5 Things to (Never) Do in the United Kingdom

  • 01 of 06

    What Not to do in Britain

    London Skyline
    Gary Yeowell / Getty Images

    It's easy for visitors to feel relaxed and at home in Britain. At the height of its empire Britain ruled about a quarter of the world, and the echoes of that colonial past still influence the language and culture of about 30 percent of the world's population in the 54 member states of the Commonwealth. So it's natural for lots of people to think the UK is just like home - with a different climate and a different accent.

    However, there are still some things you should keep in mind to help you have a safe, hassle-free visit, to spend your money wisely and to get along with the locals. Here are five top tips about what not to do:

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  • 02 of 06

    Don't Drive in Cities Until You're Confident You Can

    cars driving in London
    Thinkstock Images/Getty Images

    Driving on the left is not hard to get used to, but if you haven't done it before, don't try to learn how in the middle of the busy, confusing traffic of a major city. City drivers, the world over, are notoriously impatient and the last thing you want to be doing is consulting maps, finding your way around unfamiliar road layouts and roundabouts and getting used to being on the "wrong" side of the road at the same time. London traffic can be intimidating, even to other Brits and Birmingham is a nightmare to get in and out of by car. Besides, if you rent a car in London or another major city, you'll throw away a fortune every day to park it

    Instead, use public transportation to enjoy your car-free city visit, then take the train to a quieter town or village and arrange to collect your rented car there.

    And by the way, never, whatever you do, turn when a traffic light is red. If you turn right, as you are permitted to do in many parts of the USA, you'll be turning directly into oncoming traffic. If you turn left (which is the flip side equivalent, as you'll be in the left lane to begin with) you'll be breaking the law and could well be caught on a traffic camera for running a red light.


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  • 03 of 06

    Don't Forget to Spend Your Coins

    Close-Up Of One Pound Coin
    Viktoria Rodriguez / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Visitors often underestimate the value of British coins. When you are are used to nickels, dimes and quarters, or the tiny five and 10 cent Euro coins, you can all too easily think of that pocketful of British coins you are clanking around with as just so much small change. A British pound coin may look like play money but it is worth about USD $1.35 ( in 2016) and two pound coins are worth more than $2.50. So a handful of coins could buy you at least a sandwich and a drink, maybe more - hardly small change for most of us.

    And do spend it before you leave because most banks and currency exchanges won't exchange coins into your own currency.

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  • 04 of 06

    Don't Block the Escalators

    Rear View Of People Traveling On Escalator
    Fabian Krause / EyeEm / Getty Images

    In the UK people like to race up - or down - the left side of escalators in stores, airports, the Underground or train stations. Somehow, they believe the half of a second they shave off their journey by walking up the escalator will get them wherever they are going faster. If you are happy to let the escalator do all the work and prefer to stand patiently in one spot from the bottom to the top, stay on the right, leaving the left side free for passing traffic. Otherwise, you'll see a lot of frowning faces and have to suffer the indignity of people trying to push past. City people, in ​particular, seem to regard loitering on the left of the escalator akin to shoving in at the front of a line instead of waiting your turn. Probably no one will say anything, but you'll get a lot of grumbles.

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  • 05 of 06

    Don't Be Too Impressed With Royals and Aristos

    The State Opening Of Parliament
    WireImage / Getty Images

    The British take their royal traditions with a grain of salt. The royal family and the various ranks of minor royals are lots of fun and part of the history and heritage of the UK. But even dyed-in-the-wool Royalists are not above joking about them or taking a light approach to the whole subject. So don't be shocked by the flippant attitude toward the Queen, her children and grandchildren that you may see on television and in the press.

    But do be careful about making jokes yourself. It's a bit like jokes about your family - it's only okay if you do it. So until you know the lay of the land and the feelings of the people you are with, best not initiate royal humor yourself. And, if you are introduced to someone with a title - which you may well be, there are lots of them around - don't fawn or wonder if you should curtsy. Just treat them with the same respect you'd give anyone else.

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  • 06 of 06

    Don't Confuse England with the Rest of the United Kingdom

    Beefeater in a kilt
    Ferne Arfin

    Nothing annoys someone from Scotland or Wales more than being called English. And, in Northern Ireland, if you call a local English you could start a brawl. 

    The full official name of the UK is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is composed of England, Scotland and Wales - each a distinctive country with a good deal of local governmental control, local culture, reviving national languages and strong ethnic identities. If you are not sure who you are talking to - or which country you happen to be in - use Britain and British as safe general terms.

    Check out 11 more common blunders to avoid while visiting the UK.