Getting around the United Kingdom

Getting around the United Kingdom
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Updated 2021-09-14 14:15

The United Kingdom has a very developed and diverse transportation network, which connects different regions and supports population exchange. The country has a long transportation history. The first steam locomotive was invented in Great Britain in the early 19th century, and since then, there has been much improvement. In 1952, there was a massive increase in the use of cars in Great Britain. The demand for buses and trains correspondingly reduced. However, the ongoing investment in the transportation industry, especially in big cities, has led to modern developments such as Manchester's tram network. In the early 1980s, most of the available public transport was privatised and transportation costs began to vary greatly.

Travel by plane

The UK has about 40 international and regional airports. Each major city (e.g. London, Briston, Cardiff, Birmingham, Norwich, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen) has its airport easing travel from one place to another. Heathrow International Airport, less than 25 kilometres west of London, is the busiest airport in Europe in terms of passengers' traffic. Since travelling by plane is the fastest means of transportation, many prefer it to other means of transportation, especially for business trips and weekend getaways. During festive periods, many airlines offer discounts on their tickets and special deals.

Data shows that the number of domestic flights and domestic passengers in the UK has fallen about 20% and 10% respectively between 2007 and 2017 partly due to high travel taxes and improved train services. Also, even though most UK cities connect with London by air, they don't necessarily connect to each other directly. For example, there are no direct flights between Newcastle in the northeast and Manchester in the northwest.

Tip:

In advance booking is recommended for both domestic and international flights.

Good to know:

Gatwick International Airport at the south of Central London is London's secondary airport, preferred mostly by travellers who travel within Europe and travellers of charter flights.

Useful links:

Heathrow International Airport

Gatwick Airport

Ryanair

EasyJet

British Airways

Atlantic Airways

Eastern Airway

Virgin Atlantic

The National Rail

The national rail is one of the most developed transportation networks in the UK, connecting different cities. The national rail is made of 34 train operating companies, including the Eurostar, London Overground and London Underground. Each company offers different ticketing and fares options and various facilities. To get cheaper tickets, in advance booking is required. You can always get tickets on the travel date but bear in mind that prices vary depending on regions and companies.

The national rail supports cycling as a convenient and environmentally friendly means of transport. Hence, taking your bike on board is possible, as well as parking your bike at stations. PlusBike is a free resource for cyclists who travel by train and need access to information about bike parking areas, bike hire, bikes on trains, and bike on board reservations. For personal luggage on board, the standard free allowance is three items. Excess baggage and bulky items such as sports equipment are subject to available space and additional cost. Last but not least, if you want to take your pet on board, you can do so at no cost, as long as it is in a pet carrier or on a lead during the whole journey, including at stations.

Good to know:

Passengers requiring assistance can download the Transreport app, which helps them book assistance without contacting the personnel. The assistance will be delivered on time by rail staff members throughout the journey.

Good to know:

Eurostar connects five European cities: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Lyon.

Useful links:

Transreport app

PlusBike

Eurostar

Trams

There are ten light rail systems (aka trams) across the UK, in Edinburgh, London, Sheffield, West Midlands county, Manchester, the Docklands area of London, Newcastle, Glasgow, Lancashire county, and Nottingham. Some, such as the Blackpool Tramway in Lancashire, are first-generation trams, and others, such as the Docklands Light Railway, are fully automated. Trams aren't the fastest means of transport. However, they are a great middle-ground between trains and buses, stopping as often as buses and carrying as many people as trains.

Buses

Buses are one of the cheapest means of transportation in the United Kingdom, even though not the fastest. Several private bus companies serve different cities nationwide. A good thing about British buses is that they are regular and comfortable, and their rates depend on the city and distance covered. Tickets can be bought online, on board, and at the bus station. If you are going on a long journey, checking the bus schedules is important, and so is booking your seat ahead of time.

Useful links:

National Express

City Link

Megabus

COVID-19 considerations:

From July 19, 2021, face masks aren't mandatory on public transport in England, but they are compulsory on public transport in Scotland and Wales.

Boats and ferries in the UK

Travelling to England from most European cities is possible through ferries and vice versa. The most regular service links France to southern England. You can also travel from Northern Ireland to the northern part of Scotland via ferry. Travelling by boat in the UK is primarily a form of leisure and it is not recommended for urgent or short trips. The rates vary, but ferries and boats are usually more expensive than other means of transportation. Besides, you can ship your car or motorcycle when travelling via ferries.

Useful links:

P&O Ferries

Condor Ferries

LD Lines

Trasmediterranea

Canal River

Taxis

There are several taxi companies across different UK cities. Keep in mind that it is best to hire a registered taxi. If you come across a taxi on the street, make sure that they have a tax registration number located in the passenger's area. It is always best to inquire about the price to prevent the driver from hiking the price. Uber operates in the UK with about 70,000 drivers. In London only, the company employs approximately 45,000 drivers. To use the Uber service, you must download the app on your phone. Uber is relatively cheaper and easier to book compared to other types of traditional taxi companies. The taxi drivers have ratings, and more importantly, you receive a price estimate before accepting the journey. London's famous (and costly) black cabs can be booked in advance, hailed on the street, or picked up from designated taxi ranks, whereas minicabs can only be booked in advance.

Useful links:

Find a taxi or minicab

Cambridge Cab

Radio taxis

Renting a car in the UK

If you prefer travelling alone or with family, renting a car might be the most convenient form of travel. However, you must own a valid driving licence to be able to hire a car. Most UK cities and airports are full of car rental companies. Keep in mind that you will be requested to subscribe to damage insurance before getting the car on the road. Some car renting companies provide emergency assistance as well.

Good to know:

You must be at least 23 years old to be allowed to rent a car in the United Kingdom.

Useful links:

Hertz

Thrifty

SIXT

Avis

Europcar

Bike hire in the UK

There are bike lanes in many cities in the UK. This makes cycling safer and more enjoyable. The well-established cycling system also encourages people to ditch their car whenever possible and cycle around their city, even from home to work and vice versa. Several companies across the UK offer bikes for hire at affordable prices. Presently, London is leading the way in the eco-friendly public transportation system, and like other European capitals, public bike rental services are available across the city. Santander Cycles, which are affectionately referred to as Boris Bikes as they have been named after the mayor (and current Prime Minister) that launched this bike scheme, are made of a fleet of 12,000 bikes.

Good to know:

The cost of a Santander Cycle for up to 30-minute journeys is £2, and then you pay £2 for every extra 30 minutes of travel. Bikes must be returned to a Santander bike spot within 24 hours. Download the Santander app on your phone to ease your rides!

Good to know:

According to data from the summer of 2021, Edinburgh is the UK's most bike-friendly city, with the most and safest cycling routes. London follows second, Bristol third, Glasgow fourth, and York fifth on the list of the most bike-friendly cities in the UK.

Useful links:

British Bike Hire

Santander Cycles

Travel discounts and passes

If you are under 26, you can apply for the young person's travel card, allowing you to travel across the country at a discounted price. Pensioners also enjoy free transportation when within their region and discounted prices when travelling elsewhere. If you are commuting daily to the same location, it is recommended that you get a monthly or yearly travel pass to help you save some money. The price of travel passes usually depends on the area and the company you are using. For instance, in London, the Oyster card includes all forms of public transport. Other cities and towns also have their monthly cards for a unique form of transportation.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.