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I have spent a LOT of time traveling alone in England, Scotland, and Wales. Much more than I originally intended. I went to Europe without a plan, ended up living for months at a time in two different cities in England, and used them as a base to explore the country.
I never thought the UK would become one of my most extensively traveled countries. At the time, I was more interested in warmer, sexier, more exotic travel destinations — the UK seemed so boring compared to Thailand or Italy or South Africa. And yet I completely fell under its spell.
Traveling in the UK is seen as an “easy” option. I can’t deny that — it’s one of the easiest possible countries for newbie travelers. But that doesn’t mean more experienced travelers can’t enjoy it. I think Britain is one of the most interesting countries I’ve visited! Speaking the local language and being in a similar culture allows you to get in deeper to the nuances that make the culture unique.
If you’re looking to travel solo in England, or Scotland, or Wales — or all three! — you’ve come to the right place. This guide lists everything you need to know.
Why Travel to the UK?
First things first: let’s talk about what terms are best to use. The UK, or Britain, consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain consists of England, Scotland, and Wales — not Northern Ireland. The British Isles include all of the UK plus Ireland. Oh, and don’t get me started on the Channel Islands, which are parts of some of these groups but not others…
For the ease of this post, I will be focusing solely on England, Scotland, and Wales. I’ll be rolling Northern Ireland into a future Ireland travel guide. There’s no political reasoning behind that; it’s purely for geographical reasons.
People travel to the UK because it’s a destination of which they already have an idea in their mind. Everyone knows that London, at the very least, is foggy and has bridges. Scotland has kilts and bagpipes. All of the UK is covered in castles and villages. And they love tea and they have a queen.
Plenty of people grow up as Anglophiles, dreaming of one day experiencing the culture for themselves. People come to the UK for history. Quite a few North Americans come to the UK for ancestry-related reasons, to see their family roots. And some just want to learn what it’s like to drive on the left.
But I think the true charms of Britain involve getting to know the people and the culture on a deeper level. You can do that by spending time in a pub, or joining a meetup with lots of locals. You can absolutely get there by attending a festival! This will show you that Britain is far beyond its stereotypes.
There’s More to England than London!!!
This is my biggest UK travel tip of all. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard say they want to go to “London and Ireland” or “London and Scotland” while ignoring the rest of England. Or maybe, maybe they’ll add in a quick trip to Stonehenge before leaving English territory.
I used to be one of those people, actually. I met four friends from the north of England (which is culturally very different from the south of England) while traveling in Vietnam, they told me where they were from Chester and Oldham, I asked, “Oh, is that close to London?” and all four of them visibly cringed.
Believe me, there is SO much more to England than London. If you come to England and only visit London, you’re missing out on some truly wonderful destinations. See more below on exactly where to go in England.
Is Britain Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?
Absolutely — England, Scotland, and Wales are some of the BEST destinations for first-time solo female travelers. English is the local language, there’s excellent travel infrastructure, it’s easy to get around, and there are plenty of travelers doing the same thing you are.
If you’ve never traveled solo in your life, England, Scotland, or Wales would be a terrific choice. If you’ve never been to Europe in your life, any of the three would be a great choice, too, with or without a partner.
Beyond that, locals in the UK — particularly in London and Edinburgh — are used to dealing with less experienced travelers and know how to cater to their needs. That said, new travelers don’t get scammed or targeted here nearly as much as in Paris or Barcelona. For that reason, if you’re set on Paris or Barcelona for your first solo trip ever, I recommend spending a few days in London or Edinburgh first to get your solo travel bearings in an easy and safe place.
Is Britain Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?
Hell yes, Britain is good for experienced solo female travelers! It might seem “too easy” if you’re used to traveling in the developing world, but sometimes you’re in the mood for somewhere a bit easier. And there are plenty of places to get off the beaten path.
And that doesn’t mean going into rural areas — it could mean visiting a fun but not-as-famous city like Glasgow or Leeds. It could mean renting a car and stopping at every adorable pub you see in one particular region. It could mean doing an extended hike like the Dales Way or Hadrian’s Wall Path. It could mean climbing the Three Peaks — Ben Nevis in Scotland, Mt. Scafell in England, and Mount Snowden in Wales (some crazy people do all three within 24 hours!).
