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Britain Hostels, Eurail Passes, and Backpacking Tips


 

At one stage of its history this small island ruled half the world's population and had a major impact on much of the rest. For those whose countries once lay in the shadow of its great empire a visit may almost be a cliche, but it's also essential - a peculiar mixture of homecoming and confrontation.

To the surprise of many, Britain remains one of the most beautiful islands in the world. In summer it can feel as if the whole world has come to Britain, so don't spend all your time in the big, tourist-ridden towns; rather, pick a small area and spend a week or so wandering around the country lanes and villages. Covering it all in one trip is impossible - and that's before you even start thinking of Scotland and Wales.

The United Kingdom comprises Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and Northern Ireland.

When to Go

July and August are the busiest months and should be avoided if possible - the crowds in London and popular towns such as Oxford, Bath and York have to be seen to be believed. May/June and September/October are the best times to visit, although October is a bit late for the Scottish Highlands.

Dangers

Britain is remarkably safe considering its size and the disparities in wealth. However, city crime is certainly not unknown so caution is necessary, especially at night. Pickpockets and bag snatchers operate in crowded public places. Avoid large groups of young lads after the pubs shut (11 pm), as violence is not uncommon on High Sts across Britain.

Drugs of every description are widely available, especially in nightclubs. Nonetheless, marijuana, hash, ecstasy and the other usual suspects are illegal.

Time

Time worldwide is measured according to Greenwich near London - Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Daylight-saving time is from late March to late October.

Business Hours

Offices are open 9 am to 5 pm weekdays. Shops may be open longer hours, and 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday. Except in rural areas some shops also open 10 am to 4 pm on Sunday. In country towns, particularly in Scotland and Wales, there may be an early closing day for shops - usually Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon.

Public Holidays & Special Events

Most banks, businesses and a number of museums are closed on the following days: New Year's Day, 2 January (bank holiday in Scotland), Good Friday, Easter Monday (not in Scotland), May Day (first Monday in May), Spring Bank Holiday (last Monday in May), Summer Bank Holiday (last Monday in August, first Monday in August in Scotland) and 25 and 26 December.

The main festivals include: the New Year's Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Folk Festival in late March, the Oxford/Cambridge boat race (London) in late March, the two-week Bath International Festival in late May, the Chelsea Flower Show (London) in late May, Trooping the Colour (Queen's birthday parade) in mid-June, the Royal Ascot horse races in mid-June, the Wimbledon tennis tournament in mid-June, the Glastonbury music festival in late June, the Edinburgh International and Fringe festivals in late August, and the Royal Braemar Gathering (Highland Games) in early September.

Emergency

Throughout Britain dial 999 for fire, police or ambulance.

Foreign Embassies

Canada (020-7258 6600), 1 Grosvenor Square, London Wl (tube: Bond St)
US (020-7499 9000), 24 Grosvenor Square, London Wl (tube: Bond St)

 

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