To travel through the UK is to experience a veritable history of Vikings and Romans, kings and queens, quaint villages, rugged coastline and lush, green national parks. Comprising England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom packs a lot into a compact area. For urban life it's hard to ignore the swinging capital London, with its iconic sights and world-class restaurants and nightlife; revitalised regional cities such Liverpool and Manchester; or the arty but ancient Scottish capital of Edinburgh. Whatever the weather, step into the countryside to explore the wilds of the Yorkshire Moors, the Cornish coast, Snowdonia National Park or the breathtaking Lake District. Strap on the hiking boots and hit the Scottish Highlands or explore the remote islands off the far north coast. Or simply kick back and relax in a classic seaside resort. In the UK, there really is something for everyone, whether you're eight or 80, going solo or travelling with your friends, your kids or your grandma.
Ancient stone circles, soaring medieval cathedrals, hilltop castles: England has an abundance of extravagant architecture, but for real pomp and ceremony you can't top wandering around a stately home. Here are a few you simply mustn't miss.
From snow-capped mountains to isolated islands and windswept moors, the United Kingdom is home to an astonishing variety of landscapes. Here are our seven top picks for where to go for a walk on the wild side.
From riverside taverns and back-street boozers to haunted hostelries and centuries-old coaching inns, the pub has long been the cornerstone of London society, and a tour round its inns provides a fascinating insight into the city's past.
For those with plenty of time and who want to see a bit of everything, this trip covers England, Wales and Scotland.
2 - 3 weeks
To really get under Britain's skin a little, dig into this tour through some of the country's regional and revitalised cities.
A stunning circuit of Scotland's finest and most famous sights.
Got questions? We've got answers. Here, experts from Lonely Planet and Visa answer commonly asked questions about travelling to United Kingdom and managing your money while you're there. Have more questions? Email us at email@example.com.
Question: What do I do if I lose my card?
Answer: [Visa expert] Call your bank immediately to cancel your card. In an emergency, you can get a temporary card replacement or cash disbursement in 24 to 48 hours with the help of Visa's Global Customer Assistance Service (GCAS).
Question: What is the best way to access cash when I am abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] With your Visa card you can access local currency from 1.8 million ATMs worldwide – just look for the Visa or PLUS sign. All ATM transactions require a PIN so make sure you know yours prior to leaving on your trip. Your PIN should be 4 digits as many international ATMs do not accept longer PINs. It's a good idea to contact your issuing bank before you leave and ask if your cards have daily cash withdrawal restrictions.
Question: What exchange rate will I receive when using my Visa card abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] Exchange rates on Visa cards are competitive and may be better than rates available from other sources. You can research Visa's current exchange rate for your destination using the calculator at http://www.visaeurope.com/en/cardholders/exchange_rates.aspx. This will allow you to compare it to the exchange rates offered by foreign exchange bureaus. Do remember that there is always a charge for changing currency, no matter where you do it – at a bank, hotel, bureau, online or by buying travellers cheques. Visa cards are no exception.
Question: What's the weather like? Does it always rain?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] While the UK might not boast the non-stop sunshine and balmy summer temperatures of much of the rest of Europe, that doesn't mean it's all permanent drizzle and pea-souper fogs. In fact, the UK is well down the list in terms of average annual rainfall – it's currently ranked 48th in the world, well behind other countries including Italy at #35, Australia at #24 and India at #9 (although land area and seasonal monsoons might skew the statistics somewhat).
But it's certainly true that the UK's weather is very unpredictable – it's not unusual to find one half of the country drenched with rain while the other basks under blue skies. The same goes for the seasons: UK winters can be mild and dry, while summers can be rather chilly and wet. In general, the best seasons to travel are late spring and early autumn, when the weather is usually at its most settled. But the key advice is to be prepared for all eventualities – a raincoat and umbrella will probably come in very handy whatever the time of year.
Question: Can I use my Visa credit, debit or prepaid card in the UK?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes. The UK is well and truly a card-carrying society. Visa and other globally recognised cards are widely accepted, for everything from hostel beds and restaurant meals to adventure tours, and a credit card is pretty much essential (in lieu of a large deposit) if you want to hire a car. They can also be used to get cash advances over the counter at banks and from many ATMs, depending on the card, but be aware that these incur immediate interest.
Question: Will my electrical equipment work in the UK?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Yes, but UK plugs are different to those used in the USA, Australia and the rest of Europe. UK plugs have three pins, rather than the various two-pin designs used by most other countries. Adaptors are readily available from electrical stores, supermarkets and travel shops.
Question: Do I need to let my bank know that I'm travelling before I depart? And who at the bank should I tell?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes, it is good practice to let your bank know you will be travelling so they don't decline any of your legitimate transactions. Call your bank's credit card customer service centre – the number is usually on the back of your card.
