UK Transportation: Best ways to explore around this country
Which Modes of UK Transportation are Available and are Practical To Suit Your Needs?
Which is Better and More Economical?
These are some of the questions that we often face when arriving in a new place (country or city). If we don’t have our own car to move, knowing how to use the public transportation in the UK is very important.
In this country the travel distances can be very long. To go shopping or commuting to work needs a form of transportation and it is not practical to go places by walking.
UK has a good public transportation service by Bus and Train. This connect the small towns with the big cities and with buses and trains running every 15 – 20 minutes during office hours. But the problem is that these services are not cheap…
Thus, its good to know what different types of UK transportation we can find. Also what discounts we can have and which is more convenient for us.
Travel By Air (Flight)
The United Kingdom have a few airports in big cities that serves as one of the various modes of public transportation.
Some of the airports are only for domestic flights and some are mainly for international flights.
Here are a few of the major airports that are currently operational arranged by region from North to South of the United Kingdom:
Northern Ireland (North-western UK Region)
Belfast International Airport (BFS)*
Wales (West-Central UK Region)
Cardiff Airport (CWL)
*Major busiest airports for international flights.
Travelling by air can sometimes be cheaper than by buses, cars or trains. It depends on current promotions or offers by airline operators.
For example, it makes more sense to travel from Edinburgh (Scotland) to Bristol (Devon) by flight instead of taking buses, cars or trains as the two cities are far away.
Travelling on the road or rails would take longer as there’s traffic, speed limit areas and stops involved.
Travel By Trains (Railway)
Trains in the UK has been a common and affordable mode of transport since a few decades ago and today. The services covers from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England.
Some people are used to travelling by rail that they prefer not to own a car as there are no worries about car insurance, maintenance costs or parking problems.
The railway services in the UK are generally efficient and effective. But there are some ‘blackout’ areas that are out of reach by the trains due to geographical restrictions or rural areas.
The railway stations across the UK are mostly allocate spaces for car parking (or nearby council parking lots), bicycle parking stands, disabled parking space and disabled access ramps.
Please check for individual train station’s information page on the National Rail website.
If you’re travelling with luggage, bicycle or baby-strollers, most trains do have space for you. But its safe to double-check on the individual train service provider’s website if the line does allow large items such as a bicycle.
Safety & Security:
Rest assured, the train services are known to be safe to use as they are being properly maintained by respective operators to ensure the safety of passengers and the general public.
The train services arrivals and departures are usually timely and rarely disrupted by breakdowns.
Most train stations have security cameras and some cameras are also installed on the train-coaches themselves.
On occasions, the law-enforcement officers such as the Police and train-operation personnel also boards the trains to ensure public order.
Most of the train lines prohibit alcohol consumption to curb public disturbance issues.
Operation times for most train services starts at about 5.00 am and ends its service at 12.00 midnight. Sometimes up till late (2.00 – 3.00 am) if there are special occasions such as New Years Eve or festivals in certain regions.
Price of tickets vary from one operator to another and it also depends on the distance covered for every journey.
Railcards / Group Travel:
As trains are used by many for daily commute either to work, going to school or college, ‘Railcards’ can be useful as it allows the bearer to travel on the particular route or line for a prepaid fixed weekly or monthly rate, thus saving a lot for transportation costs.
There are also railcards specifically given to the elderly or disabled.
They serve the same functions as a prepaid railcard, allowing the bearer but its either travel for free or on a heavily-discounted rate.
For those who travel in a group of 2 or more, some train service providers do offer a discounted group travel fare.
Please check with the respective railway services websites for this information.
Discounted rates are also available for some rates even for those who travel on off-peak hours.
Do check and compare the fares on the respective website for UK railways below.
The UK National Rail service also comes with an app known as National Rail Enquiries.
It allows you to purchase tickets, check for train schedules and view live train departure or arrivals at every train station.
Click on the icons below to download the app to your Android, Apple & Windows Phone devices
Travelling in London (OYSTER Card)
OYSTER cards are handy for both travellers and commuters in London.
This card looks similar to a credit card or ATM card with contactless function.
You can use Oyster cards on any public transportation (bus, tram, train, tube etc) in the London city area (except for taxis and hail-a-ride services).
To reload the card with cash money, simply visit any train station counters or local marts that have Oyster Card signage outside their business premises.
The Oyster card have a cap-limit function that stops charging you extra after reaching a certain limit in certain zones.
Eg. The daily cap limit for Zone-6 is £12.70/day. This means you can travel on any train, tram or bus as much as you want and it stops taking money when it reaches £12.70 limit. For more information, click HERE.
For example :
If you’re a Tourist visiting London for 3 days, look at the map if you’re within Zone-5 and the cap is £11.00 for this area, Then you simply buy an Oyster card and refill the card to £33.00 (£11.00 x 3 days).
