How Safe is England to Visit? What Travelers Need to Know

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Traveling to England? Find out how to stay safe from theft, pickpockets, violent crime, and more with these tips from our travel safety expert.

Crowded street at Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill, London Photo © Getty Images/Alexander Spatari

Crime in England is all about location

Safety for travelers varies greatly across England. That’s because crime rates differ enormously from city to city and, in particular, between busy metropolitan areas and serene villages. I’ve visited rural areas of England so peaceful it felt like I could almost walk around with £50 notes stapled to my clothes and no one would bother me.

Such as Cornwall, the famously picturesque county on England’s southern coast. UK police statistics show Cornwall’s crime rate is less than half that of urban areas like London, Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham. Nonetheless, it’s strongly advised, if self-driving through the English countryside, to avoid leaving valuables in your car, as rented vehicles are common targets for theft.

Your safety also depends on where you are within UK cities. For example, some quiet, affluent areas of London have limited issues with crime, such as Richmond, Harrow, and Sutton. But, aside from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, there are few major attractions in those peaceful areas.

Whereas London’s chief tourist precinct, Westminster, consistently has one of the highest crime rates in the city. Home to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, St James’s Park and St James’s Palace, it’s unfortunately riddled by theft and pickpocketing.

Pickpockets have a field day on public transport

In the UK’s big cities, groups of criminals often work together to create fertile scenarios for pickpocketing on public transport. UK police warn of such gangs causing so-called bottlenecks at busy train, bus, and underground stations.

During rush hour, the group will create an obstacle at an entrance or exit, causing a crush of frustrated commuters to build up. Amid this disorder, pickpockets can more easily steal wallets, phones, and handbags, and if spotted can swiftly disappear into the crowd.

So when traveling on busy public transport routes in the UK, be sure to keep your valuables inside a zipped pocket or bag. And if you see one of the aforementioned bottlenecks, just stand back and wait for it to disperse before continuing your journey.

In England, knives are a bigger threat than guns

While gun crime is rampant in the US, for example, strict firearm controls in the UK mean street criminals favor knives. Government statistics show that, in 2021, there were more than 41,000 crimes involving a knife or sharp object in England and Wales alone. Among that was a whopping 224 stabbing murders, and more than 4,000 hospitalizations.

A large proportion of these stabbings were either gang violence or occurred late at night in entertainment areas. Comparatively, very few were random knife attacks. In this regard, the greatest risk for travelers comes from street robberies, particularly after dark. When confronted by a robber, English police advise to hand over valuables to avoid the risk of being stabbed.

Much of England’s violence is fueled by alcohol and drugs

English authorities for decades have grappled with the issue of how to reduce alcohol and drug-fueled violence, particularly in entertainment areas of cities. In some parts of Europe, such as Italy, Spain, and France, alcohol is commonly paired with meals, and is seen as an enhancement of the dining experience, something to be savored.

By comparison, the UK’s alcohol culture leans more heavily towards binge drinking, similar to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and my home country, Australia. To many people in those nations, alcohol exists to get you drunk. The pub and nightclub experience in the UK reminded me very much of Australia in that, the later in the night it gets, the greater the chance of violence occurring.

UK non-profit Alcohol Change states that alcohol is a factor in 39% of all violent crimes in England. Most of the fights and assaults I’ve witnessed in England involved people clearly affected by alcohol or drugs. So, travelers in the UK need to carefully consider when and where they party.

If you’re in a quiet country pub, drinking until the wee hours should hold little risk. Same goes for an upmarket wine bar in an affluent urban area. But if you delve into a heaving city pub, beware of the steady decrease in your personal safety as the night wears on. Such venues are best experienced in the early evening, when spirits are high and blood alcohol levels are low.

Forget drive-bys – in England it’s all about ride-bys

Smart phones have become such an intrinsic part of our lives that, even when we’re traveling, we spend a huge amount of time staring down at that little screen. While you’re distracted by your phone – reading restaurant reviews, or getting directions to the next stop on your itinerary – you become vulnerable to a crime that has become remarkably common in England.

While some cities in the US are plagued by drive-by shootings, in England you need to be wary of ride-by muggings. In London in particular, it is common for thieves on small motorbikes to approach unsuspecting pedestrians, slow down, lean over to snatch their belongings, and then accelerate away.

Dubbed ‘moped muggings’, they became so rampant that in 2018 there were more than 20,000 recorded across the UK. Police there have since cracked down heavily on this crime, which has dropped to less than half the previous volume. But it remains widespread.

Aside from the risk of losing valuables, what makes moped muggings even more worrying is they can easily result in injury, as the victim gets knocked over or even dragged along behind a motorbike. In response to this trend, English police have urged pedestrians to be aware of their surroundings, to avoid standing too close to the roadside, and where possible to minimize exposing their valuables, such as phones, wallets, handbags, or jewelry.

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1 Comment

  • Carole said

    I lived in SW London and worked in Westminster for over 20 years, all of which were crime-free. And to say there are few attractions in Richmond 'other than Kew gardens is laughable. Richmond has gorgeous riverside walks and pubs, Richmond Park, the fabulous Petersham Nurseries (google it) and historic Ham House is also in the area. Sensible precautions are sll you need to take, whether in London or anywhere else in England.


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