UK national holidays are called bank holidays. Find out why and how they might affect your vacation plans.
National holidays have been called bank holidays in Britain since the late 19th century. The name originates because these were the days on which the banks were closed for trading. Bank employees didn't get time off back then - they were too busy using the bank holiday to work on the accounts and tidy up the bookkeeping.
The name, and the tradition of closing banks persisted into the 20th century, even though all that tidy bookkeeping was now done during normal business hours. But things have changed. These days bank holidays are just excuses for long weekends, shopping and sales.
About the only thing that hasn't changed is that most banks are closed on bank holidays - but even that may not last much longer. Metro, a company that opened in 2010 as the first new high street bank in 100 years, has a sort of "open all hours" ethos as its main selling point. Branches of this bank, located mostly in London and the southeast of England, are open seven days a week, including bank holidays, and stay open later than most other banks on normal weekdays.
For almost everything else, it's business as usual. But there are a few closures or changes of schedule that could have an impact on your vacation. If you are planning a trip to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland that includes a national holiday here's what you can expect:
- Most banks are closed - obviously - so are Post Offices and other government offices and departments. And even if you are able to bank online or via telephone services, chances are your financial transactions will not go through until the bank holiday is over - so if you are waiting for an important refund, don't expect the money to land in your British bank - open or not - until after the bank holiday.
- Most office businesses, including travel and booking agencies are closed.
- Motorways are clogged with holiday traffic.
- Queues at popular family attractions are longer than usual. In fact, if you don't like sharing your vacation with hordes of kids, it's probably best to avoid bank holiday travel when children are everywhere.
- Rooms may be harder to book or slightly more expensive during bank holiday weekends.
- Most of the larger shops are open. This is a bit hit or miss. Some businesses hold big, bank holiday sales while others shut their doors. The only exceptions are Easter Sunday and Christmas Day when the law requires the larger shops to close.
Trains, buses and the London Underground operate reduced services so it is important to plan Bank Holiday travel on public transportation carefully.
Bank Holiday Calendar
As in the other countries, the popularity of long holiday weekends in the UK has meant that few Bank Holidays fall on exactly the same dates from one year to the next.
- New Year's Day January 1 or the Monday immediately following January 1
- Good Friday
- Easter Monday
- May Bank Holiday First Monday in May
- Spring Bank Holiday Last Monday in May
- Summer Bank Holiday Last Monday in August
- Christmas Day Or the Monday immediately following if Christmas falls on a weekend.
- Boxing Day The day after Christmas, or the Monday following if 26 December falls on a weekend.
If both December 25 and 26 fall on the weekend, the following Monday and Tuesday are Bank Holidays.
Northern Ireland celebrates two additional Bank Holidays:
- St. Patrick's Day March 17 or the nearest Monday if it falls on a weekend.
- Battle of the Boyne (Orangemen's Day) July 12 or the nearest Monday if it falls on a weekend.
Scotland does not celebrate Easter Monday as a bank holiday, although many people do take that day off. In addition, since 2007, St. Andrew's Day (Nov. 30 or the following Monday)is an optional bank holiday. Banks have the right to close but employers don't have to give their employees the day off. So far, it is too early to tell how that day will be observed. Additionally, some of the seasonal bank holidays - in the spring and the end of summer - may be celebrated on different days than they are in England or in Northern Ireland.
If you want to avoid bank holiday crowds and plan your vacation when there are no national holidays, the months to travel are September, October and November; January and February, June and July. But you will probably be competing with school vacations and what the British call half-term breaks. Generally there is an autumn break of about five days at the end of October and the beginning of November. Summer half-term runs for five days from the end of May through the first few days of June. And the Easter School Vacation is a full two weeks. Business and banks do not close for these extended breaks but attractions - particularly those aimed at families - are likely to be crowded, and prices for family accommodations will be higher.