A bit of mild haggling is acceptable at flea markets and antique shops, but everywhere else you're expected to pay the advertised price.
Dangers & Annoyances
England is a remarkably safe country, but crime is not unknown in London and other cities.
- Watch out for pickpockets and hustlers in crowded areas popular with tourists, such as around Westminster Bridge in London.
- When travelling by tube, tram or urban train services at night, choose a carriage containing other people.
- Many town centres can be rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights when the pubs and clubs are emptying.
- Unlicensed minicabs – someone with a car earning money on the side – operate in large cities, and are worth avoiding unless you know what you're doing.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|England (and UK) country code||44|
|International access code||00|
|Emergency (police, fire, ambulance, mountain rescue or coastguard)||112 or 999|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entering or leaving the UK is usually straightforward and hassle-free, save for the occasional inconvenience of long queues at passport control and security.
A referendum result in the UK in June 2016 that favoured withdrawal from the EU renders information in this section highly liable to change; it's important to check the current regulations before travel.
Britain has a two-tier customs system: one for goods bought duty-free outside the EU; the other for goods bought in another EU country where tax and duty is paid. The UK’s 2016 decision to leave the EU (widely known as ‘Brexit’) may eventually lead to a change in these arrangements.
Following is a summary of the current rules; for more details go to www.gov.uk and search for 'Bringing goods into the UK'.
Duty-free The duty-free limit for goods from outside the EU includes 200 cigarettes or equivalent in cigars, 4L of wine, 1L of spirits and other goods worth up to £390.
Tax and duty paid There is no limit on goods from within the EU (if taxes have been paid), but customs officials use the following guidelines to distinguish personal use from commercial imports: 800 cigarettes, 200 cigars, 10L of spirits, 90L of wine and 110L of beer. Still enough to have one hell of a party.
Generally not needed for stays of up to six months. Not a member of the Schengen Zone.
- If you're a citizen of the European Economic Area (EEA) nations or Switzerland, you don't need a visa to enter or work in the UK – you can enter using your national identity card.
- Visa regulations are always subject to change, and immigration restriction is big news in the UK, so it's essential to check with your local British embassy, high commission or consulate before leaving home.
- At the time of research, if you're a citizen of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, the USA and several other countries, you can stay for up to six months (no visa required), but are not allowed to work.
- Nationals of many countries, including South Africa, will need to obtain a visa: for more info, see www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa.
- The Youth Mobility Scheme (www.gov.uk/tier-5-youth-mobility), for Australian, Canadian, Japanese, Hong Kong, Monégasque, New Zealand, South Korean and Taiwanese citizens aged 18 to 30, allows working visits of up to two years, but must be applied for in advance.
- Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born parent may be eligible for a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode, which entitles them to live and work in the UK.
- Commonwealth citizens with a UK-born grandparent may qualify for a UK Ancestry Employment Certificate, allowing them to work full time for up to five years in the UK.
- British immigration authorities have always been tough; dress neatly and carry proof that you have sufficient funds with which to support yourself. A credit card and/or an onward ticket will help.
Manners The English have a reputation for being polite, and good manners are considered important in most situations. When asking directions, ‘Excuse me, can you tell me the way to…’ is better than ‘Hey, where’s…’
Queues In England, queuing (‘standing in line’) is sacrosanct, whether to board a bus, buy tickets at a kiosk or enter the gates of an attraction. Any attempt to 'jump the queue' will result in an outburst of tut-tutting and hard stares – which is about as angry as most locals get in public.
Escalators If you take an escalator (especially at London tube stations) or a moving walkway (eg at an airport) be sure to stand on the right, so folks can pass on the left.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
England is generally a tolerant place for gay and lesbian people. London, Manchester and Brighton have flourishing gay scenes, and in other sizeable cities you’ll find communities not entirely in the closet. That said, you’ll still find pockets of homophobic hostility in some areas. Resources include the following:
Gay Times (www.gaytimes.co.uk)
Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline (www.switchboard.lgbt; 0300 330 0630)
Although everyone in England receives free emergency medical treatment, regardless of nationality, travel insurance is still highly recommended. It will usually cover medical and dental consultation and treatment at private clinics, which can be quicker than NHS places – as well as the cost of any emergency flights – plus all the usual stuff like loss of baggage.
