There are two types of taxis in the United Kingdom:- Metered black cabs that can be hailed in the street and are mostly found in larger towns and cities; and minicabs private hire taxis which must be ordered by telephone.
Black CabsThese are useful for travelling within cities - the name originates from the old 1960s purpose-built Austin FX3 taxis which were originally painted black, but today are usually covered in advertisements. In major cities, custom-built vehicles which seat 5 people are commonly used as metered taxis, but in smaller cities regular cars or people-carriers are used instead. These taxis can be hailed on the street or picked up from a taxi rank usually found near major shopping areas and transport hubs. The rate varies, typically starting at around Â£2-3 and rising at around Â£1 a mile, making them fairly expensive. Add night charges, waiting charges, luggage charges for large suitcases etc on to the meter as well, and travelling by taxi can be expensive unless you are in a large group. A short 10 minute trip would normally cost between Â£3-5. The 'Taxi' sign on the roof is illuminated when a taxi is available.
MinicabsMore common in suburbs and smaller towns, minicabs can only be used by telephone ordering and charge fixed prices to different destinations. Local telephone directories usually advertise taxi companies, and the phone numbers are usually painted in big numbers on the side of their vehicles. Minicabs are usually much cheaper, fares for long journeys can often be negotiated although you should agree the fare with the phone operator when booking, not with the driver and most companies have a variety of vehicle sizes from small saloons Ford Mondeo, Skoda Octavia, Peugeot 406 etc up to large 12-seater minivans so if you have a large group you can specify the vehicle size. Some minicab firms specialize in serving airports and offer discounted rates.
Fake taxisFake taxis are not a major problem and are mostly found around the major airports. A few tips:Check that the taxi has a rear taxi-licence plate on the rear bumper and that it carries the name of the local authoritative council.The driver's taxi licence should be displayed on the dashboard.The meter displays the correct rate the metered fares are usually advertised on the side of the taxi.If calling a minicab, the taxi company will ask your last-name and your phone number - the driver should know this when he picks you up. If approached by a taxi driver claiming that you booked their taxi particularly in airports or nightlife districts, ask them to confirm your name and phone number - if they don't know then it is most likely that they are fake.Most local councils require licensed taxis to be newer than 10 or 15 years old. Many fake taxis use older vehicles.
Local bus services a categorisation which also includes many medium-haul inter-urban services cover the entire country, but are of variable quality and cost. Rural bus services are in general better than in France and the USA, but not so good as in Italy or Germany. Services range from deep-rural village services operating once a week or less, to intensive urban routes operating every few minutes. All communities except the very smallest villages have some kind of bus service. All buses in the UK are required to display the route number and destination clearly on the front. Almost all are "one person operation", ie. there is no conductor and you must pay the driver as you board. The vast majority of bus stops are "request stops", meaning that you must put your arm out as the bus approaches to signal that you want it to stop. Likewise once on the bus, you must ring the bell in advance of the stop you want to get off at.
Ferries link the mainland to the many offshore islands including the Isles of Scilly from Penzance; the Isle of Wight from Southampton and Portsmouth; the Isle of Man from Liverpool and Ireland and the Orkneys and Shetland Islands from Aberdeen and the far north of Scotland. There are also numerous car and passenger ferry routes between England and France and between Ireland and the UK. There are also regular ferry services between Northern Ireland and Scotland and these depart Larne, Belfast, Troon, Stranraer and Cairnryan. There are also routes from Northern Ireland to Birkenhead and Fleetwood both near Liverpool in England.
Differing from most of Europe, the UK drives on the left. Most cars in the UK are manual "stick-shift" transmission, and car rental companies will allocate you a manual transmission car unless you specifically ask for an automatic when you make a reservation.
A car will get you pretty much anywhere in the UK. Parking is a problem in large cities, and especially in London, can be very expensive. Petrol gasoline is heavily taxed and therefore expensive, currently at around Â£1.34 per litre (http://www.theaa.com/moto...) around US $2.05 per litre, or $7.76 per gallon. The cheapest fuel is usually available at supermarkets. Branches of Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Asda tend to have fuel stations in their car parks, which are often cheaper than the big name fuel stations like Esso/Exxon, Shell and BP.
Like in the U.S. but unlike the rest of the world, the UK continues to use the imperial system i.e. the old Roman system but only for road signage though many height and width signage is now in metric as well and all weight signage is in tonnes, plus all motorways now have locator indicators in kilometres situated at intervals of 500 m. Therefore distance signage is indicated in miles, while speed limits are indicated in mph. However, the distances are based on kilometres e.g. 1/3 mile is 500 m, 2/3 is 1 km, 1/2 mile is 800 m.
