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Eat

Despite jokes and stereotypes, internationally orientated British cuisine has improved greatly over the past few decades, and the British remain extremely proud of their native dishes. Restaurants and supermarkets in the middle and upper range have consistently high standards, and the choice of international dishes is the best in Europe. However, British eating culture is still in the middle of a transition phase. Unlike their continental neighbours, many Britons still eat to live rather than live to eat, and as a result, food quality is variable at the budget end of the market.

The United Kingdom can be an expensive place to eat out compared to, say, the more southern European countries, but relatively cheap in comparison with countries such as Switzerland and Norway.

Many restaurants in city centres tend to be a little more expensive than ones in the suburbs, and pubs do tend to be slightly more expensive in the countryside, but generally, a three-course meal without drinks will cost the traveller anywhere between £10 and £15. Chicken tikka masala with rice is sometimes claimed as the UK's most popular dish, though roast beef is a more traditional national dish.

Many large shops, especially department stores, will have a coffee shop or restaurant.

Smoking is now banned in all restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs - there are no exceptions. However some establishments have provided 'smoking areas' and smoking is allowed in the gardens/terraces outside pubs and restaurants unless otherwise stated.

Fish and chips

Deep-fried, battered fish (usually cod or haddock, though with a wider selection in some areas) with rather thick chips, always made from real chunks of potato rather than thin tubes of extruded mashed potato. Fish and chips are often served with mushy peas (in England), and dressed with salt and malt vinegar (or 'Sauce' in parts of Scotland). "Proper" fish and chips can only be bought from either a backstreet "chippy" or a specialist fish and chip restaurant (the latter are mostly at the seaside, although there is a national chain, Harry Ramsden's, which does quite good fish and chips, but at "tourist prices"; Mr Ramsden's original shop, near Leeds, was a legend). However, a "proper chippy" (a backstreet "fish and chip shop", or just "chip shop") is the quintessential place to buy fish and chips. In the north you can also add mushy peas to your order. These are rarer in the south of the country. In Scotland, especially Glasgow, some fish and chip shops deep-fry almost everything they sell, including meat pies, pizzas, and even battered Mars or Snickers bars.

The best ones are specialists, serving perhaps a few alternatives such as a selection of pies or sausages. They are usually located near where people live, though some good ones, especially "sit down" chippies (see below), can be found in town centres. They can be spotted by the illuminated sign which usually has a picture of a fish (often smiling delightedly at what is about to happen to it) and a name: either punning and piscine ("Codroephenia", "The Codfather") or proud and proprietorial ("Fred's Chippy") or both ("Jack's Golden Plaice"). As a rule, the more people eating (or waiting), the better the food.

The ultimate find, though, is a "sit down chippy", a chip shop with a separate dining room. If this is the "perfect" sit down chippy (no real one will be exactly like this, though most elements will be present) the room will be brightly lit and decorated in a nautical theme (at least one fishing net and one anchor) with yellow or blue formica-topped tables. A waitress will take your order for a Cod Meal (or "Haddock", or "Plaice"), and within five minutes a huge fish-motif plate (probably oval) will arrive, covered by a huge fish, a mountain of chips, and, if you weren't brave enough to refuse, a green mound looking like refried beans and smelling vaguely of peas. Accompanying it, in more up-market places, will be a sachet (or little dish, if a very posh place) of tartare sauce, a slice of lemon, a big plate of bread-and-butter, and a pot of tea. If this is "Chippy Nirvana", there will be a separate pot of hot water, either to dilute the tea if it is too strong for your taste, or to "top-up" the tea in the pot when you have poured out your first cup. On the table will be a large shaker of salt and a bottle (or plastic squeezy bottle) of brown malt vinegar, which is what the most British will put on their fish and chips. (Tartare sauce is considered pretentious.) There may even be a tomato-shaped plastic container of ketchup (more common in "caffs"). If you find such a place, you will never accept a substitute again. Fish and chips bought from a pub (or hotel, or non-specialist restaurant) will bear little resemblance to "the real thing", bought from a chippy. In particular, if you see a meal labelled "Traditional fish and chips" on a menu labelled "Traditional pub fayre" then neither the pub nor the fish and chips is traditional — go elsewhere!

Take-aways

A 'take-away' is either a shop supplying prepared meals for people to eat elsewhere, or the meal itself. A very British take-away is the Fish and Chip shop; the sandwich shop is a popular choice at lunchtimes; they often also sell pies and cakes. Alternatively, most towns and many main routes have a selection of fast-food chains. Various types of take-aways are present in nearly all towns, ranging from fish and chips (see above); to "Indian" (often Bangladeshi) and Chinese shops. Thai and Indonesian takeaways are becoming quite common, and lots of others in bigger towns. Generally the standard of take-aways is good, but the best guide is, as always, to observe what the locals are doing.

