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How Far Ahead Should You Book for the UK? A Local’s Guide

If you want to take a trip to the UK, then making the most of your time there is key. Although it’s a relatively small country, the island nation is home to over 67 million people. And it certainly packs a powerful punch when it comes to things to see and do!

Whether you want to base yourself in London, or would prefer to travel around the British Isles, planning is essential when you want to enjoy the experience as much as possible. Popular hotels, activities, and attractions can get booked up months in advance, in some cases. Not to mention flights, which can sell out almost straight away for summer and around Christmas time. 

If you want to know how far ahead you should book for the UK, then this guide will walk you through all you should know. In our UK and London Travel Planning Facebook group, we are often asked when to book tickets to UK attractions, activities, accommodation, restaurants and more.

The truth is, there’s no simple one-size-fits-all answer to fit every attraction, hotel, tour, activity, or restaurant, but we do try to shed some light on the matter. As the Travel Planning team have been back to our native UK several times recently, we do have some real-life experience of when you really need to book local attractions, activities, and accommodation. 

Whether you want to know about flights, accommodation, car hire, train tickets, places to eat, or popular tourist attractions, here is the complete guide to planning and pre-booking your UK trip!

Read our guide to how far ahead to book for London.

Business class seat

The first thing to know when booking flights to the UK is that you can book up to 11 months in advance. Another thing is that airlines only release so many seats at each fare. Once they sell out, you will generally pay more. 

How much you’ll pay depends on the number of seats available and how far ahead you book. Depending on how fast they’re selling, an airline might release more seats at a lower fare to fill up the plane or hike prices if they’re selling fast. Really, it’s all about the basic rule of economics – supply and demand. 

If you’re travelling at Christmas, then the former travel consultant on our team advises booking seats as soon as they’re released. Which would be around late January for the following December. At this time of year seats sell out so quickly that it’s best to simply snap one up while you can.

Otherwise, it’s harder to gauge, even with experience. Summer is also a popular time, but not quite so much so as Christmas. The best prices are typically available a little closer to travel, such as around eight months before. So if you want to travel to London in July, for instance, start looking at flights during November the year before. 

At other times of year, it’s a bit hit and miss. Keep an eye on prices, use comparison sites, and if you see a good fare, book it while you can. Do note that paying a deposit might not guarantee the cost – though it should hold the seat. So check this before going ahead!

CitizenM hotel

Book your room as soon as possible for popular places and the lowest prices. This particularly applies during July, August, and December. Sometimes you can book in advance without paying, settling the bill at the property. You can also often cancel without a penalty, as long as you do so at a specified time before arrival. 

When to book your UK places to stay depends on a range of factors. Where you want to stay – and when – being the main ones. 

The busiest times in the UK are the summer months of July and August, and around Christmas and New Year in December. If you want to visit then, book early for both the best prices and places! 

When you’re visiting cities like London, Glasgow, Bath, and Edinburgh, book your room as soon as you can so you can stay somewhere centrally located, affordable, and pleasant. If you don’t, you’ll end up with whatever’s left – which is unlikely to be the best places. 

For example, we recently booked a room in Edinburgh for late May to early June. So not the busiest time of year, but even when booking four months ahead, our choices were already pretty limited. In that particular city, the Edinburgh Festival throughout August and Hogmanay (Scottish New Year) are the busiest times. 

If you want to stay at a famous hotel, or need a room type like a large family room – then book earlier. Top London hotels can fill up very fast indeed – even when staying there costs thousands of pounds per night!

Using a platform such as can be helpful. When checking room rates, the payment and cancellation policies should be visible. Sometimes you can pay for your room after arriving at the hotel. Or you may be able to cancel up to a set time in advance – such as 24, 48, or 72 hours, or a number of days or weeks ahead – without incurring a fee. 

If you’re looking for affordable places to stay in the UK, then we recommend B&Bs – bed and breakfast places. These tend to be small, family-run establishments, offering home comforts and a freshly cooked breakfast each morning with bacon, eggs, and more. 