There are no tolls on any roads with the exception of a few large bridges/tunnels, and one motorway in the Midlands (http://www.m6toll.co.uk/)). There is a levy congestion charge of Â£8 is payable for driving in central London.
Traffic can be very heavy, especially during 'rush hour', when commuters are on their way to and from work - typically 7AM-10AM and 4PM-7PM. School holidays can make a noticeable reduction in traffic, however, particularly in the morning rush hour.
The M25 London orbital motorway is notorious known to most Londoners as London's car park because all the traffic comes to a standstill - it is best avoided on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, use it only if you need to, and take local advice if you plan to drive to Heathrow to catch a plane. The M6 through Birmingham is another traffic blackspot as well as the M8 in Glasgow the second most congested motorway after the M25. You can typically bet on finding a traffic jam if you drive for more than 90 minutes on the motorway system, especially as you approach cities. Checking local traffic reports on the radio or websites such as Highways Agency (http://www.highways.gov.uk/) or Frixo (http://www.frixo.com/) can help if you know you need to travel during busy hours.
Many cities operate a "Park and Ride" scheme, with car parks on the edge of the city and cheap buses into the city centre, and you should consider using them. In major cities particularly London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Birmingham it is usually a much better option to park on the outskirts and take public transport to the centre. This not only saves money on parking and fuel but also saves a lot of time as heavy traffic, twisty one way systems, and limited parking space causes long delays.
Parking on-street is usually heavily restricted. Never park on a white, double yellow or double red line stopping on white or red lines is illegal. Parking on a single-yellow line is restricted (typically no-parking during the daytime e.g. 7AM-7PM and the restrictions are displayed on roadside yellow signs. Many residential streets require a resident's parking permit to park on the street, although outer-suburbs have less restrictions. On-street parking in cities may be restricted to disability-badge holders or be heavily metered, and is often for no more than a 1-2 hours stay in the daytime but is often free at night. Surface lots generally operate the pay 'n' display payment system - you must buy a ticket from a vending machine, select how many hours you wish to pay and then place the ticket on your dashboard in clear view - these places are regularly patrolled and if you don't return to your car before the allotted time you'll get a penalty or get clamped. Often you'll need to enter the numeric digits from your car's number plate when buying the ticket to prevent people from 'selling on' tickets with leftover time. Multi-storeys are usually multi-level buildings or in larger cities may be located underground. Most have barrier-controls - you'll be issued with a ticket upon entry. When returning to your vehicle you must either pay at a 'pay station' a self-service terminal inside the car park's lobby in which you insert the ticket and pay the required amount - the ticket will be given back to you and you must insert it into the slot at the exit barrier; or alternatively you will pay a cashier at the exit barrier - it'll normally explain the payment process on the ticket. Parking charges vary from less than 50p per hour in small towns to over Â£4 an hour in the largest cities. Many larger cities have digital displays on the approach roads indicating how many parking spaces are available in each car park.
In any town, expect regular bus services between the centre, suburbs and nearby villages, and less frequent services to more rural areas. London also has the largest mass-transit system in the world - the London Underground and an extensive overground system and bus network too. London, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Blackpool have trams covering parts of those cities. Outside of London, Liverpool has the most extensive metro system Merseyrail, spanning from several stations in the city centre to those in the outer suburbs. Newcastle has a similar network. Greater Manchester also has an extensive local train network in addition to its expanding metro system. Glasgow has a small underground rail system in the centre and a local train network. In some cities buses can be slow moving due to traffic congestion.
The UK has a comprehensive system of road numbers. These generally take precedence on signs: British roads are signed on a route-based rather than destination oriented basis. Therefore, before setting out on a long journey, plan the route you are going to take and note the road numbers you will need to follow. It is very unusual to see destinations, signed more than about 50 miles/80 km in advance. Other than that, UK road signs are excellent and should be very easy to follow. Road numbers are indicated by a letter and a number as in the rest of Europe and sign colours and letters are generally the same as on the rest of European routes, whilst allocated, are unsigned.
Motorways prefix 'M'- blue signs, white route numbers are fast, long distance routes that connect the major cities. The speed limit is 70 mph/115 km/h for cars lower for other types of vehicle and certain vehicles, such as pedestrians, cyclists and those operated by learner drivers are prohibited. Junctions are numbered. The motorways are the best means of travelling long distances by car, but expect delays at peak times or in poor weather.
Primary routes prefix 'A' - green signs, yellow route numbers connect large towns with each other and with the motorway network. Primary routes usually offer fast journey times, but because they tend to go through towns rather than around them, expect delays at peak times.
