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United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue. Coat of arms containing shield and crown in centre, flanked by lion and unicorn.
Flag Royal coat of arms
Anthem"God Save the Queen"[note 1]
Two islands to the north west of continental Europe. Highlighted are the larger island and the north tip of the smaller island to the west.
Location of  United Kingdom  (dark green)

– on the European continent  (light green & dark grey)
– in the European Union  (light green)  —  [Legend]

(and largest city)
51°30′N 0°7′W / 51.5°N 0.117°W / 51.5; -0.117
Official language(s) English (de facto)[note 2]
Recognised regional languages Irish, Ulster Scots, Scottish Gaelic , Scots, Welsh, Cornish[note 3]
Ethnic groups (2001
See: UK ethnic groups list[1])
92.1% White (mainly of British Isles descent, with minorities of other descent)
4.0% South Asian
2.0% Black
1.2% Mixed
0.4% Chinese
0.4% Other
Demonym British or Briton
Government Parliamentary democracy,
Constitutional monarchy,
Unitary state
 -  Monarch Queen Elizabeth II
 -  Prime Minister Gordon Brown MP
Legislature Parliament
 -  Upper House House of Lords
 -  Lower House House of Commons
 -  Acts of Union 1707 1 May 1707 
 -  Act of Union 1800 1 January 1801 
 -  Anglo-Irish Treaty 12 April 1922 
EU accession 1 January 1973
 -  Total 243,610 km2 (79th)
94,060 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.34
 -  2010 estimate 62,041,708[2] (22nd)
 -  2001 census 58,789,194[3] 
 -  Density 254.7/km2 (51th)
659.6/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $2.165 trillion[4] (6th)
 -  Per capita $35,400[5] (24th)
GDP (nominal) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $2.198 trillion[6] (6th)
 -  Per capita $36,000[7] (24th)
Gini (2005) 34[8] 
HDI (2007) 0.947[9] (very high) (21st)
Currency Pound sterling[note 4] (GBP)
Time zone GMT (UTC+0)
 -  Summer (DST) BST (UTC+1)
Drives on the left[note 5]
Internet TLD .uk[note 6]
Calling code 44

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland[note 7] (commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK or Britain) is a sovereign state located off the northwestern coast of continental Europe. It is an island country,[10][11] spanning an archipelago including Great Britain, the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and many small islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land border, sharing it with the Republic of Ireland.[12][13] Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel and the Irish Sea. The largest island, Great Britain, is linked to France by the Channel Tunnel.

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and unitary state consisting of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.[14] It is governed by a parliamentary system with its seat of government in London, the capital, but with three devolved national administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, the capitals of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. The Channel Island bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, and the Isle of Man are Crown Dependencies, which means they are constitutionally tied to the British monarch but are not part of the UK.[15] The UK has fourteen overseas territories,[16] all remnants of the British Empire, which at its height in 1922 encompassed almost a quarter of the world's land surface, the largest empire in history. British influence can still be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies.

The UK is a developed country, with the world's sixth largest economy by nominal GDP[17] and the sixth largest by purchasing power parity.[18] It was the world's first industrialised country[19] and the world's foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries,[20] but the economic and social cost of two world wars and the decline of its empire in the latter half of the 20th century diminished its leading role in global affairs. The UK nevertheless remains a major power with strong economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence. It is a recognised nuclear weapons state and has the fourth highest defence spending in the world.[citation needed] It is a Member State of the European Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, G20, NATO, OECD, and the World Trade Organization.



Painting of a bloody battle. Horses and infantry fight or lie on grass.
The Battle of Waterloo marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the start of Pax Britannica.

On 1 May 1707, the Kingdom of Great Britain[21][22] was created by the political union of the Kingdom of England (which included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland. This event was the result of the Treaty of Union that was agreed on 22 July 1706,[23] and then ratified by both the Parliament of England and Parliament of Scotland each passing an Act of Union in 1707. Almost a century later, the Kingdom of Ireland, already under English control by 1691, merged with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom with the passing of the Act of Union 1800.[24] Although England and Scotland had been separate states prior to 1707, they had been in personal union since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI King of Scots had inherited the throne of the Kingdoms of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London.[25][26]

Map of the world. Canada, the eastern United States, countries in east Africa, India, most of Australasia, and some other countries are highlighted in pink.
Territories that were at one time part of the British Empire. Current British Overseas Territories are underlined in red.

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.[27] The UK-led Industrial Revolution transformed the country and fueled the growing British Empire. During this time, the UK, like other great powers was involved in colonial exploitation, including the Atlantic slave trade, although with the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 the UK took a leading role in combatting the trade in slaves.[28]

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. The British Empire expanded to its maximum size by 1921, gaining the League of Nations mandate over former German and Ottoman colonies after World War I. One year later, the British Broadcasting Company was created.[29] It subsequently became the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)[29] and went on to become the world's first large-scale international broadcasting network.[citation needed]

Black and white photo of two dozen men in military uniforms and metal helmets sitting or standing in a muddy trench.
Infantry of the Royal Irish Rifles during the Battle of the Somme. More than 885,000 British soldiers lost their lives on the battlefields of World War I.

Disputes within Ireland over the terms of Irish Home Rule led eventually to the partition of the island in 1921.[30] Concurrently, victory for Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election, followed by a war of independence in Ireland led to Dominion status for the Irish Free State in 1922 with Northern Ireland opting to be part of the UK.[31] As a result, in 1927, the formal name of the UK was changed to its current name, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Great Depression broke out at a time when the UK was still far from having recovered from the effects of the World War I.

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. World War II left the United Kingdom financially damaged. However, Marshall Aid and costly loans taken from both the United States and Canada helped the UK on the road to recovery.[32]

Aircraft viewed from above against clouds. One or two men fly the single propeller aircraft, and concentric circles are painted on the wings.
The Battle of Britain ended the German advance in Western Europe.

The immediate post-war years saw the establishment of the Welfare State, including among the world's first and most comprehensive public health services. Changes in government policy also brought people from all over the Commonwealth to create a multiethnic Britain. Although the new postwar limits of Britain's political role were confirmed by the Suez Crisis of 1956, the international spread of the English language meant the continuing influence of its literature and culture, while from the 1960s its popular culture also found influence abroad.

Following a period of global economic slowdown and industrial strife in the 1970s, the 1980s saw the inflow of substantial North Sea oil revenues and economic growth. 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 Labour 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 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. Prior to that, it had been a member of the EU's forerunner, the European Economic Community (EEC), from 1973. The attitude of the present Labour government towards further integration with this organisation is mixed,[33] with the Official Opposition, the Conservative Party, favouring fewer powers and competencies being transferred to the EU.[34] The end of the 20th century saw major changes to the governance of the UK with the establishment of devolved national administrations for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales following pre-legislative referenda.[35]

Government and politics

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy: Queen Elizabeth II is head of state of the UK as well as of fifteen other Commonwealth countries, putting the UK in a personal union with those other states. The Crown has sovereignty over the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, which are not part of the United Kingdom though the UK government manages their foreign affairs and defence and the UK Parliament has the authority to legislate on their behalf.

The United Kingdom has an uncodified constitution,[36] as do only two other countries in the world. The Constitution of the United Kingdom thus consists mostly of a collection of disparate written sources, including statutes, judge-made case law, and international treaties. As there is no technical difference between ordinary statutes and "constitutional law," the UK Parliament can perform "constitutional reform" simply by passing Acts of Parliament and thus has the power to change or abolish almost any written or unwritten element of the constitution. However, no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change.[37]

The UK has a parliamentary government based on the Westminster system that has been emulated around the world—a legacy of the British Empire. The Parliament of the United Kingdom that meets in the Palace of Westminster has two houses: an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords, and any Bill passed requires Royal Assent to become law. It is the ultimate legislative authority in the United Kingdom since the devolved parliament in Scotland and devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, and Wales are not sovereign bodies and could be abolished by the UK parliament despite being established following public approval as expressed in referenda.

Large sand-coloured building of Gothic design beside brown river and road bridge. The building has several large towers, including large clock-tower.
The Palace of Westminster, seat of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The position of Prime Minister, the UK's head of government,[38] belongs to the Member of Parliament who can obtain the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons, usually the current leader of the largest political party in that chamber. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are formally appointed by the Monarch to form Her Majesty's Government, though the Prime Minister chooses the Cabinet, and by convention HM The Queen respects the Prime Minister's choices.[39]

The Cabinet is traditionally drawn from members of the Prime Minister's party in both legislative houses, and mostly from the House of Commons, to which they are responsible. Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and Cabinet, all of whom are sworn into Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, and become Ministers of the Crown. The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, leader of the Labour Party, has been Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service since 27 June 2007.[39]

For elections to the House of Commons, the UK is currently divided into 646 constituencies, with 529 in England, 18 in Northern Ireland, 59 in Scotland and 40 in Wales,[40] though this number will rise to 650 at the 2010 general election. Each constituency elects one Member of Parliament by simple plurality. General elections are called by the Monarch when the Prime Minister so advises. Though there is no minimum term for a Parliament, the Parliament Act (1911) requires that a new election must be called within five years of the previous general election.

The UK's three major political parties are the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Democrats, who won between them 616 out of the 646 seats available in the House of Commons at the 2005 general election. Most of the remaining seats were won by parties that only contest elections in one part of the UK such as the Scottish National Party (Scotland only), Plaid Cymru (Wales only), and the Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party, Ulster Unionist Party, and Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland only, though Sinn Féin also contests elections in Ireland). In accordance with party policy, no elected Sinn Féin Member of Parliament has ever attended the House of Commons to speak in the House on behalf of their constituents as Members of Parliament are required to take an oath of allegiance to the Monarch.[41]

For elections to the European Parliament, the UK currently has 72 MEPs, elected in 12 multi-member constituencies.[42] Questions over sovereignty have been brought forward because of the UK's membership of the European Union.[43]

Devolved national administrations

Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each has its own government or Executive, led by a First Minister, and a devolved, unicameral legislature. England, the largest country of the United Kingdom, has no devolved executive or legislature and is administered and legislated for directly by the UK government and parliament on all issues. This situation has given rise to the so-called West Lothian question which concerns the fact that MPs from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can vote, sometimes decisively,[44] on matters affecting England that are handled by devolved legislatures for their own constituencies.[45]

The Scottish Government and Parliament have wide ranging powers over any matter that has not been specifically 'reserved' to the UK parliament, including education, healthcare, Scots law and local government.[46] Following their victory at the 2007 elections, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) formed a minority government with its leader, Alex Salmond, becoming First Minister of Scotland.[47] The pro-union parties responded to the electoral success of the SNP by creating a Commission on Scottish Devolution[48] which reported in 2009, recommending that additional powers should be devolved, including control of half the income tax raised in Scotland.[49]

The Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly for Wales have more limited powers than those devolved to Scotland,[50] although following the passing of the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Assembly can now legislate in some areas through Assembly Measures passed within clearly defined areas based upon, Legislative Competence Orders which can be granted on a case by case basis.[51] The current Welsh Assembly Government was formed several weeks after the 2007 elections, following a brief period of minority administration, when Plaid Cymru joined Labour in a coalition government under the continuing leadership of First Minister Rhodri Morgan.

The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly have powers closer to those already devolved to Scotland. The Northern Ireland Executive is led by a diarchy, currently First Minister Peter Robinson (Democratic Unionist Party) and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin).[52]

Local government

Three-story church-like building in Gothic style with clock tower.
Manchester Town Hall, used for the local governance of Manchester, is an example of Victorian era Gothic revival architecture.[53][54]

The administrative geography of the United Kingdom is complex, multi-layered and non-uniform as each country of the United Kingdom has its own system of administrative and geographic demarcation with origins that pre-date the United Kingdom itself. Consequently, there is "no common stratum of administrative unit encompassing the United Kingdom".[55] Until the 19th century there was little change to those arrangements, but since then there has been a constant evolution of role and function.[56] Change did not occur in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in a uniform manner, and the devolution of power over local government to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland means that future changes are unlikely to be uniform either.

