Sunday, 18 Nov 2018

The ultimate backpacker’s guide to the UK

The United Kingdom; home to traditional pubs, sheep-dotted hills and of course Her Majesty, the Queen. Whether you come for the pub crawls, the adorable countryside towns or to find that special someone with an accent like Hugh Grant or Emma Watson, this guide has you covered. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales may be close in proximity, but each of the UK’s countries has its own identity to be explored. Here is the ultimate backpacking UK guide to do just that.

Jump straight to:

  1. When to visit the UK
  2. Places to visit in the UK
  3. Best nightlife in the UK
  4. Best hostels in the UK
  5. Best national parks in the UK
  6. Best festivals in the UK
  7. UK Food
  8. Transport in the UK

 

backpacking UK - green car?: @adventuresofsophh

When to Visit the UK

The UK has four distinct seasons, but the weather can change in a matter of moments. Check the forecast but always be prepared for the unexpected.

The UK may be known for its rainy and temperamental weather, but this doesn’t phase the locals; they’re kind of used to it. Besides, it’s not all bad. In return for all that rain the UK gets to enjoy lush greenery and stunning landscapes – and when the sun does shine, boy does it glisten!

In winter (December – February) temperatures average at 5 degrees Celsius with 7 to 9 hours of sunlight per day. In summer (June – August) the days are much longer with an average temperature of 22 degrees, making it the ideal time to travel if you’re looking to explore the UK in its warmest season. In spring (March-May) expect a comfortable average temperature of 14 degrees, and if you head to the countryside be prepared to melt at the sight of new-born lambs and calves. Autumn (September – November) is one of the most beautiful times of the year, as trees are adorned with fiery-red and orange leaves and temperatures average at a comfortable 10 degrees.

England is typically the warmest UK country, followed by Wales, Northern Ireland and finally Scotland, whose most northernly points experience extreme snow in winter.

Peak travel season coincides with the European school holidays from July-September. Prices rise within this time and accommodation is in high demand, particularly in Scotland, so it’s best to formulate a travel plan at least a week in advance. May and June are great months to travel, benefiting from pleasant weather and off-peak prices. If you’re planning a winter visit, December sees Christmas markets open, festive decorations light up the streets and serious ‘Love Actually’ vibes in the air.

 

Places to Visit in the UK

It’s often the case for overseas travellers to bypass the other UK countries in favour of England, but this is a huge mistake. All four of her Majesty’s nations have so much to offer, and with such close proximity and open borders it couldn’t be easier to explore the UK.

Each country offers the perfect contrast between city and rural life. From the buzz of London, Bristol or Glasgow to the quaintness of the Cotswolds or the Welsh coast, the UK has something for every kind of traveller.

backpacking UK- places to visit in UK - sheep

?:@adventuresofsophh

Best of: England

England is the most touristed country in the UK, welcoming millions of travellers all year round. With a thriving music scene, peaceful countryside, beautiful coastal towns and an abundance of pubs, it’s not hard to see why.

London

London is the cultural, political and economic capital of England, home to lots of the world’s most famous sights and attractions. A trip to the UK really isn’t complete until you’ve gotten lost on the underground or taken a quick selfie outside Buckingham Palace. With a population of over 8 million people and a tube map that will make your eyes sore, it’s fair to say that London can be quite overwhelming to a first-time visitor. So let’s break it down and make this confusing city a whole lot simpler for you:

What not to miss in London

Big Ben: Possibly the most iconic clock in the world? Big Ben stands at a leg-wobbling 96 metres tall, though unfortunately can only be viewed from afar at present as it is currently under construction. This is due to continue until 2021 so be prepared to see it surrounded by scaffolding if you’re visiting any time soon.

backpacking UK - big ben - london

?:@adventuresofsophh

Buckingham Palace: Even if you aren’t a royalist, a trip to Buckingham Palace is a must when in London. Gaze in wonder through the regal front gates and be sure to attend a changing of the guard ceremony, a uniquely British spectacle that’s not to be missed.

Camden Market: Hit up Camden Market for a mixture of vintage and contemporary shopping, as well as a wide selection of global foods and unique original artworks under one roof. Open every day of the week, the markets attracts an alternative crowd and is a great spot to hang out and people watch in one of its canal-side bars.