You could use the card to travel on all public transportation within 24-hours for 1 price, £11.00 per day.
Travel by Bus (Coach)
Travelling by bus in the UK is convenient as there are many bus stops for every mile as its a mode of transportation for people of all ages.
Buses in the UK are also known as “coach” by the Brits.
There are a few types of bus services such as Town Buses and Express Buses.
These buses runs from one town to another. The service frequency is about 15 minutes intervals.
Fares vary by distance and usually covers a two way journey. Eg. You’ve bought a ticket on the bus from point A to point B. On the bus returning to point A, you could use the same bus ticket you already bought before.
Long distance travel is now easier with the bus services available throughout the country.
They are inexpensive, offers a good service and also have been a choice for many travellers – local and tourists.
Express buses in the UK are mostly equipped with an on-board lavatory/toilet similar to the one found on an airliner.
But do check with the bus company if their buses comes with one.
Nowadays some bus service providers also comes with free WiFi, free entertainment tethering apps and mobile device charging points. which makes the one on-the-go travel with ease.
We would suggest you to try National Express as they have been our favourite bus service operator for years.
Their buses are new, reliable and driven by experienced drivers. Click in the logo to go to the website:
Most of their fleet are equipped with free Vuer app for in-coach entertainment. Click on the links below to download the app:
Travel by Car
Cars are one of the popular modes of transportation in the UK. Especially for those who are always on the move, wants freedom to go places quicker.
Its also a good choice for those who travel in a group (family travel or car-pooling). Also when there’s a need to carry goods such as when doing the routine grocery shopping.
In the UK, all cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. The driver would be sitting on the right-side when in the car.
This would be the same system as driving in Jamaica, Kenya, Malta, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Caribbean Islands, Channel Islands, Cyprus, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Isle of Man (UK) and Republic of Ireland (Southern).
All distance or speed units are based on imperial units: Miles. But fuel in service stations sold in liters.
Speed limit on highways are mostly 70 mph, urban areas 30-50 mph.
Yes, there are automatic speed-trap cameras to catch offenders in most urban or city areas.
You could spot them, they are bright yellow and usually have lines drawn on the road to gauge how fast a car is travelling when exceeding speed limits.
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is prohibited.
So, if you plan on going for a drink, make sure someone drives you home or hail a taxi or travel by public transportation.
Renting a Car
Rental cars are quite popular in the UK as there are a few service providers available to choose from at affordable rates.
Rentals are available daily, weekly and even monthly.
You don’t need to maintain the car as its looked after by the hire company. Just fuel up and go.
All you need is a valid driving license from your country of residence if you’re a non-resident of the UK and a credit card for rental deposit for the car.
We recommend you to hire from Thrifty Car & Van Rentals as we’ve used their service and was never disappointed so far.
Please be aware that you are liable for any parking or speeding tickets issued on the rental car and would probably be charged to your credit card later on.
Buying New Cars vs. Used Cars
The UK has relatively cheap used cars if you compare to any countries in Europe. But for those who prefer a brand new car, they aren’t too expensive either and there are ways to own one.
To own a car in the UK, you’ll need to buy a car (obviously), an valid license, valid current MOT test certificate, road-tax updated and car insurance with your name in the policy.
Used cars in the UK can be bought directly from the registered owner or from a dealership.
Of course, buying from an owner would be cheaper. But make sure you’re buying from a registered owner by checking the V5C document to match the seller’s ID.
The V5C would be needed in order to transfer ownership to you.
The document can also be ordered/re-printed via post with a fee of £25 (accurate at the time of this article being written).
Be cautious of too-good-to-be-true deals. If in doubt, go to https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-history to check on the car’s history.
From this website, you could also check on the make, model, colour, fuel type, date of the car being registered/licensed, mileage and vehicle inspection/test history.
All you need is the registration number of the vehicle.
Any vehicles registered in the UK requires an MOT-Test every 12-months. MOT stands for Ministry of Transport.
The first test should be performed when the car is 3 years old from date of first registration.
MOT testing usually costs from £55 for small cars and more for bigger vehicles.
Testing can be done in most work-shops (garages) that have an MOT sign outside their businesses.
There are 3 ways of buying a new car in the UK.
You could buy the car in cash, on a monthly car-loan instalment or lease the car (usually between 2 or 3 years tenure).
Buying a car on loan requires you to have proof of income and proof of residency.
Other requirements to get a car-loan would be similar to applying to borrow money from a financial institution.
Some car dealerships offers a ‘zero’ down-payment promotion. However other fees does apply, please check with your preferred dealer.
Leasing a car requires you to pay an initial deposit depending on the car make, model and actual value.
Eg. Initial payment £2,500 to start. Then pay £250/month until the end of lease tenure (2 or 3 years). And finally return the car to the dealership. You don’t get any paid monies back.
