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United Kingdom Travel Guide:

            Tourism Information

Flag of United Kingdom
          Tourism Rating    Travel Safety   Entry Requirements  Avoiding Petty Theft

                   Special Notes   Road Safety and Conditions   Medical Care

Tourism Rating   Top of Page


Four globes = Place of a lifetime


Climate Notes:

Temperate; moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current; more than one-half of the days are overcast.        London Climate  Edinburgh Climate  Cardiff Climate

United Kingdom: Travel Destination of a Lifetime (four of four globes)

The United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. The UK offers the tourist a view into the past, as history surrounds you wherever you travel.  Home of "world- class" museums, notable art collections, lush countryside landscape, interesting architecture, and varied cultures (the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh), the United Kingdom is a place not to be missed.

  1. Although physically compact, the United Kingdom is full of highly rated attractions for the tourist.  Its major cities are a sightseer's paradise.  Its countryside is full or quaint villages, attractions of historical significance, and idyllic country landscapes that invite you to explore and savor its beauty.
  2. Visiting can be a historical education, if that is what you want.  If not, the United Kingdom is enjoyable  for its interesting mix of people, cultures and landscapes.

  3. The United Kingdom is a good place  for independent travel.

  4. ThereArePlaces recommended travel destinations for the United Kingdom are located at United Kingdom: Places To Visit.

  5. Additional information on Travel to the United Kingdom can be found at the country's official tourism website www.visitbritain.comInformation for Scotland can be found at .  Information on travel in Wales can be found at .

  6. When planning your travel, be sure to review the ThereArePlaces Travel Planning Guides for insights on how  to "travel well" and "travel safe".
Travel Safety   Top of Page  
Green = safe travel conditions, no specific threats
Overall, the United Kingdom is a safe destination for tourists. 
  • As part of the Coalition in Iraq, the United Kingdom is a potential target for terrorism.
  • The United States Department of State issues a Travel Alert for the UK on January 31, 2011 due to the continuing high level of terrorist threat.  Read the complete release at the State Department website.

  • In the last week of June 2007, Islamic terrorists attempted to detonate two car bombs in the heart of London. This failed attack was followed by an aborted attempt at a suicide bombing involving ramming a car packed with gasoline and explosives, into the main passenger terminal at the airport at Glasgow, Scotland.

  • On July 7, 2005, London was the scene of a terrorist attack that killed 55 through suicide bombings on three Tube line trains and one bus.  A second attack two weeks later on July 21 did little damage but was considered a "serious incident" by the UK government.

No official health advisories, travel advisories, or specific terrorism warnings for the United Kingdom have been posted by the U.S. Government at this time.  Before you depart, always check with the Department of State  and CDC to insure that these conditions have not changed.  In addition, the British Government provides excellent travel advisories through the    Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

  1. The State Department's Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747 can answer general inquiries on safety and security overseas. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-202-501-4444 .

  2. The United Kingdom shares with the rest of the world an increased threat of terrorist incidents of international origin, as well as violence related to the political situation in Northern Ireland. Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
    •  On August 10, 2006, the Government of the United Kingdom heightened security at all UK airports following a major counterterrorism operation in which individuals were arrested for plotting attacks against U.S.-bound airlines. As a result of this, increased restrictions concerning carry-on luggage were put in place and are strictly enforced. (see our illustrated article on these restrictions here).   American citizens are advised to check with the UK Department for Transport ( ) and the British Airport Authority  ( ) regarding the latest security updates and carry-on luggage restrictions.

  3. Political demonstrations are well policed and generally orderly. Although the political situation in Northern Ireland has dramatically improved since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, incidents of terrorist violence have, nevertheless, occurred in the past few years.
    • Sporadic incidents of street violence may erupt during the summer marching season (April to August), with tensions heightened during the month of July, especially around the July 12th public holiday. As a result, American citizens traveling in Northern Ireland have experienced delays and disruption.

  4. When visiting a foreign country, avoid public demonstrations (whatever the cause) and do not broadcast either your public opinions or your nationality.

  5. The direct emergency number  for police/fire/ambulance emergency services - the equivalent of "911" in the U.S. - is  "999 ” in the United Kingdom and 112 in Gibraltar.

  6. The U.S. Embassy is located at 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE; Telephone: in country
    020-7499-9000, from the U.S. 011-44-20-7499-9000 (24 hours); Consular Section fax: in country
    020-7495-5012; from the U.S. 011-44-20-7495-5012. The Embassy Internet website is: See the ThereArePlaces' article on How the U.S. Counsel can help Americans abroad.

