The United Kingdom is the world’s tenth-largest tourist destination, drawing over 37 million visitors every year. By 2028, the tourism industry is expected to contribute £265 billion annually to GDPR, so keeping tourists happy is important. While London is undoubtedly the biggest draw, tourism spells big bucks for every corner of the country, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales included. Given its diminutive size, it isn’t difficult to cover diverse ground in a short amount of time, but you’ll need to know how to cut some corners. Here are our top tips on how to travel the UK.
Top tips on how to travel the UK
1. Get to know the buses
The UK is big on busses. From London’s iconic Routemaster double-deckers to rural hop-on-hop-off shuttles, Brits love a bus. It’s one of the cheapest and more economical ways to travel too, averaging £1.50 per journey. In London, if you take two buses within one hour you’ll only need to pay for one of them too.
In London, you can no longer pay with cash, you’ll need to use a contactless credit or debit card or an Oyster Card. Oyster Cards aren’t any cheaper, but they do make it easier for you to track how much you’re spending on public transport. Other UK cities might have their own regional travel cards that are valid on all public transport within the local area. For instance, Manchester offers the ‘System One Travelcard‘, valued on most buses, trains and trams.
2. Book train tickets in advance
If you’re short on time, the train is the most efficient way to travel. Trains between London and Edinburgh average just 4 hours – almost half the hefty 7.5-hour drive. It’s not cheap though. The UK has some of the most expensive train tickets in Europe if purchased on the day of travel, but some of the cheapest if bought far enough in advance. It’s usually cheaper to book a return train ticket too. UK train fares tend to be structured to make a return journey marginally more expensive than single tickets, unlike most other European countries where they will be twice the price.
There are plenty of train planning websites that allow you to book tickets from across the world, but National Rail and TrainLine are two of the best.
3. Make the most of London’s underground
London’s legendary underground network is the world’s oldest. The first-ever underground railway opened in Baker Street in 1863 as a way of reducing street congestion. There are now over 270 stations running every day from 05:30 until after midnight, except for Christmas Day. The Night Tube runs on Fridays and Saturdays on the Victoria, Jubilee, and most of the Central, Northern and Piccadilly lines too.
It’s the easiest and cheapest way to get from one side of the city to the other, accessible with a contactless credit or debit card, oyster cards and travel cards. Just don’t be one of those people that takes the tube between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. While the underground journey only takes 45 seconds, it takes considerably longer to crawl up and down the escalators, wait for the lift and push yourself onto the Picadilly Line. Walking between the two stations takes less than four minutes.
4. Use Zipcar or Hiyacar for harder-to-reach day trips
If you want to take a day trip from one of the bigger cities but will need to hire a car, consider hiring one by the hour or by the day rather than working through larger rental services. Zipcar offers ‘wheels when you need them’, with over 3,000 cars and vans on the books. Some of these need to be returned to the same place but some can be dropped off at another Zipcar zone further afield.
5. Consider hiring a bike
Cycling in the UK is the cleanest, greenest way to get around. Confident cyclists shouldn’t have too much trouble cycling in the big cities and if you haven’t brought a bike with you, there are a variety of bike rental options including Jump Bike, Boris Bikes and even Uber bikes. If you don’t have the confidence to cycle in busy city centres outside of the bike lane, there are hundreds of cycle paths across the country to enjoy. Most towns and villages along the Jurassic Coast are connected by cycle paths, while in Scotland you can try legendary routes like the Loch Leven Heritage Trail or Hebridean Way Cycling Route.
6. Don’t dismiss the coach
If you can’t book your train tickets in advance and don’t want to hire a car, hop on the coach. While they tend to take significantly longer than the train, they’re also much cheaper. National Express is the UK’s main coach provider, but there are other operators such as Megabus and Flixbus now operating between most major cities. Prices start from as little as 99p each way, so if you’re looking to keep your costs down it’s well worth hopping on a coach.
7. Research the airport before you book
Most major cities in the UK but London boasts five. Before you book that ultra-cheap ticket, remember to check which airport you’ll be arriving/departing from and how far it is from your accommodation. London City Airport and London Heathrow Airport are the only two airports accessible by underground. While Gatwick, Stanstead and Luton are reasonably accessible, you’ll need to purchase an additional train or coach fair. London Gatwick is actually near Crawley, West Sussex, while London Stanstead and London Luton are both north of London.