Welcome to England
With a story that stretches back more than 5000 years, England is a place where the past is a constant presence. Ruined castles perch on lonely hilltops. Mysterious standing stones, barrow tombs and stone circles sit in the corner of forgotten fields. Medieval cathedrals, regal palaces and improbably ostentatious stately homes pop up with bewildering regularity. And every English city, town and village has its own individual tale to tell: a sprawling, historical epic of kings and commoners, industrialists and inventors, eccentrics, dreamers and rebels that’s as fascinating – and surprising – as anything Shakespeare, Dickens or JK Rowling could dream up.
England is eccentric, exhilarating and endlessly intriguing.
Entering or leaving the UK is usually straightforward and hassle-free, save for the occasional inconvenience of long queues at passport control and security. Before you leave for the UK, check what documents you’ll need to enter the country.
If you’re a citizen of the European Economic Area (EEA) nations or Switzerland, you don’t need a visa to enter or work in the UK – you can enter using your national identity card.
EEA nations are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
Visa regulations are always subject to change, and immigration restriction is big news in the UK, so it’s essential to check with your local British embassy, high commission or consulate before leaving home.
When visiting the UK, it’s helpful to know a bit about UK currency and how it works.
The currency of Britain is the pound sterling (£). Paper money (notes) comes in £5, £10, £20 and £50 denominations. Some shops don’t accept £50 notes because fakes circulate. Coins come in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2.
Credit Cards and Contactless Payments
Credit and debit (bank) cards – especially Visa and Mastercard – are widely accepted in restaurants, bars, cafés and shops. American Express and Diners Club cards are becoming more commonly accepted, although it is still advised to carry an alternative payment method with you.
Contactless cards are widely used in the UK and many businesses accept them as payment, up to a limit of £30 per transaction.
Contactless payments may still incur an overseas transaction fee and these vary by card and by bank, so it is a good idea to check with your card issuer before tapping your contactless card.
There are plenty of cash machines (also known as cash points or ATMs) dotted around. Most accept international cards with the Visa, Plus, Mastercard, Cirrus or Maestro symbols. Some other systems are also recognised, but it’s a good idea to check with your bank or card company before you travel.
If you have a non-UK account, you will almost certainly have to pay a charge when you withdraw cash. Again, contact your bank before travelling to find out details.
You might see cash machines in some corner shops and small supermarkets. Check before using them as they are likely to charge a fee for every transaction.
The weather in England is temperate with mild summers and winters, influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and the warm Gulf Stream. Rainfall is fairly evenly spread throughout the year. Contrary to the stereotype, most cities across England actually have less average rainfall than other European cities.
The English have a reputation for being polite, and good manners are considered important in most situations. When asking directions, ‘Excuse me, can you tell me the way to…’ is better than ‘Hey, where’s…’
In England, queuing (‘standing in line’) is sacrosanct, whether to board a bus, buy tickets at a kiosk or enter the gates of an attraction. Any attempt to ‘jump the queue’ will result in an outburst of tut-tutting and hard stares – which is about as angry as most locals get in public.
If you take an escalator (especially at London tube stations) or a moving walkway (e.g. at an airport) be sure to stand on the right, so folks can pass on the left.
All things electrical
Remember, Britain’s electrical plugs are not the same as those in the rest of Europe, so you will need a UK-specific plug adaptor. Please bring one with you or buy one ahead of travel.
- Check the validity of your passport
- Check any visa or entry requirements
- Check the airline baggage restrictions
- Put all restricted items (e.g. hair gel, shampoo, bodywash) either in your check-in baggage or in a clear bag if carrying on-board
- Inform your credit/debit card company
- Organise travel insurance
- Check mobile phone compatibility
- UK electrical plug adaptor
- Waterproof jacket – because the rumours about the weather are true
- Comfortable walking shoes
- A taste for warm beer