United Kingdom

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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a constitutional monarchy comprising most of the British Isles. The Union comprises four constituent nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It occupies all of the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern portion of the island of Ireland and most of the remaining British Isles. It is important to remember that the Republic of Ireland is a completely separate country to the United Kingdom, having seceded from the Union and gained its independence in 1922. The Isle of Man and the various Channel Islands are crown dependencies, governing themselves by their own legislatures with Crown assent. These dependencies are not part of the United Kingdom, nor of the EU, but neither are they completely sovereign nations in their own right either. The UK has Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands as its nearest neighbours. The "Great" in Great Britain (Grande-Bretagne in French) is to distinguish it from the other, smaller "Britain": Brittany (Bretagne) in northwestern France. The UK today is a diverse patchwork of native and immigrant cultures, possessing both a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture. Although Britannia no longer rules the waves, it continues to be hugely influential in the wider world and a popular destination for many travellers. The capital and largest city of the United Kingdom is London. (less...) (more...)

Population: 63,395,574 people
Area: 243,610 km2
Highest point: 1,343 m
Coastline: 12,429 km
Life expectancy: 80.29 years
GDP per capita: $37,500
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About United Kingdom


The largest island of Great Britain has been inhabited at least since the last ice age, more than 10,000 years ago. While little is known about the inhabitants of stone age Britain, the world famous monument of Stonehenge survives to this day as a testament to their legacy.

Written history of Britain is generally understood to have begun with the Roman occupation of much of England and Wales, as well as the southern part of Scotland as the province of Britannia. During that period, the original inhabitants of Britain were a group of Celtic peoples known today as the Britons. Following the fall of the Roman garrison in Britain, the island was subsequently settled by waves of Germanic peoples, collectively known as the Anglo-Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons eventually drove the Britons to what is today Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Brittany, where their descendants remain to this day. The Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton languages of today are known to be descended from the original language of the Britons, while modern-day English is descended from the Germanic languages spoken by the Anglo-Saxons.

Britain eventually came to be ruled by separate kingdoms, with the Kingdom of England in the south, and the Kingdom of Scotland in the north. The formerly independent Wales was absorbed into the Kingdom of England by two acts of the English parliament in 1535 and 1542 respectively. For many years, the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland fought many wars for control over the whole of Great Britain. This was to come to an end in 1603 with the Union of the Crowns when the Scottish King James VI inherited the southern throne and styled himself King James I of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1707 the parliaments of England and Scotland (under English pressure) passed the Acts of Union of England and Scotland abolishing a separate Scottish Parliament, although significant support for Scottish independence remains to this day. Despite losing the 13 colonies that became the United States of America after being defeated in the American War of Independence in 1783, the UK recovered from this setback and continued to grow wealthy from trade and possessions in the East. In 1801, after both the British and Irish parliaments (under British pressure) passed the Acts of Union of Great Britain and Ireland, the enlarged kingdom became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (UK). Decisive victories over Napoleonic forces at the battles of Trafalgar in 1805 and, ten years later, Waterloo (in which Napoleon met his final defeat) cemented the UK's place as one of the dominant political and military powers in the world.

During the next fifty years the UK grew, under Queen Victoria, into the major world power and eventually possessed the largest empire the world had ever seen. At its widest extent in the early 20th century, the British empire encompassed what is today, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, India, South Africa, Egypt and numerous other colonies in Asia, Africa and the New World.

The United Kingdom and its allies were victorious during World War I, after which it gained many territories from the defeated Germany, Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary. Among those territories include what is today Samoa, Namibia and Israel. At its greatest extent, the British empire was known as the empire on which the sun never sets, as its colonies covered every single time zone.

Irish nationalists resisted British rule, driven in part by Catholic–Protestant conflict. Eventually the United Kingdom agreed to grant self-government as the Irish Free State in 1922, with six of the northern counties without an overwhelmingly Catholic majority remaining part of the UK as Northern Ireland. The Irish Free State eventually severed all ties and became the Republic of Ireland in 1949.

World War II became the turning point in the history of the British empire. The German Third Reich, under Adolf Hitler, ignored British ultimatums not to invade Poland and the UK declared war. While the UK was victorious in the famous, aerial Battle of Britain and was spared the fate of occupation by the Wehrmacht that befell its not-so-lucky neighbours of Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the Channel Islands, it was at a heavy cost with thousands of civilian casualties and that even saw the destruction of the House of Commons chamber of Parliament. In addition, the UK lost much of its prestige in its overseas colonies, as most of its troops were tied up defending Britain against the Germans, and was unable to defend many of its Asian colonies against the Japanese. Most notably, the garrisons at Hong Kong and Singapore, which were considered to be impregnable fortresses by the British government and public, ignominiously fell to the Japanese. Even though the Axis powers of Germany and Japan were eventually defeated, with Britain and its allies emerging victorious from World War II, it sparked the beginning of the end of the British Empire. The UK no longer had the resources to maintain control over such a large empire and they had lost the respect of the local people in their colonies due to their defeats by the Japanese. This allowed independence movements to gain traction and the UK granted independence to its colonies one by one. The last colony with significant population and economic importance, Hong Kong, was returned to China in 1997, an event which many called the "end of empire".

Despite having lost much of its power, the UK remains a major player in world politics and continues to exert its cultural influences throughout the world through institutions such as the BBC and the Commonwealth. The UK continues to hold a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council with the power of veto. London continues to be one of the most important cities in the world and, together with New York City and Tokyo, is one of the world's most important financial centres. In addition, the UK also continues to be one of the world's major centres of higher education, being home to some of the world's most prestigious universities such as the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge and attracts more international students than any other country in the world except the US.


The UK has a benign humid-temperate climate moderated by the North Atlantic current and the country's proximity to the sea. Warm, damp summers and mild winters provide temperatures pleasant enough to engage in outdoor activities all year round. Having said that, the weather in the UK can be changeable and conditions are often windy and wet. British rain is world renowned, but in practice it rarely rains more than two or three hours at a time and often parts of the country stay dry for many weeks at a time, especially in the East. More common are overcast or partly cloudy skies. It is a good idea to be prepared for a change of weather when going out; a jumper and a raincoat usually suffice when it is not winter. In summer temperatures can reach 30º in parts and in winter temperatures may be mild, i.e. 10º in southern Britain and -10º in Scotland.

Because the UK stretches nearly a thousand kilometres from end to end, temperatures can vary quite considerably between north and south. Differences in rainfall are also pronounced between the drier east and wetter west. Scotland and north-western England (particularly the Lake District) are often rainy and cold. Alpine conditions with heavy snowfall are common in the mountains of northern Scotland during the winter. The north-east and Midlands are also cool, though with less rainfall. The south-east and east Anglia are generally warm and dry, and the south-west warm but often wet. Wales and Northern Ireland tend to experience cool to mild temperatures and moderate rainfall, while the hills of Wales occasionally experience heavy snowfall. Even though the highest land in the UK rarely reaches more than 1300 metres, the effect of height on rainfall and temperature is great.


