This guide to the UK, complied by Jennifer Sutherland-Miller & Jessie Beck, is part of a series of country-by-country focused resources addressing accommodations and transportation. You’ll find some overlap with the posts for other countries within the region. We’ve separated them by country because that’s what our readers are looking for. Feel free to skim past the parts that don’t suit you or seem redundant. Let us know if you’ve got insider knowledge to add!
The United Kingdom is on almost everyone’s bucket list. An easy and inexpensive flight from the east coast of North America, London is a popular jumping off point for travelers embarking on the classic backpacking, or summer trip to Europe, and for students who are off on their first big adventure, dreaming of hostels and wild nights. The continent is equally popular with retirees who are off on leisurely boat trips along the canals, or supported cycle tours through the countryside.
The UK offers a wonderful range of travel options and environments, from the urban chic of London, to the quiet countryside of the Lakes District, the gritty music and sports hubs of Manchester and Liverpool, not to mention the breathtaking coastlines that ring the island nation. Because the entirety of the UK is English speaking, it’s a great place to get your feet wet with international travel. My friend Jason took his first trip abroad, to London, last year, at 42 years old, and now he’s got a thirst for more. Add to the cultural appeal, the excellent exchange rate against the American dollar (thank you Brexit) and the UK is a very appealing destination indeed.
If you’re planning a trip to the UK then this guide is for you, we’ve got everything you need for finding accommodation and transportation covered:
Table of Contents
- Hotels $100+
- Hotels Under $100
- Boutique Hotels
- Vacation Rentals
- House Sitting
- Unusual Accommodations
- Flights & Airports
- Bus Travel
- Train Travel
- Car Share & Hitchhiking
- Car Rental
- Bicycling the UK
Hotels $100+ per Night
Looking to splurge? The UK is the place to do it. Europeans set the bar high for luxury. If money is no object, finding lodging won’t be either. Stay in castles, and enjoy the five star pampering of the best the islands have to offer.
Four Seasons: The best of the best, one of the most highly rated hotel chains in the world. If you’re looking for all-out luxury, this is it. With locations in Hampshire, London at Park Lane, and (opening January 2017) London at Ten Trinity Square.
Ritz Carlton: The London Edition is a Ritz Carlton partner hotel and the only one in the UK. If you’re looking for luxury in London, and a Michelin-starred chef, this is your place.
Fairmont: Luxury hotels, but a bit less pricey than the above. Comfort is guaranteed. Located in London and St. Andrews.
Pride of Britain Hotels: “A collection of never more than 50 independent, mostly family-owned hotels in some of the most beautiful locations around the British Isles. Each has its own distinctive style and character, and all are run by people with a passion for great hospitality, verging on obsession.”
Radisson Blu: Hotels with a modern vibe, Radisson Blu is moderately priced and they’ve got hotels all over the England, Ireland, and Scotland, but none in Wales.
Conde Naste Johansens: Choose from among 116 featured 5 star hotels and boutique hotels in England. Mostly located central to south in the UK, but there are a few up north too.
Britain’s Finest: Advertised as “handpicked places to stay, dine and unwind,” these are all four and five star hotels in the UK.
Small Luxury Hotels of the World: A club offering discounts at some of the smaller luxury hotels around the world. They advertise popular film locations as a particular draw in the UK.
Novotel: A comfortable stay in convenient locations around the continent. 52 hotels in the UK.
JW Marriott Luxury Hotels: All the comforts of home, across England, Scotland and Wales.
Hotels Under $100 per Night
Finding budget hotels in the UK is not hard if you know where to look. Your best bet is to do some research ahead of time. Depending on where you’re going, book your hotel at least two days in advance.
To save a buck, sacrifice proximity to city centers for a more modest hotel nearer the outskirts of town. City transit tends to be affordable in most cities, so you’re better off taking the subway, or local train, in than you are spending extra money on being two blocks closer to the main attraction.
Don’t forget to use air miles to get the best deals!
iescape: A personal favorite for finding European accommodation. Lists boutique hotels as well as your average hotel room and some downright quirky stuff, like yurt camping in North Yorkshire for $19 USD a night.
Sherman’s Travel: A go-to site for more than just hotel deals. Book flights, car rentals, and more; as well as finding a great room. This site has offerings in Northern Ireland too.
Expedia: Prone to give you classier accommodation options than you might typically find for under $100, Expedia will not always give you the best deal, but you’re more likely to end up in a comfortable room.
