When to visit
|This is a tricky one! Britain is an extremely popular tourist destination, with most visitors descending during the summer. The summer months are also when Brits will be taking their holidays, with schools breaking up for the whole of August, and so the crowds tend to peak around June-September.
So you may decide that you would like to visit during the off-season months in order to avoid the crowds.
Costs do dip during the off season months, especially when it comes to accommodation, but not enough to influence your decision too much.
But then you have to consider the weather. Obviously the summer months are more likely to be mild, dry and sunny, but good weather is not guaranteed - England does not have a reputation for wet weather all year round for nothing (saying that, it is not like every day is constant rain - honest!). It is just that it is impossible to guarantee good or bad weather in any given month - so be prepared for anything.
|There are advantages and disadvantages for each month, so really it is a case of juggling the likely crowds at peak attractions with the weather to find your personal preference:
|This table gives a general guideline (but no guarantee!) of what to expect in any given month so will help you decide which month would suit you best.
- From March until May spring will have arrived, there is a good chance of fine weather but the tourist season will not yet be in full swing.
- June through to September is the peak summer period and so the weather should pick up, but remember the crowds will be swelling (accommodation can be hard to find during these months). Gardens will be in full bloom, the evenings long and the warm days just right for wandering around. But if you hate crowds and queuing, avoid these months.
- October and November are the months when autumn sets in, and if the air is crisp and dry then this time of year is wonderful. But then again, it might just as easily be damp and misty. But whatever the weather you will probably get uncrowded museums, empty parks and, in London, more luck getting tickets to the theatre.
- December through to February is the winter period, and although you will be unlikely to get extremes of cold, it is quite likely to be pretty dark and miserable. But these are also the magical months of Christmas and New Year, with wonderful window displays of Christmas shopping, candle-lit church services and fabulous New Year sales.
|As a general guideline the peak season is between April and October and for a first visit, these months are probably the best.
|The climate in Britain is very temperate and so there are no distinct 'wet' or 'dry' seasons and extremes of temperature are rare. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter are all quite distinct, but the seasons do merge quite gently into one another.
The UK is well known for its rainfall and you can expect rain in every month, even at the height of summer, and so an umbrella is a must. It is also worth noting that changes in the weather can be sudden - it is not unknown for rain, hail and sunshine to all appear one after the other in one afternoon - so you should prepare for all eventualities. The best thing to do is to take lots of layers of clothing with you so that you can cope with anything.
In general terms, it will be colder the further north you go, the south coast tends to be drier than the north and the prevailing winds mean that it is wettest in the west. As the whole of the UK lies quite far north and so daylight hours vary enormously throughout the year. In summer the sun will generally be out from 6.30am to 10pm (longer in Scotland), giving you wonderfully long days, but in winter it gets dark quite early, particularly in the north.
You would think that by now, Brits would be used to their temperamental climate, but no! A touch of snow and roads grind to a halt, a few weeks without rain and drought is declared, and in autumn a few leaves on the line can bring trains to a standstill!
|A National Obsession
You will probably find that the British are obsessed with the weather! As far back as the 18th Century, it was noted that 'when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.' (Dr Samuel Johnson).
To sound like a native, try pointing out the obvious, for example comment 'a bit windy, isn't it' when its blowing a force 9 gale, or say 'oh, look. It's raining' in the middle of a downpour!
This obsession is also evident in the wealth of sayings and superstitions regarding the weather. Examples include the superstition that if March comes 'in like a lamb' it goes 'out like a lion', and the sayings 'a red sky at night is a shepherd's delight, and a red sky in the morning a shepherd's warning' ... and there are many more!
|Newspapers and Magazines
|Newspapers and magazines play a huge part in British life and there are numerous printed throughout the UK so there should be something for everyone.
|In terms of daily national papers, newspapers are divided into the broadsheets and the tabloids. The broadsheets are at the top end of the scale in terms of quality, and they include The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian.
The tabloids vary greatly in quality with some being more preoccupied with gossip and scandal than news. Tabloids include the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the hugely popular Sun.
There are some regional editions of the nationals, for example Scottish editions. Scotland also has its own newspapers, which are typically more popular amongst Scots than English papers.
Most national papers will also have a sister paper on a Sunday which will include lots of supplements.
Sometimes these will be obvious such as the Sunday Times, but some will have a completely different name, for example The Observer (sister to the Guardian) and the News of the World (sister to the Sun).
Each newspaper will have a slightly different political slant so you will need to shop around to find the one that suits your views or the one that you just like best.
You will also find a huge range of local papers available as most major towns will have their own newspaper and each region will also have a regional one.
Sometimes this is the best way to get a real insight into a town or area as the local paper will be most concerned with local and regional issues.
There are also numerous magazine titles available covering a huge range of topics, and a good newsagent will have a huge range for you to choose from. Read a few on your favourite subject and you should find one you like.
