Major cities, little seaside towns, wild walks, thatched cottages, historic castles, Tudor manor houses, great shopping – there’s so much to see and do in the UK. At its peak the British Empire was the master of the world and it’s still the eighth biggest tourist destination. Check out our tips for something different to see and do, safety and getting there and around.
The Yorkshire coast
Imagine a scene of windswept rugged limestone and sandstone cliffs meeting heather-covered purple moors and picturesque coves. Villages nestle in wide green valleys and charming fishing towns dot the coast. Clamber about in rock pools on the shore, spotting sea life including crabs and tiny fish, or enjoy the majestic scenery on a walk along the cliffs. The Yorkshire coast is grand and wild, and well worth the trip.
The west coast of Scotland has the best beaches and most beautiful scenery. Huge Atlantic breakers pound rolling dunes of fine sand all along the coast. There are pretty little villages with B&Bs or self-catering options scattered throughout the region. The coast is wonderful for bird-watching: see puffins raising their young in spring at Faraid Head, or all manner of sea birds along the coast. Also good for hiking, wild camping (provided you have a permit) or long, scenic drives.
The best coastal views are on the west coast of Ireland, and many travellers recommend the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, a designated Special Area of Conservation. Windy, wild and magnificent with unspoiled views of the Atlantic coast from high stone cliffs, the Cliffs form 8km of high rocky wall sculpted into fantastic forms, with hidden caves carved by the waves.
Edgy Belfast still has reminders of its violent past during the Troubles, but the city has renewed itself since those days. Birthplace of the Titanic, Belfast has many attractions including Belfast Castle, the Ulster Museum and the Friday night St George’s Market. The world-famous political murals and moving stories of the conflicts are scattered throughout the town, and the spirit and sense of humour of the locals will enthrall you.
Named the European City of Culture for 2008, Liverpool has come a long way from its working-class roots. Take the famous ferry across the Mersey for the view of the ‘3 Graces’ – the Liver building, the Cunard building and the Port of Liverpool building. Stay at one of the many new boutique hotels such as the Hope Street Hotel and enjoy the eclectic food spots along the docks. Complete your visit with a Beatles tour – visit the reconstructed Cavern Club and John Lennon’s childhood home, which is open to the public.
Famous for its medieval cathedral, the historic town of Salisbury is also the closest large town to Stonehenge. In the city, wander through Fish Row, a historic street preserved from the city’s past, full of character, with many little cafes and shops. Or visit the beautiful Heale Gardens if you are there in summer, to see young trout in a stream as clear as glass set among flower beds, fruit tree tunnels and a musk rose bed. If you are visiting Stonehenge, it is possible to get close to the stones if you book well in advance through Stonehenge Tours.
The High Weald is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) across the counties of Surrey, West Sussex, East Sussex and Kent. The landscape of rolling green hills is interspersed with patchwork fields, thick woods and hedges, scattered farmsteads and sunken country lanes. Just next door is Romney Marsh, one of England’s most ancient and significant wetlands sites.
The Lake District and Cotswolds
The central Cotswolds and the Lake District are also AONBs. The Lake District is famous for its lakes, green forests and high mountains. The beautiful Lake Windemere, the longest lake in England, is found here, as well as Ullswater Valley, a tranquil lake set among towering mountains. The Cotswolds has many pretty little villages that feature cottages with thatched roofs and tarred beams. Visit Hidcote Garden for its traditional English cottage garden, with flowers, herbaceous borders and a magnificent red border in autumn.
Summer is best for long, clear evenings and beautiful light – however, you will not necessarily get warm weather, even in August. Most people in the UK and Europe take their holidays in August, which can mean fewer crowds, but also more tourists.
The autumn colours, blackberry hedges and traditional hot chestnut stalls are wonderful from September to late November.
Winter days are short and cold, but the Christmas celebrations and decorations in the cities and villages are magical. In England it rarely snows before Christmas, but Scotland should have snow at this time.
Spring, with bright greenery, snowdrops and daffodils and blossoming trees is beautiful everywhere.
The UK is a popular spot for travellers from all around the world, particularly from the US and Europe. Families, couples and singles all travel here, and the market caters for every taste from five-star luxury to backpacker and hostel travellers.
By plane – Most major carriers travel to London, Dublin and Edinburgh and there are also international airports at major cities including Liverpool, Belfast, Glasgow and Bristol. You can fly between some cities with Ryanair and EasyJet.
By boat – Take a cruise to Southampton from Australia, or ferries run between Ireland and Scotland, up and down the coast of England, and between England and France, Holland or Ireland. You can take your car on most ferries.
By train – travel the Eurostar between London, Paris and Brussels.
The main form of transport in England is by car and the motorways and major roads are usually quite crowded and busy. Delays and traffic jams occur, especially on approaches to the major cities. Many of the country areas have tiny narrow lanes, which require cautious navigation. Roads can be slippery in icy weather.
The weather across the UK can be unpredictable, causing travel delays from blizzards, storms and floods during winter and spring.
Pickpockets and petty theft occur in the cities, more frequently in the summer months and at tourist spots, as well as break-ins to houses and vehicles.
Smartraveller advises some terrorist risks in London and Northern Ireland, and advises you to take precautions.
Assaults and robberies have occurred from unlicensed drivers posing as cabbies targeting transport hubs. Black cabs are the only registered cabs legally able to carry passengers after being hailed. Alternatively you should pre-book a minicab.
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