Heading "across the pond"? Check out everything you'll want to know before your first trip to England!
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First trip to England?
Why do I keep going back to England? It's a question I've been asked many, many times...probably because we'll have taken a total of 3 trips to England (plus one to Scotland) during our first 5 years of being married! And my husband lived there for 6 months before we were married.
Anglophiles? You bet!
Well, I've decided to do a combo post to address both the above question and another of my frequently asked questions: what do first time visitors to England need to know before their trip? So let's talk through what you need to know before your trip, and why you will *love* every moment of your trip to England.
Throughout this post, I've also compiled a ton of links to full articles on other topics that I've previously covered, such as specific regions within London and day trip outside of the capital. For example, if you're looking for some more general tips on traveling to Europe from the US (including plug adapters and other practicalities), check out A First Timer's Guide to Visiting Europe.
So grab a cup of tea, turn on one of your "favourite" British Detective shows, and let's "have a go!"
First Trip to England: Pubs
Oh pubs. Perhaps my favorite place in the world is "sat" in a pub (the English do that verb differently - they presumably had it first; no idea why we changed it), pint (or half pint!) in hand, fire in the grate, giant turtleneck on, eaves dropping on someone else's conversation and pretending I'm in an episode of Midsomer Murders, minus the murders, obviously.
To unpack my passing "half pint" reference - in England, if it's lunch or you just aren't feeling like having a giant beer, you can order a "half pint," which comes in an adorable, small glass, so you can fit in at the pub, even if you aren't a big drinker! For my teetotalers, orange or tomato juice are the go-tos of the non-drinking-yet-in-the-pub crowd. And yes, I love pints so much that I gave them first billing in my blog name. Now *that's* love.
Pubs are great for many reason. They're neighborhood or town gathering spots for locals, a bit like Cheers, but cozier, and for visitors, pubs offer a window into the "normal" life of the English. They visit on Christmas, after work, weekend afternoons, and for a casual dinner.
Let's discuss just a few points on pubs before we move on - this will help you avoid awkward interactions on your first trip, if you're never been in a pub before! Pubs are significantly different from restaurants. You don't have a "waiter." Walk in, and select a table, or sit at the bar. Unlike in American restaurants, if you're just having a drink, you can still grab a table - since there aren't waiters, it isn't considered rude. One more note on tables - if you don't make it clear you want to keep your table, someone may take it. For example, if you leave the pub, taking your drink, to smoke, the table will appear empty and get snapped up!
OK, so you've found a table. Now, you go to the bar to order drinks and food. You can order them separately, should you wish, and you may need to ask for menus if they aren't on the tables. You'll wait for your drinks at the bar, while the bar tenders "pulls" them, but your food will either come up at the bar as well when it's ready, or sometimes they'll give you a number and bring it to you.
Definitely make time to explore Britain's pubs, especially in small towns and on day trips. They're cheaper than full-on "restaurants" and more relaxed, and they're pretty much the coziest place I've ever been. Stop by on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and you'll see whole families just chilling in the beer garden area. It's the best. Check out this list of England's 8 Oldest Pubs.
First Trip to England: The History
English people reading this will say this 'goes without saying,' but to American who've never been "across the pond," the sheer breadth of English history is just incredible. As my English friends well know, we've only been around for a short portion of your history, and the oldest building I'd ever been in before I went to England was built in the 17th century - and it wasn't my home/church/city hall/pub - it was a *museum* and I couldn't touch anything.
History in England oozes from its pores - a gleaming new office block stands next to the tiniest pub you've ever seen that's so squeezed between buildings that it could be Grimmauld Place, just appearing before your eyes. Modern restrooms have been crammed into the basements of buildings never meant to accommodate such "amenities," and half the random fields you pass have plaques discussing battles so old you'll likely have to write them down to look up later.
Love British TV? Check out the best shows on Acorn TV and Britbox!
First Trip to England: Can't go wrong with London!
