The British pound is the currency that is in use in the United Kingdom as well as a few other locations around the world. These include the Isle of Man and Tristan da Cunha. There are also a number of countries that have locally issued versions of the pound. For example Scotland issues its own banknotes that are worth exactly the same as the traditional British pound.

Various nicknames have been given for the currency and particular coins and banknotes over the years. Two of the best known nicknames that are still in use include a quid (a pound) and a fiver (a five pound note).

What coins and notes are available for this currency?

There are currently eight coins available and in use in the British pound sterling currency. These are the 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1 and £2 coins. The ‘p’ stands for pence. A re-design of the currency back in 2008 led to people trying to find the complete set of coins in their change. The pound coin featured the Royal Shield, while each of the lesser valued coins featured a portion of the shield. Once those six coins were collected they could be placed together in a certain manner to form the Royal Shield.

There are also four banknotes in common circulation – the £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes. The £50 tends to be less commonly seen and some shops (particularly smaller ones) will refuse to take them as there has been a number of incidents of forgeries entering circulation.

From past to present – the history of the pound

The British pound sterling holds the position of being the oldest currency in the entire world that is still used today. The word sterling comes from the original equivalent of 240 sterling silver pennies equating to one pound. The pound came from the weight of those coins being equal to a pound of silver. This calculation dates from Anglo-Saxon times.

Since then the currency has been through some changes. Originally it was known simply as sterling, when King Henry II introduced the currency in 1158. Some four hundred years would go by before Elizabeth I formally established the pound sterling – but even then it was not the exact currency we know today.

Many people of a certain age will remember decimalisation, which brought the original system used by the British pound into the modern day. Decimalisation meant the pound now contained 100 pennies, and this matched the decimalisation system used in many other countries. Prior to this there were 240 pennies in each pound. This was left over from the original 240 sterling silver pennies equalling the pound that was used back in the 1100s. It took many hundreds of years before decimalisation changed the British pound forever (and some would say it was overdue). Pounds, shillings and pence disappeared overnight and the new pounds and pence system was launched.

How to get hold of the British pound

As one of the most popular and widely recognised currencies in the world, it is easy to exchange other world currencies for a supply of the British pound. This can be done at airports, at bureaux de changes and at banks. Many people choose to convert their currencies prior to travelling to the UK, but you can do it once you arrive if you wish.

If you visit a country such as Scotland, which has its own issue of the pound, you can pay for goods and services using the normal British pound issued by the Bank of England. You may well get Scottish banknotes back in your change, and these have the exact same value. However it is worth remembering these notes may not be as eagerly accepted if you go to England – although the same is not generally true the other way around.

The currency can also be easily obtained through the network of cash points that are available in towns, villages and cities across Britain. You may be charged for using a cash point: it depends on what card you are using to withdraw the money from your bank account. You may also wish to take advantage of getting cash back on some purchases. If you pay using a debit card you can request a certain amount of cash back with your receipt, and the amount you request will be added onto your bill.

How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the British pound

If you use a currency other than the British pound and you want to know how far it will go when transferred to pounds, you can find the latest information online. Many currency websites update their exchange rates every 15 minutes so you can find the latest details on a number of sites.

It’s worth getting the best deal you can because the cost of living in the UK can be pricey compared to some other parts of the world. Eating out in particular (something many tourists will do) is more expensive in the UK than in some other countries including America.

Travelling safely with the British pound

For the most part it is safe to travel in and around Britain. There will always be pickpockets who look for easy targets so it is wise to be sensible whenever you are out and about.

Large cities such as London tend to present the biggest risks. However you can mitigate them by being smart with your money. Make sure you don’t carry an open bag around or put your money or wallet in your back pocket where a pickpocket can easily see it. One little known fact about pickpockets relates to the London Underground. Occasionally there will be an announcement asking people to keep their bags and belongings with them and safe at all times. Many people will touch their pockets where their money is when they hear this announcement. To any watching pickpockets looking for an easy mark, this reveals exactly which pockets they should pick. Bear it in mind if you ever hear this announcement.

It is easy to withdraw cash in Britain so it is best not to carry around more cash than you absolutely have to. Keep your cards safe and use them to access more cash from a cash point whenever you need to. Credit and debit cards are also widely accepted at lots of places across Britain so it is not always necessary to carry a lot of cash on your person.

To find out more about Britain and travelling to and from the country, go to the official government website for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at

Where to spend your pounds in Britain – and what to spend them on

There are as many places to spend the British pound as you can possibly think of. Whatever you want to do while you are in the country you will be able to plan the perfect trip. You can visit major cities such as London and Birmingham or head out into some of the most dramatic and breathtaking countryside you have ever seen. Look at the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales among others.

