What to Know Before You Visit the United Kingdom

Updated August 15, 2020.

So you’re headed to the United Kingdom! This collection of countries is quite small in comparison to many, but its storied history and deep traditions pack quite a big punch. Here are a few things to know before you go!

What is the United Kingdom?

First of all, you need to know where you’re going, right? It’s more complicated than you might think, but let’s break it down:

  • The United Kingdom (UK): The UK is made up of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
  • Great Britain: Great Britain is the largest of the British Isles and is home to England, Scotland, and Wales.
  • The British Isles: The British Isles are all the islands that belong to Great Britain and the island that is home to both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
  • Note on the Republic of Ireland (Ireland): Don’t get confused and lump in the Republic of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is on one of the British Isles, but not in the UK or Great Britain.

I got that information from a British person, so if you’re still not sure, take it up with the Queen!

Map of the British Isles
More here: How to Plan Long-term Travel in Europe

Quick Essential Facts

Now that we know where we are in the world, here are some quick and essential facts for quick reference:

  • Driving: On the Left
  • Language: English, but accents will vary! In addition to the overarching British English language, you may also hear Celtic, Cornish, Irish Gaelic, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Ulster, and Welsh!
  • Currency: Pound Sterling, or simply “pound;”
  • Measurements: Mostly Metric, but also sometimes Imperial!
  • Weather: Often rainy, overcast, and perhaps chilly; bring a rain jacket all times of year!
  • Castles: There are a LOT of them!
Cardiff Castle Keep in Wales!
Keep reading: Tips for Driving on the Left

Money Matters

There are some things to know about the Pound, or GBP.

  • Northern Ireland Prints Different Pounds: England, Scotland, and Wales all use the same style of pound, but Northern Ireland prints their own cash in a different style. You can use all types of pounds in Northern Ireland, but Northern Ireland’s pounds will not be widely accepted in the other UK countries. Fun fact: The Republic of Ireland is on the Euro.
  • “Real” Money vs. Old Money: You will not be able to use the “old” GBP notes anywhere. We had about 17 GBP with us from our last trip two years ago, thinking we would be able to use them this time. But apparently just after our last visit, the 5 GBP note changed style and even material. About a year later, the 10 GBP note changed. Next year, the 20 GBP note will change. Several people told us to take these old notes to the bank to switch them for the current currency, but when I tried, they all said they couldn’t change it unless I opened an account with their bank. The final solution was to change it at a currency exchange kiosk in one of the shopping centers. I could not change the coins, but I could change by 15 old GBP for just over 14 new GBP. Not perfect, but something is better than nothing!
Five-pound notes: Bank of Ireland vs. Bank of England
Read on: The Ultimate Guide to Travel and Your Money

Capital Cities

While the capital of the whole United Kingdom is London, it’s important to know the other countries’ capitals as well:

Quintessential London, England!
Keep reading: Iconic London Sites


Most of my readers are English speaking, and the vast majority are American English speakers. As such, there are a few British English words that may need to be translated!

  • Biscuit: Cookie
  • Boot: Trunk, as in, trunk of the car
  • Bumbershoot: Umbrella
  • Chips: Fries
  • Holiday: Vacation
  • Lift: Elevator
  • Motorway: Highway
  • Pudding: General dessert, not necessarily “jell-o style pudding”; also blood sausage
  • Tea: A meal between lunch and supper (Check out my Ultimate Guide to Afternoon Tea!)
  • Tube/Underground: Subway or Metro
Sticky toffee pudding: moist and delicious cake topped with toffee sauce and warm vanilla custard!
Still hungry: What to Eat in the UK

I hope this helps you feel ready to take on your trip to the UK! Is there something I forgot? Add it in the comments section below!

Want more on England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales? Check out my United Kingdom Page!

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4 responses to “What to Know Before You Visit the United Kingdom”

  1. Love this post, its full of helpful information. I was always so confused about Great Britain and UK and all that. It took some time to figure it out. 🙂

    1. quickwhittravel Avatar

      Right! So confusing for such tiny islands! 😂

  2. I love sticky toffee pudding. Had some in Ludlow earlier this summer. I don’t usually order dessert but how often do you get to have sticky toffee pudding?! 🙂

    1. quickwhittravel Avatar

      Not too many desserts are quite as worth it as sticky toffee pudding. This one was definitely worth it! 🙌

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