So you’ve decided to plan a trip to the UK? That’s a great choice, and we’ve got plenty of advice for you from a local’s perspective. Whether this is a return trip or your first time in the lands of big coasts, verdant countryside and vibrant cities, we’ve got something here to help you. Let’s start to get your trip planning UK underway.
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- 1 Things To Consider – Trip Planning UK
- 2 Arriving In The UK
- 3 What Do You Want To See In The UK?
- 4 Managing Your UK Shortlist
- 5 Make The Must-Sees Your Must-Sees
- 6 Getting Around In The UK
- 7 Finding Accommodation In The UK
- 8 What Not To Do In Your Trip Planning UK
- 9 What else Should I Consider For UK Trip Planning?
Things To Consider – Trip Planning UK
In this article we’ll talk you through some of the key things to consider when planning your trip. We’ll look at how long you have for your trip, how you are planning to get around the UK, and what budget considerations you have in mind. Then we’ll focus on your accommodation choices, what to see and do that meets your interests, and how to make the most of your time.
Arriving In The UK
Most visitors arrive into London Heathrow Airport, which is the UK’s busiest airport, with passenger numbers of around 76 million in 2017. London Gatwick (44 million), Manchester (26 million), London Stanstead (24 million), London Luton (15 million), Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow, Bristol and Belfast are the next busiest. So you’ll see that gives you a wide choice of destinations across the UK to start your stay.
My advice is to think about your itinerary flexibly. Understandably, London is often the starting point for many visits to the UK. But if you are intending to head to Scotland, why not fly direct? Or if you want to enjoy the epic beauty of the Cotswolds, arriving in Birmingham would leave you with just a short drive there.
If you are arriving from Europe, don’t neglect the potential of the Eurostar train service. Trains arrive into London St Pancras International in the heart of the capital from Brussels Zuid (with connections to Amsterdam) or Paris Gare du Nord. Check in time is relatively close to departure, making this a faster option than you might think.
What Do You Want To See In The UK?
I know that’s a very difficult choice. Would you like to get to know one area well, or tour to see some of the UK’s greatest sights? We considered that dilemma in our selection of 10 day UK itineraries. Here you could visit all four of the countries that make up the UK, base yourself in London with a wide choice of day trips or tour the country, including an itinerary for the Scottish Highlands. You could even make your way to Scotland by sleeper train, a whole memorable adventure in its own right.
I would suggest you start with a list of your must-sees. Then from that you can build the rest of your trip. Undoubtedly this will involve some hard choices. Please don’t try to squeeze too much in. Growing up in Devon, I regularly met visitors who had arrived in the evening for a night’s hotel stay. They would be moving on the next morning, and asked me what they could see to make the most of that evening in beautiful Exeter. I could send them to the cathedral, of course, to Parliament Street, reputed to be the narrowest in the world, and next door to the ornate Guildhall. But so many of the city’s sights were closed in the evening and couldn’t be enjoyed. Don’t be those people peeping through the gates of ruined Rougemont castle. Less can sometimes be more. Make time for what you want to experience.
Managing Your UK Shortlist
As Bill Bryson would say, this is a small island. But it’s bigger than you’d think when you are looking to explore it. If you are planning to hire a car, then don’t forget to factor in some congestion in big cities, the potential to be following a tractor on rural roads, and getting lost now and again, even with satnav. (Getting lost can be a bonus, of course.) Finding parking in popular spots can also take more time than you’d think.
Once you have your list of must-sees, then it’s time to build the remainder of your trip around them. For example, if you are exploring places in the Lake District, it’s easy to spend some time in the neighbouring and wilder Yorkshire Dales National Park. Or if you like lesser known places, exploring the Forest of Bowland, in Lancashire.
Heading to the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds? Why not venture further into Oxfordshire to visit the Vale of White Horse? Here you’ll find the white horse himself, carved out in chalk on the hill top, plus places like Faringdon with its spectacular folly.
Make The Must-Sees Your Must-Sees
Your perfect trip is just that. Your. Perfect. Trip. So if you want to see the things that will make the best trip for you, then focus your trip planning UK accordingly.
Enjoying the UK’s music Scene
Here for the music? Then I’d suggest London, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham to make the most of all those UK musical landmarks, plus a great selection of concerts and gigs in each city. And you could manage all of those destinations by public transport if you don’t want to drive.
