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DESTINATION SCOTLAND

Scotland is logistically demanding. Outside of Edinburgh & Glasgow public transport is limited and the rail network is non-existent.  Coupled to that that is the high demand for space in Edinburgh. The result is that planning well and being well prepared is very important.

GETTING TO SCOTLAND

Many European airport hubs also provide fantastic onward connections to Scotland, including airports in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Reykjavik and Frankfurt.

FLIGHTS FROM THE USA AND CANADA

Fly direct to Scotland from North America 

Services by British AirwaysKLMIcelandairWOW Air and Air France – amongst others – fly to many main European hubs, which can then be used for onward travel to Scotland.

DIRECT FLIGHTS

From June with Norwegian:

  • From New York area (Stewart Airport) to Edinburgh
  • From Rhode Island area (Providence Airport) to Edinburgh
  • From Connecticut area (Bradley Airport) to Edinburgh

Please note; some of the above flights are operational on a seasonal service. Please check with the individual airlines.

FLIGHTS FROM EUROPE

Scotland’s international airports enjoy excellent year-round air links with most European and Scandinavian countries. There are also seasonal flights from Sumburgh Airport in Shetland to Bergen in Norway, and from Inverness Airport to Geneva in Switzerland.

The best way to find the most competitive fares for flying to Scotland is to search on comparison sites such as SkyScannerExpediaCheapflightsGoEuro and DiscountMyFlights.

  • From Marseille to Glasgow with Easyjet from 29 June 2016

With Vueling:

  • Paris Orly to Edinburgh from 29 March 2016 – 3 times a week – year round
  • Alicante – Edinburgh from 16 June 2016 – 3 times a week – year round
  • Roma Fiumicino – Edinburgh from 29 March 2016 – 3 times a week – year round

For those flying to Scotland via a connecting airport in Europe, the major European hubs are London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Reykjavik-Keflavik Airport, Frankfurt am Maine, Amsterdam Schipol and Madrid Barajas airports.

FLIGHTS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST

There are several direct routes linking the Middle East and Scotland.

FLIGHTS FROM AUSTRALASIA

The best way to get to Scotland from Australasia is to fly via the Middle Eastern hubs.

FLIGHTS FROM ASIA, AFRICA, CENTRAL AMERICA AND SOUTH AMERICA

The easiest way to get to Scotland from Asia and Africa is to travel via airport hubs in Europe or the Middle East.

The major European hubs are London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt am Maine, Amsterdam Schipol and Madrid Barajas airports.

Those travelling from South America are best to travel via the European hubs, whereas routes from Central America also fly via US hubs.

TRAVEL TO SCOTLAND BY FERRY

Direct ferry services run between Scotland and Northern Ireland or you can travel from a number of European countries to ports in England, which are all just a short drive, train ride or bus journey away from Scotland.

You can find information on timetables, ferry operators and make bookings at Ferrysavers.

From Rotterdam and Zeebrugge to Hull with P&O Ferries (Hull is around four hours’ drive from the Scottish border).

From Amsterdam to Newcastle with DFDS Seaways (Newcastle is just over an hour’s drive from the Scottish border

FAQS ABOUT SCOTLAND

When is the best time to visit Scotland?

All Scotland’s seasons offer something different:
    • Spring (March, April, May) – seeing leaves and plants bursting into life, watching newborn animals playing, sitting by a tranquil river bed at the start of the fishing season, celebrating Whisky Month, Tartan Day and Easter.
    • Summer (June, July, August) – strolling in the sunshine, enjoying a luxurious ice cream, having a blast at a festival or a traditional Highland games, cycling through a leafy forest or along the glittering coastline.
    • Autumn (September, October, November) – walking on carpets of golden leaves, seeing migrating birds flying overhead, celebrating St Andrews Day, waking up to a shimmering frost.
    • Winter (December, January, February) – lounging by cosy fires, taking winter walks, playing in the snow, shopping at Christmas fairs, celebrating Christmas, Hogmanay and Burns Night.

What sort of temperatures should I expect? 

