The UK is a deceiving country. With so much history, diverse cultures, landscapes and bustling cities, you would be fooled into thinking it was huge, yet you can travel from north to south in one, arguably long, day!
Going from north to south, what you’re about to unravel is much more than your initial, very English, stereotype. This kingdom is four countries in one, and with it come four similar yet completely different cultures.
Starting off of the main island is Northern Ireland, a pocket of its own punctuated by rolling landscapes of stunning countryside and a capital, Belfast, that is worthy of a trip on its own. Across the water, you’ll reach Scotland’s islands before the mainland, a journey best done by boat for a taste of what is to come.
Highlands, castles and sprinklings of distilleries will introduce you to the romanticism of Scotland’s spirits with pepperings of names like Rabbie Burns. Scotland’s top cities are two very different tales, where the old-time charm of Edinburgh lures travellers in with its ancient streets and soft tones of bagpipes in the background and Glasgow retains its industrial feel, peppered with a renowned artistic flair.
Journeying south, landscapes change as you reach the Lake District, where all travel tours in the UK must go if the outdoors is what you are looking for. On the west coast, it’s a slightly different scene as you hop between north England’s most iconic cities where football fanatics find themselves in their prime.
The rolling hills of the Cotswolds slowly bring into play the traditional English scenes, where local markets, warm weather and cider on a summer day are essential parts of your time here. This is not before you stop in Wales, of course! The south of England is in a league of its own where warming climates, different cultures and political pasts linger in its towns and cities.
England’s answer to the “the Big Apple” in all its central glory is London. This colossal metropolis has everything that you could want and more. Setting the bar high for music, fashion, and of course, the royal family; London divides itself into districts, each with its own identity and reputation that comes with it. London is a city that keeps on giving.
A bountiful country with ancient, fascinating history, the UK is a country with a truly unique charm to it, this travel guide will tap into what is possible on travel tours to the UK. Let’s dive in;
- When to Go to the UK
- Great Places to Visit in the UK
- How to Get Around the UK
- Where to Stay in the UK
- Food & Drink to Try in the UK
- Festivals You Cannot Miss in the UK
- Things to Know Before You Go to the UK
- Looking for the Best Travel Tours in the UK?
When to Go to the UK
The seasons of the UK are in keeping with the northern hemisphere, it’s important to acknowledge that the weather may vary depending on the region that you are visiting. The UK has four seasons, however, some parts of the country experience all of them in just one day.
From spring to summer, the centre and south of England and parts of Wales enjoy warm weather that is perfect for cycling in the UK, surfing, walking trips and often beach time. While in northern England and into Scotland, springtime and even into Summer will have cold days with the odd hot spell when locals jump into their shorts and t-shirts to enjoy the sun. Autumn throughout the country is a beautiful time to visit when evenings welcome spectacular sunsets and leaves fall from the trees.
Unless you intend to have a Christmas break in cities like Edinburgh or London, winter is not a good time to visit. In the northern parts of Scotland, there is no daylight, for the rest of the country, daylight hours are short.
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Great Places to Visit in the UK
England’s thriving metropolis has made a name for itself as a city. Coined “the Big Smoke” from its years of pollution that killed thousands, London sits at the centre of English culture, fashion, sports and, above all, finance and politics. It’s the sort of place you go to with big dreams.
That being said, no matter what you are looking for in London, you’ll find an area dedicated to it. The city is a labyrinth of activity and a favourite among both locals and Europeans for an England weekend getaway.
This begs the question: where do you start on a London day trip? First-timers may want to look no further than iconic locations like Big Ben and The London Eye, however, when the city is your oyster, anything is possible. Speak to one of our Local Designers who can design a personalised itinerary that will leave you impressed by what this city has to offer.
The Cotswolds and Oxford
If you are looking for the quintessential English countryside, look no further than the Cotswolds.
Running across five counties, the Cotswolds is characterised by rolling hills, manicured gardens, and traditional stone and thatched roof houses. The perfect place for guided walking tours in England, the Cotswolds is made up of several villages, each with its own story; along the way, you’ll find quaint local markets, independent cafes and houses that you’ll dream of retiring in. Cotswolds day trips from London take you away from the grit and grime of the big city and can fit in with shorter travel tours to the UK.
