Traveling to England from the US? What You Need to Know

Are you planning a trip to England from the US? Wonderful! Whether it’s your first visit or one of many, I’ve got a few tips to share with you.

First of all, be prepared for just how different English can sound with regional accents and expressions!  Even the most common words may sound foreign.

Not everyone talks like the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey! But don’t let that bother you for a minute. You’ll fit in just fine.

Since moving here almost a year ago I’ve found Brits are fascinated with Americans, our views and accents. I consider my accent to be non-existent yet I’ve had several Brits gush “I love your accent”!

Most Brits are very in touch with American culture and politics. In fact they may know more about the impeachment trial than we do. Despite Boris and Donald’s occasional spats, the UK and US still enjoy a very “special relationship”. Think of it as besties with benefits. We’ll always be linked through culture, history and love of moving. Don’t forget how many Brits sailed across the Atlantic to make the US their new home!

You may have heard of Brexit. This only affects travel for those with EU citizenship or British citizens. It has no affect on your travel to the UK or England.

Once you’ve packed your bags and decided what to wear, I know you’ll have the time of your life exploring the beautiful British Isles. Be prepared to be dazzled by lyrical scenery, bottomless culture and lashings of gorgeous food and drink!

Is It Called Britain or the UK?

  • Great Britain (or Britain) is England, Scotland, Wales (and islands such as the Isle of Wight)
  • UK or United Kingdom is really a political name for Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Ireland refers to southern and Northern Ireland
  • British Isles includes all of the above!

US to UK Travelers Need to Know:

  • US citizens can travel within the UK for up to 6 months without a visa.
  • You need only a valid US passport
  • Renew your passport before traveling if you have less than 6 months before it expires
  • As of June 2019, US passport holders may use the ePassport gates on arrival in the UK; simply scan your passport for entry
  • Bring your US driving license in case you need it
Cruising down the Thames under London Bridge

Traveling to England: What You Need to Know:

About Flights to England

Get a non stop flight to England if possible. In the US having to pass through security each time you make a connecting flight adds to travel time.

Weather can create havoc on connecting flights. Better to get onboard, settle in, have a meal and be ready to catch some zzz’s. The majority of west to east flights from the US to Europe are overnight so nonstop flights are less stressful and more relaxing.

  • New York to London average flight time is 7:55 hours
  • Denver to London average flight time is 8:55 hours
  • London to New York average flight time is 8:10 hours
  • London to Denver average flight time is 9:50 hours

Flights from east to west – London to New York – take a little longer due to prevailing wind and are usually scheduled during the day.

Favorite Airlines for Direct Flights from US to London

NORWEGIAN – my personal favorite, Norwegian flies the 737 Dreamliner from London Gatwick Airport direct to Denver, Austin, Orlando, Tampa Bay and more. Norwegian operates a summer and winter schedule. Denver recently got bumped off the winter schedule, so as of January 2019 flights are only available for Norwegians’ summer schedule from April 1 – October 31.

Super duper pricing. No first class, but Premium Economy is worth the bump up if you can get it at a deal. Norwegian is one of the few airlines where you can book a one way fare at no penalty. As of now, no online check-in is available, so show up to the gate early-ish.

VIRGIN ATLANTIC – another favorite. If you live on the east coast (NY, Boston, Washington, Orlando, Miami) or west coast (Seattle, LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas) Virgin should be one of your first choices. Exceptional safety and service record. I haven’t been able to fly Virgin since I lived in FL, but I’ll always remember what a great experience it was.

London Eye from the other side of the Thames

What to Wear Traveling to England

Here’s what I wear on my overnight flights, but your packing list will depend on time of year. Take a hoodie or poncho to keep warm on the flight. Overnight flights can get chilly, especially if you’re seated in a window or exit aisle seat.

No it doesn’t rain all year long in England, but it can seem that way if you travel November through March!

Traveling during the cold weather months

When I lived in FL, I wasn’t used to the cold and didn’t have the clothes for it so I remember freezing when I came to visit especially during the spring and fall. Since I moved to CO and added coats and sweaters to my closet, England doesn’t feel that cold any more. In fact it’s a fairly temperate climate. The highs and lows of the day are usually within 10 degrees of each other.