Although most if not all visitors will probably visit London at some point, it is well worth getting out of the capital to get a real taste of the country and important to not forget the diversity one can find in barely 50 miles.

Whether it's countryside, coast, historic towns or vibrant cities you are after, there's something for everyone.

For some of the best countryside, head for the National Parks such as the Yorkshire Dales or Dartmoor, perhaps on a day trip or a longer stay.

With the UK being an island nation, every direction you travel will get you to the coast in a couple of hours. The British coast is varied and dramatic, from the pretty beaches at places such as St Ives, traditional fishing ports like Whitby or seaside resorts such as Blackpool and Bournemouth.

There's a wealth of historical cities in the United Kingdom, including Edinburgh and Cardiff with their medieval castles, to Bath and York and their Roman history.

Shoppers looking beyond the capital may want to head to Manchester and Leeds in the North, Bristol and Exeter in the West or Glasgow in Scotland.


Despite jokes and stereotypes, British food is actually very good and has improved greatly over the past few decades, and the British remain extremely proud of their native dishes. Restaurants and supermarkets in the middle and upper range have consistently high standards, and the choice of international dishes is among the best in Europe. However, British eating culture is still in the middle of a transition phase. Unlike their continental neighbours, many Britons still eat to live rather than living to eat, and as a result, food quality is variable at the budget end of the market. Moreover, as Britain is a culturally diverse nation, many different kinds of food are available due to the influence of immigration.

The United Kingdom can be an expensive place to eat out compared to, say, the more southern European countries, but relatively cheap in comparison with countries such as Switzerland and Norway.

Many restaurants in city centres tend to be a little more expensive than ones in the suburbs, and pubs do tend to be slightly more expensive in the countryside, but generally, a three-course meal without drinks will cost the traveller anywhere between £10 and £25. Chicken tikka masala with rice is sometimes claimed as the UK's most popular dish, though roast beef is a more traditional national dish.

If all else fails decent picnic foods such as sandwiches, cakes, crisps, fresh fruit, cheeses and drinks are readily available at supermarkets. Street markets are a good place to pick up fresh fruit and local cheeses at bargain prices. Bakeries (e.g. Greggs) and supermarkets ( e.g. Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons and Asda) usually sell a good selection of pre-packed sandwiches, pasties and cakes along with a range of soft drinks, juices and mineral waters. In addition, most chemists and newsagents will have a basic supply of pre-packaged sandwiches and bottled drinks.

Many large shops, especially department stores, will have a coffee shop or restaurant.

Smoking is now banned in all restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs - there are no exceptions. However some establishments have provided 'smoking areas' and smoking is allowed in the gardens/terraces outside pubs and restaurants unless otherwise stated.

Fish and chips

Deep-fried, battered fish (usually cod or haddock, though with a wider selection in some areas) with rather thick chips, always made from real chunks of potato rather than thin tubes of extruded mashed potato. Fish and chips are often served with mushy peas (in England), and dressed with salt and malt vinegar (or 'Sauce' in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland). "Proper" (authentic, for-the-masses) fish and chips can be bought only from either a backstreet "chippy" or a specialist fish and chip restaurant (the latter are mostly at the seaside, although there is a national chain, Harry Ramsden's, which does quite good fish and chips, but at "tourist prices"; Mr Ramsden's original shop, near Leeds, was a legend). However, a "proper chippy" (a backstreet "fish and chip shop", or just "chip shop") is the quintessential place to buy fish and chips. In the north you can also add mushy peas to your order. These are rarer in the south of the country. In Scotland, especially Glasgow, some fish and chip shops deep-fry almost everything they sell, including meat pies, pizzas, and even battered Mars or Snickers bars. In Northern Ireland, you can also order a Pastie (not to be confused with a Cornish Pasty). This is meat minced with onions, potato and spices, which is then battered and deep fried. It can be served in a bap (a soft bread bun), on its own, or with chips. Anything served with chips in Northern Ireland and in parts of Scotland is referred to as a "supper", e.g., "a fish supper" or "a pastie supper".

The best ones are specialists, serving perhaps a few alternatives such as a selection of pies or sausages. They are usually located near where people live, though some good ones, especially "sit down" chippies, can be found in town centres. They can be spotted by the illuminated sign which usually has a picture of a fish and a name: either punning and piscine, such as "Codroephenia" and "The Codfather" or proud and proprietorial, "Fred's Chippy", or even both as in "Jack's Golden Plaice". Typically a lot of people eating or waiting is an indication of good food.

A "sit down chippy" is a chip shop with a separate dining room. Whilst no real one will be exactly like this, although most elements will be present, a stereotypical sit down chippie will be brightly lit and decorated in a nautical theme with yellow or blue formica-topped tables. Typically a waitress will take your order for a Cod Meal, alternatively Haddock, Plaice or another dish, and within five minutes your meal will be served: a huge fish, a mountain of chips and mushy peas. Accompanying it, in more up-market places, will be a sachet of tartar sauce, a slice of lemon, a big plate of bread-and-butter, and a pot of tea. Some will have a separate pot of hot water, either to dilute the tea if it is too strong for your taste, or to "top-up" the tea in the pot when you have poured out your first cup. On the table will be a large shaker of salt and a bottle or plastic squeezy bottle of brown malt vinegar, which is what most British will put on their fish and chips. There may even be a tomato-shaped plastic container of ketchup or a container of brown sauce. Fish and chips bought from a pub, hotel or non-specialist restaurant bear little resemblance to those from a chippy.


A 'take-away' is either a shop supplying prepared meals for people to eat elsewhere, or the meal itself. A very British take-away is the Fish and Chip shop; the sandwich shop is a popular choice at lunchtimes; they often also sell pies and cakes. Alternatively, most towns and many main routes have a selection of fast-food chains. Various types of take-aways are present in nearly all towns, ranging from fish and chips to "Indian", which can often be operated by non-Indians like Bangladeshi, and Chinese shops. Thai and Indonesian takeaways are becoming quite common, and lots of others in bigger towns. Generally the standard of take-aways is good, but the best guide is, as always, to observe what the locals are doing.

In towns and cities these places tend to open late (sometimes until about 01:00) to cater for the so-called after-the-pub crowd. At this time they tend to be busy and rowdy so, to avoid the queues the best time for a takeaway may be 19:00-23:00: after the teatime rush but before the supper crowds. Takeaways in larger city centres may stay open until 03:00 or 04:00 to cater for people coming out of nightclubs; typically these will be independent kebab shops and chippies, as well as some fast food chains such as Domino's and Subway. This isn't to be expected outside large cities.