Sitting on the outskirts of the Cotswolds is Oxford, one of England’s most desirable cities. A slightly more urbanised idea of England’s countryside feel; Oxford’s sandstone architecture encases valuable little pockets of history that you can tap into like in this 7-day Oxford, Stratford and Bath tour. Explore the impressive university and castle as well as the many museums that inform the stunning buildings you have just walked through. Oxford is a city that is set to charm you.
Edinburgh and Glasgow
The elegant capital of Scotland is everything you expect it to be. Cobblestone streets will lead you from monument to monument as you learn more about the important Scottish characters that punctuate Edinburgh’s timeline. The city delivers all that you expect to see in a cultural capital.
The centre of Edinburgh is divided into the Old Town and New Town. Separated by Princes Street Gardens, a guided tour of Edinburgh will lead you through the old town which is centred by the Royal Mile, the oldest street in the city that takes you from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. While in the New Town, you’ll find historic monuments jutting out from the sea of shops that litter the main streets of the city.
Sitting at the centre of tourism in Scotland is whisky. So much so, the beverage is more attractive to those coming to the country than those who are already in it.
The whisky regions of Scotland are divided into five: Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown. Each region has its own characteristic notes that are a result of the barley and water of the region. The only exception for local produce is the cask which is imported from America after they make their bourbon. For something a little different, port and Madeira casks are now used by some distilleries.
Whisky knowledge is something that many people take pride in, which is what makes following a whisky trail so exciting – this is just the beginning of what there is to know! If you are on a tour of Scotland by car, your driver can take you to the many distilleries that litter Scotland like in this 3-day whisky journey to the scenic Speyside tour where you’ll stop at several distilleries while learning about the history of the country.
The Lake District
The Lake District has something for everyone. England’s natural haven is filled with atmospheric lakes, rolling hillsides, England’s highest mountains and waterfalls that are interspersed with whitewashed cottages.
Striking a balance that attracts both adrenaline seekers and daydreamers, the Lake District is the chosen destination for everyone from wedding parties to those looking for the ultimate walking holidays in England; with such a broad range of activities at your fingertips, you’d be surprised to learn it’s actually quite small.
Trips like this 6-day best of the north of England tour will have you based in Windermere, the Lake District’s most central and active location in the region. From here, you’ll tour lakes and hillsides within the areas that inspired artists, poets and writers like Beatrix Potter to make their best works.
The “Harry Potter” Steam Train and Isle of Skye
Sitting on Scotland’s west coast are two of the country’s most iconic images, the misty Isle of Skye and the Jacobite steam train.
Between the lochs, rolling hills and castles at every turn, this little corner makes up one of the best tours in Scotland. The region is steeped in history. When you board the Jacobite steam train, you’ll be torn between two tales as you chug towards Mallaig.
The landscape is how you picture all historic moments in Scottish history to look until you reach the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a 21-arched bridge that suddenly changes the narrative as you’re on the way to Hogwarts.
From Mallaig, it’s just a short journey across the bridge and “over the sea to Skye” as the famous song goes – to Scotland’s most famous island.
The Isle of Skye still retains its remote and traditional feel despite being top of Scotland’s must-see list as you’ll learn on this 5-day Isles of Mull and Skye tour. Home to just a handful of villages and some distilleries, this is the perfect place for those who love the outdoors. Here, you’ll find old fairy tales that date back centuries and linger in the rugged landscapes where natural attractions are only interrupted by yet more castles.
Liverpool and Manchester
Travelling two these northern cities may be different experiences but you’ll come away with similar ideas; the locals love their cities, argue that they are better than each other, and music and football somehow slips into everything they do.
Liverpool’s past may be rooted in industrialisation but between it all, it became the centre for international records to come to the UK. This was the time that Liverpool was second to London, and locals won’t let you forget it.
On one of the most famous guided walking tours in England, you’ll barely get to know the city before you bump into The Beatles – the stone statue of course! This was their hometown, and the Cavern Club was where it all started. What starts with The Beatles will finish with Liverpool FC, where locals will champion their team with pride and joy.
Hop over to Manchester and everything will seem bigger. This is England’s second-largest city where what you see largely depends on your interests. Manchester is home to impressive Gothic architecture, a history of industrialisation, and some of the best shopping opportunities outside of London. This is all before we even mention the most famous football team in the world, Manchester United.
