The other day, after rereading the article on “How to save on train tickets in the UK“, I thought about why people don’t usually come do an Interrail around Britain. I know many people who have done the Interrail around several European countries, but Britain isn’t a common destination: at most, travellers stop briefly in London and then return to mainland Europe.
So now I’m going to tell you how the island can be a tourist destination for backpackers. I have visited about 35 of its cities and believe the journey is a great idea for the following reasons:
1. You can practice English.
This may seem obvious, but although they say they are travelling to practice their English on the road, many people wandering through Europe go to countries where English is not spoken (or it barely is). What better destination to head to than the mother country of this international language?
2. You will visit three countries for the price of one.
Bargain! Many people still tend to think of Britain as London, but it’s way more than that. England, Wales and Scotland all have parallel but different histories. On your trip, you will be able to visit very different areas and cities.
The fare for eight days of travel around Britain (for people under 26) in one month is 222€, about £175.
On days where you don’t want to use the train but you want to keep visiting cities, you can travel with Megabus and get tickets for £1.
3. Accommodation is not as expensive as you think.
Clearly you spend less in hostels in countries like Croatia, Latvia and Moldova … but in the big cities there are hostels offering rooms from £8 a night. If you go to remote, small towns that attract fewer tourists, at most you will pay £20. I’ve run a search on HostelWorld for nine cities in Britain, large and small, and I got an average of £12 a night, about 15€. For a 22 days of Interrail, it would cost you about £250 (315€).
4. You can eat cheaply without setting foot in McDonalds.
One thing that really bothers me is constantly hearing that “in England you eat really badly”.
If you eat badly in the UK, it is because you want to. It is a multicultural country with great restaurants with cuisine from many different counties (Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Caribbean, etc.) that have affordable menus and buffets; supermarkets always have a section of meal deals for less than £5 with prepared food (I’m a big fan of M&S); there are markets in many cities with stalls offering homemade and cheap food (see St Nicholas Market in Bristol or CamdenLock in London); there are also many traditional pubs in every town offering food for £5- £6… the list goes on and on.
Plus, if you want to eat even healthier, in most hostels you will find a kitchen where you can cook what you want. You can stop by any supermarket (open daily) and prepare sandwiches to your liking, or make something hot when you arrive at the hostel after visiting the city. In short, you can eat a perfectly healthy and varied range of foods for under £10 a day. The problems is that many people find it very easy to go to McDonalds and point at a burger without saying a word before paying.
- Cheap Eats in the UK – 12 Ideas to save money when eating (ENGLISH).
- The best places to eat cheap in Britain, for cities (ENGLISH by TheGuardian).
5. The train network is huge.
The train as we know it was invented here, and the network is extensive, so it will be very easy to move around and visit any point that interests you on the island.
6. You can’t imagine how much there is to see…
… even if you forget about London. There are hundreds of museums with free admission all over the island. You can lose yourself in the castles of Wales or the charming villages of Cornwall; visit historically rich cities like York, Bristol, Liverpool and Edinburgh; see the landscapes of the Scottish Highlands; go to ‘georgie’ style parties in Newcastle; or try any number of alternative experiences. If you stop and think, probably many names of British cities come to mind, even if you don’t know what is there to visit. So just do a Google search to find information about the type of tourism you want.
- Check out VisitBritain.com for ideas of what to see in Britain, or even better, look for specific areas in VisitWales, VisitScotland or VisitEngland to find out what all these countries have to offer.
- List of free museums and galleries around the UK
- Top20: Museums with free entry in the UK (by TheGuardian)
- If you are going to visit many historical buildings, you might want to be a member of the English Heritage for £49. Wit this card you will be able to see thousands of castles, palaces and other building of national historical interest for a year. If you have to pay the entry fee for five or six places it’s already worth it to get the card.
- You can also get inspired with our tourism section 😉
I hope these ideas will motivate you to go on an Interrail trip around Britain, but if that’s not enough…
7. You’ll meet people from all over the world
In my case, I travelled alone, so I had no choice but to socialize with people I met on my trip, but travelling with friends shouldn’t stop you from meeting people coming from all over the world. The experience will change you – and that’s what it’s all about, right?
If you plan to go backpacking, spending as little money as possible for about three weeks, your budget would look like this:
- Interrail Pass for Britain, for people under 26 years old, eight days of travel in one month = 222€
- Accommodation in hostels, average £12 per night, 21 nights = 350 €
- Eat according to my tips above, £10/day = 300€
- TOTAL budget, traveling for 22 days, comes to less than 900 €
Then you have to add what you spend visiting museums and other sites, plus the souvenirs you may buy or money you spend on other events. This will, of course, depend on the individual traveller. Overall, you might spend an average of 50€/day. With less money, you could also go on a shorter trip.
My Interrail experience
In 2011 I decided to go alone on an Interrail trip for 22 days, but didn’t choose the most cost-effective destination: Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland). Although I had a large budget, eventually it got out of hand and I ended up spending € 3,000 – an exorbitant price for a backpacking trip. The mistakes I made were as follows:
- I chose the countries with highest purchasing power in Europe (and the world).
- I travelled when I was over 26 so the pass was more expensive.
- I bought the most expensive Interrail pass when it wasn’t necessary: a multi-country pass for 22 days.
- Related to the first mistake: I chose countries where hostels were 25€/night and eating decently costed a minimum of 10€.
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