Travelocity: One of the top hotel booking sites out there. Travelocity is great for its reviews. If a hotel is listed with them, it’s passed their inspection and you know you’re getting a clean, comfortable room.
Hotels: An offshoot of Expedia, Hotels.com is good for finding big hotel chains or local favorites for a low price.
Hotels Combined: One of the most popular booking sites for European hotels, with thousands of options and set up to be easy to navigate. Hotels Combined makes researching easy and they’ve got dozens of options for the UK.
Ibis: Ibis hotels convey the feeling of luxury while not breaking the bank. By far, some of the nicest “cheap” hotels you can find in the UK.
EuroCheapo: Made specifically to help you find budget hotels in the UK and beyond. Read reviews, find deals, and reserve a room in any of the UK’s most popular cities.
EuroBookings: Tons of options all over the UK, catering to all price ranges. This site is a good one even for last minute bookings.
Agoda: A tried and true travel booking website used by thousands of travelers. Sure to get you a good deal on the lodging you’re looking for. You pay in advance on Agoda, accumulate points towards free stays, and if you end up with a terrible place, they’ll refund your money for unused nights.
Boutique hotels in the UK don’t have to be expensive, and staying in one could be one of the highlights of your trip. If you’re looking for a local, hip, place to stay, this is a good place to start.
iescape: You’ll find fun things here, if you dig, from the quirky to the classy.
Mr & Mrs Smith: Catering to honeymooners in particular, this site locates the best boutique and luxury hotels in the UK, rating them for you, as well. This is where you’ll find castles and manor homes that feel like the stuff of fairy tales.
Best Boutique Hotels Under 100 GBP: This is an article by The Guardian listing (and linking to) 100 of the best boutique hotels under 100 GBP a night. This, it should be noted, is not exactly the same as under $100 a night, but the exchange rate is more favorable to the USD than it has been in years, so it’s closer!
Boutique Hotels: A site specific to the UK, listing boutique, as well as bed and breakfast, style hotels.
Great Small Hotels: With over 246 boutique hotel listings for the UK, you’re sure to find a place to stay here. However, it may be harder to sort the best rooms from the just “ok.”
Chic Retreats: With 97 listings in the UK alone and extending around the world, surely you’ll find a great boutique hotel here.
Country Hotel Breaks: These are all UK hotels and there are 8 listings in the “boutique” category.
Secretplaces: A magical, handpicked collection of the best hole-in-the-wall hotels around Europe. Your best bet for finding the hotel of your dreams. Each country is listed separately, so you’ll have to search individually for England, Ireland, and Scotland.
Staying in one area for the majority of your vacation? You may want to consider renting a home instead of camping out in the cheapest hotel room you can find. Chances are, you’ll be able to find a vacation rental that perfectly suits your needs, and may even be cheaper, in the long run, than staying in a hotel.
Most UK vacation rentals average from $50-150 a night, and come fully furnished with all the essentials. Save a great deal on food by cooking from the comfort of your own home-away-from-home.
If you need reliable connetivity: Check with the owner ahead of time to ensure that wifi is included in the rental if you’ll be needing it; otherwise you might find yourself hunting down the nearest internet cafe.
Home from Home: This is a London specific, short term home or apartment rental portal that also offers a personal driver service from the airport and a housekeeping option as well.
London Perfect: Advertised as having only the best locations. providing hands-on service and attention to detail, this team will take care of everything for you.
VRBO: Find owners of vacation rentals all over the UK, get connected, and set up a stay.
HomeAway: One of the best vacation rental websites out there. Search according to your price range, stay in your dream home for a week or two… or more!
AirBNB: Rent a house, or rent just one room in your host’s home. A great way to get to know locals and travel economically. For more on this, read this post about Airbnb alternatives.
9flats: With 851 rentals available in London alone, this site is a goldmine of options. A fantastic local resource for finding UK rentals for a fair price.
FlipKey: Much like the other sites, offers a range of flats and houses across the UK, including one on the Isle of Man.
OwnerDirect: Apartments in select places around the UK. All pro-checked and approved. This site makes it a bit more difficult to find the places you’re looking for. Try searching by individual city if broader searches don’t turn up what you need.
Wimdu: Another European based rental website, with a great deal of local expertise. Claims to have Europe’s “Best city apartment deals,” you’ll find whole apartments but also rooms for rent on this site, and the prices are very affordable.
If you have a beautiful home, you may be able to swap it with another family’s for an ultra-cheap vacation. Or, pay a membership fee to a housesitting website and stay without swapping. Be sure to make your housing arrangements well in advance of your trip.