Snowdonia is the largest national park in Wales with rolling landscapes that date back millions of years, creating a unique ecosystem.
Snowdonia crosses the English border with some of the highest mountains in both countries. It’s the perfect place for luxury walking holidays in the UK with nine mountain ranges and an impressive 52% of them being over 3,000 feet; the national park has lush green valleys that fall down into steep gorges and waterfalls that warrant exploration.
Snowdonia has a range of walking trails that are suitable for all abilities. For the best experience, it’s best to go with a guide to take the stress out of planning your route, as you will have to plan well. To break up your trip, there are many beautiful villages that offer a resting point for your day’s exploration.
As Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast is a thriving city that has a lot to it. A university centre of the north, Belfast has a steadfast reputation for its party scene that tries to trump its recent history as being the centre of The Troubles, Northern Ireland’s political turmoil that quite literally divided the city.
As the city slowly recovers, Belfast is rapidly becoming one of the UK’s most interesting cities to visit. Your time here will take you back as you visit the Titanic Belfast, where the famous cruise liner was built; you’ll browse the city’s most iconic architecture and visit the infamous Crumlin Road Gaol. To bring your trip to a more light-hearted end, sampling some local food at the markets is a must!
Stonehenge and Cornwall’s Coast
One of the greatest mysteries in the UK, Stonehenge is an eerie cluster of standing stones that are thought to be from the Neolithic Age around 5,000 years ago, totalling around 100 in a series of circles.
Many researchers have established that the stones were burial sites, erected in three phases spanning around 1,500 years. The greatest question, however, is how the stones were erected without any technology to help people; some of the stones are from Wales, 200 miles away and weighing around 25 tonnes.
Lining the southern coast of England is Cornwall, a dreamy escape littered with beautiful beaches as you’ll see on this 7-day above and beyond Land’s End tour. Cornwall was an ancient kingdom and came with its own culture and language, adding another patch to the UK’s quilt.
Known as Kernow to its Cornish locals, Cornwall shows traces of its industrial past where farming, fishing and mining were at the forefront of activity. While this can still be seen, Cornwall’s younger residents have made a creative corner for themselves that you can’t help but be inspired by.
Away from the towns, you’ll be dazzled by the landscapes that take you from charming reserves like the Eden Project to surfing opportunities and sun-kissed beaches.
How to Get Around the UK
Reasonably affordable bus services connect the big cities and smaller towns of the UK which delight budget travellers throughout the year. By booking far in advance, it is occasionally possible to get bus rides from Edinburgh to London for as little as £1, however, coach tours in the UK can be long and not very comfortable.
It’s important to note that while it might be easy to travel around England, in Scotland, anywhere outside of the major cities has limited travel. Organised Scotland bus tours from Edinburgh or Glasgow are common. If you wish to explore this way, plan ahead!
For a more comfortable journey, train services in the UK operate expansively. To get the best prices, book with our Local Designers far in advance and you won’t feel cheated. Trains in and out of major cities in the UK can be extremely busy during high season and at peak times, so make sure to ask for seat reservations to avoid disappointment.
It’s important to note that trains in the northern parts of the UK are notorious for being late or breaking down. Make sure to leave enough time between connections.
With good roads running up and down the country, travelling by car may not be the fastest way to navigate the UK, but it does offer more freedom. By hiring a private driver with one of our Local Designers, you’ll spend less time looking at road signs and more time gazing at the rolling British countryside.
Should you wish to take to the road by yourself, it couldn’t be easier. You can hire cars at every airport in the UK, most of which are fitted with GPS devices. Outside of the big cities, driving in the UK is a breeze, and most often than not, a beautiful self-drive experience.
Most major cities in the UK have an airport. Although, flights between these cities do not come cheap. If you are travelling for a short period of time and have a good budget, flights do come recommended to tick all of those boxes.
Important note, when travelling into or through London, be sure to check what airport you are going to. There are several.
Where to Stay in the UK
As London is such a big city, you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation. In London, addresses matter!