The organisation of local government in England is complex, with the distribution of functions varying according to the local arrangements. Legislation concerning local government in England is decided by the UK parliament and the government of the United Kingdom, because England does not have a devolved parliament. The upper-tier subdivisions of England are the nine Government office regions or European Union government office regions.[57] One region, Greater London, has had a directly elected assembly and mayor since 2000 following popular support for the proposal in a referendum.[58] It was intended that other regions would also be given their own elected regional assemblies, but a rejection by a referendum in 2004 of a proposed assembly in the North East region stopped this idea in its tracks.[59] Below the region level, London consists of 32 London boroughs and the rest of England has either county councils and district councils or unitary authorities. Councillors are elected by First Past The Post in single member wards or by the multi-member plurality system in multi-member wards.[60]

Cardiff City Hall, used for local governance of the Welsh capital, was constructed with Portland stone inspired by English and French Renaissance styles during the height of the city's prosperity from the coal industry.[61]

Local government in Northern Ireland has, since 1973, been organised into 26 district councils, each elected by single transferable vote with powers limited to services like collecting waste, controlling dogs, and maintaining parks and cemeteries.[62] However, on 13 March 2008, the Executive agreed on proposals to create 11 new councils to replace the present system[63] and the next local elections will be postponed until 2011 to facilitate this.[64]

Local government in Scotland is divided on a basis of 32 council areas, with wide variation in both size and population. The cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are separate council areas as also is Highland Council, which includes a third of Scotland's area but just over 200,000 people. The power invested in local authorities is administered by elected councillors, of which there are currently 1,222[65] who are each paid a part-time salary. Elections are conducted by single transferable vote in multi-member wards that elect either three or four councillors. Each council elects a Provost or Convenor to chair meetings of the council and to act as a figurehead for the area. Councillors are subject to a code of conduct enforced by the Standards Commission for Scotland.[66] The representative association of Scotland's local authorities is the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).[67]

Local government in Wales consists of 22 unitary authorities, including the cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, which are separate unitary authorities in their own right.[68] Elections are held every four years by First Past The Post[69] with the most recent elections being in May, 2008. The Welsh Local Government Association represents the interests of local authorities in Wales.[70]

Foreign relations and armed forces

The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, G7, G20, NATO, OECD, WTO, Council of Europe, OSCE, and a member state of the European Union. The UK's most notable alliance is its "Special Relationship" with the United States. Britain's close allies include European Union and NATO members, Commonwealth nations and others such as Japan. Britain's global presence and influence is further amplified through its trading relations, development assistance, and its armed forces, which maintain approximately eighty military installations and other deployments around the globe.[71]

The Army, Navy and Air Force are collectively known as the British Armed Forces and officially as HM Armed Forces. The three forces are managed by the Ministry of Defence and controlled by the Defence Council, chaired by the Secretary of State for Defence.

Rocket launch from sea. A large tail of flames escape from the end of the rocket, connecting with a large splash in an otherwise calm sea.
A test launch of a Trident II MIRV SLBM from one of the Royal Navy's Vanguard class submarines

The United Kingdom fields one of the most technologically advanced and best trained armed forces in the world. According to various sources, including the Ministry of Defence, the UK has the third highest military expenditure in the world, despite only having the 27th largest military in terms of manpower. Total defence spending currently accounts for 2.5% of total national GDP.[72] The UK maintains the largest air force and navy in the EU and second largest in NATO.

The Royal Navy is a blue-water navy, currently one of the few, along with the French Navy and the United States Navy.[73] The Ministry of Defence signed contracts worth £3.2bn to build two new supercarrier sized aircraft carriers on 3 July 2008.[74]

The United Kingdom is one of the five recognised countries possessing nuclear weapons, utilising the Vanguard class submarine-based Trident II ballistic missile system.

The British Armed Forces are charged with protecting the United Kingdom and its overseas territories, promoting the United Kingdom's global security interests, and supporting international peacekeeping efforts. They are active and regular participants in NATO, including the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, as well as the Five Power Defence Arrangements, RIMPAC, and other worldwide coalition operations. Overseas garrisons and facilities are maintained at Ascension Island, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Diego Garcia, the Falkland Islands, Germany, Gibraltar, Kenya, Cyprus, and Qatar.[75]

Convoy of Jeeps carrying camouflaged soldiers across desert.
British troops in Afghanistan as a part of the International Security Assistance Force

In 2009, the British Army had a reported strength of 146,100, the Royal Air Force had 45,210 personnel and the Navy 39,320.

The United Kingdom Special Forces, such as the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service, provide troops trained for quick, mobile, military responses in counter-terrorism, land, maritime and amphibious operations, often where secrecy or covert tactics are required.

There are reserve forces supporting the Active military. These include the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Marines Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. This puts total active and reserve duty military personnel at approximately 420,500 plus a 150,000 paramilitary force giving a total of 570,000.

Despite the United Kingdom's military capabilities, recent pragmatic defence policy has a stated assumption that "the most demanding operations" would be undertaken as part of a coalition.[76] Setting aside the intervention in Sierra Leone, operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq may all be taken as precedent. Indeed the last war in which the British military fought alone was the Falklands War of 1982, in which they were victorious.

Law and criminal justice

The United Kingdom does not have a single legal system since it was created by the political union of previously independent countries, with Article 19 of the Treaty of Union guaranteeing the continued existence of Scotland's separate legal system.[77] Today the UK has three distinct systems of law: English law, Northern Ireland law and Scots law. Recent constitutional changes saw a new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom come into being in October 2009 to take on the appellate functions of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.[78][79] The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, including the same members as the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, is the highest court of appeal for several independent Commonwealth countries, the UK overseas territories, and the British crown dependencies.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Both English law, which applies in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland law are based on common-law principles. The essence of common law is that, subject to statute, the law is developed by judges in court, applying statute, precedent and common sense to the facts before them, to give explanatory judgements of the relevant legal principles, which are reported and binding in future similar cases (stare decisis).

The courts of England and Wales are headed by the Senior Courts of England and Wales, consisting of the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice (for civil cases) and the Crown Court (for criminal cases). The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land for both criminal and civil appeal cases in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and any decision it makes is binding on every other court in the same jurisdiction, and often has persuasive effect in its other jurisdictions. On appeal, a court may overrule the decisions of its inferior courts, such as county courts (civil) and magistrates' courts (criminal). The High Court may also quash on judicial review both administrative decisions of the Government and delegated legislation.

The courts of Northern Ireland are headed by the Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland, consisting of the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal, the Northern Ireland High Court of Justice and the Northern Ireland Crown Court. Below that are county courts and magistrates' courts.

Crime in England and Wales increased in the period between 1981 and 1995, though since that peak there has been an overall fall of 48% in crime from 1995 to 2007/8,[80] according to crime statistics. Despite the fall in recorded crime rates, the prison population of England and Wales has almost doubled over the same period, to over 80,000, giving England and Wales the highest rate of incarceration in Western Europe at 147 per 100,000.[81] Her Majesty's Prison Service, which reports to the Ministry of Justice, manages most of the prisons within England and Wales.


Scots law, a hybrid system based on both common-law and civil-law principles, applies in Scotland. The chief courts are the Court of Session, for civil cases,[82] and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases.[83] The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom serves as the highest court of appeal for civil cases under Scots law, with leave to appeal from the Court of Session not required as a general rule.[84]

Sheriff courts deal with most civil and criminal cases including conducting criminal trials with a jury, known as sheriff solemn court, or with a sheriff and no jury, known as (sheriff summary Court. The sheriff courts provide a local court service with 49 sheriff courts organised across six sheriffdoms.[85] The Scots legal system is unique in having three possible verdicts for a criminal trial: "guilty", "not guilty" and "not proven". Both "not guilty" and "not proven" result in an acquittal with no possibility of retrial.[86]

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice is the member of the Scottish Government responsible for the police, the courts and criminal justice, and the Scottish Prison Service, which manages the prisons in Scotland.[87] Though the level of recorded crime in 2007/8 has fallen to the lowest for 25 years,[88] the prison population, at over 8,000,[89] is hitting record levels and is well above design capacity.[90]


Map of United Kingdom showing hilly regions to north and west, and flattest region in the south-east.
The topography of the UK.

The total area of the United Kingdom is approximately 243,610 square kilometres (94,060 sq mi)[8] comprising of the island of Great Britain, the northeastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland (Northern Ireland) and smaller islands.[8] It lies between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, coming within 35 kilometres (22 mi) of the northwest coast of France, from which it is separated by the English Channel.[8]

Great Britain lies between latitudes 49° and 59° N (the Shetland Islands reach to nearly 61° N), and longitudes 8° W to 2° E. The Royal Greenwich Observatory, in London, is the defining point of the Prime Meridian. When measured directly north-south, Great Britain is a little over 1,100 kilometres (700 mi) in length and is a fraction under 500 kilometres (300 mi) at its widest, but the greatest distance between two points is 1,350 kilometres (840 mi) between Land's End in Cornwall (near Penzance) and John o' Groats in Caithness (near Thurso). Northern Ireland shares a 360-kilometre (224 mi) land boundary with the Republic of Ireland.[8]

The United Kingdom has a temperate climate, with plentiful rainfall all year round.[8] The temperature varies with the seasons but seldom drops below −10 °C (14.0 °F) or rises above 35 °C (95 °F). The prevailing wind is from the southwest, bearing frequent spells of mild and wet weather from the Atlantic Ocean.[8] Eastern parts are most sheltered from this wind and are therefore the driest. Atlantic currents, warmed by the Gulf Stream, bring mild winters, especially in the west, where winters are wet, especially over high ground. Summers are warmest in the south east of England, being closest to the European mainland, and coolest in the north. Snowfall can occur in winter and early spring, though it rarely settles to great depth away from high ground.

England accounts for just over half of the total area of the UK, covering 130,410 square kilometres (50,350 sq mi). Most of the country consists of lowland terrain, with mountainous terrain north-west of the Tees-Exe line including the Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District, the Pennines and limestone hills of the Peak District, Exmoor and Dartmoor. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber. England's highest mountain is Scafell Pike (978 metres (3,209 ft)), which is in the Lake District. England has a number of large towns and cities, including six of the top 50 Larger Urban Zones in the European Union.

Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the highest point in the British Isles
The northern 40% of the largest island is Scotland, the southern 60% is England and Wales. Wales is a peninsula about 15% the size of England. Northern Ireland is shown as the north-east of the western island, taking about one-sixth the area.
The four countries of the United Kingdom.

Scotland accounts for just under a third of the total area of the UK, covering 78,772 square kilometres (30,410 sq mi),[91] including nearly eight hundred islands,[92] predominantly west and north of the mainland, notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. The topography of Scotland is distinguished by the Highland Boundary Fault – a geological rock fracture – which traverses the Scottish mainland from Helensburgh to Stonehaven. The faultline separates two distinctively different regions; namely the Highlands to the north and west and the lowlands to the south and east. The more rugged Highland region contains the majority of Scotland's mountainous land, including Ben Nevis, which at 1,343 metres (4,406 ft) is the highest point in the British Isles.[93] Lowland areas, especially the narrow waist of land between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth known as the Central Belt, are flatter and home to most of the population including Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, and Edinburgh, the capital and political centre of the country.

The geography of Wales accounts for less than a tenth of the total area of the UK, covering 20,758 square kilometres (8,010 sq mi). Wales is mostly mountainous, though South Wales is less mountainous than North and mid Wales. The main population and industrial areas are in South Wales, consisting of the coastal cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport and the South Wales Valleys to their north. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia, and include Snowdon (Welsh: Yr Wyddfa), which, at 1,085 m (3,560 ft) is the highest peak in Wales. The 14 (or possibly 15) Welsh mountains over 3,000 feet (914 m) high are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s. Wales has over 1,200 km (750 miles) of coastline. There are several islands off the Welsh mainland, the largest of which is Anglesey (Ynys Môn) in the northwest.

Northern Ireland accounts for just 14,160 square kilometres (5,470 sq mi) and is mostly hilly. It includes Lough Neagh, at 388 square kilometres (150 sq mi), the largest body of water in the UK and Ireland.[94] The highest peak in Northern Ireland is Slieve Donard at 849 metres (2,785 ft) in the Mourne Mountains.