EU citizens are entitled to reciprocal healthcare (including for the two-year transition period after Brexit in 2019), but we recommend most travellers of any nationality take out travel insurance including comprehensive medical cover and emergency repatriation. Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
- 3G and 4G mobile broadband coverage is good in large population centres, but limited or nonexistent in rural areas.
- Since 2016, EU citizens have been able to use their home data allowances across the EU zone (including the UK, at least for now), but data roaming charges can be very high for other overseas travellers – check with your mobile/cell phone provider before travelling.
- Most hotels, B&Bs, hostels, stations and coffee shops (even some trains and buses) have wi-fi access, charging anything from nothing to £6 per hour.
- Thanks to the prevalence of 3G and public wi-fi zones, internet cafes are becoming increasingly rare in England, especially away from big cities and tourist spots.
- Public libraries often have computers with free internet access, but only for 30-minute slots, and demand is high. All the usual warnings apply about keystroke-capturing software and other security risks.
- Police have the power to detain, for up to six hours, anyone suspected of having committed an offence punishable by imprisonment (including drugs offences). Police have the right to search anyone they suspect of possessing drugs.
- Illegal drugs are widely available, especially in clubs. Cannabis possession is a criminal offence; punishment for carrying a small amount may be a warning, a fine or imprisonment. Dealers face stiffer penalties, as do people caught with other drugs.
- On buses and trains (including the London Underground), people without a valid ticket are fined on the spot (£80, reduced to £40 if you pay within 21 days).
- Newspapers Tabloids include the Sun, Daily Mail and Mirror; quality 'broadsheets' include (from right to left, politically) the Telegraph, Times, Independent and Guardian.
- TV All TV in England is digital. Leading broadcasters include BBC, ITV and Channel 4. Satellite and cable-TV providers include Sky and Virgin Media.
- Radio Main BBC stations and wavelengths are Radio 1 (98–99.6 FM), Radio 2 (88–92 FM), Radio 3 (90–92.2 FM), Radio 4 (92–94.4 FM) and Radio 5 Live (909AM or 693AM). National commercial stations include non-highbrow classical specialist Classic FM (100–102 FM) and Virgin Radio UK (digital only). All are available on digital.
- DVD PAL format (incompatible with NTSC and Secam).
ATMs widely available; credit cards widely accepted.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
- Restaurants Around 10% in restaurants and teahouses with table service, 15% at smarter restaurants. Tips may be added to your bill as a 'service charge'. Not compulsory.
- Pubs & Bars Not expected if you order drinks (or food) and pay at the bar; usually 10% if you order at the table and your meal is brought to you.
- Taxis Usually 10%, or rounded up to the nearest pound, especially in London.
In England you're not obliged to tip if the service or food was unsatisfactory (even if it's been automatically added to your bill as a 'service charge').
ATMs (usually called 'cash machines' in England) are common in cities and even small towns. Cash withdrawals from some ATMs may be subject to a small charge, but most are free. If you're not from the UK, your home bank will likely charge you for withdrawing money overseas. Watch out for tampered ATMs; one ruse by scammers is to attach a card-reader or minicamera.
The currency of Britain is the pound sterling (£). Paper money (notes) comes in £5, £10, £20 and £50 denominations. Some shops don't accept £50 notes because fakes circulate.
Other currencies are very rarely accepted, except at some gift shops in London, which may take euros, US dollars, yen and other major currencies.
Credit & Debit Cards
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted in England, except at some smaller B&Bs, which take cash or cheque only. Other credit cards, including Amex, are not so widely accepted. Most businesses will assume your card is 'Chip and PIN' enabled (using a PIN instead of signing). If it isn’t, you should be able to sign instead, but some places may not accept your card.
Cities and larger towns have banks and exchange bureaux for changing your money into pounds. Check rates first; some bureaux offer poor rates or levy outrageous commissions. You can also change money at many post offices – very handy in country areas, and exchange rates are fair.
