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The lowdown on all things United Kingdom. This is your definitive guide to holidaying in the UK.
It’s a fabulously confusing old land, the UK. Apparently they speak English but walk into any pub, shop or newsagent (that’s a dairy) and we beg to differ. They might be saying hello, but in what accent is anyone’s guess. Then there’s the food which also needs an entire dictionary unto itself. How on earth is a foreign visitor expected to succeed? Well, these top tips should help.
Battle on, old chum, battle on.
*** What defines the UK, exactly?
The United Kingdom includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland; in total, six counties of Ireland. Southern Ireland (now the Republic of Ireland, previously the Irish Free State) is not part of the UK.
1. How long can I stay without a visa?
New Zealand passport holders can enter the UK for six months without a visa if they are in the UK for a holiday.
2. What’s the local currency?
British pound sterling. But you can call it pound. Or quid. If you’re visiting The Republic of Ireland you’ll need Euros, but remember in Northern Ireland you’ll need pound again. And with Brexit on the horizon and a potential Scottish referendum, it could change again.
* Never pluralise your quid. It's one quid and ten quid, not one quid and ten quids.
3. Do I need to tip?
The UK’s tipping culture is more prolific than NZ, but nowhere near as common as the USA. As a general rule, tip 10% in all restaurants. Unless, of course, you had terrible service. Unlike NZ, hospitality wages in the UK are borderline crumbs and peanuts, and wait staff heavily rely on earning good gratuities.
The phrase “And one for yourself” is still (kind of) common in pubs and bars. How much they take is where the risk lies. Fortunately it’s not the price of a drink but depending on your bar tender, they might take 50p; they might take a pound. When in doubt, pay in cash and round up.
You may see tip jars in cafes but it’s unlikely you’ll see any British folk putting anything but coppers (and the cheeky odd receipt) in them.
4. Transfers to and from the airport
Travelling from London airports to central London:
We guarantee after a 24+ hour flight from NZ, you won't want to deal with a transfer via public transport; getting out of Heathrow Airport (the busiest airport in the world) alone can take up to 1.5 hours. Ask your HoT consultant about booking a transfer before you even leave NZ. Trust us, you'll be thankful.
Really don't want to book a transfer? There are three main airports in London: Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted. For all information on how to get from all three airports to London central, click here.
5. Getting around.
Uber: Uber is all over London and most major cities but you won’t find it in smaller towns and villages - yet!
London Underground: Also called the tube. Probably the easiest and most economical means of getting around the capital (definitely get yourself an Oyster card). When the tube folk are doing track work, it's usually done at weekends, so always check which lines are operating on your day of travel. Especially if you're heading to the airport! For more information click here.
Taxis: In the city, don’t always presume Uber is cheapest. Many of the longstanding taxi firms got savvy and are now competitively priced, and sometimes cheaper.
Black cabs: A resolutely London thing to do, but you’ll be paying by the metre. And in London, when traffic moves at a snail’s pace, you won’t go far for £20.
Trains: One of the best ways to get around the country, the UK’s train system is centuries old and therefore well established. It’s efficient, quick and easy. Eg, London to Manchester is a two hour train journey, compared to five hours in a car. Book three months in advance for the cheapest tickets. If you book on the day of travel, you’ll be paying premium. Check routes, fares and timetables here.
Oyster Card: In London, invest in a Visitor Oyster card to pay for journeys on the bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail, River Bus and most National Rail services. Use it like a pay-as-you-go smartcard and only top up when necessary. Fares are cheaper than buying a paper single ticket and if you’re savvy, and cap your daily journeys, it’ll work out half the price per day of a Day Travelcard (currently £12.30 per day).
6. Weather: What can you expect when you go?
Being in the northern hemisphere, seasonally the UK is the opposite to New Zealand. The height of summer is August and you’ll enjoy nights that stay light until 10pm. Late spring (May) and early Autumn (September) are a good option if you don’t want to pay ‘high season’ prices but want milder weather. Christmas, albeit expensive, is completely different to anything you’ve ever experienced in NZ and the most ‘culturally different’ time of year to experience Britain. Overall the UK’s weather is unpredictable. Summer doesn’t equal sunshine or warmth. Ever. Pack a coat whatever season you go.
6. Top 10 phrases
Well of course they all speak English. Mostly. You’ll also hear a fair amount of Welsh in Wales (including all road signage but don’t worry it’s in English too). Dialects however, are vast. And at times can sound like a different language entirely. The better known are:
From the rozzers to the bizzies (both mean police), English dialects are ever evolving and new words are coined almost daily. When in doubt, just nod and smile. Or ask! The Brits are charmingly rather proud of their quirky dialects - they'll love to tell you what "getting a gob on" * means.
* To be annoyed or irritated about something. And usually making it very obvious that you're peeved.
And remember, chips are called crisps here. Lollies are sweets (unless you want an old fashioned lollipop with a stick) and hot chips are just chips.
7. Rules and customs
Tipping – See above.
Queueing – Push in at your own risk.
Football – Is huge in the UK and people are passionate about it. Much more so than rugby. Unlike rugby, fans sit separately in the stadium (for safety) but do try and experience a match because you'll be bowled over by the atmosphere. Be cautious about buying tickets to a 'derby' because the rivalry will be rife, and less suitable for those with small children. Also, expect a friendly dressing down if you refer to it as soccer.
Motorway driving – Overtake on the right and only the right. Undertaking is illegal and will cause a great deal of irritation. And danger. And if the ‘rozzers’ catch you, you’re definitely in trouble.
The driver’s wave – There are more than 25 million cars on the road in the UK, so a little etiquette goes a long way. If you’re on a self-drive, always wave as a signal of ‘thanks’ when another driver gives you right of way. Not doing so is considered worse than jumping a queue (and you might cop a fair amount of flack - or the finger - back).
Flashing lights – At night you might see drivers flashing their indicators once on each side, or a single quick flash of their full beams. This is how British drivers say thanks in the dark.
Sarcasm – Is rife. Embrace it.
Coffee – Good luck. They’re getting better but it’s a work in progress. Chain coffee shops aren't sniffed at quite as much as they are in NZ. Duck into Costa, Cafe Nero, Pret a Manger and (at a push) Starbucks for a semi-decent flat white.
The Sun Newspaper – And finally, a sensitive one. But interesting nevertheless. Nobody reads The Sun newspaper in Liverpool (one of Blighty's most popular national newspapers) because the paper wrongly reported Liverpool FC fans as the culprits of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, which killed 96 people, The Sun is not sold or tolerated. You'll even see signs on trains and shop windows saying "The Sun isn't sold/read here". And we'd advise following suit or you'll likely find yourself in hot water.
8. Where to have fun
In the pub. And if it’s summer, the beer garden. When in doubt (or bored) the British descend on their local, but they’re not all burning log fires and craft beer; for as many quintessentially homely public houses, there are absolute dives. Stick your head in first and take a quick peek. You might also want to take in a footie match; the difference between the atmosphere at a rugby game and the football is profound. But don’t expect to be seated with the rival team; matches get very competitive, and at times heated, but embrace the chants because it’s all part of the 90 minute fun. Go shopping because the British love it, plus the prices are cheaper than NZ, and try a slab of UK Cadbury’s and exclaim at the difference. And of course, partake in both afternoon tea (you’ll discover NZ teabags are sub-par FYI) and a Sunday roast. You haven’t really experienced Britain until you’ve had a Yorkshire pudding. Try and find somewhere selling homemade Yorkshires; frozen just won’t cut it.
9. What to do in an emergency
The UK is a relatively safe country but like anywhere, there is more crime in the cities. Call 999 if you have an emergency, this covers the police, fire service, ambulance and coast guard.
House of Travel recommends anyone travelling to the UK and Europe registers with Safe Travel. As well as offering invaluable travel advice, should an emergency arise, they can find you, check your well-being and send important travel information.
We also recommend safely and securely storing three important travel documents (your passport, credit card and driver's license) on your phone. Use an app such as Traveler ID which will safely store a series of documents. Of course, you might lose your phone, so store them in the Cloud or your saved emails as well.
10. Mobile usage – to roam or not to roam?
As a general rule, grab yourself a UK SIM card if you think you’ll spend over $50 in data roaming charges. You can pick up a pay-as-you-go SIM card from most UK phone stores for roughly £25, and that’ll included unlimited data for 30 days. As well as a few hundred free minutes and texts. Simply make sure your phone’s unlocked and then ditch the SIM when your holiday’s done.
The largest UK phone companies are Orange, Vodafone, Three and O2, but you can also nip into 'The Carphone Warehouse' which sell them all. For really cheap SIMS, pop into one of the local supermarkets: Tesco and Sainsburys also promote phone deals.
HOT tip: There’s a comparison website for almost every service in the UK. Check out what SIM-only plan would work the best for you holiday here.
11. HOT’s top 5 UK eats
1. Sunday Roast Dinner
Perfectly cooked meat, roasted vegetables, a vast array of condiments, gravy and Yorkshire puddings (savoury battered soufflé is the only way we can describe it).
Try it: Toby's Carvery. Sure you could find a super cute back country lane pub - OR, you could do as the British do and descend on a Toby's Carvery: The home of the roast. Located nationwide and no frills guaranteed, the all day carvery starts from £5.99. Go on, we dare you...
2. Afternoon tea
Numerous hotels, mansions, stately homes and boutique cafes offer some sort of decadent high tea. Choose between a classic cup of tea, or a flute of bubbles (it'll be called 'Sparkling Wine' in the UK).
Try it: If you’ve ever watched the 1990 movie, The Witches, based on Roald Dahls’ book of the same name, you’ll recognise Newquay’s Headland Hotel. The high tea scones with Cornish clotted cream are (arguably) the best in the country.
Address: Fistral Beach Complex, Headland Rd, Newquay
3. Welsh Rarebit
Sounds fancy but it's really just glorified cheese on toast. What makes it special is the melted cheddar cheese, a touch of stout, an egg yolk and a dash of English mustard.
