United Kingdom (UK) consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, each of them with distinguished geographies. England is the home of London, a global financial and cultural centre, and the river Thames, a major landmark in the UK. Scotland is a land of Highland mountains, offshore islands of Skye and Lewis, and the legendary Loch Ness monster.
Wales is mountainous, but also has miles of beaches and castles at Cardiff, Caernarfon, Caerphilly, and Conwy. Northern Ireland is known for its scenic Glens of Antrim and a coastline featuring the Giant’s Causeway, amazing natural formation of hexagonal rock columns.
We hope you will find the following information useful for your next visit to the UK.
1. Quick facts
- Official name: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- Capital: London
- Population: 62.8 million
- Area: 242,514 sq km (93,638 sq miles)
- Major language: English
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 78 years (men), 82 years (women)
- Currency: Pound Sterling
2. Where is it?
The United Kingdom is located in North-western Europe, across the sea, and it is an island nation. The only land border is with Ireland from the North Ireland side and the nearest neighbor, across the English Channel, in France.
The United Kingdom has sovereignty over seventeen territories that do not form part of the United Kingdom itself. Of these seventeen, fourteen are British Overseas Territories and three are Crown dependencies. These territories are remnants of the British Empire.
The UK recently left the European Union through famous Brexit and it made arrangements for entry visas and regulations for visits for EU citizens, which differ a bit from original open borders and freedom of movement.
3. Visa requirements
As with many countries, your passport must be valid for at least three months after you complete your visit to the UK, so please plan ahead. The UK is still part of the EU, so you don’t require a visa for now if you are from the EU, but after the Brexit vote and UK intends to leave the EU, this might change from March 2019.
Update: the UK officially left the EU on 31 January 2020.
More info about visa requirements for the UK can be found here.
4. Getting there
Getting to the United Kingdom is best via one of its international airports: in London – Heathrow (LHR), Gatwick (LGW), Luton (LTN), in Edinburgh (EDI), in Glasgow (GLA), or Belfast (BFS). You can also take Eurostar between Paris and London, the fast train will take you there in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
5. Where to stay in the UK
Depending on where you want to go in the UK, your options for accommodation vary from standard hotels or AirBnB to hostels and other affordable accommodation. Additionally to standard accommodation options, the UK has available camp accommodation, farm stays, or even staying in pubs that offer to lodge.
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6. Moving around
If you are planning to travel between cities and budget is not a problem, and you want to get there fast, traveling by plane is the best option. Every city has an airport or nearby airport and this wouldn’t be a problem.
For more enjoyable trips with sightseeing and some nice scenery, it is better to use a train or rent a car.
For moving within a city, you can use bus lines, underground, or simply rent a bike for closer distances and leisure rides.
Again, depending on your budget and your travel needs, you can choose the option most suitable for you.
7. Food in the UK
Although you cannot tell that people visit the United Kingdom predominantly because of food, several dishes are globally known and popular.
We recommend famous fish and chips, found in every pub in the UK or around the world, with some slight varieties in recipes; Sunday roast, made of roast beef accompanied with a peppery horseradish sauce; a traditional English breakfast, consisting of grilled bacon, sausages, fried egg, baked beans, grilled or fried tomatoes, and a slice of toast (obviously not for everyday breakfast if you mind your diet); Lancashire hotpot, made out of mutton or lamb and vegetables, and covered with sliced potatoes, and finally, variety of pies: cottage pie, steak, and kidney pie, pork pie and Cornish pastry.
On the sweet side, there are puddings, the general term for variation of sweets, such as apple crumble, bread and butter pudding spotted dick, or a trifle.
And, of course, afternoon tea, served with scones and finger sandwiches.
What we also recommend while in the UK is to try any of the ethnic food served in restaurants with international cuisine: Chinese, Thai, Indian, Italian, and many others. These cuisines have now long history in the UK and their quality is absolutely amazing.
How safe is the UK for tourists and to move around? Like many European countries, the UK is very safe, but since it is a relatively big country, with diverse locations, some areas might be less safe for common tourists. Tourist areas are generally safe, both for single tourists and groups or families, but extra caution for pickpocketers is always advised.