Winter temperatures in Scotland average from about 2 °C to 6 °C, rising to peak in the summer months of July and August, at around 12 °C to 19 °C. On the whole Scotland boasts a largely temperate, if changeable(!), climate that is rarely extreme on either end on the spectrum. But that’s not to say you won’t enjoy colder days in the winter, when the mercury dips to freezing and the countryside turns into a winter wonderland, or brilliant days in the summer, when the sun bathes the countryside in light and warmth.

What language is spoken in Scotland? 

English is the main language, though you’ll hear Scots spoken in many places too. Gaelic (pronounced gah-lick) is also spoken in some parts of Scotland, particularly in the Outer Hebrides where it is used by roughly 60 percent of the population.

Do I need any vaccinations to visit Scotland? 

No.

What is the electricity supply like in Scotland? 

Scotland enjoys a constant electricity supply throughout the country (including the Highlands and Islands). Power cuts are rare and are usually fixed very quickly. 

Is it safe to drink Scottish tap water? 

Yes, Scotland boasts exceptionally clean tap water that is perfectly safe to drink

Will I be able to access the internet? 

Most accommodation providers offer WiFi (check before you book though!) as well as many cafés and visitor attractions. You should also be able to access roaming data from your phone (charges vary though so please check with your provider before you visit us).

Can I use my mobile phone? 

Your mobile should switch onto a UK network while you’re here, though charges for calls and data vary. Check with your own provider before your holiday.

What are the common shopping hours? 

Most shops are open from 9am – 5pm, but some may stay open later and there are many that open at the weekend too.

How late bars, pubs and nightclubs are open? 

Most bars and pubs stay open till midnight while nightclubs will be open longer.

What is the legal drinking age in Scotland? 

18.

How many passengers can a taxi take? 

Taxis you see in the street will usually accommodate 4, 5 or 6 people, depending on the size of the taxi, but some taxi firms also offer people carriers and minibuses which can accommodate more people. Booking your taxi in advance is a good way to guarantee you’ll get the size of taxi you need.

What type of electrical adapter will I need? 

Type G.

What type of currency can I use?

Pound Sterling.

Do I need to tip? 

Although there isn’t a big tipping culture in Scotland, it is quite common to tip in restaurants or taxis when you receive good service.

How much should I tip? 

10 percent is a good rule of thumb though most people will be delighted with any amount of tip. 

Driving Licence

If you’re coming from a European Union country – as long as you have a valid licence, you can drive in Scotland.

If you’re coming from outside the EU – as long as you have a valid licence from your own country, you can drive in the UK for up to 12 months.

Speed Limits

These are often signposted – look out for a circular sign, with a red border and number (reflects miles per hour). If there’s no signpost, national speed limits apply.

MOTORWAYS
  • 70 mph (112 km/h) for cars, coaches and minibuses
  • 60 mph (96 km/h) for cars towing caravans or trailers and lorries
DUAL CARRIAGEWAYS
  • 70 mph (112 km/h) for cars
  • 60 mph (96 km/h) for cars towing caravans, trailers, buses, coaches, lorries and minibuses
BUILT-UP AREAS
  • 30 mph (48 km/h)
  • It’s quite common around residential areas and particularly near schools, for a clearly signposted 20 mph (32 km/h) maximum speed limit
OUTSIDE BUILT-UP AREAS
  • 60 mph (96 km/h) for cars
  • 50 mph (80 km/h) for buses, coaches, minibuses and cars towing caravans or trailers.

Fuel

Petrol stations provide unleaded petrol and diesel. Fuel is priced by the litre. 

As well as LPG (or Autogas) you can find Bio-Diesel filling stations and Electric Vehicle Charging stations (or EVCs) on the LPG website.

In the cities, you’ll often find 24-hour access at fuel stations.

In the countryside, there are fewer fuel stations, so it’s best to keep your vehicle topped up if travelling in remote areas

Drinking and Driving 

Driving under the influence of alcohol is taken very seriously in Scotland and the UK and there can be heavy penalties for those found to be above the legal blood/alcohol limit.