As someone who has already traveled extensively in the UK, here are the places still high on my list: Cornwall, the Scilly Islands, Bristol, Brighton, and Newcastle in England; the Outer Hebrides, Orkney Islands, and St. Kilda in Scotland; and Anglesey and much more of the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales.
Consider traveling to destinations that are popular getaways for Brits but fairly unknown to foreigners. For people who live further south, Cornwall and Devon are popular coastal destinations. When I was based in Chester, lots of people went for weekends away in the Lake District (which is so beautiful!) or the coast of Wales.
Getting Around the UK as a Solo Traveler
There are lots of ways to travel around the UK. If you want to travel solely on public transportation, it’s possible! But if you want maximum flexibility in rural areas, a car is your best option.
My favorite way to travel in the UK is by train. The train system extends throughout the country and trains run fast and often. Trains are extremely comfortable and in a country as small as the UK it doesn’t take super-long to cross the country — you can even cover super-long journeys like from Inverness to Penzance in just 15 hours. For long distances, however, it can sometimes be cheaper to take a budget flight.
Traveling by flight is fast and efficient. Sometimes it can be cheaper than trains. It does make more of an environmental impact, so consider traveling by train if you can — especially since when you add time traveling to and waiting at the airport, it can be a faster door-to-door journey by train. If you’re using miles, it usually costs the same to fly to or from anywhere in the UK as it would from London.
Traveling by coach is slower and cheaper. Brits refer to long-distance buses as coaches and the biggest network is National Express. These coaches are very comfortable and cost less than trains. Some other lines like Megabus have cheaper but less comfortable coaches.
Ferries exist as well. There are short ferries to nearby islands, especially island-dotted Scotland, and longer ferries for further afield journeys. I took the overnight ferry from Aberdeen to Shetland — a wild, tumultuous journey across the North Sea but a lot of fun!
Renting a car is possible. This is especially useful if you want to explore a remote, beautiful region like the Cornwall coast, the Cotswolds, or the North Coast 500 drive in Scotland. Keep in mind that they drive on the left in the UK, cars tend to be manual (make sure you specify renting an automatic car if you need one), and the cars are much smaller than their American counterparts.
Travel and Safety Tips for England, Scotland, and Wales
Britain isn’t the kind of place where you need lots of detailed, unusual safety tips — it’s an easy place to travel and crime is fairly low. You can stick to the usual travel safety tips you’d follow anywhere else, but I thought I’d include a few things I’ve learned about British culture. It’s much more complicated and nuanced than “They drink tea!” and “They have a queen!”
So much of British culture is understanding how Brits interact with each other. British people tend to be a lot more pulled in than Americans. They’re far less likely to strike up conversations with strangers. They tend to want to avoid confrontation and awkward conversations at all costs, and will often be polite to people for the sake of keeping the peace.
How to explain this? Here are some Very British Problems: “Asking to sample an ale, disliking it and ordering a whole pint so as not to waste the barman’s time.” “Not quite catching someone’s name, meaning you can never speak to them again.” “Assuring your hairdresser the temperature is fine, despite a strong suspicion your scalp is beginning to melt.”
English people tend to be the quietest; Scottish people tend to be warmer and more welcoming.
“You all right?” doesn’t mean “What’s wrong?” — it means “How are you?” Embarrassingly, it took me six months of replying, “Yeah, why?” to my British friends before I realized this. Now you know!
Brits tend to mock people they love and be icily polite to people they hate. It took me a long time to realize that the people who often made fun of me were doing so out of great affection. I wish I had realized that at the time.
Brits often sign emails or texts with an X, even if it’s a platonic conversation. Don’t read too much into this (as I may have once or twice). They’re not saying that they want to kiss you or they have a crush on you; it’s just a common thing to do.
Brits drive on the left, walk on the left, and stand on the left. Look both ways when crossing the street! Most crosswalks say LOOK LEFT, especially in London, or otherwise show you where to look.
Know that some British terms are different from American English. Three that are particularly important: Pissed means drunk, not angry; pants means underwear and trousers is what you’d say for pants; and fanny means vagina, not butt.