    The U.S. Consulate General in Edinburgh, Scotland is located at 3 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5BW; Telephone: in country 0131-556-8315, from the U.S. 011-44-131-556-8315. After hours: in country 012-2485-7097, from the U.S. 011-44-12-2485-7097. Fax: in country 013-1-557-6023; from the U.S. 011-44-13-1-557-6023. Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy's Internet website at: .

    The U.S. Consulate General in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is located at Danesfort House, 228 Stranmillis Road,  Belfast BT9 5GR; Telephone: in country 028-9038-6100; from the U.S. 001-44-28-9038-6100. Fax: in country 028-9068-1301; from the U.S. 011-44-28-9068-1301. Information on the Consulate General is included on the Embassy's Internet website at: .

    There is no U.S. consular representation in Gibraltar ( Part of the UK claimed by Spain). Citizen services questions should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in London. The only land based entry to Gibraltar is through the Spanish border so, passport questions should be directed to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, located at Serrano 75/Madrid, Spain; telephone (34)(91) 587-2200, and fax (34)(91) 587-2303. The website address is If you are on a cruise, visiting boats dock in Gibraltar.

Blending In
While Europeans are, generally, more reserved than Americans, this is not true of many residents of the UK.  While not boisterous, most residents of the UK are more than willing to speak their mind on a variety of topics. If you are looking for a good time, stop in a real pub, have some "pub grub", and strike up a few conversations.

For some reason, most Americans visiting the UK cannot avoid trying to adopt a British accent and use common British slang.  Most of the time Americans use the wrong slang, murder the accent, but are met with patience and wry acceptance.










Entry Requirements   Top of Page  
A passport is required. Tourists are not obliged to obtain a visa for stays of up to six months in the United Kingdom.

In the past year, the British government has completely restructured its immigration system, tightening visa/entry clearance regulations and enforcement at its borders. All American travelers to the United Kingdom are urged to check the web site of the British Embassy in the United States at  or the web site of the UK Border Agency at  to determine whether they must have a visa/entry clearance before traveling to the United Kingdom.

Students should be especially alert to UK visa/entry clearance requirements. Under no circumstances should Americans seeking to study or work in the United Kingdom attempt to enter the country without the appropriate visa/entry clearance from a British Consulate in the United States. If you do so, you are likely to be detained by UK immigration officials at the port of entry and held in an immigration detention facility until you can be returned to the United States.

Those planning to stay in the United Kingdom for any purpose longer than six months must obtain a visa prior to entering. Those wishing to remain longer than one month in Gibraltar should regularize their stay with Gibraltar immigration authorities.

(If you do not have a passport, see our article on the Ins and Outs of Passports.  Other important travel documents, including Visas, are covered in our Information Guide  Passport, Visas, Customs.)

Further information on entry requirements may be obtained from the British Embassy at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 ; tel: (202) 588-7800. Inquiries may also be directed to British consular offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Puerto Rico, San Francisco and Seattle.  There is a no-fee web site for visa information at

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parents or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure

DUAL NATIONALITY: U.S. citizens who are also British citizens under U.K. law may be subject, while in the United Kingdom, to certain aspects of  law s. Those who may be affected should inquire at a British Embassy or Consulate regarding their status.

In some instances, dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad. For additional information, please see the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet home page at for an explanation of dual nationality issues. U.S. citizens who are also citizens of 
any other nation are reminded that U.S. law requires they enter and
depart the United States documented as U.S. citizens.




Avoiding Petty Theft   Top of Page  



Use only the licensed "Black Taxi Cabs"

Before you travel in the United Kingdom, read our articles on Pickpockets, Con Artists, and ATM safety in the ThereArePlaces Information Guide on Personal Safety for travelers.

The United Kingdom and Gibraltar benefit from generally low crime rates; however crime, including violent crime, has increased over the last few years, especially in London. Reported petty theft against tourists  includes pick-pocketing,  “snatch and grab” theft of mobile phones, watches and jewelry, and theft of unattended bags, especially at airports and from cars parked at restaurants, hotels and resorts.

Be alert and avoid the petty theft situations that target travelers.  The more common situations are described below.

Pickpockets target tourists, especially at historic sites, restaurants, on buses, trains and the London Underground (subway). Thieves often target unattended cars parked at tourist sites and roadside restaurants, looking for laptop computers and hand-held electronic equipment. Walking in isolated areas, including public parks, especially after dark, should also be avoided, as these provide advantageous venues for muggers and thieves.

