Plane, Train, Automobile- or bus? How to get around the UK, an easy guide
So you’ve decided to come on holiday for Britain, or maybe you are just considering visiting England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Regardless of whether you’ve already booked or are just thinking about it you probably have some ideas about what you want to go and see or do while you are here. But how far away are they? How long does it take to get from London to the Lake District, or Manchester up to Scotland? And what is the best way to get there? These are just some of the questions this article will try and answer, and direct you to the best websites to plan your itinerary.
Travelling by Plane
Most people coming to the UK will be arriving by air. The majority of transatlantic flights will fly into either one of London’s two main airports – Heathrow and Gatwick – with a significant proportion arriving into Manchester International Airport. If you are flying from Europe you will have a number of regional airports to choose from, particularly if you are flying with one of the budget airlines. Regional airports include:
Inverness (best for the Scottish Highlands & Islands)
Internal flights within the UK are minimal due to the small size of the country, and are usually just flights between London and one of the regional airports. Most people will either drive, get the bus or get a train. A first point of call for internal flights however is the British Airways website:
also, this flight planner for internal flights:
Travelling by Rail
Travelling by train is usually the quickest way of getting about in the UK, especially if you are travelling between the major towns and cities. Travelling between London and Edinburgh for example takes about 4.5 hours by train, much quicker than driving. Here are some other journey times by train:
London to Manchester – around 2 hours (£50-£70 return)
London to Bath – 1.5 hours (£30-£50 return)
London to Lake District - 3 hours (around £80 return)
London to York - 2 hours (around £75 return)
Manchester to Edinburgh – 3.5 hours (around £60 return)
Manchester to Lake District – 1.5 hours (£18-£25 return)
The prices are only a guide, sometimes you can pick up much cheaper advance fares if you book well in advance and choose particular trains to travel on rather than open tickets (with open tickets you choose your departure day, and can return any day within a month). You can travel First Class which is usually 50-100% more, but you can pick up quite cheap advance first class fares. First Class conditions vary, but usually involve more comfortable seats, free tea and coffee and occasionally free food. Large ‘intercity’ trains often have a buffet car serving hot and cold food, and also sometimes an onboard shop selling refreshments, books, magazines etc. Most trains (including all long distance trains) have toilet facilities.
To search for times & prices and also to book tickets, go to http://www.nationalrail.co.uk
Alternatively if you are going to be doing quite a bit of train travel while in the UK, you should consider getting a britrail pass, which you can get for anything from 1 day to 1 month and offers unlimited rail travel in the UK. There are stockists in many different countries, just search for 'britrail'.
Driving in the UK
Hiring a car and driving is a good way of seeing Britain, especially if you are wanting to travel to some of the smaller towns and villages, see the countryside or do a spot of walking in out of the way places. England (and some of Wales) has good motorway links. Motorways are the equivalent of US Interstates and German autobahns. The maximum speed is 70 miles per hour, and there are frequently placed service stations along all motorway routes (facilities vary but always include petrol, toilet facilities and a shop, usually a cafe and other amenities). Many service stations have budget hotels on site too if you want to stop overnight.
Motorways and many other roads usually have a large amount of traffic on it, and congestion and traffic jams are relatively frequent. Try and avoid peak times of 7.30am-9.30am and 4.30pm – 6pm on weekdays in the major towns and cities and surrounding roads as traffic can build up significantly at these times with commuters. 3pm-4pm can also be somewhat busy due to school traffic.
If you are doing a lot of traffic you will need to either invest in a road atlas and/or have the use of a Satellite Navigation (satnav / GPS) system (usually available from your car hire company). Two online resources that are very useful however are Google Maps, and AA Route Planner. The route planner is particularly excellent, giving you a map of your journey and step by step instructions which you can print out. It also gives an estimate of your journey time, which is usually quite accurate (though it doesn’t take into account traffic, so can underestimate journey times if you are travelling in towns and cities).
UK Bus Travel
Because trains travel to most places in the UK, long distance bus travel is not as extensive as it is in some countries. The main two companies that operate long distance buses across the country are National Express and Megabus. Journey times can be more than double that of the train, and they go to a lot less places, however they can be much, much cheaper than travelling by train (unbelievably you can get fares from London to most places for as little as £1). There are usually frequent toilet stops, and there is often a toilet as well as refreshments on board.
Local bus travel is available all over the country. The following websites details of bus travel around the UK including timetables.
My British Travel Articles
Advice for Visitors
How to Get Around in Britain - An article about driving in the UK as well as bus, train and air travel, including the best websites to use to plan your trip.
Booking holiday accommodation in Britain - A look at the different types of accommodation you can book in the UK, including B&B's, budget hotels, hostels and cottages.
What Maps to Buy - All about maps in the UK, from road atlases to Ordnance Survey walking maps.
Britain - What to See and Do
Visit Britain - Where to Go, What to See - A brief look at some at the best things to see and do while you are in the UK.