Secondary routes prefix 'A' - white signs, black route numbers connect smaller towns, interchangeable with B roads.
B-roads prefix 'B' - white signs, black route numbers are the larger of the back roads.
Minor routes white signs like country lanes or residential streets.
A route number followed by M means upgraded to motorway standard - for example A3M means part of the route A3 that has been upgraded to motorway.
A route number in brackets means 'leading to' - for example A507 M1 means you can reach the M1 by following route A507.
Speed limits for cars are 70mph 115 km/h on motorways and dual carriageways i.e. roads divided by a grassy area or other hard barrier between opposing directions of traffic; 60mph 100 km/h on single carriageway i.e. undivided roads unless otherwise signposted; and 30mph 50 km/h in built-up unless signs show otherwise. The use of 20mph 30 km/h zones has become increasingly common to improve safety in areas such as those around schools.
Speed cameras are widespread on all types of road, though more used in some areas than others England's largest county of North Yorkshire, for example, has a policy of using no fixed enforcement cameras on its highways. Static cameras are often well signed, painted bright colours with clear markings on the road. While this might seem rather strange, the idea is to improve their public acceptance as a 'safety' measure rather than the widely held opinion that they're there to collect money.
There are some variable mandatory speed limits on the M25 to the west of London enforced by cameras, again, and the M42 near Birmingham - these are shown on overhead gantries inside a red circle; other temporary speed limits shown on matrix boards are recommended but not mandatory. Apart from these and around roadworks, the motorways are generally free of fixed speed cameras. Speeds on motorways are generally much higher than the stated speed limit usually at least 80mph/130 km/h. Driving at slower speeds in the outside overtaking lane may cause frustration to other drivers.
Driving standards are relatively well-maintained in the UK, with the road system being statistically among the safest in Europe. It has long been known by visitors that a foreign licence plate makes you largely immune from speed cameras, congestion charge cameras and Traffic Parking Wardens. If you choose to take your chances, be aware you may just hit upon the one Camera Operator/Warden who can be bothered to take the trouble to track down your address from your home licensing authority. British authorities have access to vehicle registration databases from various other countries. Also, British hire car companies will charge traffic fines to your credit card, long after you have left the country. Traffic police patrol the motorways in marked and unmarked cars. Any police officers, regardless of their normal duties, will pursue a vehicle seen driving dangerously.
Don't drink and drive in the UK. The maximum limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood 0.08% Going over that limit is a criminal offence, you will be arrested and spend a night in the cells. The police often patrol roads in cities and town centres on Friday and Saturday night, on the lookout for drink drivers. Enforcement of drink driving laws are extremely strict and police will always take action on those failing a breath test or those refusing to do so. Fines are up to Â£5000, minimum driving ban is 12 months for a first offence, and you may be imprisoned for up to 6 months.
Drivers from abroad should take note that many British drivers regard the flashing of headlights as a signal that they can proceed, rather than as a warning, or as a signal to slow down due to the presence of police. This misunderstanding has led to a number of accidents.
In a dangerous situation, where there is a risk of death or injury, sound your horn, even during the night. The inappropriate use of the horn is illegal between 23:00 and 07:30.
It is also an offence to use your mobile phone whilst driving, although provision is made for the use of hands-free kits which are exempt from the law. Police will stop you for using your mobile phone and a Â£60 penalty will be issued on the spot. This fine will be accompanied with 3 points endorsed on your licence. Also, it is a legal requirement that all persons in a vehicle to be wearing their seat-belt. Persons not wearing a seat-belt may receive a Â£30 fine, although this does not come with any points. If a child is not wearing a seat-belt, the parent or guardian, normally the driver, is responsible and a fine will be issued for that offence also. Children under 1.4 metres are also legally required to use a child booster seat for safety reasons. Use of fog lights where there is no fog is also an offence for which you may receive a Â£30 fine.
The road rules differ from other countries: side roads never have priority, there is no requirement to stop for school buses, overtaking on the left is illegal, and you may not turn left over a red light. There are no 4 way stop junctions in the UK; priority should be clearly marked on the road.
There are lots of roundabouts circular across the UK, from large multi-lane roundabouts at dual carriageway junctions to small mini-roundabouts on local streets. The rules for entering them are the same - you have priority over traffic that has not yet entered it, and you must give way to anybody already on the roundabout who would collide with your right side if you entered it. Be careful of two lane roundabouts, there are complicated rules for which lane you should be in which UK drivers learn and expect other drivers to follow. You should be fine provided you're cautious and keep an eye on other traffic. Some roundabouts are arranged in such designs and quick sequence that can make you dizzy. Take it easy until you get used to it.
