21 things everyone should know before visiting Britain

updated 8/25/2021
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Brits can be a funny lot. The country might be small, but you could spend a lifetime learning its quirks and idiosyncrasies. Regional pronunciation, strange road rules and its renowned drinking culture can all prove hazardous to the first-time visitor. Here’s our guide to surviving in Blighty.

1. There are three nations in Britain

First things first. The most important thing to know is that Britain is home to not one but three patriotic nations: England, Scotland and Wales.

2. Tea is central to the national psyche

Expect to be offered tea in any eventuality. Celebrations, commiserations, rainy days, sunny days and everything in between all call for a good cuppa. Fierce debate rages as to whether the milk or tea should be poured first.

© Shutterstock

3. Brits rarely say what they mean

Unfailing politeness is observed in all circumstances. “Sorry” runs the gamut from a genuine apology to a passive aggressive warning that you’re about to be pushed out of the way. Use this handy guide for translations.

4. A “swift half” will always end in the early hours

The pub, one of the greatest British traditions, comes with its own set of rules. Drinks are bought in rounds and you should stick to beer, ale and wine – never shots or cocktails. If you’re invited out for a quick one, prepare to crawl back home at closing time having eaten nothing but half a pack of salt-and-vinegar crisps.

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5. You can drink on the street

If you’re coming from the US, you might be surprised to see people with drinks on the pavement (sidewalk). Not only is this allowed, but given the faintest hint of sun Brits will congregate on any patch of concrete, grass or pavement going.

6. Brits really do talk about the weather – a lot

When it changes this much, there’s always something to say. And there really is nothing lovelier than the cloudless skies and gentle sun of a perfect British summer day.

London aerial view seen from London Eye, heavy fog hits London. Image include Westminster Palace, Big Ben, Victoria Tower, Westminster Abbey © Bikeworldtravel/Shutterstock

7. Compliments make people nervous

Compliment a Brit and they’re likely to brush it off or make a self-effacing remark, however pleased they are. Don’t even get onto boasting. “Self-praise is known as “blowing your own trumpet” in the U.K. and is tantamount to treason” according to the BBC.

8. There are some astonishingly strange place names

Bottom Flash, Cock Alley, Booty Lane, Nether Wallop and Sandy Balls are all British places. Yes, really. There are so many odd place names, we even made a quiz of the best ones.

9. Measurements are baffling

Distances on roads are calculated in yards and miles. Objects are measured in centimetres and metres. Height is stated in feet and inches. Food is weighed in grams and kilos. People are weighed in stone and pounds. Are you following?

Street view of the historic Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland © f11photo/Shutterstock

10. Queue jumpers will not be treated kindly

After tea drinking, queuing is the other national pastime. “Queue-barging is the worst solecism a foreigner can commit” say the bastion of traditional British values, Debretts.

11. Stand on the right

If you value your life, stand on the right when you step on an escalator. If you want to walk up or down, stick to the left.

12. There are more weird traditions that you can count

From cheese rolling to bog snorkelling, there’s no end to Britain’s weird and wonderful festivals and traditions. Eccentricity is among the most celebrated British traits.

13. British food is world class

British food has shaken off its poor reputation. You’ll find innovative fine dining everywhere from Cornwall to Edinburgh, hearty roasts and posh pub grub aplenty and exceptional Indian, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine among others. These days Britain even has its own vineyards.

Traditional british fish and chips © neil langan/Shutterstock

14. That said, Brits aren’t afraid of a bit of offal

Aside from the classics like haggis (sheep’s stomach filled with sausage meat oats and spices) and black pudding (blood sausage), look out for a resurgence of nose-to-tail eating.

15. You might hear about a chain called Nando’s

Everyone under the age of 25 has gone a bit nuts for a restaurant called Nando’s. The hype doesn’t really translate outside the country, and if you were drawn into the Tumblr furore, you'll find this summary helpful.

16. In London, never make eye contact

No matter how crowded the train or strange the situation, Londoners will steadfastly ignore eye contact at all costs. Striking up a conversation with a stranger on public transport is practically unheard of.

Hampstead Heath during the summer months in London © Chris Seddon/Shutterstock

17. Outside London, always make eye contact

Outside the capital, Brits are generally a friendly lot and happy to chat. Expect people to greet you with anything from “alright, pet” in Newcastle to the occasional “ey’up duck” in Derbyshire.

18. Pronunciation is important

You’d better get familiar with “Worcestershire”, “Marylebone” and “Gloucester”. If you want to get ripped off by a London cabbie, there’s no better way than asking to go to “Lie-ces-ter” rather than “Less-ter” Square.

19. London is not the centre of everything in Britain

Unless you’re talking to a Londoner, in which case Britain solely exists within the M25 motorway.

© Shutterstock

20. Britain has some of the world’s most gorgeous countryside

Bucolic views don’t get much better than those you’ll find in the Scottish Highlands, the Brecon Beacons and the Lake District. If you want to get away from it all, there are numerous places to choose from.

21. A trip to Britain is unforgettable

There’s a reason it’s one of the most visited countries in the world. Check out our lists of things not to miss in Scotland, England and Wales for starters.

Explore more of Britain with the Rough Guide to Britain. Compare flights, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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updated 8/25/2021
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