UK and Ireland travel guide: what you need to know


Best time to go, culture, language, health, safety, laws, watchouts, emergency contacts and more.

Britain and Ireland overview


When to go to save money and avoid the crowds and why you should learn the difference between thongs and flip flops - download the UK and Ireland travel guide.

Travel-size tips

  • Most Australian tourists do not need a visa to visit the UK or Ireland.
  • You won't need an international driving permit if you have an Australian licence.
  • Prices and availability can be affected by half-term school holidays as well as holidays between terms.
  • London has five airports, four of them are a long way from the CBD.
  • Long-distance train travel is best booked in advance, particularly at peak times.

Best time to go

The UK and Ireland aren't exactly known for lovely weather. Summer (June-August) is by far the most popular time of year to visit. The temperatures will be milder, but there's no guarantee a British summer won't look just like a British winter; be prepared for the possibility of grey skies and drizzle no matter what the season. But hey, you're visiting for the culture, not the weather!

  • When the sun does shine, summers can be absolutely glorious. Expect to pay higher prices for accommodation in summer, and book in advance if you're travelling during school holidays.
  • Schools have three terms broken up by summer, Christmas and Easter holidays, but they also have a week-long half-term break when bookings are likely to soar – particularly since the UK government introduced fines for parents who take their kids on holiday during term time.
  • Spring and autumn can be beautiful times to visit, the temperatures are still mild and the prices are likely to be cheaper.
  • Winter is not as bitter as you may think. Temperatures rarely go below 0°C and snowfall is usually minimal, except in parts of Scotland. The biggest drawback with travelling in winter is the limited daylight hours for sightseeing – around eight hours a day in the south and seven in the north during December-January.
  • As in Australia, Christmas and New Year are busy times, and accommodation and transport should be booked well in advance.

Culture

British and Irish culture and language is similar to Australia's, but there are a few minor differences.

  • Tipping is not customary, but it's always appreciated.
  • There are a few minor language differences, for example, you 'top up' rather than buy credit for your 'pay-as-you-go' phone (rather than your pre-paid phone), and it helps to know the difference between 'pants' and 'trousers'!
  • Thongs are a type of underwear - they should not be worn on your feet! (You wear flip-flops on your feet).
  • The UK still largely operates on the imperial measurement system. You can use an app, if needed, to translate miles into kilometres and pounds into kilograms. Ireland has mostly switched to metric. Both countries sell petrol by the litre.

Health and safety

The UK and Ireland have reciprocal health care agreements with Australia, meaning that Australian travellers can access the national health services in both countries. This doesn't mean you won't pay for treatment or medication, and it isn't a replacement for travel insurance, which is always a necessity. Remember to take your Medicare card with you – you'll need it, along with your passport, to prove that you're eligible.

  • Australians can access the national health care services in both countries, but you may still have to pay for medication and some treatments.
  • The reciprocal health care agreement with Ireland allows Australians to access emergency care in Irish hospitals, but it does not allow for ongoing treatment.
  • The reciprocal agreement with the UK gives Australians access to GPs as well as emergency treatment.
  • Tap water is safe to drink in the UK and Ireland and the standard of hygiene and food safety is high.

For the latest advice on risks including terrorism, natural disasters and potential outbreaks of disease visit smartraveller.gov.au

Do I need vaccinations to travel to the UK?

Laws and watchouts

Laws

  • 18 is the legal drinking age in the UK and Ireland.
  • Drugs, including marijuana, are illegal.
  • The blood alcohol limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is .08%, in Scotland and Ireland it's .05%.

For road rules, see Driving in the UK.

Watchouts

The UK and Ireland is generally a safe part of the world to visit, but risks can vary depending on where you are and what you're doing.

  • Keep your belongings close, as pickpockets and bag-snatchers may operate in crowded areas.
  • Certain areas of cities may be best avoided at night. Ask a local for advice.
  • Bank card skimming and credit card fraud is a problem in the UK, as it is in Australia. Keep an eye on your statement and let the bank know if you see any unexplained transactions.
  • Be careful using free Wi-Fi hotspots. Follow Stay Smart Online tips to keep your device safe from hackers, and avoid doing internet banking on untrusted connections.

See our list of tourist traps for more advice on avoiding common scams while on holiday.

Making a complaint

UK

If there's one thing the Brits are good at...

  • To complain about a UK business, product or service, visit the Citizen's Advice Bureau (note that the advice differs for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).
  • If your gripe is with a UK travel agent or tour operator, contact the Association of British Travel Agents (abta.com).
  • If your gripe is with an airline, see the Civil Aviation Authority's advice at caa.co.uk.
  • You can also seek advice from CHOICE's sister organisation Which? which.co.uk.

Ireland

  • If you have a dispute with an Irish business, product or service, see consumerhelp.ie for advice about making a complaint or seeking compensation.
  • If your gripe is with an airline, see aviationreg.ie.
  • If you are a victim of a crime, contact the police on 999 or 112. If you need further assistance you can ask for help from the Irish Tourist Assistance Service (ITAS): itas.ie / info@itas.ie / 1890 365 700.

If your gripe is with an Australian or international tour operator, airline, or booking site, follow the usual procedures for making a complaint or seeking compensation.

Emergency contacts

Emergency number: 999 (or 112 from a mobile)

Non-urgent health enquiries (UK): 111

Vehicle breakdowns:

  • If driving a rental, use the contact details given to you by the company
  • AA: 0800 88 77 66
  • RAC: 0800 82 82 82 / 0333 2000 999 (mobile) / 07855 828282 (SMS)

Australian High Commission (embassy) in the UK
uk.embassy.gov.au

Australia House, Strand, London WC2B 4LA
+44 20 7379 4334 (from outside the UK)
020 7887 5776 (from inside the UK)
Consular Emergency Centre: 0500 890 165 (24 hours, free call)

Australian Embassy in Ireland
ireland.embassy.gov.au
7th Floor, Fitzwilton House, Wilton Terrace, Dublin 2
+353 1 664 5300
Out-of-hours emergency: 1800 556 197 (24 hours, free call)
Twitter: @AusEmbIre
Facebook: Australia in Ireland

24-hour Australian Consular Emergency Centre: +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 or SMS +61 421 269 080

Got a travel tip about the UK or Ireland? Or spotted something in our guide that needs updating? Add a comment below.


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