As of 5 December 2014, the legal limit has been lowered to 50 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood (from 80 mg of alcohol).  

Other useful driving information

  • Generally, roads tend to be busier around towns and cities during morning and evening rush hours – generally from 7.30-9.30am and 4-6.30pm.
  • There are no toll roads or tolled bridges in Scotland.
  • Roundabouts are commonly used – give way to vehicles from your right, and turn left on entering the roundabout.
  • Bus lanes are used in some cities – they can only be used by buses and taxis when in operation at certain times of the day.
  • Some rural roads are single lane, but have passing places so traffic in opposite directions can pass safely.
  • You might encounter some farm animals or wildlife on rural roads so always take care.
  • Seatbelts are compulsory for all drivers and passengers in the vehicle.
  • Children under 12 who are under 135 cm (4 ft 5 in) tall should use a child seat appropriate for their weight. You can order one through the hire company.
  • It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving. You must also have proper control while using hands-free. 

Passports, Visas and Customs

Do I need a passport to visit Scotland?

Yes. You must hold a valid passport before you visit Scotland and the UK. Your children may also need their own passports.

DO I need a Visa to visit Scotland?

If you are an EU citizen

No, you don’t need a visa. You can stay in Scotland for any length of time.

If you are from outside the EU

You might need a visa. It depends on how long you are planning to stay and why you are visiting.

Tax-Free Shopping

  • Want to make your holiday money go further? If you’re from outside the EU, you can reclaim the sales tax on your purchases.
  • The sales tax – or value added tax (VAT) – is currently applied at 20% to most goods and services except food, books and children’s clothing.
  • There are a number of steps to take during and after your visit, in order to reclaim the sales tax. You can find information on how to reclaim sales tax by visiting the HM Revenue & Customs website.

DESTINATION ENGLAND & WALES

England and Wales are less logistically demanding than their northern neighbour Scotland. The public transport system is good and London is a destination in itself. However, there is a massive influx of tourists and so demand is at a premium, so it is advisable to have your itinerary nailed down well in advance of travel.

Airports & Airlines

Heathrow (www.heathrow.com) The UK’s main airport for international flights; often chaotic and crowded. About 15 miles west of central London.

Gatwick (www.gatwickairport.com) Britain’s number-two airport, mainly for international flights, 30 miles south of central London.

Stansted (www.stanstedairport.com) About 35 miles northeast of central London, mainly handling charter and budget European flights.

Luton (www.london-luton.co.uk) Some 35 miles north of central London, well-known as a holiday-flight airport.

London City (www.londoncityairport.com) A few miles east of central London, specialising in flights to/from European and other UK airports.

The national carrier is British Airways (www.britishairways.com).

Regional Airports

Some planes on European and long-haul routes avoid London and use major regional airports including Manchester and Newcastle. Smaller regional airports such as Southampton and Birmingham are served by flights to and from Continental Europe and Ireland.

What is Eurotunnel Le Shuttle?

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle is the unique service running a twinned railway tunnel under the English Channel that links Folkestone in Southern England with Coquelles in the Nord Pas-de-Calais, France.

After checking in and going through passport controls, customers drive onto the shuttle, switch off their engines and sit in the comfort of their own vehicle for the short 35-minute crossing. The shuttle allows passengers to experience this simple and efficient service with their vehicles 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Why choose Eurotunnel Le Shuttle?

It’s a fast way to cross between continental Europe and Britain with your own car. With motorway access links at each end of the tunnel, you can drive directly to your destination.

The Eurotunnel service
  •  Eurotunnel Le Shuttle operates up to 4 departures per hour between 6am and 12 midnight and up to 2 departures between 12 midnight and 6am in peak periods. One ticket covers a car and up to 9 passengers. You can also travel with pets.
    •    There is a 30-minute check-in time.
    •    The Victor Hugo Terminal building in Folkestone has cafes and shopping facilities. 
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle tickets
  •  There is a range of standard and flexible fares to suit all travel needs and budgets.
    •    All fares include a car and up to 9 passengers.
    •    There are no fuel or luggage supplements.
    •    Book in advance to get the best fare. Prices start from £23 per car per way.


