Top Tips for Families Traveling in the UK
Our family spent 5 months living in the United Kingdom. During that time, we homeschooled our boys (9,10) and traveled extensively throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
These are our top tips for families traveling to the UK.
It does not include specific places, but if you would like a recommendation, send an email to info@ValleyFamilyFun.ca and we will happily give you some suggestions!
Top Tips for Families Traveling to the UK
Eat out of the Grocery Store and Take Picnics
Food in the grocery store is incredibly cheap. It’s so much cheaper than Canada, your mouth will drop in amazement!
However, food in restaurants is expensive, and portions are smaller. When looking at prices, you think, “yeah, I’d pay that!” before you realize you have to almost double the amount!
We have perfected the art of eating out of a grocery store for our lunches. Either make sandwiches or buy bread, cheese and fruit, or go for a sandwich combo! These combos are at all major grocery stores and for around 3Pounds, you can get a sandwich, a drink and a snack.
What a great deal, and gives you more time for exploring rather than spending time in a restaurant!
2. Go Early in the Day
Aim to get to a major attraction when it first opens in the day.
Places don’t seem to get busy until very late in the morning or after lunch. Chances are, if you are there first thing in the morning, there will be fewer people around! British people don’t seem to get going until later in the day!
3. Check for Vouchers
I can’t stress this enough. Before you go to any attraction in the UK, head to Google and type “name of attraction AND Voucher” (or use the word discount). You will be amazed at how many online coupons you will find! We have saved hundreds of dollars by doing this.
Also check the venue’s website. Many times, the cheapest thing to do is to buy a ticket online a few days in advance. Or, other places offer a “GREEN” discount, that if you can prove you came by public transportation, you will get a discount.
There aren’t really any specific sites to check, just Google, and you will probably find something!
4. Bring a Raincoat
No, it’s not a stereotypical statement. It really DOES rain all the time in the UK. Sometimes, when it’s not even listed on the weather forecast!
In Wales alone, apparently there are 200 micro climates, so it could be sunny in one town and the next one over is raining!
Bring a raincoat!
A huge shout out to Phinney’s in Kentville, where I bought my UK “uniform”. Best purchase EVER!
If you are going to be doing a lot of traveling throughout the UK, and for an extended period of time, consider getting a National Trust Family Pass.
Just by visiting Stonehenge and a few other sites, we got our value for our money almost immediately. There are hundreds of sites throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland (not Scotland) that you can visit for free!
You may end up visiting some places you never knew about, and never thought you would enjoy!
6. Take Advantage of the Free Museums
The United Kingdom is full of FREE museums. From the British Museum in London to the National Slate Museum in Wales and the Natural History Museum in Scotland, there is something for everyone!
If you want to save some money while traveling, check the area for these free museums. A Google search will help you out, too.
Of course, they always usher you through the gift shops, and the cafes are more expensive, but they need to bring in an income somehow!
If you want a unique and fun way to explore a city, try a Treasure Trail.
These are guided tours that take you around thousands of places in the UK. On your walk, you must answer questions to solve one of the puzzles. It’s like a walking tour, but so much more interesting for kids. These trails take you by key monuments and historical places, and give you cool facts.
We fell in love with these trails and have done several of them throughout the UK.
8. Carry a Pocketful of Change
There are still a lot of places you need to have cash to buy things, so make sure you always have some on hand, especially coins!
Go to the machine, pick your allotted time and drop in your coins. Then, put the printed out receipt on your dashboard.
Even if you aren’t driving a car in the UK, you will still need a pocketful of change for emergency bathroom runs! Many public toilets are by paid entrance only. They can range from 20pence to 40pence per person (around 50cents to 70cents).
Otherwise, try the larger grocery stores for a free bathroom run!
9. Ask for Tap Water with your Meals
Eating in restaurants can get expensive, especially if you are ordering drinks. When you order water in a restaurant make sure you say “Tap Water”. Still water is bottled water and fizzy water is carbonated water.
If you don’t specify, you could end up with a bill for over $13 for a bottle of water, like we did in Paris!
10. Use Public Transportation
Public transportation in the UK is fast, efficient, reliable and so easy to use. This goes for buses, trains and the underground.
By the end of our trip to London, Thomas (9) had the underground map and was plotting out our route and leading us through the stations himself. We were chockablock full sometimes on the underground, but it was all part of the experience.
There are often family prices and kids often travel for free. Be sure to ask.
Plus, this way, you can avoid having to park and pay for parking!
11. Carry a Pack of Tissues
This is more so for the ladies!
With such a big population there are many people around using the toilets. I have now learned that before you sit in ANY stall, check to make sure there is toilet paper. I have been caught too many times where there is none left (too much information?)
So, carry an emergency pack of tissues with you, or pay the money to go into a public toilet which is bound to be well stocked!
12. Stay in Touch via Cell Phone
Europe is light years ahead of Canada in terms of the cellular phone market. Coverage is nearly total, and competition for your business is intense among the many companies that exist. We used Google Maps a lot when we were there, and also several couponing apps right on the phone gave us discounts on days out (see #3 above). When we were in Cardiff David was even able to register and pay for our car at a car park with his phone, and if you think you’re going to over-stay your time in the car park, you can use the app to remotely add credit so you don’t get a ticket. We also used a great London Underground app to help us with navigating the Tube in London too.
The point is that your phone can be a real asset in the UK, and UK coverage extends to the Continent too. But how do you use your phone there without getting destroyed by North American roaming charges? If you have an unlocked phone, it’s easy. Just pop out your sim card and buy one in the UK. There is LOTS of choice. We went for a pay-as-you-go monthly top-up plan sold by Tesco, a big grocery chain. Other chains – Asda, Walmart – also sell plans, and there are MANY “traditional” phone-carrier choices too, if you want to go that route. We went the Tesco route for three reasons:
1. Price: A couple of days after we arrived in January, David went to his sister’s local Tesco and spent ten pounds (about $16) to buy a sim card for a pay-as-you-go plan. Once it was activated (which a sales assistant in Tesco did for him) the ten pounds was added as CREDIT to his account (so the card was actually free). He then used part of that credit to buy a monthly-top-up plan. For seven pounds fifty (about $11), he got 500 minutes talk time, 500 texts, and 500 megabytes of data per month. This is far less than half what an equivalent plan would cost in Canada. And there was an even cheaper five pound monthly plan if you wanted that! A Tesco Mobility app downloaded from Google Play Store kept track of usage, renewal dates, and all that, so there were never any surprises.
2. Convenience: You can top up your credit, so you can roll the monthly plan, using a credit card registered on Tesco’s site, if you wish. But far more convenient was simply to buy a 12-digit top-up number when you were in Tesco buying groceries. You simply added it to your bill and the twelve-digit top-up number was included in your groceries receipt. You then entered the number on the Tesco App on your phone, and you were good to go for the next month! It really was that easy!
3. Usefulness: As mentioned, David’s phone was really helpful in London, and in Glasgow, and in confirming our Air BnB reservations, and in getting GPS coordinates to our Travelodge motels, and in getting confirmation for our flights, and… well, you get the picture. EVERYTHING is confirmed by text in the UK, and having a UK phone number was essential when we were booking tickets for museums, stately homes, castles and so on.
Even if you’re only going for a couple of weeks, and aren’t going to use the full month, a single-month pay-as-you-go plan from somewhere like Tesco will cost you a lot less than $20, sim card included.
It’s incredibly useful to have your phone in such a communication-rich environment and you’ll be surprised by how useful it is (and you’ll likely end up wondering why we’re in the cellphone equivalent of the Stone Age in Canada!).