Travel Trips: Making the Most of Your Trip to the United Kingdom
When you think of the United Kingdom, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s watching the comings and goings of the royal family, seeing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, indulging in some mouthwatering pub food or exploring the picturesque Scotland Highlands. Whether you’re backpacking solo, looking for a romantic escape or travelling as a family, there are famous attractions and charming getaways waiting to be discovered.
Located off the coast of mainland Europe, the United Kingdom comprises the whole of the island of Great Britain – which contains England, Wales, Scotland and the northern part of Ireland, according to Britannica.com.
You can pick any number of reasons the U.K. was the seventh most popular destination for international tourist arrivals in 2017. According to the UNWTO – the World Tourism Organization – more than 37 million visitors flocked to the country to take in its immense coliseums and historic hotspots, elegant royal palaces, gorgeous gardens, exciting sports events, traditional pubs and more.
If you’re thinking of spending some time in the country yourself, we’ve got some great tips for you on how to save cash while sightseeing in a world-renowned land known for its British hospitality.
Think beyond expensive hotels
Stumped for affordable places to stay during your visit? You’ve got a lot of options for accommodations in the U.K. even during what’s referred to as the “high season”. Travel blog TripSavvy has a comprehensive list of hotel alternatives, from Airbnb (stay in a castle near Glasgo for as low as £5 per person, per night) and bunking in college dorms to couch surfing and even camping in someone’s backyard.
A word on pounds and pence
Just to make things interesting, there are different currencies in the U.K.. According to TripSavvy, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland use the pound sterling (£). However, if you’re planning a trip to Ireland, you’ll need to use the euro (€) there, not the pound.
Compounding the confusion is that while Scotland and Northern Ireland use the pound sterling, their bank notes are different from those issued in England and Wales. While most shopkeepers will accept Scottish and Irish bank notes, they are not obligated to do this because that currency is not afforded legal tender status in England and Wales.
You can exchange money at most bank branches and post offices. For more must-know tips on legal currency and how to exchange it, see TripSavvy’s Know Before You Go: A Traveler’s Guide to UK Currency.
Rent a car or hop on public transit
Heading to London? Pick yourself up an Oyster Card – for £5 (non-refundable), you can get around town for 10 quid (£1 coins) a day. The best part: any credit you don’t use can be refunded.
Using the tube (subway) is an easy and exciting way to get around the city, but Ajay quickly learned to only ask certified transit workers if he had questions or needed help. “Many people may try to take advantage of you being a tourist and try to scare you by taking your tube card and claiming the refund,” he cautions.
Explore the Scotland Highlands
“I would highly recommend visiting Scotland if you’re in the U.K.,” says Helen, adding Edinburgh and Aberdeen are her favourites. “But if you have time, it’s also worth hiring a car and exploring the highlands.”
Another option is to take the trains, but book in advance to snag tickets for a fraction of the price of a spur-of-the-moment ride. There are rail connections to each of Scotland’s seven cities, and you can buy tickets at train stations, from major travel agents, over the phone and online with a credit or debit card (ask your bank if your card will work). There are also automatic ticket machines. See tourism website VisitScotland.com for details on types of train tickets, discount fares and travel passes.
Find some pub grub
When you’ve spent the day on the track or the road, your stomach will be growling for some sustenance. You won’t have to go far to find some delectable pub food and stimulating conversation.
In England, buy your food at the grocery store as much as possible to save cash.
“Sure, it’s your vacation and you might not want to cook every night, but groceries are so much cheaper in England,” notes Keith. “It’s crazy to waste money eating out.”
Heading out? You’re in for a treat.
“The food (in London) was amazing, because at every meal I ended up chatting with the locals, who are just amazing,” says Ajay. “It was the closest I felt to being at home in Canada! People were so friendly, and the food always tastes better when you have great company.”
It was the closest I felt to being at home in Canada! People were so friendly, and the food always tastes better when you have great company.
If you’re a fish & chips fanatic, this is the place to be! London gets a ringing endorsement from Mark, who savoured the fish & chips he ate almost every day of his 10-day tour.
“From restaurants to street vendors serving your meal in a newsprint cone, you won’t ever be too far from a fish & chips place!” he says.
For those who crave Indian fare, many are BYOB (Bring Your Own Beer), so check out the brick lane area for leading establishments and stop at a local convenience store if you’d like wine with your dinner.
Since London is a bustling metropolis, locals often grab a bite on the go.
“Get used to seeing people on the move in London – you’ll see lots of people eating sandwiches and dinners at lunch time as they walk and talk. Londoners can really multitask,” says Mick.
If you’re looking for a familiar chain restaurant, Tim Hortons has expanded to England and has a few popshops in London.
In Scotland, order yourself a plate of fish & chips with mushy peas.
“And if you are right in the region and get offered mint sauce, try it! It sounds so gross, but it’s delicious,” says Helen, adding Wetherspoons is the place to go for an inexpensive drink.
Roam the streets of London, see historic sites and take in a game
Ajay spent eight months on exchange in Europe and found he thoroughly enjoyed taking long walks through the city’s streets and experiencing many of its beautiful historical attractions during his last month there.
“I stayed in London for just over a week and had some friends from Canada met up with me met up with me. We backpacked all over, starting in London,” he says, adding, “Most of my time was spent roaming the beautiful streets of London day and night.”
London is full of historical sights to see, but your back will be sore by the end of your trip if you carry a backpack all day. Instead, stop by Tate Modern coat check, where you can check your bag for free (although they do ask for a small donation). Bonus: this allows you to hit up many tourist sites that aren’t usually backpack friendly.
Make Stonehenge one of your first stops. Although it’s far from the city, the trip is worth it.
“I was lucky enough to visit before the whole site was roped off, and got to walk right up to the site and touch the stones, which I don’t believe you can do anymore,” recalls Mark. “Regardless, it is an amazing site to see. Definitely don’t pass up the chance!”
On your walk back, pause to appreciate the poppies.
“The walk was long, but I’ve never had the chance to see such a long and glorious field of poppies,” says Ajay. “It was unreal and quite the unexpected experience.”
It was unreal and quite the unexpected experience.
Tip: You’ll see the best weather in England from April through September.
Source: Traveling to England Infographic, Wandershare
Some of the most iconic sites in London are free to visit. See Buckingham Palace’s changing of the guards, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge, Hyde Park and some museums. See The Full-Time Tourist’s 21 Tips for First-Timers to Help You Explore London for more info.
The city is also well-known for its many cathedrals, including the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral (more than 300 years old), the Southwark Cathedral near Borough Market, Holy Trinity on Sloane Street, Westminster Cathedral in Victoria, and several more.
During Mark’s tour of these magnificent centuries-old sanctuaries, he noticed floors in stairs and entrance ways are worn down in many places and can be tripping hazards. Many attractions now route tourists on different paths, and switch them up constantly, to help reduce the effects of foot traffic on stone. See a map of cathedrals in the U.K.
Tip: Watch your step on stairs and entrance ways in old cathedrals. Because the structures are hundreds of years old and experienced constantly by countless visitors, they’re not as accessible as buildings built today. – Mark
Piccadilly Circus is another must-see, and a “one-of-a-kind experience”, according to Mark. He cautions travellers to hold their wallets and cash close, as the crowds are full of pickpockets who will take anything they can.
Tip: “Definitely hide your passport! My grandmother lost a couple hundred pounds to these thieves on our trip, so keep it in mind.” – Mark
If you’ve got an athlete or sports enthusiast in your group, “get yourself to a football (soccer) game. You’ll be able to enjoy a warm cup of tae and meat pie at a majority of stadiums, and experience a match day atmosphere like no other,” says Mick.
You’ll never be at a loss for things to do, sights to see and dishes to try during your visit to the United Kingdom. You can travel to the country on a budget if you’re willing to look beyond hotels and venture to an Airbnb or other alternative, keep an eye out for free attractions and hop on public transit.
Are you travelling to the United Kingdom for the first time? Returning to a favourite destination? What your best tips when it comes to saving for vacations? We’d love to hear what you’ve planned, or any tips we missed! Share your story in the comments!