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.
The Barclays Cycle Hire scheme provides a network of approximately 8,000 bicycles and 570 docking stations across central London, covering an area from White City in the west to Docklands in the east. The scheme is available to walk-up users and charges a daily fee currently £1, paid by credit or debit card and, for journeys exceeding 30 minutes, a per-use fee is also charged. Between journeys, users are expected to return their bicycle to a docking station, taking another bicycle for subsequent journeys; the bicycles do not have locks, and journeys of under 30 minutes do not incur a per-use fee. It can be difficult to find bicycles or spaces at docking stations, in the evenings at the major rail termini during peak hours, as the scheme is popular with commuters. As well as on each docking station, cycle/dock availability and maps are available online. Should your intended docking station be full, you can request up to 15 minutes additional time free of charge.
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 £100 or more 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.
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 £2-3 and rising at around £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 £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.
Despite many separate companies running trains, National Rail is a state-owned brand that brings together all the British railway companies. Tickets can be bought from any one station to any other in Great Britain, no matter how far away, how many train companies or changes of train are needed to get there. Using the National Rail website, you can find tickets from and to any UK destination - the website will redirect you to the relevant company for the actual purchase.
The National Rail website (http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/) also includes all timetables, an extremely useful journey planner which is by far the easiest way to plan a journey, ticket prices and detailed information about every railway station in the country. You can also access this information using the National Rail Enquiries phone service on 08457 48 49 50 premium rate from most non BT landlines and mobile phones, and the National Rail Enquiries app available on most phone platforms.
Similarly, "The Train Line" is a private company which offers a similar online service, but that directly sells you tickets. Be warned The Train Line charges a card handling fee and an additional fee to collect your tickets from a station or to have them posted to you.
Many different places claim the 'cheapest tickets', but you’ll generally find that tickets cost less the further in advance you book – if you buy a ticket at the station on the day of travel, fares can be shockingly high and surprisingly low if you book a few weeks in advance - even rising between £30 to £100 for the same journey depending on when you book.
You can choose to have the tickets mailed to you, or to collect them at any automated ticket machine at a station you specify when booking, using a confirmation code and the payment card used to purchase the ticket. There is no charge for credit/debit card payments or ticket collection/delivery in the UK, but obviously mailing is charged, increasing with urgency next day services cost more.
Two classes operate: standard class and 1st class. Commuter trains and some local services offer standard class only. Note that service differs a lot between companies - some offer reservation and airline style seating in all classes, some don't offer reservation even for first class.
Standard classhas two seats either side of the aisle with a mix of 'facing table' or more private 'airline-style' seats.
First classhas two seats and one seat either side of the aisle, with a larger, more comfortable seat, more legroom, and on inter-city routes, an at-seat service of drinks, refreshments and a newspaper not all at-seat services are available at the weekend.
In both 1st and standard class, most trains also provide:
Free seat reservations not commuter or local services, indicated by a paper tag or electronic display above each seat
A walk-up buffet, or a trolley service of drinks and refreshments moving through the train
Air conditioning not commuter or local services
At least one carriage with a fully disabled-accessible toilet and baby changing facilities
On inter-city services, a wireless internet service a charge may apply
Most inter-city trains provide a "Quiet Coach" where use of mobile phones, iPods, conversations, and any other noise is not permitted.
There are also six scheduled overnight sleeper trains that operate every night of the week except Saturday:
The Lowland Sleeperwhich leaves from London Euston as one train, but divides to Glasgow, Edinburgh
The Highland Sleeperwhich leaves from London Euston as one train, but divides to Aberdeen, Fort William and Inverness.
The Night Rivierawhich travels from London Paddington to Plymouth and Penzance
Reservations are compulsory on sleeper trains, and a supplement may be payable on top of day-train ticket prices to reserve a berth. Advance-purchase tickets called Bargain Berths are available on London-Scotland sleepers from £19 to £49. They are only available from the ScotRail website. All sleeper trains offer:
Reclining seated accommodation comparable to daytime first class but no at-seat service
Standard Class a cabin with two berths; solo travellers will often need to share with a stranger of the same sex
First Class a identical cabin but with a single berth and more generous breakfast, toiletry pack and access to departure and arrival lounges at larger stations
Generally, the ticket prices for a particular type of ticket are the same regardless of operator you choose to travel on. However the cheaper or promo tickets will be restricted to one operator only.
On all except local and commuter routes and the new High Speed 1 from London St. Pancras to Kent, you save money by booking in advance tickets normally go on sale three months in advance and by travelling at off-peak times; peak train travel is much more expensive and stressful as many trains are seriously overcrowded with commuters. Off-peak is any time after around 9.30am depends on train company and sometimes route on a weekday, and all weekends and public holidays. Some train companies around London also have a peak in the afternoon rush hour. You must have a ticket before boarding a train, and many stations now have subway-style ticket barriers. An exception occurs if your station has no ticket office OR machine i.e. it is a very minor or rural station in which case you must buy a ticket from the conductor on the train at the first opportunity. If you do not you may be liable to pay a 'penalty fare'.