Housesitters UK: A housesitting service and membership site that is specific to the UK. List your home in the UK or become a registered housesitter and find places to stay in the UK rent free.
Mind My House: Free for home owners and a $20 fee for sitter registration, there are houses available all over the world, including in the UK.
Mind a Home UK: Plenty of listings, only in the UK.
Luxury Housesitting: For the best of the best. The houses listed here are beautiful. Plus, membership for homeowners is free.
Housesit Match: Very highly rated and used by thousands. An easy, doable way to housesit in Europe.
Sabbatical Homes: Homes for rental, exchange, or sitting. $45 listing fee.
HouseCarers: A wide range of listings in across the UK, including Ireland and Wales, to suit all needs. $50 fee for house sitters.
Trusted Housesitters: This site has extensive profiles of both home owners and sitters to help ensure a good match. We’ve used this one twice and both times have had fantastic experiences. This site caters specifically to pet owners and lovers; pet sitting is often part of the equation.
Camping & RV
Camping is one of my favourite ways to stay in the UK. Get in touch with local culture, meet new people, and discover off-the-beaten path destinations by staying where locals are staying on their holidays.
Unlike in North America, campgrounds in Europe are often located within walking distance of towns, or public transportation routes in major cities. Also, most campgrounds in the UK will offer cabin accommodations, complete with sheets on the bed, so tents are not required.
The only downside to camping is that you’re at the mercy of the seasons and will likely end up traveling during the more touristed months.
UK Campsite: An online directory for carvanners or campers in the UK.
UK Parks: The official UK camping guide. Listings for loads of campsites and a handy way of sorting by amenities, so that you can find one with a lodge or cabin; you know, in case you didn’t pack a tent in your carry on bag.
Pitch Up: Hundreds of campsite listings in the UK, but also all over Europe and a few countries outside; like Peru, Canada and the USA.
Love Camping: Nicely organized with tons of listings across the whole of the UK.
EuroCampings: Europe’s largest campsite search engine, with 9902 annually inspected campsites. There are many options in the UK.
RV Camping Europe: An amateur’s guide to RVing Europe. Best campsites, RV rentals, tips and tricks, and destinations. Not specific to the UK, but very helpful, nonetheless..
Cool Camping: The coolest camping guide out there for the UK and Europe. Read reviews, check out pictures, and book your stay in advance.
Wigwam Village: Sleep in a wigwam (or maybe a yurt) minutes away from the Northumberland coastline.
The weird, the fantastic, and the unbelievable. Here are some of the most interesting accommodation options in the UK.
Castle and Palace Hotels: Ever dreamed of sleeping like royalty in an actual castle? Here’s your chance. Listings in England, Scotland & Wales.
Canopy & Stars: As they say, “a wonderful collection of inspected and selected, quirky places of a glamping kind!”
Hunger Hill Yurts: On the East Devon coast, these yurts are luxurious.
Forest Holiday: Magical golden oak tree houses with suspended walk-between bridges. Some have hanging beds, they offer to pre-order your food in for you, pets and children are welcome. These really do bear having a look at if you’re interested in unique lodging with all the comforts of home.
Quirky Accom: Claims to be the largest directory of unusual places to stay on the planet… and they really do list a lot, the UK included, of course!
Skye Cottages: Unsual, quaint, and some of them breathtaking, these aren’t your average cottage rentals.
16 Strange Places to Stay in the UK and Channel Islands: An article from the Telegraph listing some different types of places to stay. Includes a fort, a pineapple mansion, a windmill and more, all within the UK.
Distinctly Different:The website isn’t pretty but they do offer some accommodations that are true to the name. How ’bout a gypsy wagon, a cow shed, or a milking parlour. Not your thing? No worries, there are also loads of castles and lovely cottages listed.
Hostels are a very popular way to stay while in Europe, especially among young people. If you’re willing to sacrifice your comfort and embrace a sense of adventure, hostels are the cheapest way to go. Just don’t expect to be pampered along the way! These are every backpacker’s go-to booking sites for the UK and hostels in Europe.
It is worth noting that some hostels have age caps, on the upper and lower ends. Be sure to ask when you book.
HostelWorld: The biggest hostel site out there, with thousands of recorded and rated hostels for you to choose from.
Hostels: They don’t get extra points for creativity, but hey, it’s your basic hostel booking site. What more can you ask?
Savvy Backpacker: One of the best guides to hosteling Europe I’ve seen.