The United Kingdom has many different places to visit and the cost between them can vary very much. London is far more expensive for tourists in any of the areas of travel expenses: accommodation, food, attraction tickets, transport, when compared to other cities, such as Bristol, Edinburgh or Belfast, for an example. For detailed pricing information for various items, click here.
The weather in the UK can be unpredictable, so it is advisable to bring a sweater in the middle of summer and some waterproof jackets any time of the year, especially if you are visiting highlands.
Temperatures can go from -10 C (14 F) in the winter and up to 30 C (86 F) in the summer, but this is just general guidance as they can change within a season very quickly.
11. Best time to visit the UK
Most visitors come during warm months (June to September), which coincide with the festival season. Major events include England’s Glastonbury music festival (June), Northern Ireland’s Eleventh Night (July), Wales’ Eisteddfod arts festival (August), Edinburgh’s International and Fringe arts festivals (Aug), and London’s Notting Hill Carnival (August). The Christmas and New Year’s season is another peak period with various activities and events.
If you don’t mind rain or cold weather, you can visit the UK at any time and avoid crowds at its numerous attractions and sites.
12. Money matters
The UK’s official currency is Pound (Sterling). You should always pay attention when paying bills due to the exchange rate between the Pound and other currencies (www.xe.com). Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, but please do check card charges from your bank in foreign countries before the trip. It is always good to have some cash on you, especially when leaving a tip in the restaurant or for a taxi ride.
There are ATMs and banks on every corner and cash withdrawals are in Pounds with a fee. Major banks don’t charge ATM fees to foreigners, but privately operated ATMs may sometimes charge high fees. However, the machine should warn you about the charge so you have a choice to cancel the transaction before committing to it.
More info about banks, ATMs, and charges in the UK.
13. What to see in the UK?
There are plenty of world-known landmarks and attractions to see in the United Kingdom and we are mentioning only the most popular ones:
Big Ben. London’s, iconic, 16 story clock tower and globally recognizable national symbol. A must for London selfies!
River Thames. The UK’s largest and longest river, flowing through southern England and London. Plenty of boat rides and promenades alongside its path.
British Museum. Packed with historical artifacts and antiques, this museum is a must during a London visit. Features Egyptian mummies and ancient Greek sculptures and pottery.
Stonehenge. Famous, Neolithic ear mystical stone circle. Visited by people from around the world and enshrined in many legends and myths.
Buckingham Palace. The official residence of the British Queen and State Rooms with guided tours. Impressive guard change ritual in front of the palace is watched by hundreds daily.
Tower Bridge. Iconic Victorian era turreted bridge with panoramic views and guided tour to see original bridge lifting machinery. Another must for a London selfie! J
Edinburgh Castle. A spectacular, 11th-century castle and fortress hosting the Crown Jewels and National War Museum of Scotland. Breathtaking views of Edinburgh and its surroundings.
Hyde Park. Massive park area in Central London with lake, sculptures, and fountains. Great for walks and relaxation between sightseeing trips.
Loch Ness. A large lake in Scotland became famous with tales about an aquatic monster roaming its waters and being seen by random spectators. Never confirmed, but curiosity still brings many tourists to visit.
Giant’s Causeway. Formation of unique hexagonal basalt columns on the coast in Northern Ireland. Great for photos and it has a visitor’s center.
St Paul’s Cathedral. London Iconic cathedral with churchyard and garden. Located in the highest point of the City of London.
Windsor Castle. Historic royal castle and Queen’s residence, offering tours and exhibitions.
Snowdonia. Massive national park in Wales, with beautiful mountainous scenery, scattered villages, and hiking trails.
Trafalgar Square. Famous London landmark, this public square is featuring Nelson’s Column, fountains, and lion statues.
Palace of Westminster. Iconic Neo-Gothic masterpiece palace, hosting UK parliament. Guided tours are offered on Saturdays and in summer.
Cotswolds. Large scenic countryside area in England covering about 800 square miles. Area of picturesque hills and meadows with villages, old residences, and castles.
Covent Garden. London’s West End shopping and entertainment hub. Features Royal Opera House and street entertainers, together with a fine dining experience. Popular tourist area in London.
Scottish Highlands. A mountainous region in northwest Scotland. Famous Loch Ness Lake is at the centre, overlooked by the ruins of medieval Urquhart Castle.
Westminster Abbey. London’s famous protestant abbey with daily services and hosting every English and British coronation since the 11th century.