Opening hours may vary throughout the year, especially in rural areas where many places have shorter hours, or close completely, from October or November to March or April.
Banks 9.30am–4pm or 5pm Monday to Friday; some open 9.30am–1pm Saturday
Pubs & bars noon–11pm Monday to Saturday (some till midnight or 1am Friday and Saturday), 12.30pm–11pm Sunday
Shops 9am–5.30pm or 6pm Monday to Saturday, often 11am–5pm Sunday
Restaurants lunch noon–3pm, dinner 6pm–9pm or 10pm (later in cities)
Cafes & Restaurants
Most restaurants and cafes are open for lunch or dinner or both.
- Standard hours for cafes are 9am to 5pm. Most cafes open daily.
- In cities, some cafes open at 7am for breakfast, and shut at 6pm or later.
- In country areas, some cafes open until 7pm or later in the summer. In winter months hours are reduced; some cafes close completely from October to Easter.
- Standard hours for restaurants: lunch is noon to 3pm, dinner 6pm to 9pm or 10pm (to midnight or later in cities). Most restaurants open daily; some close Sunday evening or all day Monday.
- A few restaurants open for breakfast (usually 9am), but mainly cafes do this.
Museums & Sights
- Large museums and sights usually open daily.
- Some smaller places open Saturday and Sunday but close Monday and/or Tuesday.
- Smaller places open daily in high season but operate weekends only or completely close in low season.
- 9am to 5pm (5.30pm or 6pm in cities) Monday to Friday.
- 9am to 12.30pm Saturday; main branches to 5pm.
- 9am to 5.30pm (or 6pm in cities) Monday to Saturday, and often 11am to 5pm Sunday. London and other cities have convenience stores open 24/7.
- In smaller towns and country areas shops often shut for lunch (normally 1pm to 2pm) and on Wednesday or Thursday afternoon.
The British postal service is generally efficient and reliable. Information on post-office locations and postage rates can be found at www.postoffice.co.uk.
Holidays for the whole of Britain:
New Year's Day 1 January
Easter March/April (Good Friday to Easter Monday inclusive)
May Day First Monday in May
Spring Bank Holiday Last Monday in May
Summer Bank Holiday Last Monday in August
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December
If a public holiday falls on a weekend, the nearest Monday is usually taken instead. Most businesses and banks close on official public holidays (hence the quaint term 'bank holiday').
On public holidays, some small museums and places of interest close, but larger attractions have their busiest times. If a place closes on Sunday, it'll probably be shut on bank holidays as well.
Virtually everything – attractions, shops, banks, offices – closes on Christmas Day, although pubs are open at lunchtime. There's usually no public transport on Christmas Day, and a very minimal service on Boxing Day.
Roads get busy and hotel prices go up during school holidays. Exact dates vary from year to year and region to region, but are roughly as follows:
Easter Holiday Week before and week after Easter.
Summer Holiday Third week of July to first week of September.
Christmas Holiday Mid-December to first week of January.
There are also three, week-long 'half-term' school holidays – usually late February (or early March), late May and late October. These are staggered, so the whole country is not on holiday during the same week.
- Smoking Forbidden in all enclosed public places in England. Most pubs have a smoking area outside.
Taxes & Refunds
Value-added tax (VAT) is a sales tax that is charged on most purchases at 20%. It's always included in quoted prices. Non-EU residents can reclaim the VAT on certain purchased goods; see www.gov.uk/tax-on-shopping/taxfree-shopping for further details.
Britain is on GMT/UTC. The clocks go forward one hour for 'summer time' at the end of March, and go back at the end of October. The 24-hour clock is used for transport timetables.
|City||Time Difference with Britain|
|Los Angeles||8hr behind|
|Mumbai||5½hr ahead Nov-Feb, 4½hr Mar-Oct|
|New York||5hr behind|
|Paris, Berlin, Rome||1hr ahead|
|Sydney||9hr ahead Apr-Sep, 10hr Oct, 11hr Nov-Mar|
|Tokyo||9hr ahead Nov-Feb, 8hr Mar-Oct|
Public toilets in England are generally clean and modern, but cutbacks in public spending mean that many facilities have been closed down. Your best bet is to use the toilets in free-to-enter museums; those in train and bus stations often charge a fee (from 20p to 50p), and most pubs and restaurants stipulate that their toilets are for customers only.
Most English cities and towns have a tourist information centre or visitor information centre – for ease we've called all these places 'tourist offices'.
Tourist offices have helpful staff, books and maps for sale, leaflets to give away, and advice on things to see or do. Some can also assist with booking accommodation. Some are run by national parks and often have small exhibits about the area.
Most tourist offices keep regular business hours; in quiet areas they close from October to March, while in popular areas they open daily year-round. In recent years cost-cutting has seen many smaller tourist offices close down; some have been replaced with 'tourist information points' – racks of leaflets and maps in locations such as public libraries and town halls.
Before leaving home, check the comprehensive website of England's official tourist board, Visit England (www.visitengland.com), covering all the angles of national tourism, with links to numerous other sites.
Travel With Children
Britain is ideal for travelling with children because of its compact size, packing a lot of attractions into a small area. So when the kids in the back of the car say, 'Are we there yet?' your answer can often be 'Yes, we are'.
Best Regions for Kids
Children's attractions galore – some put a strain on parental purse strings, but many others are free.
- Southwest England
Some of the best beaches in England, and fairly reliable holiday weather – though crowded in summer.
- Peak District
Former railways that are now traffic-free cycle routes make the Peak District perfect for family outings by bike.
- Oxford & the Cotswolds
Oxford has kid-friendly museums plus Harry Potter connections; the Cotswold countryside is ideal for little-leg strolls.
The historic England–Wales borderland has many castles to explore, plus excellent museums for inquisitive minds.
- Lake District & Cumbria
This is Outdoor Activity Central: zip wires and mountain bikes for teenagers; boat rides and Beatrix Potter for the youngsters.
England for Kids
Many places of interest cater for kids as much as adults. At the country's historic castles, for example, mum and dad can admire the medieval architecture, while the kids will have great fun striding around the battlements or watching falconry demonstrations. In the same way, many national parks and holiday resorts organise specific activities and events for children. Everything ramps up in the school holidays.
Most visitor attractions offer family tickets − usually two adults plus two children − for less than the sum of the individual entrance charges. Most offer cheaper rates for solo parents and kids too. Be sure to ask, as these are not always clearly displayed.
On the Road
If you're going by public transport, trains are great for families: intercity services have plenty of room for luggage and extra stuff like ‘buggies’ (prams), and the kids can move about a bit if they get bored. Most regions offer family tickets and/or travel passes that provide savings on train and bus travel.
If you're hiring a car, most (but not all) rental firms can provide child seats − you'll need to check this in advance. Most will not actually fit the child seats; you must do that yourself, for insurance reasons.
Dining, not Whining
When it comes to refuelling, most cafes and teashops are child-friendly. Restaurants are mixed: some offer highchairs and kiddy portions; others firmly say, 'No children after 6pm'.
In some pubs, those aged under 18 are not allowed, but most pubs in tourist areas serve food, making them 'family-friendly'. If in doubt, simply ask the bar staff.
And finally, a word on another kind of refuelling: England is still slightly buttoned up about breastfeeding. Older folks may tut-tut a bit if you give junior a top-up in public, but if done modestly it’s usually considered OK.
Best Hands-on Action
'Please Do Not Touch'? No chance! Here are some places where grubby fingers and enquiring minds are positively welcomed.
- Science Museum, London Seven floors of educational exhibits at the mother of all science museums.
- Discovery Museum, Newcastle Tyneside's rich history on display; highlights include a buzzers-and-bells science maze.
- National Railway Museum, York Clambering into the driver's cab on a steam locomotive, exploring a Royal Mail train, taking part in engineering demonstrations…it's all here.
- Action Stations!, Portsmouth Toys with a military spin; your chance to fly a helicopter, control an aircraft carrier, or up-periscope in a submarine.
