About Great Britain, United Kingdom
The U.K., made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is an island nation in northwestern Europe. England – birthplace of Shakespeare and The Beatles – is home to the capital, London, a globally influential centre of finance and culture. England is also site of neolithic Stonehenge, Bath’s Roman spa and centuries-old universities at Oxford and Cambridge.
The United Kingdom today is known for an incredible diversity of native and immigrant cultures, possessing a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture. As a result tourist can find an incredible array of attraction, parks and monuments like Roman villas, medieval cathedrals and civic projects of the Industrial Revolution. The most popular attractions and landmarks are:
Edinburgh Castle is a magnificently situated royal fortress located on one of the highest points in the city. The castle has been continuously in use for 1000 years and is in excellent condition.
Stonehenge is an ancient stone circle located near the cathedral city of Salisbury.
The Georgian architecture and Roman baths in Bath.
York Minster Cathedral in the historic city of York.
Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the head of the Church of England.
Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, is home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The ancient and world-renowned universities of Oxford and Cambridge
The Giant's Causeway 97km from Belfast on the north coast of Northern Ireland is a World Heritage site and a natural wonder.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is home to three of the most important ships ever built and 800 years of naval history.
London Currency : British pounds Driver's License : A valid driver's license from Canada is accepted. An International Driving Permit is recommended. Electricity : 230-240V 50HZ Entry Requirements : A valid passport is required. Return or onward ticket required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : 0hr. Daylight savings time is applied. Government : Constitutional Monarchy Land size : 241,590 km2 Language : English, Welsh, Irish, Cornish and Scottish Gaelic National Airlines : British Airways and British Midland Airways Population : 61,113,205 approx Religion : Christian (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist) 71.6%, Muslim 2.7%, Hindu 1%, other 1.6%, unspecified or none 23.1% Required Vaccines : none Tourist Season : April to September
Modern British cuisine has improved greatly over the past few decades, but the British remain extremely proud of their native dishes which the world tends to poke fun at. Example: chicken tikka masala with rice is sometimes claimed as the most popular dish, though roast beef is a more traditional national dish.
Besides restaurants of course, many pubs serve food but not all pubs have a waitress. Check when you go but some places expect the customer to go order and pay at the bar, as for the beer. Fare found here is usually classic British staples and some curries.
And absolute classic is Fish and chips; which consists of deep-fried, battered fish (cod or haddock) served with thick chips (fries). A chippy (a backstreet fish and chip shop) is the quintessential place to buy fish and chips. The best ones are specialists, serving perhaps a few alternatives such as a selection of pies or sausages. If served in a sit down environment you’ll also get tartar sauce and a slice of lemon.
Regional specialties include:
- Black Pudding - a blood sausage - Cheese - Stilton, Cheddar, Lancashire, Wensleydale and Cheshire. - Cornish Pasty - beef and vegetables baked in a folded pastry case. - Haggis - a mixture of sheep innards, minced meat and oatmeal boiled in a sheep's stomach. - Lancashire Hotpot - a hearty vegetable and meat stew - Laverbread - a puree made from seaweed, rolled in oatmeal, lightly fried and generally served with bacon. - Oatcakes - a large, floppy, oat-based pancake, sometimes with a savory filling. - Pastie - a pasty of minced pork with onions, potato and spices, shaped into a thick disc, covered with batter and deep fried, Northern Ireland. - Sunday dinner/Roast dinner - traditionally eaten on a Sunday, the meal consists of some combination of sliced pot roast, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, peas, carrots, and thick brown gravy. - Welsh Cakes – scone like cakes studded with raisins and dusted with sugar. - Yorkshire Pudding - unsweetened batter often served with a roast dinner.
One of the most popular types of restaurant in the UK is the Indian restaurant, especially known for the curries. Common Indian restaurant dishes include Chicken Tikka Masala, Prawn Biryani, Balti and the spicy Vindaloo.
British real ales are amongst the best in the world. Just remember its not served cold or is not as carbonated. To taste real ale one must find a pub with a wide range of ales. Small places only serve 1 or 2 and may have been there a while. Beer in pubs is served in pint and half-pint measures, or in bottles.
Scotland is famous for the hundreds of brands of Scotch whisky it produces. Scotch whisky is divided into four distinct categories: single malt, vatted malt, blended and single grain. The top 4 regions of distillation are the Highlands, Lowland, Islay and Campbeltown.
Culture UK’s culture has been greatly shaped by its deep rooted history as well from the many new cultures that have settled here, most of which coming from former colonies such as Canada, Australia, South Africa, India, and the United States.