At night or when there is little foot traffic, travelers should be especially careful using the underground pedestrian tunnels. As a general rule, either walk the extra distance to use a surface crossing or wait until there are other adult pedestrians entering the tunnel.

In London, travelers should use only licensed “black taxi cabs” or car services recommended by their hotel or tour operator. Unlicensed taxis or private cars posing as taxis may offer low fares, but are often uninsured and may have unlicensed drivers. In some instances, travelers have been robbed and raped while using these cars. Travelers should take care not to leave drinks unattended in bars and nightclubs. There have been some instances of drinks being spiked, leading to incidents of robbery and rape.

You can access 7,000 licensed “Black Cabs” using just one telephone number – 0871 871 8710. This taxi booking service combines all six of London’s radio taxi circuits, allowing you to telephone 24 hours a day if you need to “hail a cab.” Alternatively, to find a licensed minicab, text “HOME” to 60835 on your mobile phone to get the telephone number to two licensed minicab companies in the area. If you know in advance what time you will be leaving for home, you can pre-book your return journey. The “Safe Travel at Night” partnership among the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London, and the Mayor of London maintains a website with additional information at .

In Scotland, visitors to the Grassmarket in Edinburgh  should be on guard for pickpockets, petty thieves and a new phenomenon,  all girl gangs armed with knives. Drug sale and use have become a widespread problem  in the Grassmarket area.  Carlton Hill in Edinburgh should be avoided at night as it has been labeled "very dangerous" by the local police due to the presence to drug dealers.    Visitors to Glasgow should be on alert when the Anderson Centre, the Central Train Station, and the area surrounding the St. Mungo Museum.

Due to the circumstances described above, visitors should take steps to ensure the safety of their U.S. passports. Visitors in England, Scotland, Wales, and Gibraltar are not expected to produce identity documents for police authorities and thus may secure their passports in hotel safes or residences. In Northern Ireland, however, passports or other photographic I.D. should be carried at all times.

The need to carry a passport to cash traveler's checks is also minimized by an abundance of ATMs able to access systems widely used in the U.S. and offering more favorable rates of exchange. Note: Common sense personal security measures utilized in the U.S. when using ATMs should also be followed in the U.K.   ATM fraud in the UK is becoming more sophisticated, incorporating technologies to surreptitiously record customer ATM card and PIN information.

Travelers should be aware that in busy public areas, thieves use distraction techniques, such as waiting until the PIN number has been entered and then pointing to money on the ground, or attempting to hand out a free newspaper. When the ATM user is distracted, a colleague will quickly withdraw cash and leave.

  • If distracted in any way, travelers should press the cancel transaction button immediately and collect their card before speaking to the person who has distracted them. If the person does not appear genuine, travelers should not challenge them but remember the details and report the matter to Police as soon as possible.
  • Travelers should avoid using ATMs located in isolated areas. In addition, the traveler should not use the ATM if there is anything stuck to the machine or if it looks unusual in any way. If the machine does not return the card, it should be reported to the issuing bank immediately.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of any crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.

If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance. The embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members of friends, and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution for the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney







Pickpocket/petty thievery alert

Special Notes   Top of Page  
  1. Many U.S. citizens are injured every year in pedestrian accidents in the United Kingdom, forgetting that traffic moves in the opposite direction than in the United States. Care should be taken when crossing streets.  In many London Intersections, warnings are written on the section of street near the curb, indicating which direction to look before crossing. See our section on London Know-How to help you prepare for a trip to the London and the UK.

2. Hiking in higher elevations can be treacherous. Several people die each year while hiking, particularly in Scotland, often due to sudden changes in weather. Visitors, including experienced hikers, are encouraged to discuss intended routes with local residents familiar with the area, and to adhere closely to recommendations.

3. Public transport in the United Kingdom is excellent and extensive. However, poor track conditions may have contributed to train derailments resulting in some fatalities. Repairs are underway and the overall safety record is excellent. Information on disruptions to London transportation services can be found at  and information about the status of National Rail Services can be found at .

4. Many pocketknives and other blades, and mace or pepper spray canisters, although legal in the U.S., are illegal in the UK and will result in arrest and confiscation if detected.

5. ThereArePlaces makes every attempt to ensure that the travel information we present to you is current. Before you depart, be sure to check with official government sources to determine the status of critical information relating to a particular county

Road Safety and Conditions   Top of Page  
Driving in the UK, is on the left and differs considerably from driving in the U.S.

