Harlech Castle overlooking Snowdonia National Park
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Useful things to know before visiting to the UK

The United Kingdom is more of a collection of places than a single destination, each has its own quirks, dialects, and customs. But by following practical tips and basic British etiquette you can get around the UK without too much of a fuss.

It’s best to start by defining what the UK actually is. While Great Britain is the island containing the countries of England, Wales and Scotland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland refers to the political union between these countries - importantly it has not included the Republic of Ireland since 1922.

While the finer details are a little complicated, people in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands are British Citizens, so can be classed as British without causing too much offence. But to avoid a rookie error, the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh should never be referred to as ‘English’.

Basic information

Plugs and measurement

The UK likes to be different to their European neighbours, like driving on the left and clinging to the outdated imperial system of measurement. And the same goes for plug sockets, make sure to pack a UK plug adapter (three rectangular pins rather than the standard two-pin EU plug).

Cash and cards

Small change is another essential when heading out of the main cities in the UK. Cards are more widely accepted since 2020, but it’s best to always have change for public toilets, bus fares, parking metres and small cafes.

More about money in the UK

Opening hours in the UK

The UK isn’t really a 24-hour kind of a place, even large cities tend to shut-up-shop overnight. In smaller towns you can expect shops and businesses to be closed on a Sunday, and often restaurants and cafes will shut on Mondays.

Visit free museums and beautifully landscaped parks instead as they are usually open daily. Saturdays are perfect for exploring local towns, many are busy with street markets and events throughout the summer months.

Getting around the UK

When it comes to getting around the UK, trains in particular are best booked in advance to avoid high last-minute ticket prices. But some of Britain's best places to visit involve hiring your own transport and escaping the major cities.

Take long scenic drives to the mountains of Snowdonia in Wales, the lochs and Highlands of Scotland, the rugged coastline of Cornwall and Devon, and the basalt columns of the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Healthcare in the UK

The NHS is a great source of pride for many in Britain and free healthcare is extended to EU visitors and many other countries that have reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the UK. That said, it’s always best to take the necessary precautions for a safe trip and have a comprehensive travel insurance policy in place.

Pubs in the UK

At the other end of the scale is pub culture - there’s nothing that can’t be solved by popping down to the local for a quick one. But it pays to know that a British pint is around 20% bigger than its US equivalent; which means patrons are 20% more likely to be intoxicated! All jokes aside, there are few better places to be on a sunny afternoon than a countryside pub's beer garden trying the local food.

Remember to...


Brits love to queue. When the Queen died, people lost their minds when several celebrities were seen jumping the 10 mile long queue to pay their final respects. To avoid causing a stir, just get to the back of the queue - even if you don’t know where it’s going.

This also applies to motoring, cars will form an orderly line to get off at junctions; if you realise too late and try to cut in expect some hard-stares from more vigilant drivers.

Stand to the side on escalators

On the London Underground it is almost a criminal offence to block the escalators. Stand to the side unless you want to endure exacerbated sighs from busy commuters. In general the further north you get, the friendlier the people - though locals in the countryside and villages in the south will often offer a friendly “hiya” to passers-by.


Tipping is highly appreciated by low-paid hospitality staff, 10-15% of the bill is the norm for seated dining.

Be polite

The phrases “sorry” (even if you aren’t in the wrong), “pardon me”, and “thank you very much”, will get you a long way in Britain. The culture is built around politeness and stifling any hint of unbecoming emotions.

Prepare for rain

Brits' obsession with the rain is well founded. Battles between the cold winds of the North Atlantic and the warm Gulf Stream mean that the weather in the UK is totally unpredictable. You can try and time your visit to avoid the rain, but even the professionals regularly get it wrong.

So the best advice is to always have a “brolly”, or a trusty waterproof jacket, on hand in case of a downpour. Cities are generally warmer than the countryside, while the west coast often sees some of the highest winds and rainfall.

Dialects and slang

Accents vary hugely. Though the four countries that make up the UK each have their own unique language (English, Welsh, Scots/Gaelic, and Irish), the regional dialects within each country mean it’s often hard even for native speakers to understand each other.

There are over 100 different words for rain alone, so visitors can’t be expected to decipher all of the dialects. “Brummie” (Birmingham), “Scouse” (Liverpool), “Cockney” (London), and “Geordie” (Newcastle) are some of the most recognisable regional accents, but visitors will get by with RP, also known as the Queen's English.

Good words to throw into conversation if you want to sound like a Brit include “cor blimey” or “Gordon Bennett” (oh my goodness), “dead” (very), “knackered” (tired or broken), “loo” (toilet or bathroom), “lush” (nice), and “made a pigs ear” (messed up). While “ta”, “cheers”, or “nice one mate/geezer/guv'nor” are all just colloquial ways to say thanks.

As an example; “Cor blimey, I was dead knackered earlier and made a right pig's ear of things, but I popped to the loo, had a lush bath, and now I feel right as rain again”.

Get into the mindset

  • For a wonderful portrayal of the UK, Bill Bryson's ‘Notes From A Small Island’ looks at the intricacies of British life after he spent time living in North Yorkshire with his family.

  • If you prefer a visual source of inspiration, Strumpshaw, Tincleton, and Giggleswick’s Marvellous Maps cover everything from funny place names to the best places to see wildlife. Use one of their maps to plan your journey from “Windy Bottom” to “Witts End”.

  • To get an understanding into the history of modern Britain, Andrew Marrs BBC series is a good place to start.

  • To get an understanding of the British psyche, Very British Problems is the best Instagram account to follow.

Must have apps for the UK

  • Trainline - Helps to plan rail journeys and you can get huge discounts (many locals use this).

  • Parkopedia - If hiring a car, this app makes it easy to find parking spots and prices.

  • MET Office Weather - The UK’s official weather forecaster. It’s not 100% accurate; but it’s the best source for weather updates.

  • All Trails - Great for finding the best walks and hikes in any area, community based and free.

  • Flush - Find public toilets wherever you are in the UK, always have coin-change to hand, but most accept cards now too.

Planning a trip to the UK? Read our UK travel guides

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Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

Jo Williams is a freelance writer with 10 years' experience working in travel and tourism. A Brit who got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, she sold everything to become a full-time wanderer.

Jo has travelled to over 70 countries and worked throughout Europe for a major tour operator. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 7 February 2024

Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, UK

United Kingdom

Encompassing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Island, the United Kingdom has a long and interesting history, several cosmopolitan cities and a range of enchanting landscapes.