England has long been a favorite destination for tourists thanks to its historical landmarks, long history, and its literary and cultural references. Its relatively small size is brimming with cultures, languages, landscapes, cities, and history. Although London is what normally comes to mind with its bright red phone booths, the royal family, and Big Ben, England has much to offer beyond its biggest metropolis.
Best Time To visit
The best time to travel to England, weather-wise, is June to August. If you’re visiting English beaches or want to enjoy some blue skies, the summer is the time to go. However, if you don’t like competing with other tourists, it’s best to go to England during the shoulder season. Late spring in England (May) or early Fall (September and October) will be the best weather with the fewest crowds. Winter in England is cold and dark, but not a bad time to visit if you plan to be inside.
What to expect
England is a diverse country with thousands of years of history. As a culture, most Brits are reserved. They value politeness and won’t readily open up. They also expect a certain standard of dress. Avoid wearing sportswear or overly baggy clothing, especially if you’re a man. With that being said, pack in layers, even in the summer — the weather is always unpredictable.
There are so many landmarks in England that you don’t want to miss. There is the world-famous Big Ben, the Tower of London, and many prestigious museums in London. There are remnants of Ancient Rome throughout the country, like Hadiran’s Wall and the Roman Baths.
The prehistoric Stonehenge in Southern England is another must-see. The Medieval castles and towns are beautiful spots too. The beaches in England are popular in the summer, although they’re not known to ever be especially warm.
The Lake District is the largest National Park in England, with striking waterways and the tallest mountains in England. The Jurassic Coast is a wonderful place to learn about the 185-million-year rock formations and fossils.
And it wouldn’t be a trip to England without visits to spots made famous thanks to Shakespeare, Jane Austen, The Beatles, and Harry Potter.
Things to know
England is generally a straightforward place to visit for North American tourists, but there are some things you should know before you go.
- Language. While English is the language of the land, you’ll be surprised by the variety of dialects there are. Especially if you head outside of London, you might not understand some of the accents.
- Time Zone. England is in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone or Universal Time (UTC). GMT is 5 hours ahead of New York and 8 hours ahead of Los Angeles.
- Currency. England uses the British Pound Sterling as currency. Tax is included in the price of things.
- Credit Cards. Most English stores take credit cards, but you should always have some cash on hand. Visa and Mastercard are the most accepted and are recommended. You’ll find some places that take American Express and virtually none that take the Discover card.
- Plugs + Voltage. The UK uses plug type G, with three rectangular pins (different from the EU and North America). Most electronics are rated for the higher voltage in England (230 volts vs. US 120 volts), but double-check. You can get voltage converters to be safe.
- Measurements. England uses both the metric and imperial systems. When you’re driving, you’ll see signs for miles per hour. Food at the store is measured in kilos and grams, but people know what a pound is. People state their weight in stones (but don’t ask a British person their weight!).
- Airports. There are many airports in England. Heathrow and Gatwick are the largest and are in London. Manchester and Birmingham Airports are popular as well. There are over 40 airports in the UK, and some are the busiest in Europe.
- Common Sayings. If you’re not familiar with British English, it’s good to be able to recognize a few common phrases. “Alright?” is often used instead of “How are you?” “Bloody” is a swear word in England that means “very.” “I’m pissed” in British English means “I’m drunk,” not “I’m angry.” Cider is an alcoholic drink in England. Apple juice is not.
- Organic Groceries. Organic food consumption has been steeply rising in the UK. Planet Organic is the first all-organic grocery store in England, but most grocery stores have an organic section. There are many organic restaurants in the big cities.
Bristol is the first British city to be named a European Green Capital and has many organic, vegan, and vegetarian options.
- Vegan/Vegetarian. More and more British people are embracing a plant-based diet. In fact, a survey in 2021 showed that a third of Brits believed that eating vegan is admirable. There are many vegan and vegetarian options at grocery stores and in restaurants in England. In London, there are over 1000 vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants. In Leeds, Birmingham, and other bigger cities, there are hundreds of choices.
As is the case in most countries, it’s easier to find vegan alternatives in the cities than in the countryside.
- Safety. Pickpockets are common around major tourist attractions. But otherwise, England is a very safe country to visit.
- Opening Hours. Many stores close down earlier and might not open on Sunday. This is due to the Sunday Trading Act passed in the 1980s. Big stores are only allowed to be open for 6 hours on Sunday, which is usually 10-4 or 11-5.
- Culture/Etiquette. British people are polite and reserved and expect visitors to be similar. Don’t ask personal questions unless they offer that information first. Do not bring up the World Wars or Brexit, especially if you’re an American.
Think of the more polite version of asking for things. Saying “Could I buy this please” instead of “Can I have this?” and then saying “Thank You”. This is a common practice no matter what the situation. Staring and not waiting for your turn in line is considered rude. Like most big cities, London is known to be the “rudest” city, but it’s best to err on the side of politeness wherever you are in England.
Typical Dishes. The Brits love their tea, so expect more tea than coffee in England, although both are readily available
how to get around
The Tube or subway system in London is the best way to get around, but avoid Covent Garden Tube station if you don’t want to be in line with tourists. Leeds is the only major European city without a subway, so keep that in mind if you plan to visit.
Most English cities, aside from London, are very walkable.
For venturing outside the main cities, many trains can be faster than driving. Book them well in advance to save money. Buses are more affordable but will take slightly longer.
If you do rent a car, remember that the Brits drive on the left side of the road and love their roundabouts. Renting a car is the easiest way to visit the countryside, historic castles and landmarks, and English beaches.
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