A view of London, England, from St. James Park in the fall
Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Visiting the U.K.: Travel Tips From Our Editors

October 29, 2018

Every week our editors participate in a live Twitter chat hosted by Chris McGinnis, founder of the TravelSkills blog on SFGate, and Johnny Jet, a travel writer and influencer. Each chat features a different travel topic to be discussed by the #TravelSkills Twitter community. Recently, the subject was the United Kingdom, a place our editors know well. (In fact, the November 2018 Hideaway Report is dedicated to London.)

To follow the weekly Twitter chat, tune in on Fridays at 11 a.m. CST by looking up the hashtag #TravelSkills, or visiting TravelSkills on Twitter. The following questions and answers have been adapted from the original Twitter chat.

When was the last time you traveled to the U.K.?

I last went to London this summer, and the trip was an absolute delight. I discovered three new luxury hideaway hotels to recommend, and I had meal after delicious meal (followed by cocktail after delicious cocktail). London is always a joy to visit.

What’s your favorite city, town, village or hidden gem in the U.K.?

A view over Ludlow, England, with St. Laurence's Church at the center RichardHayman/iStock/GettyImages

One of my favorite “hidden gems” is Ludlow, an old market town in Shropshire, close to the border with Wales. It has a population of only about 10,000, but some 500 listed historic buildings! Ludlow has a reputation for fine food shops, and the standard of the local restaurants is high. Its Norman church, St. Laurence’s, is one of the most beautiful in England. It also contains the grave of A.E. Houseman, widely regarded as the poet of the English countryside.

What’s the British food scene like these days? What’s your favorite British dish?

The days of inescapably bad British restaurants are long gone. Britain doesn’t have a food culture like that of France or Italy, but the country now boasts a galaxy of Michelin stars and its gastropubs often provide excellent food in out-of-the-way places. Like everywhere else, local and seasonal is the order of the day, but I love a well-made classic. I could sure go for some Simpson’s in the Strand roast beef or a Holborn pork pie right now! (Check out our recent list of “10 Memorable Meals in London.”)

Do you exchange money before traveling to other countries or once you’re there? And what has been your experience with credit card use in the U.K.?

I almost never exchange money, either at home or abroad. Using an ATM to get cash gives you a far better exchange rate. But don’t be fooled by an ATM specifying an exchange rate; opt for the unknown rate, which will be better. Credit cards are widely accepted in the U.K.; indeed, I’ve encountered a few places that took only credit cards and did not accept cash. Watch out for offers to charge you in dollars instead of pounds. Always opt for pounds, or you’ll get a bad exchange rate.

Are fall and winter good times to visit the U.K.?

A street in London decorated for the Christmas season IR_Stone/iStock

Well, no one really goes to the U.K. to suntan, even in summer. The prevailing winds come off the Atlantic and Britain’s weather is reliably unpredictable. If you don’t mind the occasional rain shower, the spring flowers in places like Cornwall, or even the London parks, can be sensational. I also quite like the fall and winter, because I am happy to wear a thicker coat in exchange for thinner crowds. London is wonderfully exciting in the weeks that lead up to Christmas. That said, it’s hard to beat a flawless summer day in the English countryside. But don’t forget, the weather in southern England is very different to that in northern Scotland.

Best tips for traveling safely and securely in the U.K.?

The U.K. is a very safe country, for the most part, and tourists are unlikely to encounter much trouble. Like any big city, London has a few areas where it would be unwise to linger at night. And there have been terrorist incidents, but the chance of getting caught up in one is infinitesimal. The most important safety tip for foreigners is to look both ways when crossing the street, since we’re not used to people driving on the left!

Best tips for a first-time traveler headed to London’s Heathrow or Gatwick airports?

If you’re changing planes in Heathrow or Gatwick, be sure to have at least two hours between flights, even if a shorter connection seems permissible. If arriving during morning or evening rush hour, take the express train into town, even if you can afford a taxi.

Best tips for getting around in London or the U.K.?

The waiting platform for Eurostar at St. Pancras station in North London georgeclerk/iStock/GettyImages

When I was in London, the omnipresent construction was maddening. The tube was invariably faster than a taxi, and outside of crowded, jostling rush hours, it was a perfectly pleasant and inexpensive way to get around. Next year’s opening of Crossrail, a West-East rail line beneath London, will further improve things. British trains can be expensive, so book well in advance and travel off-peak. If you follow this formula, even first-class tickets can be quite reasonable.

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By Hideaway Report Editors Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who they are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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