Cross from continental Europe to Britain directly by train – Eurostar trains link Paris, Lille and Calais in France, and Brussels in Belgium directly via the Channel Tunnel with London and Southeast England.

Travelling from Paris to London
  •  There are frequent Eurostar services between Paris and London every day of the week. Train services run regularly between around 6.45am-9.15pm.
    •    The Paris to London train takes around 2 hours 20 minutes.
    •    The Paris-London train arrives at London’s St Pancras International. Here you can find world-class shopping, Europe’s longest champagne bar, a daily farmers’ market and top restaurants and bars – quite a welcome to Britain!
Travelling from Brussels, Belgium, and Lille and Calais, France to London
Eurostar tickets and fares

Eurostar offer a wide range of ticket types and fares. Find out more and book on the Eurostar website(link is external).

To and from the Eurostar station in London

For more details on onward travel by train check National Railway Enquiries(link is external).

If you are travelling to destinations south of London, you may save time by getting off the Eurostar when it stops en route at Ashford International(link is external) or Ebbsfleet International(link is external) stations.


UK customs regulations

You can bring some goods from abroad without having to pay UK tax or ‘duty’ (customs charges), as long as they’re for your own use. It depends on the type of goods you’re bringing in and where you’re travelling from.

If you are travelling to the UK from the EU, you can bring an unlimited amount of most goods (such as cigarettes and alcohol) for your own use without paying tax or duty. This legislation does not apply to some new member states; check the full regulations if you are unsure.

If you are travelling to the UK from outside the EU, you’re allowed to bring a certain amount of goods such as alcohol, tobacco, perfume, souvenirs for your own use or as gifts. Your personal allowance includes up to 1 litre of spirits, 200 cigarettes and up to £390-worth of other goods. 

VAT refunds

Non-EU residents can apply for a VAT refund on goods bought in Britain on departure. 


What is VAT?

VAT is a 20% sales tax charged on most goods and services sold in Britain – exceptions are foodbooks and children’s clothes.

Who’s eligible for tax-free shopping?

Visitors from outside the EU who stay less than three months may claim this tax back.

How does tax-free shopping work?

When shopping, ask the retailer for a VAT 407 form. It’s important to note not all shops will participate in the scheme and some may have a minimum purchase price (often around £75). They may ask for proof you are eligible so bring a passport or national identity card.

To get your money back, show the VAT form, the goods and your receipts to customs at the point when you depart. Customs will approve your form if everything is in order. You then take the approved form to get paid.

Ferry

If you travel from Europe to Great Britain you will need to cross either the English Channel or the North Sea, and there are many different ways you can do this. Ferry(link is external) services operate from a number of ports on the European mainland and have good link-ups with international coaches. The Channel Tunnel means there is a reliable non-stop rail link between Europe and Britain. Prices among the ferries and the tunnel services remain competitive, and both options are good green alternatives to flying. 

Ferry services from Europe

A network of car and passenger ferry services conveniently link a dozen British ports in northern and southern Europe.

Ferries can be convenient, economical and fun for those travelling by car or on foot. Fares vary greatly according to the season, time of travel and duration of stay so make sure you do you research before you book. Early booking means big savings – a Dover–Calais return crossing can cost as little as £22!

Crossing times vary from just over an hour on the shortest routes to a full 24 hours on services from places like Spain and Scandinavia. If you take an overnight sailing, it could be worth paying extra for sleeping quarters to avoid feeling exhausted when you arrive. DFDS(link is external) runs fast Seacat (catamaran) services between Dover and Boulogne, in France, taking just under an hour. Catamarans can carry vehicles and lack the dip and sway of a conventional ship, so may be preferable for those who tend to get seasick. 

Travel via the Channel Tunnel

Thanks to the Channel Tunnel, there is access to Britain via Eurostar and Eurotunnel from the French and Belgian high-speed rail networks. In France and Belgium, trains reach speeds of up to 186 mph (300 km/h). The cost is comparable to flying but the train is much more convenient and much less environmentally damaging. Typically, a ticket from London to Paris costs about £110 but can be as low as £46.

