.

The British countryside is easily accessible by car and ranges from dramatic moors to rolling green hills, bleak mountains and big soft beaches. It’s a good place to camp out too.  The country is a walker’s delight and not bad for drivers too, if they stick to the smaller roads.

See photos of England, Scotland, Edinburgh and London

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland. Photo by Mactographer.

Downsides

• It’s expensive, especially the south of England and London hotels are particularly outrageous.

• The weather is often lousy and unpredictable, particularly in Wales and Scotland.

• Public transport, especially rail, is over-priced, while some sections of the tube (London’s underground rail system) are shabby and overheated – the tube was built long, long ago when users were few.

Weather

The best season is May-September, though no guarantees, prepare for rain and shine! The south of England sees the warmest, sunniest weather, especially in July/August when temperatures average from 15C-30C (59F-86F) but can go above 30C (86F) on occasion. Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland are famously wet much of the year.

Worst: December-February (wet, cold, grey, and short daylight hours). Average temperatures mostly range from a few degrees below zero to 15C (59F), with London and the south being the warmest regions. Scotland is the coldest.

London and Edinburgh have accommodation problems around New Year (Dec 29-Jan 2), summer time and the Edinburgh Festival (mid July-August)

Crib Goch in the Snowdonia range, Wales, famously bleak and beautiful, UK

Crib Goch in the Snowdonia range, Wales, famously bleak and beautiful. Photo by Diliff.

Length of vacation

Minimum worthwhile stay, not including flights: London or Edinburgh only – a long weekend could be excellent.

Recommended: 2 weeks, London, Edinburgh, plus 2 to 3 historical towns and/or the country side (Scottish Highlands, Lake District, etc. )

Wales and Northern Ireland are not often included in package tours, and offer less important ‘must sees’ unless you have unlimited time or a special interest.

UK’s Main attractions

Summer Solstice sunrise over Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England.

Summer Solstice sunrise over Stonehenge in Wiltshire, south England.

London and the South

***London, close to being Europe’s coolest city, with something for everyone, any season.

**Bath, an elegant but touristy city, with a real Roman spa and fine examples of early Georgian Palladian architecture. In Somerset, along with wacky Glastonbury. Any season.

***Cornwall and **Devon, ranging from bleak moorlands to thatched cottages on rolling grasslands, magnificent beaches, pleasant little fishing villages and good surfing. Summer season only.

The Eden Project, Cornwall. Extraordinary, educational and artistic biospheres housing a zillion exotic plants.

***Dorset. Castles (Corfe and Maiden), beautiful harbour (Poole), great beaches (Poole, Bournemouth and scattered along the south-west coast), Cerne Giant, grand old houses (e. g. Longleat) and superb walks such as:

***The Southwest Coast Path, a lovely 630 mile (1014 kms) clifftop stroll through rural, coastal England and the fossil stuffed Jurassic Coast.

***Stonehenge, an enormous, enigmatic, prehistoric stone circle in Wiltshire, along with Avebury, the Cerne Giant and more.

UK Beaches are plentiful and often have good amounts of gleaming sand and sunshine May-September. Excellent walks abound, though the water is always chilly and the weather can change in a moment.

Oxford University

Oxford University’s Radcliffe Camera. Photo by Laemq.

North of London

***Oxford, the world’s best-known university city, lovely centre, pity about the suburbs.

**Cotswolds, typical English countryside with rolling hills and charming thatched villages.

**Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s home town.

**Cambridge, a pleasant riverside city with its notable university and gorgeous buildings.

**Chester, the finest Roman and medieval town in the UK.

**York, an historic, walled city with the largest cathedral in Europe.

***Lake District National Park, Cumbria, one of the most scenic landscapes in Britain.

*Durham, the most striking cathedral city in Britain.

And all topped off by the decrepit but still impressive**Hadrian’s Wall

Edinburgh, Calton Hill, Scotland

Glen Coe, the Highlands, Scotland. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.

***Edinburgh, a dramatic and lively city. Edinburgh Pictures.

***The Highlands, spectacular landscapes, wilder and more dramatic than the Lake District, with mountains, glens and lochs make for magnificent walks if you can handle the erratic weather and summer midges (little, swarming mosquitoes).