“Shouting” beers can lead to drinking too much. In Britain, it’s common to take turns paying for each other’s drinks — one person will pay for a round for the whole table, then another person will buy the next round. If you’re drinking with men or heavy drinkers, you may feel pressured to keep pace to avoid any awkward moments (see, that’s British culture seeping into you!), and this is a fast way to get drunker than you want to. Four beers may be fine for a larger guy, but that can be a LOT for a woman, especially if they’re strong beers.
The best thing to do is to tell the group early that you only want to have two drinks that night. That way people won’t think you’re trying to weasel your way out of paying for others.
Some of London’s airports are far outside the city. You could argue that all of them are far out except for London City — and London City is usually an expensive place to fly into (but easy to do with points!). Luton and Stansted are especially far out. Keep this in mind if you have an early departing flight, since trains often won’t run early enough and you’ll need to book a cab.
I encourage you not to switch airports on a layover in London if you can help it — it adds a ton of transfer time and hassle, especially if you hit traffic. Paying a bit more to have a layover in the same airport is worth the money.
Scotland has its own currency. The Scottish pound has the same value as the British pound and they use both currencies interchangeably in Scotland. Try to use it up before you leave Scotland, however, because places outside Scotland don’t like to accept it, even though it’s legal tender.
Get a SIM card. SIM cards are good for helping you navigate your way around, as well as summoning Ubers. There are lots of different companies in Britain, and they are all much cheaper than US plans. Three, GiffGaff, O2, and TescoMobile are some of the companies that do short-term SIM cards with data.
SIM card coverage is spotty on highways throughout the UK and in rural areas, especially rural Scotland. Don’t rely on a SIM card to get you around the Scottish Highlands.
Be careful about your drinking. Drink less than you ordinarily would at home — two drinks is a good limit. Only take drinks from bartenders, never take a drink from a stranger, and always keep it with you and keep an eye on it.
Keep an eye on your belongings at all times. If you carry a purse, hold it close to you. I recommend a crossbody purse, made out of a tough material like leather or fake leather, that zips shut. I recommend many purses in this post. Never let it hang behind you — always keep it in a place where you can see it, and keep your hand on it if you’re in a crowd.
If you carry a wallet without a purse, don’t keep it in your back pocket. This is obvious to thieves and they will grab it and run.
If you use a small backpack, lock it. I use a Pacsafe backpack where you can lock the compartments shut.
Never leave your bags anywhere unattended. Take them with you. While in cities and touristy areas in the UK, if you’re keeping your bag under the table or otherwise out of sight, keep it between your feet or hook the strap around one of the chair legs.
Keep your valuables locked up in your accommodation and only take with you what you need that day. I do this with my Pacsafe Travelsafe and I consider it the most important thing I pack. Keep an extra debit card and at least $100 hidden in obscure parts of your luggage.
Get an extra debit card. You should have two debit cards to two different bank accounts. If you only have one, I recommend you get a debit card from Transferwise. Keep a few hundred dollars in your account, hide the card deep in your luggage, and use it if your primary debit card is stolen.
If someone robs you, GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT. Things can be replaced. Nothing is worth your life.
Don’t carry tons of cash around with you. You can use credit cards almost everywhere in the UK, and carrying lots of cash leaves you vulnerable to theft. Don’t be the traveler who loses her wallet and the $500 in it.
Only use ATMs at banks if possible. If your card gets eaten, it’s a lot easier to retrieve it from a real bank’s ATM. If you can’t find a bank and it’s at night, use an ATM indoors, in a vestibule or in a shopping mall.
Get a digital guidebook and keep it on your phone. Even today, I always keep a guidebook PDF on my phone — it’s great for calculating approximate time of journeys, knowing what days places are closed, and it lists medical centers you should go to in case of emergency. I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet guidebooks — get the digital version of Lonely Planet Great Britain.
Spend extra money on staying safe. If you’re not comfortable walking home at night, spend money on an Uber. If you’re hesitant on spending money on a not-as-nice-looking hostel, pay for a nicer place. It’s worth the peace of mind. Don’t pinch pennies on your safety.
