Where to park in the UK


Parking in most cities and towns is often a problem, particularly on Saturdays when everyone’s doing their shopping. On-street parking is a particular problem and most roads without parking meters or bays have restricted or prohibited parking.

Despite the fact that the average car spends 95 per cent of its life parked, half the cars in a city centre during peak hours are looking for a parking space. In residential areas, most homes either have limited or no off-road parking; this means that, when driving in residential areas, you must usually weave in and out of parked cars, which often entirely block one side of the road. British companies don’t usually provide employees (except directors) with parking facilities in large cities and towns, so check in advance whether parking is available at your workplace (if it isn’t, it could be very expensive). Outside cities and towns, parking is usually available at offices and factories.

Parking Restrictions

On-road parking (waiting) restrictions are indicated by yellow lines at the edge of roads, usually accompanied by a sign indicating when parking is prohibited, e.g. ‘Mon-Sat 8am-6.30pm’ or ‘At any time’. If no days are indicated on the sign, restrictions are in force every day, including public holidays and Sundays. Yellow signs indicate a continuous waiting prohibition and also detail times when parking is illegal. Blue signs indicate limited waiting periods. Yellow lines give a guide to the restrictions in force, but the signs must always be consulted. The following road markings are in use in most towns:

Road Marking: Prohibitions

White zigzag line: No parking or stopping at any time (often located next to or studded area a zebra crossing)
Double yellow lines: No parking at most or all times (it may be possible to park on double yellow lines during some periods, but if you’re in doubt, don’t)
Single yellow line: No parking for at least eight hours between 7am and 7pm on four or more days of the week
Broken yellow line: Restricted parking shown by a sign

Double red lines indicate a red route, which came into operation in London in 1991 to speed up traffic. On red routes, you aren’t permitted to stop between the hours of 8am and 7pm (or as indicated by a sign) Mondays to Fridays, except for loading. Special parking bays are marked in red, where parking is strictly limited, e.g. for loading or delivering between 10am and 4pm only. If you park illegally on a red route, your car will be towed away in double quick time.

Loading restrictions are shown by one, two or three short yellow lines marked diagonally on the kerb and a sign. For more information consult The Highway Code. In most towns, there are public and private off-road car parks, indicated by a sign showing a white ‘P’ on a blue background. Parking in local authority car parks usually costs from around 20p for a half-hour or an hour. Parking in short-term car parks may become progressively more expensive the longer you stay and can cost as much as £5 for over five hours parking. However, parking is generally cheaper (per hour) the longer you park, up to a maximum of around nine hours. It’s often cheaper to drive to a convenient British Rail (BR) station, where parking costs from £2 to £3 a day and take a train into town. Weekly, monthly and annual season tickets are usually available at railway and London Underground stations and some private car parks.

Parking in public car parks and at meters may be free on Sundays and public holidays (check the notice before buying a ticket). In many areas there are ‘park and ride’ parking areas, where parking and/or public transport into the local town or city may be free (particularly at Christmas time). Some supermarkets without their own car parks offer parking refunds to customers. Many councils produce car park maps, showing all local parking areas, available free from council offices, libraries and tourist information centres. Temporary car parks are provided in the weeks before Christmas in many towns and cities. When parking in any official parking area, ensure that you’re parked within a marked bay, otherwise you can receive a parking ticket.

Multi-storey Car Parks

The method of payment in multi-storey car parks varies. On entering most private car parks, you collect a ticket from an automatic dispenser (you may need to press a button) and pay either before collecting your car (at a cash desk or in a machine, which may accept both coins and banknotes), or in an automatic machine at the exit (keep some coins handy). Some machines don’t issue you with a ticket with which to exit the car park, and after paying you must exchange your ticket at a special kiosk for yet another ticket. If you’ve already paid, you insert your ticket in the slot of the exit machine (in the direction shown by the arrow on the ticket).

Other multi-storey car parks (usually operated by local councils) are pay-and-display (see below), where you must decide in advance how many hours parking you require and buy a ticket from a machine for this period. If you park in a multi-storey car park, make a note of the level and space number where you park your car (it can take a long time to find your car if you have no idea where to start looking). Speed bumps are common in multi-storey car parks. Many private car parks offer season tickets, e.g. NCP. British car parks, particularly multi-storey car parks, are designed for toy cars and have tiny parking bays where cars must be parked at right angles (why can’t we learn from the Americans and park our cars at an angle?).