Seeing the UK’s Historic Sites
Here for history? London’s got so much to see at every step, as have Edinburgh and Glasgow and York. Take a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath from London, and that will take you a long way through both prehistory and history. You can put together an itinerary that features many beautiful castles, or visit the lesser traveled spots where Wales meets England in the borderlands of the Welsh Marches. Add on a couple more days to see the Tudor splendors of the black and white villages of Herefordshire, so named from their customary painted oak beams.
Want To Explore The Countryside?
All of the UK’s national parks have an incredible amount to see and do. There is also a wide choice of National Trails to walk. This year we enjoyed exploring the Wales Coast Path, packed with charming small towns, historic villages and wildlife spotting opportunities for dolphins and other maritime creatures. The Thames Path will take you past gentle rolling hills in Oxfordshire, while the Pennine Way is potentially a more active hike.
Charmed by the UK Coast?
The UK is not best known for its beaches, but as an island nation, we are surrounded by great opportunities to enjoy the coast. Whether you want the full-on seaside experience of Brighton Pier (and there’s plenty more to enjoy in Brighton) or to rent a beach hut at Saunton Sands for the day to go bodyboarding, you won’t be short of different choices at the coast. We’ve selected our best beaches for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. You can’t go wrong with adding some of these choices to any coast-based itinerary or day trip.
Getting Around In The UK
The UK is well served by public transport, so if your itinerary doesn’t require driving, you should find plenty of options. Public transport is deregulated, meaning that you will find a variety of operators around the country, with some in competition on direct routes. There also long distances bus services, plus local ones from towns and cities to smaller villages. You’ll even find minibuses to take you to trail heads from stations on the fells of the Yorkshire Dales.
If you are looking to check out public transport options, I would recommend the following websites, some of which also have apps:
You’ve got two links above designed to help you save money. Traveling a long distance by rail? You can find that two or more tickets covering one single long journey are cheaper. Split Ticketing will check this out for you, confirming that your tickets will be valid. Savings can be good, and you don’t need to get off and re-board the train; it just needs to stop at the station where your new ticket starts. Check My Bus finds the cheapest operator and route options for your long distance bus journey. We have you covered for cheap UK public transport here.
Hiring A Car
There is plenty of car hire choice in the UK. I would recommend not picking up your car on arrival day if possible, unless you know you will be arriving bright, perky and ready to deal with driving on the left plus navigation in an unfamiliar vehicle.
Fuel is relatively expensive. There are apps that can tell you where to locate the cheapest fuel nearby. Failing this, large supermarkets often have fuel stations attached, and these are certainly the cheapest options in our home city.
Parking can also be expensive. Check if your accommodation has parking available and if it is chargeable. Many cities have park and ride, where you can leave your car on the outskirts and take a bus into the city centre. There’s also the choice to create your own version of that by parking at a station on the edge of a city and taking the train into the centre.
When it comes to route planning, Google, the AA and the RAC will give you estimated times for your journey. Journey times can vary quite a bit between apps. Most roads are well-surfaced, well lit in cities and towns and generally good to travel. Rural areas can be surprisingly remote. You might drive for a long time before meeting another car. You can find tall hedges on single track roads with passing places, meaning that one driver will need to reverse. Occasionally you’ll spot plants growing in the middle of the road, meaning you are really off the beaten track. If you find yourself waiting for the cows to cross the road to the milking parlor, that’s another great UK experience to add to your trip memories.
Consider whether you need a hire car for your full trip. When we last went to Inverness for a Scottish Highlands trip, we started our journey exploring the city itself, before picking up a hire car later on. If you are using one place as a base to explore, you might also consider hiring a smaller car that doesn’t need to fit your luggage.
Finding Accommodation In The UK
Accommodation choices in the UK are much the same as in many other countries, ranging from hostels to self-catering cottages or hotels. If you are looking for something a little different for your trip, why not investigate the Landmark Trust. This charity restores fascinating buildings from forts and castles to towers and unusual cottages, all of which are available to rent. You can even sleep in a pineapple, one of our fabulous follies.