- Enginuity, Ironbridge Endless interactive displays at the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
Best Fresh-Air Fun
If the kids tire of England's castles and museums, you're never far from a place for outdoor activities to blow away the cobwebs.
- Conkers, Leicestershire Play indoors, outdoors or among the trees in the heart of the National Forest.
- Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean A wonderful woodland playground with maze-like paths, weird rock formations and eerie passageways to offer a real sense of discovery.
- Whinlatter Forest Park, Cumbria Highlights include a 'Go Ape' adventure park, excellent mountain-bike trails, plus live video feeds from squirrel-cams.
- Bewilderwood, Norfolk Zip wires, jungle bridges, tree houses, marsh walks, boat trips, mazes and all sorts of old-fashioned outdoor adventure.
- North York Moors National Park, Yorkshire Easy, scenic bike trails at Sutton Bank, hard-core mountain biking at Dalby Forest.
- Lyme Regis & the Jurassic Coast, Dorset Guided tours show you how to find your very own prehistoric fossil.
- Tissington Trail, Derbyshire Cycling this former railway is fun and almost effortless. You can hire kids' bikes, tandems and trailers. Don't forget to hoot in the tunnels!
Best Rainy-Day Distractions
On those inevitable gloomy days, head for the indoor attractions, including the nation's great collection of museums. Alternatively, try outdoor stuff like coasteering in Cornwall or canyoning (check conditions) in the Lake District − always fun, wet or dry.
- Cadbury World, Birmingham Your dentist may cry, but kids love the story of chocolate. And yes, there are free samples.
- Eden Project, Cornwall It may be raining outside, but inside these gigantic semispherical greenhouses, it's forever tropical forest or Mediterranean climate.
- Cheddar Gorge Caves, Somerset Finally nail the difference between stalactites and stalagmites in the West Country's deep caverns.
- Underground Passages, Exeter Explore medieval catacombs − the only system of its kind open to the public in England.
- National Media Museum, Bradford Attractions include a TV studio where you can film yourself, a gallery of 1980s video games (yes, you can play them) and an IMAX cinema.
- Honister Slate Mine, Lake District Explore the dingy depths of a former Lakeland slate mine.
Best Stealth Learning
Secretly exercise their minds while the little darlings think they are 'just' having fun.
- We the Curious, Bristol One of the best interactive science museums in England, covering space, technology and the human brain.
- Jorvik Viking Centre, York An excellent smells-and-all Viking settlement reconstruction.
- Natural History Museum, London Animals everywhere! Highlights include the life-size blue whale and the animatronics dinosaurs.
- Thinktank, Birmingham Every display comes with a button or a lever at this edu-taining science museum.
- National Space Centre, Leicester Spacesuits, zero-gravity toilets and mini-astronaut training − all guaranteed to fire up little minds.
- Kielder Observatory, Northumberland National Park Attend a stargazing session at this Northumbrian astronomy centre.
- National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth Gaze into the shark tank at the UK's biggest aquarium.
Best Animal Experiences
England has some superb zoos (London, Bristol and Chester are the standouts) but there are more unusual wildlife experiences on offer, too.
- London Wetland Centre, London Break out the binoculars to spy bitterns, black swans, herons and kingfishers.
- Longleat, Wiltshire Pretend you're driving across the savannah at this Wiltshire country estate, surrounded by rhinos, giraffes, elephants and lions.
- Tamar Otter Wildlife Centre, Devon Watch semiwild otters frolic.
- Whitby Coastal Cruises, Yorkshire If you're lucky, you'll spot minke, sei and fin whales off the north coast.
- Lundy Island, North Devon Take a day trip off the North Devon coast in search of puffins, Lundy ponies, sika deer and Soay sheep.
- Scilly Seal Snorkelling, St Martin's, Isles of Scilly Don your fins and swim with playful grey seals off the island of St Martin's.
- Cotswold Farm Park, The Cotswolds Watch the cows being milked, feed the lambs and ride pedal tractors.
- Shepherding Experience, Ilfracombe Come by! Away! Lie Down! You'll be herding like a pro in no time.