Parking Meters

With a parking meter, the maximum permitted parking period varies from 30 minutes to two hours. Meter-feeding is illegal. You must vacate the parking space when the meter time expires, even if it was under the maximum time allowed, and you may not move to another meter in the same group. Meters normally accept a combination of 5p to 20p coins, and are usually in use from 7am to 7pm, Mondays to Fridays, and from 7am to 6pm on Saturdays (check meters to be certain). Meters at railway stations and airports may be in use 24 hours a day. Don’t park at meters which are suspended, as you can be towed away. If you remain at a meter beyond the excess charge period, you’re liable for a fixed penalty (which is usually £20) handed out by a police officer or a traffic warden. Parking meters are being phased out and replaced by pay-and-display parking areas.

Pay & Display

These are parking areas where you must buy a parking ticket from a machine and display it in your windscreen. It may have an adhesive backing, which you can peel off and use to stick the ticket on the inside of your windscreen or a car window. Parking costs 20p or 30p an hour, in most towns, and machines usually accept all coins from 5p to £1. When you’ve inserted sufficient coins for the period required, press the button to receive your ticket. Pay-and-display parking areas usually operate from 7am to 7pm, excluding Sundays and public holidays. A new pre-paid parking scheme (called Easypark) is in operation in some towns. Motorists buy a card costing from £3 to £125 (gold card), which is used to pay for parking in special machines (a bit like using a phone card). Cards are sold at post offices, shops, garages and council offices. In some towns, a ‘scratch and display’ parking scheme has been introduced, where motorists buy vouchers and scratch off panels to show the month, day, date and time of arrival (and display the voucher in their window).

Parking Fines

The fine for illegal parking depends on where you park. There’s usually a fixed penalty ticket of £30 for parking illegally on a yellow line. Parking in a dangerous position, or on the zigzag lines near a pedestrian crossing, results in a higher fine, e.g. a £60 fixed penalty and three points on your driving licence. Penalties for non-payment or overstaying your time in a permitted parking area (e.g. at a parking meter or in a pay-and-display area) are set by local authorities, when you receive a yellow ticket.

In some cities, you shouldn’t even think about parking illegally on a yellow line, as your car will be towed away in the blink of an eye. You must then pay a towing fee of around £100 plus a fixed penalty. A car pound doesn’t release your car until you’ve paid and accepts only cash or a guaranteed cheque. All car pounds charge a daily storage fee after the first 24 hours of around £10 to £20 per day. You cannot be towed away from a pay-and-display area or a parking meter (unless the parking bay is suspended).

Illegal parking is a serious problem in central London and has led some boroughs to employ private contractors to control parking. In London and other major cities, parking permits are issued to local residents, allowing them to park in reserved ‘residents only’ spaces. If you park there without a permit, you will get a ticket. Some three million parking tickets are issued each year in London. If a car is parked in a dangerous position or is causing an obstruction, it can be removed and impounded by the police. This results in a fee of around £80 to get it released plus a fixed penalty fine.


In central London and an increasing number of other cities and towns, illegal parking can result in your car being ‘clamped’, where a large metal device is clamped on to one of the wheels of your car, thus preventing your driving it away. Thousands of cars are clamped each week in London alone and many are towed away. To free your car from this heinous (but very effective) device, you must go to the clamping station listed on your ticket, pay an unclamping fee plus a fixed penalty fine, and return to your vehicle and await the truck to come and unclamp your car (which usually takes around four hours). If you don’t remove your car within a certain period, you can be clamped a second time. In certain cases, your car may be seized by bailiffs and sold at auction (at well below it’s value) to pay a fine. 

Cars parked at meters aren’t usually clamped unless the parking bay is suspended, the meter was ‘fed’ with coins, or the car has stayed two hours beyond the period paid. Owners of private car parks or private land can also clamp a car parked illegally and can set their own charge to remove clamps (e.g. £100 or more). It’s inadvisable to park on private land, particularly where there’s a ‘clamping’ sign, as illegal clamping is widespread throughout the UK. Many ‘cowboy’ clamping companies clamp and tow away cars that are legally parked and charge up to £250 a time, if they can get away with it. Whether parking restrictions exist or not, when parking on a road, be careful where you park, as you can be prosecuted for parking in a dangerous position and could also cause an accident. If your parked car contributes to an accident, you may also have to pay damages. Take care in car parks, as accidents often occur there and may not be covered by your car insurance. Parking on pedestrian footpaths is illegal everywhere. Parking in towns with your hazard warning lights on makes no difference if you’re parked illegally. Wherever you drive, keep a plentiful supply of coins handy for parking and pay-and-display meters.

This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: