Travel guide for the UK
- Capital city: London
- Form of government: Constitutional Monarchy
- Citizen count: 65.110.000
- Emergency Police calls: 112
- Emergency ambulance calls: 999
- UK country code for calls: +44
- Circuitry voltage: 240 volts
In Britain cars drive on the left side of the road, people are polite, whilst also having a darker sense of humor and dinner is named 'tea'. All of these features make them such a unique people. Excentricity, exciting nightlife events, live-music and pubs are only a few of the reasons for why a visit to the British islands definitely pays off. Great Britain is also known to set global and especially European trends as well as offering an endless range of cultural treasures.
The United Kingdom is one of the EU's largest insular state. The UK is composed of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the surrounding British islands. The United Kingdom is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe as it is home to around 65,1 million citizens.
London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol are a few of the largest cities in Great Britain. You can find a total of 31 UNESCO world heritage sites on the island, as well as cultural and natural heritage sights. The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, Saint Margaret's Church, Stonehenge, Avebury and the Tower of London are examples of heritage sites that you can admire during your visit.
You will find everything you need about the United Kingdom in our Sprachcaffe travel guide.
General information about England
The UK is made up of a group of islands in the north of Europe and covers a surface of 243.610 square kilometers. It is made up of the main island of Great Britain its neighboring island of Ireland. There are also around 800 smaller islands around the main island of the UK, the most famous ones being Shetland, Orkney and the Isle of Wight. The only border that you will find on the mainland of the UK is the divide between the island of Ireland and the republic of Ireland, because only Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom. The length of the border between the two parts of Ireland is approximately 360 kilometers.
Great Britain is part of the Western European Time zone. This is commonly referred to as the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Climate and seasons
The weather in the UK is predominantly rainy, but it is actually also warmer than places on the same degree of latitude due to the influence of the Golf Stream. The weather is usually erratic all around, apart from the Southern coast of the UK that has the least rainy weather. You can however foretell that the weather is going to be warmer and dryer in the South and East as opposed to the North and West parts of the island.
Whilst the months in the summer are usually colder than those on the European mainland, winters are a lot milder in the UK due to said influences from the Golf Stream.
Climate chart (in degrees Celsius)
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Preparing your journey to England
Requirements for entering England
European citizens have only needed a valid passport and ID in order to enter the country. This could however change in the near future, due to the beginning of Brexit negotiations in 2016. Until the United Kingdom leaves the European union, it will need to ensure that all of the rights and duties of the EU nations are provided. For now this means that EU citizens will not need a VISA in order to enter the country.
Citizens who do not have European passports will potentially need a VISA in order to enter and be permitted to stay in the UK. Find more information about the VISA and its regulations at the British embassy. We recommend that you begin your application for a VISA as soon as you are sure that you will be traveling to the UK, because the process of issuing your VISA can take a fair amount of time.
The British Pound, also known as Pound Sterling, is presumably the oldest currency that is still being used in the world. It was first mentioned in a French document dating back to the 11th century and is therefore thought to be around 1200 years old.
The design of the Pound notes has been changing continuously since 1694. The following can be seen on current Pound bank notes:
Winston Churchill's picture was displayed on the 5 pound bank notes since 2016. In 2017 Jane Austen's face was portrayed on the 10 pound notes. 20 pound notes currently hold the face of Adam Smith and the 50 pound note shows the faces of James Watt and Matthew Boulton.
In case you want to make cash payments in the UK, it is a good idea to exchange your money at an airport or local money exchange office. You can also check online currency conversions in order to find out how much of your local currency a pound is worth. This will give you an idea about what kinds of price figures to expect when entering the UK.
Britain has a very good health system and offers enough medical facilities and trained specialists. The NHS (National Health Service) was introduced in 1948 and ensures that all people in the country receive the same amount of medical treatment as well as all necessary efforts to treat people. Health care in the NHS is free for all citizens to register with and use.
Costs that may occur in the case of sickness are usually covered by the government's insurance, provided that you are insured. You should make sure that you take all necessary insurance documents with you for such cases. Print versions of these should be available from your domestic health insurance company. Ensure that you have a travel health insurance and, if possible, a private health insurance that is valid abroad and is also applicable for the entire duration of your stay in the UK.
It would also be advisable to ask the health insurance company that you are registered with, whether they will cover the costs in the case of sudden sickness or emergencies. When in doubt it is worth considering applying for a travel health insurance that will provide you with all the services that you may require. An example of a required services would be the free transportation back to your country of residence in the case of an emergency.
Please read through the UK's health information on the government and the NHS websites.
We have prepared a packing checklist so that you can be fully prepared for your travels!
Society and every day life in England
59 percent of the the UK's citizens currently hold the Christian religion. More than 14 million citizens, which is roughly 25.1 percent, have stated that they are not a member or part of a religious organization. Most of the UK's Christians associate with the Anglican Communion, 11 million people are members of the Protestant Church and almost 6 million British people are Catholics. Around 4.8 percent of the population holds the Muslim faith and 1.4 percent follow the Hindu belief.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy in which Queen Elisabeth the second is the head of state. She is also the queen and official head of state of the 15 countries of the common wealth, many of which used to be British colonies. Since the periods of colonialism, these countries have developed into independent states.
Theoretically, the monarch has the authority to disband the government at any point. This has however not been done for centuries. Due to the fact that the royal family decides to remain the the background of state-wide decision making, the United Kingdom is widely considered a parliamentary government which exists in the form of a parliamentary monarchy. The parliament is made up of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Theresa May is the current Prime Minister and has been since David Cameron stepped down from this position in 2016. The Prime Minister chooses the cabinet and its members, who are then formally admitted into the status as Her Majesty's Government.
