UK travel guide: The only guide you’ll need to see the country
A breakdown of city highlights to catch when travelling to the United Kingdom.
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Red double decker buses, black cabs, ornate palaces, crumbling castles, dynamic metropolises and the chance of rain - it could only be the UK.
Made up of four countries – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – the United Kingdom is a hodgepodge of historical, cultural, adventurous and relaxing experiences. Major city centres capture the essence of Roman history, monarchical rulers and modern culture while hours away, neolithic ruins crumble to a backdrop of rolling plains and dramatic cliffside drops.
Whether you stay in London and spend two weeks with the Queen, or extend your holiday to explore each country, we guarantee you won’t be able to see it all in one trip. Which is okay, because once you’ve set eyes on these incredible islands, you won’t be able to resist returning time and time again.
Fast facts about the UK
- Main airports: Heathrow Airport (LHR), Gatwick Airport (LGW), Manchester Airport (MAN).
- On-ground transport: The UK has an extensive network of trains, planes and buses that operate locally and interstate.
- Weather: The UK experiences four seasons. Summer lasts from June to August and can reach average highs of 25℃. The winter months are December to February when it can be very cold, but rarely falls below freezing. The UK is prone to rainy spells so it’s recommended to pack a light rain jacket.
- Visas: Australians do not need a visa to visit the UK when staying less than 6 months (180 days).
- Top 10 must-see sights: Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Oxford Street, Royal Mile, West End, Big Ben, The Thames, Stonehenge, Giant’s Causeway and Oxford University.
- Plugs: Plug G (3 pins – 13 A)
- Currency: Great British Pound (GBP)
Best places to stay in the UK
London: The capital of England is a sprawling city of historical monuments, monarchical artefacts and green spaces, coupled with a cosmopolitan culture that refuses to remain static. Its landscape is a silhouette of icons that includes Big Ben, the London Eye, the Shard and Tower Bridge. Beyond the city, you can take trips to other magnificent English locations such as Cambridge, Oxford, York, Cornwall, Bath, the Cotswolds and the Lakes District.
Edinburgh: Scotland’s hilly capital drips with medieval and neoclassical architecture. Its main road, the Royal Mile, paves the way to the city’s centrepiece: Edinburgh Castle. This well-preserved historic fortress houses the Scottish crown jewels, and is the site of events such as the Edinburgh Tattoo. From Edinburgh, you can enjoy multi-day excursions into the Scottish Highlands, the Orkneys and the Isle of Skye.
Belfast: Visiting Northern Ireland is a significant cultural experience. Its capital, Belfast, has a rocky history. From the 1960s-1990s, a political and national conflict known as The Troubles plagued the streets. You can still get a sense of the tension of those times when you walk around the area, and the various monuments and peace walls act as a constant reminder. Another great historical area to visit is the Titanic Quarter, where the RMS Titanic was built. From the city you can take a road trip through the countryside to see the Giant’s Causeway and nearby Rope Bridge.
Cardiff: Wales’ coastal capital is home to a medieval castle, beach and thriving nightlife. The city is the ideal gateway into the country’s rugged mountainous landscape which includes Snowdonia, a popular destination for snow sports enthusiasts in winter. One of the most intriguing things about Wales is its unique and confusing national language. For example, one of its cities is called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. At 58 characters, it’s the longest name of a place in Europe and one that no one but the Welsh should ever try to pronounce.
Manchester: Perhaps best known for its football clubs, Manchester is located in north-west England and is a major hub for industry, entertainment and culture. Museums, historic libraries, industrial heritage sites, parks, bars and nightclubs overrun the city. Naturally, you should pay a visit to the football grounds and catch a game if you can; but the other thing you shouldn’t miss is the city’s canal system. The 18th century canals were imperative to Manchester’s booming textile industry during the industrial revolution, and can be experienced by boat tours.
Check out what accommodation options are in these areas:
Top things to do in the UK
- Visit Buckingham Palace: While you’re there, wave to the Queen, poke fun at her guards (don’t actually poke them...) in their black fuzzy hats, witness the changing of the guards and tour her state rooms and art collections.
- Ride the London Eye: It’s cheesy, it’s touristy, it has incredible views. It’s something you should definitely tick off your list.
- See Big Ben/Westminster Abbey: Pretty easy to do when you’re spinning around on the London Eye. If you skipped point 2, you can see Big Ben easily from the banks of the River Thames.