Food in pubs

See below for general points about pubs. Pubs are typically places where you can sample British cuisine. There is no such thing as a British restaurant per se, so these will be your next best bet; even if you are against drinking alcohol, you will find a more traditional and full menu than a cafe or chippy.

Almost all pubs (see below) serve food, although not all will do so during the whole of their opening hours. Prices of all these types vary enormously, and you should seek local advice if you have particular requirements or standards. Do not sit at a table in a pub expecting a waiter to take your order for food or drinks: pubs nearly always work on a "queue at the bar for drinks: order at the bar for food" basis. You go to the bar to request and pay for drinks and food. To avoid annoying customers behind them, groups usually order as one, and "settle up" between themselves later (see elsewhere for "buying rounds"). You normally order your "starters" and "mains" together (food-oriented places have numbers screwed to the tables for you to quote, or will give you a number to take to your table). There is an etiquette that if you see another patron at the bar, you should invite them to order first. You then wait for your drinks to be poured and carry them to the table. When your meal is ready, it is either brought to you or, less commonly now, announced when it is ready for you to collect. The person who tidies away your main course may ask you what dessert you would like, or you may have to order at the bar again.


Larger towns have a range of restaurants to suit most tastes and you will find a very broad range of cuisines, including Indian, Chinese, Thai, French and Italian. Waiters generally expect a 10% tip (but all too often do not get it from the native population) and in some places this is automatically listed on your bill. However, if you are dissatisfied with the service in any way, you are under no obligation to pay the service charge. Generally British people are not great tippers. As a visitor the 10% rule is more than generous and worth sticking to. Visitors from The US and Canada are seen as very generous tippers and even a bit of a soft touch by some.

The usual fast-food restaurants (McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway and local chain Wimpy) are widespread in larger towns and cities but uncommon in smaller towns. They are typically located in major shopping areas, in or around major train stations, in out-of-town retail parks and in motorway service stations and airports (the latter 2 are usually more expensive). Prices are average - a burger, chips and drink meal will cost about £4-5. Most are open from around 07:00-22:00 although some in large cities are 24-hours. Fast-food restaurants in out-of-town locations offer drive-through service. Delivery service is widely offered.


One of the most popular types of restaurant in the UK is the Indian restaurant. They can be found in every city and most towns large and small. There are now more and more upmarket Indian restaurants in the larger urban centres. Indian restaurants serve cuisine commonly known to their customers by the generic term "curry". Common Indian restaurant dishes include Chicken Tikka Masala, Prawn Biryani and the incredibly spicy Vindaloo. A popular version of curry is known as balti, possibly named after the metal bowl the food is cooked and served in. Balti cuisine, and a number of other commonly served dishes such as the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, originated in the UK though it is clearly based on food from the Indian subcontinent. Birmingham in the Midlands is considered the balti capital of the UK as this dish was conceived there. Curry Mile in Manchester is well worth a visit if you are in the city.

Motorway service areas

Motorway service areas are notoriously expensive places to eat, although the vast majority are open 24 hours by law. Most contain fast-food outlets and all have (free) toilets. Some services may be limited overnight such as the range of hot and cold food, although most will keep a selection available. Service areas are often best avoided as it is often possible to find cheaper and much better places to eat within a mile or two of a motorway junction. They have a poor reputation for hygiene and service; subsequently places like Little Chef have taken such a hit that many have closed. 5 minutes away website lists facilities no more than 5 minutes' drive from motorway junctions.


Vegetarianism has become more widespread in the UK over the last few decades. If you are staying as a guest in a British home it would be considered courteous to inform your host beforehand as to any dietary requirements, but this will not be considered rude or even particularly unusual. If you are staying in a B&B, let the owner know when you arrive, and you'll often find that they will cook up a special vegetarian breakfast for you.

Bear in mind that even if you call yourself vegetarian some people will assume you eat fish, so if you don't, then tell them so. Nowadays, it is rare to find a pub or restaurant with no vegetarian options.

If you are a vegan, be prepared to explain precisely what you do and don't eat on a fairly frequent basis. Outside of specialist eateries, most places probably won't have a vegan-friendly main meal, so be prepared to hunt around, order bits and bobs, or in a pub make do with the ubiquitous bowl of chips and tomato ketchup and even then it would be wise to check whether the chips have been cooked in animal fat, a practice quickly falling out of fashion.

In general, the best places for vegetarian and vegan food are specialist veggie pubs and restaurants and Indian, Chinese and South-East Asian restaurants. Most major cities and towns will have at least one. Expensive upscale restaurants may have more limited vegetarian options, and sometimes none at all. If you're fortunate enough to be dining in such a place, it may be worth ringing ahead.


Children are not necessarily allowed in all pubs and restaurants unless a lounge area is provided, and high chairs are not always available. Most pubs that serve food will accept children, and it is usually easy to distinguish those that do. The general rule is that children cannot sit or stand about in the area where drinks are being served; so if the pub has only one small room, they are not allowed. Children are permitted in most drinks-only pubs, especially those with gardens, but again, they are not supposed to come near the bar. To be safe, ask an employee or telephone the place in advance.