Passengers on buses and in cars board a freight train run by Eurotunnel that takes 35 minutes to travel between Calais and Folkestone. For those travelling by rail there are about 40 scheduled passenger-only Eurostar services, operated by the French, Belgians and British. They run direct services from Brussels, Paris, Lille and Calais to Ashford, Ebbsfleet and St Pancras in London. There are two passenger tunnels and one service tunnel, both lying 25–45 m (82–147 ft) below the seabed. 

Transport from the airport

Heathrow and Newcastle airports are linked to the city centres by the Underground, which is efficient, quick and cheap! Visitors to London arriving at Heathrow can also take the Heathrow Express, the fast train to Paddington Station (www.heathrowexpress.com(link is external) or 0845 600 1515). Trains run every 15 minutes from 05.00 until around midnight – the journey takes approximately15 minutes from Terminals 1, 2 and 3, and 21 minutes from Terminal 5. Terminal 4 requires a change of train and takes a total of 23 minutes. Those arriving at Gatwick can take the Gatwick Express to London Victoria (www.gatwickexpress.com(link is external) or 0845 850 15 30). Trains run every 15 minutes and take 30 minutes. Stansted and Manchester also have regular express trains that are reliable. 

National Express(link is external) coaches provide direct connections from major airports (London’s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, Luton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, CoventryEast Midlands and Bristol) to many British destinations. They also have a regular service between Gatwick and Heathrow and are usually a cheaper option. 

Travelling within Britain by air

Internal air travel in Britain only makes sense over long distances, where it can save a great deal of time – for example, London to Scotland, or to one of the many fantastic offshore islands. Fares can be expensive, but if you book well ahead, they can be up to three times cheaper than if you just turn up at the airport. 

Currency

Britain’s currency is the pound sterling (£), which is divided into 100 pence (p).

Scotland has its own pound sterling notes. These represent the same value as an English note and can be used elsewhere in Britain. The Scottish £1 note is not accepted outside Scotland.

There are lots of bureaux de change in Britain – often located inside:

  •    Banks
    •    Travel agents
    •    Post Offices
    •    Airports 
    •    Major train stations. 

It’s worth shopping around to get the best deal and remember to ask how much commission is charged.

What cards can I use in the UK?

Credit cards, debit cards and contactless payment types are widely used throughout Britain and are the easiest way to pay for things. Visa and MasterCard are the most common type of cards, while American Express and Diners Club cards are less commonly accepted but still facilitated. 

Does everywhere accept credit cards?

Some small shopsguesthousesmarkets and cafés may not accept cards or may have a minimum spend (usually around £5), so always check in advance of your purchase. Cards that are accepted are usually displayed in the windows so you can check before you enter. 

Can I get cash out with my credit or debit card?

You will probably also incur a currency exchange fee if you use an ATM to draw money out – just check with your bank for details before you leave your country.

Banking while in Britain 

As a security measure let you bank know that you’re travelling overseas. Although there are many banks in large towns and cities across the UK, it’s unlikely you’ll have to visit one – unless your usual bank is represented in the UK. 

If you run out of funds, it is possible to have money wired from your country to the nearest British bank. Branches of Travelex(link is external) and American Express will also do this for you. North American visitors can get cash dispatched through Western Union(link is external) to a bank or post office. Remember to take along your passport as proof of identity.

Where to find a cash machine

There are many cash dispensers and ATM machines for you to use across the UK and almost ever bank has a cash dispenser. Cash machines can also be found in some supermarkets, post offices, petrol stations, train stations and London Underground(link is external) stations. Some of the most modern ATMs have on-screen instructions in several languages. Some make a charge for cash withdrawals. American Express cards may be used at all cash-dispensing machines, but there is a 2 per cent handling charge for each transaction.