There are three types of ticket, which allow you to choose between flexibility and value. In increasing order of cost per mile, tickets are classed as:
AdvanceBuy in advance, travel only on a specific train at a specific day and time
Off-PeakBuy any time, travel 'off-peak' usually 09.32-16:00 and after 19:00, and all day at weekends
AnytimeBuy any time, travel any time
Advance tickets are only sold as single one-way tickets; to make a return journey, simply purchase two singles. With the exception of some suburban and commuter trains, the cheapest fares are almost always Advance tickets. These are released for sale in limited numbers approximately 12 weeks in advance, and can only be used on the train specified on the reservation. If you travel on any other train or the wrong train, you will be charged an expensive full-price ticket or a penalty fare or else thrown off at the next station. When purchasing an off-peak or any time ticket, return fares are normally only a little more expensive than a single one-way ticket.
A ticket does not guarantee a seat unless you also have a seat reservation. Depending on ticket type and train company, this may come automatically with the ticket or you may be asked if you wish to reserve a seat - ask if you are unsure. Some trains mostly local and commuter services do not have reserved seats. If you have no seat reservation, you may have to stand if the train is busy. Seat reservations are normally free. Within London, the Oyster smartcard system refer to the main London article for details, is valid within the Greater London boundary on National Rail services - this is cheaper than buying paper Anytime tickets at the station, but only if you don't intend to travel beyond Zone 6. If you stay on the train beyond Zone 6, you are liable for a wallet-shocking penalty fare.
Discounts are available for:
Children - up to the age of 15
Small Groups – of between 3 and 9 people
Large Groups – 10 or more people
Railcards – discount cards valid for one year for certain groups
Regional Railcards – offering discounts within a specific region
See Rail travel in the United Kingdom for full details.
There are two principal types of rail pass available to visitors to the UK which permit inclusive rail travel throughout the UK. Supplements are normally payable for Eurostar and sleeper trains.
InterRailand Eurail are passes for EU and non-EU citizens respectively. See Interrail#Passes for more information. Eurail passes are generally not valid for any part of the UK except Northern Ireland, however.
Britrail(http://www.britrail.com/) is primarily targeted at visitors from the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and must be purchased online or in your home nation before you depart for the UK.
Ranger and Rover tickets are tickets that permit unlimited travel with relatively few restrictions over a defined geographical area for a period of anything from one to fourteen days. A full list of tickets is available with their terms and conditions from National Rail. These tickets include Rovers for almost every region of the UK, but notable tickets include:
All Line Rover: 7 or 14 DaysThese allow 7 or 14 days travel on almost all scheduled rail services throughout England, Scotland and Wales. As of May 2012, they cost £450 7 daysor £680 14 days for standard class, and £680 7 days or £1040 14 days for 1st class, with discounts for children and railcard holders.
Freedom of Scotland Travelpass: 4 days in 8or 8 days in 15 cost £129 and £173 respectively, with discounts for children and railcard holders.
These are enjoyed for their own sake at least as much as they are used as a means of transport. Most areas will boast a volunteer-run railway using steam traction especially during the summer months. Famous full-gauge railways include the Bluebell Line in Sussex, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway in Yorkshire, while the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway in Cumbria and Talyllyn Railway in central Wales are examples of narrow-gauge railways now primarily used for tourism. (http://www.silversurfers....)
The legal driving age in UK is 17 except if the person has health condition or disability, and is covered by the Personal Independence Payment, in which case it is 16. Overseas territories and Crown Dependencies have their own age limit.
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. The cost of renting an automatic vehicle in the UK is significantly more expensive than renting a manual one. Always compare the prices before renting car, or you can book online in advance for good deals from site like Avis,Rental Cars Uk,Thrifty, Easirent.
A car will get you pretty much anywhere in the UK. Parking is a problem in large cities and can be very expensive. Petrol gasoline is heavily taxed and therefore expensive and like most countries, petrol is sold by the litre. Currently at around £1.13 per litre around USD1.71 per litre, or $4.27 per US gallon. The cheapest fuel is usually available at supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Asda.