Cities and conurbations

The capitals of the individual countries of the UK are: Belfast (Northern Ireland), Cardiff (Wales), Edinburgh (Scotland) and London (England); the latter is also the capital of the UK as a whole.[8]

The largest conurbations are:

Rank City Location Pop. Rank City Location Pop.
1 London London 7,172,091 11 Coventry West Midlands 303,475
2 Birmingham West Midlands 970,892 12 Kingston upon Hull Yorkshire and the Humber 301,416
3 Glasgow Scotland 629,501 13 Bradford Yorkshire and the Humber 293,717
4 Liverpool North West England 469,017 14 Cardiff Wales 292,150
5 Leeds Yorkshire and the Humber 443,247 15 Belfast Northern Ireland 276,459
6 Sheffield Yorkshire and the Humber 439,866 16 Stoke-on-Trent West Midlands 259,252
7 Edinburgh Scotland 430,082 17 Wolverhampton West Midlands 251,462
8 Bristol South West England 420,556 18 Nottingham East Midlands 249,584
9 Manchester North West England 394,269 19 Plymouth South West England 243,795
10 Leicester East Midlands 330,574 20 Southampton South East England 234,224
2001 Census


A Census occurs simultaneously in all parts of the UK every ten years.[95] The Office for National Statistics is responsible for collecting data for England and Wales with the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency each being responsible for censuses in their respective countries.[96]


At the most recent census in 2001, the total population of the United Kingdom was 58,789,194, the third largest in the European Union, the fifth largest in the Commonwealth and the twenty-first largest in the world. By mid-2008, this was estimated to have grown to 61,383,000.[97] In 2008, natural population growth overtook net migration as the main contributor to population growth for the first time since 1998.[97] Between 2001 and 2008, the population increased by an average annual rate of 0.5 per cent. This compares to 0.3 per cent per year in the period 1991 to 2001, and 0.2 per cent in the decade 1981 to 1991.[97] Published in 2008, the mid-2007 population estimates revealed that, for the first time, the UK was home to more people of pensionable age than children under the age of 16.[98]

England's population in mid-2008 was estimated to be 51.44 million.[97] It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with 383 people resident per square kilometre in mid-2003,[99] with a particular concentration in London and the South East.[100] The mid-2008 estimates put Scotland's population at 5.17 million, Wales at 2.99 million and Northern Ireland at 1.78 million,[97] with much lower population densities than England. Compared to England's 383 inhabitants per square kilometre (990 /sq mi), the corresponding figures were 142 /km2 (370 /sq mi) for Wales, 125 /km2 (320 /sq mi) for Northern Ireland and just 65 /km2 (170 /sq mi) for Scotland in mid-2003.[99] Northern Ireland had the fastest growing population in percentage terms of all of the four constituent countries of the UK in each of the four years to mid-2008.[97]

In 2008, the average total fertility rate (TFR) across the UK was 1.96 children per woman.[101] While a rising birth rate is contributing to current population growth, it remains considerably below the 'baby boom' peak of 2.95 children per woman in 1964,[102] below the replacement rate of 2.1, but higher than the 2001 record low of 1.63.[101] Scotland had the lowest fertility at only 1.8 children per woman, while Northern Ireland had the highest at 2.11 children in 2008.[101]


The proportion of foreign-born people in the UK remains slightly below that of some other European countries,[103] although immigration is now contributing to a rising population,[104] accounting for about half of the population increase between 1991 and 2001. Citizens of the European Union have the right to live and work in any member state[105] and one in six immigrants were from Eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, with larger numbers coming from New Commonwealth countries,[106] particularly South Asia.[107] People from South Asia accounted for two-thirds of net immigration in 2005,[108] mainly fueled by family reunion.[109] Transitional arrangements apply to Romanians and Bulgarians whose countries joined the EU in January 2007.[110]

Analysis of Office for National Statistics data shows that 2.3 million net migrants moved to the UK in the period 1991 to 2006,[111][112] 84 per cent of them from outside Europe.[113] In 2008 it was predicted that migration would add 7 million to the UK population by 2031,[114] though these figures are disputed.[115] The latest official figures show that in 2008, 590,000 people arrived to live in the UK whilst 427,000 left, meaning that net inward migration was 163,000.[116]

Estimated foreign-born population by country of birth, April 2007–March 2008
British citizens living overseas

At least 5.5 million British-born people are living abroad,[117][118][119] with Australia, Spain, the United States, and Canada being the top four destinations.[117][120]

In 2006, there were 149,035 applications for British citizenship, 32% fewer than in 2005. The number of people granted citizenship during 2006 was 154,095, 5% fewer than in 2005. The largest groups of people granted British citizenship were from India, Pakistan, Somalia and the Philippines.[121] 21.9% of babies born in England and Wales in 2006 were born to mothers who were born outside the UK, (146,956 out of 669,601), according to official statistics released in 2007.[122]

Research conducted by the Migration Policy Institute for the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that, between May 2004 and September 2009, 1.5 million workers migrated from the new EU member states to the UK, with two-thirds being Polish, but that many have returned home, with the result that the number of nationals of the new member states in the UK increased by some 700,000 over the same period.[123][124] The late-2000s recession in the UK reduced the economic incentive for Poles to migrate to the UK,[125] with the migration becoming temporary and circular.[126]

The UK government is currently introducing a points-based immigration system for immigration from outside of the European Economic Area that will replace existing schemes, including the Scottish Government's Fresh Talent Initiative.

Ethnic groups

Historically, British people were thought to be descended from the varied ethnic stocks that settled there before the 11th century; the Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Norse and the Normans. However, recent genetic analysis indicates that "about 75 per cent of the traceable ancestors of the modern British population had arrived in the British isles by about 6,200 years ago, at the start of the British Neolithic or Stone Age", and that the British broadly share a common ancestry with the Basque people.[127][128][129]

Britain has a long history of immigration, with Liverpool having the oldest Black population in the country, dating back to at least the 1730s,[130] and the oldest Chinese community in Europe, dating to the arrival of Chinese seamen in the nineteenth century.[131]

Since 1945, substantial immigration from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia has been a legacy of ties forged by the British Empire. Migration from new EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe since 2004 has resulted in growth in these population groups, but, as of 2008, the trend is reversing and many of these migrants are returning home, leaving the size of these groups unknown.[132] As of 2001, 92.1% of the population identified themselves as White, leaving 7.9%[133] of the UK population identifying themselves as mixed race or ethnic minority.

Ethnic group Population  % of total*
White &0000000054153898.00000054,153,898 92.1%
Black &0000000001148738.0000001,148,738 2.0%
Mixed race &0000000000677117.000000677,117 1.2%
Indian &0000000001053411.0000001,053,411 1.8%
Pakistani &0000000000747285.000000747,285 1.3%
Bangladeshi &0000000000283063.000000283,063 0.5%
Other South Asian &0000000000247644.000000247,644 0.4%
Chinese &0000000000247403.000000247,403 0.4%
Other (inc. East Asian, Arab, Oceanic, Latin American) &0000000000230615.000000230,615 0.4%
*Percentage of total UK population

Ethnic diversity varies significantly across the UK. 30.4% of London's population[134] and 37.4% of Leicester's[135] was estimated to be non-white as of June 2005, whereas less than 5% of the populations of North East England, Wales and the South West were from ethnic minorities according to the 2001 census.[136] As of 2007, 22% of primary and 17.7% of secondary pupils at state schools in England were from ethnic minority families.[137][138]


The English-speaking world. Countries in dark blue have a majority of native speakers. Countries in light blue have English as an official language, de jure or de facto. English is also one of the official languages of the European Union.[139]

The UK does not de jure have an official language but the predominant spoken language is English, a West Germanic language descended from Old English which features a large number of borrowings from Old Norse, Norman French and Latin. Largely because of the British Empire, the English language has spread across the world, and become the international language of business as well as the most widely taught second language.[140]

Scots, a language descended from early northern Middle English, is recognised at European level.[141] There are also four Celtic languages in use in the UK: Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish. In the 2001 Census over a fifth (21%) of the population of Wales said they could speak Welsh,[142] an increase from the 1991 Census (18%).[143] In addition, it is estimated that about 200,000 Welsh speakers live in England.[144]

The 2001 census in Northern Ireland showed that 167,487 (10.4%) people "had some knowledge of Irish" (see Irish language in Northern Ireland), almost exclusively in the Catholic/nationalist population. Over 92,000 people in Scotland (just under 2% of the population) had some Gaelic language ability, including 72% of those living in the Outer Hebrides.[145] The number of schoolchildren being taught in Welsh, Gaelic and Irish is increasing.[146] Welsh and Scottish Gaelic are also spoken by small groups around the globe with some Gaelic still spoken in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Welsh in Patagonia, Argentina.

Across the United Kingdom, it is generally compulsory for pupils to study a second language to some extent: up to the age of 14 in England,[147] and up to age 16 in Scotland. French and German are the two most commonly taught second languages in England and Scotland. In Wales, all pupils up to age 16 are either taught in Welsh or taught Welsh as a second language.[148]


Religion in the United Kingdom, 2001[149]
Religion Percent
Not stated

The Treaty of Union that led to the formation of the United Kingdom ensured that there would be a Protestant succession as well as a link between church and state that still remains. Christianity is the largest religion, followed by Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and then Judaism in terms of number of adherents.

In the 2001 Census 71.6% of respondents said that Christianity was their religion,[150] although surveys that employ a "harder" question tend to find lower proportions, such as the 2007 Tearfund Survey which revealed that 53% identified themselves as Christian[151] and the 2007 British Social Attitudes Survey, which found that it was almost 47.5%.[152] However, the Tearfund survey showed only one in ten Britons actually attend church weekly.[153]

The 2007 British Social Attitudes Survey, which covers England, Wales and Scotland, but not Northern Ireland, indicated that 20.87% were part of the Church of England, 10.25% non-denominational Christian, 9.01% Roman Catholic, 2.81% Presbyterian/Church of Scotland, 1.88% Methodist, 0.88% Baptist, other Protestant 1.29, URC/Congregational 0.32%, 0.08% Free Presbyterian, Brethren 0.05% and 0.37% other Christian. Among other religions, 3.30% were Muslim, 1.37% Hindu, 0.43% Jewish, 0.37% Sikh and others 0.35%. A large proportion had no religion at 45.67%. 0.50% did not answer or N/A.[152]

In the 2001 census, 9.1 million (15% of the UK population) claimed no religion, with a further 4.3 million (7% of the UK population) not stating a religious preference.[154] There is a disparity between the figures for those identifying themselves with a particular religion and for those proclaiming a belief in a God: a Eurobarometer poll conducted in 2005 showed that 38% of the respondents believed that "there is a God", 40% believed that "there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 20% said "I don't believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force"[155]


The largest religious group in England is Christianity, with the Church of England (Anglican) the Established Church:[156] the church retains a representation in the UK Parliament and the British monarch is a member of the church (required under Article 2 of the Treaty of Union) as well as its Supreme Governor. The Church of England also retains the right to draft legislative measures (related to religious administration) through the General Synod that can then be passed into law by Parliament. The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales is the second largest Christian church with around five million members, mainly in England.[157]

There are also growing Orthodox, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, with Pentecostal churches in England now third after the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in terms of church attendance.[158] Among the Pentecostal churches are Elim Pentecostal Church and Assemblies of God in the United Kingdom. Other Christian groups include The Salvation Army, United Reformed Church, Assemblies of God, Plymouth Brethren, Baptist Union, Methodists, Congregationalists, Newfrontiers and house churches.

The largest religious group in Scotland is also Christianity, though the presbyterian Church of Scotland (known informally as The Kirk), is recognised as the national church. It is not subject to state control and the British monarch is an ordinary member, required to swear an oath to "defend the security" of the church upon his or her accession. The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is Scotland's second largest Christian church, representing a sixth of the population.[159] The Scottish Episcopal Church, which is part of the Anglican Communion, dates from the final establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland in 1690, when it split from the Church of Scotland and is not a 'daughter church' of the Church of England. Further splits in the Church of Scotland, especially in the nineteenth century, led to the creation of various other Presbyterian churches in Scotland, including the Free Church of Scotland.

In the 1920s, the Church in Wales became independent from the Church of England and became 'disestablished' but remains in the Anglican Communion. Baptist Union of Wales, Methodism and the Presbyterian Church of Wales are present in Wales as well.

