How to Budget and What to See if You Travel to the UK
To make the most out of your vacation, here's where to go, what to do, and how to budget for your Great British adventure!
9 min read
Land of fish and chips, the most famous royal family in the world, and the birthplace of punk, around 40 million tourists travel to the UK each year to explore the sights of Great Britain. Whether you’re an adventure traveler, a culture lover, or you’re more family-orientated, you’ll find your ideal vacation in the UK. Not sure where you should start? Here are the best places to visit in the UK—and how to budget for your trip!
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Before you travel to the UK, you need to cover the basics. This includes:
Finding the best places to visit in the UK to match your needs
Setting up your travel budget
Luckily, we’ve got your back. In this article, you’ll discover how to do all of the above. Before you know it, you’ll be sitting down for a spot of afternoon tea and talking about the weather—safe in the knowledge that you have plenty of vacation money left to spare!
Budget your trip to the UK
Nothing beats the feeling of being financially prepared for your vacation. Knowing that you can cover the cost of any hiccups that may happen along the way can be deeply reassuring. So, before you land on British soil, first take some time to work out how much cash you’ll need while you’re there. This means researching how much accommodation, transportation, entertainment, and food cost in your chosen destination. A useful tip is to use the baseline of how much you pay for food at home to get a rough idea of how much you’ll spend while in the UK. Of course, this will vary if you’re traveling solo, as a couple, or as a family—and depend on how extravagant you want to be while you’re there!
Once you have a rough idea of how much you should save, the next step is to identify areas where you can start making some savings. To begin, go through at least three months of recent bank statements. This will help you understand how much money you have coming and going out of your account each month. From here, identifying areas where you can make some savings often becomes much clearer. The easiest expenses to tackle are what’s known as your “variable costs,” i.e., your less essential expenditures such as subscription services, eating out, and unused memberships.
If the idea of creating a budget seems overwhelming, you’re not alone. A great starting point is the 50/30/20 budget. It’s a simple budgeting method that has helped many people gain control over their finances.
In general, British ATMs will accept most foreign debit cards, but it’s always a good idea to confirm this with your bank before you go. It’s also smart to tell your bank that you’re planning to travel to the UK so they don’t block your card while you’re away. Banks occasionally do this as a security measure if they suspect that your card is being used fraudulently.
Foreign transaction fees abroad
When using your debit or credit cards in the UK, your bank can charge you foreign transaction fees. These fees are often incurred when using a currency different from the currency in your ‘home’ country. In addition, some banks also charge a 1.5% currency conversion fee on top of any transaction that takes place on the weekend. This is so that the bank can protect itself against any fluctuations in the exchange rate. In general, it’s best to ask your bank what fees you can expect to incur when using your cards in the UK.
Losing your debit card while traveling
If you lose your debit card while traveling, act quickly and contact your bank immediately. The quicker the better as canceling your card stops any potential fraudulent activity from taking place on your account. In some cases, your bank may be able to send you an emergency card to a fixed address while you’re traveling so you can still access your money.
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Get insured when traveling to the UK
For peace of mind when traveling abroad, consider getting travel insurance to cover any health emergencies or cancellations while you’re away. This can save you a considerable amount of money and can help to reduce any travel anxiety both before and during the trip. There are many insurers to choose from, the important thing is to make sure you choose a plan that makes sense for you.
Where to stay and what to do in the UK
There are many fantastic places to visit in the UK, but where you should go depends on the type of vacation you want to have. As the UK offers such a variety of different experiences, you’re certain to find what you’re looking for. Here are some of our top places to visit in the UK to point you in the right direction.
The family-friendly vacation: Edinburgh
The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a majestic city, packed with stunning sights and family-friendly activities. The city’s Old Town in particular is sure to delight the whole family. To begin, get your bearings by heading to Edinburgh’s iconic Castle to get a fantastic view over the city. Kids will love exploring the Castle grounds and getting up close to the Crown Jewels. Next to the Castle is Camera Obscura, a museum of optical illusions, filled will mirror mazes, visual effects, and mind-bending light vortexes—perfect for a rainy day. From here, the Royal Mile is a predominantly pedestrianizedstreet that leads all the way down to the base of Arthur’s Seat—the city’s extinct volcano that’s now a popular walking destination. Dynamic Earth, a child-friendly museum that explains the earth’s early origins, can also be found at the end of the Mile.
A little further out of the city center, Gorgie Farm in Edinburgh’s East End is dedicated to teaching children all about farming and animal husbandry. Home to chickens, ponies, pigs, goats, sheep, ducks, and a petting zoo, Gorgie is a working farm that frequently runs courses on gardening and handicrafts for both adults and children. Just a twenty-minute bus ride from Gorgie’s is Edinburgh Zoo. After the Castle, the Zoo is Scotland’s second most popular paid-for tourist attraction and it was the first zoo in the world to both house and breed penguins!
