My Ultimate Guide to Backpacking the U.K
I write so commonly about other countries but I’ve never really written travel tips for the U.K. Although many of you who read this blog are from the U.K so I guess that’s why it’s never occurred to me before but there are many of you who aren’t from here too. I thought it would be useful to do a little everything I know about backpacking the U.K. Or at least everything I would want to know as a backpacker seeing how I’ve nearly always explored the U.K with my own mode of transport and more than a backpack.
Backpacking the U.K
Let’s start with some of the places I feel are must visit places…
The key stops
Chances are you’ll fly in and out of London as it has the biggest airports of the country and makes for a pretty good base. Even if you planned to spend your entire trip in London there are multiple day trips you can take within around two hours. A Lady in London has a great London day trips post here.
Of course there is the city itself to visit. If you have 24 hours in the city I’d recommend staying in the city centre (I’ll link some accommodation below) and walking along the river as this takes in so many of the main icons in London. I’d also book a trip up the Sky Garden, after all its free but you’ll need to book three weeks in advance. If you have time to stray away from the river I’d head to East London to check out the gorgeous street art or Camden to enjoy the market.
Where to stay in London
How to get around the city
The tube and bus network makes it super easy to get around London. I would recommend downloading the Citymapper app which is super helpful for finding the best route from A to B in the city. You can use a contactless bank card, apple pay (or any other type of phone pay thingy) or buy an oyster card from most major stations which will cost £5 and totally worth it if you are spend more than a few days in the city. Alternatively you can buy a day travel card based on which zones you’ll be visiting (normally 1-3, unless you have something special planned).
If you only visit one place aside from London I would really recommend it be Edinburgh. It is my favourite city in the UK for so many reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t feel like a ‘city’ because of the castle and Arthur’s Seat and the cobbled streets and the gorgeous architecture and the friendly people. Enough reasons already? Edinburgh has a crazy amount of pubs, the best Christmas Market, the best new year’s eve party, the best Fringe Festival and it’s pretty easy to get around. If you only have a few hours here be sure to wander the Royal Mile, listen to someone playing the bagpipes, take in the views from the castle and dine/drink in a pub.
The Brew Dog brewery bar, this is some of the best kind of beer and the bar has such a good atmosphere.
Things to do in the rain…
Bath is another beautiful old town that is easily accessible from London by train or bus. The streets are beautiful to wander around and get lost in. The spa is nice if you’re after a treat afternoon and a good swim in an infinity pool. Afternoon tea is available in most cafes and something you should do at least once while in the U.K. Bath is also famous for its Roman Baths which are thousands of years old!
Fancy heading towards the seaside on your visit? Then you can’t miss a trip to Brighton. Known for its seaside location, easy access from London and gorgeous lane ways, you will have plenty to do in Brighton. I’d recommend staying the night here so that you can experience a good old night out in the lanes drinking in cute and cosy bars or partying it up in clubs until the small hours of the morning.
If you don’t think you’ll make it to Scotland then the next best stop is the Lake District. Located just north of Manchester and home to a few hostels it’s still affordable as a backpacker. Come here for glorious views, a little hiking and some of the most gorgeous towns you’ll come across in England.
So maybe that previous statement is a lie because the Cotswolds also has some of the cutest villages. I would recommend coming here on a day trip unless you hire a car as the villages are quite spread out and the scenery is just as worth the trip as the villages.
Isle of Skye
You would pretty much need to hire a car for this one but I had to include one of my beloved Scottish islands. The Isle of Skye is probably the most talked about island and easiest to reach with a bridge over the water connecting it to the mainland. There is plenty of hiking to be done here and they have plenty of hostels to suit any budget, I’d recommend the bunkhouse.
The Gower Peninsular
I can’t write the key spots without mentioning Wales. I spent many camping holidays in the south of Wales and it is gorgeous, but then so is the north of Wales. The problem with Wales, much like Scotland is you really need a car to be able to appreciate the area fully. The Gower Peninsular is located not far from Cardiff making it more accessible and if you visit in the summer months I’d certainly recommend camping.
The New Forest
Finally, my home, the New Forest, you can get here from London via train or bus. I’d recommend hiring a bike for the day, exploring the beautiful forests and admiring the fact horses roam wild. There is one hostel in Burley, which is a gorgeous village and can be reached by the local bus.
So there are all these amazing places to visit in the U.K but how are you going to get to them? Aside from hiring a car the best ways to get around the country are trains and buses.
Most of the main spots are connected by train from London, however, the train can be pricey at certain times on certain routes. As long as you don’t care when you travel you could pick up some cheap deals even for first class! I always book tickets using the Trainline who seem to have some of the best deals.
The best bus services for long distance journeys are either National Express or Mega Bus, both will get you from a to b and probably cost half the price of a train. The best way is to book directly through the website alternatively you can go to some of the main bus stations and book tickets in person. National Express are also useful for getting to and from the airport.
Google Maps is a great way to plot routes between destinations and to work out how long it will take.
GoEuro is a great site for comparing cost of buses, trains and even plans for getting around the U.K. You may even find a flight is cheaper than a train to Scotland!
The best sites to use for accommodation are…
The best company for day trips…
You can pay by card in all major cities in the U.K, however, some smaller towns and villages may have a minimum card payment. ATMs are easy to find in all cities and towns but again you might find it difficult to get cash in a small village. Typically all supermarkets have ATMs outside that are available 24/7.
Although all of the U.K has the same sterling currency you will find different looking notes in Scotland, notes that are then hard to use in England and Wales as they won’t recognize them. Any problems get you left over cash from Scotland exchanged at a bank.
I don’t feel I’m particularly qualified to talk about budget for a backpacking trip in the U.K but the below may help as a rough guide.
Hostel bed £20 per night
Hotel bed £50 per a night
London to Edinburgh via train £40
London to Edinburgh via bus £16
Pub meal £15
Pint of beer £3.50 (unless in London where you’ll pay £5+)
Bottle of house wine £12
Litre of petrol £1.15
Day travel with Oyster card £6.70
For more inspiration you can read all of my U.K blog posts here.
If you’d like to know more or have any questions about travelling in the U.K leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.