The UK has been a centre of learning for the past 1,000 years and possesses many ancient and distinguished universities. The two most famous universities are Oxford and Cambridge.
Some of the greatest and most famous literary works come from the UK. Most are written in the English language, but there are bodies of written works in Latin, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Cornish, Manx, Jèrriais, Guernésiais and other languages. The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time.
Music has had its faire share of glory as well. Great folk music from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are heard nightly in pubs. Prominent among the UK contributors to rock music were The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and The Rolling Stones, as well as significant contributions to other genres such as heavy metal, hard rock, punk rock, New Wave, New Romantic, indie rock, techno, and electronica. The UK is also home to world-renowned symphonic orchestras, composers of classical music and choruses.
The pub or public house is the most popular place to get a drink and of course of culture. Even small villages will often have a pub. Beer - mainly lagers, bitters, and Guinness – is the beverage of choice. If you are lucky enough to be able to stay after the formal closing hours this is called a "lock in". This will often only occur in the later hours after 11pm and these lock ins can last any amount of time. They happen in few pubs and often only pubs with a more regular type of customer although this is not always the case. Once at a lock-in you may not leave and come back in again. Many pubs are very old and have traditional names, such as the "Red Lion" or "King's Arms"; before widespread literacy, pubs would be identified by most customers solely by their signs.
Geography The United Kingdom comprises England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It occupies the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern portion of the island of Ireland and most of the remaining British Isles. England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK. The UK is located between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, to the northwest of France to which it is linked by a tunnel under the English Channel.
The capital and largest city of the United Kingdom is London. Edinburgh is the capital and political centre of Scotland. Cardiff is the capital of Wales. Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. There are so many cities and towns of interest outside the capital city of London. Here is a sampling:
Belfast - capital of Northern Ireland and becoming a popular tourist destination, it is undergoing major renovations and improvements.
Birmingham - central England's main city, features great shopping, is home of the famous Balti (one-pot Pakistani style of curry ) and offers great culture.
Bristol - an historical city famed for its Georgian architecture and nautical heritage.
Cardiff - capital of Wales, host to varied cultural events and many other modern and historical attractions.
Edinburgh - capital of Scotland, home to the largest arts festival in the world and numerous tourist attractions. It is the second most visited city in the UK.
Glasgow - Scotland's largest city is the new cultural hotspot.
Liverpool - Booming city, famous for its prominence in music, sport, nightlife and multiculturalism.
London - the capital of the United Kingdom, it is one of the world's most important business, financial, and cultural centres and its influence in politics, education, entertainment, media, fashion and the arts contributes to its status as a major global city.
Manchester - Thriving bohemian music scene, gay quarter, home to the world's only new work arts festival and dozens of tourist attractions.
Newcastle upon Tyne - largest city in the north east of England, notorious for its busy night-life, a rejuvenated cultural scene and Hadrian's Wall.
History Of course the separate kingdoms of the UK have a long history dating back to prehistoric times, but here we will concentrate on the formation of this Kingdom and after. On 1 May 1707, the Kingdom of Great Britain was created by the political union of the Kingdom of England, which included Wales, and the Kingdom of Scotland. Almost a century later, the Kingdom of Ireland merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom with the passing of the Act of Union in 1800.
In its first century, the United Kingdom played an important role in developing Western ideas of the parliamentary system as well as making significant contributions to literature, the arts, and science. The Industrial Revolution transformed the country and fueled the growing British Empire.
After the defeat of Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars, the UK emerged as the principal naval power of the 19th century and remained an eminent power into the mid-20th century. Elections followed by a war of independence in Ireland led to the partition of the island in 1920, followed by independence for the Irish Free State in 1922 with Northern Ireland remaining within the UK.
The United Kingdom was one of the Allies of World War II. Following the defeat of its European allies in the first year of the war, the United Kingdom continued the fight against Germany in the aerial campaign known as the Battle of Britain. After the victory, the UK was among the powers to help plan the postwar world. The immediate post-war years saw the establishment of the Welfare State, including among the world's first and most comprehensive public health services.
The premiership of Margaret Thatcher marked a significant change of direction from the post-war political and economic consensus; a path that has continued under the New Labor governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown since 1997. The United Kingdom was one of the 12 founding members of the European Union at its launch in 1992.
Nature There are 14 National Parks in total spread across the UK: 9 in England, 2 in Scotland and 3 in Wales. There are also 49 Areas of Outstanding Natural, Beauty 9 an area of countryside considered to have significant landscape value and 35 National Scenic Areas.