Find out more about London’s coolest markets

London Eye: Towering over the River Thames, The London Eye is near-impossible to miss. At a whopping 135 metres high, this gigantic Ferris wheel is the largest of its kind in the world.  For unparalleled views over the whole of London, look no further.

backpacking UK - London eye sunset

?:@adventuresofsophh

Street art in Shoreditch: If you’re an art lover, or just fancy an interesting stroll, head east to Shoreditch. The streets pop with colourful murals created by local artists and will provide weeks’ worth of content for your Instagram feed. There’s no right or wrong path, but you won’t be disappointed if you wander down Wilkes Street, Hanbury Street, Fashion Street and Great Eastern Street.

On board with that hipster vibe? Check out more things to do in East London

Tower of London: You name it, The Tower of London has probably been it – a palace, a zoo, a prison, home of royal jewels, an execution site – the list goes on. The impressive tower now houses a museum showcasing its turbulent history over the last 900 years.

Westminster Abbey: Founded in 960 AD, the Westminster Abbey is the centre of Christianity and royal history in London. It is a treasure trove housing historical artefacts, textiles and intricate stained glass. It’s also the burial place of Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking and Sir Isaac Newton, as well as several other monarchs and significant British citizens.

Need some more ideas?

The best hostels in London for a Great British adventure

17 crazy awesome free things to do in London

A crafternoon in London: discover the best breweries in the capital

Compare hostels in London

Other destinations not to miss

Bath: Take a step back in time to the historic city of Bath, where the streets retain their original Roman and Georgian architecture and are brought to life by eccentric musicians and street performers. A visit to the ancient Roman Baths is essential, especially for history buffs.

Compare hostels in Bath

Brighton: A favourite weekend getaway destination for Brits and international visitors alike. This colourful and cosmopolitan seaside town welcomes guests all year round but really comes alive in summer, when the beach is the place to be. Take a stroll down the iconic Brighton Palace Pier where you can grab an ice cream and unleash your inner child on the arcades.

The true spirit of Brighton is found in its many ‘lanes’, which are best explored at a slow pace to browse their hundreds of local boutiques, independent shops and trendy eateries.

Compare hostels in Brighton

Bristol: A hip, energetic city that’s become popular in recent years. Whether you’re strolling along the waterfront or sipping cocktails at a quirky bar, Bristol impresses. The city is illustrated with eclectic street art – not surprising considering it’s the home of Banksy. Every July, Bristol hosts Upfest, a festival dedicated to creative arts.

The Bristol harbour is one of the most beautiful corners of the city. Jump aboard one of the wooden ferries and head over to the Cottage Inn, a Bristolian favourite for an afternoon pint. From here, take in the beautifully colourful view of the city.

backpacking UK - bristol - canal boat

Bristol ?@adventuresofsophh

Compare hostels in Bristol

Liverpool: Liverpool is known worldwide for its musical legacy, most notably a little band called The Beatles. People flock from all over the globe to see the birth place of the Fab Four and to visit one of the most influential places in musical history. Liverpool is also rich in maritime history and has connections to the Titanic – a relationship explored in the Maritime Museum’s Titanic & Liverpool exhibition.

Don’t miss live music at The Cavern Club. Totally cheesy, but a must if you want to understand Liverpool’s musical past. Twist and Shout like it’s the swinging sixties but be warned that the Cavern Quarter often gets overrun by stags and hens, especially at weekends.

Compare hostels in Liverpool

Oxford: Brush shoulders with esteemed academics from one of the highest ranked universities in the world in the prestigious city of Oxford. Go punting along the river or explore the university colleges where you can pretend to be an extra in a Harry Potter film. Bookworm or not, the Bodleian Library will blow you away – let your inner rebel venture to the ‘restricted section’, but beware as some books are so off-limits they’re chained to alarms. Intriguing or what…

You definitely don’t have to be a student to fall in love with Oxford’s charm; or to enjoy a drink (or five) in the raucous student bars that line Cowley Road.

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Manchester: Manchester is more alive than ever, with an exciting mixture of café culture, edgy nightlife and a dynamic music scene. From laid-back, alternative bars to high end cocktail lounges, there’s no shortage of places to party in Manchester. This is a city that loves its football, so consider going to watch one of its teams play for an unbeatable atmosphere; especially on derby day!

Be sure to take a stroll through the creative Northern Quarter and sample its seemingly endless array of cafes and bars, discovering plenty of art along the way. Why not splurge and dine at Federal Café, an Australian/New Zealand run café serving up a delicious brunch with a few Aussie favourites including Milo based drinks, Tim-Tam flavoured sweets and ANZAC cookies.