England is not just London (obviously), but for any visitor, especially a first-time visitor, London is going to be a major highlight. "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life," is a cliche because it could not be more true. England's capital city is a bustling metropolis with a history that is hard to beat. Around every corner you'll find something new and excited, mashed right up against the oldest building you've ever been in. From high-end shopping and theatre available every night, to street art and a new surprise around any corner, you could easily spend a lot more than one week's vacation exploring just the smallest corner of London.
Where to stay in London? Well really you just can't go wrong, as long as you're near the center of the action. While staying far outside the city may seem like a great money saver, you'll spend money - and more valuable time - on the Tube trying to get to the places you actually want to visit.
That said, we've stayed in both Westminster (at The Goring - full review here) and in Covent Garden (at The Waldorf Hilton). London is massive and the sights you'll be seeing are spread throughout the "centre" of the city. You'll likely be traversing/Tube traveling through quite a bit of it!
As much as you'll likely spend a majority of your time in London, and it's always been our home base, I strongly encourage you to get outside of London and really see what else England has to offer. If someone came to the US and only went to New York City for 3 days, I certainly wouldn't think they'd understood everything there is to know about the US, but I do find people often do the reverse when visiting Europe.
First Trip to England: The Tube
Of course, as mentioned above, one of the great things about London is its public transit system, The Underground, or, more commonly, The Tube. Not only does the Tube have the most catchy public announcement phrasing ever "Mind the Gap," but it's clean, safe, efficient, eco-friendly, and quick!
What more could you want?
First Trip to England: The Royal History
From castles to palaces, plaques, naming conventions, museums, and everywhere in between, on visit to England is complete without delving into the history of the current Royal Family, and those that came before it. Definitely take some time to brush up on the Royal before you go - it'll help you appreciate the sights you'll be seeing, and help you link up the various parts of what you're learning. For modern "history," I'd highly recommend Netflix's The Crown, though, obviously, it's no documentary!
If you're lucky, you may have time to take in a Royal spectacle while you're in town! Check out the Royal Family's website for their public appearances.
First Trip to England: That English drizzle
The English have spent centuries figuring all the perfect ways to warm up from that crazy rain and bone-chilling cold. From pints to Barbour coats and the coziest sweaters you've ever seen, they're really turned it into a bit of an art form. A roaring pub fire is certainly my happy place - and don't you dare let the rain get you down - the English certainly don't let the drizzle get in the way of their daily lives!
That said, you will probably want to check out What to Wear in London for some tips on staying dry, as a tourist.
First Trip to England: The inevitable tea
"Tea" is one of the ways the English shake off the cold - the drink itself is endlessly being poured and offered, and it often comes with food! Just to confuse things, slightly, some people in England use the word "tea" to refer to "dinner." You likely won't run across this much, especially in touristy areas, but if you're preparing for your trip with some British tv watching, it can get confusing!
If you're thinking "I can't possibly live without coffee," then check out a First Timer's Guide to Traveling to Europe, on where to find coffee, and how to order it.
"High Tea" is of course another fabulous variation on the tea troupe - and a must-do for a first visit to England. We hugely enjoyed our tea at The Queen Mum's "favourite," The Goring.
First Trip to England: Easy day trips
In addition to the Tube in London, trains in England are clean, safe, speedy, and efficient. You can get pretty much anywhere that tourists will want to be visiting by train. I have written extensively on this topic, so I've included a few other blog posts to give you some more information:
First Trip to England: How to charm the English
I love the English, and I find them endlessly fascinating. While a shared language allows for ease of communication during your travels, it also you to understand and observe their culture far more than on other foreign travels.
I've done a great deal of "banging on" about how to charm the French, as they're notoriously touchy about tourists and interactions with Parisians is often something that worries tourists.
Ironically, Americans generally don't have the same concern about the English, probably in large part because the English would never say something if they were offended. No reason we shouldn't try as hard with them!
A few tips to impress the English when you're across the pond:
Thanks so much for stopping by!
I hope you love England as much as I do and I so appreciate you popping by to prepare for your trip! Let me know your tips in the comment section! xx
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