The Eden Project near St Austell is a massive botanical garden, including the world's largest greenhouse. The complex comprises a number of domes that house plant species from around the world, each dome emulating a natural biome.
The English Garden or English Park is a type of natural-appearing landscaped garden. The two English parks most influential were those of Stowe, Buckinghamshire, and Stourhead, Wiltshire. The main characteristic of an English garden is sweeps of gently rolling ground and water, against a woodland background with clumps of trees and outlier groves. Other elements can include: grottoes, temples, tea-houses, belvederes, pavilions, sham ruins, bridges and statues.
The English animal life is largely represented by the red fox and the red squirrel, otters, dormice, water voles, harbour porpoises, puffins, weasels, buzzards, swans, geese, and badgers.
Sports The most popular sports in the UK are football (soccer), rugby, cricket, tennis and golf. In international competitions, separate teams represent England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in most team sports. However, there are occasions where a single sports team represents the United Kingdom, such as in the case of the Olympics.
Football is at the top of the list in popularity. Each nation has its own football association, national team and league system. Rugby is also organized separately like football.
Cricket is a bat-and-ball team sport that is first documented as being played in southern England in the 16th century. Today, the sport is played in more than 100 countries. It is estimated that more than two billion people watched the last Cricket World Cup.
Tennis first originated in Birmingham between 1859 and 1865. Wimbledon is and international tennis event held in Wimbledon in south London every summer and is regarded as the most prestigious tennis event on earth.
Thoroughbred racing is popular throughout the UK with world-famous races including the Grand National, the Epsom Derby and Royal Ascot. The town of Newmarket is considered the centre of English racing.
Golf originated in Scotland in the 12th century, with shepherds knocking stones into rabbit holes in the place where the famous Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews now sits. The oldest playing golf course in the world is The Musselburgh Old Links Golf Course.
Shinty (or camanachd) is popular in the Scottish Highlands. This team sport is played with sticks and a ball. Its similar to field hockey.
In Northern Ireland, Gaelic football and hurling are popular team sports.
Banks & Money
The United Kingdom is a very expensive country and London can be up to three times more expensive then other parts of the country.
The currency throughout the UK is the Pound and bills are called notes. Coins are called pence, except for the 1 and 2 pound coins. You may also hear the slang term quid for pounds and "p" for pence. Scottish and Northern Irish banks issue their own notes. Some vendors may refuse to accept Scottish and Northern Irish notes outside their respective countries. There is no exchange rate between English, Scottish and Northern Irish pounds as they are all Sterling, but a service fee may apply, especially in more touristy locations. Hotels, banks, and occasionally major retailers usually change pound for pound with no charge.
ATMs, known as Cashpoints or cash machines, are very widely available. Traveler's checks can be exchanged at most banks. Major credit cards are accepted by most shops and restaurants. American Express is usually only accepted in large stores, if accepted. Also some retailers may refuse a credit card without a chip or PIN.
Climate The UK has a temperate oceanic climate and its abundant rain is world renowned, however it rarely rains more than two or three hours at a time. The weather can be changeable from one day to the next but temperature variations throughout the year are relatively small (seldom below −10° C or above 35° C). The 2 main factors that influence the climate are: the northerly latitude and the Atlantic Ocean.
England has warmer maximum and minimum temperatures, and it also rains on fewer days in every month, throughout the year than the other countries of the UK. Northern Ireland is a bit cooler then England; next would be Wales; and finally Scotland has the coolest weather of all. Of course that is an average; things do vary depending on the seasons.
For average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The UK's calling code is 44. Calls between landlines are charged at either a local rate or a national rate depending on the originating and destination area codes; if both are the same then the area code is optional and the call will be local rate. Payphones are widely available and they usually take cash. Some newer payphones accept credit and debit cards and may even allow you to send emails and surf the web.
Mobile phones are heavily used, and replacing the landline service for many. If you have a GSM-compatible handset you can purchase a SIM card from phone stores or online. However be aware prices do vary considerably.
Internet access is widespread. Most hotels offer internet services and internet cafés can be found in cities and towns.
The Royal Mail is the national postal service and traces its history back to 1516. Postboxes are still for the most part the traditional red colour and carry the Latin initials of the reigning monarch at the time of their installation.
The BBC, the world's first large-scale international broadcasting network, was founded in 1922.
Health Tap water is safe to drink everywhere unless stated otherwise. Sensitive stomachs may get upset so bottled water is best if unsure. All food is safe as well. There is no major health threat in the UK. There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless arriving from an endemic area.