Most importantly, you have no obligation to be nice to anyone. Women often feel the need to be nice and please people at all costs. You don’t have to anywhere — especially so in the UK, where acquiescing to other people’s needs is part of the culture. If anyone is making you feel uncomfortable, just leave. Trust me — you won’t be the rudest person they meet that day. And so what if you were? You’re never going to see them again.
How will Brexit affect travel?
As of the time of the latest update (December 2019), there isn’t a clear answer on what the next step is for Brexit. That said, as a foreigner visiting the UK, Brexit is unlikely to affect your travels in any meaningful way other than a slightly better exchange rate.
Britain has always been located outside the Schengen Area of Europe, which means that flights to Europe are treated as international flights, not domestic. Nothing about Brexit will change this.
One major Brexit factor is that the currently open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland may close in the future. When anything is announced about this, I will include an update here.
The Best Travel Experiences in the UK
Walking in the steps of the Beatles in Liverpool. Take a bus ride to Strawberry Fields, see a show at the Cavern Club, check out the Beatles Experience. You can even visit John’s and Paul’s houses! Seeing Liverpool through their eyes gives you a special context that you’ll always remember when you listen to them in the future.
Treating yourself to high tea at one of the hotels in London. Afternoon tea can be a pleasure anywhere in the country, but high tea is fancy, sophisticated, and refined. Be sure to dress up if you go to one of the luxury hotels. For something wacky, choose a high tea with an unusual theme!
Getting into British food. British food is SO much better than its reputation! My favorite way to experience the food is to have a farm-to-table meal and glass of wine in a high-end pub. Other faves? Arbroath smokies (smoked whole fish for breakfast) in Scotland, fresh Welsh cakes off the griddle in Wales, and tucking into a perfect sticky toffee pudding in England.
Geeking out at the Harry Potter locations. At the very least, go to King’s Cross Station in London and pose at Platform 9 3/4, where you can be photographed pushing a disappearing luggage cart into the wall! If you’re an even bigger fan, head to more obscure sites like Alnwick Castle, where Harry took his first Quidditch lesson, and Christ Church College in Oxford, which was used for some Hogwarts scenes.
Catching shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This theater festival takes place every August and you’ll find hundreds of shows taking place all over the city! From stand-up comedy to dark dramas to musicals involving taxidermied animals, this festival has something for everyone. And they’re all cheap — some are free.
Throwing yourself off cliffs in North Wales. Ever heard of coasteering? This adventure sport was invented in Wales! Clad in a wetsuit and helmet, you climb up boulders along the coast, then throw yourself into the cold water below. Worth the chill for the adrenaline rush.
Tasting Britain’s handcrafted spirits. Britain is in the middle of a spirit revolution! Most people start with whiskey tasting in Scotland, from the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh to visiting distilleries on different islands. Brits are making interesting gin, too! I went on a gin-hopping trip in England and had a wonderful time at all the distilleries.
Dancing all night long with torch-bearing vikings in Shetland. Up Helly Aa is not only the best festival I’ve attended, it’s one of the best things I’ve done on my travels, period. If you can get yourself to this festival (and into an after-party), it’s something you will remember FOREVER.
Where to Go in England on a Solo Trip
London is great — but it’s not all England has to offer. Remember that. Also, keep in mind that northern England is culturally very different from southern England — it’s nice to experience both regions within your trip.
Okay, start in London. Spend a lot of time in London, if you will. It truly is one of the world’s greatest cities with outstanding free museums, incredible food and markets, and perhaps one of the most international communities on the planet.
Liverpool. England has so many interesting cities that aren’t named London, and Liverpool is my favorite, with cool architecture, delicious gin, nice museums, and Beatlemania. Some other big cities are Bristol, Newcastle, Manchester, and Leeds.
The Lake District. This national park in northwest England is home to outstanding scenery, all lush and green. While England’s natural areas don’t get the attention they deserve, If you want to visit more scenic areas, consider exploring the coastline and gorges of Cornwell and Devon.
Brighton. This colorful seaside city is just one hour from London, making it an easy day trip and fun getaway. For other easy day trips from London, check out Oxford, Cambridge, and Stonehenge (the latter easily paired with Bath).
