Custom England Tours
Open the door to England and discover its complex history from the cornerstones of Western Civilization to the pathfinders of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Revel in ceremonial tea parties and fanatical football matches. Charming countryside villages, bustling metropolises, and a unique culture paints England as a land of great variety, all discoverable through a custom Zicasso tour.
England has oozed heritage for ages, a tiny island spreading its influence through everything from Shakespeare to the Beatles, the Magna Carta to Manchester United, fried breakfasts, and red telephone boxes. And when you're exploring this grand land, it's hard not to pause and exclaim, “Ah, this is England!” Perhaps it's the endless cups of tea. More likely, it's because you're always surrounded by quintessential scenes. Eating cupcakes on the cultivated gardens of a stately manor house; gothic cathedrals and fairytale streets of cobblestone and intrigue; double decker buses or black taxis; undulating hills covered in sheep and dry stone walls; wandering along broad beaches with a packet of fish and chips in hand... Then again, maybe it's because so much of England graces world TV screens – the lights of Big Ben and Tower Bridge on a London news item, opulent castles on Downtown Abbey, or a famous royal wedding.
Everyone has his or her own picture of England, but it is difficult to fully capture this nation in a single image. There's the England of village greens, flat caps, and meandering country lanes. Compare that to West End London's classic shopping experiences and hit musicals. Quaint towns like Bath and Oxford remain unchanged for centuries, yet it's easy to get absorbed in the dazzling energy of post-industrial cities like Manchester and Liverpool. And what would England be without its iconic green countryside, punctuated by thatched roofed cottages and forests that glow red during autumn. Regional diversity is stoically defended and proudly celebrated. Travel just 30 miles and the accents emphatically change, another bizarre tradition is revealed, and everyone looks a little different.
But England's greatest appeal is in its size. It is a very small country, far smaller than most people realize. It means first timers are quickly charmed, but regular visitors will always have a new angle to explore. Destinations are close together, and it's easy to cram a lot into a few days. For some, that means covering the diverse blend of experiences that make England so incomprehensible. Others will enjoy effortlessly following a single paradigm, whether that's rural or regal, recounting yesteryear or taking in city lights. Traveling between all the destinations is part of the experience, and the soothingly green landscapes compel you not to rush. There is never a lost moment when everything is so wonderfully, well, English... So welcome to a land of eccentricity, a nation of historical revere, and a country that everyone has to visit at least once in their lifetime...
- Fill the camera roll as you explore Central London, gasping at all the famous monuments and painted scenes. Watch red double decker buses line up beside the majestic dome of St Paul's Cathedral, observe the changing of the Queen's Guard outside Buckingham Palace, wander across ancient Tower Bridge and then up the gloomy stairways of the Tower of London. Keep snapping as the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben appear and then savor it all from the London Eye. Yes, it's all crowded with tourists. But there's nothing more glorious than a day reveling in Central London.
- Wander along the charming cobblestone streets of England's illustrious old towns, reliving an ancient time through stunning cathedrals, atmospheric taverns, and side streets full of enthralling shopkeepers. Oxford combines all of this with its famous university and archaic libraries. York also reveals the remnants of Roman England, Europe's largest gothic cathedral, and the finest purveyors of cream tea and scones.
- The English idolize the royal family, and the aristocratic opulence of the throne can be discovered all over the country. Windsor Castle and St James's Palace are well-recognized sites, monumental displays of wealth that ooze regal charm. But rural England is covered with stately homes, centuries-old manor houses, and gothic mansions, all usually set within acres of flowering gardens and pruned hedges. Castle Howard, Bowood House, Highclere Castle; this is the England from Downtown Abbey.
- Head north and immerse yourself in Yorkshire, declared the world's third best region by the Lonely Planet, and proudly called “God's own country” by its idiosyncratic residents. It's a land of peculiar accents, white coastal cliffs, boutique shopping arcades, thriving nightlife, and swathes of the countryside that make everyone ogle with envy. Explore historic market towns like Ripon and Skipton, enjoy the grand Victorian renascence of Leeds, and spend many an afternoon discussing the weather over a pint (of beer), a brew (slang for a cup of tea) or a cold pork pie (local snack).
- Absorb the Georgian splendor of Bath, and then seek out its medieval heritage and 2000-year-old Roman bathhouses. The whole city is a UNESCO world heritage site, a living architectural museum packed with arched stone bridges, glorious abbeys, and row upon row of elegant stone townhouses. Half an hour down the road, Salisbury offers a miniature and quieter version with the same artistic splendor. Then drive another 30 minutes to discover Stonehenge, a baffling Neolithic cluster of giant rocks whose origin nobody can explain.
