This Union is more than 300 years old and comprises four constituent countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It occupies all of the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern portion of the island of Ireland, and most of the remaining British Isles. The UK is an island nation but shares an open land border with Ireland.
Few places cram so much history, heritage, and scenery into such a compact space as Britain. You could spend a lifetime exploring – from the ancient relics of Stonehenge and Avebury to the great medieval cathedrals of Westminster and Canterbury and the magnificent mountain landscapes of Snowdonia and Skye. With a wealth of rolling countryside, stately cities, world-class museums, and national parks to explore, The United Kingdom really is one of Europe's most unmissable destinations.
Treating "England" and "The United Kingdom" as synonyms is a mistake commonly made by visitors, which can annoy the Welsh, Scottish & Northern Irish. Similarly, "British" and "English" are not the same.
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UNITED KINGDOM QUICK FACTS
- Capital: London (England), Cardiff (Wales), Edinburgh (Scotland), Belfast (Northern Ireland)
- Currency: Pound Sterling (£ / GBP)
- Area: 242,295 km²
- Population: 66,65 million (2019)
- Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz (Type G plug)
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UNITED KINGDOM PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
2 January, Bank Holiday (Scotland only)
17 March, St. Patrick’s Day (Northern Ireland only)
18 April, Good Friday
21 April, Easter Monday
5 May, Early May Bank Holiday
26 May, Spring Bank Holiday
14 July, Battle of the Boyne Day observed (Northern Ireland only)
4 August, Bank Holiday (Scotland only)
25 August, Bank Holiday (except Scotland)
25 December, Christmas
26 December, Boxing Day
BEST TIME TO VISIT UNITED KINGDOM
English weather is legendary for its unpredictability. Having said that, springtime in the UK can be quite beautiful, and autumn truly magnificent. Sadly they can also be cold, wet, and dreary. As such most people in Britain take their holidays during the summer months in the hope of finding some sun - however the average daytime temperature in July rarely exceeds 22 C, and can easily fall to the lower teens in October.
Don't be completely put off though as the United Kingdom really can be visited at almost any time of year, with a climate that's relatively temperate and, in general, doesn’t experience extremes during either summer or winter. Overall, spring (late March to early June) and autumn (September to November) are the best times to visit, when it’s usually warm and dry. During these periods you’ll find beautiful spring flowers or the leaves changing hue in autumn, and you will avoid the much busier summer period. July and August are peak season throughout England, Scotland, and Wales — with very long days, the best weather, and hence the busiest schedule of tourist fun.
Winter (December to February) can also be an enjoyable time to visit although some attractions will be closed in mountainous areas and in the north, where there’s likely to be snow, the main cities remain fully open and will be quieter for sightseeing.
Plan for rain no matter when you go. If (when) it happens, just keep traveling and take full advantage of bright spells. The weather can change several times in a day but rarely is it extreme.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN UNITED KINGDOM
The snow sports season in The United Kingdom can start as early as December and last until April. There are plenty of great skiing and snowboarding opportunities across the country.
HIKING & CYCLING IN UNITED KINGDOM
The best time for outdoor activities in The United Kingdom is from May to October, although weather will vary depend on exactly where in the country you are.
BEACH OPTIONS IN UNITED KINGDOM
The United Kingdom has many beautiful beaches along its coastline, just don't expect it to ever be very hot! The beach season stretches from May to September, but temperatures will greatly depend on where in the country you are.
SURFING IN UNITED KINGDOM
The surfing season in The United Kingdom runs from September through to May, with the best months being March & April in Spring and October & November in Autumn.
KITESURF IN UNITED KINGDOM
Although suitable winds for both kitesurfing and windsurfing can be found somewhere in The United Kingdom almost all year round, the most pleasant weather conditions are usually during Spring and Summer.
UNITED KINGDOM TRAVEL COSTS
Let's be honest, the UK is expensive. Even if you camp or stay in hostels, use only public transport, and live on picnic lunches you should expect to spend at least $60 USD per person per day. Couples staying in B&Bs / Airbnb's and who eats in local, unpretentious restaurants with a smattering of sightseeing and attractions should budget in excess of $120 USD per person. Double that if you want to stay in hotels, rent a car and eat in really well. It's really easy to have an expensive holiday in England!
Many of the 'historic' attractions such as castles and estates are owned by either the National Trust or English Heritage which means entry fees of between $8 - 15 USD. If you plan on visiting more than 6 sites, it might be worthwhile to consider an annual membership. Non-UK residents can buy a Great British Heritage Pass which provides free entry to hundreds of cultural and historic sites. This pass can be bought for 4, 7, 15, or 30 days and start from $50 USD.
Privately owned estates charge even higher entry fees but you can look out for buildings owned by local authorities which usually carry lower fees or can even allow free access. Municipal art galleries and museums often have free admission, as do bigger state museums.