York. This small city in Yorkshire is so adorable that it’s shopping street, The Shambles, served as inspiration for Harry Potter! Come to York to get lost in the storybook-like streets and hear the choir sing in the York Minster. If you like picture-perfect towns, consider exploring Chester, Bath, and the Cotswolds.
Where to go in Scotland on a Solo Trip
I won’t lie — Scotland is my favorite part of Britain, and it’s hard not to fall under its spell. You could easily spend months in Scotland and see something new every day. Here are some of the best places to visit:
Edinburgh. One of my favorite cities on the planet. It’s like a fairy tale come to life, complete with a castle on a hill. It’s incredibly beautiful and endlessly interesting, and people are so nice. It’s very Scottish while having a good international feel at the same time.
The Scottish Highlands. Most people who visit Scotland have the Highlands in mind, and for good reason. Be sure to check out Glencoe, Culloden Battlefield, Loch Ness, and Loch Lomond.
Isle of Skye. This island may technically be part of the Scottish Highlands, but it deserves its own spot for its beauty and sights, like Kilt Rock’s waterfall. If you love islands, some other lovely ones are Islay, Mull, Arran, and Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides.
Dunnottar Castle. This half-ruined castle is my favorite castle in Scotland — such a gorgeous place to photograph. Some other great castles are Urqhardt Castle, Stirling Castle, and of course Edinburgh Castle.
Glasgow. This city doesn’t get as much love as Edinburgh, and the accent might be incomprehensible, but it’s a really wonderful place to visit — especially if you’re fed up with tourist crowds. Glasgow has excellent museums, shops, and food. Another nice city to check out is St. Andrews, where William and Kate went to university and fell in love!
The Shetland Islands. Known locally known as Shetland, these stunning, carved out islands are located between Scotland and Norway. Shetlanders are very independent, claiming little allegiance to Scotland, and they throw two of UK’s best festivals (Up Helly Aa and the Shetland Folk Festival). If you’re heading this far north, you might as well check out the Orkney Islands with their interesting landscapes and archaeological sites.
Where to Go on a Solo Trip to Wales
If you’re going to Wales, you’ll likely want to focus on either the north or the south, unless you’re planning a much longer trip to Wales. Both of these areas have a lot to offer — it’s all about what you’re into!
Snowdonia National Park. This gem of North Wales is one of the best national parks in all of Britain, and it’s full of endless beauty. If you’re here, you should consider climbing Mount Snowden — it’s very doable if you’re at an average level of fitness!
Conwy. This northern town is home to some UNESCO World Heritage-listed ruins, like Conwy Castle, and the smallest house in Britain. If you’re here, be sure to check out Llangollen or Betws-y-Coed as well.
Anglesey. This island off the coast of northwest Wales is a peaceful place known for its beaches and ruins, as well as the longest place name in the world, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. William and Kate made their first home here.
Cardiff. This city in the south is pretty, green a good launching base for exploring the south of Wales. Be sure to take a food tour, take a ferry to the waterfront, and eat all the Welsh cakes.
Hay-on-Wye. This small town is my favorite place in Wales — it’s filled with used bookstores and home to a literary festival! Another nice small town to visit in the south of Wales is Laugherne, home of Dylan Thomas.
The Pembrokeshire Coast is one of the most beautiful parts of the UK — you’ll be shocked at its beauty. Places like Tenby could be straight out of the Mediterranean. Some other places to check out in Pembrokeshire include Pwll Deri, Fishguard, and Carmarthern.
How to Meet People While Traveling in the UK
If you’re looking to meet people in the UK, you can definitely do that! Britain may have a standoffish culture in general, but when people loosen up, they become very friendly. Plus, the whole country is full of travelers looking for people to meet. Here are some ways to meet people:
Consider staying at a social hostel. There are tons of great hostels all over the UK, from country hideaways in rural Wales to modern chains in London. Many of these hostels offer private rooms, if dorms aren’t your thing, and quite a few of them offer tours and other activities. If there is a bar in the hostel, it will be a very social place.
Join tours. Tours are a great way to meet new people! Whether you’re doing a food tour through London’s East End or learning about York’s spookiest spirits on a ghost tour, you’ll meet people excited to explore the local region.
