With rain and gray skies aplenty, we Brits are ever grateful to get indoors and into the online world where we can forget the weather and the drunks to focus on pretty pictures of kittens and watch ourselves a nice movie, preferably set somewhere with a blue sky and plenty of sun.
To really escape from the UK, though, it helps to be able to access geoblocked services, which is where one of our picks for best VPN for the UK can help out. Perhaps even more important than opening up browsing opportunities, a VPN can also keep your browsing history out of the public and private eye.
It may surprise you to learn that the UK has some of the most invasive privacy rules in the world. Thanks to the recent “Snooper’s Charter” (formally, the Investigatory Powers Act), your internet history can be viewed not only by security services but also the National Health Service, the Food Standards Agency and a whole host of other government agencies without a warrant.
For those reasons, we highly recommend running a VPN if online privacy is important to you.
There are many choices out there, however, which is why it’s important to know your options and which provide the best speed and security specifically for use in the United Kingdom.
Our overall winner is Cloudwards.net’s best VPN, ExpressVPN, thanks to its strong privacy options, fast speeds and unmatched server location options. Before we talk ExpressVPN, though, let’s talk about what criteria we looked for in making our picks.
Best VPN for UK 2018
What Makes a VPN the Best for the UK?
If Theresa May gets her wicked little mitts on your internet connection, you could potentially be jailed for expressing your opinion on a range of subjects, and the situation is hardly likely to improve if Jeremy Corbyn takes the reins instead. With all this government snooping, privacy is likely to be a big plus point for UK VPN users.
You’ll also want to make sure your connection is secure, so a strong encryption tunnel is going to be important to those in the UK. That usually means OpenVPN for consumer VPNs in addition to AES encryption (preferably 256-bit but 128-bit works, too).
DNS leak protection is also critical. Many VPNs claim they have it, but still leak DNS data, which can mean an ISP or government agency could still track your internet activity even with a VPN running. Because of this, we’ve personally vetted all of the recommendations below by conducting our own DNS leak tests.
Equally vital is picking a VPN that doesn’t log your browsing activity, which could potentially defeat the entire purpose of running a VPN in the first place. The worst free VPNs compile user data to sell on to marketing firms to make a buck, so be wary.
For safe streaming and gaming, you’ll also want a service that has a wide selection of servers not just in the UK but outside of it, too. You’ll need U.S.-based servers as well as those based in other countries to connect to services blocked in the UK or with location-dependent user experiences (check out our best VPN for gaming and best VPN for streaming articles if this is a priority for you).
UK streaming services can be more limited than their global counterparts. U.S. versions, in particular, will sometimes offer more choice than in the UK. Netflix libraries, for example, vary from country to country so if you’re not happy with your UK options, a VPN can expand your selection greatly (have a look at our best VPN for Netflix article for more info).
Some services, such as Hulu, aren’t even officially available in Old Blighty so you’ve no choice but to use a VPN if you want to access them.
With all that in mind, let’s get to our top pick for UK VPNs, ExpressVPN.
Best VPN for UK: ExpressVPN
Getting access to geoblocked content is a big reason to use a VPN in the UK, and ExpressVPN doesn’t disappoint. We were able to access every service we wanted, including Netflix, iPlayer, Hulu, Kodi and Amazon Prime Video.
Thanks to its wide server network and high speeds, ExpressVPN has proved to be not only good for circumventing the Netflix VPN ban, but is also the best VPN for BBC iPlayer, so TV bingers will be more than happy with it.
ExpressVPN also has several servers in the capital, making it an ideal VPN for London. Additional servers are located in Berkshire, Docklands, Kent and Maidenhead.
Security wise, ExpressVPN has a strong feature set with its killswitch, 256-bit AES encryption and absence of logging making it a great choice for those connecting to insecure coffee shop networks.