Question: Can I use Scottish money in England, and vice versa?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Generally speaking, yes. Scotland, Northern Ireland and England all use the same currency (pound sterling), but each of the national banks (as well as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) issue different versions of the main banknotes. These can usually be spent anywhere in the UK, regardless of where they originate, but they are not actually 'legal tender' (only notes issued by a country's own central bank are legal tender). Strictly speaking, this means that English shops could refuse to take Scottish notes and vice versa, but this rarely happens.
Question: Which side of the road does the UK drive on?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] The UK drives on the left, unlike Europe and the USA. This can take some getting used to, especially at junctions and roundabouts, so take extra care if you're new to it.
Question: How expensive is it to travel in the UK?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] The UK isn't a cheap destination, but with a bit of planning and pre-trip research, it's still possible to do it on a budget. Accommodation is likely to be your main outlay – you'll find it hard to find a double room in a city centre for much less than £100 a night (more like £150 in London). Camping, staying in hostels, or renting an apartment or holiday home are good ways to economise, and you'll find discount deals by travelling outside the peak periods around summer and school holidays.
Travel is another major expense: train fares and petrol prices in the UK are among the highest in Europe. To avoid being stung with the highest fares try to book at least a couple of weeks in advance, especially for trains.
Question: Will I be charged a fee for using my Visa card while overseas?
Answer: [Visa expert] Fees are dependent on your issuing bank and whether they will just charge you the foreign exchange conversion rate or include an additional service charge. Some banks charge an ATM access fee as well. For more details, contact your issuing bank.
Question: If the shopkeeper offers to charge me in my home currency instead of the local currency, is that a good idea?
Answer: [Visa expert] When you travel internationally, some merchants may offer you the option to convert your purchases into your home currency at the register. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and means the merchant — not Visa or your issuing bank — is converting the currency. While you may appreciate the convenience of knowing the exact price in your home currency at the point-of-sale, you should be aware that the merchant may charge you for this service. Visa requires that you be given a choice to either accept or decline DCC. In addition, Visa requires merchants offering this service to inform cardholders of the exchange rate including any applicable commissions or fees being charged. Only agree to do this if you think you are getting a good deal.
A ray of light in the gloom, the New Year's Day parade in London is one of the biggest events of its kind in the world, featuring marching bands, street performers, classic cars, floats and displays winding their way through the streets watched by over half a million people. http://www.londonparade.co.uk
The ancient Viking capital of York becomes home once again to invaders and horned helmets galore, with the intriguing addition of longship racing, themed walks and battlefield re-enactments. It's lots of fun for a week in mid-February. http://www.vikingjorvik.com
Famous annual race down the River Thames between the rowing teams from Oxford and Cambridge universities, an institution since 1856 that still captures the imagination of the country. Head over to Bishops Park or Furnville Gardens on the river for a host of entertainment. http://www.theboatrace.org
Half the country has a flutter on the Grand National, highlight of the three-day horse race meeting at Aintree on the first or second Saturday of the month. The world's best-known steeplechase features a testing course and notoriously high jumps. http://www.aintree.co.uk
England's brash and buzzy seaside town and resort comes alive for this three-week arts and music fest that takes over the streets of Brighton. It's Britain's biggest festival after Edinburgh's, featuring mainstream performances as well as a fringe festival. http://www.brightonfestival.org
So very English! Military bands and grenadiers wearing bearskin hats march down Whitehall in this martial pageant to mark the monarch's birthday. The tradition dates back to the reign of Charles II and large crowds gather outside Buckingham Palace to join the royals in watching the pomp and ceremony. http://www.trooping-the-colour.co.uk
Roots and world music take centre stage at this festival at Charlton Park in the Cotswolds. Celebrating its 30th year in 2012, this international music festival has blossomed to rival the better-known Glastonbury and Reading. Tickets include camping and parking – so bring a tent! http://www.womad.co.uk
Edinburgh's most famous August happening is its International Festival and Fringe. Held every year since 1947, this is the world's biggest performing arts, comedy and music festival – there's something for everyone. Also in Edinburgh this month is a book festival and military tattoo. http://www.edinburghfestivals.co.uk
The biggest and most famous Highland games in the Scottish Calendar, this event is traditionally attended by the royal family from nearby Balmoral Castle. Held on the first Saturday in September in the central Scotland village of Braemar, it features Highland dancing, caber tossing, pipers, tug-of-war and more. http://www.braemargathering.org
A celebration of the Welsh laureate's work with poetry readings, events, films and talks in Swansea from 27 October (Thomas' birth) to 9 November (the date he died). http://www.dylanthomas.com
Also known as Bonfire Night, November sees fireworks fill the country's skies and backyard bonfires light up across the nation in commemoration of a failed attempt to blow up parliament in 1605 by Guy Fawkes. http://www.bonfirenight.net
The Scottish fishing town of Stonehaven celebrates Hogmanay (New Years Eve) with a spectacular procession of fireball-swinging locals. Hogmanay is also a big night in Edinburgh and Glasgow. In London, the largest New Year's Eve crowds gather in Trafalgar Square. http://www.stonehavenfireballs.co.uk