An aerial view of Snowdonia National Park
plan your trip

Travelling safely in the UK

Important numbers:

Emergencies: 999 or 112

Urgent medical assistance (not emergency): 111

Thefts (Police, not emergency): 101

The UK is generally seen as a safe place to visit. Risks of natural disasters are minimal, and apart from the odd flood and fire, there are very few life-threatening natural events to worry about. The wildlife is not threatening, and livestock is usually confined to fields with plenty of signage warning of their presence.

Generally, a traveller’s biggest concern when visiting the UK will be petty theft, scams, and the drinking culture in major cities, and we’ll explore these further in this article. It’s important to remember these are only considerations, and in general, the UK is one of the safest countries to visit for travellers.

Petty theft in the UK

According to UK police statistics, you are up to twice as likely to be involved in a crime in a city as in the countryside. Major cities like London, Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham can see tourists targeted for petty theft. But small towns and villages feel very safe in the UK, and rural areas with issues surrounding poverty tend to be far off the tourist map.

One particular thing to look out for is ‘moped muggings’, where thieves steal valuables from unsuspecting pedestrians on drive-by-style robberies. As always, keeping valuables hidden is the best line of defence. When eating out in busy areas, attach your bags to something secure, and always keep hold of your belongings on public transport.

Pickpockets have been known to work together in groups to create bottlenecks at busy train, bus, and underground stations. By forcing everyone close together, getting to people's valuables is much easier and ‘marks’ are less likely to notice. It’s also easier for the thieves to disappear into the crowd. It’s a good idea to always have your valuables in an RFID wallet in a zipped pocket or a secure bag on your front.

Common scams in the UK

Scams are incredibly common in the UK, so much so there is thought to be a victim every 15 seconds. UK residents are often the targets, with most scams happening on social media, online, or over the phone (it goes some way to explaining why UK citizens may appear untrusting to strangers at first).

Travellers are generally only targeted in major cities, especially in the tourist hotspot of London. Pedi-cabs are known to over-charge visitors, so stick to licensed black cabs instead - they will use a metre. There are plenty of reputable outlets to buy tickets for shows and events from, so if a last-minute deal from a street seller seems too good to be true, it’s probably because they are selling fakes.

Nightlife, drugs, and alcohol

The UK’s alcohol culture revolves around binge drinking, and excess consumption of alcohol and drugs can lead to violence. That said, it’s only common to encounter issues later on in the night within city centres and entertainment districts. To avoid putting yourself at risk, be careful where you choose to enjoy a night out, always plan a safe route home, and choose to leave before the pubs close for the night.

While violent crime is low in the UK and guns are strictly prohibited, knife crime is an issue in some major cities. According to statistics from the UK government, there were more than 41,000 crimes involving a knife or sharp object in 2021. Whilst many are gang or drug-related, street robberies can pose a risk to travellers. A dummy wallet with a few notes and some old cards can be a quick way to get out of trouble.

Staying safe outdoors

Swim safety

As with many places in the world, the water is one of the most dangerous places to be for a traveller in the UK. Freshwater lakes and streams are often very cold, even in the summer, while hidden currents in the sea pose a risk year round. It’s not just in the water, large tidal bays and quicksand can also catch out beach walkers.

In the event of an emergency call 999 or 112 and request assistance from the Coastguard.

Safety in the mountains

Conditions can quickly change on the UK’s mountains and hikers may find themselves needing assistance. There are 47 volunteer mountain rescue teams in England and Wales covering the Lake District, Mid Pennines, North East, Peak District, Peninsula, Yorkshire Dales, North Wales, and South Wales.

There are also 25 teams in the Scottish Mountain Rescue, and the Northern Ireland Mountain Rescue is divided into three teams.

If you find yourself in danger, call 999 or 112 and ask for ‘Police’ and then ‘Mountain Rescue’.

Other considerations

  • Though the NHS offers free emergency medical treatment for many foreign visitors, it’s always best to have a comprehensive travel insurance policy in place.

  • There are no required vaccinations or infectious diseases, but it’s best to carry an antiseptic cream for any bites & stings in the summer months.

  • The UK only has one venomous snake (the adder), but it’s an incredibly shy creature.

  • Tap water is safe to drink throughout the UK, but using a filter is a good way of avoiding ‘hard water’ and any possible stomach upsets.

Call the NHS service on 111 for an urgent medical problem that is not an emergency.

Accessible emergency services

The Relay UK service allows deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired people in the UK to alert the police, ambulance, fire, or coastguard services. Options include either calling via a relay assistant or texting a message to 999 using an emergency SMS service.

See the Relay UK website to download the app, set up your text-phone or register for emergency SMS.

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

Share this article

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 13 June 2023

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.