- Visit the Tower of London and see Tower Bridge: Tower Bridge is a beautiful construction of sandy brick and baby blue trimmings. You can walk across it to the Tower of London, which houses the crown jewels and other historical artefacts.
- Ride a double-decker bus: No explanation necessary.
- Take the ultimate Harry Potter tour: Fans of the series can spend days exploring Harry Potter’s London. Walking and bus tours of the city are popular, as is a trip to Warner Bros. Studio, where the films were made.
- Watch a play in West End: The best shows performed by A-list actors reside in the West End. Book early if you want to ensure you get tickets, or be spontaneous and buy on the day for cheaper seats that are still for sale.
- Take a walk in a park: London is 47% green space so it isn’t hard to find a park or reserve to enjoy. Famous city parks include St James Park, Hyde Park, Green Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens.
- Go to the markets: London is well-known for its fabulous markets. The Borough is famous for produce, Portobello for antiques, and Camden for designer wears from emerging artists.
- Shop on Oxford Street: Then shop on Regent Street. This was meant to be a shopping holiday, right?
- Museum hop: London has a wealth of museums that are not only exceptional, but are free to enter, with the option to donate. Some of the best include: British Museum, National Art Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum and Science Museum.
- Set eyes on the Isle of Skye: The Isle of Skye is Scotland’s second largest island and is a mystical and enchanting scene of jagged mountains, sprawling moors and deep lochs.
- Walk the Royal Mile: Historical buildings line Edinburgh’s Royal Mile road, which leads you straight into Edinburgh Castle.
- Visit a castle: The UK is filled with them. Some of the most famous include Windsor, Warwick, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glamis… the list goes on.
- Get swept away at the Giant’s Causeway: Located at the very top of Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is a natural phenomenon of interlocking basalt columns formed by a historic volcanic eruption.
- Day trip to Oxford or Cambridge: These university towns are known the world over for their academic achievements and historical architecture. Both are accessible by train from London.
- Day trip to Stonehenge: The mysterious neolithic monument of Stonehenge can be accessed from London. During the summer and winter solstices, druids and revellers gather around the rocks to celebrate the season’s change.
- See a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Located on the River Thames, tours operate daily at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and both modern and Shakespearean plays are performed at the venue.
- Try to take that Beatles photo: You’ll need a clear road and a milk crate to get it right. Alternatively, Beatles fans can tour Abbey Road Studios, visit The Beatles Story museum in their hometown of Liverpool or take a Beatles walking tour of the city.
Best events to attend during the year:
- Guy Fawkes Night: A night of bonfires and fireworks commemorates the fact that Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators failed in their infamous Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James 1 in 1605. 5 November
- Glastonbury: The Woodstock of the UK, Glastonbury is one of the largest arts and music festivals in the world. You can book a Tipi or take your own tent and enjoy the indie-cool vibe. The line-up is A-list spectacular and many of the festival’s headline acts are UK-born and bred. 22–26 June 2017
- Wimbledon: Marked by its distinct all-white clothes policy, Wimbledon is one of the four Grand Slam world tennis events, and a must for any fan. 3–16 July
- Hogmanay: Edinburgh’s New Year event is world famous. It features a torchlight procession, a concert in the Princes Street Gardens, a ceilidh (traditional Scottish dance party) in the old town, and a street party. 30 December–1 January
How much will a trip to the UK cost?
We’ve used prices for accommodation in London booked in advance to give you an idea of how much your trip will cost.
- Budget: Hostels can be booked from AUD$32 per person/per night.
- Moderate: Bed and breakfasts, apartments and moderate hotels can be booked from AUD$62 per room/per night.
- Luxury: 5-star hotels can be booked from AUD$290+ per room, per night.
- Main: £10–£15 for a Sunday roast.
- Beer on tap: £3.50 for a pint of Stella
- Coffee: £2.35–£2.45 for a regular latte from a chain such as Caffe Nero or Costa Coffee.
- Uber: Available in major cities in the UK.
- Taxis from the airport: Taxis cost approximately £6 per mile. From Heathrow Airport to London City Centre you can expect to pay £46–£87.
- Local transport from the airport: London’s airports can be accessed by public transport. You can use the tube as a cheap way to get to London City Airport and Heathrow. Gatwick, Stansted and Luton can be reached by train and coach.
Top UK travel deals
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