Regional specialities

  • Black Pudding - a sausage made of congealed pig's blood or, in the Western Isles of Scotland, sheep's blood, rusks and sage or spices, cooked in an intestine. Available all over the UK but a speciality of the northern half of the country, in particular from Bury, the Black Country, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In actual fact, it tastes much better than it sounds.
  • Cheese - Although the British are not as famous for, or as proud of, their cheeses as their neighbours in France, a multitude of cheeses are produced and are generally named after a particular region. According to the British Cheese Board, there are over 700 varieties of cheeses produced in the UK. Well-known examples include Caerphilly; Cheddar, named after the village of Cheddar in Somerset; Cheshire; Lancashire, which may be "creamy" or "crumbly"; Stilton (named after Stilton but now produced elsewhere) - a blue cheese to rival Roquefort or Gorgonzola and Wensleydale, named after a valley in North Yorkshire. A fuller list of regional cheeses can be viewed in the form of an interesting map . The quality of cheeses varies tremendously, depending on where they are bought; the best place is probably a local market – so you might want to actually buy your Lancashire cheese in Lancashire. Supermarkets will offer a wide range of cheeses but are often of inferior quality.
  • Cornish Pasty - beef and vegetables baked in a folded pastry case. Originally a speciality of Cornwall, but now available throughout the UK. Usually very good in Devon and Cornwall, but can be of variable quality elsewhere. The variety sold in a plastic wrapper in places like filling stations and motorway service stations are well worth avoiding. Cornish Pasties can only be labelled as Cornish if they are made in Cornwall.
  • Deep Fried Mars Bar - Originally from Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, but now available in other parts of Scotland and sometimes by request in fish & chip shops elsewhere in the UK. Not usually available in south-east England, where they are sometimes believed to be an urban myth.
  • Eccles Cake - a popular flaky-pastry type cake with raisins, from the small town in Lancashire of the same name.
  • Haggis - a mixture of sheep innards, minced meat and oatmeal boiled in a sheep's stomach. Available widely, but a speciality of Scotland. Also available in many supermarkets, where it appears that many sheep have plastic stomachs - although the contents are often quite reasonable - sometimes mildly spicy.
  • Lancashire Hotpot - a hearty vegetable and meat stew. A speciality of Lancashire, but available throughout the UK. In Lancashire, it is often accompanied by pickled red cabbage or pickled beetroot.
  • Laverbread (Welsh: bara lafwr or bara lawr) - a purée made from seaweed, rolled in oatmeal, lightly fried and generally served with bacon rashers, although it can also be prepared as a vegetarian dish. Available in Swansea and West Wales.
  • Oatcakes - this speciality of Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire and Derbyshire is a large, floppy, oat-based pancake, eaten hot, in place of bread at breakfast time, or with a savoury filling. Not to be confused with the Scottish oatcake, a sort of biscuit.
  • The Pastie peculiar to Northern Ireland should not be confused with the type of Pasty associated with Cornwall and common throughout Britain. Recipes vary, but generally a pastie is minced pork with onions, potato and spices, shaped into a thick disc, covered with batter and deep fried. Pasties are unique to Northern Ireland and well worth trying from a Fish & Chip shop.
  • Pork pie - a pie made of pork, with an outer crust made of a particularly crispy sort of pastry. Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire is their spiritual home but they are available across the country. They are served cold or at room temperature as part of a cold meal.
  • Potato Bread - a mixture of potatoes, salt, butter and flour. A speciality of Northern Ireland which, alongside Sodabread forms one of the main ingredients of an 'Ulster Fry'. Similar to, but not quite the same as potato bread, are Potato Cakes as sold in England and Tattie Scones in Scotland.
  • Sausages - Europeans will be surprised to discover that the filling contains breadcrumbs, rusk or other fillers as well as meat (Britons think of frankfurters and similar solid-meat sausages as German or French). Generic sausages are nothing special and very much a 'mystery meat' experience, that being said not all sausages are pork, with many now seeing a mix with beef, venison, turkey or even soya. Regional speciality recipes such as Lincolnshire and the Cumberland-ring are well worth trying in a pub. Some marketplaces and butchers still serve archaic family recipes, such as Oxford where the sausage is without skin and more like a beef patty. Remember you get what you pay for. 2p or 3p 'bargain' bangers like Walls will taste of very little.
  • Sunday dinner/Roast dinner - this meal is common throughout the UK. Traditionally eaten on a Sunday, the meal consists of a roasted joint of meat (eg: Whole roast chicken, leg of lamb, shoulder of pork, etc.), and roast potatoes and steamed/boiled vegetables. All served with gravy (a thick or thin sauce, depending on the meat, made with the meat juices and stock. Yorkshire Pudding (a pancake style batter baked in a very hot oven) is traditionally served with roast beef, although some people have it with any roast dinner.
  • Smoked fish - protected as a regional dish from the greater Grimsby area. Usually haddock is the most popular type smoked in this special style. In Scotland, it is traditional to have smoked kippers if not porridge for breakfast.
  • Welsh Cakes - scone-like cakes studded with raisins and dusted with sugar. Available in bakeries throughout Wales and served hot off the griddle at Swansea Market.
  • Yorkshire Pudding - a savoury side dish made from unsweetened batter. Traditionally a plate-sized pudding would be served with gravy before the main course, to encourage more economical consumption of expensive meat. Squat and round in shape - often served with a roast dinner (consisting of roast potatoes, roast beef and Yorkshire puddings). Originally a speciality of the former industrial cities of Yorkshire, but now an integral part of a beef dinner throughout the UK.


The legal age to buy alcohol or consume it in a pub is 18, but many teenagers younger than 18 have seemingly little problem in purchasing alcohol in smaller pubs and from off licences. Nevertheless, if you're over 18 but lucky enough to look younger, expect to be asked to prove your age when buying alcohol (also, in certain places if you look under 21 or 25, you have to prove you're over 18, known as "Challenge 21(25)"), especially in popular city spots. Some premises will require proof of age for all drinks after a certain time of night due to restrictions on the age of people who can be on the premises. The most trustworthy form of ID is a passport or driving licence which shows both your photograph and date of birth. ID cards are likely to be accepted (providing there is a photograph) and proof of age cards are available which must be applied for by post and take several weeks to issue. Any other form of ID willl not be accepted. In private residences the minimum age to drink alcohol is 5 years old, although it is likely that if a 5 or 6 year old etc. were getting drunk, the matter would be brought before the courts as child neglect.

Getting drunk is acceptable and often it is the objective of a party, though the police often take a dim view on those causing alcohol-related trouble. This applies to all levels of the British society - it may be worth remembering that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had to collect his son Euan from a police station after he had been found drunk celebrating the completion of his GCSE exams taken at the age of 16. Nevertheless, Britons have a great sense of humour and everything is forgotten after a hangover, at least until the next time. Drinking is an important part of the British culture and, even though it is frequently complained about, it is as popular as ever.

Urinating in public is illegal, anti-social and quite difficult to explain when applying for a visa. You should try to use the facilities where you are drinking.


The pub (or public house) is the most popular place to get a drink in the UK. Even small villages will often have a pub, serving spirits, wines, beers, cider, 'alcopops' and non-alcoholic drinks, accompanied by crisps, nuts and pork scratchings. Many serve snacks or meals. The greater volume of drinks served are various kinds of beer, mainly lagers, bitters, and porter / stout (i.e. Guinness). People not looking to drink real ale are free to choose a pub just on the basis of location, and character, because most national "smooth" bitters or TV-advertised lagers are available in any non-real-ale pub; however, even non-real-ale drinkers often find that they prefer the types of pubs with a range of real ales, because they tend to be more "traditional", with a more individual character and less oriented to juke boxes, games machines, fruit machines and large crowds.

Across the whole of the United Kingdom there is now a blanket ban on smoking inside pubs and restaurants, though many pubs have areas outside, often known as "beer gardens", where smoking is (usually, but not always) permissible. However if you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be able to stay after the formal closing hours this is called a "lock-in" and smoking may be ok if the pub landlord allows it. This will often occur only in the later hours after 23:00 and these lock-ins can last any amount of time. As they are classed as a private party, they happen in only a few pubs, and often only pubs with more regular customers, although this is not always the case. Once at a lock-in, you cannot leave and come back in again.

British real ales, championed by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), are among the best in the world - though people used to colder, blander, fizzier beers may find that the taste needs to be acquired. People looking for real ale will need to select the right pubs, because although a wide range of pubs serve one or two real ales, only a "real ale pub" will have a wide selection. British ale has a limited shelf life compared to most foreign beers, and as some pubs have only a "token" cask with low turnover, it's often well past its prime and has a strange vinegary taste: often, unfortunately, people's first and understandably only experience with "real ale". If you do receive an 'off' pint, ask for a replacement at the bar, which will usually be forthcoming.

