We’re basking in the British Summer. It’s the best time of the year and we don’t miss a chance to step out while it’s sunny. Knowing the best season to visit isn’t the only aspect that needs to be considered when planning a trip to the UK. After planning many trips around here, I have compiled some travel tips for visiting the UK; most of which may not necessarily be obvious for everyone.
Planning for your UK Trip
Visit in the Summer
I couldn’t emphasise this point enough. Travel tickets might be a little cheaper in the lean period, but when it comes to the UK, I highly recommend that one must visit in the peak Summer season from May to August. It feels good to enjoy the weather without having to wear too many warm clothes to keep you comfortable.
The Summer days are longer than what one would usually expect. In peak Summer, the sun rises at around 5 AM and it’s daylight until 10 PM. This allows more time to enjoy the natural beauty that is abundant here. Do note that the retail stores and cafes would still close down at their usual time.
In the winters, sunny days can still be chilly enough to keep people inside their homes. Moreover, on some days you might see the sunlight just for about a few hours, reducing your time outside home. Consequentially, some tourist attractions might be shut down or undergoing face-lift in the off-peak season, and that is the last thing any tourist would want.
Plan in advance
Summer is a ‘precious’ holiday time for the residents of UK, and hence they plan their holidays and get-aways well in advance. To avoid the disappointment of not getting reasonable prices or the best of properties to stay (or worse, absolute unavailability), it’s best to plan out the holiday in time. The demand tends to be at its peak during the Bank Holidays, so it’s advisable to keep an account of the Bank Holiday Dates for the year in mind while planning the trip.
It is usually cheaper to book tickets for the attractions online in advance. Tickets to a group of attractions you may want to visit may cost you lesser if bought in a bundle. Also, take into account group deals, family tickets and multiple-day-entry tickets to plan your day better.
When in the UK…
Be prepared to alter plans on-the-go
Expect the unexpected when the UK weather is concerned. You can witness the sun, winds, clouds, rain, rainbow and sometimes even snow in the same day, and this is no exaggeration. The best Weather apps too can sometimes fail to predict the UK weather (but it’s still a good idea to refer to it closer to your vacation).
If it’s rainy, plan in a way that you can spend that time indoors – visit Museums, use the time for grabbing something to eat. If you’re visiting around the Summer, you can be sure to see the beautiful sun shine through in a few hours. So, move out when you can and enjoy the lovely weather.
A water-proof hooded jacket, sunglasses and sunscreens are your best friends. Just put on the hood and the unpredictable light showers cannot ruin your plan (the winds can break the umbrellas). While it’s tempting to soak in the sun, doing so with a good sunscreen will help you avoid some serious sun-tan. Wear shades to be comfortable walking in the sun without having to narrow your eyes; this way you’ll get good smiling pictures without a frown on your face.
Make sure you’re wearing comfortable footwear because you’d need to move around quite a bit by foot. Even if the weather app shows relatively pleasant temperatures, it’s good to have a light jacket or sweater handy in case it gets windy or if the temperatures dip through the day. Most people coming from tropical countries need something warm even through the Summer in Britain.
Timings of Places to Visit/ Retail Stores
Most shops and places to visit such as museums open at around 9 AM and start shutting down around 5 PM. On weekends, some shops open a little later and close down by 4 PM. The opening hours usually remain the same throughout the year.
Check the open timings of the places you plan to visit.
Many fine-dining restaurants close down starting 9:30 PM, so it’s a good idea to get seated by 9 PM. Pubs might still be open until late but since the kitchens close down, you’d only get packaged food (if that’s available). You might find a few local take-away and popular fast-food joints open until late until night (but that’s the last thing anyone wants).
In case you have allergies or diet preferences, you can check with the restaurant. The labels on packaged food are well described too. A few years earlier, it was difficult to find vegetarian food in the UK, but now most restaurants have vegan/ vegetarian food clearly marked and some even have separate menus. Many vegan restaurants too have sprung up, so it’s not as difficult to find good food according to your preferences.
Lastly, it’s wise to carry a bottle of water around and some snacks in your backpack to deal with those hunger-pangs. You may not be able to find cafes, restaurants or even grocery stores to the beautiful but sparsely populated destinations you’re visiting for the day.
Moving around …
Walk around to places. The weather is generally good, and won’t make you feel as sweaty or tired (I’m comparing this to India). Hiring bicycles to move around the place is also fun; just stick to the cycling/ pedestrian lanes. The drivers are usually considerate about not scaring the cyclists with their speed when they’re on the main road.
Public Transport is great and pretty dependable too! The Black Cabs are expensive. You can download some of the local transport apps to find bus routes and timings.
Instead of a one-way ticket, you can opt-in for Day Passes that allow you to travel unlimited within an area for a day. Weekly Passes are also available. In London, Oyster cards are accepted on most public modes of Transport. Check for the various options of moving around in the city you’re visiting. Ask the locals; they’re extremely helpful.
Plan your train travels in advance if you can. The prices can hike up (just like the flight prices) dynamically and can vary according to peak and off-peak timings too.
Driving is a breeze on the roads of UK and if you can drive, I recommend hiring a car to visit the non-so-popular areas. You can check online if your Driving License is valid here. Even without an International Driving License, the Indian Driving License is valid for up to a year of stay. But I’d like to add a Disclaimer – Do understand the signs on the roads and the rules before you drive. People here drive exactly by the rules, and there can be heavy fines for not abiding by them.
A small coin purse can help you manage the Pennies and the Pound coins well. You may need coins at various occasions especially at vending machines which do not accept currency notes or card payments. Make yourself aware of the currency coins; this will go a long way.
If there’s one thing you need to takeaway, it’s this – ‘Planning’ is the key to having a good trip to UK. But don’t let that scare you! Just decide a little in advance – the things you need to do, the places you’d like to visit and of-course your dates of travel; leave the rest to experience on-the-fly. UK is a beautiful, tourist-friendly country and I’m sure you’d be delighted to visit here.