Compare hostels in Manchester

Want some more inspiration? Check out 22 places to visit in England that travel bloggers love

Best of: Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland may be seas apart from the rest of the UK but it’s certainly worth hopping on a ferry for. This small country packs the punch of one twice its size. Think jaw-dropping coast lines and mythical, green lands – this is where much of Game of Thrones is filmed after all!

backpacking UK - giants causeway - Northern Ireland

?:@adventuresofsophh

Belfast: Belfast is a city rich in history and despite its turbulent past the city is thriving today, with a huge university crowd and world-class museums. It’s easy to spend three or four days here wandering its rambling streets, learning about its complex history and getting your drink on in its many pubs and bars.

Don’t miss:

  • Titanic Maritime Museum: It was in Belfast that the RMS Titanic was built, and the ship’s tragic story is commemorated at the Titanic Maritime Museum, one of the most popular attractions in the city.
  • Hillsborough Castle: Set on 100 acres of stunning woodland, the castle is the official residency in Northern Ireland of Her Majesty the Queen. You can join a 45 minute guided tour or explore the regal grounds at your own leisure.

Compare hostels in Belfast

Causeway Coast: One of the most pristine stretches of coastline in the UK, The Causeway Coast is the inspiration behind many trips to Northern Ireland. The best way to go about exploring is by car, but If this isn’t possible there are tour companies offering day trips to the area. Buses and trains are available but have limited service.

Don’t miss:

  • The Dark Hedges, Stranocum: Game of Thrones fans will recognise this backdrop straight away. Eight miles inland from Ballycastle, The Dark Hedges is a stretch of road lined and shaded by Beechwood trees. This creates an atmospheric tunnel that’s become a major tourist draw and is guaranteed to stun.

backpacking UK - the dark hedges - Ireland

?:@adventuresofsophh

  • The Giant’s Causeway: Surely the most impressive natural phenomenon in Northern Ireland, The Giants Causeway is made up of 40,000 basalt columns and was the result of intense volcanic action 50 to 60 million years ago. The lava that filled the sea bed cooled at a rapid speed, creating perfectly formed hexagonal rocks. There is a myth that the Causeway was actually the work of a Giant, but we’ll let you make your own mind up about that one.
  • Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge: This rickety bridge 30 metres high connects the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede – cross it if you dare! Don’t worry, it’s totally safe; but it might make your hairs stand on end!

backpacking UK - Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge

?:@adventuresofsophh

County Fermanagh: Breathe in that country air and feel instant relaxation. The Fermanagh locals are welcoming, time is leisurely and its natural beauty is out of this world. It’s a place that might make you want to unpack those bags and live the simple life for a little while!

Don’t miss:

  • Crom Estate: A haven for wildlife including wild deer, pine marten and rare butterflies. Nearby Upper Lough Erne has beautiful walking trails and is surrounded by castle ruins and ancient yew trees.
  • UNESCO Global Geopark: A diverse national park featuring waterfalls, wetlands, forests and the world-famous Marble Arch Caves. If you’re lucky enough to visit between March-October then a boat tour of the caves is highly recommended.

Derry: Commonly referred to as Londonderry due to a naming dispute between Irish Nationalists and Unionists. The city is the second largest in Northern Ireland, and although it isn’t quite as happening as Belfast it’s still a great spot to learn more about Ireland’s tumultuous past as it has a number of excellent museums.

The Glens of Antrim: Nine famous glens (or valleys) stretching across 80 miles. The Glens of Antrim are areas of outstanding natural beauty boasting waterfalls and lakes with several hiking routes to discover them on. Make the most of the Glens by renting a car to be able to make a day trip from Belfast.

Ready for your Irish adventure? Check out 15 best places to visit in Ireland

Best of: Scotland

backpacking UK - scotland - The Glens of Antrim

Isle of Skye ?@adventuresofsophh 

Scotland isn’t a country that should be underestimated; rather one that deserves to be explored from the inside out. From its heritage cities to its rugged coastline, there’s nothing boring about Scotland. So, whether you want to wave goodbye to civilisation and head into the mountains or hone your comedy chops at the Edinburgh Festival, Scotland has something to offer you.

Edinburgh: It’s odd to think of Edinburgh as a capital city, as its friendly residents and laidback pace of life give it the feel of somewhere much smaller. The city is comprised of its Medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town, with the magnificent Edinburgh Castle looming above. There are plenty of things to do in Edinburgh, but be prepared for your leg muscles to ache just a little bit!