The main religious groups in Northern Ireland are organised on an all-Ireland basis. Though Protestants and Anglicans are in the overall majority,[160] the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland is the largest single church. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, closely linked to the Church of Scotland in terms of theology and history, is the second largest church followed by the Church of Ireland (Anglican) which was disestablished in the nineteenth century.

Between 2004 and 2008, the Office for National Statistics reported that the number of Christians in Great Britain (rather than the UK as a whole) fell by more than 2 million.[161] The single largest age-cohort in the Christian population is in those over 70 years of age.[161]

Other religions

The East London Mosque, one of the country's largest Islamic places of worship.

At the 2001 census, there were 1,536,015 Muslims in England and Wales,[162] forming 3% of the population. Muslims in Scotland numbered 42,557 representing 0.84% of the population.[163] There were a further 1,943 Muslims in Northern Ireland.[164] The biggest groups of Muslims are of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian origin.

According to a Labour Force Survey estimate, the total number of Muslims in Great Britain in 2008 was 2,422,000, around 4% of the total population.[161] Between 2004 and 2008, the Muslim population grew by more than 500,000.[161] The largest age-bracket within the British Muslim population were those under the age of 4, at 301,000 in September 2008.[161]

Over 1 million people follow religions of Indian origin: 560,000 Hindus, 340,000 Sikhs with about 150,000 practising Buddhism.[165] One non-governmental organisation estimates that there are 800,000 Hindus in the UK.[166] Leicester houses one of the world's few Jain temples that are outside of India.[167]

According to the 2001 census there are approximately 270,000 Jews in Britain.[168]


London is Europe's largest financial Centre and one of the world's three largest financial centres alongside New York and Hong Kong.[169]

The United Kingdom's economy is made up (in descending order of size) of the economies of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Based on market exchange rates, the UK is today the sixth largest economy in the world and the third largest in Europe after Germany and France.[170]

The Industrial Revolution started in the UK with an initial concentration on heavy industries such as shipbuilding, coal mining, steel production, and textiles. The empire created an overseas market for British products, allowing the UK to dominate international trade in the 19th century. However, as other nations industrialised, coupled with economic decline after two world wars, the United Kingdom began to lose its competitive advantage and heavy industry declined, by degrees, throughout the 20th century. Manufacturing remains a significant part of the economy, but accounted for only one-sixth of national output in 2003.[171] UK must also import 40% of its food suplies.[172]

The British motor industry is a significant part of this sector, although it has diminished with the collapse of the MG Rover Group and most of the industry is foreign owned. Civil and defence aircraft production is led by the second largest defence contractor in the world, BAE Systems,[173] and the continental European firm EADS, the owner of Airbus. Rolls-Royce holds a major share of the global aerospace engines market. The chemical and pharmaceutical industry is strong in the UK, with the world's second and sixth largest pharmaceutical firms (GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, respectively)[174] being based in the UK.

The UK service sector, however, has grown substantially, and now makes up about 73% of GDP.[175] The service sector is dominated by financial services, especially in banking and insurance. London is the world's largest financial centre with the London Stock Exchange, the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange, and the Lloyd's of London insurance market all based in the City of London. London is a major centre for international business and commerce and is the leader of the three "command centres" for the global economy (along with New York City and Tokyo).[176] It has the largest concentration of foreign bank branches in the world. In the past decade, a rival financial centre in London has grown in the Docklands area, with the HSBC, the world's largest bank,[177][178] and Barclays Bank relocating their head offices there. Many multinational companies that are not primarily UK-based have chosen to site their European or rest-of-world headquarters in London: an example is the US financial services firm Citigroup. The Scottish capital, Edinburgh, has one of the large financial centres of Europe[179] and is the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, one of the world's largest banks.

North Sea oil and gas have supplied much of the UK's energy needs in recent decades, but the country now increasingly depends on imported fossil fuels.

Tourism is very important to the British economy. With over 27 million tourists arriving in 2004, the United Kingdom is ranked as the sixth major tourist destination in the world.[180] London, by a considerable margin, is the most visited city in the world with 15.6 million visitors in 2006, ahead of 2nd placed Bangkok (10.4 million visitors) and 3rd placed Paris (9.7 million).[181]

The creative industries accounted for 7% GVA in 2005 and grew at an average of 6% per annum between 1997 and 2005.[182]

The UK has a small coal reserve along with significant, yet continuously declining[183] natural gas and oil reserves. Over 400 million tonnes of proven coal reserves have been identified in the UK.[184] In 2004, total UK coal consumption (including imports) was 61 million tonnes,[185] allowing the UK to be self sufficient in coal for just over 6.5 years, although at present extraction rates it would take 20 years to mine.[184] An alternative to coal-fired electricity generation is underground coal gasification (UCG). UGC involves injecting steam and oxygen down a borehole, which extracts gas from the coal and draws the mixture to the surface—a potentially very low carbon method of exploiting coal. Identified onshore areas that have the potential for UGC amount to between 7 billion tonnes and 16 billion tonnes.[186] Based on current UK coal consumption, these volumes represent reserves that could last the UK between 200 and 400 years.[187]

Government involvement throughout the economy is exercised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (currently Alistair Darling) who heads HM Treasury, but the Prime Minister (currently The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP), is First Lord of the Treasury; the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the Second Lord of the Treasury. In recent years, the UK economy has been managed in accordance with principles of market liberalisation and low taxation and regulation. Since 1997, the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, headed by the Governor of the Bank of England, has been responsible for setting interest rates at the level necessary to achieve the overall inflation target for the economy that is set by the Chancellor each year.[188] The Scottish Government, subject to the approval of the Scottish Parliament, has the power to vary the basic rate of income tax payable in Scotland by plus or minus 3 pence in the pound, though this power has not yet been exercised.

In July 2007, the UK had government debt at 35.5% of GDP.[189] This figure rose to 56.8% of GDP by July 2009.[190]

The Bank of England; the central bank of the United Kingdom.

The currency of the UK is the pound sterling, represented by the symbol £. The Bank of England is the central bank, responsible for issuing currency. Banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland retain the right to issue their own notes, subject to retaining enough Bank of England notes in reserve to cover the issue. Pound sterling is also used as a reserve currency by other governments and institutions, and is the third-largest after the U.S. dollar and the euro.[191] The UK chose not to join the euro at the currency's launch, and the British Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, has ruled out membership for the foreseeable future, saying that the decision not to join had been right for Britain and for Europe.[192] The government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair had pledged to hold a public referendum for deciding membership should "five economic tests" be met. In 2005, more than half (55%) of the UK were against adopting the currency, while 30% were in favour.[193]

On 23 January 2009, Government figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that the UK was officially in recession for the first time since 1991.[194] It entered a recession in the final quarter of 2008, accompanied by rising unemployment which increased from 5.2% in May 2008 to 7.6% in May 2009. The unemployment rate among 18 to 24-year-olds has risen from 11.9% to 17.3%.[195]

The poverty line in the UK is commonly defined as being 60% of the median household income.[note 8] In 2007-2008, 13.5 million people, or 22% of the population, lived below this line. This is a higher level of relative poverty than all but four other EU members.[196] In the same year, 4.0 million children, 31% of the total, lived in households below the poverty line, after housing costs were taken into account. This is a decrease of 400,000 children since 1998-1999.[197]


Education in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter, with each country having a separate education system.

Education in England is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, though the day to day administration and funding of state schools is the responsibility of Local Authorities (previously named Local Education Authorities).[198] Universal state education in England and Wales was introduced for primary level in 1870 and secondary level in 1900.[199] Education is mandatory from ages five to sixteen (15 if born in late July or August). The majority of children are educated in state-sector schools, only a small proportion of which select on the grounds of academic ability. State schools which are allowed to select pupils according to intelligence and academic ability can achieve comparable results to the most selective private schools: out of the top ten performing schools in terms of GCSE results in 2006 two were state-run grammar schools. Despite a fall in actual numbers, the proportion of children in England attending private schools has risen to over 7%.[200] However over half of students at the leading universities of Cambridge and Oxford had attended state schools.[201] England has some of the top universities in the world; University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, Imperial College London and University College London are ranked in the global top 10 in the 2008 THE–QS World University Rankings.[202] Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) rated pupils in England 7th in the world for Maths, and 6th for Science. The results put England's pupils ahead of other European countries, including Germany and Scandinavian countries.[203]

Queen's University, Belfast, built in 1849 and one of the oldest higher education institutions in the United Kingdom[204]

Education in Scotland is the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, with day to day administration and funding of state schools the responsibility of Local Authorities. Two non-departmental public bodies have key roles in Scottish education: the Scottish Qualifications Authority is responsible for the development, accreditation, assessment and certification of qualifications other than degrees which are delivered at secondary schools, post-secondary colleges of further education and other centres;[205] and Learning and Teaching Scotland provides advice, resources and staff development to the education community to promote curriculum development and create a culture of innovation, ambition and excellence.[206] Scotland first legislated for compulsory education in 1496.[207] The proportion of children in Scotland attending private schools is just over 4%, although it has been rising slowly in recent years.[208] Scottish students who attend Scottish universities pay neither tuition fees nor graduate endowment charges as the fees were abolished in 2001 and the graduate endowment scheme was abolished in 2008.[209]

Education in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the Minister of Education and the Minister for Employment and Learning, although responsibility at a local level is administered by five education and library boards, covering different geographical areas. The 'Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) is the body responsible for advising the government on what should be taught in Northern Ireland's schools, monitoring standards and awarding qualifications.[210]

The National Assembly for Wales has responsibility for education in Wales. A significant number of Welsh students are taught either wholly or largely in the Welsh language; lessons in Welsh are compulsory for all until the age of 16.[211] There are plans to increase the provision of Welsh Medium schools as part of the policy of having a fully bilingual Wales.


Healthcare in the United Kingdom is a devolved matter and England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each has its own system of private and publicly funded healthcare, together with alternative, holistic and complementary treatments. Public healthcare is provided to all UK permanent residents and is free at the point of need being paid for from general taxation. Taken together, the World Health Organisation, in 2000, ranked the provision of healthcare in the United Kingdom as fifteenth best in Europe and eighteenth in the world.[212][213]

Regulatory bodies are organised on a UK-wide basis such as the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and non-governmental-based, such as Royal Colleges. However, political and operational responsibility for healthcare lies with four national executives; healthcare in England is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government; healthcare in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive; healthcare in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish Government; and healthcare in Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. Each National Health Service has different policies and priorities, resulting in contrasts.[214][215] Across the UK, there are medical schools and dental schools, and provisions for training nurses and professions allied to medicine.[citation needed]

Since 1979, expenditure on healthcare has been increased significantly to bring it closer to the European Union average.[216] The UK spends around 8.4 per cent of its gross domestic product on healthcare, which is 0.5 per cent below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average and about one per cent below the average of the European Union.[217]


The Highways Agency is the executive agency responsible for trunk roads and motorways in England apart from the privately owned and operated M6 Toll.[220] The Department for Transport states that traffic congestion is one of the most serious transport problems and that it could cost England an extra £22 billion in wasted time by 2025 if left unchecked.[221] According to the government-sponsored Eddington report of 2006, congestion is in danger of harming the economy, unless tackled by road pricing and expansion of the transport network.[222][223]

The Scottish transport network is the responsibility of the Scottish Government's Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department with Transport Scotland being the Executive Agency that is accountable to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth for Scotland's trunk roads and rail networks.[224] Scotland's rail network has around 340 railway stations and 3,000 kilometres of track with over 62 million passenger journeys made each year.[225] In 2008, The Scottish Government set out investment plans for the next 20 years, with priorities to include a new Forth Road Bridge and electrification of the rail network.[226]

The Forth Railway Bridge, Scotland, is an iconic feature of the rail network.