Larger newsagents will probably stock a range of titles from abroad as well, although only the major titles will be available. But you should be able to get news from home, especially in the bigger cities.
|Post office hours do vary, but most open 9am-5pm Monday-Friday and 9am-12noon on Saturdays. Stamps can be bought from the post office, and also from newsagents, supermarkets and vending machines, usually in 'books' of 4 or 10.
|Prices vary according to weight and the speed you want it delivered. First class is the fastest, offering next day delivery throughout the UK, but most expensive. Second class more economical but of course slower, with delivery taking approximately 3 days within the UK.
|Price guide for sending letters within the UK
|Weight not over
|Price guide for sending Airmail letters abroad
|Weight not over
|World zone 1
|World zone 2
|Prices correct at 03 July, 2005. These prices are subject to revision. Up to date information can be obtained from any post office in the UK.
Public Telephones, Faxes and email
|Most public telephones are still operated by British Telecom, although the famous red phone booths are pretty scarce these days. You are more likely to see grey/blue cubicles, some of which take coins only (10p, 20p, 50p and £1), some pre-paid phone cards or credit cards, and some that take both. You can buy phone cards in newsagents, post offices and supermarkets.
|Please note: many coin operated phone boxes don't give change so remember not to put in a £1 coin if you are only making a short local call.
|All public phones should have clear instructions to follow. Standard rates are charged from 8am to 6pm and cheap rates 6pm to 8am, Monday to Friday. Weekend rates are from midnight Friday to midnight Sunday. Calls vary according to time of day and distance, but as a guide, a standard local call from a public telephone will cost 10p. Hotel telephone charges are normally higher than public pay phones so try to avoid using them if you can.
|Useful telephone numbers:
Dial 100 for a BT operator,
Dial 155 for the International operator,
Dial 192 for Directory Enquiries
Dial 153 for International Directory Enquiries
(Use Directory Enquiries if you do not know a telephone number: Dial the relevant Directory Enquiry number giving the name and address you need and they should be able to give you the number).
The charges for using these services are relatively pricey so try to make the call from a phone box where they are free.
|Dialing tones are as follows:
|a steady, continuous purring:
|the phone is ready for you to dial
|a repeated sharp brrr-brrr sound:
|the number you have dialed is ringing
|a repeated long beep-beep:
|the number you have dialed is engaged (busy)
|a continuous beep:
|the number you have dialed is unobtainable
|Make sure that you know the international telephone code for your country before you leave home. You should also check if there are any special rules or procedures that you will need to follow. Your home telephone company should be able to advise you on these.
It is worth noting that it is usually cheaper to phone abroad if you use a special calling card. You dial a special freephone number, enter a Personal Identification Number and then dial the number you want. These cards can be used from any phone, and so you can avoid expensive hotel prices as well. You may be able to purchase one of these before you leave home or from your airline, and once in the UK you should be able to buy one from some newsagents. Shop around for the best deal.
Also try to make any international calls between 6pm and 8am Monday to Friday, or at weekends in order to take advantage of cheap rates, but do bear in mind the time difference to your home country.
|Some shops offer a fax service and they will usually advertise the fact in the window. As a general rule, stationers, printing and photocopying shops or even the local library are a good bet. Otherwise, your hotel may offer the service.
|To collect or send Email, try one of the cyber-cafes or cyber-pubs that are now dotted around the country (although mainly in larger towns or cities). Some hotels, often the larger ones, now offer email facilities so check when booking.
|Film for cameras is widely available, particularly in popular tourist areas. If you are off the beaten track, try newsagents, supermarkets, petrol stations or chemists which should all sell film.
|Developing laboratories are also common, and as well as specialist shops you will probably find that you can have your photos developed at some of the larger chemists and supermarkets. Many developing laboratories offer a one hour service, which, although more expensive, is excellent if you can not wait to see your photos.
(also known as Bank Holidays).
England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all have slightly different bank holidays, and the actual dates vary from year to year, so make sure you know where you'll be in advance and check the dates!
In England and Wales bank holidays are full public holidays. Offices shut, banks will be closed, but supermarkets should be open (although on reduced hours), and more and more shops are now opening on public holidays. Most tourist attractions will be open, except museums which normally close - to avoid disappointment, always check first. The exception are Easter Sunday and Christmas Day when practically everything is closed.
In Scotland, however, they are literally 'bank holidays' - the banks close but it is not a public holiday as such. But all Scottish towns and cities do have a one day full public holiday in both the spring and the autumn, dates differ from town to town so make sure you check. New Year's Day is the only fixed full public holiday in Scotland.
|Electricity and Electrical Goods
|Britain's voltage is 240V AC which could damage lower voltage appliances. In addition, plugs have three square pins which most foreign electrical goods will not be compatible with. So you will probably need a transformer or an adapter. These are widely available (probably best bought at airports) so if you forget one it should not be a problem.
|And remember to also be careful if buying electrical goods in the UK - it might not be compatible back home so check first.
It is also worth noting that if you are taking your video camera, Betamax video cassettes are hard to find in the UK (where VHS cassettes are more common). So if your camera takes Betamax, think about taking a supply of cassettes with you.