ExpressVPN features split tunneling, too, letting you use it for some apps but not others, which is useful when the added security of the VPN compromises your speed. You might not want to run your VPN when using online backup services running continuous backup, for instance. With split tunneling, can keep Backblaze running smoothly while hiding the fact that you’re streaming Game of Thrones over Kodi at the same time.
Other Reasons We Like ExpressVPN
Using ExpressVPN is nice and simple. It is easy to setup your account, and this can be done more-or-less anonymously. Setup and installation are straightforward and the interface is essentially just a large button with the options tucked away under the hood for those who want them.
It might be worth adjusting those options as the default server isn’t always the best choice, so do have a play around if you want to squeeze the most speed out of your connection.
As mentioned in our ExpressVPN review, there isn’t a lot to complain about here. The only major downside is the price. It comes in at a hefty $99.99 per year. However, it’s hard to begrudge the price tag too much given the quality of the service you’re getting.
As well as being our favorite service among all VPN reviews, ExpressVPN wins our UK roundup due to its privacy features and a vast network of speedy servers. It also has a 30-day money-back guarantee if you want to try it out.
- Unbeatable streaming coverage
- Easy to use
- Strong privacy features
- Slow switch time
Built by a group of activists, hackers and hacktivists, the Italy-based AirVPN is serious about privacy. As well as using only OpenVPN as its protocol (considering other options too insecure), AirVPN keeps no logs of any kind.
AirVPN doesn’t maintain any servers in Italy, however, which may be due to the country’s history of compliance with the NSA, as mentioned in our AirVPN review. It does allow you to view both the country and city on its server list though, as well as latency figures, so picking the fastest and closest option available to you is straightforward.
AirVPN has a long list of additional security and privacy features, too, including encrypted tunneling via SSL and SSH, plus dynamic port forwarding, all of which masks the fact a VPN is being used for anyone monitoring the connection.
The main downside of AirVPN is its complexity. It isn’t always the easiest VPN to use. Customer support responses are high in detail but can be a little baffling at times. Overall, it’s a flexible choice for techies, but not ideal if you want something simple.
Other Reasons We Like AirVPN
With all those security features, you might think AirVPN would be slow, but you’d be wrong. It passed our speed tests with flying colors and we were able to connect to all the services we tried it with. Speeds hit 15.4 Mbps and 1.1 Mbps for downloads and uploads respectively, both very fast scores.
AirVPN uses Eddie, a free and open-source client, which you’re free to delve into and modify should you feel the need. You could also compile it yourself if you’re the hands-on type that really wants control of their software. Eddie also keeps a wealth of statistical information for those who want to deep dive into its performance.
At $60.46 for one year, AirVPN is a hard to beat option for those that care about security and comes highly recommended.
- Comprehensive security features
- Privacy options hard to beat
- Can be tricky to use
We are big fans of NordVPN here at Cloudwards.net. Its combination of speed and user-friendliness with strong security and privacy make it a perfect choice for most. An affordable price is just the icing on the cake.
NordVPN’s “specialty servers” let you pick a server geared toward whatever you want to do, whether that’s gaming, streaming or torrenting (it’s earned its top spot as the best VPN for torrenting). You can also pick servers specifically geared towards thwarting security and privacy threats.
Another notch in NordVPN’s belt is CyberSec. This free piece of software detects a range of attacks against your system as well as blocking adware and malware. Take a look at our NordVPN review for more information.
NordVPN has a killswitch which disables your internet connection if the VPN connection fails. That way, you’re not accidentally unmasked while you do whatever. The service does lack split tunneling, unfortunately, a big miss.
Other Reasons We Like NordVPN
With 3357 servers in 60 countries, there’s no beating NordVPN when it comes to its network. It has servers all over the world and gives you a great shot at getting a low ping for gaming or a decent connection to your streaming service of choice. During our testing, we were able to get around geoblocks to access every service we tried it with, including Hulu, Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime Video.
Those online in Northern Ireland, specifically, might find NordVPN a suitable choice. With a number of local servers, you can even browse from Dublin without much speed loss.
