Getting around Britain

Travelling around Britain by car

Travelling around Britain by car

Driving around Britain is a great way to see the diverse landscapes, cities and towns. The country has an extensive network of toll-free motorways and trunk roads, which make travelling around the country straightforward.

What you need to drive in Britain

To drive in Britain you need a current driving licence with an international driving permit if required. You must also keep proof of ownership or a rental agreement in your vehicle, plus any insurance documents.

The roads in Britain 

Remember to drive on the left!

Distances on road signs are measured in miles.

Intercity roads are busier between 8-9.30am and 5-7pm when people are travelling to/from work/schools on weekdays.

Most hire cars will include GPS but keep a good map handy. If you want to explore more rural areas it’s worth picking up a map from the Ordnance Survey series – they’re comprehensive and will guide even the most specific of trips.

Motorways are marked with blue signs and an “M” followed by their identifying number. “A” roads, sometimes dual carriageways (that is, with 2 lanes in each direction), are main routes marked with green road signs, while “B” roads are secondary roads. The latter are often less congested and views will almost certainly be prettier! Rural areas are crisscrossed by a web of tiny, often pretty, lanes.

Get to know the road signs

Signs are mostly standardised in-line with the rest of Europe. Directional signs are colour-coded: blue for motorways, green for major routes and white for minor routes. Brown signs indicate places of interest. Advisory or warning signs are usually triangles in red and white, with easy-to-understand pictograms. Watch for electronic notices on motorways that warn of roadworks, speed restrictions, accidents or patches of fog.

Level crossings, found at railway lines, often have automatic barriers. If the lights are flashing red, it means a train is coming and you must stop.

The UK Highway Code, available online at the Department of Transport website, is an up-to-date guide to all the current British driving regulations and traffic signs.

UK driving rules 

Speed limits range within 20-40mph (50-65km/h) in built-up areas and a maximum of 70mph (110km/h) on motor­ways or dual carriage­ways. Look out for speed signs on other roads. It is compulsory for all drivers and passengers to wear seatbelts in Britain.

Do not drink and drive in the UK as the penalties are severe; see the UK Highway Code to check the legal limit. It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving unless it is operated hands-free; even then it's advisable you put your phone away while you drive. 

Parking your car in Britain  

You may need to pay at a meter to park, so keep a supply of coins handy. Some cities have “park and ride” schemes, where you can take a bus from an out-of-city car park into the centre. Other towns have parking schemes where you buy a card at the tourist office or newsagents, fill in your parking times and display it on your dashboard.

Don't park on double red or yellow lines at any time; single lines sometimes mean you can park in the evenings and at weekends, but check road-side signs carefully for restrictions.

If in doubt, keep things simple and find a car park. Outside urban areas and popular tourist zones, parking is much easier. Look out for signs with a blue “P”, indicating parking spaces. Never leave any valuables or luggage alone in your car. 

Filling up your car with fuel 

Petrol stations at larger supermarkets offer good value. Motorway service areas and rural or isolated regions are generally more expensive.

Most petrol stations in Britain are self-service and the instructions at the pumps are easy to follow; you pay at the counter in the shop.

Get to know the British breakdown services

The AA, RAC and Green Flag are the major breakdown assitance services in the UK. If you break down on a motorway, you can call for emergency assistance from roadside orange SOS phones.

Most car-hire agencies have their own cover, and charges will include membership of the AA, the RAC or Green Flag. Be sure to ask the rental company to provide all emergency service numbers.

If you are not a member of an affiliated organisation, you can still contact a rescue service, although it will cost more. If you have an accident that involves injury or another vehicle, call the police as soon as possible.

The Environmental Transport Association gives advice on reducing the impact of carbon emissions, as well as offering a number of ethical breakdown services.

How to hire a car in UK

It's worth doing your research when hiring a car in Britain to make sure you get the best price. Reputable car-hire companies include Avis, Hertz, Europcar, Nationwide Hire, and Budget.

The companies should include insurance cover, so check this when you hire. They will also a require a credit card for a deposit. You will need your driving licence, proof of address and your passport to pick up your car.