Food in pubs

See below for general points about pubs.

Almost all pubs (see below) serve food, although not all will do so during the whole of their opening hours. Prices of all these types vary enormously, and you should seek local advice if you have particular requirements or standards. Do not sit at a table in a pub expecting a waiter to take your order for food or drinks: pubs nearly always work on a "queue at the bar for drinks: order at the bar for food" basis. You go to the bar to request and pay for drinks and food. To avoid annoying customers behind them, groups usually order as one, and "settle up" between themselves later (see elsewhere for "buying rounds"). You normally order your "starters" and "mains" together (food-oriented places have numbers screwed to the tables for you to quote). You then wait for your drinks to be poured and carry them to the table. When your meal is ready, it is either brought to you or, less commonly now, announced when it is ready for you to collect. The person who tidies away your main course may ask you what dessert you would like, or you may have to order at the bar again.

Restaurants

Larger towns have a range of restaurants to suit most tastes and you will find a very broad range of different cuisines, including Indian, Chinese, Thai, French and Italian. Waiters generally expect a 10% tip (but all too often do not get it from the native population) and in some places this is automatically listed on your bill. However, if you are dissatisfied with the service in any way, you are under no obligation to pay the service charge. Generally British people are not great tippers. As a visitor the 10% rule is more than generous and worth sticking to. Visitors from The US and Canada are seen as very generous tippers and even a bit of a soft touch by some.

Curry

One of the most popular types of restaurant in Britain is the Indian restaurant. They can be found in every city and most towns large and small. There are now more and more upmarket Indian restaurants in the larger urban centres. Indian restaurants serve cuisine commonly known to their customers by the generic term "curry". Common Indian restaurant dishes include Chicken Tikka Masala, Prawn Biryani and the incredibly spicy Vindaloo. A popular version of curry is known as balti, possibly named after the metal bowl the food is cooked and served in. Balti cuisine, and a number of other commonly served dishes such as the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, originated in the UK though it is clearly based on food from the Indian subcontinent. Birmingham in the Midlands is considered the balti capital of the UK as this dish was conceived there. Curry Mile in Manchester is well worth a visit if you are in the city.

Motorway service areas

Motorway service areas (Motorway Services listed on Wikipedia) are notoriously expensive places to eat, though the vast majority are open 24 hours by law. Most contain fast-food outlets and all have (free) toilets. Some services may be limited overnight such as the range of hot and cold food, although most will keep a selection available. Service areas are often best avoided as it is often possible to find cheaper and much better places to eat within a mile or two of a motorway junction. Try 5 minutes away, a website listing facilities no more than 5 minutes' drive from motorway junctions.

Vegetarian/vegan

Vegetarianism has become more widespread in the UK over the last few decades. If you are staying as a guest in a British home it would be considered courteous to inform your host beforehand as to any dietary requirements, but this will not be considered rude or even particularly unusual. However, bear in mind that even if you call yourself vegetarian some people will assume you eat fish, so if you don't, then tell them so. Nowadays, it is rare to find a pub or restaurant with no vegetarian options.

If you are a vegan, be prepared to explain precisely what you do and don't eat on a fairly frequent basis. Outside of specialist eateries, most places probably won't have a vegan-friendly main meal, so be prepared to hunt around, order bits and bobs, or in a pub make do with the ubiquitous bowl of chips and tomato ketchup and even then it would be wise to check whether the chips have been cooked in animal fat, a practice quickly falling out of fashion.

In general, the best places for vegetarian/vegan food are specialist veggie pubs/restaurants, of which most major cities will have at fewest one, and Indian, Chinese and South-East Asian restaurants. These will normally have a range of vegetarian and vegan options. Ironically, one of the few places you may see without any meat-free food at all is an extremely expensive luxury restaurant. If you're fortunate enough to be dining in such a place, it may be worth ringing ahead.

Drink

The legal age to buy and consume alcohol is 18 (16 for a glass of beer, cider, or perry with a substantial meal and an adult present) but many older teenagers younger than 18 have seemingly little problem in purchasing alcohol in smaller pubs and from off licenses. Nevertheless, if you're over 18 but lucky enough to look younger, expect to be asked to prove your age when buying alcohol (also, in certain places if you look under 21 or 25, you have to prove you're over 18, known as "Challenge 21(25)"), especially in popular city spots. The most trustworthy form of ID is a passport or driving license which shows both your photograph and date of birth, and many vendors won't accept anything else. In private residences the minimum age to drink alcohol is 5 years old, although it is likely that if a 5 or 6 year old etc was getting drunk it would be brought before the courts as child neglect.