UNITED KINGDOM TRAVEL TIPS
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SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF UNITED KINGDOM
The birthplace of Shakespeare and The Beatles – home to the capital, London, a globally influential center of finance and culture. With centuries of turbulent history behind it, England is replete with monuments and traditions with roots as far apart as Celtic and Saxon, Roman and Asian. From the ancient megaliths of Stonehenge to the stately medieval castles and manors dotting the countryside; from the gaudy opulence of Brighton's Royal Pavilion to the futuristic Millennium Dome - it's all part of England's history. Drive through the English countryside - down the windswept Yorkshire dales to the chalk cliffs of Dover; the verdant Cotswolds to the lovely Lake District. Stop on the way for a pint of bitter at a pub; get a quick education while punting down the Cam in Cambridge or explore Shakespeare's backyard in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Arguably one of the world's greatest capital cities. For a traveller the only downside is increasing cost: London is now Europe's most expensive city for visitors, whatever their budget. But, with some careful planning and a bit of common sense, you can still find excellent bargains and freebies among the popular attractions. Many of London's finest assets – its wonderful parks, bridges, squares, and boulevards, not to mention many of its landmark museums – come completely free.
One of the best ways to orientate yourself when you first arrive in London is with a 24-hour hop-on/hop-off pass for the double-decker bus tours. The buses loop around interconnecting routes throughout the day, providing a commentary as they go. You'll save a couple of pounds by booking online.
Colombia Road Flower Market
St Pauls Cathedral
Tower Of London
OTHER BRITISH HIGHLIGHTS
Bath - Visit Roman baths and admire grand Georgian architecture. Britain is littered with beautiful cities, even so few compare to Bath, founded on top of natural hot springs that led the Romans to build a magnificent bathhouse here.
Stratford-upon-Avon - Experiences linked to Shakespeare's life in this unmistakably Tudor town range from the touristy (medieval re-creations) to the humbling (Shakespeare's modest grave in Holy Trinity Church) and the sublime (taking in a play by the world-famous Royal Shakespeare Company).
Cambridge - With a tightly packed core of ancient colleges, picturesque 'Backs' (college gardens) leading on to the river, and the leafy green meadows that surround the city, Cambridge has a far more tranquil appeal than its historic rival of Oxford.
Stonehenge - Step back in time and wander around the great trilithons of this ancient site.
Windsor Castle - The world’s largest and oldest continuously occupied fortress - a majestic vision of battlements and towers.
Oxford - One of the world’s most famous university cities - both beautiful and privileged - a wonderful place to wander around. The elegant honey-toned buildings of the university’s 38 colleges wrap around tranquil courtyards and narrow cobbled lanes where a studious calm presides.
Castle Howard - Stately homes might be two a penny in England, but you'll have to try hard to find one as breathtakingly stately as Castel Howard (near York). It's a work of theatrical grandeur and audacity - arguably one of the world's most beautiful buildings.
Chester - With its red-sandstone, Roman wall wrapped around a tidy collection of Tudor and Victorian buildings, Chester is one of English history's greatest gifts to the contemporary visitor.
Lake District National Park - With a landscape of ridges, lakes, and peaks, the Lake District is one of Britain's most scenic corners. The national park and surrounding area attract around 15 million visitors annually - if you avoid summer weekends it's easy enough to miss the mad crush, especially if you do a bit of hiking.
Cornwall - This southwestern tip of Britain is ringed with rugged granite sea cliffs, sparkling bays, picturesque fishing villages, and white sandy beaches.
Liverpool - The city's waterfront is a World Heritage Site crammed with top museums, including the International Slavery Museum and of course, the Beatles Story.
Lying to the west of England, Wales is a nation with firm Celtic roots, its own language and rich history. Humans might have been shaping the land for millennia but there are plenty of lonely corners left to explore, lurking behind mountains, within valleys, and along surf-battered cliffsides. A vast network of paths makes Wales true hikers paradise - thousands of people visit for this reason alone.
Cardiff - The capital of Wales since only 1955, Cardiff has embraced its new role with vigour, emerging as one of Britain's leading urban centres in the 21st century.
Pembrokeshire - Wales' western extremity is famous for its beaches and coastal walks, as well as being home to one of Britain's finest Norman castles.
Snowdonia National Park - (Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri) founded in 1951 and annually receiving around 350,000 people to climb, walk or take the train to the summit of Mt Snowdon, Wales' highest mountain.
Conwy Castle - The most stunning of all Edward I's Welsh fortresses - with commanding views across the estuary and Snowdonia National Park.
Despite its small size, Scotland has many treasures crammed into its compact territory – big skies, lonely landscapes, spectacular wildlife, superb seafood and hospitable, down-to-earth people. From the cultural attractions of Edinburgh to the heather-clad hills of the Highlands, there's something for everyone.
Edinburgh - From the imposing castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse to the Royal Yacht Britannia, every corner turned reveals views and unexpected vistas – green sunlit hills, a glimpse of rust-red crags, a blue flash of the distant sea.