The most popular places to stay in the UK include London, Edinburgh, and parts of Scotland that are too far away for a day trip, such as the Isle of Skye. Spots along the scenic NC500 route in Scotland can also book up fast. Glasgow, the biggest city in Scotland, is also popular. 

In England and outside of London, tourist honeypots like the Cotswolds, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, and Stratford-upon-Avon are where accommodation books up quickly. If it’s a popular place to visit, then it follows that any good hotels will get booked up fast. 

How Far Ahead Should You Book for the UK including car hire to drive to beautiful places like the scenery in the image of a mountain.

If you want to rent a car in the UK, then there are a few things worth knowing. 

Firstly, you drive on the left in the UK. Cars over here are what’s known as right-hand drive. This is the opposite of what most overseas visitors are used to, as 163 countries drive on the right as compared to 76 on the left. In fact, most countries that drive on the left are former British colonies, like Australia.

While you might have expected that one, what’s maybe lesser-known is that the majority of British cars are manual. This also applies to car rental, and companies tend to stock fewer automatic vehicles. So unless you want to familiarise yourself with a gear stick that you’re not used to, do book an automatic car in advance!

Many car rental offices close on Sundays. This is less common at airports, but is often the case in towns and cities. So check in advance if you want to collect a car on a Sunday.

Find out much more in our complete guide to UK car rental

Tracy on a train

While you’ll pay the same on the day of travel for some train tickets – generally either within a city or area – it’s often true that you’ll pay less the further in advance you book. 

London Transport fares, for example, don’t change according to when you pay for tickets. What to decide before visiting London is whether you should use an Oyster Card

Things are different regarding train fares in the UK between London and other places, however. For example, if you want to travel by train between London and Edinburgh. 

For the cheapest prices on long-distance UK train tickets, always book in advance. In general, more cheap fares are available in advance. 

Train ticket options include Advance Purchase (or APEX) fares, which are the cheapest – particularly if you’re happy to commit to a ticket that’s not changeable or refundable. 

You might also come across Off Peak and Anytime fares. If you can travel outside the busiest times – such as ‘rush hour’ in the morning and after offices close – then off-peak tickets can save you money. 

With an Anytime ticket, you can travel whenever you want. This flexibility means these tickets cost more. 

Booking months – or at least – or weeks in advance will usually result in the best discounts. But booking even just the day can save you a significant sum. 

Always avoid travelling at peak times unless you absolutely have to. Tickets cost more, and  seats are likely to be occupied by commuters. 

When booking train tickets online, you’ll often be given the option of reserving a seat. Depending on the operator, this often costs no extra. So it’s well worth doing, to make sure you don’t have to stand the whole way!

London food tours Covent Garden cheese

You can walk into many restaurants in the UK without booking in advance, and might be seated straight away or have just a short wait. With the most popular places to eat, though, you’ll need to book weeks or months before.

If you want to dine or have afternoon tea somewhere special, check the booking policy as early as you can. Sometimes you cannot book more than three months ahead. Reserve a table two to three months before, if you can. If not, it’s worth trying your luck a day or two before, as cancellations are quite common due to sickness and changes of plan for other reasons. 

Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday lunchtimes, are busiest. Weekdays tend to be quieter, both during the day and evening. You’re more likely to need a booking, therefore, on weekends. 

If you want to dine out in style, we recommend booking lunch rather than dinner when that’s an option. Lunch menus are often cheaper, and you should also have more chances of securing a table. This can apply even at fine dining establishments. 

Afternoon tea is a great way to spend time at a top hotel without paying as much as you would to dine or stay there. It’s also a favoured British tradition, so popular places book up quickly. Enquire directly if you want to book afternoon tea at a top London hotel, for example, via their website, email, or social media.

The bottom line is – if you want to dine somewhere specific, always book a table as far ahead of time if you can. Even for regular chain pubs and restaurants, reserving a table puts you ahead of walk-ins. 

Tower of London 8

With so many UK attractions to visit, how far ahead of time do you need to book? It depends on when you travel, and how popular the attraction is. Always book as soon as possible if you want to avoid disappointment. 