Transport

Public Transport

Using public transport to travel around urban areas in Britain is fun, insightful and more often than not economical. The larger cities tend to have the most reliable bus services and LondonNewcastle and Glasgow have an underground system. Travel to EdinburghManchester and Nottingham to experience the trams and remember that if you get stuck, taxis are available at nearly every train station. The best way to see many cities is on foot, but whatever transport you opt for, try to avoid the rush hours from 08.00 to 09:30 and 17.00 to 19.00. 

Get to know the local buses

Buses come in all shapes and sizes in the UK. They include driver-operated double-deckers, smaller single-deckers that can weave through traffic and in London, the new Routemaster double-deckers, which have doors at the front, centre and rear. Bus conductors as well as the driver are on-hand to check your tickets. The only London route on which the old, open-backed Routemaster buses are still used is Heritage route 15. This route will take you between the Tower of London and Trafalgar Square via St Paul’s Cathedral

In London it’s important to remember that you cannot pay with cash on any city bus. Instead you must use a contactless credit or debit card (with a non-UK card this will incur extra charges) or you can purchase a Visitor Oyster Card, which you top-up with credit that diminishes each time you use it (but can be recharged). When you get on the bus you’ll touch your Oyster card against the reader and the cost of your trip will be deducted from the card. Alternatively if you’re only using public transport for a day, a one-day Travelcard(link is external) would be the logical choice. Both cards can be used on the Underground and local trains as well as buses and are available from Underground stations, travel information centres, shops showing the blue Oyster symbol, or online before you arrive in Britain through Transport for London (www.tfl.gov.uk(link is external)) or VisitLondon (www.visitlondon.com(link is external)).

In most other cities you can still buy tickets from drivers when you board a bus, and large urban areas such as the West Midlands and Greater Manchester(link is external) have their own regional travel cards, which are valid on all public transport within their area. Check local tourist offices for timetables and more details. 

Night services are provided in larger cities from about 23.00 to 06.00. In London, night buses are prefixed with the letter “N”, and most pass through Trafalgar Square.

If you want to board a bus, raise your arm as the bus approaches: to get off, ring the bell once before your stop. Destinations are shown on the front of buses. If you are not sure which stop you need, ask the driver or conductor to alert you and stay on the lower deck. 

Driving in a different city 

Driving in city centres can be challenging and it’s worth noting that London has a congestion charge. If you drive or park within the congestion zone from Monday to Friday (07.00 to 18.00), you will be charged a £11.50 fee to pay online before midnight that day. See Transport for London’s website for more information. 

How to get a taxi 

In large towns, taxis can be found at taxi ranks and train stations, or you can phone for a radio taxi. If you jump in a regular taxi and there’s no taxi meter, ask the price before starting your journey.

The famous London black cabs are as much of an institution as big red buses and it’s worth experiencing a ride in one. They are the safe cabs to use since all drivers have undergone strict tests. All are wheelchair-accessible and licensed cabs display a “For hire” sign, which is lit up whenever they are free. Most drivers expect a tip of around 10-15 per cent of the fare.

Licensed minicabs are cheaper alternatives to black cabs, which must be booked by phone; hotels have numbers of local companies. In London and several other UK destinations, Uber(link is external) is available to use if you have the app downloaded to your phone.

From 31 October 2016, all London black cabs will accept credit and debit card payments. 

Travelling on the London Underground

The legendary underground network in London, known as the Tube, has more than 270 stations, each of which is marked with the famous London Underground roundel logo. London tube trains run every day, except Christmas Day, from about 5:30am until just after midnight and some lines now run 24 hours. Fewer trains run on Sundays and public holidays.

There is now a night tube service and you will be able to travel between Central London and the outskirts of the city for 24-hours at the weekend on certain lines. This is a relatively new service so make sure you check the TFL website for updates. 

London’s tube lines are color-coded and maps are posted at every tube station, while maps of the central section are displayed in each train. If you get lost, ask someone – Londoners are surprisingly helpful!

To get around many travellers use a Visitor Oyster card, a prepaid electronic card that can bought online before travelling(link is external) and be used on buses, trains and the tube and most National Rail train services.

Using a Visitor Oyster card is by far the cheapest way to make single journeys on London Transport’s tubes and buses and they also allow you to save money on London’s top museum cafes, restaurants, theatre tickets and more. For information on how to get one, see the VisitBritain Shop website(link is external).

Visitor Oyster cards and paper Travelcards(link is external) can be purchased from abroad and shipped directly to your home address before you travel. These ticket types are highly recommended, given that contactless payment option (the other option available once you are in London) only applies to UK bank card owners.

Oyster cards and some types of Travelcard can also be purchased at stations. A £5 fee applies when buying an Oyster card at a tube station.

Check out our London Underground page for more information.  

Walking in cities

Once you get used to having the traffic on the left, Britain’s cities can be safely and enjoyably explored on foot. Instructions written on the road will tell you from which direction you can expect the traffic to come.

There are two types of pedestrian crossing: striped zebra crossings and push-button crossings at traffic lights. At a zebra crossing the traffic should stop for you, but at push-button crossings, cars will not stop until the lights change in your favour. More and more cities and towns are creating traffic-free zones in the city centre for pedestrians and if you visit Oxford Circus in London you’ll experience an innovative diagonal crossing.  

Cycling around towns and cities 

Cycling is one of the greenest ways of getting around towns and cities. Even smaller towns have somewhere you can hire bikes (see tfl.gov.uk(link is external) for London, or cyclehireinfo.com(link is external) for the rest of the UK). Cyclists may not use motorways or their approach roads, nor can they ride on pavements, footpaths or pedestrianised zones. Many city roads have cycle lanes and their own traffic lights. You can take a bike on most trains; see the National Rail website for more information. Never leave your bike unlocked, and always wear a helmet. 

The two most startling difference for foreign motorists is that in Britain you drive on the left and distances are mostly measured in miles. Once you adapt, however, rural Britain is a nice place to drive and you’ll enjoy an extensive network of toll-free motorways and trunk roads, which make travelling around the country pretty straightforward. You’ll also view many quaint towns and villages as you drive from place to place and you can tailor your journey to your individual desires. 

 

Driving License

To drive in Britain you need a current driving licence with an international driving permit if required. You must also keep proof of ownership or a rental agreement in your vehicle, plus any insurance documents. 

The roads in Britain 

Rush hour can last from 08.00 to 9:30 and from 17.00 to 19.00pm on weekdays in the cities so avoid starting your journey then if possible.

Most hire cars will include GPS but keep a good map handy. If you want to delve into the more rural areas it’ll be worth picking up a map from the Ordnance Survey(link is external) series – they’re comprehensive and will guide even the most specific of trips.

Motorways are marked with an “M” followed by their identifying number. “A” roads, sometimes dual carriageways (that is, with two lanes in each direction), are main routes, while “B” roads are secondary roads. The latter are often less congested and your view will almost certainly be prettier. Rural areas are crisscrossed by a web of tiny lanes. 

Get to know the road signs

Signs are mostly standardised in-line with the rest of Europe. Directional signs are colour-coded: blue for motorways, green for major routes and white for minor routes. Brown signs indicate places of interest. Advisory or warning signs are usually triangles in red and white, with easy-to-understand pictograms. Watch for electronic notices on motorways that warn of roadworks, accidents or patches of fog.

Level crossings, found at railway lines, often have automatic barriers. If the lights are flashing red, it means a train is coming and you must stop.

The UK Highway Code Manual(link is external), available online at the Department of Transport(link is external) website, is an up-to-date guide to all the current British driving regulations and traffic signs. 

The driving rules 

Speed limits are 20–40 mph (50–65 km/h) in built-up areas and 70 mph (110 km/h) on motorways or dual carriageways. Look out for speed signs on other roads. It is compulsory to wear seatbelts in Britain.

Do not drink and drive in the UK as the penalties are severe; see the UK Highway Code Manual to check the legal limit. It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving unless it is operated hands-free – even then it’s advisable you put your phone away while you drive.  

How to park your car  

You may find yourself using a meter to park when you’re in a British town or city, so keep a supply of coins on you to pay for these hassle-free. Some cities have “park and ride” schemes, where you can take a bus from an out-of-city car park into the centre. Other towns have parking schemes where you buy a card at the tourist office or newsagents, fill in your parking times and display it on your dashboard.