The information below concerning the United Kingdom is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Excellent Urban Road Condition/Maintenance: Excellent Rural Road Condition/Maintenance: Excellent Availability of Roadside Assistance: Excellent

In contrast to the United States and continental Europe where traffic moves on the right hand side of the road, traffic moves on the left in the U.K.

  • Visitors uncomfortable with or intimidated by the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road may wish to avail themselves of extensive bus, rail and air transport networks that are comparatively inexpensive. 
  • If you are sure that you want to drive on "the left", read our article on How to handle roundabouts to learn how to deal with "traffic circles". 
  • Finally, do not initiate your first experience with driving on the left immediately after deplaning from a long international flight.  Jet lag will make driving in the UK even more challenging than it normally is for the traveler.

Roads in the United Kingdom are generally excellent, but are narrow and often congested in urban areas. If you plan to drive while in the U.K., you may wish to obtain a copy of the Highway Code, available in the United Kingdom. The Automobile Association (AA) of the U.K. provides information and updates on travel and traffic-related issues on its website at

Motorways generally have a hard shoulder (breakdown lane) on the far left, defined by a solid white line. It is illegal to stop or park on a hard shoulder unless it is an emergency. In such cases, you should activate your hazard lights, get out of your vehicle and go onto an embankment for safety.

Emergency call boxes (orange telephone booths with “SOS” printed on them) may be found at half-mile intervals along the motorway. White and blue poles placed every 100 yards along the motorway point in the direction of the nearest call box. Emergency call boxes dial directly to a motorway center. It is best to use these phones rather than a personal cell phone, because motorway center personnel will immediately know the location of a call received from an emergency call box.

Roadside towing services may cost approximately ₤125. However, membership fees of automotive associations such as the RAC or AA (Automobile Association) often include free roadside towing service.

Visitors uncomfortable with, or intimidated by the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road may wish to avail themselves of extensive bus, rail and air transport networks that are comparatively inexpensive. Roads in the UK are generally excellent, but are narrow and often congested in urban areas.

Speed Limits in the United Kingdom:

  1. Built-up areas - 48 km/h (30 mph)
  2. Outside Built up areas (including  dual carriageways) - 96 or 112 km/h (60 or 70 mph)
  3. Motorways - 112 km/h (70 mph)

Our information on speed limits is as current as possible. Always confirm the speed limits with your rental car agent and observe the posted speeds limits whenever and wherever you drive.

If you intend to rent a car in the U.K., check that you are adequately insured (see our article on Rental Cars). U.S. auto insurance is not always valid outside the U.S. and you may wish to purchase supplemental insurance, which is generally available from most major rental agents.

Use of mobile telephones while driving is against the law in the United Kingdom.  The fine for violating laws against the use of mobile phone while driving is significant.  If you need to use your mobile phone while on the road, stop your car in a designated parking area and place your call.

If your trip will involve a visit to London, we advise turning in your rental car and using public transportation while in the city.  In addition to significant traffic, narrow twisting lanes, and lack of parking, the City of London imposes a "congestion charge" of  eight pounds sterling (approximately $16.00) on all cars entering the downtown area Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Information on the congestion charge can be found at .

U.K. penalties for drunk driving are stiff and often result in prison sentences. Do not drink and drive anywhere at anytime.  In most foreign countries, especially in Europe and the UK, penalties and punishments are significant. See our article on drinking and driving in foreign countries for more information.

Driving in Gibraltar is on the right-hand side of the road, as in the U.S. and Continental Europe. Persons traveling overland between Gibraltar and Spain may experience long delays in clearing Spanish border controls.

For information on obtaining international drivers licenses, contact AAA or the American Automobile Touring Alliance. For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet home page at .







Medical Care   Top of Page  
  While medical services are widely available, free care under the National Health System is allowed only to U.K. residents and certain EU nationals. Tourists and short-term visitors  will be charged for medical treatment in the UK.  In addition, expect charges that may be significantly higher than  those assessed in the United States.

We strongly urge you to consult your medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.

When making a decision regarding health insurance, you should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing medical service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your departure, please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur.

Your existing medical insurance carrier may cover "customary and reasonable" medical care while you are abroad. Usually, if reimbursement is provided, it is paid at a reduced rate (due to the use of an "out of system" provider). Check with your insurance carrier before you depart to determine the type and amount of coverage that may be provided. If coverage is provided, be sure to ask how claims should be filed and ask them to send some claim forms, in case you require any medical treatment while on vacation.

Read our article on  travel insurance to learn the factors that you should consider before you purchase or decline to purchase a travel related insurance policy.

ThereArePlaces Information Guide on Health is another valuable resource for the traveler considering a trip abroad.

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