The heart of the United Kingdom and home to the English monarchy, England has long been a world power on all fronts of civilization and a travel destination ripe with history, intrigue, and foamy pints of beer. Not bad for a country about the size of Louisiana. Yet, despite its pedestrian size, England's influence has long had a reach undeterred by its borders, and today the Crown still retains a status as head of state in countries as far flung as Canada, Australia, and Belize. This level of power is quite evident in the collection of royal buildings in and around London, with residences like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle that exceed visions of stateliness and grandeur. Then again, the Royals are hardly a good enough reason in themselves to visit, even if you're one to gobble up tabloid headlines about how Harry's been managing his facial hair, how William drinks his tea or the eight things Kate does to keep her figure. Luckily, England has earned its place among the titans of Western civilization with an endowment of culture, entertainment, and adventure that is hard to match anywhere else on Earth.
When we think of the English, we think of the factory smokestacks and material wealth of industrialization. We think of the Shakespeare's and Wordsworth's that head the canon of English literature and poetry, and the icons of music history that include The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. We think of the impressive examples of art found in places like the British Museum, architecture like the Palace of Westminster, and the mega-stadiums like Wembley or Old Trafford that exist in the modern age. We think of pubs with hand-drawn signs above the bar and oak-varnished tabletops slick with the beer foam of football zealots. England is all of these things, an image fully formed before we even set foot on the soil. To confine the country to these well-worn symbols,however, would be to miss so much of what also makes it an inviting adventure destination.
A traveler could hike from the chalk cliffs of the South Downs Way to the moorlands of Dartmoor to the bustling streets of London and the riverside quays of Birmingham and not experience half of what Great Britain has to offer. You want to run your fingers along stone that was placed before your earliest known ancestor existed? Then venture to Stonehenge or the ornate city of Bath, or even tramp the length of Hadrian's Wall if you've got a week. Skydiving, zorbing, bungee jumping, rock climbing: whatever your style of adventure, you'll find it in England. Even if you're one to straddle snow-capped peaks, an activity most closely realized in the Lakeland Fells, neighboring Wales is a short jump from cities like Birmingham and Manchester.
As we're sure you've gathered by now, England is more than just the originator of fish and chips, Monty Python, and The Office. Browse our included activities, interact with the Embark community, and find out for yourself if the England in your head is even half of what a real England experience has to offer.
Visas are unnecessary if you are traveling from a first-world country and planning on staying for less than six months, although visa nationals DO need a visa. For more specific information or special circumstances, consult the government agency page.
England's currency is the British Pound. Updated exchange rates can be found here.
The British government is one of the longest running, unchanged governing bodies on the planet. The head-of-state is the Monarch, who is in charge of choosing the head of government, the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister chooses the executive body called the Cabinet, which is made up of Ministers selected from the main legislative body, the Parliament. Judicial powers are separate from official government and have varying levels of influence in different parts of the UK, although the Supreme Court is generally considered the highest court in the land. Although seen as a figurehead in many respects, the Monarch still has the power to choose officials, declare war, and even the little used power to invalidate bills from passing.
There are very few language barriers between England and English-speaking tourists. There are some obvious differences in slang and colloquial terminology that could take up pages and pages of this website, but the truth is that you'll have no trouble communicating with the locals (unless the difference of accent is truly that troubling for you to decipher), or making your way around. Then again, there are a few things that will get under the skin of British citizens: the notoriously "loud" nature of Americans, calling football "soccer," or asking for chips and expecting a bag of Lays. Then again, you may be offended if a Brit asks you for a "fag", which is actually a slang term for cigarette. A more complete look at the language differences between Americans and the English can be accessed here.
Crime and Safety:
When visiting England and much of the United Kingdom, you'll find that common sense, even for a first-time traveler, will usually be enough to keep you safe. That means basic things like staying out of unknown or poorly lit areas at night, making sure your belongings are secured in public places (especially on the subway or bus), and avoiding suspicious people or groups will help you to have a much safer British adventure. In 2012, The Office for National Statistics cited England and Wales as having the lowest rate of violent crime in thirty years, showing a trend of continual decline. Even in big, bad London, you'll find that you'll face the same lack of crime incidence toward travelers as the majority of other famous tourist cities. In the case that you need to report a crime, the emergency service numbers are 999 and 112.
Modes of Transportation:
England has a consistent and reliable infrastructure. There are 5 airports in London alone, while the country is well covered in railways and is serviced in most cities by bus services and plenty of registered taxi companies. If you're looking to travel by rail, Britrail provides unlimited travel in the United Kingdom for a minimum of just over $200; consult their website for much more information. Roads are well kept and have great signage throughout England (although Wales is somewhat less extensively covered and maintained), although if you are renting a car, please be sure to drive on the LEFT side of the road. As American-based travelers, we know to prepare for this, yet you'd be surprised at how your instincts can take over on a lonely stretch of road.