Getting drunk is acceptable and often it is the objective of a party, though the police often take a dim view on those causing alcohol-related trouble. This applies to all levels of the British society - it may be worth remembering that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had to collect his son Euan from a police station after he had been found drunk celebrating the completion of his GCSE exams taken at the age of 16. Nevertheless, Britons have a great sense of humour and everything is forgotten after a hangover, at least until the next time. Drinking is an important part of the British culture, and even though it is frequently complained about, it is as popular as ever.

Pub

The pub or public house is the most popular place to get a drink in the UK. Even small villages will often have a pub, serving spirits, wines, beers, cider, and alcopops, accompanied by crisps, nuts and pork scratchings. Many serve snacks or meals. The greater volume of drinks served are various kinds of beer, mainly lagers, bitters, and Guinness. People not looking to drink real ale are free to choose a pub just on the basis of location, and character, because most national "smooth" bitters or TV-advertised lagers are available in any non-real-ale pub; however, even non-real-ale drinkers often find that they prefer the types of pubs with a range of real ales, because they tend to be more "traditional", with a more individual character and less oriented to juke boxes, games machines, fruit machines and large crowds. In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there is now a blanket ban on smoking inside pubs and restaurants, though many pubs have areas outside, often known as "beer gardens", where smoking is (usually, but not always) permissible. However if you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be able to stay after the formal closing hours this is called a "lock in" and smoking is often allowed at the discresion of the pub land lord. this will often only occour in the later hours after 11pm and these lock in's can last any amount of time. They happen in few pubs and often only pubs with a more regular type of customer although this is not always the case. Once at a lock in you may not leave and come back in again as this will be deemed against the pubs licencing laws.

British real ales, championed by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), are amongst the best in the world - though people used to colder, blander, fizzier beers may find that the taste needs to be acquired. People looking for real ale will need to select the right pubs, because although a wide range of pubs serve one or two real ales (some of these have only a "token" barrel with low turnover and a strange taste: often, unfortunately, people's first and understandably only experience with "real ale"), only a "real ale pub" will have a wide selection. The phrase "free house" was usually the main indicator for people looking for a good choice of beer, because this indicated that the pub was not owned by a particular brewery and served whatever beer its landlord thought would appeal to their customers. However, this is no longer a significant factor, because most national pub chains are now owned by large conglomerates who deal centrally with brewers and serve the same mass-market brands in all their pubs: these conglomerates (not being breweries) can still call their pubs "free houses".

British people usually follow a kind of unwritten code of conduct when in pubs, though types of venue can vary dramatically, ranging from a 'local' pub, usually a quiet place consisting of one or two rooms, to a chain pub such as J.D. Wetherspoons which are very large rooms capable of holding hundreds of people.

  • Don't tap money on the bar surface to attract the barman's attention.
  • Tipping is not a tradition in most pubs and you should take all of your change. Regular customers who have a relationship with the staff will offer to buy the Landlord, or bar worker, a drink. "A pint of Best, Landlord, and one for yourself". The Landlord will often keep the money rather than have too much to drink. However you are not obliged to do this yourself.
  • Especially in a 'local' pub, keep your voice down and avoid drawing attention to yourself.
  • It might be best to avoid heated debates about controversial subjects in pubs and bars; if others get involved these can escalate.
  • If you require extra chairs, you may want to take one from another table. If someone is already seated (even if it is only one person seated at a six-person table) you must ask if you can take the chair.
  • Waiting patiently at a bar is imperative. Pushing in line will not be tolerated and could lead to confrontation. If someone cuts in line before you, feel free to complain - you should get support from other locals around you.
  • In the male toilets, especially in big pubs or clubs, don't try to strike up conversation or make prolonged eye contact. UK pub toilets are very much "get in and get out" places - some drunks can take a casual remark the wrong way.

Pubs with a good choice of real ales may exhibit almost any pattern of ownership:

  • By a real-ale brewery (in which case the pub will serve all of the beers made by them, and perhaps only one "guest beer").
  • By a national or local pub chain who believe it is possible to serve a range of real ales at reasonable prices (their chain buying power can force down a brewer's margins) in a pub that non-real-ale-fans will be willing to patronise.
  • By an independent landlord committed to real ale (usually the ones with the most idiosyncratic beers, and the hard-core "real ale type" customers).