And also take care when buying pre-recorded video casettes in the UK. Britain uses the PAL television format which may not be compatible with your video recorder at home. So to avoid wasting your money, check that any video casettes you buy will work once you get them home.
Weights and Measurements
|You will no doubt get thoroughly confused when visiting Britain, for although officially under the metric system, non-metric measurements are still often used. So, although you will probably be understood if you speak in terms of centimetres, kilograms and kilometers, you will just as likely see or hear measurements given in pounds (lbs), ounces (oz), yards (yds) and miles (m).
|Road signs still generally give distances in yards and miles, but footpaths are in km; and although most liquid is sold in litres, milk and beer are still sold in pints. And just to confuse you further, when people talk about their personal weight, they will talk in 'stones' - there are 14 pounds in 1 stone so if someone says they weigh 9 stone, it means 126 pounds.
|So the best advice is take a good conversion chart, refer to it often and you should be OK!
|m to km
|km to m
|1 = 1.61
|1 = 0.62
|2 = 3.22
|2 = 1.24
|3 = 4.83
|3 = 1.86
|4 = 6.44
|4 = 2.48
|5 = 8.05
|5 = 3.10
|10 = 16.10
|10 = 6.21
|ft to m
|m to ft
|1 = 0.31
|1 = 3.28
|2 = 0.61
|2 = 6.56
|3 = 0.92
|3 = 9.84
|4 = 1.22
|4 = 13.12
|5 = 1.53
|5 = 16.40
|10 = 3.05
|10 = 32.80
|lb to kg
|kg to lb
|1 = 0.45
|1 = 2.20
|2 = 0.91
|2 = 4.40
|3 = 1.37
|3 = 6.60
|4 = 1.82
|4 = 8.80
|5 = 2.28
|5 = 11.00
|10 = 4.55
|10 = 22.00
|oz to g
|g to oz
|1 = 28
|1 = 0.04
|2 = 57
|2 = 0.07
|3 = 85
|3 = 0.11
|4 = 114
|4 = 0.14
|5 = 142
|5 = 0.18
|10 = 284
|10 = 0.35
|pt to l
|l to pt
|1 = 0.57
|1 = 1.76
|2 = 1.14
|2 = 3.52
|3 = 1.71
|3 = 5.28
|4 = 2.28
|4 = 7.04
|5 = 2.85
|5 = 8.80
|10 = 5.70
|10 = 17.60
|gal to l
|l to gal
|1 = 4.55
|1 = 0.22
|2 = 9.10
|2 = 0.44
|3 = 13.65
|3 = 0.66
|4 = 18.20
|4 = 0.88
|5 = 22.75
|5 = 1.10
|10 = 45.5
|10 = 2.20
Note: Imperial gallons are not the same as US gallons. To convert US gallons to litres, multiply by 3.79; and to convert litres to US gallons, multiply by 0.264.
|C to F
by 1.8 and add 32
|F to C
subtract 32 from F and
multiply by 0.555
|Greenwich, in London, is where you will find the Prime Meridian - the line that divides the globe into East and West and from which the world's time is set. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is the term used for the current time at this line, and clocks and watches all the world over are set in relation to this.
Britain and Ireland in theory follow GMT, but in the summer months everything is confused by what is called Daylight-saving time. So from late March to late October, Britain and Ireland are actually an hour ahead of GMT.
Unless you are a keen astronomer, it is probably best to just accept this as the way it is, ask a local the time and set your watch accordingly. But if you really want to know the ins and outs and discover how the world's time is set, try visiting the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
|In the UK public conveniences are referred to by a number of names. You will probably hear the terms lavatory, loo, toilet, ladies, gents and possibly others! If in doubt ask for the ladies or gents and you will be directed to the right place. And if you are visiting from North America, try to remember that bathroom means a room with a bath, and that if you ask for a restroom people will just look confused.
|It should not be too difficult to find a public convenience, it is just a matter of knowing where to look. Most rail stations and larger bus terminals will have public toilets. You should also be able to find them in town centres, department stores, shopping arcades, supermarkets, and at all major tourist attractions.
Most towns will have a map in the central area with public conveniences marked on them. If you are driving, petrol stations will have public toilets, and sometimes you will come across blocks of roadside public conveniences.
Public toilets should be provided in all pubs, restaurants and cafes so make use of these facilities if you are stopping for a bite to eat. But please note - it is considered bad manners to use a pub or restaurants' facilities if you are not a customer.
The vast majority of public toilets are free, although in major tourist areas such as London you will probably have to pay. Facilities for disabled people should be provided, although some will only open with a special key (which you can obtain from tourist offices). There will also probably be baby changing facilites provided at most public conveniences, although these are usually only located in ladies toilets.
Unfortunately standards of public toilets can vary greatly. Those in city centres, or at the roadside roadsides can be a bit unpleasant whereas those located in stations, tourist attractions or shopping arcades are generally of a much better standard.
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