For the adventure traveler: Keswick, the Lake District
Nestled in the heart of the Lake District, one of the most stunningparts of the UK, Keswick is an adrenaline junky's dream. A bustling market town, Keswick is the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding mountains, valleys, and lakes that populate the area. For leisurely walks along rivers and through meadows, set out from Keswick to explore the valleys of Newlands, Buttermere, Borrowdale, or St Johns in the Vale. If you want something a little more challenging, you can take your pick from the nearby Skiddaw, Walla Crag, Catbells, and Castle Crag mountains. When you’re ready to hit the water, head over to Derwentwater, Keswick’s closest lake, and rent a kayak, canoe, or rowing boat for a couple of hours.
If you really want to get the adrenaline pumping, just 30 minutes south of Keswick, you’ll find the Honister Slate Mine. Here you can cross the hair-raising Infinity Bridge which overlooks a 1000ft drop, cross the longest-high wire bridge in Europe, speed through the valley on zip lines, and scramble up vertical ladders and rope bridges. For those who dare, you can also ‘cliff camp’ and spend the night in a tent, dangling off the edge of a cliff! For a slightly tamer day of activities, head 20 minutes southwest of Keswick to the Newlands Adventure Center where you can indulge in a spot of rock climbing, archery, and Ghyll scrambling. 15 minutes east of Keswick, you’ll find Rookin House where you can hire a variety of off-road vehicles, go quad bike trekking, clay pigeon shooting, and even try out ‘human bowling!’
A culture lover's dream: London
With over 300 languages spoken in the city and more than 170 museums, London is a thriving cultural melting pot and the perfect city break. To begin, no trip to London is complete without a visit to the Queen’s primary residence, Buckingham Palace. Situated between St James Park and Green Park, be sure to check the Household Division's website to try to catch the changing of the guard which usually takes place every other day in front of the Palace. A 15-minute walk east and you’ll find yourself at Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses or Parliament. A ten-minute walk northwards and you’ll be in Trafalgar Square where you can meander through the National Gallery. While you’re here, see if you can get tickets to one of the West End’s many fantastic theatres which call Soho and Covent Garden their home. If you’re a foodie, Covent Garden boasts some of London’s most popular restaurants.
On the other side of the Thames, a walk along Westminster bridge will land you in front of the London Eye. Here, you can get a birds-eye-view of around 55 of London’s most famous landmarks. Further along the river, you’ll discover the Tate Modern, one of London’s leading contemporary art galleries, and the Borough market which is right next to both the iconic London Bridge and the Shard. Beyond London’s more central districts, take a tube or a bus north to Camden to enjoy its alternative art scene, bustling markets, and unique shops. To the northeast, Shoreditch is often referred to as a hipster’s paradise and has a fantastic array of cafes, boutiques, and street food.
One of the easiest ways to get around the UK is to make use of its extensive rail network. Network Rail is the national rail operator but there are also many regional networks responsible for connecting different parts of the country. The simplest way to book a train is to use trainline.com as this platform includes all of the UK’s rail providers. Alternatively, the National Express is the UK’s largest bus operator or check out Megabus for some particularly cheap deals.
However, if you decide to explore the UK by car, car rental companies like Avis, Sixt, and Europcar have got you covered. But be sure to use a price comparison site such as Kayak, Expedia, or rentalcars.com to find the best deal out there. Additionally, in some of The UK’s bigger cities, you’ll be able to hire a car for short trips using car rental apps such as Virtuo, Zipcar, and Getaround. For even shorter trips, you can hop on an e-scooter from Bolt, Lime, or Tier.
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What are the requirements for traveling to the UK?
To travel to the UK, you have to present a valid passport. As of January 31, 2020, you can no longer enter with a Spanish ID card, because the UK is no longer part of the European Union.
Depending on your country of origin, you might need a visa to enter the UK.
Are there any COVID restrictions on traveling to the UK?
Currently, you don’t need to present any health certificate in relation to COVID-19 in order to enter the UK.
What is the best time of year to visit the UK?
Although the weather in the UK is changeable and it rains quite often, the best time to travel to the country is between May and September. The temperatures are milder and the days are longer.
How long should I spend in the United Kingdom?
Depending on your budget and travel preferences, you can easily spend at least 15 days in the UK. To visit the capital city, London, plan for around five days.
How long can you stay as a tourist in the UK?
Visitors of most nationalities can stay as a tourist in the UK for a maximum of 180 days (six months).