The phrase "free house" was usually the main indicator for people looking for a good choice of beer, because this indicated that the pub was not owned by a particular brewery and served whatever beer its landlord thought would appeal to their customers. However, this is no longer a significant factor, because most national pub chains are now owned by large conglomerates who deal centrally with brewers and serve the same mass-market brands in all their pubs: these conglomerates (not being breweries) can still call their pubs "free houses".

British people usually follow a kind of unwritten code of conduct when in pubs, though types of venue can vary dramatically, ranging from a 'local' pub, usually a quiet place consisting of one or two rooms, to a chain pub such as J.D. Wetherspoons which are very large rooms capable of holding hundreds of people.

  • Don't sit down and wait for table service. In almost all cases there won't be any. You order, pay for and collect your drinks at the bar. Some pubs specialising in food do offer table service, including for drinks, but only if you're also eating a meal.
  • Don't tap money on the bar surface to attract the barman's attention. Eye contact or a discreetly raised hand is enough for the bar staff to know you're waiting.
  • Tipping is not a tradition in most pubs and you should take all of your change. Regular customers who have a relationship with the staff will offer to buy the landlord, or bar worker, a drink. They may say something like this: "A pint of Best, landlord, and one for yourself." The landlord will often keep the money rather than have too much to drink. However, you are not obliged to do this yourself. If you're given only a small amount of change and you feel generous, there's often a charity collection tin on the bar you can use.
  • Especially in a 'local' pub, keep your voice down and avoid drawing attention to yourself.
  • It might be best to avoid heated debates about controversial subjects in pubs and bars; if others get involved these can escalate.
  • If you require extra chairs, you may want to take one from another table. If someone is already seated (even if it is only one person seated at a six-person table) you must ask if you can take the chair.
  • Waiting patiently at a bar is imperative. Pushing in line will not be tolerated and could lead to confrontation. If someone cuts in line before you, feel free to complain - you should get support from other locals around you. Bear in mind that pubs are among the few places in Britain which don't actually have formal queues—you just crowd around the bar, and when everyone who was there before you has been served you can order. Depending on the environment, if a barman offers to serve you but the person next to you has been waiting longer, you should advise the barman to serve the person next to you.
  • Standing (or sitting on stools) at the bar to drink is fine, but be prepared for people having to stand close to you to order their own drinks. Don't stand by or drink at the hatch which the bar staff use to move from behind the bar to the main area of the pub.
  • If you are in a group (especially a large group in a busy pub), order your drinks all together in rounds, either by each person taking a turn to buy all the drinks, or by everyone contributing an agreed amount to a single kitty of money. It is much easier and quicker for the bar staff to serve and charge for a round than for all of your drinks separately. Any pub will provide you with a tray for carrying multiple drinks if you ask.
  • Returning empty glasses to the bar isn't necessary but is appreciated by the staff - it saves them a job.
  • In the male toilets, especially in big pubs or clubs, don't try to strike up conversation or make prolonged eye contact. UK pub toilets are very much "get in and get out" places - some drunk people can take a casual remark the wrong way.

Pubs with a good choice of real ales may exhibit almost any pattern of ownership:

  • By a real-ale brewery (in which case the pub will serve all of the beers made by them, and perhaps only one "guest beer").
  • By a national or local pub chain who believe it is possible to serve a range of real ales at reasonable prices (their chain buying power can force down a brewer's margins) in a pub that non-real-ale-fans will be willing to patronise.
  • By an independent landlord committed to real ale (usually the ones with the most idiosyncratic beers, and the hard-core "real ale type" customers).

Many pubs are very old and have traditional names, such as the "Red Lion" or "King's Arms"; before widespread literacy, pubs would be identified by most customers solely by their signs. Recently there has been a trend, strongly resisted in some quarters, towards chain-pubs such as the Hogshead, Slug and Lettuce and those owned by the JD Wetherspoon company. Another recent trend is the gastro pub, a smartened-up traditional pub with a selection of high-quality food (nearly at restaurant prices).

Beer in pubs is served in pint and half-pint measures, or in bottles. A pint is slightly more than half a litre (568mL to be precise). Simply ordering a beer on tap will be interpreted as a request for a pint, e.g. 'a lager, please'. Alternatively 'half a lager, please' will get you a half-pint. If you ask for a "half-pint of lager" in a noisy pub, you will almost certainly get a pint, because no-one asks for a "half-pint" and the bar person will have thought you said "I'll have a pint of lager, please". Prices vary widely based on the city, the pub and the beer, but generally pints will be in the range £3 to £4.

Spirits and shorts are normally 25mL although some pubs use a standard 35mL measure, in all cases it will be clearly indicated on the optic, in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, the standard measure is a 35mL measure. A dram in Scotland was traditionally a quarter of a gill measure now 25mL.

Pubs often serve food during the day. Drinks are ordered and paid for at the bar.

When applying for a licence, pubs can specify any opening times they wish; this can be challenged by neighbours, etc. Closing times are typically the 'last order' time - the pub can sell drinks before this and customers have to drink up and leave within 20 minutes of the licensing hours.

Until the recent change in licensing laws, closing times were 23:00 and 22:30 on a Sunday, and this is still quite common. The most common closing times at the weekends in towns are between midnight and 01:00 and some larger pubs may apply for a licence until 02:00 and clubs 03:00 or 04:00. It is not unheard of that some bars have licences until the early hours (06:00) although this is rare as many who are out until this time are likely to go to nightclubs and then home. Theoretically, a pub can ask for a 24-hour licence, though few have done so.

Wine bars

In cities, in additional to traditional pubs, there are more modern wine-bars and café-bars (often known simply as bars), though the variable weather means that there is not as much of a 'street scene' as in other European cities. However, depending on the weather, there are more and more pavement cafés in the UK than in the past. Parts of London, Manchester and other up-and-coming cities are good examples of this change of scene.

Prices in bars tend to be higher than in pubs, with less focus on beer, and more on wine, spirits and cocktails. Customers are often younger than those of traditional pubs, though there is much crossover and some bars are more "pubby" than others.


Clubbing is popular in most large towns and cities, and many have world-renowned venues as well as many alternative venues. Great clubs can be found in London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Brighton to name just a few places. Prices in clubs tend to be considerably higher than those charged in pubs, and opening hours may not be the attraction they once were, as pubs can now open late too. Most clubs will not admit anyone under 18. ID may be asked for at the door, but ID checks at bars are less common. Dress codes are sometimes applied by doormen or bouncers before entry, sometimes none-too-consistently. Common dress codes are simply to dress smartly and avoid wearing sports wear, including trainers. However "fashion" trainers, especially dark coloured ones are increasingly accepted when part of smart attire. That said, some upmarket clubs will still insist on shoes and if in doubt, wear shoes to avoid being turned away.