Across the UK, there is a radial road network of 46,904 kilometres (29,145 mi) of main roads with a motorway network of 3,497 kilometres (2,173 mi). There are a further 213,750 kilometres (132,818 mi) of paved roads. The rail network of 16,116 km (10,072 miles) in Great Britain and 303 route km (189 route mi) in Northern Ireland carries over 18,000 passenger trains and 1,000 freight trains daily. Urban rail networks are well developed in London and other cities. There was once over 48,000 route km (30,000 route mi) of rail network in the UK, however most of this was reduced over a time period from 1955 to 1975, much of it after a report by a government advisor Richard Beeching in the mid 1960s (known as the Beeching Axe). Plans are now being considered to build new high speed lines by 2025.[227]

London Heathrow Airport, located 15 miles (24 km) west of the capital, is the UK's busiest airport and has the most international passenger traffic of any airport in the world.[218][219] It is the hub for the flag carrier British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and BMI.[228]


Major sports including association football, rugby football, boxing, badminton, cricket, tennis and golf originated, or were substantially developed, in the United Kingdom and the states that preceded it. A 2006 poll found that football is the most popular sport in the United Kingdom.[229]

In international competitions, separate teams represent England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland in most team sports, as well as at the Commonwealth Games. (In sporting contexts, these teams can be referred to collectively as the Home Nations.) However, there are occasions where a single sports team represents the United Kingdom, including at the Olympics where the UK is represented by the Great Britain team.


Cricket is claimed to have been invented in England (though recent research suggests it was actually invented in Belgium)[230] and the England cricket team, controlled by the England and Wales Cricket Board,[231] is the only national team in the UK with Test status. Team members are drawn from the main county sides, and include both English and Welsh players. Cricket is distinct from football and rugby where Wales and England field separate national teams, although Wales had fielded its own team in the past. Irish and Scottish players have played for England because neither Scotland nor Ireland have Test status and have only recently started to play in One Day Internationals. Scotland, England (and Wales), and Ireland (including Northern Ireland) have competed at the Cricket World Cup, with England reaching the Final three times. There is a professional league championship in which clubs representing 17 English counties and 1 Welsh county compete.


England's new Wembley Stadium. It is the most expensive stadium ever built.[232]

Each of the Home Nations has its own football association, national team and league system, though a few clubs play outside their country's respective systems for a variety of historical and logistical reasons.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as separate countries in international competition and, as a consequence, the UK does not compete as a single team in football events at the Olympic Games. There are proposals to have a UK team take part in the 2012 Summer Olympics but the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations have declined to participate, fearing that it would undermine their independent status—a fear confirmed by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.[233] England has been the most successful of the home nations, winning the World Cup on home soil in 1966, although there has historically been a close-fought rivalry between England and Scotland.

The English football league system includes hundreds of inter-linked leagues, consisting of thousands of clubs. The Premiership at the top, is the most-watched football league in the world[234] and is particularly popular in Asia.[235] Below this, The Football League has three divisions and then the Football Conference has a national division and two feeder regional leagues. Thereafter the structure becomes increasing regional. English teams have been successful in European Competitions including some who have become European Cup/UEFA Champions League winners: Liverpool (five times), Manchester United (three times), Nottingham Forest (twice) and Aston Villa. More clubs from England have won the European Cup than any other country (four compared to three from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands). Moreover, England ranks second in the all time list of European club trophies won with 35, one behind Italy's 36. The European Cup competition itself came about as the result of the success of another English club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, against top European sides[236] in the 1950s. The 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium is England's principal sporting stadium.

Hampden Park, Glasgow—Scotland's national football stadium.
Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, national stadium of Wales

The Scottish football league system has two national leagues: the Scottish Premier League, the top division, and the Scottish Football League, which has three divisions. Below this, but not connected to the national leagues, are three regional leagues; the Highland Football League, the East of Scotland Football League and the South of Scotland Football League. One English club, Berwick Rangers, plays in the Scottish system. Scotland is home to two world-renowned football clubs in the Old Firm of Celtic and Rangers. Scottish teams that have been successful in European Competitions include Celtic (European Cup in 1967), Rangers (European Cup Winners' Cup in 1972) and Aberdeen (European Cup Winners' Cup and European Super Cup in 1983). Celtic were the first British club to win the European Cup. Hampden Park is the principal stadium and home of the Scottish FA.

The Welsh football league system includes the Welsh Premier League and regional leagues. Welsh Premiership club The New Saints play their home matches on the English side of the border in Oswestry. The Welsh clubs of Cardiff City F.C., Colwyn Bay F.C., Merthyr Tydfil F.C., Newport County A.F.C., Swansea City A.F.C. and Wrexham F.C. play in the English system. Cardiff's 76,250 seater Millennium Stadium is the principal sporting stadium of Wales.

The Northern Ireland football league system includes the IFA Premiership. One Northern Irish club, Derry City, plays its football outside of the UK in the Republic of Ireland football league system. Windsor Park, Linfield F.C.'s 20,332-seater stadium, is also the home stadium of the national team.

Rugby league

Rugby league is played as a developing sport throughout the UK, but in Northern England, it is the main sport in many areas, particularly in Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire in towns such as Wigan and St Helens. It also has a substantial presence in London and South Wales.

It originates from and is generally played in Northern England and a single 'Great Britain Lions' team had competed in the Rugby League World Cup and Test match games, but this changed slightly in 2008 when England, Scotland and Ireland competed as separate nations.[237]

Great Britain is still being retained as the full national team for Ashes tours against, Australia, New Zealand and France.

In 2013, The United Kingdom will host the Rugby League World Cup for the 5th time.[238]

Rugby union

Rugby union is organised on a separate basis for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland with each having a league system and a top ranked international team.

Rugby union is played as a minority sport throughout the UK, but has a number of heartlands, notably South Wales, the Scottish Borders, the English West Country and so on. It also has a substantial presence in Northern Ireland (RU is organised on an all-Ireland basis), Edinburgh, London, Leicester etc.

While England has won the Rugby World Cup, in 2003, Wales has achieved a best of third place and Scotland a best of fourth place. Ireland has not progressed beyond the quarter finals.

In 2015, England will host the Rugby World Cup for the second time.[239]

Other sports

The Wimbledon Championships, a Grand Slam tournament, is held in Wimbledon, London every June/July.

Snooker is also one of the UK's sporting exports. The world championships are held annually in Sheffield while the sport continues to expand worldwide, with huge growth in China.

The game of tennis first originated from the city of Birmingham between 1859 and 1865. The Championships, Wimbledon are international tennis events held in Wimbledon in south London every summer and are regarded as the most prestigious event of the global tennis calendar.

Thoroughbred racing, which originated under Charles II of England as the "sport of kings", 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, largely because of the famous Newmarket Racecourse.

The UK has proved successful in the international sporting arena in rowing. It is widely considered that the sport's most successful rower is Steve Redgrave who won five gold medals and one bronze medal at five consecutive Olympic Games, as well as numerous wins at the World Rowing Championships and Henley Royal Regatta.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, generally regarded as the world's "Home of Golf".

Golf is the sixth most popular sport, by participation, in the UK. Although The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, in Scotland, is the sport's home course,[240] the world's oldest golf course is actually Musselburgh Links' Old Golf Course.[241]

Shinty (or camanachd) is popular in the Scottish Highlands, sometimes attracting crowds numbering thousands in the most sparsely populated region of the UK, especially to watch the final of its premier tournament, the Camanachd Cup.[242]

In Northern Ireland, Gaelic football and hurling are popular team sports, both in terms of participation and spectating. Irish expatriates throughout the UK also play them.

The UK is closely associated with motorsport. Many teams and drivers in Formula One (F1) are based in the UK and drivers from Britain have won more world titles than any other country. The country hosts legs of the F1 and World Rally Championship and has its own touring car racing championship, the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). The British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone each July.


The culture of the United Kingdom—British culture— may be described as informed by its history as a developed island country, major power, and also as a political union of four countries, with each preserving elements of distinctive traditions, customs and symbolism. As a result of the British Empire, British influence can be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former colonies such as Canada, Australia, India, and the United States.


The United Kingdom has been influential in the development of cinema, with the Ealing Studios claiming to be the oldest studios in the world. Despite a history of important and successful productions, the industry is characterised by an ongoing debate about its identity, and the influences of American and European cinema. Particularly between British and American film, many films are often co-produced or share actors with many British actors now featuring regularly in Hollywood films. The BFI Top 100 British films is a poll conducted by the British Film Institute which ranks what they consider to be the 100 greatest British films of all time.


The Chandos portrait, believed to depict William Shakespeare

'British literature' refers to literature associated with the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as well as to literature from England, Wales and Scotland prior to the formation of the United Kingdom. Most British literature is in the English language. The UK publishes some 206,000 books each year, making it the largest publisher of books in the world.[243]

The English playwright and poet William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest dramatist of all time.[244][245][246] Among the earliest English writers are Geoffrey Chaucer (14th century), Thomas Malory (15th century), Sir Thomas More (16th century), and John Milton (17th century). In the 18th century, Samuel Richardson is often credited with inventing the modern novel. In the 19th century, there followed further innovation by Jane Austen, the gothic novelist Mary Shelley, children's writer Lewis Carroll, the Brontë sisters, the social campaigner Charles Dickens, the naturalist Thomas Hardy, the visionary poet William Blake and romantic poet William Wordsworth.

Twentieth century writers include the science fiction novelist H. G. Wells, writers of children's classics Rudyard Kipling, A. A. Milne, the controversial D. H. Lawrence, the modernist Virginia Woolf, the satirist Evelyn Waugh, the prophetic novelist George Orwell, the popular novelist Graham Greene, crime novelist Agatha Christie, and the poets Ted Hughes and John Betjeman. Most recently, the children's fantasy Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling has recalled the popularity of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

Robert Burns—regarded as the national poet of Scotland

Scotland's contribution includes the detective writer Arthur Conan Doyle, romantic literature by Sir Walter Scott, children's writer J. M. Barrie and the epic adventures of Robert Louis Stevenson. It has also produced the celebrated poet Robert Burns, as well as William McGonagall, regarded by many as one of the world's worst.[247] More recently, the modernist and nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid and Neil M. Gunn contributed to the Scottish Renaissance. A more grim outlook is found in Ian Rankin's stories and the psychological horror-comedy of Iain Banks. Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, is UNESCO's first worldwide City of Literature.[248]

A photograph of Victorian era novelist Charles Dickens

The oldest known poem from the area now known as Scotland, Y Gododdin, was composed in Cumbric or Old Welsh in the late sixth century and contains the earliest known reference to King Arthur. A great role in the development of Arthurian legend, and early development of British history, was played by Geoffrey of Monmouth. The greatest Welsh poet of all time is generally held to be Dafydd ap Gwilym. Owing to the dominance of the Welsh language in Wales until the late nineteenth century, the majority of Welsh literature was in Welsh, and much of the prose was religious in character; Daniel Owen is credited as the first Welsh-language novelist, publishing Rhys Lewis in 1885. In the twentieth century, the poets R. S. Thomas and Dylan Thomas became well known for their English-language poetry, Richard Llewellyn and children's works by Roald Dahl. Modern writers in Welsh include Kate Roberts.

Authors from other nationalities, particularly from Ireland, or from Commonwealth countries, have lived and worked in the UK. Significant examples through the centuries include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and more recently British authors born abroad such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Sir Salman Rushdie.

In theatre, Shakespeare's contemporaries Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson added depth. More recently Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard and David Edgar have combined elements of surrealism, realism and radicalism.


The prominence of the English language gives the UK media a widespread international dimension.


BBC Television Centre. The BBC is the largest and oldest broadcaster in the world.[249]

There are five major nationwide television channels in the UK: BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Five—currently transmitted by analogue terrestrial, free-to-air signals with the latter three channels funded by commercial advertising. In Wales, S4C the Welsh Fourth Channel replaces Channel 4, carrying Welsh language programmes at peak times. It also transmits Channel 4 programmes at other times.

The BBC is the UK's publicly funded radio, television and internet broadcasting corporation, and is the oldest and largest broadcaster in the world. It operates several television channels and radio stations in both the UK and abroad. The BBC's international television news service, BBC World News, is broadcast throughout the world and the BBC World Service radio network is broadcast in thirty-three languages globally, as well as services in Welsh on BBC Radio Cymru and programmes in Gaelic on BBC Radio nan Gàidheal in Scotland and Irish in Northern Ireland.

The domestic services of the BBC are funded by the television licence. The international targeted BBC World Service Radio is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the international television broadcast services are operated by BBC Worldwide on a commercial subscription basis over cable and satellite services. It is this commercial arm of the BBC that forms half of UKTV along with Virgin Media.

The Channel 4 building.

The UK now has a large number of digital terrestrial channels including a further six from the BBC, five from ITV and three from Channel 4, and one from S4C which is solely in Welsh, among a variety of others.