Best All-Round Family Fun
Sometimes a good dose of old-fashioned family fun is in order – so here are a few of our favourite days out that everyone will enjoy.
- Legoland Windsor, London Huge Lego models and thrilling rides galore – but be prepared to queue.
- Alton Towers, Staffordshire Arguably the UK's best – and certainly most popular – theme parks, with a riot of roller coasters and other rides to try.
- The Making of Harry Potter, Leavesden Step behind the scenes at the Leavesden studio where the films were shot.
- Warwick Castle, Warwick Jousting tournaments, trebuchet launches and waxworks bring medieval times to life.
- Bewilderwood, Norfolk Clamber through a tree-top world of zip wires, jungle bridges and tree houses.
- Eden Project, Cornwall Learn about all manner of environmental matters in Cornwall's spectacular space-age greenhouse.
- Baby Goes 2 (www.babygoes2.com) Advice, tips and encouragement – and a stack of adverts – for families on holiday.
- Visit England (www.visitengland.com) Official tourism website for England, with lots of useful info for families.
- Mumsnet (www.mumsnet.com) No-nonsense advice on travel and more from a gang of UK mothers.
- Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/family-travel) Inspirational articles about travelling as a family.
When to Go
The best time for families to visit England is pretty much the best time for everyone else − any time from April/May till the end of September. It's worth avoiding August − the heart of school summer holidays − when prices go up and the roads are busy, especially near the coast.
Places to Stay
Some hotels welcome kids (with their parents!) and provide cots, toys and babysitting services, while others maintain an adult atmosphere. Many B&Bs offer 'family suites' − two adjoining bedrooms with one bathroom − and an increasing number of hostels (YHA and independent) have family rooms with four or six beds, some even with private bathroom attached. If you want to stay in one place for a while, renting a holiday cottage is ideal. Camping is very popular with English families, and there are lots of fantastic campsites, but you'll usually need all your own equipment.
On the sticky topic of dealing with nappies (diapers), most museums and other attractions in England have good baby-changing facilities. Elsewhere, some city-centre public toilets have baby-changing areas, although these can be a bit grimy; your best bet for clean facilities is an upmarket department store. On the road, baby-changing facilities are usually OK at motorway service stations or out-of-town supermarkets.
Travellers with Disabilities
All new buildings have wheelchair access, and even hotels in grand old country houses often have lifts, ramps and other facilities. Hotels and B&Bs in historic buildings are often harder to adapt, so you'll have less choice here.
Modern city buses and trams have low floors for easy access, but few have conductors who can lend a hand when you're getting on or off. Many taxis take wheelchairs, or just have more room in the back.
For long-distance travel, coaches may present problems if you can’t walk, but the main operator, National Express (www.nationalexpress.com), has wheelchair-friendly coaches on many routes. For details, ring its dedicated Disabled Passenger Travel Helpline (0371 781 8181).
On intercity trains there’s more room and better facilities, and usually station staff around; just have a word and they’ll be happy to help out. A Disabled Person’s Railcard (www.disabledpersons-railcard.co.uk) costs £20 and gets you 33% off most train fares.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Disability Rights UK (www.disabilityrightsuk.org) Published titles include a Holiday Guide. Other services include a key for 7000 public disabled toilets across the UK.
Good Access Guide (www.goodaccessguide.co.uk)
Tourism For All (www.tourismforall.org.uk)
Various organisations offer volunteering opportunities in England, with conservation, organic farming and animal welfare projects to the fore.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures England uses a mix of metric and imperial measures (eg petrol is sold by the litre but beer by the pint; mountain heights are in metres but road distances in miles).
Whatever your skills, it’s worth registering with a number of temporary employment agencies – there are plenty in the cities.
Low-paid seasonal work is available in the tourist industry, usually in restaurants and pubs.
At time of research, EU citizens didn’t need a work permit, but this may change as a result of Britain's referendum vote in June 2016 to leave the EU.
The Youth Mobility Scheme (www.gov.uk/tier-5-youth-mobility) allows working visits for some foreign nationals.