The UK is among the world’s most popular tourist destinations. English-speaking, prosperous and full of history, it has a great deal to offer. But what should first-time visitors do to prepare for their arrival?
What is the UK?
This is one of those countries, like the Netherlands, which presents a few opportunities for confusion. Indeed, many of the natives might struggle to tell you exactly what the difference is. There are actually three countries which comprise Great Britain: namely England, Scotland and Wales. A fourth comes in the form of Northern Ireland, to create The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The British Isles isn’t a country; it’s just the name for the landmass.
While the trains and buses don’t meet quite the same standard as set on mainland Europe, they’re still the easiest way for a new arrival to get from one place to another. Car rentals and taxis can be extremely expensive, especially if you’re traveling frequently. For example, the train from Eastbourne is a safe bet for those looking to head to Hastings to check out the battlefield and the beach.
When visiting any new country, it’s worth getting to grips with the local customs concerning etiquette. To begin with, the British know how to form an orderly line, and will take a pretty dim view of anyone attempting to push in. In the UK, the chance of any new arrival causing a serious commotion are fairly small; at worst, you’ll probably get a pointed tutting, or an “excuse me.”
The currency is sterling. Notes come in fives, tens and twenties (and, very occasionally, fifties). You might find different sorts of notes if you’re in Scotland. These notes are legal tender everywhere, as Scottish people will never tire of telling you.
The UK has a famously temperate climate, being surrounded by water. You won’t get extremes of heat or cold, and you can expect to be rained on at least once, even if you’re heading there at the height of summer.
City or Country?
The UK is quite a small country, especially compared to the United States. As such, you’ll find quite a lot of variety crammed into just a small area. You might use a city as a base of operations, and from there venture out into the countryside. London tends to take the lion’s share of the tourist traffic, but there are other places in the country worth visiting – and you may find that the cost of things in smaller towns is markedly lower.
When to Go
The UK provides plenty of distraction throughout the year. If you’re travelling in summer, then you’ll benefit from the traditional seaside and city breaks – though you should be aware that the prices will rise accordingly. At winter time, there’s more of an emphasis on indoor attractions. Some of the country’s outdoor adventures are best undertaken during autumn and spring. The countryside looks its best at this time of year, but you’ll still get a full day of sunshine.
Surfing, cliff jumping and endless coastal views? Sounds like the stuff of tropical holidays I hear you say. Well, you might be surprised to hear that this is one adventure just a few short hours outside of bustling London…
As an Australian who’s called London home for three years now, I often struggle with the distinct lack of outdoor activities this city has to offer. In my quest for a taste of home, I decided to search for viable weekend trips that didn’t require jumping on a plane. This is how I discovered Newquay , a town on the north coast of Cornwall, famous for its sandy beaches and a go-to destination for surfers in the UK.
With only two days up my sleeve, I needed to plan efficiently so I decided to go through a Newquay-based activity provider – who better to show me the best of Newquay than the locals! There are many companies to choose from but I was fortunate enough to find the great owner-operated Cornish Wave. Cornish Wave offers affordable adventure packages that are perfect for weekend getaways – it’s also the only provider in town that has its very own woodland hideaway for you to experience overnight! The company is the brain-child of Jey, an avid surfer and Cornwall local of 10 years. He and his team offer holidaymakers everything from surfing safaris to wilderness camping.
So here’s my suggested itinerary for how to make the most of a quick weekend in Newquay, Cornwall.
Wake up bright and early to grab some breakfast ahead of your big day. Open from 8:00AM, I recommend popping into The Jam Jar to pick up a fresh bagel and muesli. For the best coffee around, head to the newly built Pavilion Bakery. Once your tummy is satisfied, enjoy strolling around the sleepy streets and empty coastline before making your way to Alma Place to meet Jey and his team.
Time to suit up! Wet suit that is. Depending on the conditions, you’ll head to either Fistral Beach or Towan Beach. Yes, the water is pretty cold even in the summer time but you’ll be wearing a thick, winter wetsuit which will keep you surprisingly warm! As a beginner, you’ll be given an extra-large foam board which makes getting your balance much easier. Your friendly surf coach will take you through all the steps you need to have you standing up on your board by the end of the lesson.
Time for lunch! My top three places places to try are:
Gilmore’s: super tasty Mexican where you get to play mini golf while you wait for your food!
