Best time to visit the U.K. and more: your essential U.K. travel guide

04.01.24 by Travelex Insurance
Image credit: Getty Images
Planning a trip to the U.K. but don’t know when to visit, what to do, or where to stay? Our U.K. travel guide can help make your vacation planning a whole lot easier.

We’re not surprised you want to visit “Old Blighty” — a vacation in the United Kingdom (U.K.) puts you right in the center of rich history, quaint villages, beautiful landscapes, and vibrant city life.

Whether you're drawn to the timeless charm of London, the serene beauty of the Scottish Highlands, or the historic stone walls of Edinburgh, our U.K. travel guide can help inspire your trip plans and give you lots of useful information. From the top sites to see and local customs to know, to transportation options to use and tasty local dishes to try, we’re here to help you discover what to do in the U.K — and have fun while you’re there.

So, let’s jump into our U.K. travel guide so you can start planning your incredible British vacation.

“Knowing what you want to do during your trip to the United Kingdom before you start booking can help you schedule visits to tourist spots (so you don’t miss out on any sights!), help you steer clear of popular travel times if you want to (and dodge the large crowds in the process!), and help you really make every moment count.

“Plus, when you have a list of things you want to do while you’re in the United Kingdom, you’ll be able to choose the best time to visit the U.K. for your trip and gear up for local weather by choosing the right clothes to pack. After all, a little planning, budgeting, and organizing now can help ensure your getaway is as smooth as possible." 

Frank Harrison, Regional Security Director Americas at Travelex Insurance’s assistance partner, World Travel Protection.

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What do I need to know about the United Kingdom?

England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland form the U.K., which has a blend of ancient charm and modern attractions. Some travelers will use “United Kingdom” and “Great Britain” (or Britain) interchangeably, but the U.K. includes Northern Ireland, while Great Britain includes England, Scotland, and Wales only.

Before you take in the Welsh valleys or English countryside, remember these important details about the United Kingdom:

Language: English is the official language across the U.K., but you may also hear Welsh in Wales and Gaelic in some areas of Scotland.

Currency: The official currency of the U.K. is the British Pound (£). (However, if you find yourself in Northern Ireland and you pop over the border to the Republic of Ireland, you’ll need to switch to a different currency, the Euro.) Although credit cards are widely accepted, it's helpful to carry some cash for smaller transactions.

Visa requirements: U.S. citizens don’t need a visa for U.K. visits that are shorter than six months. For detailed visa information, refer to the U.S. Department of State's United Kingdom travel information page.

Driving side: U.K. drivers stay on the left side of the road. This may feel odd as an American who’s used to driving on the right side of the road, so make sure you feel comfortable driving on the “wrong” side of the road if you choose to rent a car. As a visitor, you can use your U.S. driving license to drive in the U.K. for up to 12 months.

Electricity plugs and voltage: In the United Kingdom, the electrical voltage is 230 V, compared to the 120 V standard in the United States. You’ll need a Type G plug adapter to use your electronic devices in the U.K., because the sockets differ significantly from those in the U.S.

Dialing code: The international dialing code for the U.K. is +44. Dial the code first, followed by the area code and number for the person or business you’re trying to reach.

Time zones: The U.K. operates on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). However, during daylight saving time, which is from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October, it switches to British Summer Time (BST), which is GMT+1.


When’s the best time to visit the U.K. for my vacation?

It’s important to time your trip in the right season based on what you plan to do in the United Kingdom — whether you’re dreaming about a ski trip to Glenshee Ski Centre in Scotland or soaking up the sun at Woolacombe Beach in England.

Here’s what you need to know about the United Kingdom’s seasons, so you can choose the best time to visit the U.K. for your unique getaway:

Seasons in the United Kingdom:

High season: Summertime, from June through August, is the busiest season in the U.K., so attractions may be crowded with sightseers. It's the best time to visit the U.K. if you want a lively atmosphere and plan to visit popular beaches like Blackpool Sands, Three Cliffs Bay, and Scarista Beach.

Low season: There are fewer tourists in the winter months from November through February, which means you can have a more peaceful experience — but only if you visit after the holidays. This time of year is the perfect opportunity to explore British cities without the usual hubbub and — sometimes — you might even be able to experience it all at lower prices. But, if you plan to visit around the holidays in December and January, remember there may be a surge of tourists arriving to see the Christmas markets.

Shoulder seasons: The transitional spring months from March through May and autumn months from September through October are prime for those seeking milder climes and thinner crowds. These seasons strike a balance, allowing for tranquil exploration with the benefit of good weather and open attractions.

What to do in the U.K.: 10 best events to attend

The United Kingdom is steeped in tradition with year-round events that attract visitors from around the globe.