Many pubs are very old and have traditional names, such as the "Red Lion" or "King's Arms"; before widespread literacy, pubs would be identified by most customers solely by their signs. Recently there has been a trend, strongly resisted in some quarters, towards chain-pubs such as the Hogshead, Slug and Lettuce and those owned by the JD Wetherspoon company. Another recent trend is the gastro-pub, a smartened-up traditional pub with a selection of high-quality food (nearly at restaurant prices).

Beer in pubs is served in pint and half-pint measures, or in bottles. A pint is slightly more than half a litre. Simply ordering a beer on tap will be interpreted as a request for a pint, e.g. 'a lager, please'. Alternatively 'half a lager, please' will get you a half-pint. If you ask for a "half-pint of lager" in a noisy pub, you will almost certainly get a pint, because no-one asks for a "half-pint" and the bar person will have thought you said "I'll have a pint of lager, please". Prices vary widely based on the city, the pub and the beer, but generally pints will be in the range £2 to £3.

Pubs often serve food during the day. Drinks are ordered and paid for at the bar.

When applying for a licence, pubs can specify any opening times they wish; this can be challenged by neighbours, etc. The most common closing times at the weekends are between 12am and 1am and some larger pubs may apply for a license until 2am and clubs 3am or 4am. It is not unheard of that some bars have licenses until the early hours (6am) although this is rare as many who are out until this time are likely to go to nightclubs and then home. Theoretically, a pub can ask for a 24-hour license, though few have done so.

 

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the United Kingdom or the UK) is a constitutional monarchy in western Europe, and one of the world's wealthiest nations.

The Union comprises four constituent nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It occupies all of the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern portion of the island of Ireland and most of the remaining British Isles. It counts Ireland, France, Belgium and Netherlands as its nearest neighbours. The Isle of Man and the various Channel Islands are "crown dependencies", possessing their own legislative bodies with the assent of the Crown. They are not part of the United Kingdom, nor of the EU, but are not sovereign nations in their own right either.

The 'Great' in Great Britain is to distinguish it from the other, smaller "Britain" which is Brittany in northwestern France: or Grande-Bretagne and Bretagne respectively in French

The UK today is a diverse patchwork of native and immigrant cultures, possessing a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture, both of which remain hugely influential in the wider world. Although Britannia no longer rules the waves, the UK is still a popular destination for many travellers. The capital city of the United Kingdom (and the largest city) is London.

Home nations

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a union made up of several 'home nations' and territories:

Map of the United Kingdom
Great Britain
England the largest component, in terms both of size and, by far, population.
Scotland situated in the north of Great Britain.
Wales located within the largely mountainous western portion of Great Britain.
Ireland
Northern Ireland occupies the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland.

'Great Britain' (or 'GB', or 'Britain') means Scotland, England, and Wales taken together (as a purely geographical term, GB refers just to the biggest island). GB became the UK when the Irish and British parliaments merged in 1801 to form the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". This was reduced to '... and Northern Ireland' when all but six Irish counties left the Union in 1921 after a war of independence. However, 'Britain' is often seen as shorthand for the whole of the United Kingdom ("British Government", "British Citizen").

The term 'Britain' is often used to refer to the whole UK in general conversation. Don't use the term 'England' for this. It is incorrect, and most people from Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, will not identify themselves as from 'England'.

The flag of the United Kingdom is popularly known as the Union Jack, but is correctly known as the Union Flag. It is comprised of the flags of St. George (of England), St. Andrew (of Scotland, also known as the Saltire) and the St. Patrick's Cross (of Ireland) superimposed on each other. Within England, Scotland and Wales, the flags of each nation are commonly used, as is the Red Dragon in Wales. The St. Patrick's Cross flag is never seen in Northern Ireland, since it largely represents the pre-1921 era when the whole of Ireland was part of the UK. Instead either the Union Flag, or the Red Hand of Ulster (similar in appearance to the St. George's Cross flag of England) is flown - particularly in Unionist areas. Also in Cornwall it is common to see St Piran's flag.

Cities

Many cities and towns in the United Kingdom are of interest to travellers outside the capital city of London. Following is an alphabetical selection of nine - others are listed under their specific regions:

  • Belfast - capital of Northern Ireland and becoming a popular tourist destination
  • Birmingham - central England's main city, features great shopping, and is home of the famous Balti and great culture
  • Brighton - a popular sea-side resort near London
  • Bristol - an historical city famed for its Georgian architecture and nautical heritage
  • Cardiff - capital of Wales, host to varied cultural events and many other modern and historical attractions
  • Edinburgh - capital of Scotland, home to the largest arts festival in the world and numerous tourist attractions as well as being the second most visited city in the UK
  • Glasgow - Scotland's largest city, new cultural hotspot, former European City of Culture
  • Manchester - Thriving bohemian music scene, gay quarter, home to the world's only new work arts festival and dozens of tourist attractions as well as being the third most visited city in the UK.
  • Newcastle upon Tyne - largest city in the north east of England with a busy nightlife, a rejuvenated cultural scene and Hadrian's Wall.