The further north you go the colder it will feel. Scotland for example will be just that bit colder than anywhere in England. Late fall and winter is the coldest and wettest. It’s rarely a hard driving rain, but a lengthy slow descent. This is why pubs and tea shops were invented.

Layers are your secret weapon.

Don’t bother with an umbrella. Find a waterproof or water resistant long jacket or coat with a hood. I like to wear hats so I usually skip the hood. A longer jacket will keep your legs dry.

Take a pair or two of waterproof or water resistant shoes or boots that are super comfy and stylish enough to wear with almost everything in your suitcase.

Thin wool socks or liners will keep your feet warm. I pack some lightweight gloves for travel during the cold months (good to wear to avoid touching germy surfaces too).

A pretty scarf that’s lightweight and warm will keep your neck warm when the wind blows.

Spring flowers in late March at the Grange in Lewes England

Traveling to England in late spring, summer or early fall?

You’ll have many warm sunny days. I use a tote bag to carry my glasses, phones, maps etc plus a light jacket or poncho in case the temps drop while I’m out exploring.

ABP – always be prepared!

Temps can be in the 60s in August. We’d heard about a heat wave in England so I came with dresses and skirts. Unfortunately by the time we got here it was chilly enough to wear jeans and sneakers.

My Pumas and a short heeled sandal are perfect to walk over cobbled streets in comfort and style.

You can always shop for a sweater or scarf once you get to England. Isn’t that half the fun of traveling?

Should You Stay In London?

Whether this is your first trip to England or one of many, you’ll likely land at either Heathrow or Gatwick. Here’s how to get into central London from either airport.

I highly recommend setting aside at least a few days either at the beginning or end of your trip to explore London.

Consider using London as a base for your entire stay. You can skip the hassle of renting a car because it’s easy to use the Tube and taxis to get around. Hop on a train for longer trips out of the city.

We stayed at Dolphin Square for two weeks as a base. During that time we explored London and took the train up to Edinburgh for an overnight visit. We also hopped over to Paris on Eurostar for a three day visit. It was SO nice to have a base to come back to.  Worth it not to have to schlep all of our bags with us. For our shorter trips we just used a carry on.

Dolphin Square is several blocks of flats close to Westminster. Politicians, actresses and spies infamously lived here at one time. There’s a dedicated building with small apartments for overnight or short term stays. I recommend booking a studio or one bedroom flat; much nicer than the single rooms. Best of all you can eat breakfast in the morning in the small bistro and get pampered at the end of the day in the spa. Or have a swim.

It’s so easy to stay in London and take trains to see the countryside. Just a few of the easy day trips from London: Arundel Castle, Hever Castle and Brighton.

Want to get a taste of Scotland or more specifically Edinburgh? Take a train up from London’s Kings Cross or Euston stations; stay overnight and come back the next day as we did. Yes you can take an overnight train but for me it’s worth relaxing and seeing the countryside during the day.

Arundel Castle

More London Day Trips

  • The direct fast train from London Paddington to Bath takes about 1:20. Browse the streets where Jane Austen used to live.
  • London Paddington to Oxford is an hour. Visit the settings for Harry Potter, Endeavor, Inspector Morse and The Golden Compass.
  • How about Windsor Castle? A direct train from Paddington will have you gazing upon Harry & Meghan’s Frogmore Cottage in less than an hour. If you visit during Easter, you may even catch a glimpse of the Queen.

How to Get Around England

Decide if you’re comfortable driving OR you’d like to use trains to get around.

Driving? Research car rentals before you leave the US. The standard rental here is a manual or stick shift. I’d recommend hiring an automatic to make driving on the left side easier if your budget allows.

Train? Use the Trainline website or app to quickly check distance, cost and time to get to your destination by train or bus. Here’s more.

Here’s some options to use a car, trains or both:

  • Use trains, tubes and taxis to get around London and then rent a car to head out to the countryside for an extended visit.
  • Hire a car at the airport and drive to your destination outside London. Drop off when you’re ready to return to the US. I’ve done it. It’s challenging, but if you want to see a lot of places that are otherwise inaccessible by train or bus, it’s the only way. You’ll find Alamo, Hertz and Enterprise rentals here. All you’ll need is your US driving license.
  • Base yourself in London, use trains, tube, taxis to get around central London and then hop on a train for day trips like Bath, Oxford and Brighton.
The famous Sally Lunns buns in Bath

What About Money

I remember bringing over American Express travelers checks. No one would take them! Now all you need is a US credit card and debit card. You can bring some cash in the form of pounds but you’ll actually get a better exchange rate here using your debit card at any ATM. Your bank will charge you a fee. Wells Fargo charges me $5. each time I make a cash withdrawal so I make it count.

Credit cards here are all contactless. If you have an iPhone, add a credit card (preferably one without a foreign transaction fee) to Apple wallet. You’ll be able to charge purchases under £30 ($40) without signing. Which is a big plus when you’re on the go.

Currently the pound is worth $1.30. Google “pound to dollar” to get the latest rate.

Food & Drink

You’ll find the culture here is a little more laid back than in the US. Smaller shops may not stay open past 5-6 PM and close on Sunday. Some pubs don’t open until 5 PM. London is open all hours, but restaurants, bars and stores in smaller towns have shorter opening times than you may be used to.

In the bar, you ask for “a half” or “a pint” of beer or cider. Draft is more common but bottled is also available. A glass of wine may be ordered in three different measures. Small, medium or large.

A gin and tonic can also be ordered as a single or double, and if the pub has a selection of tonic waters, you can choose since the bottle is served on the side. Ice is still not common unfortunately.

Water is not usually given at meals or the bar unless you ask for it. It’s not usually charged for. Don’t expect it to be iced.

Delicious meal at the Black Rabbit Pub in Arundel

Meal times are similar to the US, however dinner is often called “tea” if served early. Just to be confusing, lunch may also be called dinner!

Many pubs now serve food and when you’re ready to order, you’ll look at the menu and order your drink and meal at the bar. It will be served to your table. When you’re finished, you can often pay your bill at the bar if there’s no wait staff.

English food can swing the gamut from severely unhealthy all the way to vegan and gluten free! If you’re vegetarian you’ll have no problem finding something tasty to eat, unless you happen on a very traditional fish and chip shop. American fast food has made it’s way to Europe and the waistlines of the natives may never recover. If you’ve absolutely got to have your McD burger or Pizza Hut you’ll find it. Ditto Indian and Chinese food are widely available for takeaway or takeout.

Best Time to Visit England

My favorite time to visit England is late spring or early fall.

By late April all the lovely flowers and green leaves are bursting out; the weather becomes a little dryer and warmer too. By missing the busy spring break or Easter period you should be able to get some good deals on hotels and flights. London will still be packed with tourists but you won’t be fighting the lines as much as during summer.

September at Canterbury Castle

September is the perfect month to travel to England. Weather is mild and sunny with less rain. It can still be a little cool if you’re used to hot summers, but you’ll appreciate that when you’re traveling on a bus or train without A/C. With most of the schools back in session, popular spots will be a little less crowded and easier to book.

Even into early October weather can be nice and mild. Just check on public transportation options where you’re going. We got a killer deal on a hotel on the Isle of Wight in October but then found none of the summer bus schedules were still operating!

Culture

One of the reasons I enjoy traveling by train is the chance to strike up a conversation. Although Brits don’t typically walk around smiling, they’re quick to get a joke and laugh. The witty sense of humor is dry and sarcastic but not usually bitter. Unless you happened to be here when Brexit was being dissected! Politics and religion aren’t usually offered up for conversation, although Trump seems fair game.

You’ll find they’re happy to talk with you about the US and get your opinion on Trump and the state of the union.

Not everyone is a Boris Johnson or Lady Mary. You’ll find a wide range of characters, accents and eclectic personalities. It’s what makes England so unique. Whether you’re a Monty Python or Downton Abbey fan, you’ll find England is a bit of both. A dynamic creative country full of history and gorgeous scenery. I know you’re going to love your travels to England!

Love to hear if you have any questions or comments below. Find all of my travel resources here.

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Tessa
Tessa

I created HOF to inspire over 50 women to follow their dreams. Whether you find them in your backyard or far away, it’s never too late to start!

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