Westminster Bridge

Westminster BridgeGetty; Images

Traveling to Great Britain is one of the best things someone can do with their vacation time. Whether you're looking for a city break, or want to get lost in the countryside, Britain has something for everyone. Here's seven top tips to get the most out of your trip!

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The popular visitor routes in Britain are well-traveled with touring coaches—Salisbury, Stonehenge, Bath and back to London, or Oxford to Blenheim Palace, Stratford-upon-Avon to Warwick Castle, or the Grand Circular up to the Lake District, Edinburgh and York. But there are a plethora of ways to see Britain. 

Get out of London

One of the most exciting, historic cities in the world, London isn’t England, let alone Great Britain. The colorful capital will easily fill as much time as you’ll give it, but to even begin to see the country, leave the city and explore our green and pleasant land—and not just on day trips. Whether by train or car, take a few days at least exploring in the provinces. East Anglia is handy, with Norwich as a prize. Or take the train up to York and add a stop along the way—maybe Peterborough or Lincoln. Back issues of British Heritage are full of ideas, and “On the Road” presents a practical, varied itinerary with every edition.

Ride the River Thames

No, do not take one of those tourist boats that putter along giving largely forgettable commentary on every view and quay along the river banks. Ride the Thames like a Londoner, on the Thames Clipper—at least from Westminster Pier to Greenwich. You’ll see the river and the city as most travelers have seen it since the Romans.

River Thames

River Thames

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Visit the seaside

Nothing is more quintessentially English than the seaside. Yes, many of the classic seaside resorts have declined in popularity since mass air travel has made holidays to warmer waters popular. No shared experience, however, is more quintessentially English or evokes more shared memories than the seaside holiday Do spend a couple of nights catching the flavor, whether at Weymouth or Llandudno, Eastbourne or Skegness.

British Seaside

British Seaside

Join a village fete

Notice I said join a fete; that means to participate. Spring and summer, churches, village greens and manor houses everywhere host local fairs in support of charities and local causes. Recent years have seen a revival of these civic celebrations (see British Heritage, March 2013, p. 40).

Play a game or two; sample the local baking; buy a raffle ticket; have tea and homemade jam (or a glass of Pimms); pick up a souvenir craft to take home. Folk are always delighted to have Americans visit and take part, and you’ll practically feel like one of the villagers.

Tug of War

Tug of War

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Go to the pub

Even if you would never darken the door of a bar at home, go to the local pub. This is a different kind of institution. It’s certainly not necessary to drink pints of great English ale, or anything alcoholic. On the other hand, don’t expect the barman to know your favorite cocktail either. Try the local ale, or a G&T with ice and a slice. The neighborhood pub, though, is the neighborhood living room. This is where the English have the time and social latitude to visit with folks—like you.

British Pub

British Pub

Eat a curry

Scarcely a British citizen now alive has not repaired many a time to their local Indian for a meal. If you are going to go native in Britain, go out for a curry. But you don’t like curry? Don’t worry; the real deal bears little resemblance to what most Americans think of as curry flavor. The only similarity is that “curry” means mixed spices. Cuisine from the Indian subcontinent is as varied and colorful as any in Europe. If even the word “spice” scares you, try a korma and pilau rice, or tandorri chicken.

Take Away

Take Away

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Don’t be a slave to the itinerary

Of course, you have to make your train and your fight home. You will have planned your travel in some detail, perhaps pouring over maps and guidebooks, doing web searches and checking travel times. Once you hit the road or rail, however, travel takes on a life of its own.

A missed train, a chance discovery, meeting a tall, handsome stranger or just not being able to find room at the inn: there are myriad ways and means that plans not just can, but ought to change. Don’t be such a slave to your plans and preconceptions that you are too timid to have an adventure.

In briefer phrase, be aware of the life around you, and don’t move so fast that you cannot see it. Britain lives comfortably in its history and every corner of the country has discoveries waiting to be made.