A Complete Guide to British Currency

The UK unit of currency is pounds sterling (£), not the Euro. If you plan on visiting Britain, it's important to familiarize yourself with the UK currency, especially since new note and coin designs have been circulated between 2016 and 2018. Luckily, each note is a different color, so it is easy to tell them apart when you're looking through your wallet.

01 of 15

Fifty Pound Note

50 Pounds
altrendo images/Getty Images

The Houblon £50 note was introduced in April 2014 ​but is no longer legal tender. Instead, make sure you have the red £50 note with Matthew Boulton and James Watt depicted on it. James Watt invented the modern steam engine, and in 1775, he partnered with Matthew Boulton to start a British engineering and manufacturing firm.

Continue to 2 of 15 below.
02 of 15

Twenty Pound Note

Man with banknotes in his pocket
Image Source / Getty Images

The Bank of England issued the Adam Smith £20 note in March 2007. The note features Adam Smith, an 18th-century Scottish philosopher, and economist, on the back. It is the same size and predominantly the same color (purple) as the old £20 note that featured English composer, Sir Edward Elgar.

In 2020, a new £20 note featuring famous British painter JMW Turner will enter circulation and replace the Adam Smith bill. It will have a self-portrait (the same 1799 painting that can be seen in London's Tate Britain museum), the ship depicted in Turner's work The Fighting Temeraire, and the artist's quote "light is therefore colour" with his signature.

Continue to 3 of 15 below.
03 of 15

Ten Pound Note (Old)

Ten pound notes
Image Source / Getty Images

The Bank of England £10 note is commonly referred to as a "tenner." Old versions, such as the one pictured above, feature Charles Darwin, who is recognized for his theory of evolution and natural selection. The paper note with Charles Darwin was issued in 2000 and withdrawn from circulation in March 2018.

Continue to 4 of 15 below.
04 of 15

Ten Pound Note (New)

New 10 pound note
Jim Dyson / Contributor /Getty Images

As of March 2018, a new yellow-orange £10 note has been introduced, featuring renowned author Jane Austen. On the front, there is a new hologram with the crown, a see-through portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, and Winchester Cathedral in gold foil. The reverse side has a profile of Jane Austen, a Pride and Prejudice quote, an illustration of Elizabeth Bennet, and an image of Godmersham Park. This new bill is also plastic and waterproof.

Continue to 5 of 15 below.
05 of 15

Five Pound Note (Old)

Cropped Image Of Hand Holding Five Pound Note Against White Background
Banar Fil Ardhi / EyeEm / Getty Images

This £5 note (also called a "fiver") was circulated in 2001 and discontinued in May 2017. It features 19th-century prison reformer and philanthropist Elizabeth Fry. Known as the "angel of prisons," Fry advocated for legislation that promoted humane treatment for incarcerated inmates.

Continue to 6 of 15 below.
06 of 15

Five Pound Note (New)

Close up five pound note
Caiaimage/Adam Gault / Getty Images

Introduced in fall 2016, the most recent £5 note to go into circulation has a picture of Queen Elizabeth on one side and Sir Winston Churchill on the other. These bright teal blue notes are supposedly cleaner and more difficult to counterfeit thanks to enhanced security features. Like the £10 note, the new £5 note is made of waterproof plastic. One problem with both the £5 and £10 notes is that they have a tendency to cling to each other from static electricity. So if you have several fresh ones, make sure you don't accidentally pay with two notes instead of one.

Continue to 7 of 15 below.
07 of 15

UK Coins

Pound coins and bank notes

There are eight accepted coins in UK currency, including the £2, £1, 50 pence, 20 pence, 10 pence, 5 pence, 2 pence, and 1 pence (penny). In 2008, the back of all the pence coins were redesigned to show different segments of the Royal Shield. Pound coins are sometimes referred to as "quids" by locals, so don't be confused if you hear that expression on the street or in shops. The slang term refers to the value rather than to the £1 coin itself. The expression is not used for other coins except in terms of their value. So, if you had a handful of mixed coins worth a total of £2 your might say you had a couple of quids worth of coins. 

Continue to 8 of 15 below.
08 of 15

Two Pound Coin

Two pound coin
QUAYSIDE / Getty Images

The British £2 coin has a silver colored center and gold colored edge. Since it was introduced in 1997, the £2 coin has featured three different portraits of Queen Elizabeth II. The front was designed by Jody Clark in 2015.

The reverse side of the £2 coin has also changed. Bruce Rushin designed the original coin, which was circulated from 1997 to 2015. It showed a group of connected gears and the inscription "standing on the shoulders of giants" around its edge to symbolize Britain's technical advancements from the Iron Age and the Industrial Revolution. The newest coin, in circulation today, has Antony Dufort's Britannia design with the inscription "quatuor maria vindico," which translates to "I will claim the four seas."

Continue to 9 of 15 below.
09 of 15

One Pound Coin

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

At first, the £1 coin may look similar to the £2 coin. They each have Jody Clark's Queen Elizabeth II design on the front and both are bimetallic. However, the new £1 coin, which was introduced in March 2017, is 12-sided and has a completely new design on the back. As a nod to the United Kingdoms' four nations, there is an English rose, a Scottish thistle, a leek for Wales, and a shamrock for Northern Ireland, all rising from the top of a crown.

Before the original £1 coin came into circulation in the 1980s, people used Bank of England £1 notes. Although the £1 coin is the main currency today, old £1 notes are still issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland and used on the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.

Continue to 10 of 15 below.
10 of 15

Fifty Pence Coin

Fifty Pence Coins
Colin13362 / Getty Images

The 50 pence (50p) coin is a seven-sided, silver coin. Since it was first created in 1969, the coin has had Queen Elizabeth's profile on the front.

Continue to 11 of 15 below.
11 of 15

Twenty Pence Coin

British Money
Yoyochow23 / Getty Images

Twenty pence (20p) coins look very similar to 50p coins in that they're both seven-sided, silver, and have a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the front and a piece of the Royal Shield on the back. If you get confused, check out the label ("20 pence" or "50 pence") on the reverse of each coin to differentiate them.

Continue to 12 of 15 below.
12 of 15

Ten Pence Coin

Ten pence piece
Kim_white/Getty Images

The 10 pence (10p) coin is round and silver, with an image of Queen Elizabeth II on the front and a part of the Royal Shield on the back.

Continue to 13 of 15 below.
13 of 15

Five Pence Coin

Five pence piece
Kim_white/Getty Images

Five pence (5p) coins are similar to 10p coins. They are both round and silver, with Queen Elizabeth II on the front and a part of the Royal Shield on the reverse. However, the 5p coin is much smaller than the 50p, 20p, and 10p coins.

Continue to 14 of 15 below.
14 of 15

Two Pence Coin

Two pence coins
MarkFGD / Getty Images

Round two pence (2p) coins stand out as they are made of copper. Otherwise, the design remains the same: Queen Elizabeth's portrait and a section of the Royal Shield.

Continue to 15 of 15 below.
15 of 15

One Pence Coin

Britsh penny coins
AdamGilchrist / Getty Images

The copper one pence (1p) coin is commonly called a "penny." It is the lowest value coin to be circulated in the UK.

Was this page helpful?