I recommend grabbing takeaway and walking down to the harbour to enjoy the panoramic views of the boats and coastline in the distance.
Jumping off cliffs didn’t sound all that appealing to me at first (mainly because I’m petrified of heights). But it didn’t take long until I was convinced otherwise. Coasteering, a term I had never been heard before this trip, is the act of exploring a rocky coastline by climbing, jumping, and swimming… And believe me, it’s one awesome adrenalin rush! You’ll be suited up in a wetsuit, helmet and a safety jacket for this adventure, which definitely made me feel much more comfortable hurling myself off a cliff top. Then, you’ll head to the stunning Towan Headland. Your guides will remind you that you don’t have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing; however, it’s good to feel a little outside your comfort zone. After all, that’s what getting an adrenalin rush is all about!
6:00PM WILDERNESS CAMPING
Once you’ve dried off, refueled and picked up some camp fire supplies, you’re off to your lodgings for the night. About 11 miles out of Newquay, a cosy bell tent is awaiting your arrival.
After making your way through a rustic dairy farm, inside some secluded dense woodland, you’ll walk into what I imagine camping heaven looks like. Littered with fairy lights, candles and beautiful wooden structures, Jey and his colleague Dazzer have literally thought of everything to make this an authentic but truly magical camping experience. You’ll get to try your hand at axe throwing, learning how to light a fire, and various other bush crafts. After you have cooked your dinner on the BBQ, you can settle in around the camp fire roasting marshmallows and listening to music. The perfect end to a big day!
Your lovely hosts will be awake early to whip you up some tasty energy food consisting of fresh bacon and egg rolls and strong coffee. Then it’s time to pack up and head back into town for your next surfing lesson!
Ready to improve upon your new found surf skills? During your second lesson Jey and his instructors continue to help you build on your skills, making sure to spend one-on-one time with every student. If you didn’t stand up yesterday, you’re almost guaranteed to today!
12:30PM PM CARNEWAS MINE & BEDRUTHAN STEPS
Now that the activities are finished and you’ve dried off, it’s time for some sight-seeing. Quickly hope on the No.56 bus from Newquay to Padstow. Here you’ll find the Carnewas Mine and Bedruthan Steps, one of the most popular destinations on the Cornish coast. Enjoy a beautiful walk winding past a succession of picture-postcard coves and headlands.
Once back in Newquay, across the road from the train station you’ll find Driftwood Kitchen, a super cool eatery with stunning views of the bay. Relax and enjoy a meal while you wait for your train. Make sure to grab a delicious coffee for the road.
4:30PM NEWQUAY TRAIN STATION
Sadly, it’s time to head back to London! Load up on your favourite snacks at the supermarket and settle in with a few movies for the five hour journey back to the big smoke. You’re tired, sore from using muscles you didn’t know exist, have salty, knotted hair and smell like a camp fire – and you know what? You couldn’t be happier.
EMILIA’S TOP TIPS
Book your train tickets as early as possible – the longer you wait, the more expensive they will be! Great Western Rail trains run from London Paddington Station to Newquay a few times a day.
Newquay is a very popular destination in the height of summer so make sure to book your accommodation well in advance.
Pack your wet weather gear – chances of rain are high!
If you have some extra time on your hands, jump on the train and check out the stunning St Ives.
Located inside one of of London’s most striking modern buildings, at stay at the Shangri-La Hotel At The Shard London is surely a treat. The hotel is home to 202 rooms and takes up the 34th to 52nd floors of The Shard building.
Imagine staying in a hotel where you never have to worry about what sort of view you’re going to get because every room in the hotel offers a spectacular view! But it’s not just the rooms that boasts these views, the floor to ceiling windows line every amenity and restaurant in the hotel. offering tons of different angles of London City. You’ll see everything from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Borough Market to the iconic London Tower Bridge. Start the morning feeling like you’re on top of the world with laps at the SkyPool followed by lunch and/or afternoon tea at TING and sunset cocktails or a night cap at GŎNG, the highest bar in Western Europe.
Premier City View Room Super spacious with a desk view to die for, binoculars to view the sights form your room, a sitting area and a marble bathroom fully equipped with a heated toilet seat and heated floors.
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All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. I was invited as guest by the Shangri La Hotel At The Shard London. As always, all opinions are my own.