Your full Wanderlust guide to

United Kingdom

United Kingdom

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have claims to be different and distinct. Taken as a whole the United Kingdom contains more heritage, per square mile, than any other nation, tracts of stunningly beautiful countryside, a coastline to die for and some of the most vibrant, multicultural cities on the planet.

London is the usual gateway, and there’s enough here to keep you busy for weeks. The Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral are obvious highlights, and there are always huge queues outside Madame Tussauds’ though it’s not immediately obvious why.

The city of Bath is the second most visited city in the UK, a mellow city built from quarried stone. This is a refreshing relief from the buzz of the capital and far more compact: it’s eminently walkable.

It’s hard to choose amongst the country’s attractions. Within easy reach of London the city of Oxford is more than just its famous University: it’s a beautiful city of golden stone. Cambridge also has its granite charms, but is best explored by bicycle – it sits on a plain.

Head west to Dorset, Devon and Cornwall for spectacular coastal views, and edge up into Wales if you want them to yourself. Visitors don’t often target the cities in Wales: it’s best known for its wild and beautiful interior and wild an undeveloped coast.

The White Cliffs of Dover are seen at their best from the sea, but Kent is known as ‘the garden of England’ for good reason: pretty villages and rolling countryside is manicured to perfection.

Head north and the countryside opens into meadows dotted with villages, castles and stately homes. The Lake District, immortalised in poetry over the centuries, lives up to its image, and you can escape from the rambling hordes by setting off for a challenging hike. Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, dominated by the castle at it heart. It comes to life every summer for its world-famous comedy festival.

Northern Ireland is centred around buzzing Belfast: it also has castles galore and the huge hexagonal stone columns of the Giant’s Causeway.

That is just scratching the surface of this great destination. The only way to discover which parts to see is to visit yourself. Get packing!.

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Remember to stand on the right on escalators – or risk an angry tutting from commuters in a hurry. To find unusual or historic holiday accommodation, try the Landmark Trust.

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Cut Costs. Not much in London is free; state-run museums and galleries are a notable exception. The Victoria & Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum are all close together, free to enter and housed in notable buildings in their own right

Bath or Bristol. Ten miles up the road from snooty Bath, the City of Bristol was badly damaged in World War II and has been further spoiled by planners ever since. However it retains sections of Victorian architecture to match any in Bath, adds a link to the UK’s maritime heritage and takes itself far less seriously

Forget Winter. There’s not much to recommend the UK in winter. Daylight hours are too short to enjoy outdoor sights and the weather can be foul. Don’t expect to share in the country’s most celebrated festival, Christmas: it’s very much a family affair and everything shuts

Visit the ‘Celtic Triangle’. Stonehenge is one of the UK’s iconic sights, but usually busy, and the stones are fenced off. Nearby Avebury dates back to the same era and the stones, spread out by a post-card pretty village, can be explored on foot, for free. Nearby Silbury Hill completes the area’s neolithic icons

Get Digging. The National Trust is a leading conservation charity that manages many of the UK’s most important buildings and landscapes. They often run programmes involving volunteer archaeologists to research further into the UK’s history

Better with a Pint. Pubs – and beer – are a key part of the British identity. Most Brits will have a favourite pub that is at the heart of its local community. The UK’s most remote is on Scotland’s Knoydart Peninsula

Follow the Coast. There’s a footpath running around the entire coast of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, with towering fossil-filled cliffs, spreading surf beaches and tiny coves to explore

When to go

Summer (late June-September) brings the warmest weather and least rain – though clouds can appear at any time. Through the summer holidays crowds at popular attractions are largest and accommodation booked out. Travel between late May and mid-July, or again in September and the crowds will have eased.

Spring (March-May) brings flowers and showers, while autumn (late September-November) sees beautiful red and golden tree foliage and soft lighting. Winter is cold and usually damp; there’s some skiing in Scotland but nothing to match Europe’s ski resorts.

International airports

Heathrow Airport (LHR) is 24km west of central London.
Gatwick Airport (LGW) is 48km south of central London.
Edinburgh Airport (EDI) is 13km west of the city centre.

Getting around

Domestic flights with various airlines link major cities. Most large cities have airports, many offering international flights to Europe and further afield.

The UK’s rail service is extensive, with regular trains run by numerous private operators serving most parts of the country; it is, though, expensive – especially when booked on the day of travel. Save money by booking well in advance. Timetables are online at nationalrail.

Comfortable coaches, notably those operated by National Express, cover most of the country; they’re cheaper but slower than trains.

Car hire and fuel are both pricey, though self-drive is the only way to reach some remote areas. Some outlying islands are reached by ferry or helicopter.


United Kingdom has the full range of accommodation options, with campsites, budget hostels, B&Bs, guesthouses, and boutique and top-end hotels.

Camping is only really an option in summer – indeed, many campsites close between October and April. Online booking sites usually offer discounts on hotel rates.

Food & drink

The UK isn’t historically associated with fine cuisine or wine – but that’s all changed, as national interest in high-quality food soars (as evidenced by countless cooking and dining TV shows).

Classic ‘British’ meals such as fish and chips vary in quality, but the range of international cuisines is unparalleled, especially in larger towns and cities. Indian restaurants, in particular, have overtaken those in their homeland for quality and choice.

A growing wine business has seen award-winning tipples – especially whites – reach shops and tables. Most vineyards are in the south, where the climate is kinder. Cider and beer are the traditional brews; real ales (beers) are seeing a resurgence.

Health & safety

The UK is a healthy destination. Water is almost always safe to drink from the tap, there are few insect- or water-borne diseases, and only one (mildly) venomous animal, the adder (a kind of viper), is shy and rarely seen.

Visitors from countries that drive on the right will soon notice that in the UK traffic drives on the left. In a car, the difference is instinctive, but this can pose a danger to unwary pedestrians: look both ways before crossing a road.

In busy areas of large towns it pays to hold on tightly to purse or wallet and keep your wits about you. Even the biggest cities are safe compared with many global metropolises but can get rowdy late on weekend nights.

If in London for more than a day or two, invest in an Oyster travel card for substantial savings on underground (subway), bus, and train fares in the capital.