It is worth checking out the various hotels, bed and breakfasts and other places you can stay in so you can get a good deal on accommodation. There is also a good range of prices available when you want to go out for a meal, so it is worth shopping around in all areas. Cities tend to be more expensive than more rural areas but there are always plenty of options for a good holiday or a business trip when you are paying in British pounds.

While you can book holidays to Britain all year round, you should be aware that the winter months tend to be quieter if you go to a rural spot. You’ll never run short of things to do in cities, but even here some attractions can be seasonal so do check in advance.

Of course there is always a lot to do that doesn’t involve spending any cash at all. Walks are plentiful both in the middle of busy cities and in the countryside, and they won’t cost you anything but shoe leather.


Britain offers much for the eager explorer to enjoy. It doesn’t matter what type of holiday you want to go on or which part of Britain you’d like to explore. With lots of opportunities to make the most of your British pounds while you are here, you will no doubt enjoy the experience.

Just be sure you plan ahead and learn as much as you can about the country before booking a holiday. This will enable you to make the most of the time you spend there, as well as providing you with a chance to get the best exchange rate deal on the currency. The pound goes through periods where it is stronger than many currencies and some where it is weaker, so if you time your trip well you can enjoy a really good deal.

British Pound Sterling – GBP

11 thoughts on “British Pound Sterling – GBP

  • April 27, 2009 at 10:33 am

    As someone who lives in the UK I can vouch for the fact that it’s not all bad here! Personal favourite areas would be Devon, Cornwall and the Lake District. Once walked 13 miles end to end of Lake Ullswater in the Lake District, so I’ve seen some of the best bits up close!

    Come on all you Brits – what are your favourite spots in the UK? Never mind the poor pound at the moment, or the economy – let’s all celebrate what is still good about this country! This article picks up on the best bits, so let’s add to them.

  • April 30, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Is it possible to estimate what £60000 sterling in 1900 would be worth today.

  • June 26, 2009 at 12:12 am

    I’m sure there is a website somewhere that tells you how much money is worth now compared to what it was worth a hundred years ago. Perhaps if you Googled it you would find out?

    I find it amazing to see how much things cost now as opposed to just a few years ago! The value of money is something we Brits are thinking about more than ever at the moment, what with the recession that is going on. But we still have things pretty good, I think. We are getting back to thinking about what we are spending our pounds on, instead of being frivolous.

  • October 13, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Just read the comments above and I agree with Kate – my favourite place in the UK is Cornwall. Just come back from a week’s holiday there for the first time since I was a kid too, and so much of it hasn’t changed at all. It’s brilliant.

    And contrary to everyone who thinks we always get dreadful weather in the UK, the weather was great all week! Considering it was the end of September I don’t think that’s bad at all.

    I’d love to go to Scotland but I’m not sure the weather would be so good up there somehow.

  • January 28, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    All the stuff about £50 notes not being widely accepted is out of date, while most shops will look at a £50 carefully I’ve never had anyone refuse one. It may cause some irritation if you pay for a cup of coffee with £50, but I’m sure if you said for a coffee in the US with a $100 note it would be the same. The same can be said about Scottish notes which are almost universally accepted in England. And English notes are an always have been universally accepted in Scotland.

  • September 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    The thing about £50 notes being refused concerns smaller shops more than larger ones. Big stores don’t have much of a problem, other than checking the notes are genuine. It’s the smaller independent shops that might refuse them, because they are in greater financial danger if they don’t spot a fake. They also may not have as much change in the till to give in change for such a large note. This still happens – it just depends on where you go.

  • March 29, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    I agree with AHews about the £50 note thing. It does still happen – I don’t often have one to exchange but I have been refused change for one in the past. I know shops probably aren’t meant to refuse them but small shops don’t always have change. I wouldn’t keep lots of cash in the till if I had a shop so I can understand why they do it. Larger stores will take anything but they’ll check whether it is genuine or not first – and I don’t blame them for it either.

  • October 6, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Hello, can I change sterling pounds in England at the bank or post office.

  • November 24, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    I have a question I’m trying to figure out how much £6.8 million dollars from the UK would be converter into American dollars .. Please help thanks alot Leanna

  • November 25, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Just type 6800000 into the converter on this website. Looking today 6,800,000 GBP = 10,255,848.20 USD. I hope this helps?

  • January 18, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    As a transplanted Scot I can tell you Scotland is GREAT lots of history in Edinburgh, the capital, Lots of good shopping Aberdeen and Glasgow. Scots are very friendly and the countryside is beautiful. Golf courses everywhere and castles!


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