Avoid double red or yellow lines at all times; single lines sometimes mean you can park in the evenings and at weekends, but check signs carefully – you don’t want to earn a costly parking ticket or have you car towed away because you misunderstood the sign.

If in doubt, keep things simple and find a car park. Outside urban areas and popular tourist zones, parking is much easier. Look out for signs with a blue “P”, indicating parking spaces. Never leave any valuables or luggage alone in your car.  

Fill-up with petrol 

You can save some pennies by filling-up on petrol at one of the larger supermarket, as they tend to offer the best deals. Motorway service areas and rural or isolated regions are generally more expensive – so avoid these if possible.

Most modern cars in Britain use unleaded petrol. Most petrol stations in Britain are self-service and the instructions at the pumps are easy to follow. 

Get to know the breakdown services

If you suffer a breakdown while on the road you can contact the AA (Automobile Association) and the RAC (Royal Automobile Association) from the roadside SOS phones (orange boxes that contain a phone for a driver to use in the event of an emergency) that are found on the motorway. If you’re not near an SOS phone then simply Google the telephone number from your phone or, even better, write the numbers down before you begin your journey.

Both the AA and the RAC provide a comprehensive 24-hour breakdown assistance for members, as well as many other motoring services. Both offer reciprocal assistance for members of overseas motoring organisations – before leaving home, check to see if you are covered. Green Flag(link is external) is the other major rescue service in Britain.

Most car-hire agencies have their own cover, and their charges include membership of the AA, the RAC or Green Flag. Be sure to ask the rental company to provide all emergency service numbers.

If you are not a member of an affiliated organisation, you can still contact a rescue service, although it will cost more. If you have an accident that involves injury or another vehicle, call the police as soon as possible.

The Environmental Transport Association gives advice on reducing the impact of carbon emissions, as well as offering a number of ethical breakdown services.

Disabled Access

The facilities on offer for visitors with special needs are steadily improving. Recently designed or newly renovated buildings and public spaces (link is external) that provide lifts and ramps for wheelchair(link is external) access are becoming more common. 

It is important that you make your needs very clear when booking any service or facility in the UK. Your impairment may not be obvious to other people, and it’s best not to assume that reservations staff will know your needs. 

Buses are also becoming increasingly accessible, and, if given advance notice, train, ferry or bus staff will happily help any disabled passengers. Ask a travel agent about the Disabled Persons Railcard (link is external), which entitles you to discounted rail fares.

As well as this many banks, theatres and museums ( link is external) now provide aids for the visually or hearing-impaired. Specialist tour operators, such as Tourism for All, (link is external) cater for physically disabled visitors.

For more general information on facilities for disabled travellers, contact Disability Rights UK (link is external). This association also publishes two books that carry a wealth of information for disabled holiday-makers, which could be useful. To assist journey planning for your holiday, make sure you check-out this detailed guide (link is external) and visit Open Britain(link is external)

Measurements

Britain is officially metric, in line with the rest of Europe. However, imperial measures are still in use, especially for road distances, which are measured in miles. Imperial pints and gallons are 20 per cent larger than US measures.

Imperial to Metric

  • 1 inch = 2.5 centimetres
  • 1 foot = 30 centimetres
  • 1 mile = 1.6 kilometres
  • 1 ounce = 28 grams
  • 1 pound = 454 grams
  • 1 pint = 0.6 litres
  • 1 gallon = 4.6 litres

Metric to Imperial

  • 1 millimetre = 0.04 inch
  • 1 centimetre = 0.4 inch
  • 1 metre = 3 feet 3 inches
  • 1 kilometre = 0.6 mile
  • 1 gram = 0.04 ounce
  • 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds

Time

  • During the winter months, Britain is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is 5 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 10 hours behind Sydney.
  • From late March until late October, the clocks go forward one hour to British Summer Time (BST).
  • To check the correct time, contact the Speaking Clock service by dialling 123.

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