The vast majority of digital cable television services are provided by Virgin Media with satellite television available from Freesat or British Sky Broadcasting and free-to-air digital terrestrial television by Freeview. The entire UK will switch to digital by 2012.

Radio in the UK is dominated by BBC Radio, which operates ten national networks and over forty local radio stations. The most popular radio station, by number of listeners, is BBC Radio 2, closely followed by BBC Radio 1. There are hundreds of mainly local commercial radio stations across the country offering a variety of music or talk formats.


The Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for the United Kingdom is .uk. The most popular ".uk" website is the British version of Google, followed by online BBC.[250]


Traditionally, British newspapers could be split into quality, serious-minded newspaper (usually referred to as "broadsheets" because of their large size) and the more populist, tabloid varieties. For convenience of reading, many traditional broadsheets have switched to a more compact-sized format, traditionally used by tabloids. The Sun has the highest circulation of any daily newspaper in the UK: 3.1 million, approximately a quarter of the market.[251] Its sister paper, the News of the World has the highest circulation in the Sunday newspaper market, and traditionally focuses on celebrity-led stories.[252] The Daily Telegraph, a centre-right broadsheet paper, is the highest-selling of the "quality" newspapers.[251] The Guardian is a more liberal "quality" broadsheet and the Financial Times is the main business newspaper, printed on distinctive salmon-pink broadsheet paper.

First printed in 1737, The News Letter from Belfast, is the oldest known English-language daily newspaper still in publication today. One of its fellow Northern Irish competitors, The Irish News, has been twice ranked as the best regional newspaper in the United Kingdom, in 2006 and 2007.[253]

Aside from newspapers, British magazines and journals have achieved worldwide circulation including The Economist and Nature.

Scotland has a distinct tradition of newspaper readership (see list of newspapers in Scotland). The tabloid Daily Record has the highest circulation of any daily newspaper outselling The Scottish Sun by four to one while its sister paper, the Sunday Mail similarly leads the Sunday newspaper market. The leading "quality" daily newspaper in Scotland is The Herald, though it is the sister paper of The Scotsman, the Scotland on Sunday, that leads in the Sunday newspaper market.[254]


The Beatles are one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed bands in the history of music, selling over a billion records internationally.[255][256][257]

Various styles of music are popular in the UK, from the indigenous folk music of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, to heavy metal.

Notable composers of classical music from the United Kingdom and the countries that preceded it include William Byrd, Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, Sir Arthur Sullivan (most famous for working with librettist Sir W. S. Gilbert), Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten, pioneer of modern British opera. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is one of the foremost living composers and current Master of the Queen's Music. The UK is also home to world-renowned symphonic orchestras and choruses such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus. Notable conductors include Sir Simon Rattle, John Barbirolli and Sir Malcolm Sargent. Some of the notable film score composers include John Barry, Clint Mansell, Mike Oldfield, John Powell, Craig Armstrong, David Arnold, John Murphy, Monty Norman and Harry Gregson-Williams. George Frideric Handel, although born German, was a naturalised British citizen[258] and some of his best works, such as Messiah, were written in the English language.[259]

Prominent British contributors to have influenced popular music over the last 50 years include The Beatles, Queen, Cliff Richard, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, all of whom have world wide record sales of 200 million or more.[260][261][262][263][264] [265][266] The Beatles have international record sales of more than one billion.[255][256][257] According to research by Guinness World Records, eight of the ten acts with the most UK chart singles are British: Status Quo, Queen, The Rolling Stones, UB40, Depeche Mode, the Bee Gees, the Pet Shop Boys and the Manic Street Preachers.[267]

A number of UK cities are known for their music scenes. Acts from Liverpool have had more UK chart number one hit singles (54) per capita than any other city worldwide.[268] Glasgow's contribution to the music scene was recognised in 2008 when it was named a UNESCO City of Music, one of only three cities in the world to have this honour.[269]


The United Kingdom is famous for the tradition of "British Empiricism", a branch of the philosophy of knowledge that states that only knowledge verified by experience is valid, and "Scottish Philosophy", sometimes referred to as the ‘Scottish School of Common Sense’. The most famous philosophers of British Empiricism are John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume, while Dugald Stewart, Thomas Reid and William Hamilton were major exponents of the Scottish “common sense” school. Britain is also notable for a theory of moral philosophy, Utilitarianism, first used by Jeremy Bentham and later by John Stuart Mill, in his short work Utilitarianism.

Other eminent philosophers from the UK and the states that preceded it include Duns Scotus, John Lilburne, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sir Francis Bacon, Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, William of Ockham, Bertrand Russell and Alfred Jules Ayer. Foreign-born philosophers who settled in the UK include Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx, Karl Popper, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Science, engineering and innovation

The United Kingdom led the industrial revolution and has produced scientists and engineers credited with important advances, including;

Notable civil engineering projects, whose pioneers included Isambard Kingdom Brunel, contributed to the world's first national railway transport system. Other advances pioneered in the UK include the marine chronometer, the jet engine, modern bicycle, electric lighting, steam turbine, electromagnet, stereo sound, motion picture, the screw propeller, the internal combustion engine, military radar, electronic computer, aeronautics, soda water, IVF, nursing, antiseptic surgery, vaccination, antibiotics.

Scientific journals produced in the UK include Nature, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet. In 2006, it was reported that the UK provided 9 percent of the world's scientific research papers and a 12 per cent share of citations, the second highest in the world after the US.[276]

Visual art

The Royal Academy is located in London. Other major schools of art include the Slade School of Fine Art; the six-school University of the Arts London, which includes the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and Chelsea College of Art and Design; the Glasgow School of Art, and Goldsmiths, University of London. This commercial venture is one of Britain's foremost visual arts organisations. Major British artists include Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, William Morris, L. S. Lowry, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Gilbert and George, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, Howard Hodgkin, Antony Gormley, and Anish Kapoor.

During the late 1980s and 1990s, the Saatchi Gallery in London brought to public attention a group of multigenre artists who would become known as the Young British Artists. Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin, Mark Wallinger, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Wood, and the Chapman Brothers are among the better known members of this loosely affiliated movement.


The Statue of Britannia in Plymouth. Britannia is a national personification of the UK.

The flag of the United Kingdom is the Union Flag. It was created by the superimposition of the Flag of England, the Flag of Scotland and Saint Patrick's Flag in 1801. Wales is not represented in the Union Flag as Wales had been conquered and annexed to England prior to the formation of the United Kingdom. However, the possibility of redesigning the Union Flag to include representation of Wales has not been completely ruled out.[277] The national anthem of the United Kingdom is "God Save the King", with "King" replaced with "Queen" in the lyrics whenever the monarch is a woman.

Britannia is a national personification of the United Kingdom, originating from Roman Britain.[278] Britannia is symbolised as a young woman with brown or golden hair, wearing a Corinthian helmet and white robes. She holds Poseidon's three-pronged trident and a shield, bearing the Union Flag. Sometimes she is depicted as riding the back of a lion. At and since the height of the British Empire, Britannia has often associated with maritime dominance, as in the patriotic song Rule, Britannia!. The lion symbol is depicted behind Britannia on the British fifty pence coin and one is shown crowned on the back of the British ten pence coin. It is also used as a symbol on the non-ceremonial flag of the British Army. The bulldog is sometimes used as a symbol of the United Kingdom and has been associated with Winston Churchill's defiance of Nazi Germany.[279]

International rankings

Organization Survey Ranking
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 21 out of 182
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 17 out of 180
World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 13 out of 133

See also


  1. ^ It is sometimes claimed by those from legislative traditions that God Save the Queen is only the de facto anthem because no law was passed making it so. In the British tradition such laws are not necessary. Proclamation and usage are sufficient to make it the official national anthem. God Save the Queen also serves as the Royal anthem for several other countries.
  2. ^ English is established by de facto usage. In Wales, the Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg is legally tasked with ensuring that, "in the conduct of public business and the administration of justice, the English and Welsh languages should be treated on a basis of equality". "Welsh Language Act 1993". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 2007-09-03. . Bòrd na Gàidhlig is tasked with "securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language" "Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 2007-03-09. 
  3. ^ Under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages the Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish, Irish, Ulster Scots and Scots languages are officially recognised as Regional or Minority languages by the UK Government ("European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages". Scottish Executive. Retrieved 2007-08-23. ) See also Languages of the United Kingdom.
  4. ^ The Euro is accepted in many payphones and some larger shops.
  5. ^ British dependencies drive on the left except for BIOT and Gibraltar.
  6. ^ ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 states that this should be GB and .gb was initially used by the Government, but registration has been suppressed in favour of .uk. The .eu domain is shared with other European Union member states.
  7. ^ In the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous (regional) languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, the UK's official name is as follows:
    • Cornish: Rywvaneth Unys Breten Veur ha Kledhbarth Iwerdhon;
    • Irish: Ríocht Aontaithe na Breataine Móire agus Thuaisceart Éireann;
    • Scots: Unitit Kinrick o Great Breetain an Northren Irland;
    • Scottish Gaelic: Rìoghachd Aonaichte Bhreatainn Mhòir agus Èireann a Tuath;
    • Welsh: Teyrnas Unedig Prydain Fawr a Gogledd Iwerddon
  8. ^ In 2007-2008, this was calculated to be £115 per week for single adults with no dependent children; £199 per week for couples with no dependent children; £195 per week for single adults with two dependent children under 14; and £279 per week for couples with two dependent children under 14


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External links

General information

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to United Kingdom article)

From Wikitravel

Europe : Britain and Ireland : United Kingdom
Quick Facts
Capital London
Government Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy
Currency Pound sterling (GBP)
Area total: 244,820 sq km
water: 3,230 sq km
land: 241,590 sq km
Population 60,441,457 (July 2006 est.)
Language English, Welsh (about 26% of the population of Wales), Scots (mostly spoken in the Lowlands of Scotland) Scottish form of Gaelic (about 60,000 in Scotland), some speakers of the Irish form of Gaelic in Northern Ireland
Religion Anglican and Roman Catholic 40 million (66%)- Roman Catholics are about 10% of the population and rising, Muslim 1.5 million (2.5%), Presbyterian 800,000 (1.3%), Methodist 760,000 (1.3%), Sikh 336,000 (0.6%), Hindu 559,000 (0.9%), Jewish 267,000 (0.4%), Buddhist 152,000 (0.25%), no religion 9,104,000 (15%)
Electricity 230V, 50 Hz
Calling Code +44
Internet TLD .uk
Time Zone summer: UTC +1
winter: UTC
Map of the United Kingdom
Map of the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the United Kingdom or the UK) [1] is a constitutional monarchy comprising most of the British Isles, and is one of the world's wealthiest nations.

The Union comprises four constituent nations: 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. It is important to remember that the Republic of Ireland is a completely separate country to the United Kingdom, gaining its independence in 1922. It counts Ireland, France, Belgium and Netherlands as its nearest neighbours. The Isle of Man and the various Channel Islands are "crown dependencies", possessing their own legislative bodies with the assent of the Crown. They are not part of the United Kingdom, nor of the EU, but are not sovereign nations in their own right either.

The 'Great' in Great Britain (Grande-Bretagne in French) is to distinguish it from the other, smaller "Britain": Brittany (Bretagne) in northwestern France.

The UK today is a diverse patchwork of native and immigrant cultures, possessing a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture, both of which remain hugely influential in the wider world. Although Britannia no longer rules the waves, the UK is still a popular destination for many travellers. The capital and largest city of the United Kingdom is London.

Home nations

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a union made up of the "home nations" and territories:

Great Britain
England the largest component, in terms both of size and, by far, population.
Scotland is the second largest home nation and occupies the northern third of Great Britain. The four archipelagos of Orkney, Shetland, and the Inner and Outer Hebrides are also part of Scotland.
Wales located within the largely mountainous western portion of Great Britain.
Northern Ireland occupies the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, occupying six of the nine counties of the ancient Irish province of Ulster, and indeed "Ulster" is still a colloquially used alternative name for Northern Ireland, even if it is not in the strictest sense geographically accurate.

"Great Britain" ("GB", "Britain") refers just to the biggest island, that is, Scotland, England, and Wales together. Great Britain became part of the United Kingdom when the Irish and British parliaments merged in 1801 to form the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". This was changed to "... and Northern Ireland" when all but six Irish counties left the Union in 1921 after a treaty. "Britain" is often used as shorthand for the whole of the United Kingdom, even though this is strictly incorrect.

Don't describe the country as "England". It is incorrect and may offend people from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who will not identify themselves as being from "England".

The flag of the United Kingdom is popularly known as the Union Jack or Union Flag. It comprises the flags of St. George (of England), St. Andrew (of Scotland, also known as the Saltire) and the St. Patrick's Cross (of Ireland) superimposed on each other. Within England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the flags of each nation are commonly used. The St. Patrick's Cross flag is often seen on St. Patrick's Day in Northern Ireland. Since the Republic of Ireland split from the UK though, St. Patrick's Saltire is not used for Northern Ireland, as it represented the whole of the island of Ireland. A flag (known as the "Ulster Banner") was designed for Northern Ireland in the 1920s, which was based on the flag of Ulster (similar in appearance to the St. George's Cross flag of England) and includes a Red Hand of Ulster and a crown. Although the flag's official status ended with the dissolving of the province's devolved government in the early 1970s, it can still be seen in Northern Ireland, particularly among the Protestant community and on sporting occasions. As Wales was politically integrated into the English kingdom hundreds of years ago, its flag was not incorporated into the Union Jack. The flag features a Red Dragon on a green field.

Referring to someone's nationality

If you need to refer to someone's nationality, it is best to use the term 'British' as it is not always obvious which of the most precise terms, 'English', 'Northern Irish', 'Welsh' or 'Scottish' applies. To play safe, you can ask someone from which part of the UK they are from, as this covers every corner of the isles - including Northern Ireland.

In general, though, Northern Ireland and Scotland can be more problematic, and 'Scottish', 'Northern Irish', 'Irish', or 'British' can all be appropriate according to the political persuasion of the individual. Irish nationalists may avoid referring to Northern Ireland at all, referring instead to 'The Six Counties' or 'The North', or talk about 'Ireland' as a whole. 'Northern Irish' is less likely to offend, whereas referring to someone from Northern Ireland as 'British' or as 'Irish' can cause offence depending on a person's political ideology.

As a tourist, you are unlikely to cause serious offence. At worst, you will incur a minor rebuff and reaffirmation of their nationality, as in "I'm not Scottish. I'm English".

The Channel Islands: Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney and Sark.
The Isle of Man.

The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not strictly part of the UK, but rather are 'Crown Dependencies'. This means that they have their own democratic governments, laws and courts and are not part of the EU; but they are not entirely sovereign either, falling under the British Crown which chooses to have its UK Government manage some of the islands' affairs. The people are British Citizens, but unless they have direct ties with the UK, through a parent, or have lived there for at least 5 years, they are not able to take up work or residence elsewhere in the European Union


Many cities and towns in the United Kingdom are of interest to travellers outside the capital city of London. Following is an alphabetical selection of nine - others are listed under their specific regions:

  • Belfast - capital of Northern Ireland and becoming a popular tourist destination, undergoing major renovations and improvements
  • Birmingham - central England's main city, features great shopping, and is home of the famous Balti and 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 as well as being the second most visited city in the UK
  • Glasgow - Scotland's largest city, new cultural hotspot, former European City of Culture
  • Liverpool - Booming city, famous for its prominence in music, sport, nightlife and multiculturalism. Capital of Culture 2008.
  • Manchester - Thriving bohemian music scene, gay quarter and home to the world's only new work arts festival as well as being the third most visited city in the UK.
  • 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.



The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy with the Queen as the nominal head of state, and a democratically elected parliament responsible for government, led by the Prime Minister.

Additionally, Northern Ireland, Scotland. Wales have their own elected bodies, with varying degrees of autonomy mostly concerned with taxation and education (The Northern Ireland Assembly, The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly). England has no similar body of its own.

There are also local government authorities responsible for services at a local level.

Using maps and postcodes

Most basic mapping in the United Kingdom is undertaken by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain [2] and the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland [3]. The maps found in bookshops may be published directly by those organisations, or by private map publishers drawing on basic Ordnance Survey data.

One consequence of this for the traveller is the widespread use of Ordnance Survey grid references in guide books and other information sources. These are usually presented [xx999999] (eg. [SU921206]) and form a quick way of finding any location on a map. If using a GPS be sure to set it to the British National Grid (BNG) and the OSGB datum.

Alternatively, every postal address has a postcode, either a unique one or one shared with its immediate neighbours. British postcodes take the form (XXYY ZZZ), where XX is a 2 or 1 character alphabetic code representing the town, city or geographic area, a 1 or 2 digit number YY representing the area of that town or city, followed by a 3 digit alphanumeric code ZZZ which denotes the road and a specific section or house on that road. Therefore, a postcode will identify a location to within a few tens of metres in urban locations; and adding a house number and street will identify a property uniquely (at road junctions two houses with the same number may share the same postcode). Most internet mapping services enable locations to be found by postcode. Owing to London's huge size and population it has its own distinct variation of the postcode system where the town code XX is replaced by an area code indicating the geographic part of the city - e.g N-North, WC-West Central, EC-East Central, SW-South West; and so on.

The Ordnance Survey's 1:50000 or 1:25000 scale maps are astonishingly detailed and show contour lines, public rights of way, and access land. For pursuits such as walking, they are practically indispensable, and in rural areas show individual farm buildings and (on the larger scale) field boundaries.


The UK has a benign humid-temperate climate moderated by the North Atlantic current and the country's proximity to the sea. Warm, damp summers and mild winters provide temperatures pleasant enough to engage in outdoor activities all year round. Having said that, the weather in the UK can be changeable and conditions are often windy and wet. British rain is world renowned, but in practice it rarely rains more than two or three hours at a time and often parts of the country stay dry for many weeks at a time, especially in the East. More common are overcast or partly cloudy skies. It is an idea to be prepared for a change of weather when going out; a jumper and a raincoat usually suffice when it is not winter.

Because the UK stretches nearly a thousand kilometres from end to end, temperatures can vary quite considerably between north and south. Differences in rainfall are also pronounced between the drier east and wetter west. Scotland and north-western England (particularly the Lake District) are often rainy and cold. Alpine conditions with heavy snowfall are common in the mountains of northern Scotland during the winter. The north-east and Midlands are also cool, though with less rainfall. The south-east and east Anglia is generally warm and dry, and the south-west warm but often wet. Wales and Northern Ireland tend to experience cool to mild temperatures and moderate rainfall, while the hills of Wales occasionally experience heavy snowfall. Even though the highest land in the UK rarely reaches more than 1,300 metres, the effect of height on rainfall and temperature is great.

Bank (public) holidays

Each country within the UK has a number of bank holidays, on which the majority of people do not work. Shops, pubs, restaurants and similar are usually open. Many UK residents will take advantage of the time off to travel, both within the UK and abroad. This makes transport links busier than usual and tends to increase prices. If your travel dates are flexible you may wish to avoid travelling to or from the UK on bank holiday weekends.

The following 8 bank holidays apply in all parts of the UK:

  • New Year's Day (1st January)
  • Good Friday (the Friday immediately before Easter Sunday)
  • Easter Monday (the Monday immediately after Easter Sunday)
  • Early May Bank Holiday (the first Monday in May)
  • Spring Bank Holiday (the last Monday in May)
  • Summer Bank Holiday (the last Monday in August, except in Scotland where it is the first Monday in August)
  • Christmas Day (25th December)
  • Boxing Day (26th December)

Northern Ireland has the following two additional bank holidays:

  • St Patrick's Day (17th March)
  • Battle of the Boyne / Orangemen's Day (12th July)

Scotland officially has two additional bank holidays:

  • the day after New Year's Day (2nd January)
  • St Andrew's Day (30th November)

In practice, with the exception of Easter, Christmas and New Year holidays, UK bank holidays are virtually ignored in Scotland in favour of local holidays which vary from place to place.

Where a bank holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, it is moved to the following Monday. If both Christmas Day and Boxing Day fall on a weekend, the Boxing Day holiday is moved to the following Tuesday.

A full list of bank holidays for future years can be viewed at [4].

Major airports and ferry routes
Major airports and ferry routes

The United Kingdom is physically linked to two other countries. The Channel Tunnel connects the UK to France, and Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland. While the UK is a member of the European Union, it has not ratified the Schengen agreement, which means that travel between other EU countries and the UK is considered to be international travel, and requires a passport.

  • Citizens of other member states of the European Union for the most part do not require a visa, and have permanent residency and working rights in the UK. Citizens of Ireland have additional rights allowing them to vote in elections. However, citizens of Bulgaria and Romania do have restrictions on their employment.
  • Citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland also have permanent residency rights, but may require a work permit in some circumstances.
  • Citizens of American Samoa, Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Bonaire, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Curaçao, Dominica, East Timor, El Salvador, Federated States of Micronesia, French Guiana, Greenland, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guam, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Kiribati, Lesotho, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Martinique, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niue, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Reunion, Saba, South Korea, St Eustatius, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Maarten, St Vincent & The Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Swaziland, Tahiti and her Islands, Taiwan, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks and Caicos, Tuvalu, Uruguay, United States, US Virgin Islands, Vanuatu, Vatican City and Venezuela (holders of biometric passports only) do not require a visa for visits of up to 3 or 6 months in a one-year period, though require entry clearance for purposes other than visiting as a tourist or business visitor. However, the entry clearance normally prohibits one from undertaking employment or accessing public funds, such as the NHS, and it is nonextendable past the maximum permitted stay.
  • Recently added as a visa exemption is a student visitor category, where a person may receive an entry clearance for the purposes of undertaking a short course of study of no more than six months, but only on the condition that the student not be seeking gainful employment or the possibility of extending their stay beyond six months. Persons not eligible to apply for entry clearance upon arrival can apply for a student visitor clearance at a British Embassy, High Commission, or Consulate, but the same restrictions apply.
  • Most other countries and purposes will require a visa, which can be obtained from the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. All UK visa applicants are required to provide biometric data (10-digit fingerprints and a biometric digital photograph) as part of the application process. You will have to go to your nearest visa application centre in person to provide your biometrics.
  • All non-EU visitors should expect to be asked by the Immigration Officer upon arrival to demonstrate that they have a) a return ticket to leave the United Kingdom or sufficient funds to meet the cost of an onwards plane ticket, b) a valid address at which they will be staying in the United Kingdom and c) sufficient funds with which to support themselves during their stay. An inability to demonstrate these three basics may lead to a refusal of leave to enter or a grant of restricted leave.
  • The United Kingdom has converted the previous visa categories (except for student visitor, business, tourist, transit, and a few others) into a points-based tier system, meaning that you will be required to satisfy specific and non-negotiable criteria before the visa is issued.
  • Commonwealth citizens who are 17 or over and have a British grandparent can apply for an Ancestry visa. This allows residency and work for five years. After this, permanent residence may be applied for.
  • The UK also operates Youth Mobility Visas' for citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Japan. This allows residency in the UK for up to 2 years, with limited working rights. Some visas restrict working to only a portion of the visa duration. Only a limited number of visas are issued for each country -- in particular, demand far exceeds supply for Japan. The former Working Holiday visa has been discontinued.
  • Regardless of citizenship, passports are not required to enter the UK from the Republic of Ireland.
  • EU citizens may use a valid national ID card from an EEA country to enter the UK. Passports are required from all other countries.

For more information of UK Immigration and visa requirements, see the British Home Office website [5].

Common Travel Area

If you enter the United Kingdom through Ireland, you will pass through passport control at your port of entry into Ireland, but you probably not be required to clear UK passport control. However, you will only be limited to a stay of three months in the UK and Ireland (or whatever the passport control officer in Ireland gives you an entry clearance for) if you qualify for a visa exemption, not the usual six-month stay for visa-exempt nationals. Hence, especially if you attempt to enter as a Student Visitor, you should not transit through Ireland unless you possess a valid visa permitting a stay of more than three months or intend to stay for fewer than three months.

If you are a visa national for Ireland or the UK, however, you must possess a visa from each country that requires you to have one if you intend to visit both of them, even if it is merely in transit. Not passing through passport control does not exempt one from having a visa if needed, and you can be deported for not having one.