Here's our list of 10 must-experience yearly events in the U.K.:

1. The Cheltenham Festival (Gloucestershire, England)

One of the most well-known horse racing events, this March festival combines high adrenaline with a posh British atmosphere over a span of four days.

2. Oxford Cambridge Boat Race (London, England)

Witness a storied rivalry in April at this historic rowing competition along the Thames River, a true testament to sportsmanship and university pride.

3. The Chelsea Flower Show (London, England)

Hosted by the Royal Horticultural Society in May, this world-renowned flower show delights with cutting-edge garden designs and plant varieties.

4. Glastonbury Festival (Somerset, England)

Arguably the biggest outdoor music festival in the world, Glastonbury is a haven for music lovers in June, offering a mix of famous headliners and eclectic performances.

5. Wimbledon (London, England)

At the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, you can watch the pros play on pristine grass courts in July.

6. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Edinburgh, Scotland)

The Fringe opens a creative pandemonium in August, with thousands of performers taking to stages all over Edinburgh in the world's largest arts festival.

7. The Notting Hill Carnival (London, England)

Europe's biggest street festival dazzles in August with its Caribbean vibes, colorful parades, music, and dance, creating an atmosphere of pure celebration in the streets of London.

8. Guy Fawkes Night (United Kingdom)

Also known as Bonfire Night, this November event lights up the skies across the U.K. with fireworks commemorating the historic Gunpowder Plot. For a unique experience, visit the towns of Lewes, Robertsbridge, or Hastings in Sussex, England for torchlight processions and bonfires put on by the locals.

9. The Turner Prize Exhibition (United Kingdom)

At various host cities and times of year, this contemporary art award exhibition showcases the vibrant and challenging works of today's leading artists.

10. The Hogmanay (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Bringing in the New Year with Scottish flair in December, Edinburgh's Hogmanay is a festival of music, procession, and fireworks.

What to do and see in the U.K.

From ancient stones and modern artistry to theatrical performances and festive streets, you’ll find a variety of things to do in the U.K.

Here are our top suggestions for sites to see when you visit the United Kingdom:

What to do in the U.K.: 10 culturally historic places to visit during your trip

1. The Tower of London (London, England)

Explore the rich history of England with a visit to this historic fortress and former royal palace.

2. The British Museum (London, England)

An incomparable collection of world art and artifacts, this museum is a treasure trove for history buffs.

3. Stonehenge (Wiltshire, England)

Marvel at the prehistoric mystery in the Salisbury Plain.

4. The Roman Baths (Bath, England)

Explore ancient Roman public bathing structures and learn about life during the Roman Britain era.

5. The Giant's Causeway (Bushmills, Northern Ireland)

Walk on the unique volcanic formations and discover the myth and geologic wonder.

6. Edinburgh Castle (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Dominating Scotland's capital, this castle offers panoramic views and a deep dive into Scottish history.

7. The Lake District National Park (Cumbria, England)

Its serene lakes and rolling hills make it a sanctuary for nature lovers, poets, and artists.

8. Stratford-upon-Avon (Warwickshire, England)

Visit the birthplace of William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon.

9. The Royal Mile in Edinburgh (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Stroll through this historic street leading from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.

10. Eryri/Snowdonia National Park (Gwynedd, Wales)

Embark on a hiking or climbing adventure, or simply enjoy the rugged Welsh landscape.

What to do in the U.K.: 10 experiences to immerse yourself in U.K. culture

1. The West End Theatre District (London, England)

Experience a world-class performance with a show at one of the famous West End theaters.

2. The Tate Modern and Tate Britain (London, England)

You’ll find contemporary and classic art in these iconic galleries.

3. Manchester's music scene (Manchester, England)

Explore the sites that gave rise to legendary bands and catch live music acts in the city's thriving venues.

4. Gastronomy in Borough Market (London, England)

Savor a variety of food from around the world at one of London's largest and oldest food markets.

5. Royal Ascot (Berkshire, England)

A top event in the racing calendar that falls in June, it’s famed for fashion as much as for the horse racing and presided over by British Royalty.

6. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Every August, the city comes alive with military performances and fireworks against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.

7. Welsh Eisteddfod (Wales)

A week-long celebration of the Welsh culture, language, music, and literature, held annually in August in a different Welsh town.

8. The British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival (London, England)

Join film enthusiasts in screenings of both mainstream and independent films in October.

9. The Shakespeare Festival (United Kingdom)

Engage with the work of Shakespeare at performances held across the U.K., from traditional stages to the open air.

10. The Historic Dockyards (United Kingdom)

Learn about the U.K.'s maritime heritage in cities like Portsmouth and Bristol, where ships were once built and now serve as museums.

