What you need to know before traveling to United Kingdom

The United Kingdom encompasses England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. London, the capital city is a financial centre and a hub for culture – it's one of the most recognized cities in the world, and a must stop for those planning to visit England. When you travel to the United Kingdom, think of castles, the monarchy, and modern cities with centuries of history. It's home to Shakespeare, The Beatles, and millions of hardcore soccer fans. Spend a few weeks traveling here and you'll find out exactly what makes Great Britain so great.

  • Key facts
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    The United Kingdom is divided into four regions. The first of which is England. It's the largest of the four areas, and features rolling hills and lowlands. The famous Thames River runs through the capital city of London. To the north is Scotland, which has both high mountain ranges and low lands. Despite its mountainous landscape, Scotland remains rather temperate due to the Gulf Stream. Wales borders the Atlantic Ocean and features many offshore islands. You can travel here at any time, as it has mild winters and warm, friendly summers. Finally, there's Northern Ireland, with its uplands and valleys.
    Each region uses the pound as its form of currency. Typically stronger than the USD, it can make vacations a bit more expensive than anticipated. You won't need to bring along a translation guide, though, as the official language is English – and the hundred of different dialects that are spoken. In some places you can cross a river and the accent will be completely different. Welsh is also spoken in Wales, and Polish is the fourth most popular language in the United Kingdom.
  • Weather & when to go
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    There's an old joke: what do you call a month's worth of rain? England. Like most jokes, it's couched in truth – when you visit England, be prepared for its rain in the winter months. When you're thinking about UK tourism, and wondering about weather, consider this: due to its unique location, the United Kingdom's weather can be influenced by Atlantic winds, Arctic winds, and winds bring weather from Canada. It's not always easy to predict, and the weather itself varies depending on which part of the United Kingdom you visit.
    In the winter, bring wool clothing for the cold and wet. If you venture to Scotland, expect it to drop to 5 F(-15 C) – though it could be as warm as 50 F (10 C) in other parts of the United Kingdom. The northern regions will see snow, and when the southern regions do see it – they're wildly unprepared, with cars sliding across the streets and schools shutting down. It might sound rough, but the winters are mild by North American standards.

    Spring brings rain, with temperatures varying between 41 F (5 C) and 68 F (20 C). May is an excellent time to visit – the weather is calm and it's just before tourist season strikes in summer. Summer will be warm and dry, and you can expect temperatures to stay above 59 F (15 C) all the time.
  • Getting around
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    If you're driving, remember you need to drive on the left side of the road throughout the United Kingdom. Almost all cars are manual transmission, and if you plan to explore any rural areas, prepare to take slow, winding roads that are incredibly narrow – much narrower than American drivers would be used to.
    Of course, driving isn't the only way to get around the United Kingdom. Most major cities have both bus service, and underground railways that are fairly easy to navigate. Of course, a major part of UK tourism is traveling from city to city, and the railways can be an experience in themselves. They're highly efficient and cost effective, and can get you to virtually anywhere in the United Kingdom. BritRail offers a range of passes for unlimited travel – but you have to purchase them before you go. If you want to explore some of the islands, you'll need to hop on a boat.
    When you're flying into the United Kingdom, North American travelers typically arrive in London, then go from there to one of the smaller cities if London isn't their primary destination.
  • Know before you go
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    The United Kingdom is relatively safe as long as you're careful. There are no major wars, and crime is less than that of most major American cities. Gun violence is substantially lower – but watch out for pickpockets on public transit and near tourist hot spots. If you have an American or a Canadian passport, you can tour the United Kingdom for six months without a Visa. While you're there, both food and tap water are safe to consume.
    For those who plan on doing a bit of hiking in the countryside, long sleeve clothing is advised, as there are ticks. For the most part, public holidays are the same as they are in the United States. As with any overseas travel, try to convert your money to pounds before you go, as you'll likely get better rates from your bank than you will from any hotels or currency exchange centers.
    Pack for mild weather, but be prepared for the occasional heat wave in the summer. Also, remember that tipping is not necessarily expected in the United Kingdom, as all serving staff must be paid at least minimum wage.
  • Travel tips & recommendations
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    • Hikers will enjoy Cairngorms National Park, which is home to the United Kingdom's highest mountain range, a plethora of wildlife, and an abundance of forest. Even if you're not the exploring type, you should make a stop at the Giant's Causeway, a natural wonder in Ireland that features 40 000 basalt columns.

    • Whiskey enthusiast? Scotland's malt whiskey trail stretches throughout the country and allows you to visit a variety of working distilleries. Along the same lines, the Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast has an exceptional selection of ales and almost 200 years of history behind it.

    • Finally, there's the granddaddy of them all: Stone Henge. It's one of the wonders of the world, and one of the most impressive places to see in the United Kingdom.

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