There’s so much to discover in the United Kingdom, whether you’re planning a city break in London or exploring the picturesque villages of the Cotswolds. Luckily it’s easy to travel around the UK, thanks to its road and public transport network. And because the UK is so small, you can get from one end to the other in just a few hours.
Here are my tips on different ways of travelling around the UK, including advice on travelling by train, coach, ferry and more. I’ve also got some useful information about driving in the UK so that you’re ready to explore Britain just as soon as you arrive.
How to travel around the UK like a local
To drive in the UK, you’ll need to hold a current valid driving licence and may also need an international driving permit. Most airports have car rental desks for the major UK car hire companies like Avis, Europcar and Hertz. You’ll also find car hire offices in city and town centres, including other smaller car hire companies.
Remember that it’s usually best to book early and rent a car well in advance of your arrival. Your car rental fee will usually include insurance and you can add roadside assistance as well. Be sure to keep your rental agreement in your car in case of an accident.
The UK Highway Code is the official guide to current UK driving rules and road safety. Here are some of the basic driving rules you need to remember.
UK Driving Tips
- Drive on the left side of the road
- Distances and speeds are measured in miles
- Roads in the UK tend to be busiest between 8-9.30 am and 5-7 pm on weekdays
- It’s illegal to use a mobile phone or sat nav system while you are driving
If you break down on the motorway you should pull over onto the hard shoulder as soon as possible. Call for assistance from one of the orange emergency phones (not your mobile!), cross over the safety barrier and wait on the grass verge away from the carriageway.
Driving in rural Scotland means that you may have to drive on single-track roads at times. These are not wide enough for cars to pass, so passing places are provided at regular intervals. Drive steadily and look out for cars approaching from the opposite direction. If you need to let a car pass or overtake you, pull into a passing place on your left or stop opposite a passing place on your right.
Most car parks and on-street parking meters now take contactless payment or allow you to pay through a smartphone app. But it’s a good idea to have some coins handy in case you need them.
Traveling by train in the UK is one of the fastest and most relaxing ways to explore Britain. There are more than 2,500 stations across the country and UK train journeys are generally quite short. For example, it can take as little as four hours to travel from London to Scotland.
Buying tickets on the day can work out very expensive, so it’s better to buy your tickets in advance and save money. You may find that buying two singles is cheaper than a return; be sure that you check out any restrictions on advance tickets.
The Trainline app is a great way to check times, find the cheapest fares and store your tickets on your smartphone. If you’re travelling around Scotland by train, the Scotrail app is also really useful.
Traveling by Coach
If you’re visiting the UK on a budget, coaches are often the cheapest mode of transport between UK cities but will take longer than the equivalent train journey. For example, travelling from London to Glasgow will take around 8 hours and London to Inverness takes about 12 hours.
Booking in advance is the best way to find cheap coach fares. The main UK coach company is National Express which has routes running between more than 1,200 destinations and offers some excellent discounts. Another company worth checking out is Megabus which offers low-cost coach tickets between major UK cities. Some of these bus service routes are long distance coaches of 3+ hours or more, but they are quite comfortable and may even offer WiFi onboard.
If you’re planning to visit Northern Ireland, explore the islands of Scotland or spend time on the Isle of Wight, you may need to travel by ferry. You can travel as a foot passenger or take your car on board, which can be very convenient for exploring your new destination.
Stena Line and P&O Ferries operate routes from the British mainland to Northern Ireland. Wightlink ferries travel from the South coast to the Isle of Wight, while Calmac and Western Ferries are two of the main Scottish ferry companies.
Some ferry journeys are only a few minutes long, and you will generally stay in your car for the journey. But on longer crossings, you can relax with refreshments in the passenger lounge for the duration of your trip.
Public transport is a popular way to travel around UK cities and towns. Travelling by bus can be cheap and convenient in cities and larger towns, but you will find that buses are less frequent and more expensive in rural areas. Always check your route, timetable and fare online or at the bus station before you travel.
The iconic London Underground (or Tube) is one of the cheapest ways to travel in London. You can buy single-trip tickets or day travelcards or use a debit or credit card to ‘tap in’ when you enter the network and ‘tap out’ when you leave.
The Tube lines are all colour coded and maps are posted at tube stations and on the trains themselves. The Travel for London website is a useful resource for getting around the UK capital city.
Glasgow, Liverpool and Newcastle also have underground systems and several cities have tram networks including Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester and Nottingham.
You’ll find taxis waiting at taxi ranks and train stations in cities and major towns, and minicabs are also widely available. You can hail a black cab from the roadside but you must book minicabs in advance – search online to find local cab companies.
Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be ready to travel around the UK like a local!
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