Try it: Madame Fromage in Cardiff's Castle Arcade serves some of the best Welsh rarebit your taste buds will ever try.
Address: Address: 21 Castle Arcade, Cardiff CF10 1BW
4. Toad in the hole
No toads involved. Sausage is cooked in a thick, golden and unbelievably delicious batter and served with thick gravy. Great on the taste-buds, not so much on your arteries.
Try it: Porters English Restaurant. In the very centre of of Theatreland in London's Covent Garden, Porters English Restaurant serves all the best pub grub, including toad in the hole.
Address: Unit 3, 300 High St, Berkhamsted, London.
5. A bacon butty
Two pints of lager tastes magnificent when washed down with a bacon butty (bap or barn depending where you are in the country) A bread roll bursting with fried bacon and lashings of tomato ketchup, there’s nothing better.
Try it: Swing by ‘Caravan’ in Farringdon Exmouth Market. They’re renowned for their superb all day breakfast and brunch.
12. Is the water safe to drink?
Absolutely. It might not taste the nicest in big cities, but get out into the countryside and it’ll be borderline delicious. As will your tea – makes a great cuppa.
13. HOT’s top insider tips
Dine in for Two
A little secret you won't know unless you've spent extended time in the UK.
If you're self catering, keep an eye out for Marks & Spencer's Dine in for Two for £10. You can bag a main, side and dessert all for a tenner - plus a bottle of European wine. Countdown this is not, premium dinners include 21-day matured Sirloin steaks, smoked sea bass and Scottish salmon fillets. Your dessert will also be decadent. All this for $20.
UK shopping is always cheaper than NZ
The UK’s largest designer outlet complex is McArthur Glen Designer Outlet. Just a 45-minute drive out of Manchester (and it’s the one M56 motorway all the way) this outdoor shopping complex is home to 145 designer boutiques, from Burberry to YSL, Nike, Ralph Lauren, Mulberry and 140 more. It's huge so allocate at least half a day.
When in Edinburgh walk to Stockbridge
When in Edinburgh, get off the tourist circuit and head to Stockbridge. A pretty wee village just a ten minute walk from Princes Street, if you fancy saying "cheerio the nou" (Scottish for goodbye apparently) to the tourists, this is where you'll find more locals.
Eat a bag of fried chips outside the smallest house
Go inside Great Britain’s smallest house in the quaint fishing village of Conwy, North Wales. It’s just 6 foot wide and only a fraction higher. Located in the picture-perfect seaside town of Conwy, complete with its own castle and shops selling traditional sticks of seaside rock, there's nowhere better to sit and eat scraps (a term used in England which refers to left over chip batter).
Holidaying with kids
The UK's two biggest and best theme parks are Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, both owned by Merlin Entertainments. Alton Towers is convenient if you're 'up north' and Thorpe Park is your south option. Both are huge, and akin in size and serious G-force as any of the Gold Coast's premier theme parks.
A little known dime in the UK's north-west
Families love the award-winning Crocky Trail. An outdoor adventure playground in the muddy outdoors, scramble through trees, crooked bridges and swing over the fast flowing Crocky stream. Wear old clothes because if you trip, fall or slip, you're only going one way - into the mud. Location deets here.
Free stuff in the capital
London needn’t break the bank. If you’re holidaying in the UK, take advantage of the capital’s abundant supply of culture, art, galleries and museums. The best bit, all the world-class exhibits are free. Thank goodness for UK tax payers. Here are six of our favourite free museums and galleries.
Venture into Game of Thrones in misty Northern Ireland
With its craggy coastline and perpetual grey sky, Northern Ireland makes the perfect location for Game of Thrones. Head to County Antrim for the 820-acre walled demesne of Castle Ward, AKA Winterfell.
Have a super cheap picnic
Take advantage of a competitive UK 'meal deal'. Pop into any major supermarket (Tesco, Sainsburys), Boots or Marks & Spencer and pick up a sandwich/wrap, drink and snack for three quid. Roughly $6. A nice cheap option for a picnic.
Find a a shamrock in your Guinness froth
At the The Dirty Onion (3 Hill Street, Belfast). As a former warehouse for Jameson Whiskey, this pre-1720 abode is one of the oldest buildings in the city and now plays host to some of the best live Irish bands in the city. There is also plenty of Guinness – complete with a shamrock in your froth
14. The UK for kids
Similar to NZ, attractions for children may be numerous, but they don’t always come cheap. Many of London’s museums, plenty of which are ‘hands-on’ do offer free admittance, but that also makes them popular (read as busy). Family passes for most big attractions are common, but with enough research you can still find some free castles to visit (relics especially), and with plenty of parks, lakes, rivers and canals, you can easily find a cost-free pretty spot. Unique to the UK, canal locks are generally quite fascinating for kids – and won’t cost a penny. Most pubs are child friendly but it’s not uncommon to find an “over 18s only” sign, and they’ll be quite strict about it.
15. What adapter do I need?
In the UK the power sockets are type G. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. The plugs are a three-pronged formation.
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