Don’t miss:

  • Edinburgh Castle: Impossible to ignore, Edinburgh Castle overlooks the city. If you’re interested in history, particularly surrounding the monarchy, this should be top of your agenda.
  • Arthur’s Seat: If you’re a sucker for a panoramic view (who isn’t) and want to get that heart rate up, take a walk up to Arthur’s Seat. It’s not the easiest walk but the 360-degree views of Edinburgh and the surrounding coast are reward enough.
  • Dean’s Village: Formerly an industrial area, this quaint village is split in two by the River Leith, making it a favoured spot for a picturesque stroll and a snap or two.
  • Calton Hill: One of Edinburgh’s many peaks, this hill is the prime spot to catch a sunrise or sunset without having to venture too far from the centre. It’s also home to the Collective Contemporary Art Gallery and the yet to be finished National Monument.
  • The Old Town: Whether you plan to or not, there’s no doubt you’ll end up stumbling into Edinburgh’s Old Town at some point. With traditional pubs and vintage book shops lining the cobbled streets, it’s easy to lose track of time here. Be sure to check out Victoria Street and Cockburn Street.

backpacking UK - edinburgh

?:@adventuresofsophh 

Compare hostels in Edinburgh

Fort William: At the base of the U.K’s highest mountain sits the town of Fort William, attracting every type of tourist from adrenaline junkies to Potterheads.  The Glenfinnan Viaduct is just 20 minutes away, where you can see The Jacobite steam train (or Hogwarts Express) pass through twice a day. You can even board a steam train yourself and embark on the breath-taking ride over the Viaduct and into the Port of Mallaig.

Glasgow: It may not be the capital, but it is the most populated, partly thanks to its huge number of university students. Glasgow is young at heart, so expect to find trendy cafes, happening bars and flamboyant vintage shops. There are plenty of quieter spots too, with shaded parks and riverside benches to sit and watch the world go by.

Don’t miss:

  • Kelvingrove Park & Gallery: Kelvingrove Park boasts an impressive 34 hectares of greenery. It’s close to Glasgow university so the park is usually busy, particularly in summer, making it a great spot for a picnic and a few drinks with friends. The top end of the park has the added bonus of being an amazing sunset viewing spot. Whilst there, pop in to the Kelvin Grove Gallery and Museum for a dose of everything from art to ancient history and archaeology.

backpacking UK - Kelvingrove Park & Gallery

?:@adventuresofsophh

  • Ashton Lane: Situated in the West End, Ashton Lane is a beautiful cobblestoned lane full of pubs, bars and restaurants which are always heaving. Even on a rainy day, Ashton Lane is the place to be. Check out Vodka Wodka to get your groove on or for a more relaxed drink, hit up Brel.

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Inverness: Inverness is the largest and most populated city in the Highlands, but it might not feel that way. The quiet riverside and town centre alike ooze with Scottish charm. Pretty streets are lined with flower baskets and the Inverness Castle looks straight out over the River Ness. Inverness is a brilliant spot to base yourself if you fancy your chances at spotting Nessie, with Loch Ness just a 25-minute drive away.

Isle of Skye: There’s so much to see on the Isle of Skye that it could almost be a country in its own right. It is part of Scotland though and is easily accessible by car, bus or ferry. From mythical Fairy lands to rugged cliffs and black sand beaches, it’s not hard to see why Skye is becoming a favoured destination for backpackers.

Don’t miss:

  • Fairy Glen: It’s easy to imagine fairies roaming the other-worldly landscapes of Fairy Glen. Everything feels miniature here in comparison to the towering Munros, with cone-like green hills, a beautiful lake and incredible views.
  • Fairy Pools: Arguably the most beautiful swimming holes in the UK. People travel from far and wide just to witness the Fairy Pools and swim under their natural bridge. Be sure to arrive just after sunrise or just before the sun goes down to see the pools at their most beautiful and avoid the crowds of the day.

