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Great Rail Journeys guide to travel in the UK and Ireland

1 July 2020

When it comes to our holiday plans, so often we overlook the incredible destinations on our doorstep. But with so many stunning landscapes, from the Lake District to the breathtaking Scottish Highlands, the UK and Ireland offers a whole host of great staycation options.

Key Facts:

  • Currency: The currency across the UK, including Northern Ireland, is Pound Sterling. Scottish banks print their own versions, but the currency is the same and is valid throughout the UK. If you're travelling to the Republic of Ireland, you'll need to have Euros.
  • Main Language: English. This isn't however the only official native language!
  • Time Zone: 'Greenwich Mean Time', jumping forward by one hour for 'British Summer Time' from the last Sunday in March until the last Sunday in October.
  • Did you know?
  • The Queen owns every swan in England
  • Scotland is home to the world's oldest golf course, St Andrews.
  • The British accent changes approximately every 25 miles.
  • Travel Time: You can travel the breadth of the UK (Northern Scotland to Southern England) in about 8 hours by train.

Capital Cities of the UK and Ireland:

In the UK and Ireland, you're spoilt for choice with five incredible and unique capital cities to visit: London (England), Edinburgh (Scotland), Cardiff (Wales), Belfast (Northern Ireland) and Dublin (Ireland).

London:

Standing on the River Thames, the English capital is home to the British monarchy and an abundance of famous landmarks. From St Paul's Cathedral and the iconic 'Big Ben' clock, to buzzing Covent Garden and an incredible number of museums and art galleries, London has something for everyone no matter the time of year.

Edinburgh:

Steeped in history, the hilly Scottish capital has it all. Climb to the top of Arthur's Seat and admire the impressive views or take in the monuments and memorials atop Calton Hill. If you're seeking a true cultural experience, head to Edinburgh during August and enjoy the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe. It also has a great Christmas market - just make sure you pack your thermals!

Cardiff:

Despite being only the eleventh largest city in the UK, the home of rugby more than makes up for its compact size with its large personality. From Cardiff Bay to Cardiff Castle, sport isn't the only thing on the agenda. It's also known as the City of Arcades, having the biggest concentration of shopping arcades in Britain.

Belfast:

Birthplace of the RMS Titanic and standing on the banks of the River Lagan, Belfast has a rich industrial heritage. More recently, the city has become known as a filming location for the popular Game of Thrones and now runs tours taking you to the most recognisable places from the show.

Dublin:

Situated on the east coast of Ireland, Dublin is a warm and welcoming city known for its Guinness brewery and the foot-tapping Temple Bar, the perfect spot for enjoying a local tipple and live music.

Best time to travel:

We're lucky enough that the UK and Ireland is a great place to travel all year round, so you're free to tailor your holiday based on your preferred activity.

If nature is high on your agenda, take a trip anytime from late March until the end of the autumn season in November and see the beautiful spring flowers bloom or witness the changing hues of autumn leaves. In June, Minke Whales are known to cruise the Northumberland coast, and in July you might spot Bottlenose Dolphins playing in Cornwall.

Sporting fans have a whole host of events to choose from in the summer months, from the Royal Regatta in Henley to the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, where you can take a seat on Henman Hill and indulge in some traditional strawberries and cream.

What to pack

We all know how unpredictable the British weather can be, but we're fortunate enough that, generally speaking, we don't have to allow for the extreme ends of the spectrum.

If you're heading to the countryside to make the most of the stunning scenery and landscapes, comfortable clothing and walking boots are a must. We'd also recommend you take your camera and some binoculars, so you never have to miss a thing and make the memories last a lifetime.

Just make sure, no matter what the time of year, you pack your waterproof! Even when it's cloudy on a warm day, we recommend a liberal application of sun cream. Layers are the key no matter what season it is; the weather can change from chilly to heatwave in a matter of mere hours!

Local culture

British culture is heavily influenced by the nation's history, as well as the impact of the former British Empire. On the whole, Britain is very multi-cultural in terms of the religion and race of the population, but stereotypical British cultures remain, and the weather continues to be a key point of conversation.

From industrial mining towns, to classic British seaside destinations, just as with accents, culture and heritage varies between regions.

A UK staycation wouldn't be complete without a traditionally British afternoon tea, or some fish and chips by the coast, just be careful you don't get caught out if you're ordering a sandwich, as who knows what you'll end up with - breadcake? Cob? Roll? Teacake? Barm? - make sure you brush up on the local lingo!