For further information on driving in the UK, consult the Highway Code. (http://www.direct.gov.uk/...)
Pedestrians are banned on motorways, motorway junctions, as well as on certain primary routes. However, aside from those exceptions, hitchhiking is not illegal. The British are very aware of safety, and you may expect a long wait for a ride.
If you use signs, it's fairly customary to use the number of the road on them rather than the destination. In other words, from Birmingham to London you wouldn't use a sign "LONDON" but rather "M25". Two places where signs are quite useful are Land's End and John O'Groats, the two extremes of the country, especially if your sign says the other.
Note that traffic in more remote areas of Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall can be quite scarce.
Given the short distances involved, flying is rarely the cheapest or most convenient option for domestic travel within the UK with the possible exception of between southern England and Scotland, or where a sea crossing would otherwise be involved, such as between Britain and Northern Ireland or travel to and from many Scottish islands. The main domestic hubs are London, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The arrival of budget airlines Ryanair (http://www.ryanair.com/) and easyJet (http://www.easyjet.com/) have seen a boom in domestic UK air travel, and have forced fares down considerably. To get the best fare, it is advisable to book as far in advance as possible. It is worth noting that many regional airports are not connected to the national rail network, with connections to the nearest cities served by relatively expensive buses. Photo ID is required before boarding domestic flights in the UK. Check your airline's requirements carefully before setting out.
'Screen-scraper' comparison websites can be a useful way to compare flight costs between airports or even city pairs suggesting alternative airports, for instance. Beware that some airlines, such as Ryanair, object to being included in these searches, so these sites are not always comprehensive.
The following carriers offer domestic flights within the United Kingdom:
British Airways (http://www.britishairways.com/): Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Jersey, London Gatwick, Heathrow and City Airports, Manchester, Newcastle.
FlyBE (http://www.flybe.com/) - Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Doncaster-Sheffield, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Guernsey, Inverness, Isle Of Man, Jersey, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool, London Gatwick, Manchester, Manston-Kent, Newcastle, Newquay, Norwich, Southampton and Southend airports
Loganair (http://www.loganair.co.uk/) operating as a franchise carrier for FlyBe - Eday, Kirkwall, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Sanday, Stronsay, Westray airports.
bmi (http://www.flybmi.com/) & bmi Regional (http://www.flybmi.com/) - Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Jersey, London Heathrow , Manchester, Norwich, Southampton airports.
Eastern Airways (http://www.easternairways.com/) - Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Durham, Humberside, Inverness, Isle Of Man , Leeds/Bradford, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham East Midlands, Southampton, Stornoway, Wick airports.
easyJet (http://www.easyjet.com/) - Aberdeen, Belfast International, Bournemouth, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Liverpool, London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, London Southend and Newcastle airports.
Ryanair (http://www.ryanair.com/) - Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Glasgow-Prestwick, Inverness, Liverpool, London Stansted, City of Derry, Newquay, Nottingham East Midlands airports.
Aurigny Air Services (http://www.aurigny.com/) - Alderney, Bristol, Guernsey, Jersey, London Gatwick, London Stansted, Manchester, Southampton airports.
Blue Islands (http://www.blueislands.com/) - Alderney, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cardiff, Guernsey, Isle Of Man, Jersey, Southampton airports.
Manx2 (http://www.manx2.com/) - Belfast City, Isle Of Man, Blackpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Oxford, Anglesey, Cardiff, Gloucester airports.
Isles Of Scilly Skybus (http://www.ios-travel.co.uk/) - Bristol, Exeter, Isles Of Scilly St. Mary's, Newquay, Southampton airports.
Jet2 (http://www.jet2.com/) - Belfast International, Blackpool, Leeds/Bradford, London Gatwick, Newcastle airports.
CityJet (http://www.cityjet.com/) now part of AF/KLM - Dundee, Edinburgh, Jersey, London City, Manchester airports.
British International (http://www.islesofscillyh...) - Isles Of Scilly St. Mary's, Isles Of Scilly Tresco, Penzance airports.
Atlantic Airways Faroe Islands (http://www.atlantic.fo) - Stansted and Shetland Islands Sumburgh airports.
Blue Islands Airline (http://www.blueislands.com/) - Flights from Guernsey, Jersey, Southampton to Europe, Channel Islands and the UK.