For advice on minor ailments and non-prescription drugs, you can ask a pharmacist. Emergencies can be dealt with under the NHS (National Health Service) at any hospital with a Casualty or A & E (Accident & Emergency) department.
Official Holidays January 1 - New Year Day March/April - Good Friday March/April - Easter Monday May, first Monday - Early May Bank Holiday May, last Monday - Spring Bank Holiday August, last Monday - Summer Bank Holiday December 25 - Christmas Day December 26 - Boxing Day
Safety Pickpocketing is about the only real crime to worry about in tourist areas. Overall the UK is quite safe as long as you use common sense. Don’t show large sums of money or carry expensive cameras in your neck, lock your rental car, don’t wear flashy jewelry, etc.
Local etiquette: Never count to 2 with the index and middle finger up with the palm facing outward as it is considered a very offensive gesture. But the "peace" with hand facing inward is fine.
Northern Ireland is not a dangerous place, contrary to what is believed with the religious wars.. However the subject of religion is best avoided. Generally both communities are welcoming and warm-hearted as long as the above is heeded.
Shopping The UK is generally regarded as a world-class destination for shoppers…with lots of money. Most big cities are home to top designer store. But the budget minded need not fret. Out-of-town retail parks are considerably cheaper and there are loads of streets and flea markets.
Electronic items such as computers and digital cameras can be cheaper here than many European countries but do shop around since prices do vary.
Traditional souvenirs include teas, tea cups, spoons, shortbread, antiques, football or rugby shirts. Scotland offers a few authentic products, such as Scotch Whiskies, woolens, golf clubs and Scottish Tartans (colorful check-woven woolen fabric) and kilts. Northern Ireland is great for anything with a Celtic design as well as Guinness.
Taxes & Tips There is no departure tax at the airport.
The Value Added Tax (VAT ) is 15% (just lowered in 2009 from 17.5%). The tax is almost always included in quoted prices in shops, hotels, and restaurants. If it is not included it will be clearly marked with "exc VAT" next to the figure.
Shops with the blue "Tax-Free Shopping" sticker in the window indicate that, when you leave the UK, you can claim back the VAT before you leave the country. Keep any receipts you receive from your purchases for the refund procedure.
In general tipping is not compulsory but is appreciated, 10% being the standard tipping rate. The exception is restaurants where a 10%-20% service charge may be added to the bill.
Transportation London Heathrow Airport is the world's busiest international airport and is the hub for British Airways. London has other frequently used airports: London Gatwick Airport, London Stansted Airport, London City Airport and London Luton Airport. Outside London, many of the regional airports offer a wide range of direct flights to the UK, Europe and some international destinations: Manchester International Airport, Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Leeds Bradford, Cardiff International, Birmingham International, Belfast International Airport, Glasgow International and Edinburgh Airport, to name a few.
Bmi, Virgin Atlantic, and other budget airlines like Ryanair, Jet2, FlyBe and easyJet offer direct flights to a wide range of European destinations.
By train there is the Eurostar service which runs from London to Paris and Brussels, and few other cities, through the Channel Tunnel. From the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland there is the SailRail which offer a combination ticket of ferry and train service.
There are a large number of ferry routes into the UK from the Netherlands, Denmark, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, Belgium and France.
Many budget airlines offer very cheap flights in between cities. The main domestic hubs are London, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The UK has an extensive train network and there is a multitude of different train tickets available. If you book 7 to 14 days in advance the journey is often cheaper. Visitors from outside of the UK may also purchase multi-day passes which allow for unlimited rail travel on nearly all rail lines. Note that these passes must be purchased before arrival in the UK.
Cars are driven on the left - the opposite side from Canada. A car will get you pretty much anywhere but parking is a problem in large cities and can be very expensive. Gas (petrol) is expensive as well. Traffic at rush hour in larger cities can be horrible too. Route numbers are indicated by a letter and a number. Routes prefixed 'M' on a blue sign are motorways and roads suffixed with a 'B' with white signs are small back roads. Enforcement cameras are widespread on all types of road to check the speed limit, beware. Drivers from abroad should take note that many British drivers regard the flashing of headlights as a signal that they can proceed rather than a warning.
Local bus services are available and large towns have day cards for their bus networks that can work out as good value. Coach travel tends to be slower than train travel, as well as less frequent, although it is often cheaper. The largest coach companies in the UK are: National Express, Dot2Dot, CityLink, easyBus and Megabus.
Certain cities have subway systems, like Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, and of course the Tube in London.
There are different types of taxi in the UK. Taxi cars and minibuses are available nationwide and are normally 'metered'. London has the famous Black Cabs, easily recognizable by the unique vehicle.