Get in

The United Kingdom is physically linked to two other countries. The Channel Tunnel connects the UK to France, and Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland.

Immigration and visa requirements

  • Major airports and ferry routesCitizens of other member states of the European Union for the most part do not require a visa, and have permanent residency and working rights in the UK. Citizens of Ireland have additional rights allowing them to vote in elections.
  • Citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland also have permanent residency rights, but may require a work permit in some circumstances.
  • Citizens of American Samoa, Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Bonaire, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Curaçao, Dominica, East Timor, El Salvador, Federated States of Micronesia, French Guiana, Greenland, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guam, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong (SAR), Israel, Kiribati, Lesotho, Macau (SAR), Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Martinique, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Reunion, Saba, South Korea, St Eustatius, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Maarten, St Vincent & The Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Swaziland, Tahiti and her Islands, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tuvalu, Uruguay, United States, US Virgin Islands, Vanuatu, Vatican City and Venezuela do not require a visa for visits of up to 3 or 6 months in a one-year period, though require entry clearance for purposes other than visiting as a tourist. However, the entry clearance normally prohibits one from undertaking employment or accessing public funds, such as the NHS, and it is nonextendable.
  • Recently added as a visa exemption is a student visitor visa exemption category, where a person may receive an entry clearance at immigration for the UK for the purposes of undertaking a short course of study (generally no longer than the tourist visa exemption period). Similar rules apply with the tourist visa in that one must provide sufficient proof to immigration officials of financial solvency without employment and proof of enrolment. Again, like a tourist visa exemption, this is also non-extendable.
  • Most other countries and purposes will require a visa, which can be obtained from the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. All UK visa applicants are required to provide biometric data (10-digit fingerprints and a biometric digital photograph) as part of the application process. You will have to go to your nearest visa application centre in person to provide your biometrics.
  • All non-EU visitors should expect to be asked by the Immigration Officer upon arrival to demonstrate that they have a) a return ticket to leave the United Kingdom, b) a valid address at which they will be staying in the United Kingdom and c) sufficient funds with which to support themselves during their stay. An inability to demonstrate these three basics may lead to a refusal of leave to enter or a grant of restricted leave.
  • Commonwealth citizens who are 17 or over and have a British grandparent can apply for an Ancestry visa. This allows residency and work for five years. After this, permanent residence may be applied for.
  • The UK also operates a Working Holidaymaker Scheme for citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations, and British dependent territories. This allows residency in the UK for up to 2 years, with limited working rights. Work is restricted to a total of 12 months within the 2 year period.
  • Regardless of citizenship, passports are not required to enter the UK from the Republic of Ireland. Passports are required to enter the UK from all other countries, regardless of EU membership.

For more information of UK Immigration and visa requirements, see the British Home Office website [

By plane

London Heathrow Airport is the world's busiest international airport. Situated 15 miles west of Central London, Heathrow offers a large choice of international destinations, with direct flights to most countries in the world. British Airways has its hub at Heathrow and offers a wide range of international flights to Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Australia. There are fewer direct flights to South America, although many South American airlines connect to London via Spain. Other large airlines operating at Heathrow include bmi (formerly British Midland), Virgin Atlantic and the main national airlines of most countries. London Gatwick Airport, 30 miles south of London in Sussex, is the second-largest airport, and also offers a wide range of international flights. London Stansted Airport in Essex, and London Luton Airport in Bedfordshire, are hubs for the budget airlines Ryanair and easyJet who offer direct flights to a wide range of European destinations. London City Airport is the most central airport in London, situated 7 miles east of Central London, but mainly serves business passengers to the main financial centres in Europe.

Outside London, many of the regional airports offer a wide range of direct links to European and some long-haul destinations. Manchester International Airport in the North of England is the UK's third-largest airport serving many European and long-haul destinations. Liverpool John Lennon Airport, in North West England, is the UK's fastest-growing airport and is taking on more and more flights. Jet2.com is based at Leeds Bradford and offers many cheap flights to Europe and beyond. Cardiff International is the main international airport in Wales; it is a major hub of bmibaby. Meanwhile easyjet, FlyBe, Ryanair and bmibaby maintain hubs at other regional airports. Other large airports in the regions include Birmingham International, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Bristol, Southampton, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, Newcastle and Teesside/Durham Tees Valley. In Northern Ireland, Belfast International Airport is the major airport with international flights, although some transfer flights may take you to Belfast City Airport. City of Derry Airport also offers a limited number of international and domestic flights.

Due to an increase in airport security and aviation security in general, long delays are possible when checking in for a flight. Additionally a passport or valid photo ID (such as photo driver's licence, national ID card, etc.) is required for internal flights although no visas or travel permits are required.

Airport tax is applied to both international and internal flights (£20 on international flights, £14 on internal flights) so check if it is included in any quoted air fares.

By train

From Belgium and France

Eurostar services run between London (St Pancras International), Ebbsfleet and Ashford and Paris (Gare du Nord), Lille and Brussels through the Channel Tunnel. Journey times average two hours fifteen minutes from Paris. A second class return from Paris to London costs between €85 and €230, although it can be cheaper to fly from London to Paris using a low-cost airline (but bear in mind that the journeys to the airports will cost an extra €40-60). There are a limited number of direct services from other destinations in France also.

The main benefit of using the Eurostar is that it runs between the central zones of its destination cities, removing the necessity of accessing the relevant airports on the outskirts of cities (potentially very time-consuming!), and of undergoing several uncomfortable modal changes.

From The Netherlands

Stena Line (Hook of Holland to Harwich) Combined train and ferry tickets are available to travellers from stations in the Netherlands to train stations in East Anglia, Essex and East London. This service may be a useful alternative to Eurostar for travellers from Northern Europe, or for those wishing to travel to East Anglia. The interchange between the ferry terminal and the train station at both ports is very simple and user friendly. Express trains from Harwich International are timed to meet the ferry and allow a simple transfer to London Liverpool Street. The Dutch Flyer website only gives prices for tickets purchased in Great Britain; it does, however, give timetable information. Stena's Dutch language website allows booking of tickets for journeys starting from the Netherlands.

From the Republic of Ireland

Cross Border Rail Services to Northern Ireland

From Dublin in Ireland, the Enterprise takes just over 2 hours to Belfast and Irish Rail is advertising return tickets from €36.50 (November 2006).

Services to the British Mainland

Combined Rail & Sail tickets are available from Ireland and Northern Ireland to any railway station in Great Britain. Although the SailRail website only gives prices for tickets purchased in Great Britain, tickets can be bought from the railway company and ferry operators in Ireland, with a price of €35 to €41 one-way (January 2007); actual price depends on origin and destination, but (London-Dublin via Holyhead is €41). Through tickets are available via other sea corridors also. Fares are slightly higher during July and August. Virgin Trains may be offering advance-purchase tickets from London to Dublin from £32 return, although these are hard to obtain and only possible for journeys starting in Great Britain. It is also possible to cross from Southern Ireland into South-West Wales on a Stena Line ferry which is met by a train on each side. The stations are immediately next to the mooring point.

 

By car

The Channel Tunnel has provided a rail/road connection since 1994. Shuttle trains carry cars from Calais, France to Folkestone, the journey taking around 40 minutes. Fares start at £49 one way and can be booked on the Eurotunnel website. On arrival at Folkestone, you can drive on to the M20 motorway which heads towards London. Car ferries also operate to many parts of the UK, see 'by boat' section. Drivers entering Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland will usually find they have done so without noticing. There are no border controls and only the major roads will display signs stating that you are leaving one country and entering the other. It should be noted that road signs in the Republic of Ireland are in Kilometres while those in Northern Ireland are in miles so it is advisable to take note of the differences in signs and road markings when driving in border areas.

By bus

Coaches are the cheapest way to travel to the UK from France and the Benelux. Eurolines offer daily services from Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels to London Victoria coach station. Daily overnight coaches and limited day coaches travel between the UK and Ireland. Connections are available to most parts of the UK via the domestic National Express coach system, for most destinations it is cheaper to purchase this when purchasing your Eurolines tickets as discounts are available. Journeys take about 8-14 hours.

Eurolines will also take you to/from other major European cities. Taking a budget flight is normally cheaper (but with a greater environmental impact), and spares you from a 24h+ bus journey.

Various other operators compete with Eurolines, mostly between Poland and the UK; these come and go.

By boat

See the city articles for more details on routes, timings and costs. Ferry routes to British Mainland

There are a large number of ferry routes into the UK from continental Europe. Newcastle serves a route from Bergen in Norway and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Harwich has ferries from Esbjerg in Denmark, Cuxhaven in Germany (put out of operation in November 2005) and Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands. You can also sail from Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Zeebrugge in Belgium to Hull, or from Zeebrugge to Rosyth, near Edinburgh (note that this service will resume in April or May 2009, as Norfolk Line take over the route from Superfast Ferries, whose service ended in September 2008). There is a regular connection between Ramsgate and Oostende in Belgium. There are 4 sailings a day and prices vary between 50 euro to 84 euro.

Dover is one of Britain's most popular passenger ports with sailings from Zeebrugge, Dunkerque and Calais in France. The Dover-Calais route is particularly busy, with three companies competing and up to 50 sailings per day. The Ferry between Dover and Calais costs around £12-18 each way if on foot or bicycle, and around £80 for a car, although big discounts are available if booked in advance or with special offers.

On the south coast, Portsmouth serves ferries from Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, St. Malo and Bilbao in Spain and there are speedy services between Dieppe and Newhaven. The other route from Spain is Santander to Plymouth, Plymouth also has ferries from Roscoff, Poole has ferries to Cherbourg as well as the Channel Islands.

From Ireland, ports of entry include Swansea, Pembroke, Fishguard and Holyhead. There are sailings from Dublin to Holyhead, Mostyn and Liverpool. [NB:The service from Swansea is suspended until 2008 when the company will acquire a new ship]

From Iceland, the Faroe Isles, Norway and Denmark, a passenger ferry sails into Lerwick.

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Cost

Britain is an expensive country even for Brits, and due to the strong Pound, even more so for foreigners. The high cost of basics such as transport, accommodation and food means that you'll spend around £50 per day as a budget traveller and more if you want to afford luxuries such as taxis, 3 star hotels, and meals in restaurants.

London and the South East is up to three times as expensive as other parts of the country. Further North things are more reasonably priced.

Cigarettes and tobacco

Cigarettes are heavily taxed and therefore very expensive, ranging from around £2.45 (just under $5) for 10 budget-brand cigarettes e.g. Richmond, to £6 (around $11) for 20 premium-brand cigarettes such as Marlboro or Benson and Hedges.

Rolling tobacco is also very expensive, but much cheaper than pre-made cigarettes. Rolling tobacco is sold in 12.5-gram, 25-gram and 50-gram pouches, at around £2.50, £5, and £10 respectively. 50 grams can make around 100 cigarettes (hand-rolled) which would cost around £20-£30 for the pre-made variants.

The age to purchase tobacco throughout the United Kingdom has now been raised to 18. Customers who appear younger than 18 may be asked to produce a passport or other identification.

Almost all newsagents, supermarkets and petrol stations sell tobacco, and most will also sell some brands of pipe tobacco and cigars. For a more extensive selection of tobacco products, most towns and cities will have at least one specialist tobacconist.

Smoking is illegal in all public buildings except some private members clubs, it is also illegal to smoke at train stations even if they are uncovered.

Shopping

Although shopping in Britain can be expensive, it is generally regarded as a world-class destination for shoppers both in terms of variety and quality of products, depending on where and what you buy. Fierce competition has brought prices down considerably in the food, clothing and electronic sectors. Prices do vary and it is always worth visiting the various retail stores as bargains can often be found. Avoid buying from the tourist areas and stick to the High Street shops or the many 'out-of-town' retail parks where prices will be considerably cheaper.

VAT (Value Added Tax - a mandatory tax on many goods and services in the UK) is 17.5%. For most High Street shopping, VAT is included in the sale price. However, for certain larger purchases, especially in the area of computers and electronics, stores may show prices without VAT, however these are clearly marked with "exc VAT" next to the figure. In many of the larger towns and cities, many shops have the blue "Tax-Free Shopping" sticker in the window, meaning that when you leave the UK, you can claim back the VAT before you leave the country. However, in order to do this, you must keep any receipts you receive from your purchase.

Electronic items such as computers and digital cameras can be cheaper here than many European countries (especially Scandinavian countries), but do shop around. The internet is always a good way to judge the price of a particular item, also you can use this as a bargaining tool when agreeing on a price with some of the larger electronic retail stores. If visiting from the US, there may be duties and taxes charged that make some of these purchases much less of a bargain so shop wisely.

Money

The currency throughout the UK is the Pound (£) (more properly called the Pound Sterling, but this is not used in everyday speech), divided into 100 pence (p).

As of 6 September, it trades at around US$1.76 and €1.24 per pound.