Historic UK also offers up a list of unusual offerings, from glamping in castle grounds to toll houses, crofts and a Cambridge college. On which note, don’t forget that most UK universities have student accommodation (mainly for adults only) out of term time. The Youth Hostels Association offers camping and glamping (tipis, pods and bell tents) and as well as hostels. Don’t forget that you don’t have to fulfill the Youth part of the name to stay there.
Ready to push the boat out? Exceptional experiences await you across the UK, whether it’s The Landmark in London’s Marylebone or one of our favourite treats, Christmas at Wroxall Abbey (Sir Christopher Wren’s country pad) near Warwick.
What Not To Do In Your Trip Planning UK
Here are the things I’d suggest you avoid when planning your UK trip. While none of them are what I would term mistakes, I don’t think they’re going to add to your enjoyment of the trip.
Driving In Central London
Even if you know London exceptionally well, navigation can be tricky. Roads are often congested (hence the Congestion Charge) and parking is eye-wateringly expensive. Don’t do it unless you absolutely have to. Public transport is capped at a daily rate, well organised and well connected. There’s a great Transport for London journey planner that will get you where you want to go. I also recommend the Citymapper app linked above, which has the advantage of showing you when you are getting close to your stop on the buses. Citymapper also covers places such as Birmingham.
Packing Too Much
Managing large, heavy and unwieldy bags, particularly in peak hours, is no one’s idea of a good time. Also be aware that not all London Underground stations are free of steps. There may be a flight of 12 or more steps leading to the first escalator, or else from ticket barrier level to the street. You can check accessibility in London here.
Read more: What to Pack for London And Britain
Packing In Too Much
I know that there is always a vast temptation to squeeze in everything you want to see. But there does come a stage where you see lots but savour nothing. I’ve been guilty of that myself. But one of the things I’ve learned in 50 years of travel is to give myself time to enjoy what I love. It makes room for unexpected experiences, enjoying the places where you want to linger, and being flexible enough to adjust your plans to changing circumstances.
Making Unsuitable Accommodation Choices
When you are on a big trip, accommodation choices can make or break your happiness. That’s not to say that you should spend a large chunk of your travel budget on accommodation, but that you should be aware of your non-negotiables. Whether you want characterful choices and experiences, such as accommodation in castles, or simple, basic and clean rooms, sort that out in your head before making plans. And if you are traveling for more than a week, somewhere with laundry facilities mid-trip will save you carrying two weeks or more of clothing around the UK. Your back and toes will thank you.
Not Being Flexible
Booking ahead undoubtedly gives you more options to find both accommodation and rail travel at a discount. Some smart choices here can give you better flexibility. We recently booked a cottage midway between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, which gave us the chance to visit plenty of destinations from the same base. It also meant we had the opportunity to return to some spots we loved, while tailoring each day to the weather. That was a lucky outcome, and a choice we’d definitely recommend if you are visiting a number of places within a particular region.
Visiting At The Wrong Time Of Year
Of course, there is no wrong time to be planning a trip to the UK. But know what you are heading into. While the climate in the UK is mild, you’ll find winter snow in places such as the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands, the north of England and even as far south as Dartmoor in Devon. If you love the outdoors, you’ll need to pack appropriate additional gear to visit in winter. If you hate the cold, best think about warmer spots in towns and cities and further south if you are visiting in winter.
Head to the Cotswolds in summer, and you’ll enjoy the prettiest villages. As will a high proportion of the 38 million visitors who arrive there each year. I’d still recommend visiting in summer. But you’ll be one of many seeking limited parking spaces, tearoom tables and access to visitor attractions. Adjusting your expectations and time constraints would be good.
What else Should I Consider For UK Trip Planning?
Don’t believe any rumours you’ve heard about UK food being uninspiring. The UK has a rich repetoire and plenty of foodie destinations. It’s also not as expensive as you might think. We’ve shown you some great choices in our look at traditional British food, from big breakfasts to Cornish pasties on the beach and carveries to try out that legendary roast dinner. I’ll take the chestnut stuffing, roast parsnips and red cabbage with cranberry.
You’ll meet plenty of people along the way eager to help and to suggest places you might not have considered. This is how we found the spectacular Tarka Trail in North Devon. That in turn sent us to the incredible Hartland peninsula for tales of smugglers and shipwrecks.
Whatever you choose to do, have the most fabulous time. I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen so much of the UK. But it’s still not enough. You might, if you are lucky, want to plan more than one trip.
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