Most leases gives you a fixed amount of mileage to use per year Some comes with free servicing/maintenance and other extras depending on the dealership’s current promotion.
MOT testing shall not apply for leased-cars as cars are brand-new under 3 years old.
This would be the most popular fuel choice in the UK since decades ago as most older cars sold are powered by diesel.
Prices of diesel ranges from £1.24 to £1.40 per Liter (accurate per the time of this article being written).
If you’re cost conscious, avoid refuelling your car at the rest-stops on the highways/dual-carriageways as they are very expensive compared to the other stations.
You can refuel your diesel cars in supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morisson’s etc. -cheaper) or petrol brand stations (Shell, BP, Esso, Essar etc. -more expensive).
Petrol powered vehicles in the UK are getting more popular today as statistics show that more than 50% of new cars sold in 2017 are petrol.
The increase in sales of petrol powered cars has been caused by diesel cars being banned by some cities in Europe recently.
Prices of petrol ranges from £1.16 to £1.35 per Liter (accurate per the time of this article being written). Yes, petrol fuel would be cheaper per liter in the UK.
Ditto, if you’re cost conscious, avoid refuelling your car at the rest-stops on the highways/dual-carriageways as they are very expensive compared to the other stations.
Petrol grades sold in the UK are mostly RON95, RON97 and some places offer RON98.
Electric powered vehicles are now starting to become popular in the UK. It’s especially for the cost conscious and those who prefer to be environmentally friendly.
Recently we’ve seen articles about the struggles, rants and raves from the electric car owners.
One of the main challenges of owning an electric car would be finding a charging-point when your battery is running out.
The UK is still in the early stages of having the infrastructure to accommodate electric cars.
Charging points are usually located at rest-stops (services) or parking structures. Cost of charging varies from one provider to another.
Some of the other problems also arises such as charging point blocked/parked by non-electric cars, charging point requires a membership, charging machine out of order or charging plug is not compatible with the car.
However, don’t be put off by these problems. If you could find solutions to the common problems, you might want to consider owning one as travel costs are cheaper per mile compared to diesel or petrol powered vehicles.
The UK have an insurance system slightly different than other countries. Its a legal requirement to have your name as an owner or an authorized driver.
So, if you are sharing a car with a friend or family, you must ask the main driver to contact the insurance company to add your name onto the policy.
There is a small charge to add additional drivers on a policy.
There’s also an option of buying a day insurance for a car if you’re using it for only one day. Eg. moving the car from one location to another and being driven on the road.
For any vehicles to be parked on paved roads (except for private home driveways or non-council land), you must have both insurance and road-tax.
Otherwise your vehicle would be towed away by DVLA (Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency).
Insurances must be renewed and current when on the road and usually valid for 12 months. Pricing for insurances largely vary from one company to another.
We used Confused.com before and was a good experience so far especially when we want basic insurance and don’t need the extra services (like roadside assist, windshield cover etc.).
Just so you know, motor insurance in the UK can be more expensive if you compare to other countries.
Eg. a small-old Citroen C3 (2002) valued at £1,000 costs £600/year for the first year without any discounts. However, subsequent years shall be slightly cheaper.
We’ve found a tip online about buying insurances in the UK. Always compare and buy your insurance coverage about 21-25 days before the day you want it to be in-force. Its cheaper!
Vehicles need road-tax or as they say ‘your vehicle must be taxed’ to be on the streets or the roads in the UK.
Road-tax can be paid at most local post offices by cash over the counter. Just bring your V5C paperwork to tax your car.
Road tax must be paid and current when on the road and usually valid for 12 months.
A paid tax proof comes in a form of a receipt from the post-office (just like those shopping receipts).
No special labels issued for you to stick on your car license plate (done in the USA) or windshield labels.
British Driving License
By law, you can actually use your current foreign driving license for 12 months. Starting from the day you’ve officially become a resident in the UK.
But if you’re holding the foreign license, the only downfall would be the insurance prices (if any companies wants to insure for you) and most insurance provider won’t insure a vehicle on a foreign license.
Alternatively, if you’re stuck with a foreign license and needing a car immediately, you can get someone with a British Driving license to insure the car as a main driver. Then add you as a second driver.
Applying for a British Driving License
If you’re new to driving and never had driving experience before, my advise is contact your local driving instructors to get your driving practice and gain your confidence on the roads first.
Especially for those who come from a country driving on the other side of the road.
However if you already have driving experience, go ahead apply for an ‘L’ license on the DVLA website by clicking HERE.
Just follow thru the steps explained on this website, most of the processes are done online.
In summary to apply for a UK driving license, you’ll need an Provisional (L) driving license, theory test, practical driving test and you’ll have your license issued.
This whole process (excluding driving school practice) should cost about £140 at most (accurate at the of this article being written).
For motorcycle license, you’ll have to complete a CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) right after acquiring your Provisional (L) license in hand and the rest of the tests are the same.