As mentioned, NordVPN provides great cost value. The cost for three years of service is just $99 for those that don’t mind signing up long term. It also offers a 30-day money back guarantee should you regret signing up for any reason.
- Vast server network
- User friendly
- Six simultaneous connections
- Slow long distance speed
- Limited server detail
We regard CyberGhost as an outstanding all-round VPN and a great choice for UK users.
Setting it up is a little fiddly: after picking a payment option you’ll have to wait a few minutes for an email to be generated allowing you to download the client. You’ll have to add a device to one of your open slots (you will have one or five of these depending on your payment package), and can then download the appropriate software.
The UI is large and colorful but can be sidestepped if you find it too garish. The tile-based design is geared towards simplicity but there are plenty of hidden options to be found if you go digging for them.
CyberGhost does well in speed testing, and is particularly strong in Europe, making it a reliable choice when streaming from the UK. It connected to various streaming services without too many issues, though we did see occasional proxy errors.
Privacy-wise, CyberGhost has you covered as it keeps no logs and knows nothing about you save your email address.
Its security is likewise tight thanks to a 256-AES encrypted tunnel that is all but impossible to crack. CyberGhost also offers specialized secure servers which should keep your surfing safe and anonymous. There’s also a nice feature where CyberGhost switches itself on automatically when connecting to a wireless network, just in case you forget to activate it yourself when out for tea and biscuits.
CyberGhost has a clever feature where it changes its settings based on what apps you have running, too, making it a useful choice for those into torrenting.
Other Reasons We Like CyberGhost
Customer service is excellent with live chat agents answering our inquiries quickly. Email inquiries are handled within a few hours and if you prefer to solve your own problems there’s an extensive knowledgebase to help you do just that.
All in all, CyberGhost is a great service. Strong in most areas, it doesn’t quite come out top when it comes to speed or customizability but it doesn’t have any serious weaknesses either. For more details take a look at our CyberGhost review.
CyberGhost offers a range of pricing options. Signing up for Cyberghost allows up to five connected devices. We highly recommend it as a VPN for Britain.
- Easy to use
- Great for streaming
- No split tunneling
StrongVPN has over 500 servers in 26 countries, which makes it well-suited to streaming from Britain. Take note, however, that coverage is a little thin in some parts of the world, particularly the Middle East, South and Central America, and it has no coverage whatsoever in Africa.
StrongVPN’s default encryption setting goes for speed over security but users are able to choose slower but more rigorous protection if they see fit. The service also features a killswitch, but this feature isn’t available on the Mac. This is quite a security flaw as StrongVPN failed a few times during testing and the killswitch is useful in such instances. Be wary of this flaw if you’re an Apple user, and maybe consider one of our best VPNs for Mac, instead.
Support for StrongVPN is a bit patchy, overall. We were surprised to find ourselves directed to Google when asking questions of the support staff. There also seemed to be some out-of-date material in the FAQs. However, the company did respond to inquiries quickly and was able to help out with most issues.
Other Reasons We Like StrongVPN
Speeds were mostly during smooth our testing of StrongVPN, with download speeds reaching 16.71 Mbps when connecting to nearby servers and not going lower than 4.24 Mbps when connecting to Sydney.
We were also able to access Netflix most of the time, including in the U.S., although the client couldn’t connect when using OpenVPN. At $69.96 for a year of use, StrongVPN isn’t the cheapest service but won’t break the bank either. For more details check out our StrongVPN review.
- Lots of configuration options
- Generally tight security (with caveats on Mac)
- Difficult to use at times
- Tech support not the best
So there you have it. ExpressVPN tops our list, but there are plenty of VPN choices for users in the UK. Other services we considered that didn’t quite make our list include Vypr, which missed out due to its lack of EU Netflix access, Mullvad, which couldn’t access BBC iPlayer and VPNUnlimited, which didn’t quite have good enough privacy features for our liking.
As ever please, let us know what you think of our choices in the comments and tell us if you have any other recommendations.