If you are looking for a little luxury, areas such as Kensington and Mayfair spring to mind with their high-end shopping experiences and even higher-end houses. For budget travellers, convenient areas like King’s Cross and Camden put you right in the middle of all you want to see with reasonably-priced food options and the majority of London’s backpackers basing themselves there.
If you are looking for something a little different, areas like Chelsea and Southwark will take you to most residential areas with cool finds lurking on street corners.
Edinburgh and Glasgow
As Scotland’s most charming city, accommodation in Edinburgh will leave you feeling like you’ve been dipped in the city’s past. Luxurious accommodation options can be found in both the old and the New Town with some of the most sought-after options sitting on the main streets like Princes Street and the Royal Mile.
For budget travellers, Leith Walk and the Haymarket will put themselves at the centre of alternative activity while families will enjoy the Grassmarket area just moments from all of the city’s attractions.
For first-timers to Glasgow, the central area will put you right at the heart of the action. Considerably bigger than Edinburgh, to make the most of your time here this area comes highly recommended. For trendsetters and those looking to see the more upmarket part of Glasgow, the West End might just surprise you with what’s on offer with popular names like Kelvingrove giving Glasgow a chic edge.
It’s worth noting that Glasgow’s history of being a dangerous city can still be seen in certain areas, with this in mind, these areas are considered “safe” are best for first-time travellers to the city.
Where history meets Harry Potter sets and the most elite universities fill its streets, the best place to stay in Oxford is its historic centre or the nearby Summertown.
The historic centre makes it easy to walk to all that you need to see while in this charming English city. Summertown is just a 15-minute walk from the centre, while it may not be ideal for families, solo travellers and couples will enjoy the more authentic local feel.
Strictly reserved for luxury travellers, while in Scotland, you not only have the chance to walk through historic sites, you can stay in them too.
Scotland’s castles can be easily divided into historical monuments and private estates owned by generation after generation of families. The latter either live in the homes themselves or rent them out as accommodation options and wedding locations. This may be one of the grandest, old-time feeling hotels you have ever stayed in, and it promises not to disappoint.
Liverpool and Manchester
With so much to see and do in Liverpool’s city centre, for first-timers, it makes sense to stay there to be at the heart of the action. Liverpool is a lively city where you won’t want to miss a thing, this brings about two choices of accommodation areas, the city centre by the waterfront, or the city centre itself. Both areas have a wealth of options suitable for all travellers.
Manchester is England’s most-loved northern city, and the largest! Where to choose to stay in Manchester will be defined by why you are visiting in the first place. If its culture and history, the North Central area will put you in close proximity to all of the city’s Gothic architecture as well as interesting pubs and restaurants, and a chance to tap into the northern industrial past.
For those looking for the more alternative side of Manchester, East Central is where a lot of Manchester’s renowned nightlife can be found in the Northern Quarter as well as food from around the world in Chinatown and the Piccadilly Gardens.
Food & Drink to Try in the UK
Fish and chips, steak and ale pie, sausage and mash – they all fall comfortable under the ‘pub grub’ category. These wholesome favourites delight Brits with their simplicity, although, all will argue that standards do apply.
No matter where you go in the UK, when walking into a local pub with a restaurant, you will find some of these on the menu. The dishes are always served generously and there are rarely any variations to ingredients – this is classic British food!
Ale and Cider
Beer and ale have a long history in the UK. In the southern and northeast of England, this has exploded into a huge industry that is fuelled by locals craving to find their latest favourite.
Exploring areas such as York, you’ll find that tap houses are packed full of kegs with ales that use recipes dating back hundreds of years. Beer fans – beware, choosing an ale takes some time and conversation.
Venture further south and you are in the proclaimed “cider country” which surrounds the farming lands of Somerset. Here, you’ll have a similar concept but this is all home-brewed cider that this region is very well-known for. It’s time to forget those big brand names – these brewers are on a different level!
Scotland’s national dish is one that turns noses. However, locals will quickly tell you that it’s all mind over matter! Haggis is made up of sheep’s intestines that are mixed with onion, carrots, cloves and helpings of pepper, traditionally stuffed into the stomach.
Fast-forward a few hundred years and the recipe is still in place, just without the stomach. This tasty dish is definitely not one to think about, however, the spices and consistency will speak for themselves – it’s delicious!
