From the grandeur of bustling London to the countryside that inspired Shakespeare, England is one of Europe’s most popular travel destinations. This diverse country boasts a seemingly endless array of attractions that appeal to all types of travelers. With limited vacation time, it’s important to plan your trip accordingly. This Insider’s Guide to England will help make your journey “across the pond” a breeze.
England is an integral part of the United Kingdom and makes up over half of the land area of Great Britain. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. England is bordered by the Irish Sea to the northwest and the Celtic Sea to the southwest, while the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separate the country from the rest of mainland Europe. As of 2015, the population of England was 54,786,300, with the greater London metropolitan area accounting for 13,879,757 people. London boasts the largest metropolitan area in both England and the entire United Kingdom.
Weather & When to Go
The temperature in England is generally warmer than in other parts of the UK. The average high temperature in July is 70 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average low in January is 34 degrees. While London has become infamously attached to a stereotype of dreary, rainy weather, England is actually somewhat drier than other parts of the United Kingdom. On average, July sees the most sunshine, and October sees the most rainfall (3.6 inches).
When preparing for a trip to England, pack in layers. The weather can be fickle, so jackets and cardigans are advisable. Comfortable walking shoes are also a must, and while the weather stereotype isn’t always as bad as it’s portrayed to be, it does rain in England. Pack a weatherproof jacket and/or an umbrella.
Like the name implies, English is the official language of England. It is spoken by approximately 98% of the population and is the only language used for official business. However, even though England is relatively small, there are a great deal of regional English accents. Some of these accents are so strong, they may not be easily understood throughout the country. In most instances, British English speakers and American English speakers do not have trouble understanding each other.
The pound sterling, or better known as just the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom. It is represented by the £ symbol. The exchange rate is constantly fluctuating, but the current rate is easily viewed online to help budget your vacation.
Most places in England will take debit and credit cards, but it is smart to have some cash readily available. To avoid exorbitant fees and lock in a satisfactory exchange rate, an ATM affiliated with your bank (for example, Bank of America has a global alliance with Barclays) is the best way to obtain pounds. Try to avoid currency exchange kiosks in airports and near popular tourist attractions. These kiosks often offer poor exchange rates and charge steep service fees.
Tips are appreciated in England. In restaurants, it’s customary to leave between 10% and 15% of the total bill. However, some restaurants do include an optional service fee, so double-check the bill to avoid tipping twice. In the ever-popular English pub, tips are not generally expected, but you can leave left over change for satisfactory service. In hotels, tip bellmen, housekeepers, and concierge at your discretion. Usually, a few pounds is acceptable. Like restaurants, many hotels charge an automatic service fee, so tips are not necessarily expected. In taxis, tip 10 to 15 percent of the total fare for exceptional service and help with luggage. For all other rides, just round up to the next nearest pound.
England’s culture has been largely formed by its rich history and diverse population. The country has made profound contributions to the world through literature, theater and architecture.
The pub is an important part of life in England. Pubs are much more than just bars; they are community gathering places, and the accompanying “pint” is often just an afterthought. Similarly, football (soccer) is a national institution, and England is recognized as the birthplace of club football. The fans are passionate, and the rivalries are intense.
Etiquette in England is very similar to etiquette in the United States. A firm handshake is the usual greeting, and “thank you” and “please” cannot be said enough. Punctuality is also important. In general, English table manners are the same as American table manners.
When in England, respect the queue! Queuing, or lining up, is taken very seriously. Take your place in a single-file line, do not complain and wait patiently for your turn to be served. Also, when on an escalator, stand on the right side to allow for passing on the left. Ignoring this unspoken rule is the easiest way to stand out as a tourist.
England isn’t necessarily recognized for its gourmet cuisine, but traditional meals are generally hearty and filling. Meals are largely made up of bread, cheese, meat and vegetables. Meat pies, bangers and mash, and fish and chips are just some traditional fare found in restaurants and pubs across the country. Of course, England is also synonymous with hot tea and pints of beer.
