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Cool Things to do in England
London is undoubtedly the start and finish point for most international tourists. It offers countless museums and historical attractions. Sadly though, it is often the only place that many tourists have on their itineries. To truly experience England, then you must venture out of the hustle and bustle of the capital (for ease by train, on a budget by coach) and see what the rest of England has to offer. You will find the rest of England very different to its capital city.
If short on time, you may find it more convenient to base yourself in a regional city and take day trips to the National Parks, coast and smaller towns. If you have plenty of time, then you could base yourself in a B&B (Bed and Breakfast) in any of the above. You will find that public transport to and within cities and large towns is acceptable, but that in smaller places off the beaten track then you should research your journey carefully, or consider hiring a car.
If short on time, then it is possible to use larger cities as a base for day trips, either by train or coach. For example Leeds , the largest city in Yorkshire makes a great base for day trips to the Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire Moors, York and Whitby, whilst offering its own selection of attractions such as the Royal Armories, famed nightlife, theatre and designer shopping in stunning Victorian Era arcades.
Similarly Plymouth makes a good base for exploring Dartmoor, whilst allowing day trips to Cornwall , whilst offering its own range of attractions and museums.
- Walking/hiking - England has many places for walking in the country, which may be called hillwalking or fellwalking in some areas. The Lake District and Peak District are some of the places for more serious walks - see also the itinerary Hikes in the Lake District. The Pennine Way (463km) and Coast To Coast Walk(309km) are the best-known long-distance walks. There are public footpaths and public bridleways all over the country, and most areas of open land are now generally designated for unlimited access (more noticeably in upland areas). People have the right to walk along these and local councils are obliged to maintain records of the routes and keep access open, but do not maintain the paths. Paths are usually signposted where they meet a road, but may not be marked across fields. The paths are shown on the Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25000) and Landranger (1:50000) maps. Enquire locally for details of the best walks, and what kit (boots, waterproofs, etc.) you will need.
- Beaches Cornwall and Devon have some spectacular natural beaches that would rival those of Australia and California, although they are often much colder.
It was once traditional the world over to deride English food, and many who have not visited the country, or who only eat in low-grade establishments, still do so. This tradition was perhaps started by people who visited England during or after the Second World War, when rationing continued for a long time and restaurants were limited by law in the price they could charge for a meal (and there was undeniably a long period when old habits died hard).
Typical/traditional English food:
- Fish and chips — deep-fried, battered fish (usually cod or haddock) with chips (french fries in America), best from specialist fish and chip shops (very different article from "fish and chips" on a general restaurant or pub menu). Available throughout the UK (see that article for more information on finding perfect fish and chips).
- Roast dinner (also known as the "Sunday roast" due to the day it is traditionally consumed on) is available between lunchtime and early evening in virtually any English pub serving food. Quality will vary greatly depending on how freshly cooked the food is (home cooked is invariably better).
- Yorkshire Pudding — a batter pudding served with a roast (usually beef); originally used instead of a plate and eaten with the meal. Giant version often appears on (not very refined) pub menus as a main meal item, with a "filling" ( Giant Yorkshire Pudding filled with beef stew ).
- Toad in the Hole — sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter
- Steak and Kidney Pie — a suet pudding made with beef steak and kidneys
- Lancashire Hotpot — a hearty vegetable and meat stew from Lancashire
- Cornish Pasty (and other forms of meat pie around the country) — beef and vegetables in a pastry case
- Full English Breakfast — (often abbreviated: do not be alarmed if your server at the hotel breakfast table asks you
Pubs are a good place to get reasonably priced food, though most stop serving food at around 9-9:30PM. Others may stop serving food between lunch and dinner. Pub food has become quite sophisticated in recent years and as well as serving the more traditional hearty English fare, more exotic dishes are now prepared in the majority of the larger pubs and specialist "gastropubs".
English food has recently undergone a revolution with many larger cities having award-winning restaurants run by the many 'famous' TV chefs who have now become part of the English obsession with food. Eating out at a high-quality restaurant can be an expensive experience: at the very top end (Michelin Star level) expect to pay ?100 per head including wine. A decent three-course meal out at a respectable restaurant will normally cost around ?30-?40 per head including wine.
If good quality and cheaply priced food is more your choice, try one of the many ethnic restaurants such as Chinese, Asian or Mexican. Eating a curry or balti in an Indian restaurant is tantamount to an English obsession. These restaurants are found everywhere — even the larger villages have them — and usually the food is of good quality and they will cater for most tastes. A good curry with side dishes can be had for around ?10-15 per head, and some without liquor licences allow you to bring your own alcoholic beverages in. Eating a curry out is a social occasion and often you will find the men try to challenge their own taste buds to a duel, opting for spicier curries than they find comfortable! In the towns and cities these restaurants are usually open late (especially on a Friday and Saturday night) to cater for people eating after the pubs have closed. It is at this time that they can get very busy and lively, so if you want to avoid the crowds then visit the restaurants before the local pubs shut.
Unlike many other European countries, vegetarian (and to a lesser extent, vegan) food is widely available and appreciated in pubs and restaurants with several dishes usually appearing on the menu alongside the more normal meat and fish options. However, vegetarians may still find the variety of dishes rather limited - particularly in pubs, where certain dishes such as "veggie" lasagne or mushroom stroganoff feature all too regularly.
Tipping is generally expected in restaraunts unless a service charge has been added to the bill, with a tip of around 10% considered to be the norm. Tipping in bars and cafes is less common.
The traditional drinking establishment is the "pub" (short for "public house"). These are normally named after local landmarks or events, and most will have a heraldic (or pseudo-heraldic) symbol on the sign outside; more recent establishments may poke fun of this tradition (e.g. "The Queen's Head" featuring a portrait of Freddie Mercury, lead singer for the rock band Queen). England seems to have an incredible number of pubs. While in a city you are usually not more than a 5 min walk from any pub.