Traditionally served with “neeps” which is mashed turnip, a yellow root vegetable, and “tatties” which is mashed potato, you cannot leave Scotland without having a try!
As an Empire took itself full circle around the world, you can expect food that will also take you around the world.
The UK is a multicultural nation where you’ll find Indian, Italian, Turkish and Chinese restaurants that form the backbone of the hospitality industry. Take time to indulge in these tasty options; you won’t be disappointed!
Is it the most famous spirit in the world? Probably. Whisky is synonymous with Scotland. Although the spirit is not for the faint-hearted, those in the know will assure you that there is one from everyone. After all, this is the “water of life” as history tells us.
With five different regions to choose from, you could tailor your trip with our Local Designers to coincide with the region that interests you the most.
Festivals You Cannot Miss in the UK
Brits love a festival. Be it food, beers, music or a chance to embrace different cultures, there’s always something happening. Here are just some of the examples;
Across the country, the UK hosts music festivals in the summer months to fill the sunshine-filled days with melodies. Featuring artists from across the world, music lovers will rejoice in the number of festivals there are to take part in. From jazz festivals in bars across cities to thousands of twenty-somethings filling fields for their favourite acts, ask our Local Designers before you book so you don’t miss a beat!
Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival
The country’s largest festival takes over the month of August, completely transforming Scotland’s capital city. The Fringe takes over theatres, concert halls, Edinburgh Castle, its gardens and, at one point, local houses, to bring a variety of music, comedy, art and theatrical events. Anything goes at The Fringe.
The Fringe aligns with the Jazz Festival, Book Festival and Art Festival, to name a few, to make the biggest event in the country as the population doubles in size for 28 days.
New Year – Anywhere
It’s said that Georgian New Year was first celebrated among the Scots. While New Year is now a worldwide event, celebrating anywhere in the UK has something to it. Whether you are choosing to watch the fireworks on the Thames or the Hogmanay Hootenanny in Edinburgh, the excitement of welcoming in the New Year is infectious.
Foodies Festival – Across England
Known as the UK’s biggest celebration of food, this travelling festival is another addition to your summer exploration that you cannot miss. From Cambridge to Oxford, Bristol to London and so on, the festival welcomes chefs from Britain’s favourite TV shows to tantalise your palettes with their latest flavour combinations.
You may be surprised about this one if you are not acquainted with Scottish traditions! Yes, the Highland Games still exist. Popping up on the calendar in spring and summer in regions all across the Highlands, the games are a celebration of Celtic culture in all its glory.
Participants wear the traditional kilt that belongs to their respective families to take part. After a traditional bagpipe ceremony, of which there will be a few, the games take place. Over the course of the day, caber tossing, hammer throwing, shot put and a good old tug of war will take place alongside whisky tastings and Scottish folk music – the perfect family day out!
Things to Know Before You Go to the UK
Visa: Should you need a visa to enter the UK, you will need to apply before you travel. Check whether or not you need to apply in advance.
Language: In the UK the main language is English, however, there are many different dialects some of which can be difficult to understand to a non-native ear. The other languages in the UK, although dying out slowly, are Welsh, Scots Gaelic, and Cornish, of which collectively make up around 4% of the population.
Currency: The currency in the UK is the British Pound. At the time of writing, March 2021, 1 GBP is equal to 1.38 USD.
What to pack: The UK is known for its varying temperatures. To be comfortable during your trip, pack for all manner of weather conditions.
Money: Although the currency is the same, Scottish notes are not accepted in southern English regions and English notes are often not accepted in Northern Ireland.
Cultural notes: Politeness overall, is considered very important in the UK. Table etiquette, queuing in an orderly fashion and frequently saying sorry are all typical ways that British people will express their respect.
Looking for the Best Travel Tours in the UK?
From verdant natural landscapes to cultural notes, thriving cities and friendly locals: this year-round destination has so much to give. To start your travel tour in the UK, at Designer Journeys, we have a range of fully customisable tours in the United Kingdom that showcase the many sides of this country.
If you don’t quite find what you are looking for, by clicking on ‘design your own trip’, you can answer some simple questions specifying what you are looking for and one of our Local Designers in the UK will create a personalised itinerary for you. It couldn’t be easier, start planning your trip to the UK today!