**The Borders, tranquil pastoral country with delightful towns as well as Hadrian’s Wall on the English side.

**Stirling and the Trossachs, a compact and historic town with imposing castle.

*Glasgow, an industrial city recently reinvented as a wacky cultural destination with a fair number of extraordinary new buildings and fine museums.

*St Andrews, a coastal town with the famous old golf course.

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower Peninsula, Wales

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower Peninsula, Wales. Photo by Saffron Blaze.

Wales

The capital Cardiff is not a must-see place, except for the National Museum of Wales.

*Conwy, dominated by the marvellous Conwy Castle is one of the finest medieval fortified towns in Europe.

*Hay-on-Wye, has become the world’s biggest second-hand book towns.

**Llandudno, an attractive Victorian seaside resort, with fine sandy beach.

***Snowdonia National Park and mountain. A spectacular and popular area for superb climbing or hiking.

The Giant

The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Photo by Chmee2.

Northern Ireland

**The Giant’s Causeway, a spectacular volcanic rock formation of basalt columns along the Antrim Coast. A World Heritage Site.

UK Accommodation

There are masses of economical places to stay and prices can be kept low if you book well in advance and stick with modest hotels, enjoy Bed and Breakfast or self catering cottages; these are especially popular with families.
In the British spirit of innovation there are even agencies that organise group accommodation in the UK, renting entire large properties for extended family house parties or check here for good value UK Group Holidays in hotels.

Porthcurno beach in Cornwall, England, UK

Porthcurno beach in Cornwall, England.

UK Activities

Walking and Hiking: Numerous short walks and long distance footpaths surround most towns and often cross picturesque scenery in this walks-loving cluster of countries.

Climbing: There are many good climbing spots from the sea cliffs of the Dorset coast to Scotland’s Mt. Ben Nevis (1344m), Britain’s highest peak. See above link.

Biking: Hundreds of miles of dedicated bike/ walking tracks have been opened recently, as well as road routes. The Whitby to Scarborough Trailway, 20 miles along the edge of the North York Moors National Park, is one of the most spectacular routes.

Bird-watching: the Orkney Isles, Shetland Isles in Scotland, the Norfolk Broads and more.

Fishing: The Borders, Deeside in Scotland and shoals more.

Pony trekking: The Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales or the Pennines, England.

Skiing: Aviemore, Scotland, Britain’s biggest skiing centre.

Golfing: From the ancient, lunatic Edinburgh city centre Brunswick Links to St Andrews, there are more than 400 golf courses in Scotland, and not a few in the rest of the UK too.

Surfing: Yes, really, but you’ll need a wetsuit! Especially Cornwall – Newquay and Fistral beach are the best known – and North Devon (Atlantic/north-west coasts) plus also Wales and Scotland.

Nightlife & Entertainment: Regional cities such as London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle have wild and varied clubbing scenes, though provincial places tend to be extremely youth oriented.

UK Intercity Transport

Trains are sometimes on time, sometimes not; they are expensive unless you can book online well ahead.
Intercity buses are much better value and usually make good time.
Some destinations from London by train: Scotland about 6 hours; Wales about 2 hours; Brighton 1 hour; Oxford 1 hour; Cambridge 45 mins; Bristol 2 hours; York 2 hours+; Stratford-upon-Avon 2 hours+; Exeter 3 hours; Bath 1. 5 hours; Manchester 2. 5 hours; Penzance 5 hours.

Getting around London
Apart from London’s ancient underground (metro/ subway) or pricey taxis, buses are the best option and reasonably efficient.

Visas: EU ctizens are free to move to and work in the UK for any amount of time. Nationals of USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa do not need UK visas for up to 6 months holiday, but do need one for a work. More information for visiting the UK

Electricity: Electric sockets are 240v and take 3 rectangular pin plugs.

Safety: Tourist places are no problem save for the occasional pickpocket. Take care where you walk after late night booze sessions, particularly in the big cities.

Tipping: Waiters will hopefully deserve 10-15% of the bill unless service charge is included. Taxi drivers will be looking for 10%.

Language: Naturally English is used everywhere though a few Celtic diehards in Wales and Scotland may insist on using their ancient tongues.