backpacking UK - fairy pools

?:@adventuresofsophh

  • The Quiraing: The Quiraing is a remarkable and very rewarding hiking route in the North of Skye, where multiple landslips have created dramatic cliffs. The hike to the summit is a 7km loop, but if you’re stuck for time the view from the start point is enough to take your breath away.
  • The Neist lookout: Located at the most western point on the Isle of Skye, this lookout is a perfect spot to watch the sunset or spot whales and dolphins. The view as you arrive is incredible, but it’s recommended you walk right down to the lighthouse.
  • Talisker Bay: A beach with a bizarre twist. Not only do you have to make your way through fields of sheep to reach it, but the sand is black and enclosed by incredible rock formations on either end of the bay. Make sure you time your trip with the tides, as it’s only at low tide that you can walk along the beach and witness this strange phenomenon.

backpacking UK - beach scotland

?:@adventuresofsophh

Compare hostels on the Isle of Skye

Isle of Mull: Further south than Skye but still part of the Inner Hebrides. Mull is home to some of the most diverse landscapes in the UK with rose-pink granite, bright white sand and some impressive wildlife watching spots.

Like the sound of Scotland? Check these out:

Ultimate guide to backpacking Scotland

14 totally secret things you never knew you could do in Scotland

The best hostels in Scotland

Best of: Wales

Wales may not be as famous as its neighbours, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. In fact, it’s often favoured by travellers seeking a bit of peace and serenity in the countryside. The landscapes are remarkable, the towns are charming and the pubs are cosy. Wales is a pocket full of surprises with plenty of places to explore, so lace up those hiking boots and head out to the valleys!

Caernarfon: A beautiful medieval town on the North Wales coast, popular among domestic and international tourists for the grand Caernarfon Castle perched on the waterfront. This little market town has a strong sense of community, with the centre taking up just a few streets. Although not mighty in size it has a warm, personal feel, with friendly residents and pretty pastel hued houses.

backpacking UK - Caernarfon Castle lake

?:@adventuresofsophh

Cardiff: Cardiff, the city on the coast, is the Welsh capital and proud of it! It has a perfect balance of history and culture, blended with modern architecture and some crazy nightlife.

Don’t miss:

  • Wales Millennium Centre: Recognisable by its imposing, sheer structure, the outside of the building is scripted with ‘CREU GWIR FEL GWYDR O FFWRNAIS AWEN’, which translates to ‘Creating truth like glass from inspiration’s furnace’. The words reflect the Centre’s impressive architecture and the creative inspiration of early poet Taliesin. The Millennium Centre often hosts theatre productions, opera, live music and dance performances.

Compare hostels in Cardiff

Pembrokeshire Coast: The Pembrokeshire Coast is popular among ramblers, with a National Trail stretching 180 miles. It also makes for a phenomenal road trip, as hundreds of twists and turns reveal rugged cliffs, sheltered coves and unexpected sea life.

Don’t miss:

  • Skomer Island: The best way to venture a little deeper is by going off land to Skomer Island. Here you can see adorable Puffins along with thousands of rabbits, dolphins, porpoises and seals. It’s a dream for animal lovers and is set to leave you smiling for days to come. It’s possible to visit Skomer Island on a day trip, but if you want to really immerse yourself in the environment then it’s best to stay overnight. Spring and Summer are the best times to visit as the animals are very active.

Snowdonia: An extraordinary mountain region in North Wales. Most travellers come to Snowdonia to do one thing – climb the craggy cliffs of Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at a whopping 3560 feet. Even if you aren’t into your hiking, the scenery that moulds the mountain should be enough to draw you North.

Don’t miss:

  • Mount Snowdon: If you love working up a sweat and the thrill of accomplishing a long, intense hike, then climbing Snowdon is a must. Depending on weather conditions and your fitness, the hike can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to get to the top. There are a number of routes which vary in difficulty and length, but the most popular and easiest is the Llanberis track. On the way back, pop into the sweet little pub on the right-hand side of the road for a tea, pint or a mulled cider.
  • If you aren’t keen on trekking or short on time, you can jump aboard the train and cruise on up. It does run on demand, so if it’s not a busy day expect to wait for the carriage to be filled.

backpacking UK - mountain snow

?:@adventuresofsophh

 

Best Nightlife in the UK

It’s no secret that Brits love a pint – or several – but where are the best places in the UK to get your booze on?

Bristol, England: Whether it’s a hectic student party or chilled drink you’re after, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Bristol. Bristolians love a drink, which is evident from the hundreds of bars and clubs dotted around the city. It would be impossible to get round them them all, but you can’t miss a rave at Motion. If you want to sample a selection of nightlife, go bar hopping around Clifton or down Gloucester Road.

