England was once the seat of the largest empire in history, with one-fifth of the world under its power. Today, it is far more modest geographically, but remains enormously influential in world politics. Though it is officially part of the European Union, it maintains its own currency.
The southern portion of the country comprises low hills and sweeping plains that rise to the rugged Cotswolds in the southwest. To the north, the landscape becomes more mountainous and is dotted with beautiful lakes. Most everywhere outside city limits, a patchwork of various hues of greens and browns define generations-old shires and farmlands. England is a constitutional monarchy overseen by the House of Windsor since 1917 and administered by a parliamentary system. Its capital is London.
English is England’s official language.
Life in England
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Saturday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Most department stores and some supermarkets are open all day, every day of the week, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Banks are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday, with some branches open on Saturday mornings.
Meal times: Breakfast (“brekkie”) is served at hotels from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants and pubs, lunch is served from noon to 2:00 p.m. and dinner is usually served from 6:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., but it is wise to verify this locally. “Elevenses” is a late-morning coffee or tea break, and afternoon tea is usually taken around 4:00 p.m.
Tipping: In restaurants and pubs, if service is not included (check your bill), it is customary to leave 10 to 20 percent of the total. Taxi drivers receive 10 to 15 percent of the fare. For luggage assistance, a small tip is appropriate, at your discretion.
British public holidays: British public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. Visit the tourist board’s website, and click on “Travel tips,” then “Traveler tips” for a list of public holidays. A list of festivals and an event finder by region is available at visitengland.com/Things-to-do.
High-quality local cuisine is something many restaurants and pubs in England pride themselves on. Many towns hold farmers’ markets on specific days, and many restaurants use excellent local ingredients. Cuisine ranges from international to local specialties and basic pub fare.
Dinner menus feature seafood, chicken, beef or lamb, and even venison or duck. Desserts can be lavish and imaginative, and often feature local clotted cream (a very dense cream with the consistency of whipped butter). Typical pub lunches are fish and chips, a wide selection of sandwiches (many vegetarian), and of course, a plethora of tasty brews. From local bakeries, you may enjoy baked products such as sausage rolls, pork pies, or Cornish pasties, plus a range of delicious cakes and scones. England has experienced growth in its domestic wine industry, too, such as on the Isle of Anglesey.
The British Isles, lying between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, have an oceanic climate with cool summers and mild winters. Average daytime temperatures May through October range from the upper 50s to mid-70s. In summer, the prevailing westerly and north-westerly winds have a cooling effect. Although England is known for its rainy weather, most of the rain falls between late October and January. During the drier months, England often enjoys fine weather. The pleasant summer days are long, with daylight lasting until 10:00 p.m.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least three months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days. For more information, see travel.state.gov.
The United Kingdom uses the pound (GBP). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 GBP. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
Many businesses in Europe will no longer accept credit cards without PIN numbers (chip and pin cards). Contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when travelling, and to inform them of your travel destination and dates so they do not freeze your accounts when they see charges appear from a foreign country.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s), some U.S. dollars to exchange, and some pounds in small denominations.
No immunizations are required to enter England. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Electricity: Alternating current of 230V and 50Hz is used in England. Plugs have three flat blades arranged in a triangular formation. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: The United Kingdom’s country code is “+44.” Cell phone coverage throughout England is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
The United Kingdom is in the Greenwich Mean Time Zone, Eastern Standard Time plus five hours. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
The majority of international flights arrive at London’s Heathrow Airport (heathrow.com) or Gatwick Airport (gatwickairport.com). Information on domestic flights is also available through these sites.
International Airports in England
- Birmingham International Airport
- Bournemouth Airport
- Bristol Airportv
- City of Derry Airport
- Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield
- Durham Tees Valley Airport
- East Midlands Airport
- Exeter International Airport
- Leeds/Bradford – Leeds Bradford International Airport
- Liverpool John Lennon Airport
- London – London City Airport
- London – London Gatwick Airport
- London – London Heathrow Airport
- London – London Luton Airport
- London – Southend Airport
- London – Stansted Airport
- Manchester – Manchester Airport
- Newcastle upon Tyne – Newcastle Airport
- Newquay Cornwall Airport
- Norwich International Airport
- Southampton Airport
England’s national train company is britrail.net. You may book your train travel directly with them. Or, if you plan to travel for longer periods, consider Rail Europe, a U.S.-based company that provides schedules, reservations, and ticketing for all European train networks. Their multi-day, -week or -month passes in one country or combinations of countries may be a more economical and convenient choice. For more information, go to raileurope.com or call 800.622.8600.
Other local transportation
In addition to rail and airlines, the United Kingdom also has an extensive bus (or “coach”) network that, for some towns and cities, may be more convenient and affordable than the train. For details, see nationalexpress.com.
Most major car rental agencies are available at airports and train stations. If you rent a car in the United Kingdom, remember to drive on the left side of the road and to pass on the outside right lane. It’s important to keep in mind also when crossing busy city streets! Click here for the official rules of the road.
Taxis are available at all major airports and train stations and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). London’s famous black taxis still exist, although they now come in a variety of colors. Black cabs can also be found in most towns and cities throughout Britain. For more information go to visitbritain.com, and then to the “Transport” tab.