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Parking in Britain is at a premium, and you'll need to be resourceful in finding and parking your car.

The information in this part of our series on driving in Britain will help you find the best parking at the best price in the best locations.

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All About Parking a Car in Britain

Sooner or later, you'll have to park your car.  Here's how and where to do it.

Cars park close to each other and the kerb in Britain

Cars park close to each other, facing in both directions, and very close to the kerb in Britain, where parking spaces are always at a premium.

Part of our series on Driving in Britain.  Links to other pages at the bottom.



Britain's history makes for narrow winding roads in many towns, and with very few places to park.

When you do find a parking place, you'll have to be careful to park correctly, and to observe any parking rules and restrictions.

You'll probably have to brush up on your parallel parking skills, but other than that, you should have no problems.

This part of our multi-page feature on driving around Britain will help you when confronting the unavoidable need to stop driving and park your car.

Parking in Britain

We get spoiled in the US with nice wide parking spaces and plenty of them.  We can simply drive straight in to the space, and then easily back out and leave again afterwards.

If someone parks too far to one side or another there is probably still enough room to squeeze in next to them, and if there isn't, well, there is probably another empty space nearby so it isn't very serious.

All of this is very different in Britain.  Parking spaces are much smaller with much less spare space between parked cars.  And there are not as many spaces to be found.

This means you have to be very exact and very considerate in your parking.  If you're not carefully in the middle of your space, go back and forward again and align better.

If you park very carelessly, you run the risk that someone might deliberately scratch or otherwise damage your car.  With rental car companies becoming increasingly obsessive at checking returned cars for all dings and scratches, it might be a costly penalty for a bit of laziness on your part.

Be Prepared to Park Further Away

In the US, you're probably familiar with drivers who will block the parking building waiting seemingly for ever to get a park closer to where they wish to be, even though there is a visible parking space just ten or twenty cars further away.

Other drivers will endlessly circle the area closest to where they want to go and shop, without considering more available spaces that are further away.

In the UK, due to the probable shortage of parking, you need to be more willing to accept whatever is available, wherever you can find it.  Don't waste valuable time searching for non-existent parking spaces right outside where you wish to be - accept the strategy of finding parking anywhere reasonably nearby.

A bit more walking - assuming you are reasonably physically fit - is not a bad thing at all and will show you a bit more of Britain, which is, of course, the main reason you are there in the first place!

Central Parking Facilities

Even relatively small town and villages may have officially designated central parking facilities.  Sometimes they may even offer free parking, other times they will require you to pay.

These are typically on the edge of the town/village in smaller towns, but may be anywhere in larger towns and cities.  Look for signs directing you to these parking facilities.

In larger towns and cities, you may find signs showing you the directions to multiple parking lots, and they may even have digital displays showing the number of open parking spaces remaining in the lots (or the word 'Full' if that is the case), giving you very helpful guidance about where to go.

Not So Central Parking Facilities

Some of the larger towns and cities may also have Park and Ride facilities on the outskirts of the central business area.

Parking in one of those and then taking a bus in to the center might be a much easier way to park and get into the city center, particularly if you are planning to spend much of a day.  Buses usually operate frequently.

Doing this saves you the hassle of fighting the traffic in to the city center, and will almost certainly save you appreciably in parking costs as well.  It might take a bit more time, but it could well be a fun experience taking a local bus, and spending a bit more time in return for a lot less frustration is probably an excellent compromise.

Finding Car Parking

We often find that in busy towns where no parking is apparent on the main streets at all, if you just drive one or two streets away from the main street, you may find plenty of unrestricted parking.

You just need to get away from the main arterial roads and the main areas where other drivers will be looking for parks.

Although you might have to walk three or four or five minutes further, surely that is better than driving around and around in frustrating circles not finding a park closer in, and for more than the few minutes extra of walking you end up doing.

Parallel Parking

Much more parking in Britain is of the parallel parking alongside the kerb type.  You'll sometimes find you have no choice but to do this.

There are two and a half things to think about.

