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The basics


Although the United Kingdom is a member of the European Union, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do not use the Euro but retain the pound sterling, which dates from Anglo-Saxon times, making it the world's oldest currency in continuous use. Commonly called the pound, it is subdivided into 100 pence. Coinage was redesigned in 2008, making a transition from pre-decimal to decimal, and is issued in 1p, 50p, 10p, 50p and one pound denominations. The pound is also used on the neighboring islands of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.


English is the official language although English-speakers from other countries like the US, Canada and Australia will immediately notice the differences in vocabulary and accent of "British English." Plus, there are also variations like the Queen's English, East End or Cockney and Liverpool. It's likely you'll find someone who speaks your language in London and Manchester, two of the most linguistically diverse cities in the world.

Geography & Culture

With a temperate maritime climate, England takes up two-thirds of the island of Great Britain with Scotland to the north and Wales to the south. It is bordered by the English Channel, the Irish Sea and the North Sea. Its natural beauty includes the chalky Cliffs of Dover, the wild moors and sandy beaches of Cornwall and the Lakes District, which inspired the poetry of Wordworth, Coleridge and Lamb. It has cultural icons galore - Stonehenge, the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon, the great universities of Oxford and Cambridge and grand cathedrals like Westminster, Salisbury, Canterbury, York and St. Paul's. Its sporting life ranges from languid cricket to raucous football (soccer) and rugby with the world's most famous tennis tournament at Wimbledon and the Royal Ascot attracting horses from all over the world.


About 20 different companies provide train service in England. Fortunately for the traveler, ticket sales and information are centralized through the National Rail system. Travel is by ticket or pass, advanced reservations not required. The Eurail pass does not extend to England, but Britrail can save time and money for day trips from London or around the country with geographic and time-period options. Passes can be purchased online ahead of arrival. The high-speed Eurostar, out of St. Pancras International in Central London, links England to Paris, Brussels and other European destinations with a stop that makes Disneyland Paris a day trip.

Driving in England can be a challenge for most travelers, because cars travel on the left side of the road and pass on the right. The steering wheel is on the left side with gear shifting done with the left hand. Rental cars are manual unless you request an automatic, which costs more. Four-lane highways are called "double carriage ways" and gas is "petrol." Gasoline stations are easy to spot around the larger cities, but many in less populated areas close on Sunday. Don't assume that your personal auto insurance or credit card will provide the insurance you need.

Every visitor to England has to take at least one bus ride on an iconic double-decker, but regional buses and long-distance express buses - "coaches" in British English - are a convenient and comfortable way of getting around outside of London. The National Express, the largest of the companies, offers a network of more than 1,200 destinations. The no-frills Megabus, booked on line, serves cities and towns in England and connects with other destinations in Great Britain and Europe. TIP: When traveling by bus, buy your ticket in advance to guarantee a seat. Various discounts may apply.

Five airports serve the London area, the two biggest being Heathrow (LHR), one of the world's 10 busiest, and Gatwick (LGW), which serves 200 destinations in 90 countries. Stansted (STN), 40 miles (64 km) northeast of London, is a fast-growing airport for low-cost airlines, serving mostly European and Mediterranean destinations. They are connected to London by train, coach and taxi. Manchester (MAN) in northwestern England is a major international airport connecting to nearly 200 destinations worldwide. The country also has a number of domestic airports.