Clubs are often cheaper during the week (Mon-Thu) as many of these nights are designed to cater for students; however, you usually have to pay an entrance fee. For a club in a small town (capacity 250-300) this will usually be £1-£2 on week night, £2-£3 on weekends, and seldom more than £5 on special occasions. Conventional clubs in bigger towns and alternative clubs in cities will cost anywhere between £5 and £10. Large clubs, especially those in cities, that cater for a "dance" crowd will almost certainly cost over £10, though seldom more than £15. For towns with a large student population, it is often much cheaper to go clubbing during week nights (Monday-Thursday), as many clubs advertise towards students on these nights, offering discounted drinks and cheaper entry.

Non alcoholic drinks

Tea is widely drunk in the UK, most British people drink black tea with milk and/or sugar. Tea drinking is common in Britain as India, which is one country where tea trees are found, was a British territory until 1947.

Coffee is also popular in the UK but not as popular as tea.



The currency throughout the UK is the pound (£) (more properly called the pound sterling, but this is not used in everyday speech), divided into 100 pence (singular penny) (p).

Coins appear in 1p (small copper), 2p (large copper), 5p (very small silver), 10p (large silver), 20p (small silver with angled edges), 50p (large silver with angled edges), £1 (small, thick gold) and £2 (large, thick with silver centre and gold edge) denominations, while Bank of England notes come in £5 (green/light blue), £10 (orange/brown), £20 (blue (newer design) purple (older design)) and £50 (red), and depict the Queen on one side and famous historical figures on the other. The size increases according to value. It's often best to avoid getting £50 notes. £50 notes are often refused by smaller establishments - they are unpopular because of the risk of forgery, and because of the amount of change one needs to give on receiving one.

Bank of England notes are universally accepted throughout the whole of the UK. Three Scottish banks (Bank of Scotland, The Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank) and four Northern Irish banks (Bank of Ireland, First Trust Bank, Danske Bank and Ulster Bank) issue their own bank notes with their own designs. These notes mostly come in the same denominations as Bank of England notes, with additional £100 notes. They are sometimes viewed with suspicion in England and Wales. However, these notes can be exchanged for Bank of England notes at any bank for free. When leaving the UK, try to only have Bank of England notes with you, as others can be difficult to change outside the UK.

You may also hear the slang term quid for pounds. It's both singular and plural; "three quid" means "three pounds". People often will just say 'pee' instead of pence. "Fiver" and "Tenner" are common slang for £5 and £10, respectively.

Occasionally, you may have problems if you try to pay for a small purchase with a £20 banknote. Scottish and Northern Ireland banknotes can also be hard to spend outside those areas (see above); and in some cases you can't pay with notes at all (buses, for instance, don't always accept them). When paying a bill (for example, in a restaurant or hotel), usually any reasonable method of payment will be accepted unless it's been made clear to you in advance. Sterling travellers cheques may be accepted, although it's best to ask first.

Larger banks and post offices have bureaux de change (one of many instances of English borrowing terms from French) which will exchange most foreign currencies for pounds, and vice versa, although they tend to accept only foreign notes, not coins. Travel agents and several department stores (such as Marks and Spencer) often have them too; and even small airports have at least one, although rates there are often poor. It's worth shopping around for the best rates in larger towns and cities, although as British ATMs accept foreign credit and debit cards, there's no real need to bring in large amounts of foreign currency anyway.


Opening a bank account is a fairly straightforward process, although a proof of address is required. As most passports do not show your address, be sure to bring something which shows yours address like a driving licence, national ID card or bank statement from home. The "Big Four" retail banks in the UK are Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

ATMs, which are often known in the UK as Cashpoints, cash machines or informally as 'holes in the wall', are very widely available and usually dispense £10, £20 and sometimes £5 notes. Almost all of them will accept overseas debit or credit cards. Traveller's cheques can be exchanged at most banks. Be aware: some non-bank ATMs (easily identified, sometimes kiosk-style units, as opposed to fixed units in walls, and often at petrol/gas stations and convenience stores) charge a fixed fee for withdrawing money, and your home bank may as well. On average the cost is about £1.75 per withdrawal, but the machine will always inform you of this and allow you to cancel the transaction.

When using any ATM, beware of fraud, which is becoming increasingly common. The fraud works either by 'skimming' your card (reading the details on it with a device attached to the ATM) or trapping it in the machine, and using a hidden camera to record your PIN as you enter it. Never use an ATM with a card slot which appears to have been tampered with, and always cover the key pad with your hand, wallet or purse when entering your PIN. If you find an ATM which seems to have been tampered with, or if it retains your card, report this at once to the bank which owns it and to the police. For obvious reasons, ATMs inside bank branches are much less vulnerable to this kind of fraud than those outside.

Credit and Debit Cards

Visa, MasterCard, Maestro and American Express are accepted by most shops and restaurants, although American Express is sometimes not accepted by smaller independent establishments, and it is worth asking if unsure, especially if there are long queues. Internet purchases from a UK-based merchant with a credit card however cometimes incur a 2-2.5% surcharge (this does not apply to a debit card). Since 14 Feb 2006, Chip and PIN has become nearly compulsory, with few companies still accepting signatures when paying by credit or debit cards. Customers from countries without chips in their credit cards are supposed to be able to sign instead of providing a PIN; however, it is wise to carry enough cash in case the retailer doesn't comply.

Although most small shops will take cards, there is often a minimum amount you have to spend (usually around £5). Anything under the minimum and they may refuse to accept the card, or charge a fee to process the payment.


The high cost of basics such as transport, accommodation and food means that you will probably spend at least £50 per day as a budget traveller. The increased cost of using taxis, comfortable hotels and eating in restaurants is much more profound than in most other European countries.

London and the South East in general are much more expensive for accommodation and other costs.


Locals usually only tip in limited situations such as restaurants and taxis. In many restaurants with table service, a 'service charge' on your bill replaces a tip; in the absence of a service charge, a tip of about 10-15% is customary. A tip of 10% is customary in metered taxis in the larger cities, although in rural taxis a fare is usually agreed in advance and it is rare to add a tip on top of the agreed fare.

Cigarettes and tobacco

Cigarettes are heavily taxed; more than £7 for 20 cigarettes. 50g pouches of rolling tobacco are about £12. Imported brands such as Marlboro, Camel or Lucky Strike are generally the most expensive as are well-known UK brands such as Benson & Hedges and Embassy. Low-tar cigarettes cannot be called 'light' so terms such as 'gold' and 'smooth' are used. Most cigarettes come in low-tar and menthol variants, and many brands also sell 'Superking' (100mm length) variants too. The cheapest prices will be found in the supermarkets at the customer service counter. Almost all newsagents, supermarkets and petrol stations sell tobacco, and most will also sell some brands of pipe tobacco and cigars. For a more extensive selection of tobacco products, most towns and cities will have at least one specialist tobacconist. New laws now require that tobacco products are not displayed.