The pub is an English institution, though a declining one. Tastes are changing, smoking has been banned inside pubs, beer is ever cheaper in supermarkets, drink-driving is taboo, and pub landlords are often squeezed by sharp practice by the big firms which supply beers, and which also own many pub buildings.
There are many different kinds of pub. Some are traditional 'locals', and a real part of the community. These vary widely in character. Depending on the area, you can find a warm and friendly welcome, or drunken workmen spoiling for a fight.
Pubs have a little of their own etiquette. At any proper pub, service is always at the bar. It's polite to strike up a conversation with anyone else who is standing or sitting at the bar. And if someone buys you a drink, you will be expected to 'stand your round' later on, buying for whoever you're drinking with. If you're planning to leave promptly, or don't have enough money, then you should politely decline the offer.
Although traditional pub licencing laws severely restricted their hours of operation, laws enacted in 2005 allow pubs to request more flexible opening hours. Few pubs have requested anywhere near the "24 hour drinking" that is theoretically possible: as a general rule more traditional pubs will close at 11PM still. Some of the more trendy bars will close nearer to 1AM, filling a niche in the market between traditional pub and nightclub. However in most cities and many towns, centrally located pubs and bars will stay open anytime from 2AM till 6AM, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Also, at public holiday times, many pubs extend their closing times — especially New Year's Eve.
England is home to a huge variety of alcoholic drinks. As well as wines and spirits (mainly imported, but some local), all pubs sell several beers and at least one cider. The main types of beer you will come across are lager , bitter and stout . Real Ale is not a separate classification, it refers to beer made and served by traditional methods.
Lager — Predominantly the pilsner type: pale, fizzy and cold. Because of the popularity of this type of beer amongst the young, there are many mass-market national brands brewed in the UK (and widely advertised with "having fun" type ads) which may disappoint anyone wanting more than simply cold, fizzy, alcohol. Some national brands are much better, and often stronger, and may be sold in bottles as well as on draught. Purists often prefer imported European-brewed lagers.
Bitter — The most common example of the English type of beer technically called called "ale" (see below). They are typically darker than lagers - they are called bitter because they have more hops than mild (another less-common kind of ale).
Stout — A dark, heavy, usually very bitter beer. Originally called Porter, Arthur Guinness decided he could do better and made Guinness which he branded a Stout Porter. Guinness is one world-famous Irish brand that is available almost everywhere in England, often in "normal" and "extra cold" versions.
All of the mass-market types above can be bought in cans - often with a "widget" that when the can is opened, forces nitrogen bubbles through the beer to simulate "draught" beer.
Ale — This is not simply another word for "Bitter" or "Beer". Technically it simply means any beer other than lager (ie it is a beer brewed at cellar temperatures using floating yeast, ie bitters, milds and stouts).
Real Ale — The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has been a very successful consumer campaign, its aims have been to ensure that mass-market beers do not completely force out beers made in the traditional way.
"Real ale pubs" — At a pub which especially caters to lovers of real ale, or at a beer festival, there will be more local brands (and "guests" from some distance away) and a wider range of bitters, and even a good choice of other types.
Cider — In England this means an alcoholic drink made from apples (often much stronger than beer). These are generally brewed in the West Country (Somerset, Devon & Cornwall) but not exclusively so as Herefordshire is also another region famous for its cider.
Perry — Similar to cider but made from pears (is sometimes called pear cider , especially if imported). Farmhouse perry was always difficult to get hold of outside the West Country, but this is improving, and there will nearly always be some available at a beer festival.
Tea is widely drunk throughout the country, almost always hot, usually strong, usually with milk, and quite often with sugar. There are many popular brands (the most recognisable brands are PG Tips and Tetley).
Coffee is as popular as tea. Instant coffee (made with hot water, hot milk, or "half and half") is much used at home and work, and in inexpensive restaurants. If it is made with just hot water, then it is "black coffee"; with added cold milk it becomes "white coffee". Percolators are little used, and machines with paper filters are less common than they once were: they often fill a restaurant with a coffee aroma, but a mediocre restaurant will often leave the made coffee heating for too long.
England offers the usual Western assortment of sleeping options including
- Hostels Both private institutions and those part of a hosteling networking (which may require membership so check ahead) usually offer dorm style accommodations, sometimes with a simple breakfast included (think toast and tea). Many hostels in popular destination cities fill up during the busy summer season, so try to book ahead or at least call before you arrive.
- Bed and Breakfasts can range from a single room in a private home to large historical buildings with dozens of rooms. In many towns the tourist office has a list of rooms available and can help you call around.
- Hotels in cities and towns, and near motorway junctions, as well as some grand Country House Hotels .
- Motels Mostly in the form of large chains such as Travel Inn and Travelodge, with hundreds across the country.
- Camping There is a widespread network in country locations of campsites which welcome tents, caravans, or motorhomes. Sites may welcome some or all of these. But don't expect to find many close to cities and major tourist attractions.
- Universities It has been possible to get accommodation in some Universities and Colleges out of term time for a while. However is a bit better than most previous sites, in that it provides good information and tips about the places it covers, which include Oxford and Cambridge. However it does not cover all the places where accommodation is available.
While the rooms are generally comfortable, rooms at the lower end of the price scale may be small and usually come without air conditioning, cable TV, coffee machines, and other amenities. In very inexpensive accommodation, for example in dormitory style hostels, towels and soap may not be provided. Most hotels that provide breakfast will offer a choice between a full english (see above) or continental. The continental normally consists of bread rolls, croissant, cereal, pain au chocolat and cold meats such as ham and salami. Beverages such as fresh fruit juice, tea, coffee and hot chocolate are served too.