As mentioned before, summer – July and August in particular – and December are the busiest months. But the UK school holidays also come into it, when families often take their kids out on day trips. These typically take place between around 20th July to the start of September.

Lots of museums in the UK offer free entry, and you can just walk in. But for busy dates or special exhibitions, advance online booking is highly recommended. A few days before is usually fine. 

One of the team recently visited Cadbury World in Birmingham during the school half term holiday. It was clear upon arrival that booking in advance was necessary, as on the day, the attraction was only accepting tickets already booked ahead. And that was for a Monday in February, in Birmingham, which isn’t one of the UK’s most touristy cities!

Buying tickets in advance via a platform like Get Your Guide or Viator often means you can cancel and receive a full refund, usually as late as 24 hours before. So you have nothing to lose by booking early. 

The same sites also often offer skip-the-line entry. This means you can avoid queueing when you get there, thus saving you time. 

Similar rules apply with organised tours, such as day trips. Popular ones might get booked up way ahead of time, but when booking with Viator or Get Your Guide you can secure your slot. If you do need to cancel, you can receive a full refund as long as you give enough notice – check the conditions when booking to make sure where you stand. 

The British Museum in London

Data published by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (AVLA) shows which attractions in London, and the rest of the UK – were the most popular in 2023. 

The top slot was taken by the British Museum, closely followed by the Natural History Museum at number two. The Crown Estate in Windsor took third place. 

Coming in fourth position was Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland. Edinburgh Castle and the National Gallery of Scotland followed close behind. 

The following list of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions will help you decide when to visit. Always avoid weekends and school holidays, if you can. 

What about the numbers? The number one attraction had more than 5.8 million visitors in 2023. In Scotland, 2.2 million people went to the most popular attraction. 

Where museums are free to visit, this applies to general entry. You may need to pay to enter special events and exhibitions. Check the official website before you go to find out whether advance booking is necessary – or recommended. 

While guided tours are not essential, being in the hands of a local expert can really enrich the experience. It ensures you don’t miss anything, and can also interpret everything you’re seeing. 

  1. The British Museum | Free | Book guided tour here
  2. Natural History Museum | Free | Book in-app audio tour here
  3. Tate Modern | Free | Book a guided tour here | Paid | How to book tickets
  4. Victoria and Albert Museum | Free | Book private guided tour here
  5. The National Gallery | Free | Book guided tour here
  6. Science Museum | Free | Book guided tour here
  7. Tower of London | Paid | Buy tickets here
  8. Somerset House | Free | Buy a Courtauld Gallery ticket here

Find out more about which London attractions to book in advance in our complete guide to booking ahead for London.

  1. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh | Free | Info on free guided tours here
  2. Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh | Paid | Book guided walking tour with entry ticket here
  3. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh | Info on free guided tours here
  4. Windsor Castle, Windsor | Paid | Buy tickets here
  5. RHS Garden Wisley, Woking | Paid | Buy tickets here
  6. Stonehenge | Paid | Buy tickets here
  7. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow | Free | Buy hop-on, hop-off bus ticket here (stops at Kelvingrove)
  8. Riverside Museum, Glasgow | Buy hop-on, hop-off bus ticket here (stops at Riverside)
  9. Roman Baths and Pump Room, Bath | Paid | Book guided walking tour with entry ticket here

The UK is a very popular place to visit – and it’s not all about London. Though it’s true that the capital boasts the most-visited attractions in the British Isles, other cities including Bath, Edinburgh, and Glasgow can give London a run for its money. As well as more peaceful parts of southern England – namely Stonehenge in Wiltshire, Windsor in Berkshire, and RHS Wisley in Surrey. 

If you’re booking a trip to the UK, get your flights sorted first. You can book these up to 11 months in advance. Next up is accommodation, if you want to stay somewhere nice that’s also central and affordable. 

After that, start looking into the attractions you actually want to go to, plus car rental and/or train travel to get around. With a little forward planning, you really can save a stack of cash on your UK trip. You can also save time once you arrive by booking tickets in advance. And in an expensive country, trust us – every penny counts!