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 which includes road signage though many height and width signage is now in metric as well and all weight signage is in tonnes or Metric Tons in American English, plus all motorways/freeways now have locator indicators in kilometres situated at intervals of 500m but these display no unit size and are used for emergency vehicles rather than drivers. Therefore distance signage is indicated in miles, while speed limits are indicated in mph. Although some distances appear to based on kilometres - e.g. 1/3 mile is 500m, 2/3 mile is 1 km, 330 yds is 300m - the government has no interest in metricating the roads, meaning that visitors need to gain some understanding of imperial distances and speed limits, or at least a good idea of what they correspond to in metric units. Motorway signs tend to follow the same process of showing upcoming exits at a distance of one mile, then half a mile and then three signs showing /// for 300 yards, // for 200 yards and / for 100 yards. If you are unfamiliar with imperial distance then a good rule of thumb on a motorway is to read the first one mile sign to be about one minute from the exit and the half mile sign being 30 seconds to the exit while driving at a cruising speed. Note that distance signs that show "m" refer to miles, not metres.
Traffic can be very heavy, especially during 'rush hour', when commuters are on their way to and from work - typically 07:00-10:00 and 16:00-19:00. School holidays can make a noticeable reduction in traffic, however, particularly in the morning rush hour.
There are no tolls on any roads with the exception of a few large bridges/tunnels, and the M6 Toll motorway in the midlands. If driving in central London which is not advised there is a levy congestion charge of between £4.50 and £11.50. Most tolls are collected using toll booths at the point of use, except for the Dartford toll bridge from October 2014 and the London congestion charge which use a numberplate recognition system, and drivers must pay, usually online, before or on the same day as travelling.
The M25 London orbital motorway is notorious for traffic congestion - 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 the Highways Agency, Traffic Update or Frixo 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 motorways and 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 as signed, although outer suburbs have fewer 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 car parks parking lots generally operate the "pay & 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 on foot 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 £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, Nottingham, Blackpool and Edinburgh 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 80km 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 115km/h on motorways and dual carriageways i.e. roads divided by a grassy area or other hard barrier between opposing directions of traffic; 60mph 100km/h on single carriageway i.e. undivided roads unless otherwise signposted; and 30mph 50km/h in built-up unless signs show otherwise. The use of 20mph 30km/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 number plate makes you largely immune from speed cameras, congestion charge cameras and parking enforcement officers. 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.
Traffic lights have a red and yellow preparatory signal immediately before changing to green. At many pedestrian crossings, before changing to green, the signal may return to flashing yellow for a number of seconds before turning green. During the flashing yellow stage, vehicles may proceed when all pedestrians have finished crossing.
Black and white striped road surfaces are used at 'zebra crossings', at which you should stop if any pedestrians are waiting by the kerb to cross. This rule is generally well observed by British drivers.
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 £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 11pm and 7.30am.
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 £100 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 £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 4 ft 7 inches 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 £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 traffic circles 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/...). If you are travelling from aboard you may wish to use the governments online tool to inform you of your licence status if you don't have a GB licence (https://www.gov.uk/drivin...). If you are travelling from the U.S. you are able to drive for up to one year in the UK on your American driver's licence more information issued by the American Embassy (http://www.theamerican.co...) (http://london.usembassy.g...).
See also Rail travel in the United Kingdom
It is very easy to find train stations in the UK, as National Rail uses the historic British Rail double-arrow logo which is displayed prominently at all stations, and on road signs. Pedestrian signs in cities and towns will also usually have the logo on display.
The UK operates two rail networks for the two islands it inhabits. In Great Britain, the National Rail network covers some 34,000km 21,000 miles covering most of England, Scotland and Wales, from Penzance in Cornwall to Thurso in the far north of Scotland and including over 2,600 stations. Train travel is very popular in Britain, with many services busy and passenger numbers rising steadily every year, with the UK having one of the safest railways in the World.
In Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Railways NIR operates, which is separate from National Rail and uses a different track gauge the Irish gauge. For more details, see Rail travel in Ireland; the remainder of this section will focus on rail travel in England, Scotland and Wales i.e. the island of Great Britain.
While criticised by some as inefficient and there are issues such as overcrowding at peak times, the train is a very effective and enjoyable way to explore Britain and get around places of interest. It is also by far the best option for inter-city travel, with most inter-city trains travelling at 200 km/h 125 mph and stations in most cities and towns being in the city-centre. Regional services travel up to 160 km/h 100 mph. While this means that services are not as fast as the high-speed lines of France, Germany or Japan, there is a relatively high standard of service on both main and secondary routes.
In Great Britain, a mixed system is operated, with infrastructure being state-owned while commercial franchises operate trains, to a destination and service pattern specified by the government. This quasi-privatised structure of the rail network has been under constant criticism since its conception in the 1990s and continues to generate strong opinions amongst the British, with almost constant calls for its return to full state ownership. Not all of these criticisms are unfounded, but for the visitor however, it should be noted that most train companies offer good service and value for money, particularly on inter-city and mainline routes, if you book early in advance, and with railcard discounts for certain sectors of the public.