EuropeanHostels: This site specializes in Europe, unlike the others, meaning that it may have more in-depth information on a region than some of the bigger hostel sites out there.
HostelBookers: A personal favorite for easily finding and booking hostels anywhere in Europe, not just the UK.
Flights & Airports
Flying into the UK, whether from mainland Europe or North America, is going to land you in a major city. If you’re coming from North America and you’re flying from the east coast, check out Dublin and Glasgow as alternatives to flying into London (which is everyone’s obvious choice, making it sometimes less expensive to start in one of the other capital cities).
If your time is limited, then there are inexpensive flights between the major cities in the UK and you’ll often find them at rock bottom prices through the budget airlines. Do not expect any amenities and expect to be nickle and dimed to death. Traveling with only a carry on bag will save you loads.
The Airport Guides: This site will give you the run down on every airport in the UK, including parking, getting around, and services.
RyanAir: The worst kept secret of budget travel in Europe, RyanAir is a discount UK airline that flies, mostly, just within Europe. Yes, they’re ridiculously cheap (I once bought a flight for 1 Pound), but they’ll try and find ways to charge you for everything imaginable, and they don’t always fly to major airports. So, if this is your first experience with them, err, pack light.
RyanAir Alternatives: However, there are some good alternatives, including EastJet and AirLingus.
FlyCheapo: FlyCheapo will help you figure out which budget airlines go from one destination to another, so you can get even more specific with those RyanAir alternatives.
SleepingInAirports: And, because Ryanair and Jetblue flights are notorious for having terrible connection times and not being the most convenient, SleepingInAirports.net will give you tips on where and how to sleep in the airport you’re currently stuck in — stuff like “They’ll kick you out of Terminal 2 but Terminal 1 is open all night and there are some benches without arms by the cafe.”
Edreams: A European version of Kayak that will include most budget airlines in your search. I usually run it in conjunction with Kayak or Priceline.
Busing Around the UK
Taking the bus between cities and towns is a picturesque and economical way to get around the UK. There are several options for bus lines and some of them offer passes to further reduce the cost and increase flexibility. Even if you don’t have a pass, don’t hesitate to book tickets, even last minute!
EuroLines: A central website for booking buses throughout the continent. They have a pass specific to exploring the UK that includes other bus lines within the country.
MegaBus: Those of you on the Eastern Seaboard, and in California, might already be familiar with the ultra-budget bus service, MegaBus, but did you know they have it in Europe too? Yup! There are plenty of options within the UK.
National Express: Operates throughout the UK; you can often get 2 for 1 deals or super low rates.
The UK by Train
The train is a fantastic way to travel and UK trains are affordable, reliable, generally on schedule, and run between all of the major cities, as well as many of the surrounding towns. I spent the summer I turned 16 riding trains around the UK with a high school friend; we had a blast and didn’t get lost even once! If you are traveling with a bicycle do note that there are restrictions on some lines as to the number of bikes that can be on a train, you’d do well to reserve in advance.
RailEurope: RailEurope will be most travelers’ first stop when looking for train tickets. Yes, it’s good to check these, but do note that local websites (like BritRail) will often provide lower fares and discounts that American run RailEurope will not.
BritRail: This is the UK site for booking rail passes and individual tickets in advance on most train routes.
Seat61: British run Seat61 is a great resource for finding discounts on train and ferry rides across the UK, as well as advice on how to get around (affordably!) using the rail system.
Lastminute: RailEurope and Seat61 both have discounts on rail lines listed, but Lastminute is another website to check for last minute details on train fares if you’re leaving the UK for continental Europe by train. It also lists last minute deals on airfares.
London Metro Tips
London’s metro is the most economical and efficient way to get around the city.
- Get an Oyster card never a paper ticket
- Travel everywhere with the bus to hit a low daily maximum
- Get a week pass, equal to the same prices as bus daily max but you get unlimited tube and bus, both
Car Shares & Hitchhiking in the UK
Have you considered ride sharing while you’re in the UK? Particularly within urban areas, and sometimes between towns, a ride share can be a great way to meet interesting people and save money too. If you aren’t ready for standing alongside the road and hitchhiking, old school, these sites will help you find a reputable ride.
Carpooling: This UK based website will help you find a car share (kind of like craigslist’s car share feature) throughout the UK and the rest of Europe.
Lift Share: The UK’s largest ride share network.
HitchWiki: Hitchwiki, the “hitchhikers guide to hitchhiking” is an incredible database of tips for hitchhikers — from where to stand are if you’re trying to get a ride out of London, to tips on which roads are the best or worst to find rides. I personally used it to hitchhike throughout Europe and the tips are both updated constantly and super helpful.