- Meander through the rich green landscapes of the Cotswolds, absorbing archetypal English vistas and flowering gardens that dance with color. Jacobean houses and enigmatic stone villages punctuate the rolling hills, each offering a serene atmosphere for high tea or a traditional pub dinner. This is the England of 18th-century oil paintings, created with gentle shades and swirling brushstrokes. And it's packed with some of the country's finest boutique accommodation.
Many first time visitors to England are unaware of the country's diversity. Famous cities like London, Bath, and Oxford typically pack itineraries. But the country possesses many unique experiences:
- Witness England through the eyes of its great storytellers, embarking on tours that discover the world of Shakespeare and Jane Austin. Comedy comes from the witty locals; drama is provided by the grandeur of ancient estates, poetry is delivered in charming rural villages, and then the theater is relived as you match the destinations to the plays and books.
- The English are mad about football (or soccer as it’s known in the US), and the Premier League has become another of their famous exports. Listen to “You'll Never Walk Alone” ring around Anfield Stadium, or relish the tingling sensation of a game at Old Trafford, Manchester United's proclaimed “Theatre of Dreams.” Football lovers can enjoy tailored vacations, but it's also easy to incorporate a match day experience into a wider English itinerary.
- Explore the historic streets of Liverpool and go on a musical tinged journey through the ages. Edwardian monuments and grand dockyards reveal the city's indelible imprint on world history before a Magical Mystery Tour opens up the hometown of The Beatles. Visit Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, discover the atmospheric pubs where the fab four first played and lose yourself in Liverpool's love for their favorite sons.
- Put on the hiking boots and amble through the glorious landscapes of the Lake District, the endless green valleys dotted with serene lakes and lost country pubs. It's a world of sheep, dry stone walls, crumbling forts, and vistas that are as iconic as the mugs of tea you'll be drinking. For a remote escape into rural England, there are few better places.
- English food is made fun of around the world, with most people thinking that it all comes fried in six inches of oil and contriving heart attacks. Fish and chips and fried breakfasts don't challenge the stereotype, even if they're must-experience parts of any vacation. But in reality, English cuisine is full of surprises, Michelin stars, and fresh organic produce. And dining is very much part of the England experience, from charming country gastropubs to snazzy city restaurants, unusual local cafes to seven-course banquets in a five-star ballroom.
The English weather is as world famous as the royal family or fish and chips. It's known as the country of rain, gray skies, and a bit more rain. This stereotype has garnered such worldwide recognition that England is now partly defined for its inclement weather. Is it deserved? Maybe not, given that it's statistically drier than Italy, Paris, and most of Western Europe. Then again, perhaps it's all a self-fulfilling prophecy, as locals really do enjoy complaining about the weather. They say it's either too cold, too hot, too windy, or they'll lament that the “weather can't make its mind up.”
In reality, the country follows the four-season rhythm of the northern hemisphere. Winters can be chilly, but snow only falls every few years. Summers are typically mild and mixed, occasional wet days juxtaposed with the odd week of glorious sunshine and temperatures hitting the low 80s. Spring and fall are perhaps the most beautiful times, the landscapes bursting with life or leaving a red-yellow tinge on the ground. But whenever you visit, you'll probably have to pack for all four seasons. Spring and summer time is particularly unpredictable. In general, there's more rain the further north and west you go. It's also always a few degrees warmer in the south.
You certainly shouldn't let the weather put you off, as England has a solution for every scenario. Whenever the sun shines, you'll find that the whole country is outdoors, the parks and countryside buoyed by a wonderfully enthusiastic atmosphere. If it's raining, then there are more than enough indoor attractions to keep you busy. Roaring log fires, pots of tea, heavy traditional food; the country certainly knows how to warm you up.
The peak tourist season is during summer, with the school holiday period of mid-July to late August being the busiest time of year. But the biggest factor in deciding when to go isn't the weather, but the hours of daylight. In mid-winter, it's dark by 4 p.m., as opposed to almost 10 p.m. in June and July. When visiting the cities, it's not a problem, as they're just as impressive when lit up, and the opening times for attractions don't really vary. However, exploring the English countryside and its cute rural towns is best done between April and mid-October. That’s because when the sun shines and the sultry summer evenings seem to go on forever, rural England is like an old-world painting.
English accommodation is unquestionably distinctive. Take a photo of your hotel lobby and 90% of your friends would be able to guess where you went on vacation. The country is full of grand hotels and boutique bed and breakfasts, each screaming England as vociferously as the view from the window. It's also a master of matching the accommodation with the destination. Be prepared for some humongous buffet breakfasts, slightly odd carpet designs, and all the modern amenities you would expect anywhere in Western Europe.
In London, you'll find almost all the famous hotel brands, supplemented by a great assortment of luxurious and small owner-managed hotels. Some of them veer towards grandeur, impressing with their opulent lobbies, grand restaurants, and corridors that scream of an imperial past. Others are sparklingly modern, oozing the energy and cutting edge design of the capital. The other big cities offer a similar type of choice, although few places on the planet can compete with London's sheer quantity of accommodation.
Country villages used to be famed for their inns, cheap and simple places to sleep that were usually placed above the local pub. Thankfully, a surge in small boutique hotels and romantic B&B's means that there are always resting locations befitting the charm of the village. You'll find quaint stone houses in the Cotswolds, cottages overlooking fields of sheep in Yorkshire, and elegant old fishing homes on the coast. England's finest accommodation is probably found in its manor houses and ancient mansions. These offer the true aristocratic experience, from afternoon tea in sumptuous gardens to four-poster beds and rooms fit for royalty. The buildings are attractions in their own right, and the acres of surrounding greenery can occupy you for days.
Visa and Passport Requirements
US and Canadian citizens do not require a visa to enter England on vacation. Immigration officials can be very strict and will need to see proof that you're actually on vacation. Always have your return or onward flight confirmation on hand, as well as details of your travel plans – a confirmation from the agent will suffice.
The interchangeable use of England, Britain, and the UK, can be confusing. In summary, England is a country that's part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain (along with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland). There is a shared UK immigration office, and you will be stamped into the UK, not into England. Although the UK is part of the European Union, it is not part of the Schengen visa agreement. Therefore, any traveler needing a visa must get one with UK immigration.
Health and Safety
England is a safe country to visit, and it is extremely rare for tourists to have any problems. In many rural areas, it's still common for people to leave their doors unlocked, and sell homegrown vegetables by placing an “honesty box” on the side of the road. Some large cities have suburbs that could seem rough or unsafe. However, there is rarely any reason for tourists to visit these suburbs and the risk is widely exaggerated. Cheap Cable TV shows have done their best to portray English city center streets as a mass gathering for drunkenness and aggression. On Friday and Saturday nights, you are likely to see a collection of drunken folks stumbling around the city. But unless you're visiting nightclubs or partying until 3 a.m., you won't witness this heavily hyperbolic side to England.
The National Health Service and free healthcare for residents have long been a flagship of the UK government. Foreign visitors also receive free treatment for medical emergencies and minor injuries. However, any medical treatment outside A & E (Accident and Emergency) or a minor injuries unit, will incur significant costs that have to be paid or arranged by your insurer in advance. Tap water is safe to drink, and visitors won't need any vaccinations or additional medication outside of personal necessities.
Customs and Etiquette
The English are an eclectic bunch, and you're likely to meet a diverse cast of characters. There's the traditional upper-class gent, dressed sharply and perfect in his pronunciation of the “Queen's English.” Compare that to the cheeky wit and indecipherable accent of anyone from Liverpool, a flat-cap wearing farmer, or a loyal football fan bellowing from the stand. Then go to London and discover a city that's welcomed influences from just about every country in the world. England has always celebrated individuality, and there is no standard dress code or style that people must adopt. In fact, the English are quite warm to those who just act like themselves.
Almost everyone is welcoming to visitors. Simply smiling and saying hello is normally enough to endear you to the locals. But while some English people may love to complain about England, they don't take kindly to foreign visitors making the same criticisms. Accents remain an important part of local identity, and a voice can tie somebody to their hometown for life. Travel 20 miles and the changes can be remarkable. Travel across the country and you'll go from gruff Geordie to chirpy Yorkshire and then cheeky Cockney. Subtle dialect changes also mark the journey; “thank you” becomes “ta” or “cheers,” while “hello” could be “'eyup” or “al'right.” Many locals will tone down their accents when speaking to foreigners, so the pronunciation becomes part of the charm rather than a challenge.
The English are stoic defenders of the British pound, the local currency being a celebrated part of English culture. ATMs are found everywhere, and you can pay by card in almost every establishment. Note that England and Scottish banknotes are different, even though they're the same currency. Scottish notes aren't readily accepted in England but can be exchanged at banks. Tipping is common in restaurants, and 10% would be considered a good tip. It's rarely practiced or expected in cafes or bars.