England is expensive. Even if you’re camping or hostelling, using public transport, buying picnic lunches and eating in pubs and cafés your minimum expenditure will be around £35/US$55/€40 per person per day. Couples staying in B&Bs, eating at unpretentious restaurants and visiting some attractions should expect roughly £70/US$110/€80 per person, while if you’re renting a car, staying in hotels and eating well, budget for £120/US$185/€135 each. Double that figure if you choose to stay in stylish city hotels or grand country houses. On any visit to London, work on the basis that you’ll need an extra £30/US$45/€35 per day to get the best out of the city.
Many stately homes remain privately owned, charging £8–18 for admission. Other old buildings are owned by local authorities, which generally charge less or allow free access.
Municipal art galleries and museums often have free admission, as do the big state museums (British Museum, National Gallery, National Railway Museum, Royal Armouries and many others). Private museums and other collections rarely charge more than £6 admission. Most cathedrals and churches either charge modest admission or ask for donations.
Admission prices quoted are the full adult rate, unless otherwise stated. Concessionary rates – generally half-price – for senior citizens (over 60), under-26s and children (aged 5–17) apply almost everywhere, from tourist attractions to public transport; you’ll need official ID as proof of age. Children under 5 are rarely charged.
Full-time students are often entitled to discounts too. They can benefit from an ISIC (International Student Identity Card), while people under 26 can get an IYTC (International Youth Travel Card) and full-time teachers qualify for the ITIC (International Teacher Identity Card). All these are valid for special air, rail and bus fares and discounts at attractions. Each costs around £10/€14/US$22) – see wwww.isic.org for details.
Crime and personal safety
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be at any risk as you travel around England. Despite what the media might have you believe, terrorism is exceptionally rare – and, as a holiday-maker, you won’t be visiting the toughest urban estates where crime flourishes. You can walk more or less anywhere without fear of harassment, though all the big cities have their edgy districts and it’s always better to err on the side of caution, especially late at night, when – for instance – you should avoid dark streets and give drunken groups a wide berth. Leave your passport and valuables in a hotel or hostel safe (carrying ID is not compulsory), and exercise the usual caution on public transport. If you’re taking a cab make sure it’s officially licensed: plan ahead by noting down local taxi numbers beforehand, or ask bar or restaurant staff for a recommendation. If you’re robbed, report it straight away to the police: your insurance company will require a crime report number.
Most visitors rarely come into contact with the police, who are approachable and helpful – though they can get tetchy at football matches, political demonstrations and in the late evenings when pubs close.
Being caught in possession of a small quantity of “soft” drugs – mainly marijuana and cannabis – will probably result in a police caution. If, on the other hand, the police suspect you are dealing, you can expect to be held in custody and ultimately prosecuted.
The current is 240v AC. North American appliances will need a transformer and adaptor; those from Europe, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand only need an adaptor.
EU citizens can travel to – and settle in – the UK with just a passport or identity card. US, Canadian, South African, Australian and New Zealand citizens can stay for up to six months without a visa, provided they have a valid passport. Many other nationalities require a visa, obtainable from the British consular office where you live. Check with the UK Border Agency (wwww.ukvisas.gov.uk) for up-to-date information on visa applications, extensions and all other aspects of residency.
Gay and lesbian travellers
No vaccinations are required for entry into Britain. Citizens of all EU and EEA countries are entitled to free medical treatment within the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), on production of their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The same applies to those Commonwealth countries which have reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the UK – for example Australia and New Zealand. Everyone else will be charged: you should definitely take out health insurance before you travel.
Pharmacists (usually known as chemists in England) can dispense a limited range of drugs without a doctor’s prescription. Most are open standard shop hours; check on signs in the window (or in local newspapers) for which local chemists are due to be staying open late and/or at the weekend. For generic painkillers, cold remedies and the like, the local supermarket is usually the cheapest option.
Otherwise, minor issues can be dealt with at the surgery of any local doctor, also known as a GP (General Practitioner); get directions from NHS Direct or your hotel. For serious injuries, go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital – generally known as “casualty” or “A&E” (accident and emer-gency) and open 24 hours. In a life-or-death situation, call for an ambulance on t999 or t112.
Virtually all post offices are open Monday to Friday 9am to 5.30pm, and on Saturdays 9am to 12.30pm. Small branches sometimes close on Wednesday afternoons, while main offices in larger towns and cities stay open all day Saturday. In villages general stores often host “sub-post office” counters; even if the shop is open for longer, post office services are only available during the hours above.
Rates depend on the size and weight of the item, as well as delivery speed. For UK destinations, postcards and ordinary letters (up to 100g, and smaller than 240x165x5mm) sent first class for next-day delivery cost 60p. Postcards and letters (up to 10g) cost 87p to Europe or £1.28 worldwide. Check online for other options. You can buy stamps at post offices and at a wide variety of ordinary shops, supermarkets and filling stations.
UK currency is the pound sterling (£), divided into 100 pence (p). Coins come in denominations of 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2. Notes are in denominations of £5, £10, £20 and £50. Very occasionally you may receive Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes: they’re legal tender throughout the UK, but many businesses in England may be unwilling to accept them. If you’re handed one, you’d be well advised to cheerfully hand it back and ask for a “normal” note (or coins) instead.
Every sizeable town and village has a branch of one or other of the retail (“high street”) banks, along with a sprinkling of smaller “building societies” (which operate in more or less the same way). The easiest way to get hold of cash is to use your debit card in a “cash machine” (ATM); check in advance with your home bank whether you will be subject to a daily withdrawal limit. ATMs are ubiquitous: inside and outside banks, at all major points of arrival and motorway service areas, at large supermarkets, petrol stations and even inside some pubs, rural post offices and village shops – though a charge of about £1.50 may be levied on cash withdrawals at small, stand-alone ATMs: the screen will notify you if so and give you an option to cancel.