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.
Until the 1950s and 1960s, many towns and cities had an extensive tramway system. Most were scrapped during this period, however trams have been subject to a revival since then. Modern tramway systems can be found in London Croydon, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Blackpool and Edinburgh. There are also a few tram lines orientated towards tourists in Birkenhead, Southport, Llandudno and Crich near Matlock.
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 just the destination. In other words, from Birmingham to London you would use a sign that said "LONDON" but also "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 rural areas of England such as Cornwall, Cumbria etc. 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 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. 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 most domestic flights in the UK, although British Airways does not require this. 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: Domestic routes radiate from London Gatwick, Heathrow and City Airports. BA no longer operate non-London routes. Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Isle of Man, Jersey, Manchester & Newcastle.
Flybe - Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Campbeltown, 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 operating as a franchise carrier for FlyBe - Eday, Kirkwall, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Sanday, Stronsay, Westray airports.
easyJet - Aberdeen, Belfast International, Bournemouth, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Liverpool, London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, London Southend and Newcastle airports.
Aurigny Air Services - Alderney, Bristol, Guernsey, Jersey, London Gatwick, London Stansted, Manchester, Southampton airports.
Blue Islands - Alderney, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cardiff, Guernsey, Isle Of Man, Jersey, Southampton airports.
Manx2 - Belfast City, Isle Of Man, Blackpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Oxford, Anglesey, Cardiff, Gloucester airports.
Isles Of Scilly Skybus - Bristol, Exeter, Isles Of Scilly St. Mary's, Newquay, Southampton airports.
Jet2 - Belfast International, Blackpool, Leeds/Bradford, London Gatwick, Newcastle airports.
CityJet now part of AF/KLM - Dundee and Edinburgh from London City.
British International - Isles Of Scilly St. Mary's, Isles Of Scilly Tresco, Penzance airports.
Atlantic Airways Faroe Islands - Stansted and Shetland Islands Sumburgh airports.
Blue Islands Airline - Flights from Guernsey, Jersey, Southampton to Europe, Channel Islands and the UK.
Coach travel tends to be slower than train travel, as well as less frequent, although they are still comfortable and are, for the most part, substantially 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 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 £1 one way for promotional 'funfares' between major city-pairs, although remain quite expensive on less competitive routes such as those serving airports or minor destinations.
Megabus provides services between most major destinations, and a few minor ones, at cut-throat prices - as low as £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 £8 London-Manchester booked only two days in advance. Tickets must be bought online or using the premium rate booking line 0900 160 0900, at 60 pence per minute and cannot be bought from the driver.
CityLink 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.
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.
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", i.e. 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.
In London, the iconic red buses cover the entire city, with most routes running at high frequencies from early morning until late night, and some operating 24 hours. Service frequencies are such that timetables are generally unnecessary for daytime travel. Comprehensive route maps are available from a variety of outlets and the Transport for London website, and stop-specific maps and timetables are displayed clearly at most bus stops. Buses are modern and highly specified, and are "low floor" offering easy access for wheelchairs, buggies and the elderly. Walk-up cash fares can be relatively expensive, but all-day and longer period tickets including combined bus, rail and tube options are available, offering excellent value. For travelling in London, the Transport for London website (http://www.tfl.gov.uk/) is an incredibly useful website with a journey planner with maps, all fares, information on planned engineering works there are plenty of those on the weekend as well as live updates. It is an indispensible tool if considering even minor trips on public transport, which is an experience in itself.
Bus services in the UK outside of London are privatised and deregulated, with any licensed operator free to run any route and timetable that they wish. Therefore, co-ordination of services with each other and with rail services can be poor, and tickets often not inter-available. Return tickets are usually much cheaper than two singles, and most operators offer discounted fares for children. Most operators offer day or longer period tickets valid across their own network which can represent very good value, giving all-day travel for as little as £4, but are little use if you need to use more than one operator. However, combined day tickets valid across more than one operator's network are also available in some areas. Weekday daytime services are frequent and comprehensive in many areas, particularly larger towns and cities. However, almost universally, service levels reduce sharply in the evenings and on Sundays. In the larger cities, for example Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh, there is an extensive night bus network available.
In areas with a multitude of operators, obtaining comprehensive map/timetable information for the area can be difficult. It is not uncommon for operators to attempt to pass off their services as being 'the' network for the town or area in their publicity material - making no mention of the fact that other routes or in some cases alternative departure times on the same routes are available, operated by competitors. Many local authorities do attempt to produce comprehensive timetables and/or maps for all services in their area regardless of who operates them - these are well worth obtaining and are commonly available from Tourist Information Centres. However it is still worth checking with the operators before travelling to ensure that the information is up to date, as timetables can change frequently.