Smiling senior couple walking on the beach in Wales, which we mention in our U.K. travel guide.

What to eat and drink in the U.K.: 5 must-try menu items

The United Kingdom's iconic food and beverage scene is packed with both local culture and international influence.

Here are our top menu items for you to try in the U.K.:

1. Fish and chips

This quintessentially British dish is a must-have for any foodie visiting the U.K. The meal comes with fried fish in crispy batter paired with golden French fries (what the U.K. calls “chips”!), and it’s often served with a side of mushy peas and tartare sauce.

2. Full English breakfast

Kick-start your day with a hearty full English breakfast. The plate is piled with bacon, sausage, eggs, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, black pudding, mushrooms, and toast.

3. Sunday roast

Sundays in the U.K. call for a classic roast. This main meal features succulent roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, and an assortment of vegetables, all drenched in rich gravy.

4. Cornish pasty

Discover the flavors of Cornwall with a traditional pasty. This baked pastry has a golden crust stuffed with beef, onion, potato, and swede (rutabaga), seasoned with salt and pepper.

5. Afternoon tea

No culinary tour of the U.K. is complete without experiencing afternoon tea. Enjoy a selection of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, sweet pastries, and cakes, accompanied by a pot of freshly brewed tea. For those who are heading to Cornwall and Devon and love a scone, be sure to try out the "Devon method" (clotted cream first; jam second) and the "Cornish method" (jam first; clotted cream second) to discover which one you love best!

Most popular U.K. airports to fly into from the U.S.

Whether you choose the bustling cosmopolitan cities of London and Manchester, the medieval allure of Edinburgh, or the central locale of Birmingham, your journey can start smoother at any of these top-tier airports.

Here are the top U.K. airports that serve as major hubs for transatlantic flights:

Heathrow Airport (London, England): Heathrow is the most significant gateway into the U.K. With a bunch of amenities and direct flights from many U.S. cities, it’s the go-to for many transatlantic travelers seeking both convenience and connectivity.

Gatwick Airport (London, England): As London’s second-busiest airport, Gatwick offers excellent links to the south of England. With a straightforward train service to central London, it’s an efficient alternative to Heathrow.

Manchester Airport (Manchester, England): Manchester Airport is a northern England hub that offers direct flights to and from several U.S. destinations. It’s the perfect landing spot if you want to explore the North, from the Lake District to the Scottish borders.

Edinburgh Airport (Edinburgh, Scotland): If you’re looking for immediate access to the charm of Scotland, flying into Edinburgh Airport is a smart choice. This airport will give you a warm Scottish welcome and it’s only a short trip from the historic city center.

Birmingham Airport (Birmingham, England): Located in the heart of England, Birmingham Airport is a solid choice for visitors looking to experience the Midlands or venture into Wales.

How to get around in the United Kingdom: best transportation options

Getting around in the United Kingdom offers an adventure of its own, with a variety of transportation options available to suit different preferences and budgets.

Here are some details on the most popular modes of transportation in the U.K.:

Bicycling: Want to help the environment and be more active while traveling? Exploring the U.K. by bicycle lets you enjoy scenic routes and get exercise. Major cities like London, Manchester, and Edinburgh feature dedicated cycle lanes, and bike-sharing systems — like Santander Cycles in London — make it easy to hop on a bike and go.

Public transportation: Public transportation is the backbone of U.K. travel, with extensive bus and train networks connecting cities, towns, and picturesque countryside locations. Buses are an economical choice for local commutes and are also quite reliable. The famed London Underground, commonly referred to as the Tube, and London Overground are efficient ways to navigate the capital. For longer distances, the rail system offers a comfortable and scenic journey, with services like National Rail covering even remote areas.

Taxis and ride apps: If you want a more private and direct route to your destination, you can hail a traditional black cab on the streets of U.K. cities. Ride-hailing apps like Uber are convenient and cashless options, with the additional benefit of real-time tracking and fare estimates. Both taxis and ride apps are ideal for late-night travel or when carrying heavy luggage.

Where to stay in the United Kingdom: top neighborhoods for tourists

From bustling city life to tranquil green spaces, the right U.K. neighborhood for your trip awaits.

Here’s our inspiration for where to stay in the United Kingdom:

1. Kensington (London, England)

Known for its grand Victorian architecture and prestigious museums, such as the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington is full of elegance and cultural richness.

2. The Royal Mile (Edinburgh, Scotland)

This historic stretch leads you from the glorious Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace, surrounded by medieval charm and Scotch Whisky Experience tours.

3. The Northern Quarter (Manchester, England)

With its indie boutiques, vibrant street art, and eclectic dining scene, the Northern Quarter is Manchester’s hippest spot, appealing to creatives and foodies alike.