Cardiff, Wales: The Welsh know how to party hard. With students filling out bars and clubs every night, you’ll always have company for a casual afternoon drink or a heavy night of busting moves. For a more sophisticated evening try The Dead Canary, but if its go hard or go home, head to Soda or Ten Mill Lane.

Glasgow, Scotland: Glasgow knows how to do nightlife fashionably. Even student bars don’t compromise on style – the students are hip and their tastes (and budgets) are looked after. If you want to go upmarket, head to the West End for drinks along Ashton Lane. For a rowdier night, Nice n Sleazy (don’t worry, it’s not too sleazy), Garage or Sub Club should do the trick.

Leeds, England: The nightlife scene in Leeds is huge, and if you’re into grime, tacky pop and throwback hits (who isn’t?) then you’re in luck. Even if you’re not, a fun night out is almost guaranteed. Call Lane is usually the place to be, with a variety of clubs and bars, but if you want to carry on til the early morning then make your way to Backroom.

backpacking UK - snug bar

?:@adventuresofsophh

Liverpool, England: Come nightfall Liverpool has many faces, with a wide range of bars, clubs and events to tickle anyone’s fancy. Whether you want to try your luck getting into one of its secret bars, pop bottles in a chic club or dance in the footsteps of music legends, anything is possible. Boogie ‘til the sun comes up in Heebie Jeebies, or if you want some alternative tunes head to Krazyhouse or Salt Dog Slim’s.

London, England: Of course the UK’s largest city makes the list. Depending on your tastes and budget, London will make you want to go out every night of the week. Explore the areas of Shoreditch and Clapham where the crowds are young and the drinks more affordable. Partying it up in Soho and Chelsea might be tempting, but it could very well set you back the price of your accommodation, so be warned.

backpacking UK - underground

?:@adventuresofsophh

Newcastle Upon Tyne, England: It’s not all Geordie Shore you know. This cosmopolitan hotspot has its fair share of clubs and bars open ‘til the early hours. Newcastle attracts a mixed crowd, with an influx of stags and hens on the weekends, students throughout the week and famously hilarious locals at weekends. Make sure you check out The Cluny, an independent restaurant and bar by day and live music venue by night. To take things up a notch, venture over to World Headquarters or Tup Tup Palace.

 

Best Hostels in the UK

One thing is for sure – the UK has no shortage of epic hostels to make your Brit-trip that bit more memorable. It might not be the cheapest place to travel but staying in hostels will ensure your pounds go a lot further. Here are a few of my favourites from my travels:

England:

Bristol Wing, Bristol

Clink78, London

St Christophers Inn, Bath

Wombat City Hostel, London

backpacking UK - wombat city hostel

Wombat City Hostel, London

Northern Ireland:

Vagabonds, Belfast

Finn McCool’s, Giants Causeway

Scotland:

Glasgow Youth Hostel, Glasgow

Loch Ness Backpackers, Loch Ness/Inverness

Skyewalker Hostel, Isle of Skye

St Christophers Inn, Edinburgh

backpacking UK - Skyewalker Hostel, Isle of Skye

Skyewalker Hostel, Isle of Skye

Wales:

NosDa Hostel and Bar, Cardiff

The River House, Cardiff

Totters, Caernarfon

Best National Parks in the UK

Cairngorms National Park, Scotland: The Cairngorms takes the title of largest National Park in the U.K. Situated in the Eastern Highlands and West Aberdeenshire, Cairngorms is one spot in Scotland that’s busy all year round. During the warmer months, Cairngorms is a dream to explore – be it a brisk afternoon walk or a full day adventure. Come winter, the park turns white and the town of Aviemore and mountain villages of The Lecht and Glenshee fill with winter sport enthusiasts.

Lake District, England: The name says it all. This national park has 16 vast lakes and the nostalgic feel of a summer camp. The biggest and most popular lake is Windemere, which attracts visitors all year round. With cruises along the water, walking trails through the mountains and links to the works of Beatrix Potter, the Lake District is a perfect spot to unwind for a few days. It’s accessible by train but is best explored by car.

backpacking UK - lake district

Lake District ?@adventuresofsophh

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Scotland: Boasting stunning pine forests and heritage towns, get ready to uncover the familiar and the unknown. Be sure to make a trip to Killin town, where you can dip your toes in the Falls of Dochart. Word of warning: the water is absolutely freezing, even in summer, so be prepared to say goodbye to all feeling and hello to total numbness.