Coins appear in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2 denominations, while Bank of England notes (bills) come in £5 (green), £10 (orange), £20 (purple) and £50 (red), and depict the Queen on one side and famous historical figures on the other. The size increases according to value. However, Scottish and Northern Irish banks issue their own notes in the above denominations, with their own designs. There are a few banks issuing notes in these areas. If in doubt, check what you are given for the words "Pounds Sterling". £100 notes and some old £1 notes are also in circulation in Scotland. Bank of England notes circulate freely in the whole of the United Kingdom, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland it is quite common to receive change in a mixture of English and/or Scottish or Northern Irish notes. Welsh banks do not issue their own notes. Some vendors may refuse to accept Scottish and Northern Irish notes outside their respective countries, even though they are legal tender in the whole UK and are Sterling. Larger retailers in major cities in England and Wales do not bat an eyelid when faced with a Scottish or Northern Irish note, but it is best to avoid confrontation with a smaller retailer and exchange any notes at a bank if required.

Coins are uniform throughout the United Kingdom.

You may also hear the slang term quid for pounds. It is both singular and plural; "three quid" means "three pounds". It is likely that people will use the slang "pea" when they mean either a penny or pence. Note the singular is penny and the plural pence. Some people still use traditional terms such as a penny, tuppence and thrupence (1p, 2p and 3p). The words "Fiver" and "Tenner" are common slang for £5 and £10, respectively.

In general, shopkeepers and other businesses in the UK are not obliged to accept any particular money or other method of payment. Any offer to purchase can simply be refused; for example if you try to pay with notes or coins they don't recognise. If in doubt, ask someone when you enter the shop. If settling a debt, for example, paying a restaurant or hotel bill, usually any reasonable method of payment will be accepted unless it's been made clear to you in advance how you must pay. However, travellers cheques are never accepted in place of cash.

The £50 note is best avoided; very few establishments will accept a £50 note, even for purchases of £50 or more, due to their rarity and the risks of forgery for such large notes, and also because of the problem of providing change for £50 notes in smaller shops. Most high street banks will not change notes or coins unless you have an account with them; this is very annoying if you have a legitimate £50 note that no shop will accept! However, you can have your money changed, without paying commission or owning an account, at certain post offices. Also, use a credit or debit card for purchases over approximately £100. Do not carry large quantities of cash notes around - many £10 or £20 pound notes are not always accepted if paying for items over approx £100.

ATMs, which are often known in the UK as Cashpoints, cash machines or informally as 'holes in the wall', are very widely available and usually dispense £10 and £20 notes. Traveller's cheques can be exchanged at most banks. Be aware: some non-bank ATMs (easily identified, sometimes kiosk-style units, as opposed to fixed units in walls, and often at petrol/gas stations and convenience stores) charge a fixed fee for withdrawing money, and your home bank may as well. On average the cost is about £1.75 per withdrawal, but the machine will always inform you of this and allow you to cancel the transaction.

Visa, Mastercard and Maestro are accepted by most shops and restaurants, although American Express is usually only accepted in large stores, and it is worth asking if unsure, especially if there are long queues. Since February 14, 2006, Chip and PIN has become nearly compulsory, with few companies still accepting signatures when paying by credit or debit cards. Customers from countries without chips in their credit cards are supposed to be able to sign instead of providing a PIN; however, it is wise to carry enough cash in case the retailer does not comply.

Visitors to only England and Wales should not experience any difficulties as notes used here are circulated by the Bank of England. These notes are also both accepted and circulated in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland notes printed by the Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank are more common. Scottish notes are both accepted and circulated without problems in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland can be the most confusing, as there are four different types of Northern Irish bank note. These are accepted and sometimes circulated in Scotland without any problems and should be accepted in larger retailers in the major English and Welsh cities but are never circulated there.

There is no exchange rate between English, Scottish and Northern Irish pounds as they are all Sterling, but visitors, especially to Northern Ireland, should be wary if they choose to change their notes to Bank of England as the major ports and airports will charge for this service. You are advised to change such notes in hotels or banks, where notes are changed pound for pound with no charge. Occasionally major retailers with outlets in all four UK regions will also do this without charge if asked. If unfamiliar with the currency it is perhaps wise to try and stick to Bank of England notes and Scottish and Northern Irish shopkeepers will not be offended if asked to give such notes in change, though it may not always be possible

Wine bars

In cities, in additional to traditional pubs, there are more modern wine-bars and café-bars (often known simply as bars), though the variable weather means that there is not as much of a 'street scene' as in other European cities. However, depending on the weather, there are more and more pavement cafes in the UK than in the past. Parts of London, Manchester and other up-and-coming cities are good examples of this change of scene.

Prices in bars tend to be higher than in pubs, with less focus on beer, and more on wine, spirits and cocktails. Customers are often younger that those of traditional pubs, though there is much crossover and some bars are more "pubby" than others.

 
             
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