Look for Couchsurfing meetup events throughout the UK. Couchsurfing isn’t just for free accommodation — they also put on meetup events where everyone is welcome. Many major cities have weekly meetups, and they always draw a great crowd.
Join a meetup on Meetup.com. Whether you’re into travel, running, movies, board games, or just want to meet a group of nice people, there’s a Meetup for that.
Put out feelers on social media. Often a friend of yours will have a cousin or friend living somewhere in the UK who will offer to meet you for coffee, just so you know someone. Take advantage of this if you can.
Tinder. If you’re looking to date or hook up, have fun! If you’ve always wanted to date a guy or girl with a swoon-worthy accent, this is your chance!
What to Wear in England, Scotland, and Wales
Britain is one place where you don’t need to be super-conscious of how you pack. You don’t need to dress conservatively for any reason; you don’t need dress a level above usual like you would in Italy. If you need something, just go buy something. That said, here are some tips for what to wear in Britain and how to pack:
British women tend to dress up more. I found this was especially true in England, even in smaller towns. On many occasions I would get invited to a bar, would put on jeans and a nice top, and would find my friends wearing dresses, heels, and heavy makeup. This is just something to keep in mind. It’s a bit more relaxed in Scotland and Wales, especially in rural areas.
Be prepared for rain. The UK is well-known for its mild, overcast, often rainy weather. You should absolutely have an umbrella at all times, as weather can change on a dime here. Lifetek makes a great, strong travel umbrella.
Sunglasses. I forgot to bring sunglasses on my first trip to Scotland, it turned out to be unusually hot and sunny, and I was shocked that I couldn’t find any sunglasses to purchase from H&M or Zara! It’s not sunny as often here, so stores don’t keep sunglasses in stock as much.
Comfortable shoes. I have bad arches so almost everything I own is from The Walking Company. Depending on where you go in the UK, I highly recommend their orthotic flip-flops (yes, orthotic flip-flops exist and they are a GAME-CHANGER!), black ABEO flats (this brand is outstanding and they have excellent arch support) or a pair of boots. If you plan on hiking, you’ll want to bring hiking boots.
Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf. These beautiful scarves are designed and sewn by my friend and have a hidden passport pocket in them that no thief will know exists. I love these scarves (I even designed my own!) and they are so good at keeping your valuables hidden.
Crossbody purse. I recommend using a crossbody purse, made out of a tough material like leather or fake leather, that zips shut. This is the kind of purse that is much harder for thieves to snatch. I recommend many purses in this post.
Light jacket. You’ll need a heavy jacket for the winter months, but for spring, fall, and summer, a light jacket will do well. I found my little leather moto jacket to be ideal for Britain’s warmer months — warm enough when paired with a scarf. For cooler temperatures, I preferred my Uniqlo down puffer jacket. But if you’re going to Scotland in the winter, you’ll want a full-on heavy winter coat.
If you need to buy clothes, you have plenty of options. If your luggage is lost and you need to buy some new things, check out Primark or H&M for cheap clothes. Marks & Spencer is a few rungs up — nicer and a bit pricier.
When my luggage was lost on my trip to Inverness a few years ago, I bought a few things from Marks & Spencer to hold me over — including a dress for a formal event I had to attend. It worked out great and I still wear my M&S shirt all the time!
Travel Insurance for the UK
Travel insurance is vital for trips to Britain — or any other country. If you get appendicitis while in Edinburgh or break your ankle while hiking up Mount Snowden, travel insurance will help you in your time of need and protect you from financial ruin. If you need to be flown home, it could save you well over $100,000.
And it’s not just about injury. If you get robbed, travel insurance can refund you for what was stolen from you. If your flights are cancelled due to weather, travel insurance can refund you. And if you have a death in the family and need to get home immediately, travel insurance will help you get home fast. I use and recommend World Nomads travel insurance for trips to the UK.
Britain is waiting for you!
No matter where you end up traveling, you are going to LOVE the UK. It’s beautiful and peculiar, it’s amusing and spectacular. And yeah, they drink tea and they have a queen, but by now you know it’s MUCH more than that.
Go have the time of your life! Then get back and tell me all about it.
Have you traveled solo in England, Scotland, or Wales? Share your tips!