While traditional English food is still widely consumed, today’s English cuisine is largely influenced by foreign cuisines. In fact, chicken tikka masala is known as a “true British national dish”. Indian, as a whole, is the most popular international cuisine, followed by Chinese and Italian.
The English meal structure is the same as the American meal structure and consists of breakfast, lunch and dinner. While not as common today and a bit of a novelty, afternoon or high tea is a small snack, plus tea or coffee, served between lunch and dinner.
The threat of violent crimes against tourists in England is generally low. Unfortunately, the threat of terrorist attacks exists throughout Europe, including the United Kingdom. However, the country has taken extensive precautions to increase safety for both citizens and tourists. Still, avoid protests and known demonstrations.
The vast majority of crimes committed against tourists in England are non-violent in nature. As with most countries, there is a risk of pick-pocketing and theft, so as always, be aware of your surroundings and your belongings at all times. Also, use only licensed minicabs or Black Cabs.
The largest area of England, the South West region is located on the South West Peninsula and boasts the longest coastline in the country. Rich in folklore, this area is home to the cities of Bristol, Salisbury and Bath. Bath is widely known for baths that date back to the Roman Empire and the 7th-century Bath Abbey church. The prehistoric monument of Stonehenge is also located in the South West region.
The South East region is the most populous area in England. Its close proximity to London has made it an important economic and transportation hub. It hosts both Gatwick Airport and the port city of Portsmouth.
The South East is also known for its quintessential English countryside. It is home to two national parks, along with the popular attractions of Windsor Castle, the White Cliffs of Dover, Canterbury Cathedral and prestigious Oxford University.
The Greater London region is, of course, home to the city of London. London is the world’s most-visited city and boasts seemingly endless opportunities for all travelers. From the Tower of London to the British Museum, this region alone can entertain and inspire you for a lifetime. Try hopping on an iconic double-decker bus for a thorough overview of this leading global city.
East of England
East of England, or East Anglia, consists of the coastal counties of Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk. It boasts scenic countryside and quaint fishing villages. It is the driest region in the United Kingdom, which makes it perfect for a visit to the coastal resort towns of Felixstowe and Lowestoft. The world-renowned University of Cambridge is also located in the East of England.
Also known as the “Heart of England”, the region of West Midlands borders the country of Wales. Birmingham, the second-most populated city in England, is located in this region. Birmingham is an important economic center, and with 14 square miles of public open space, it boasts more parks than any other city in Europe.
West Midlands is also home to part of the Cotswolds. This charming countryside is dotted with quaint villages nestled amongst rolling hills. Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, is located just north of the Cotswolds.
East Midlands is comprised of the major counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, and Northamptonshire. While often overlooked by tourists, this region does contain sights and cities worth seeing. The English countryside in East Midlands is dotted with grand estate homes, and the remote, quiet city of Lincoln boasts a remarkable medieval cathedral. Althorp, the final resting spot of Princess Diana is also located in this region.
Yorkshire and the Humber
Yorkshire and the Humber hosts the cities of Leeds and York. Leeds is one of the fastest-growing cities in England and is known for its abundant nightlife. For something completely different, the historic walled city of York contains loads of history. The Minster, a Gothic cathedral, looms over the impressive city. A visit to York is not complete without a walk around its medieval walls.
England’s North West region is home to the cities of Manchester and Liverpool. For soccer fans, an introduction to these prominent cities is completely unnecessary. However, for those not interested in sports, these cities have transformed into lively destinations, with plenty of attractions – besides football – to offer visitors.
The Isle of Man sits 25 miles off the North West coastline. With its rural villages, steam trains, and rugged cliffs, it is arguably one of the most scenic spots in England.
The North East region is almost entirely made up of the remote county of Northumberland. This region is widely known for its pristine nature, including beaches, uplands and dells. Northumberland National Park offers a large reservoir and numerous walking trails, and the nearby 84-mile-long Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD.