Getting where you need to go isn’t always half the fun, but in England, at least, the country’s vast transportation resources make traveling relatively painless. Whether you’re nipping about London in one of its red double-decker buses or heading off into the countryside via motorcoach, rental car or train, getting around England is reasonably easy.
Still, visitors should plot their journeys well in advance and take into consideration the costs and practicalities of their travel decisions. And for those who plan to drive in England, the most crucial piece of advice we can offer is this: We drive on the left here (and the steering wheel is on the right). It can be a bit daunting until you get used to it.
Following are a few practical tips about England transportation.
Most visitors arrive in England by plane, with the majority of international flights landing in one of London’s international airports. Heathrow and Gatwick are chief amongst these, with Luton and Stansted also fielding a large daily influx of flights. Almost all of America’s major airlines fly to London, but you’ll find that other international carriers, such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, KLM, Lufthansa, Air France, Finnair and SAS, among others, offer nonstop or connecting service.
Regionally, Manchester and Birmingham also have busy international timetables, and are the destinations for many domestic flights. Budget airlines such as easyJet, Ryanair and Flybe offer potentially cheap fares for exploring the country internally by air.
England Air Travel Resources:
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A drive in England’s verdant countryside can be an invigorating experience, bringing the small towns and natural wonders that the country is known for within easy reach of everyone, without the need to rely on public transport. Most places are well connected, with the country’s motorway network providing easy access to everything from major cities to rural villages.
Renting a car in the U.K. is relatively easy (though it can be expensive), with many of the larger car hire companies, like Avis and Europcar, operating from airports and also near major train terminals in large cities. To save money on the rental cost, it’s best to prebook your car before leaving for England. Aside from the car rental fee, gas, known as petrol, is very expensive in England (and is priced per liter, not per gallon, so beware). Parking fees are also pricey. And in London, special congestion-related fees apply to driving within certain inner city limits.
Most rental cars in England have manual transmissions, so if you don’t know how to drive a stick shift, you’ll need to request an automatic car. Make sure your request is confirmed in writing. Note that public transportation in major English cities is so good that you really don’t need a car for inter-city jaunts. Take the bus or Tube instead.
U.S. drivers do not need an International Driving Permit. The average minimum age for car hire is 23, but this varies from one rental agency to the next.
Motorway signage is up to international standards, but this tends to deteriorate once you’ve gotten off the beaten track — so make sure you’re equipped with GPS and/or good maps.
To learn more, see International Car Rental Tips.
England Car Rental Resources:
Whether you’re traveling to major cities or small towns, England’s vast train network, which operates under the National Rail entity, is one of the most thorough in Europe. The best place to start is with RailEurope.com, where you can investigate prices, itineraries and rail passes, or at NationalRail.co.uk. You can buy tickets in advance or at train stations throughout the country. Most train lines are open for reservations about 12 weeks before the train’s departure.
National Rail is essentially the gateway to all train operators in England. Unlike Amtrak in the U.S., major routes (say from London to Liverpool) are run by more than a dozen different train companies. Great Western Railway, for instance, operates itineraries from London to the Cotswolds, Cornwall and Devon, Bristol and Cardiff, among others. East Midlands Trains offers London to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield. Virgin Trains offer a range of inter-city routes, linking London with Edinburgh, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester. The bottom line is you probably won’t notice who’s operating on the routes you choose because you can buy your tickets through National Rail. That said, policies on transporting bikes and other matters do vary between lines, so you may want to check them out.
Not part of National Rail but integral to transportation in England are services such as the Heathrow Express, with its nonstop service between London and the airport (a 15-minute trip). The Gatwick Express offers a similar service between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria station, with fast trains departing regularly for the city center. The journey takes about half an hour and, once in London, it’s usually just a quick platform hop to trains departing for all corners of the country.
Within the city of London, the rail network can be the quickest and easiest way of getting from A to B, with underground and overground stations being conveniently positioned for many of the city’s popular attractions. Tickets are available in the stations, either from automatic machines or, in the larger stations, from a vendor, with both cash and credit cards being accepted in most cases. A daily or weekly Travelcard can be a great way to save money, while an Oyster Card, which can be bought online on a pay-as you-go basis for the duration of your time in the city, will offer a ticketless alternative to catching the Tube. For more info on Travelcards and Oyster Cards, see TFL.gov.uk.
Other operations such as Docklands Light Railway (DLR) serve many parts of London. Set up in order to bring sustainable transport links to London’s redeveloped docklands area, the DLR operates a largely automated service with a minimal staff, and provides light rail links to the London City Airport, Lewisham and as far north as Stratford.
England Train Travel Resources:
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Buses and coaches are often a viable alternative to trains and, being substantially less expensive, can offer significant savings over the duration of your stay.
The famous red double-decker bus is a familiar sight around London and, while you may have to wait a little longer than you would for the Tube, they can be an inexpensive way of getting around the city with a better view thrown in to boot!
Buses are modern and comfortable and, thanks to designated bus lanes in the inner city areas and surrounding motorways, can beat the choking congestion that makes driving in the city such a hassle.
Passengers on London buses can pay their fares onboard with cash. Drivers do offer change, but passengers are advised to do their best to present the correct fare, just in case! Outside London, bus companies are operated on a regional basis, either by a private company or by the local council. They can still be a great way of getting around, but fares vary across the country, as does the propensity for change giving. If in doubt, have a good pocket of loose coins ready.
If you’re in London, a Travelcard (which can be bought on a daily or weekly basis from automated machines in Tube stations or online at TFL.gov.uk) will grant you access to the city’s buses as well as to the Tube. Ticket office personnel, as well as most automated machines, will accept both cash and credit cards.
While in the capital, an Oyster Card may help to reduce the hassle of paying for transport. These can be bought from Transport for London’s Web site, TFL.gov.uk, on a pay-as-you-go basis and can be used on the city’s buses as well as on the Tube and rail networks. An Oyster Card can be bought and registered online, and can be tailored to suit the duration of your stay in London. Oyster Cards are, however, of no use outside the city.
For traveling between cities and touring the country, many coach operators offer a cheap (but slower) alternative to catching the train. Stagecoach and National Express run regular services up and down the country, linking London with other major destinations across the U.K. Budget coach companies like Megabus also travel a wide range of routes and can offer significant savings to passengers who book early. Most of the major coach lines operate out of London’s Victoria Coach Station.
Tickets need to be booked in advance, as spaces on buses are quite limited. The best way to book is online, with most of the bigger companies preferring a ticketless, email-driven system as used by some airlines. Passengers will receive a booking reference to present upon boarding the coach.
For longer holidays and tours of the country, National Express offers a Brit Xplorer pass, good for unlimited travel over a period of 7, 14 or 28 days. The pass can be purchased at NationalExpress.com and will save you considerable money over catching the train.
England Bus Travel Resources:
–written by Josh Thomas
As Seen On Independent Traveler