The UK can be both a cyclist's dream and nightmare. Fortunately cycling is popular as both a sport and a means of transportation. Bike rental exists in some cities e.g. Cambridge or Oxford and in some scenic areas. A handful of smaller cities such as Reading have introduced 'Community Bicycle' schemes in which a bike can be rented from various 'bike stations' around the city and this is expected to be introduced in London before the 2012 Olympics. The wheels of choice for most British cyclists is the hybrid bike - they have the comfort and practicality of a city bike combined with the performance multi-speed gearing and ruggedness of a mountain bike. Conventional mountain bikes and single-speed roadsters are also common, and folding bikes are becoming more popular in major cities. Bicycles are expensive in the UK - expect to pay 100GBP-plus for a basic model. They are sold by individual manufacturer's dealers e.g. Dawes, Raleigh, Giant, automobile product stores e.g. Halfords, sport accessory stores e.g. Decathlon and through private bicycle retailers. Cheaper used bikes can be purchased online via websites such as EBay or may be advertised in newspapers, notice-boards etc.
Urban cycling varies city-to-city. Most cities have designated cycle-lanes although they are routinely ignored by drivers and are often shared with buses, motorcycles and taxis. Some major roads will have split-pavements for pedestrians and cyclists, whilst other times cyclists are expected to ride in the traffic. This can be dangerous if you're not a skilled cyclist and general traffic rules should be adhered to. It's a legal requirement to have reflectors and a bell, and front & rear lights must be used at night. Also many cyclists use standard arm-signals to alert motorists - if you are turning left or right you should raise your left or right arm respectively, and if you wish to stop then you should wave your left arm up and down. Cycling is banned on certain roads - all motorways and many primary A roads - a sign will indicate this.
Most cities will have designated bike-parking areas with bicycle racks and are almost always free. Carry a good lock with you as bike-theft is common. Bicycles are permitted on SOME trains, depending on the operator. Commuter trains generally allow folding bicycles only, some regional trains may have a rack that can carry 2-3 bicycles, while many intercity trains have a baggage car that can hold many bikes. Check with the operator before-hand - bikes will almost always require a reservation: on some trains for free, some for a small charge typically half the adult fare whilst others will require a full-fare ticket. Reservations can be made over the phone via National Rail or via the train operator, or at the station ticket office. Long-distance coaches also allow bicycles, although again they must be reserved and there may be a surcharge. Local city buses and regional buses don't allow full-size bikes but some operators may permit folding bicycles - you should check before hand. If a bus is quiet then it's often down to the driver's discretion. Rapid transit systems also have varying bicycle policies e.g. London Underground allows folding bicycles at all times and conventional bicycles outside of peak hours as long as the train isn't crowded.
The SUSTRANS Cycle Network is a series of paved and unpaved cycle tracks covering the whole country, passing through some spectacular scenery on the way. Their website www.sustrans.co.uk has a comprehensive cycle-map and most cycle-stores, tourist information centres and youth hostels also sell their maps.
Coach travel tends to be slower than train travel, as well as less frequent, although it is comfortable and often much cheaper. Coaches, like trains will also generally take you right to the centre of town.
The largest coach companies in the UK are:
National Express (http://www.nationalexpres...) is the largest long distance bus service in the UK, and services all major destinations on the mainland; they sell tickets online and at coach terminals. Prices start at just Â£1 one way for promotional 'funfares' between major city-pairs, although remain quite expensive on less competitive routes such as those serving airports.
Megabus (http://uk.megabus.com) is a service between a limited number of major destinations at cut-throat prices, as low as Â£1 +50p booking charge for some routes if booked well in advance. Understandably, it is very popular with students. To get the cheapest fares you should book a week or two ahead. However fares are often still good value when booked with less time sometimes Â£8 London-Manchester booked only two days in advance. Tickets must be bought online or using the booking line 0900 160 0900, at 60 pence per minute and cannot be bought from the driver.
CityLink (http://www.citylink.co.uk/) services destinations in Scotland. They sell their tickets online, by text, or from the driver, although it is always advised to book your tickets in advance. Some routes also carry Megabus passengers.
Dot2Dot (http://www.dot2.com/) is a specialised service offered by National Express coaches, providing door-to-door airport transfer service, operating between central London and Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Prices start at Â£17.50.
easyBus (http://www.easybus.co.uk/) is London's low cost airport transfer service from easyGroup. One-way fares start at Â£2, servicing Stansted, Luton, and Gatwick airports. Advance booking recommended.
Hiring a Campervan is one way to explore the UK. Some companies offer airport pick ups and drop offs. It can work out cheaper than flying/busing and staying in hostels and bed and breakfasts.
Smaller Campers are easier to park and enjoy the narrow lanes in the UK.
Some country pubs may let you use their parking lots for overnight stays if you ask.