Some people still rely on travellers’ cheques in sterling. American Express is the most commonly accepted brand, followed by Visa. Amex will not charge commission if you exchange cheques at their own offices, nor will some banks – otherwise you will be charged 2–3 percent commission. Note that in the UK you cannot use travellers’ cheques as cash: you’ll always have to cash them first, making them an unreliable source of funds in more remote areas.
Outside banking hours, you can change cheques or cash at post offices and bureaux de change – the latter tend to be open longer hours and are found in most city centres, and at major airports and train stations. Avoid changing in hotels, where the rates are normally poor.
Paying by plastic involves inserting your card into a “chip-and-pin” terminal beside the till, then keying in your secret PIN number to authorize the transaction: the only person handling your card is you. Many restaurants use wireless chip-and-pin handsets: your waiter will bring it to your table when it’s time to pay. At establishments with older swipe systems, never let your card leave your sight: take it yourself to the till and watch while staff are doing the swiping.
Credit cards are widely accepted in hotels, shops and restaurants – MasterCard and Visa are almost universal – charge cards such as American Express and Diners Club less so. Smaller establishments may accept cash only. At supermarkets and some other shops, you may be asked at the checkout if you want “cash back”: that is, they let you pay (by card) for up to £50 more than the cost of your goods and receive the change in cash – very handy.
Opening hours and public holidays
Opening hours for most businesses, shops and offices are Monday to Saturday 9am to 5.30 or 6pm, with many shops also open on Sundays, generally 10.30 or 11am until 4.30 or 5pm. Big supermarkets have longer hours (except on Sundays), sometimes round the clock. Some towns have an early closingday (usually Wednesday) when most shops close at 1pm. Banks are usually open Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm, and Saturday 9am to 12.30pm or so. You can usually get fuel any time of the day or night in larger towns and cities. We’ve quoted full opening hours for specific museums, galleries and other attractions throughout this book; where these are seasonal (summer means Easter–Oct, winter Nov–Easter), they are shown in the format 9/10am–5/6pm.
Confusingly, several of England’s public holidays are termed “bank holidays” – though it’s not just the banks who have a day off: businesses and most shops also close, though large supermarkets, small corner shops and many tourist attractions stay open. On Christmas Day the whole country shuts down (including public transport), though you’ll find occasional signs of life on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
England’s phone numbers are a mess. Most (though not all) have eleven digits, including a prefix beginning t01, 02 or 03 which generally denotes a fixed landline, or t07 which almost invariably denotes a mobile phone/cellphone. The t08 prefix is totally random: t0800 and 0808 are free to call if you’re using a landline, but very expensive if you’re calling off a mobile/cell; t0844 and 0845 are cheap if you’re with one phone company but expensive otherwise; t0870 and 0871 are pricey whatever you do. Beware the “premium rate” t09 prefix, common for pre-recorded information services (used by some tourist authorities), which can be charged at anything up to £1.50 a minute.
Public pay phones (or “phone boxes”) are plentiful and take coins (minimum charge 40p); most also accept credit cards. You can make international calls from any phone box, though it’s usually cheaper to buy a phonecard, available from many newsagents in denominations of £5, £10 and upwards. You dial the company’s local access number, key in the pin number on the card and then make your call.
Mobile phone access is universal in towns and cities. Rural areas are well covered too, but sometimes patchy, with occasional blind spots. To use your own mobile/cellphone, check with your provider before you leave home that roaming is activated – and that your phone will work in the UK (if you’re coming from North America, you will need a multi-band model). If you’re planning to stay for any length of time, it’s often simpler to buy a handset plus local SIM card when you arrive: basic pre-pay (“pay as you go”) phones start at around £50, usually including some credit.
From the last Sunday in March until the last Sunday in October, the UK is on GMT+1 – known as “British Summer Time” (BST). For the rest of the year, it follows GMT. Apart from a short period around the changeovers, England is consistently five hours ahead of the US east coast, one hour behind most of Europe and ten hours behind Sydney. Full details at wwww.timeanddate.com.
Virtually every town has a tourist office (called a Tourist Information Centre, or “TIC”). They tend to follow standard shop hours (Mon–Sat 9am–5.30pm), sometimes also open on Sundays. Hours are curtailed in winter (Nov–Easter). Staff will nearly always be able to book accommodation, reserve space on guided tours, and sell guidebooks, maps and walks leaflets. They can also provide lists of local cafés, restaurants and pubs, and though they aren’t supposed to recommend particular places you’ll often be able to get a feel for the best local places to eat.
Areas designated as national parks usually have their own dedicated information centres, which offer similar services to TICs but can also provide expert guidance on local walks and outdoor pursuits.
Travelling with children
England on a budget
Faced with another £3 pint, a £40 theatre ticket and a £20 taxi ride back to your £100-a-night hotel, England might seem like the most expensive country in Europe. However, there are ways to stick to a budget and still get the most out of your stay.
- Entry is free to many showpiece museums and galleries.
- Take every discount card/ID you’re entitled to: students, young travellers, hostellers and seniors get free or discounted entry to many sights and attractions.
- Set meals can be a steal, even at the poshest of restaurants, where a two- or three-course lunch or a “pre-theatre” menu might cost less than half the usual price.
- Book transport tickets as far in advance as possible, and always ask about Day Rovers and other special deals.
- Don’t ride or drive: walk. Often the easiest and most enjoyable way to get around is on your own two feet.
- Visit markets – from grungy urban stalls to rural farmers’ markets, you can browse for free and pick up some bargains.