Isle of Skye - Head north through the Scottish Highlands to experience the epic scenery of this rugged island - a 50-mile-long smorgasbord of velvet moors, jagged mountains, sparkling lochs and towering sea cliffs.
Glen Coe - Scotland's most famous glen combines the two essential qualities of Highlands landscape: dramatic scenery and deep history.
Glasgow - Standing in complete contrast to the capital, the city of Glasgow offers a unique blend of friendliness, energy, dry humour and urban chaos, and also boasts excellent art galleries and museums.
Loch Lomond & the Trossachs - Loch Lomond have long been Glasgow's rural retreat - with the main tourist focus on the loch's western shore. Nearby Trossachs is a region famous for its thickly forested hills and scenic lochs.
Stirling Castle - Parallels to Edinburgh Castle aside, the 14th century Stirling Castle is considerably more atmospheric – the location, architecture, historical significance and commanding views combine to make it a grand and memorable sight.
Inverness - Primary city of the Highlands - with a great location astride the River Ness at the northern end of the Great Glen. Inverness is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring Loch Ness and northern Scotland.
Loch Ness - Deep, dark and narrow, this 23-mile lake stretches between Inverness and Fort Augustus. Its cold waters have been extensively explored in search of the elusive and mysterious Loch Ness monster, but most visitors see her only in cardboard cut-out form at the monster exhibition.
North Coast 500 - The stunning coastline of northern Scotland has become hugely popular, with thousands of people completing the 500-mile route by car, campervan, motorbike or bicycle.
Dragged down for decades by the violence and uncertainty of the Troubles, Northern Ireland today is a nation rejuvenated. Belfast has become a happening place with a famously vibey nightlife and the stunning Causeway Coast gets more and more visitors each year.
Once part of a list of cities to avoid at all costs, Belfast has pulled off a remarkable transformation from bombs-and-bullets pariah to hip-hotels-and-hedonism party town. The city centre is compact with the imposing City Hall in Donegall Sq the central landmark. The old shipyards on the Lagan continue to give way to the luxury apartments of the Titanic Quarter, whose centrepiece is the stunning, star-shaped Titanic Belfast centre, the city's number-one tourist draw. The Belfast Visitor Pass (1, 2 or 3 days) allows unlimited travel on bus and train services in Belfast and around, and discounts on admission to Titanic Belfast and other attractions.
Ireland isn't short of scenic coastlines, but the Causeway Coast between Portstewart and Ballycastle (and the Antrim Coast between Ballycastle and Belfast), are as magnificent as they come. The spectacular Giant's Causeway rock formation – Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage site – is one of Ireland's most impressive and atmospheric landscape features, a vast expanse of regular, closely packed, hexagonal stone columns looking for all the world like the handiwork of giants.
DERRY / LONDONDERRY
Northern Ireland’s second city will come as a pleasant surprise to many visitors. Not only was the city centre given a handsome makeover pre-2013 - now sporting the new Peace Bridge, Ebrington Square, a redevelopment of the Waterfront and Guildhall area making the most of the city’s riverside setting - the city’s lively pubs are home to a burgeoning live-music scene. But perhaps the biggest attraction is the people themselves: warm, witty and welcoming.
WHAT TO EAT IN UNITED KINGDOM
Britain once had a reputation for bad food, but the nation has enjoyed something of a culinary revolution in the last decade or so, and you can often find fine dining based on fresh local produce.
Fish and chips - Long-standing favourite, best sampled in coastal towns.
Haggis - Scottish icon, mainly offal and oatmeal, traditionally served with ‘tatties and neeps’ (potatoes and turnips).
Sandwich - Global snack today, but an English invention from the 18th century.
Laverbread - Laver is a type of seaweed, mixed with oatmeal and fried to create this traditional Welsh speciality.
Ploughman’s lunch - Bread and cheese – pub menu regular, perfect with a pint.
Roast beef & Yorkshire pudding - Traditional lunch on Sunday for the English.
Cornish pasty - Savoury pastry, southwest speciality, now available countrywide.
Scotch whisky - Spirit distilled from malted and fermented barley, then aged in oak barrels for at least three years.
Irish whiskey - Around 100 different types are produced by only four distilleries: Jameson, Bushmills, Cooley and recently reopened Kilbeggan.
Farl - Triangular flatbread in Northern Ireland and Donegal.
Champ - Northern Irish dish of mashed potatoes with spring onions (scallions).
LGBTQ IN UNITED KINGDOM
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the United Kingdom have evolved dramatically over time. Today, LGBT citizens have most of the same legal rights as non-LGBT citizens and the UK provides one of the highest degrees of liberty in the world for its LGBT communities. Same-sex marriage is legal in all parts of the United Kingdom.
There are many LGBT communities across the UK, most notably in Brighton, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne, Edinburgh and Southampton which all have gay villages and host annual pride festivals.