The minimum age to purchase tobacco is 18. However, smoking is legal at 16. Customers who appear younger than 18 (and, in some places, 21 or 25) may be asked to produce ID to prove they are aged 18 or over (passports, driving licences and cards bearing the PASS hologram are acceptable).

In some places there is a black market in considerably cheaper, imported cigarettes and you may be offered them in pubs by crims (rarely the publican or bar staff!) The health warning on these is likely to be in a language other than English. This is best avoided as this is an illegal trade.

Smoking is illegal in all enclosed public places with the exception of some hotel rooms (enquire when booking). For the purposes of the anti-smoking law, 'enclosed' is defined as having a minimum of three walls and a roof, so this can include things such as 'open' bus shelters. It is also illegal to smoke at railway stations. Penalties can include a £50 'on-the-spot' fine. Most pubs and nightclubs have smoking areas which fully comply with the relevant legislation.


Although shopping in the UK can be expensive, it is generally regarded as a world-class destination for shoppers both in terms of variety and quality of products, depending on where and what you buy. Fierce competition has brought prices down considerably in the food, clothing and electronic sectors. Prices do vary and it is always worth visiting the various retail stores as bargains can often be found. Avoid buying from the tourist areas and stick to the High Street shops or the many 'out-of-town' retail parks where prices will be considerably cheaper. The retail market in the UK is a very competitive one and many bargains are to be had all year round. In the electronics sector, for example, it is becoming more and more common to ask for a price reduction at time of purchase.

VAT ('Value Added Tax' - a mandatory tax levied on most transactions in the UK) is 20% with reduced rates of 5% and 0% applying to specific categories (for example, electricity is taxed at 5% and uncooked food, children's clothes and books are taxed at 0%). For High Street shopping, VAT is included in the sale price displayed.

Electronic items such as computers and digital cameras can be cheaper here than many European countries (especially Scandinavian countries), but do shop around. The internet is always a good way to judge the price of a particular item, also you can use this as a bargaining tool when agreeing on a price with some of the larger electronic retail stores. If visiting from the US, there may be duties and taxes charged that make some of these purchases much less of a bargain so shop wisely.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article United Kingdom on Wikivoyage.

Popular cities in United Kingdom

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Noisy, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is a megalopolis of people, ideas and frenetic energy. The capital and largest city of the United Kingdom, it is also the largest city in Western Europe and the European Union. Situated on the River Thames in South-East England, Greater London has an official ... (read more)

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Blackpool is a seaside resort town in the North West of England and Britain's favourite beach resort.

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Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland located in the Central Belt region of the country. With a population of approximately 450,000 (1 million in the city region), "Auld Reekie" (Edinburgh) manages to combine both ancient and modern in a uniquely Scottish atmosphere. Watched over by the imposing Edinburgh ... (read more)

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York is an ancient cathedral city with a history that dates back to before Roman times. It is situated in Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, England with some of the best preserved historical buildings and structures in Europe. As of the 2001 census, the population of York was 181,000. York is frequently ranked ... (read more)

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Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland, with a population of about 600,000 in the city itself and over 2 million if the surrounding towns of the Clydeside conurbation are taken into account. Located at the west end of Scotland's Central Belt on the banks of the River Clyde, Glasgow's historical importance as ... (read more)

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Torquay is an English town on the coast of Devon in the West Country and, since the 19th century, a fashionable seaside resort in the English Riviera. The town is situated on the English Channel, on the southern edge of Torbay, an east facing bay that is part of the larger Lyme Bay.

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Manchester is a vibrant, post-industrial gem at the heart of North West England. The city formerly known as 'Cottonopolis' (a reference to its most famous export) has hung up its clogs and, thanks to successive regeneration projects, is now a major centre for culture and commerce; seen by many as the ... (read more)

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Liverpool is a city in Merseyside, England, within the historic county boundaries of Lancashire, famed for its football teams, music (including The Beatles), vibrant nightlife and its links with the arts and culture. Historically the city served as one of the leading ports linking Europe to the Americas, ... (read more)

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Birmingham, in the West Midlands, is Britain's second largest city (by local authority district). Known in the Victorian era, as the "City of a Thousand Trades" and the "Workshop of the World", Brum as locals call the city, is enjoying a 21st-century resurgence as a great shopping and cultural destination.

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Scarborough is North Yorkshire's third largest town with a population of around 60,000. It is a Victorian spa resort situated on the North Sea coast. Safe sandy beaches and a mineral spa have made Scarborough one of the great Northern seaside resorts. Scarborough also has many luxury hotels such as The Crown ... (read more)

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States in United Kingdom

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Points of Interest in United Kingdom

From Land's End in the south to John O’Groats and Duncansby Head in the North, there is so much to see in the United Kingdom, which is home to 25 UNESCO world heritage sites. There are hundreds of free museums to enjoy across the country, thousands of municipal parks to stroll through, tens of thousands of interesting communities to visit and many millions of acres of countryside to ramble across . There is far more to do than just talking about the rain and seeing whether the Queen is at home at Buckingham Palace.


London – As Samuel Johnson once wrote, "a man who is tired of London is tired of life." This is truer than ever before as London is home to an enormous range of attractions to suit all tastes. Enjoy art at galleries such as the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, The Tate Britain and Tate Modern among others. There are cultural treats in the theatres and cinemas of the West End and the South Bank, and at the re-created home of Shakespeare in the capital, the Globe. And then of course there are all the traditional tourist sites to see such as Buckingham Palace, The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square and the London Eye.

Edinburgh - Scotland's capital was initially centred on the Old Town, the castle and Holyrood Palace, but the New Town is a Georgian masterpiece. Both the Old Town and the New Town are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Oxford and Cambridge – The two ancient university cities allow you to wander among the dreaming spires, to punt on the river and to at certain times walk through the college quadrangles.

Check out the Cities section of this article for a fuller list, or have a read of the relevant pages for each region that interests you.

Parks and Nature

The United Kingdom has an array of National Parks and designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that serve to preserve the country's natural heritage. There are 14 National Parks in total spread across England, Scotland and Wales (9 in England, 2 in Scotland and 3 in Wales) and 49 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (35 in England, 4 in Wales, 9 in Northern Ireland and 1 in both England and Wales). There are no Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Scotland, but there are 35 of the Scottish equivalent (National Scenic Areas) spread across the country

The British countryside is unique and diverse. In southern England there are the rolling countryside and picturesque villages of the Cotswolds, the chalk hills of the Downs and the prehistoric cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. In the east, you'll find the lowland tranquillity of the Fens. The north of England has magnificent scenery and outdoor activities in the Lake District, Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. Wales offers the ruggedness of Snowdonia National Park and the beautiful beaches of the Gower. Scotland has the vast wilderness of the Highlands and the beauty of the islands. Northern Ireland is blessed with the Giant's Causeway as well as the north Antrim coast.


History– Stone Age, Roman age and the Dark Ages – before 1066

The inhabitants of the United Kingdom have long had the tendency to try to leave their mark on the landscape. For the length of recorded history they have been leaving traces of their lives for the tourists of the future to enjoy. This started with our prehistoric cousins who erected mysterious stone circles and mounds at such places as Stonehenge and Avebury.

Then came the Romans, who as well as building the first roads, married the natives and left behind great reminders such as villas (e.g. Fishbourne), bath houses most notably at Bath, Hadrian's Wall in the north of England, and Roman city walls and buildings all over the country, including in London, Lincoln, York and Cirencester (The capitals of the four British provinces in the late Roman period).

After the Romans left, the British Isles fell along with the rest of Western Europe into the Dark Ages. Even during this period when much of the learning, civilisation and culture of the Roman period was lost, the people of the British Isles continued to make their mark on the landscape of the country, with elaborate burial mounds such as the ones at Sutton Hoo the treasures of which can now be seen at the British Museum. As time progressed waves of migrants and invaders coming from territories in present day Germany, Denmark and Norway brought with them new languages and customs.

History – Norman and Medieval periods 1066 to 1603.

1066 saw a major change in the history of the country as the Kingdom of England was conquered by the Normans of northern France. The Normans imposed the system of Feudalism on England, and the bulk of the population were made to work the land in service of their Norman lords. In order to consolidate this system during the 11th and 12th centuries, the Normans went on a building spree, raising castles to intimidate and dominate and churches to inspire and unite. The most notable castles include the Tower of London and those in Windsor, Durham and Warwick among others. This period also saw the construction of wonderful Gothic cathedrals, the finest of which can be found at Canterbury, Norwich, Lincoln, Durham and York. As the Normans extended their power into Wales in the 13th century, there was more castle building in Cardiff, Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech. In Scotland too, great castles were built at Stirling and Edinburgh.

As political stability grew and peasants' revolts, black death and a emerging middle class reduced the power of the old Feudal system, castles dwindled in importance. The monarchs of the Tudor dynasty wished to live in comfort in great palaces rather than cold castles and this was the period in which Hampton Court was built. Henry VIII's reign also saw the Reformation in which England severed its ties with the Roman Catholic Church and a new state religion, the Church of England was established. This period witnessed the destruction of many monasteries and abbeys around the country, although many ruins can still be visited for example at Tintern in Monmouthshire.

History 1603 – 1900

Britain is littered with historical sites from the Stuart, Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras. There are fine examples of English country houses at Blenheim, Chatsworth and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton which shows royal Regency splendour by the sea. Cities with classic Georgian architecture include Edinburgh and Bath, as well as much of west central London. The neo-classical movements brought about the appearance of many new churches, most notably the rebuilt St Paul's Cathedral in London. The industrial revolution brought about a huge increase in the population, a migration towards the cities and the development of heavy industry. Some key sites from this period include the Ironbridge, site of the world’s first all iron bridge, the mills of Saltaire, the shipyards of Belfast and the coal mines of South Wales. Other Victorian treats include London St Pancras railway station, The Houses of Parliament, the Royal Albert Hall, Tower Bridge, Forth Bridge near Edinburgh and the town halls of Glasgow and Manchester.

Modern Britain – 20th and 21st Centuries

The early 20th century was the heyday of the British seaside resort, with towns like Blackpool seeing millions of visitors to their beaches, theatres and entertainment every year. In Liverpool the two great cathedrals of the 20th century dominate the skyline, and there are other modern treatsː the glass domes of the Eden Project in Cornwall, the Angel of the North outside Newcastle and the new Titanic Quarter in Belfast.


United Kingdom can rightly be called the "home of sport" as it was the birthplace of five of the world’s major sports: association football, rugby football, tennis, cricket and golf. There are shrines to all these sports around Britain: Wembley, Old Trafford, Anfield, Hampden Park for football, Twickenham, the Millennium Stadium (in Cardiff) and Murrayfield (in Edinburgh) for rugby, Lords for cricket, the All England club at Wimbledon for tennis as well as The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews for golf.

Football means of course association football or soccer. It is much the most popular spectator sport and is very widely played across the UK at amateur and professional levels. While many teams have passionate fans, the days of widespread 'football hooliganism' have largely passed. Rugby comes in two forms or 'codes': rugby union has 15 players per team, and is particularly popular in Wales and the English south and Midlands, while rugby league has 13 players per team and is popular in the north of England. Football and rugby are traditionally played in autumn, winter and spring, although the professional rugby league season now takes place over the summer. Cricket is played only in the summer, and tends to be most popular in England. All of these sports attract a widespread following, both at matches themselves and on television; and it is very common to find televised coverage of them shown in pubs and bars.

As a side note, the British team is the only one to have won at least one gold medal at every Summer Olympic Games since the modern Olympics started in 1896.


  • Big Ben (formally known as the Elizabeth Tower), without doubt one of the world's most iconic buildings.
  • Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, is a magnificently situated royal fortress located on one of the highest points in the city. The castle has been in continuous use for 1000 years and is in excellent condition.
  • Stonehenge, an ancient stone circle located near the cathedral city of Salisbury in Wiltshire.
  • The Georgian architecture and Roman baths of Bath.
  • York Minster cathedral in the historic city of York.
  • Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the head of the church of England. Located in the city of Canterbury in Kent.
  • Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, is home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
  • The ancient and world-renowned universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
  • The Eden Project near St Austell is a massive botanical gardens including indoor rainforest and Mediterranean biodomes.
  • The Giant's Causeway sixty miles from Belfast on the north coast of Northern Ireland is a World Heritage site and a natural wonder.
  • Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is home to three of the most important ships ever built and 800 years of naval history.
  • Angel of the North, a staggering contemporary steel sculpture in Gateshead.
  • Lincoln Cathedral, is the medieval cathedral of the city of Lincoln.

Westminster Bridge - London

St. Giles\' Cathedral - Edinburgh

Museum of Liverpool - Liverpool

University College - Oxford

Trinity Hall - Cambridge

Yorkshire Museum - York

Brighton Pier - Brighton

Tyne Bridge - Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Manchester City Hall - Manchester

Victoria Tower - London

Royal Festival Hall - London

London Eye - London

Southbank Centre - London

Tower of London - London

London St. Paul\'s Church (the Actor\'s Church) - London

Tower Bridge - London

Edinburgh Dungeon - Edinburgh

Leicester Square - London

Trafalgar Square - London

National Gallery - London

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