Bla Bla Car: Tons of countries available, the UK being one of them, this is a very popular site for ride sharing in Europe.
GumTree: Gumtree is super similar to Craigslist, and — like Craigslist — will set you up with car shares around Europe… just in case you didn’t find any on Carpooling.
Car Rentals in the UK
Most of the bigger car rental agencies operate in the UK, and honestly Kayak, Priceline, or whatever you generally use to book car rentals will do the trick. However, if you’re renting a car for more than 21 days, you may want to consider a “buy back car lease.” Although they’re not always a cheap way to travel, the two resources below will help you start your search to find out if this is the best way to travel for you:
- Are buy back car leases better than car rentals? – A helpful About.com article to help you understand the concept better.
- Renault – One of the agencies who will rent cars via the buy back car lease to Americans traveling in Europe.
Remember, if you’re renting a car in the UK, that the vehicles and roads are LEFT hand drive. This is the opposite of North America. The easiest “hack” for making sure you don’t turn into oncoming traffic or the wrong way down a one way street, is to remember this simple rule, regardless of which country you are in: Keep your body in the middle of the road. Whether it’s right or left hand drive, so long as you are in a car that matches (a local vehicle, not an import that is opposite) keeping the driver’s body in the middle of the road will result in correct lane placement.
It may also be required, by some car agencies, for North Americans to have an International Driver’s Permit. This is easily procured through AAA and is valid for one year. Be sure to double check this with your rental agency when you book your rental.
Getting Around Europe by Boat
In case you hadn’t noticed, the UK is a grouping of islands. With so much water around, ferries are an obvious way to get between them, particularly if you are traveling with a car, or if you’d rather not fly. In addition to utilitarian ferries, the rivers and canals of the country can be explored by flat bottomed river barges that range from economical to downright luxurious. If you haven’t taken a river cruise yet, you’re missing out! The UK is a great place to get your feet wet.
Ferry Saver: If you’re trying to take a ferry around the UK or to and from continental Europe from the UK, Ferry Saver will help you find discounted rates.
Direct Ferries: “Direct Ferries features the widest selection of ferry routes giving you flexibility and choice as well as access to the best ferry deals around.”
Ferries UK: Billed as the world’s largest independent ferry booking service offering over 1100 ferry routes.
PO Ferries: The largest fleet in Europe, running between Britain and the mainland as well as Ireland.
Irish Ferries: Specializing, as the name indicates, in ferries directly between Ireland and Britain. There are also ferries directly between Ireland and France.
Brittany Ferries: Ferries from the UK to Spain and France that will save you miles of driving or hours of train time.
European Waterways: River cruises on flat bottom barges in the canals and rivers of the UK. This is a spectacular way to see the countryside.
English Holiday Cruises: River cruises in Cotswolds Severn Vale. Beautiful boats, beautiful countryside, very English.
Bicycling Around the UK
One summer I rode my bicycle from London up to Newcastle, through the green hills of the interior of the country and along Hadrian’s wall. From there I took a ferry to the continent and kept going, but the back roads of the UK remain in my mind as some of the most picturesque of my journey. This is a great country to cycle, even if you just rent a bike for the day.
EuroVelo: Traveling with your bike around Europe? EuroVelo will give you suggested routes for long distance cycling — though, that seems to be about all it does. Check out my post on how to pack your bike for travel if you’re traveling this way.
We Are Cycling UK: Whether you’re looking for maps for a day or weekend trip or are touring the entire UK by bike, this site has information you need.
As one of the most popular destinations in Europe, the United Kingdom has a lot to offer travelers. From five-star luxury resorts to unique tree hourse hotels, vacation rentals, or camping experiences, there’s something for every budget and traveler. Before traveling:
- Do your research
- Figure out how far in advance you’ll need to book your stay
- Choose the accommodation style that fits your needs
- Branch out and stay somewhere special, or unique
The UK is known for having a ton of options for getting around — from discount airlines, train passes, buses, river cruises, and car shares, to more adventurous distance biking, and even an acceptable culture of hitchhiking. You’re free to explore these islands with whatever mode of transit you want. But, what is the best way to travel the UK?
Since you won’t find all of these different ways of getting around the United Kingdom sitting nicely on Kayak for you, instead use this list of transportation resources for getting around in Europe to help you find the best way to travel around Europe:
Image: Arka (unsplash)