First, park with your kerbside wheels literally within a very few inches of the kerb.  You don't want your car to be the one sticking the furthest out into traffic, because if it is, you risk at best having your outside mirror knocked off, and at worst, more severe damage to the side of your car.

Second, when you finish your parking maneuvering, be sure to leave reasonable amounts of distance between your car and both the car in front and the car behind.  Make it easy for them to drive out of their space if they return before you.

And the extra half thing to remember?  What goes around comes around.  If you leave equal amounts of space in front and behind, you are also giving yourself a safety buffer in both directions, meaning it is less likely that even if someone else boxes you in at one end of your car, you'll still have some precious room at the other end to be able to get your car out of the space again.

Parking on Either Side of the Road

You'll quickly notice that people will park their car on either side of the road, facing either the 'right way' or, if on the other side of the road, facing the 'wrong way'.

This is legal and there's no reason why you shouldn't do it too.

Parking Signs

In theory, all parking restrictions should be clearly signposted and visible from where you are parking your car.  This is usually fairly observed, although this doesn't mean there will be a sign right adjacent to where you park your car.  It might be 50 ft down the road, so look for signs all around.

You'll also see single and double yellow lines and sometimes white lines, along the side of the road.

The white lines are generally advisory, pointing out places where parking is officially approved and endorsed.

There are also zig-zag white lines leading up to pedestrian crossings.  These are no parking areas.

A single yellow line indicates that there is restricted parking allowed at some times of the day (usually business hours) and less restricted open parking allowed for the rest of the day.

A double yellow line means parking is prohibited, all the time.

Sometimes - particularly in London - you might also see red lines on the side of the road.  No surprise for what they mean - no parking.

Parking Fees and Parking Fines

It is increasingly difficult to find free parking in most towns and cities, and you probably should resign yourself to the need to pay for parking.

Parking rates are clearly posted wherever they are in effect, and the only couple of things to consider are checking the hours when parking is free rather than chargeable, and, as a related concept, noting that sometimes there is flat rate parking, eg, for evenings.

Parking is usually enforced quite strictly, and don't think just because you are an out of country renter, you'll be able to escape the penalties if you don't pay your parking and your parking fine.  The parking company will fine the rental car company, it being a car owner liability, and then the rental car company will dip into your credit card without seeking your prior approval for the full amount of the fine plus a mammoth 'handling fee' on top.

Free Parking Rules

Parking Restriction Sign in BritainIf you do find a free parking area, be sure to understand the rules and restrictions that may apply.

For example, you might be allowed to park for up to two hours, but then you might be required to not return for at least eight hours before parking in that area again.

Another rule could be you can park for free, up to an hour at a time, but not between the hours of perhaps 4pm and 7pm.

Note also that the parking rules can vary completely from one side of the street to the other.  One side might have no restrictions on parking, ever; the other side might have very restrictive parking rules.

Hotel Car Parks

A word of warning and advice.  Not all hotels include car parking facilities immediately adjacent to their hotel building.

Some hotels have limited parking only, and others have no parking available at all.

This can make a huge difference in the comfort/convenience of your hotel stay.  If you are traveling with a car, you'll want to clearly understand the type of parking available at the hotels you'll be staying at, and you might well choose not to stay at hotels that don't offer included parking.

For More Information About Driving in Britain

Our Driving in Britain series has four main pages plus two additional pages about other important issues to do with driving in Britain.

The pages are :

An Introduction to Driving in Britain - tells you the basic essentials to do with driving in Britain.

Driving Techniques and Issues - about one lane roads and motorways (freeways), speed limits and enforcement.

Miscellaneous Considerations when Driving in Britain - All sorts of other things, ranging from the price of petrol to drink driving and seatbelt rules.

How to Drive around Roundabouts - for information about driving around the roundabouts that are prevalent in Britain (and elsewhere too).

We also have a page about How to Drive on the Left (Other) Side of the Road which sets out some helpful tips and pointers for how to make this as easy as possible.

And, not so much about driving, but still an important aspect of driving, see also our page about where and how to park your car in Britain (this is the page you are currently on).

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Originally published 20 May 2011, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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