The United Kingdom—made of up England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales—is rich with cultural history (including several Unesco World Heritage sites), multiple bustling capital cities, beautiful country views, and diverse local food, art, shopping, music, and nightlife scenes. With so much to explore, it’s important to get the most out of your trip by planning in advance.
But before you get to work booking accommodations, planning dinners and museum visits, and building out your itinerary, there are a lot of big picture things to consider. Whether you’re a seasoned Anglophile with a well-stamped passport or a newbie about to make your first hop across the pond, here are three things to keep in mind before booking your next trip.
1. There’s not really a bad time to visit the UK
If your vacation schedule isn’t determined by when you can cash in that PTO, consider planning the timing of your trip by what you’re most interested in doing while you’re there. Outdoor adventuring a must? Take advantage of the UK’s many scenic walking and hiking trails and book a spring, summer, or autumn trip. If you’re interested in castles, historic homes, and manicured gardens, plan your trip for the late spring or early summer, when everything will be in full bloom. (Just remember that summer is considered high season, so while you’ll have warmer weather—and the opportunity to make the most of British beach towns—you may have to deal with more tourists at iconic destinations like Stonehenge.)
In winter, the weather will be chillier, but the cozy, holiday vibes are endlessly charming. Plus, there’s plenty to explore indoors in cities and small towns alike, from museums to local pubs. No matter when you end up going, remember that weather on the British Isles can change on a dime, so definitely pack a raincoat and umbrella (or pick up a classic British-style trench coat while you’re there).
2. Decide what you want to splurge on, and where you can save
Whether your budget is large or small, it’s still smart to prioritize how you spend it based on what’s most important to you. Will you be wrecked for days if you take an economy red-eye? Maybe it’s worth splurging for the business-class seat and booking an AirBnB instead of that five-star hotel.
Similarly, if you can’t miss Instagramming at several fine-dining restaurants without having to do mental math the whole time, budget more money for food and skip the Harry Potter tour or the souvenir shopping.
A few more smart ways to save:
- Book in advance. According to Marketwatch, you can score the cheapest European plane tickets if you book at least 50 days in advance, and ideally, 160 days. (Another hot tip: June and July tend to be more expensive, while March is one of the cheapest times to visit.)
- Consider a budget airline service, such as Norwegian Air’s London shuttle. Flights from New York can be as cheap as $149.
- Look into package hotel-flights deals from international air carriers; in some cases you’ll wind up spending less than you might on just a flight.
- Consider a homestay. Instead of booking a hotel, use a home or apartment vacation rental service like AirBnb or HomeAway (or just seek out a hotel farther away from the city center).
- Rely on cheap eats. In lieu of fine dining, focus on pubs, street food, and other local budget-friendly bites—you’ll still be plenty satisfied.
- Try public transportation. Opt to use the UK’s relatively reliable public transportation options instead of renting a car (or relying on Ubers).
- The best things in life are free—sometimes literally. In plenty of UK cities, there are free museums and walking tours, not to mention cheese tastings, public parks, self-guided walking tours, and window shopping.
- Be a bit more last-minute. You can nab steeply discounted last-minute theater tickets if you leave a few nights open on your itinerary.
3. London is awesome, but it’s not the only place worth exploring
While London is the obvious choice for a lot of travelers—and especially first-time visitors—it’s only the tip of the iceberg. If you’ll be visiting for a week or less, plan on exploring London (or another great home-base city, like Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, or York), plus a few day trips outside of the city. The Cotswolds make a great day trip for folks who like quaint villages and rolling hills; Hampton Court or Oxford would be interesting destinations for architecture buffs; and Cornwall is a lovely seaside option.
If you’ve got a few weeks to spare, you can easily explore multiple destinations, especially if you make use of Great Britain’s excellent railway system.
Are you planning a trip to the UK? Share your itinerary with us in the comments below!