England has a temperate maritime climate, although there are minor variations depending on distance from the equator and relation to the coast. To be honest, stereotypes of it being constantly overcast and rainy are a bit exaggerated; the much maligned London gets less rainfall annually than international cities like New York or Paris. Although there are slight variations, you'll see temperature lows throughout England around freezing on average, while average highs during the summer can range from the high-60's to low-70's Fahrenheit. For more specific information on trends or current temperatures in Britain, the Met Office has got you covered.
Tipping in England is one of those subjects that includes a few gray areas. In speaking to locals, some say that tipping is highly unnecessary in restaurants, especially since (depending on restaurant policy) a surcharge may already be added to your bill. Then again, there is a growing trend toward leaving tips in restaurants or gastropubs of up to 15% of the total, but it is unusual to leave a tip for hotel staff or bartenders unless they've done something above and beyond basic duties. Taxi drivers also receive tips at around 10%, while small tips for tour guides and other services providers are often appreciated, but not demanded.
Meal times in England are similar to American meal times, although their names differ. Breakfast, often shortened to "brekkie" is in the morning, while lunch can be referred to as "dinner" in the north and is held around noon. Afternoon tea is held around 4pm and consists often of snacks, while supper ("high tea" to the working class) is the main meal of the day, eaten around 6pm. As far as food, there are fish and chips shops that serve cod, haddock, and other sea fodder with the "chips" Americans know as French fries. Cheddar cheese is the most famous cheese that originates in Britain, while sausages called "bangers" can be a part of any meal, meat pies cram any meat you can find into their crusts, and the classic Sunday roast (Roast beef and roasted potatoes with vegetables and the batter-based Yorkshire pudding) will serve as your portal into truly authentic English food.
The legal age for alcohol consumption in England is 15 when drinking publicly with a meal, although you need to be 18 to purchase alcohol or tobacco products. If you do one social thing in your adult travels to England, then it needs to be a visit to a local pub, the traditional meeting place of the English. With a pub culture that is more prevalent than anywhere else in the world, it doesn't take much to realize that the English like their beer by the pint and with a lot more flavor than your usual Bud Light. Ales are the traditional English beer, while the last century has seen lagers overtake them in popularity; Australian import Foster's and domestic standby Carling are the two biggest sellers. Many pubs will serve their ale from casks in the basement without refrigeration, a traditional means of beer distribution, while more and more bars are using kegs to keep beer cold and longer-lasting. You'll find that many wines and mixed drinks will be available in England as well, so if your taste veers from beer, don't despair. Wait, still thinking about English beer? There's plenty more about it here.
Interesting Cultural Fact:
There are a lot of Internet myths about outdated laws that include the right of a pregnant woman to pee in a policeman's hat, but nearly every strange thing you may find about English law has either been overturned or didn't exist in the first place. It is true that the phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from the English law that stated that a man could beat his wife with a stick smaller than the width of his thumb; thankfully, this one also has been off the books for some time now.
Peak season:June through August
Currency:GBP (Great British Pound)
Religion:The official state religion is Anglican.
born from a 1970's hippie aesthetic, the Glastonbury Festival in Somerset has grown into the biggest contemporary music festival in the UK. Nowadays, Glastonbury is broken into numerous sections that cater to the full spectrum of music aficionado, from the aptly named Dance Village to the enchantingly artistic Green Fields to the Main Stages, which saw the likes of Beyonce, U2, and Coldplay in 2011 alone. Held in the last weekend in June, book your tickets as far ahead of time as you can (about 200 pounds/$310 US in 2011) so that you can say you were the adventurers that stormed Glastonbury!
Located just outside of Liverpool in Cheshire, Creamfields is the original club music festival from which the others across the world have taken their name. Headlined by international artists like Tiesto, Skrillex, David Guetta, Chemical Brothers, and many more, this festival has become the most consistent venue for dancers, ravers, and party-goers in England. Tickets go for about 140 pounds ($220 US) and the event occurs annually at the end of August.
Notting Hill Carnival
Held annually in the Notting Hill borough of London, this carnival is the British answer to the outrageous costumes and partying of international affairs like Carnivale in Brazil. The largest street festival in Europe, drawing crowds of nearly 2 million in 2 days around the August Bank Holiday, it has not strayed far from its Caribbean roots, although it has become known in recent times for the usual groups of hooligans that come with a street party this large, necessitating a strong police presence.
May Day Celebrations
A popular government holiday celebrated throughout Europe, May Day was originally a pagan celebration of Spring but has become synonymous in contemporary times with the fight for human and labor rights. Depending on where you are in England, this holiday is enjoyed in a variety of ways. For all, May 1st is a day off; for many localities there is a combination of singing, dancing, parades,and revelry that still nod to rites of Spring and other latent traditions. We suggest if you're going to be around on May 1st, do some research on what will be occurring in your neck of the woods.
The Reading and Leeds Festival
Held on the last weekend in August (the August Bank Holiday), both the Reading and the Leeds Festivals, named after the cities in which they are held, are premiere, medium-sized outdoor music festivals. The Reading festival is the world's oldest of its kind, although it has long been promoted with the Leeds festival and shares the same lineup. Previous headliners include Radiohead, Metallica, Foo Fighters, Guns n' Roses, and more. Tickets for the weekend at each festival will set you back about 200 pounds ($310 US).