Peak District, England: Neighbouring Manchester, the Peak District is easily accessible. Expect steep limestone valleys and gritstone ridges contrasted with vibrant green meadows and stark moorland. To enjoy the more remote trails, a car is recommended.

Snowdonia, National Park, Wales: Snowdonia has it all: inviting landscapes, proximity to the seaside and of course, Mount Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales. Whether you’re up for braving the climb or would rather stay firmly on the ground, Snowdonia will tick everyone’s boxes. Also check out the quintessentially Welsh towns surrounding the National Park, with Betws-y-Coed, Caernarfon and Llanberis being the best to visit.

 

Best Festivals in the UK

Music festivals

If there’s one thing the UK nails best, it’s music festivals. When that first ray of summer sun hits, glitter becomes essential and charity shops are raided to create the most eccentric outfits.

Glastonbury, England: The original, biggest and the best. The ticket situation is tricky, with registration compulsory to even attempt to get your hands on one. Glastonbury is practically a city in itself, hosting huge names like Beyoncé, Radiohead and Ed Sheeran across hundreds of stages. It also features crafts tents, circus performances and an amazing array of food vendors. Glastonbury takes place in June over five days.

Bestival, England: An epic 3-day music and arts festival taking place in July in the coastal town of Dorset. Expect to hear everything from pop and indie to trance and grime. During the day there are plenty of weird and wonderful activities to take part in, from spin classes to aerial yoga.

Electric Picnic, Ireland: Not just an electronic festival as the name suggest, rather one with an eclectic line-up drawing from all genres. Previous headliners include Kendrick Lamar, Sigur Ros and Arctic Monkeys. Good vibes only here!

Reading and Leeds Festival, England: The festival of choice among school leavers and new students. If you aren’t eager on camping out, then pick a day or two and grab individual tickets. This is a festival of big names, glitter, glam and good times.

Parklife, England: An independent music festival held in Manchester every June. The line-up tends to vary from indie and hip-hop to dance and electronic, with headliners including Lorde, Frank Ocean and the XX. Unlike the other festivals mentioned Parklife doesn’t offer camping, so alternative accommodation is required.

backpacking UK - Glastonbury festival

Glastonbury Festival

Best cultural festivals

Hogmanay Festival, Edinburgh: Hogmanay Festival is one of the world’s leading New Year’s Celebrations, taking place in the Scottish capital. The festivities last three days from the 30th of December. Most Scots celebrate Hogmanay with meals, music, dancing and of course a whole lot of drinking. The main Hogmanay Event in Edinburgh features a huge torchlight procession, street parties, concerts and an impressive firework spectacular. Tickets vary in price, depending on how many activities and events you choose, but are generally around £150-200 for hostel accommodation and a three-day ticket.

Fringe Festival, Edinburgh: Edinburgh knows how to do festivals, and the Fringe is the largest of its kind in the world. Spanning over three weeks in August it sees streets, pubs, theatres and even churches transformed into stages of all sorts. Performances range from cabaret and musical theatre to stand-up comedy and improvised skits. There’s no need to buy tickets in advance – in fact, if you head to the half price tent, you can get last minute tickets for a bargain price. All of the street performances are free (although tipping is encouraged) and a lot of the local acts run their shows on a ‘pay what you want’ basis.

backpacking UK - Edinburgh hostels

Edinburgh ?: @adventuresofsophh

Notting Hill Carnival, London: Since 1966, the Notting Hill Carnival has marked the calendar of most Londoners. Think dancing, music and masquerade seamlessly filling the streets with a pop of colour and thousands of happy, free-spirited people. The carnival is a celebration of London’s Caribbean communities, and the majority of performances and food stem from their traditions. The carnival always takes place on the bank holiday weekend in August, and there’s no entrance free – just rock up and let the good times flow.

 

UK Food

The food in each area of the UK varies, with even individual towns having their own traditions. In cities especially there’s also a huge influence from other cultures, meaning that a whole range of cuisines are widely available.

Traditional foods in the UK

Black pudding; England & Scotland: A savoury item made from pig’s blood and fat definitely won’t appeal to vegetarians, but it’s extremely popular with locals and travellers. You can get black pudding anywhere in the UK – but its true origin is a touchy subject between the English and the Scots. Black pudding is usually eaten with a traditional cooked breakfast.

Sunday Roast; England: The English love their Sunday Roast and so does everyone who visits! Get ready for a very full belly – a traditional Sunday dinner contains roasted meat, crunchy roast potatoes, a mixture of vegetables, Yorkshire pudding (baked batter pudding), sausage meat stuffing and thick gravy.

Welshcake; Wales: The Welshcake looks like a flattened fruit scone. Although it has similar ingredients, the cooking process is entirely different, with the Welshcake being cooked on a griddle. You can eat them hot and cold, with a little bit of icing sugar and a light spread of butter and jam if you please.

Cream tea; England: Did you really go to England if you didn’t have afternoon tea or debate the pronunciation of the word scone? This is one of the yummiest English treats, and you must eat your scone with clotted cream and jam. It is to die for.

backpacking UK - cream tea

Haggis; Scotland: The national Scottish dish is made with minced sheep’s heart, liver and lungs as well as oatmeal, onion, suet and spices. It’s definitely not vegetarian or vegan friendly but it’s a must try for all you meat lovers.

Laverbread; Wales: Laverbread isn’t actually a bread. In fact, it’s pureed edible seaweed which is somewhat similar to caviar, and it’s so high in vitamins and minerals that it’s considered a superfood. Laverbread can be enjoyed with toast or seafood but is traditionally served as a hearty breakfast for Welsh Miners.

Soda Bread; Northern Ireland: Yeast is exchanged for baking soda to create soda bread, a staple side that goes well with most Irish dishes. Eat it with just a slab of butter or jam, or serve it with stews, soups and breakfast dishes.

Fish and Chips; England: Best enjoyed freshly caught by the seaside – but even away from the coast or on a rainy day, Brits still love their Fish and Chips. It’s common for the chips to be doused in vinegar or to order mushy peas on the side – even gravy or curry sauce in the north of England!

Welsh rarebit; Wales: Don’t worry, you won’t have to eat any rabbit in Wales – not in this dish anyway. Simply put, the rarebit is grilled cheese on toast, made special with its unique cheese sauce seasoned with ale, mustard, paprika or Worcestershire sauce. No basic cheese on toast here!

Where to eat

Hearty pub meals are ubiquitous across the UK, and it’s best to support independent locals and head to the cosiest boozer you can find. Think Sunday roast, fish and chips or pie and mash – Brits are certainly a health conscious lot…

The cafe culture in the UK is on point, especially in the bigger cities across England and Scotland. Cafes are a great way to enjoy eating out without making too much of a dint in the budget too. Some of my favourites from my trip included Paper Cup Café (Glasgow), Honey & Co. (London), Established Coffee (Belfast) and Bakers & Co. (Bristol).

backpacking UK - paper cup glasgow

Paper Cup Cafe, Glasgow ?@adventuresofsophh

Buying food from supermarkets and cooking at your hostel is a great way to save some pennies, and the best budget buys will be found at Aldi and Lidl. Otherwise, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons all offer meal deals where you can buy a sandwich, drink and a snack to enjoy on the go for around £3.

Transport in the UK

It is remarkably easy to travel between countries in the UK. With an extensive network of railways and coaches as well as budget airlines, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting around. So, whether you need to make a quick trip or venture further afield, there’s nothing to stress about.

Coach: Each city has its own bus services, but to travel nationally Megabus and National Express are the most reliable and comfortable coach options. You can travel for as cheaply as £5 one way if booked in advance. Both offer services to hundreds of destinations in the UK, as well as airports and international destinations such as Brussels, Paris and Amsterdam.

Trains: Every major train company in the UK runs under the National Rail network, which makes it easy to jump between cities and countries. Catching the train is the fastest way to travel, but if you don’t book tickets in advance it can be notoriously expensive.

Plane: One of the most convenient things about travelling Europe is the number of budget airline carriers available. The UK is serviced by Ryanair, EasyJet and Flybe which all offer up cheap routes around the continent.

 

The United Kingdom has so many gems to uncover and no matter how long you get to spend on these fair isles it’ll leave you longing for more – be it another mountain to hike in Scotland, ten more selfies to take with a red phone box in London, another pint of Guinness to drink in Northern Ireland or one more castle to explore in Wales.

 

About the Author: 

Sophie Spencer is an Australian travel blogger who lives for adventure and thrives off breaking out of that pesky comfort zone. She created Adventures of Soph to inspire travellers to live their boldest life, full of courage, change and a whole lot of colour. But with the good, she also shares the ugly realities of travel, talking openly about mental health, her travel mishaps and hardest times both on and off the road.

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