Local language and communication
Even though English is the official language in the UK, there are other officially recognized languages in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These languages are Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish as well as Ulster Scots. Cornish is also spoken locally around Cornwall and Scots is spoken in Scotland. The European Charter classes some of these languages as minority languages which means that they stand under protection as such.
There are also various local dialects which are dependent on the regions that you visit. One of the most internationally well known dialect is the Cockney dialect that people speak in London. This dialect became more well known through the popularization of George Bernhard Shaw's movie Pygmalion, which was turned into a movie called My Fair Lady. In the movie, the professor Henry Higgins teaches the simple flower maid to speak posh British English.
Keep in mind that the traffic in the UK is on the left side of the road. This also means that public transport and cars drive on the left side of the road. The red double-decker buses have become recognized as an international trademark symbol of London and the whole of England. These buses are known as 'coaches' in the UK. There are different kinds of coaches, such as 'stage coaches' and the term that is used depends on the types of journeys that the coaches make. For example some of them only drive locally, while others drive across the country and others are only used for direct connections to airports. Great Britain has very good public transport connections that can take you everywhere in the country very easily and connective services can usually also be found and booked online.
Culture and history of England
The Megalithic cultures were the first inhabitants of England at around 4000 BC. This civilization constructed the mysterious stone structures of Stonehenge and Avebury. At about 800 BC Celts that came from central Europe brought the Gaelic and Breton languages to the island states. Then came Julius Caesar. The Romans took over England around 43 AD and their control over it lasted until the fall of the Roman Empire.
The Angles, Saxons and Jutes then began to migrate into and create the Anglo Saxon Kingdom in the 7th century. After their occupation, Danish vikings began to come to England and took over the military command. In the 11th century Wilhelm the Conqueror reached the south coast of England and conquered the land together with his nomadic army.
The 'Hundred Years' War' with France commenced in the centuries that followed. Conflicts between heirs to the throne and between royalty and the church also occurred during this time. In the 16th century Henry the 8th's marital issues led to the country's breaking with the Roman Catholic Church. Parliament nominated Henry the 8th to be the leader of the Church of England.
England also secured countless colonies for itself. These colonies were located on the American coast, the East India Company as well as in Canada and Australia. England developed towards becoming the industrial center in the 19th century. Industrial cities arose in the Midlands and drove the international trades upwards. Queen Victoria's Great Britain was the largest power in the world at the time (1837-1901).
England was one of the Allies in the Second World War and played a significant role in defeating the Third Reich. In contrast to this, more of the colonies such as India, Malaysia and Kenia gradually regained their independence.
The British Royal Family is on the media's favorite type of news to publicize and this is one of the reasons why there are so many movie and series adaptations of famous historical events. Examples of these adaptations are "The Crown", which shows the life of young Queen Elizabeth II and "Reign", which is a series about the life of Mary Stewart when she was younger and lived at the French royal court. One of the most famous series, "Tudors", portrays the scandalous story of King Henry the 8th, a trailer of which you can watch below:
Brighton Festival: The Brighton Festival takes place in May of every year and displays all forms of art. It has been taking place in Spring since 1965 and is visited by more than 500.000 people.
Great Escape Festival: This music festival takes place in May and showcases a multitude of genres. Some of the music genres are Rock, Hip Hop and electronic.
London Design Festival: In September you can explore the fascinating world of designs at the London Design Festival. You will be able to find artistic pieces created by Design artists from all around the world for an entire week.
Notting Hill Carnival: The Carnival at Notting Hill takes place in August and is quite an experience. It is the largest city festival in Europe as it welcomes more than one million visitors. It is also one of the largest Carnival celebrations in the world! This very colorful festival is bound to enchant you too.
Everything you need to know about England
Common tourist mistakes
Never cut the line in the UK! Queueing is very important and cutting the queue is considered an insult to the social etiquette. Whether you're stood at the bus stop, at the post office or in the super market till you will want to observe how everyone around you is positioning themselves in the queue. You will be able to see that you should keep a certain distance from the person in front of you and if a new till is opened at the supermarket the queue moves towards it in an orderly manner after waiting for a moment to either silently or vocally determine who's turn it was to pay. Mind the way in which people look at you and at each other, because this can give you clues about who can proceed in line.
Do not fall into every Tourist trap! It is only natural for you to want to ride on one of the iconic red double-decker buses. On this subject you should be aware that tourist double-decker buses can cost around 20 Pounds for one ride. You can however also ride in a public double-decker bus which will only cost about 2 Pounds instead. Choosing the latter option will still give you a fairly similar experience to how it would be like to ride in the tourist buses.
In case people walk on the right side of, streets and roads in your country, you will need to slightly change your way of thinking. In the UK you walk and drive on the left side of the road, which means that you will need to adapt to this way of moving if you want to avoid running into people and prevent them from walking into you. This means that it would be best to keep the direction of traffic on pavements and roads in mind until this becomes natural to you.
Hints and tricks
In England you will often find people saying "You alright" to each other in passing. Depending on how well you know the person who says it, this does not always mean that they want to know how you are feeling. It is often misunderstood as such, but in truth it is a greeting to which locals would usually respond by saying "Yeah, you alright". If you know the person well you can of course then go on to talk about how you are doing. Otherwise this is just meant as a greeting and nothing more than the interaction stated above is expected.
If you go to a pub with collegues you usually do not pay for your drinks separately, but instead take turns paying for rounds of drinks. Keep in mind that you should not be the only one to remain seated when making a toast on the British royal family, even if you are not a royalist.
If you use the headlight flasher in order to indicate that another driver may proceed in your country you will need to get used to not doing this when driving in the UK. This light indication rule does not apply there and locals will not recognize it if you do try to use it.