4. The Georgian Quarter (Liverpool, England)

This neighborhood boasts beautiful Georgian architecture and is home to cultural staples like the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and Everyman Theatre.

5. Clifton (Bristol, England)

Offering panoramic views of the Avon Gorge and Clifton Suspension Bridge, Clifton is an affluent suburb with green spaces, stylish boutiques, and quaint cafes.

6. Brindleyplace (Birmingham, England)

Modern and sleek, Brindleyplace provides an array of restaurants, bars, and galleries, alongside peaceful canal walks. It's also near the National Sea Life Centre and the Arena Birmingham.

7. The Lanes (Brighton, England)

This maze of narrow streets offers everything from vintage clothing shops to seafood restaurants, showcasing the bohemian spirit of Brighton.

8. The Baltic Triangle (Liverpool, England)

A trendy, rejuvenated area known for contemporary art spaces, live music venues, and street food markets, it’s a hub for Liverpool’s creative scene.

9. Belfast (Belfast, Northern Ireland)

Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland, boasts a vibrant history and culture that attracts visitors from around the globe. It's home to the Titanic Belfast Museum, an iconic tribute to the city's maritime heritage where the famous RMS Titanic was built.

10. Merchant City (Glasgow, Scotland)

Merchant City is the heart of Glasgow’s cultural, fashion, and food scenes, with a historical backdrop that serves as a reminder of the city’s rich mercantile past.

Multigenerational family fishing in the U.K. lake district, which we mention in our U.K. travel guide.

What do I need to travel to the United Kingdom? Your U.K. packing list

Wondering what to pack for your getaway to the U.K.? To navigate the United Kingdom's unpredictable weather and stay comfortable throughout your travels, here are some must-pack items:

Layered apparel

Dress in layers with versatile pieces like t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, sweaters, and a lightweight, waterproof jacket.

All-purpose footwear

Comfortable walking shoes are a must, and for those wetter days, consider packing waterproof boots.


Pack a foldable umbrella, scarves, and a warm hat to adjust to sudden weather changes.

Power adapter

Remember the U.K. uses Type G sockets, so an adapter is necessary to charge your American devices.

Portable charger

Stay powered up on the go, ensuring your smartphone and camera are ready to capture every moment.

Travel-sized essentials

Pack your travel-sized toiletries, keeping in mind the liquid restrictions for carry-on luggage. You can bring a quart-sized bag containing 3.4-ounce containers of liquids on the airplane.

Prescription medications

Ensure you have an adequate supply of any prescription medications, accompanied by the prescription itself, for ease through customs.


An obvious essential, but always double-check the expiration date as you’ll need at least six months validity on your passport to enter the U.K.

Credit cards and pound sterling

While many places accept credit cards, having some local currency on hand for small purchases is advisable.

Travel guide

While digital resources are great, a physical travel guide can be a reliable source when Wi-Fi is unavailable.

Reusable water bottle

Stay hydrated while reducing plastic waste as you explore.

Travel insurance

Help protect your trip from unexpected costs that come up from lost baggage, delayed flights, and more with travel insurance for United Kingdom vacations.

Two women smiling and sitting on rocks in Scotland, which we mention in our U.K. travel guide.

Public holidays to keep in mind when planning your U.K. trip

When you travel from the U.S. to the U.K., being aware of public holidays, or "bank holidays" as they're locally known, can be helpful. These days can affect opening hours of shops, tourist attractions, and public transportation schedules.

Here are some significant U.K. public holidays to mark on your calendar:

New Year's Day: January 1

Like in the U.S., the New Year is celebrated enthusiastically across the U.K. Expect some festivities to carry on from New Year's Eve and look out for reduced transportation services.

Good Friday and Easter Monday: March or April

This four-day weekend is a time when many Brits travel or visit family, potentially making certain destinations busier than usual.

Early May Bank Holiday: first Monday in May

This holiday marks the beginning of spring, and you'll find numerous local festivals and events. It's an excellent opportunity to experience British culture and community spirit.

Spring Bank Holiday: last Monday in May

Originally known as Whitsun, Spring Bank Holiday activities may include agricultural shows and cultural festivals. It's another vibrant time for local celebrations.

Summer Bank Holiday: last Monday in August

The end of August sees another long weekend, with this holiday giving workers a last chance to enjoy summer.

Christmas Day and Boxing Day: December 25 and 26

The U.K. is particularly charming during the Christmas season with numerous festive markets, events, and, of course, the traditional Christmas Day lunch. The following day, Boxing Day, is also a public holiday with popular sporting events and the start of the post-Christmas sales.

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