London Bridge. Concrete pedestrian and traffic bridge form 70s, spanning the River Thames in London.
Loch Lomond. Scenic South Scotland lake with outdoor recreation and cruises. Part of the Trossachs National Park, this lake area features waterside paths, adventure attractions, golf courses, and quaint villages.
National Gallery. Major art collection from 13th to 19th centuries, mostly Western European. Located at Trafalgar Square in London.
Piccadilly Circus. Iconic busy traffic junction in London. Famous for theatres and entertainment places since the early 19th century.
Lake District National Park. Also known as “Lakes” or “Lakeland, this is a mountainous region in North West England. A famous holiday destination with lakes, mountains, and forests.
Dartmoor. National park of 368 square miles, a vast moorland with facilities and events. Offers facilities for walking, horse riding, climbing, and seasonal guided tours.
Soho. London’s buzzy area in West End. Great for nightlife, fine dining, and high-end shopping.
Windermere. Largest natural lake in England, with islands and boating. Part of Lake District National Park. Favorite summer holiday destination in England.
The Shard. A 306-meter high glass and steel tower with panoramic views of London. Features restaurants, hotels, and viewing platforms.
Oxford Street. Located in London’s West End, this is a major street in Westminster and the busiest shopping and fashion area.
Victoria and Albert Museum. World’s largest decorative art and design collection, housing around 2.27 million pieces. Founded in the 19th century and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Old Town, Edinburgh. Edinburgh Castle and pubs on Royal Mile, the main street downtown. Packed with old pubs, restaurants, and souvenir shops, public performers and intersected by narrow streets and passages.
Natural History Museum, London. Natural phenomena, animals, and interactive and hands-on activities. Great for visit with kids, hosting animatronic dinosaurs.
Yorkshire Dales. With spectacular scenery and wildlife habitat, this National Park spread out over an area of 680 square miles is full of moors, valleys, hills, and stone-built villages.
Kensington Palace. Massive Royal state residence and Royal Museum. Features exhibition of Princess Diana.
Camden Town. Camden Town in London is famous for its market, and a haven of counter culture, and nightlife with alternative live bands.
Tate Modern. London’s contemporary art gallery with international works on display and a popular cafe with panoramic river views.
Princes Street. One of the major streets in central Edinburgh, Scotland, and the main shopping street in the capital.
National Museum of Scotland. Spectacular exhibition set, covering so many areas in natural history, science, history, and even history of fashion. Must see while in Edinburgh, and it is great for children.
Urquhart Castle. Ruins of a 16th-century fortress, overlooking Loch Ness lake, with a visitor center and café, a must while hunting for Loch Ness monster! 🙂
King’s Cross railway station. Restored 19th-century railway station in London, now famous for relation with Harry Potter books.
Arthur’s Seat. Peak is known for hiking and sightseeing, located just one mile east of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.
Ben Nevis. Landmark mountain for hiking and climbing and the highest peak in Britain, Located in Scotland Highlands. Famous for hiking, ice climbing, and glacial valley views.
South Bank. Southbank arts complex & London Eye. Right beside the River Thames, the South Bank is a dynamic area at the heart of London’s cultural scene. The Southbank Centre, National Theatre, and BFI film theatre are all world-class arts venues.
14. Interesting facts about the United Kingdom
Here are some interesting facts about the United Kingdom:
- English people consume more tea per capita than anybody else in the world (2.5 times more than the Japanese and 22 times more than the Americans or the French).
Land & People England is 74 times smaller than the USA, 59 times smaller than Australia and 3 times smaller than Japan. England is however 2.5 times more populous than Australia, and 1.5 times more populous than California. With 2.5 times less inhabitants than Japan, its density of population is slightly higher than the country of the rising sun.
- British police do not carry guns except in emergencies.
- Edinburgh was the first city in the world with its own fire brigade, in 1824.
History & Heritage The Bank of Scotland, founded in 1695, is the oldest surviving bank in the UK. It was also the first bank in Europe to print its own banknotes, a function it still performs today. A Scot, William Paterson (1658-1719), was the instigator and a co-founder of the Bank of England.
We hope you enjoyed reading this and that you will soon visit the United Kingdom!
Last Updated on September 17, 2021 by Travel Guides Editor @ gotravelyourself.com