Customs and goods

The UK has relatively strict laws controlling which goods can and cannot be brought into the country. Particularly stringent laws apply to the movement of animals. The British Isles are rabies-free, and the government (and the people) want to keep it that way. Signs in several languages are displayed prominently at even the smallest of boat landings all around the coast. Owing to the relaxation of some duty laws on alcohol and tobacco when travelling across EU borders, it has become popular among the British to bring back large quantities of such goods bought tax-free in Continental Europe in recent years. However, the practice has become open to abuse, with many trying to illegally import large amounts for the purposes of selling on at a profit. Customs laws are therefore strict for the bringing of alcohol and tobacco and if a Customs officer thinks that the amount you are trying to bring into the country from the EU is excessive, you may be questioned further, or be asked to prove that it is for your own consumption. The fines can be severe, and you also run the risk of the goods (and the vehicle they are being transported in) being confiscated.

By plane

When flying to the UK you are most likely to arrive at one of London's five airports, although there are direct international flights to many other cities. KLM has a large number of feeder flights from almost every UK regional airport to its international hub in Amsterdam.

Recently, many airports in southern England have added "London" to their names. Be aware that just because an airport has London in its name doesn't necessarily mean that it is near to, or easily accessible from, London.

  • London Heathrow Airport [6] is one of the world's busiest international airports. Situated 15 miles west of Central London, Heathrow offers a large choice of international destinations, with direct flights to most countries in the world. British Airways [7] has its hub at Heathrow and offers a wide range of international flights to Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Australia. There are fewer direct flights to South America, although many South American airlines connect to London via Spain. Other large airlines operating at Heathrow include bmi [8] (formerly British Midland), Virgin Atlantic [9] and the main national airlines of most countries.
  • London Gatwick Airport [10], 30 miles south of London in Sussex, is the second-largest airport, and also offers a wide range of international flights.
  • London Stansted Airport [11] in Essex is a hub for the budget airlines Ryanair [12] and easyJet [13] who offer direct flights to a wide range of European destinations as well as to Asia, with daily flights to Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia X.
  • London Luton Airport [14] in Bedfordshire is also a major hub for the Ryanair [15] and easyJet [16]
  • London City Airport [17] is the most central airport in London, situated 7 miles east of Central London, but primarily serves business passengers to the main financial centres in Europe.
  • Manchester International Airport [18] in the North of England is the UK's third-largest airport serving many European and a reasonable number of long-haul destinations. This could be a more convenient arrival airport for visitors to North Wales, the North of England and Scotland.

Outside London and Manchester, many of the regional airports offer a wide range of direct links to European and some long-haul destinations.

  • Liverpool John Lennon Airport [19], in North West England, is the UK's fastest-growing airport and is taking on more and more flights.
  • Leeds Bradford [20] is a hub for Jet2 [21] and Ryanair.
  • Birmingham International [22]

Other smaller regional airports include Bournemouth, Bristol, East Midlands, Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton and Teesside/Durham Tees Valley.

In Scotland the major airports with links to London and abroad are:

  • Glasgow has two airports: Glasgow International [23] (for most major airlines) and Glasgow Prestwick [24] (for RyanAir and some low-cost flights)
  • Edinburgh
  • Aberdeen
  • Inverness

Cardiff International [25] is the only international airport in Wales; it is a major hub of bmibaby[26]

In Northern Ireland, Belfast International Airport [27] and Belfast City Airport [28] both serve the province's capital. City of Derry Airport [29] serves the northwest with a limited number of international and domestic flights.

Due to an increase in airport security and aviation security in general, long delays are possible when checking in for a flight. Additionally a passport or valid photo ID (such as photo driver's licence, national ID card, etc.) is required for internal flights.

By train

From Belgium and France

Eurostar [30] high-speed trains run between London (St Pancras International), Ebbsfleet and Ashford through the Channel Tunnel to Paris (Gare du Nord), Lille and Brussels. During the summer an additional weekly train operates to Avignon and during the winter a weekly service runs a ski service direct to the French Alps. Through tickets and connections are available in Lille, Paris and Brussels from many European cities to most large UK cities.

Journey times average two hours fifteen minutes to and from Paris, and one hour fifty minutes to Brussels. A second class return from Paris to London costs between €85 and €230. While it can be cheaper to fly from London to Paris using a low-cost airline, bear in mind that the journeys to the airports can be expensive and time-consuming.

From The Netherlands

Multiple daily connections from Dutch cities are possible via Brussels and the Eurostar to London. It can be cheaper (and more flexible) to book an 'Any Dutch station' Eurostar ticket that permits connection to/from any Dutch station provided the itinerary doesn't use the more expensive Thalys services.

Combined train and ferry tickets are available to travellers from stations in the Netherlands to train stations in East Anglia, Essex and East London. This service may be a useful alternative to Eurostar for travellers from Northern Europe, or for those wishing to travel to East Anglia. The interchange between the ferry terminal and the train station at both ports is very simple and user friendly. Express trains from Harwich International are timed to meet the ferry and allow a simple transfer to London Liverpool Street. The Dutch Flyer website [31] gives prices only for tickets purchased in Great Britain; it does, however, give timetable information. Stena's Dutch language website [32] allows booking of tickets for journeys starting from the Netherlands.

From the Republic of Ireland

Cross-border rail services to Northern Ireland

From Dublin in Ireland, the Enterprise [33] takes just over 2 hours to Belfast. Tickets available from Irish Rail [34] (in the Republic) and NI Railways [35] in the North.

Services to the British mainland

Combined Rail & Sail[36] tickets are available from any railway station in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland to any railway station in Great Britain. Tickets can be bought from the railway company and ferry operators. Through tickets are available on most sea corridors.

Fares are slightly higher during July and August. Virgin Trains [37] may be offering advance-purchase tickets from London to Dublin from £32 return, although these are hard to obtain and possible only for journeys starting in Great Britain.

By car

The Channel Tunnel has provided a rail/road connection since 1994. Shuttle trains carry cars from Calais, France to Folkestone, the journey taking around 40 minutes. Fares start at £49 one way and can be booked on the Eurotunnel website [38]. On arrival at Folkestone, you can drive on to the M20 motorway which heads towards London. Car ferries also operate to many parts of the UK, see 'by boat' section. Drivers entering Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland will usually find they have done so without noticing. There are no border controls, and only the major roads will display signs stating that you are leaving one country and entering the other. It should be noted that road signs in the Republic of Ireland are in kilometres while those in Northern Ireland are in miles so it is advisable to take note of the differences in signs and road markings when driving in border areas.

By bus

Coaches are the cheapest way to travel to the UK from France and the Benelux. Eurolines offer daily services from Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels to London Victoria coach station. Daily overnight coaches and limited day coaches travel between the UK and Ireland. Connections are available to most parts of the UK via the domestic National Express coach system, for most destinations it is cheaper to purchase this when purchasing your Eurolines tickets as discounts are available. Journeys take about 8-14 hours.

Eurolines will also take you to/from other major European cities. Taking a budget flight is normally cheaper (but with a greater environmental impact), and spares you from a 24h+ bus journey.

Various other operators compete with Eurolines, mostly between Poland and the UK; these come and go.

By boat

See the city articles for more details on routes, timings and costs. Ferry routes to British Mainland

There are a large number of ferry routes into the UK from continental Europe. Newcastle serves a route from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Harwich has ferries from Esbjerg in Denmark and Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands. You can also sail from Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Zeebrugge in Belgium to Hull, or from Zeebrugge to Rosyth, near Edinburgh (note that this service will resume in April or May 2009, as Norfolk Line [39] take over the route from Superfast Ferries, whose service ended in September 2008). There is a regular connection between Ramsgate and Oostende in Belgium. There are 4 sailings a day and prices vary between €50 to €84.

Dover is one of Britain's most popular passenger ports with sailings from Zeebrugge, Dunkerque and Calais in France. The Dover-Calais route is particularly busy, with three companies competing and up to 50 sailings per day. The Ferry between Dover and Calais costs around £12-18 each way if on foot or bicycle, and around £80 for a car, although big discounts are available if booked in advance or with special offers.

On the south coast, Portsmouth serves ferries from Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, St. Malo and Bilbao in Spain and there are speedy services between Dieppe and Newhaven. The other route from Spain is Santander to Plymouth, Plymouth also has ferries from Roscoff, Poole has ferries to Cherbourg as well as the Channel Islands.

From the Republic of Ireland, ports of entry include Pembroke, Fishguard and Holyhead and Swansea (service suspended until March 2010). There are sailings from Dublin to Holyhead, and Liverpool.

Get around

An extensive national public transport journey planner for the UK is available on the Traveline website [40].

Transport Direct also operate a website for all modes of transport, including planes, cars, and allows comparisons to be made with public transport options [41]

By plane

Given the short distances involved, flying is rarely the cheapest or most convenient option for domestic travel within the UK with the possible exception of between southern England and Scotland. The main domestic hubs are London, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The arrival of budget airlines Ryanair [42] and easyJet [43] have seen a boom in domestic UK air travel, and have forced fares down considerably. To get the best fare, it is advisable to book as far in advance as possible. It is worth noting that many regional airports are not connected to the national rail network, with connections to the nearest cities served by relatively expensive buses. Photo ID is required before boarding domestic flights in the UK. Check your airline's requirements carefully before setting out.

'Screen-scraper' comparison websites can be a useful way to compare flight costs between airports or even city pairs (suggesting alternative airports, for instance). Beware that some airlines, such as Ryanair, object to being included in these searches, so these sites are not always comprehensive.

The following carriers offer domestic flights within the United Kingdom:

  • British Airways [44]: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Jersey, London Gatwick, Heathrow and City Airports, Manchester, Newcastle.
  • FlyBE [45] - Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Doncaster-Sheffield, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Guernsey, Inverness, Isle Of Man, Jersey, Leeds/Bradford, Liverpool, London Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay, Norwich, Southampton and Southend airports
  • Loganair [46] operating as a franchise carrier for FlyBe - Eday, Kirkwall, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Sanday, Stronsay, Westray airports.
  • bmi [47] & bmi Regional [48] - Aberdeen, Belfast City, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Jersey, London Heathrow , Manchester, Norwich, Southampton airports.
  • Eastern Airways [49] - Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Durham, Humberside, Inverness, Isle Of Man , Leeds/Bradford, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham East Midlands, Southampton, Stornoway, Wick airports.
  • easyJet [50] - Aberdeen, Belfast International,Bournemouth, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Liverpool, London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, Newcastle airports.
  • bmibaby [51] - Aberdeen, Belfast International, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Jersey, Manchester, Newquay, Nottingham East Midlands airports.
  • Ryanair [52] - Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Glasgow-Prestwick, Inverness, Liverpool, London Stansted, City of Derry, Newquay, Nottingham East Midlands airports.
  • Air Southwest [53] - Bristol, Cardiff, Jersey, Leeds/Bradford, London City and Gatwick, Manchester, Newquay, Plymouth airports.
  • Aurigny Air Services [54] - Alderney, Bristol, Guernsey, Jersey, London Gatwick, London Stansted, Manchester, Southampton airports.
  • Blue Islands [55] - Alderney, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cardiff, Guernsey, Isle Of Man, Jersey, Southampton airports.
  • Euromanx [56] - Belfast City, Isle Of Man, Liverpool, London City, Manchester airports.
  • Isles Of Scilly Skybus [57] - Bristol, Exeter, Isles Of Scilly (St. Mary's), Newquay, Southampton airports.
  • Jet2 [58] - Belfast International, Blackpool, Leeds/Bradford, London Gatwick, Newcastle airports.
  • Thomsonfly [59] - Bournemouth, Cardiff, Coventry, Doncaster-Sheffield, Jersey, London Luton airports.
  • VLM Airlines [60] (now operating for KLM) - Isle Of Man, Jersey, Liverpool, London City, Manchester airports.
  • Highland Airways [61] - Anglesey, Benbecula, Cardiff, Inverness, Shetland Islands (Sumburgh), Stornoway airports.
  • British International [62] - Isles Of Scilly (St. Mary's), Isles Of Scilly (Tresco), Penzance airports.
  • Atlantic Airways Faroe Islands [63] - Stansted and Shetland Islands (Sumburgh) airports.
Simplified UK Rail Network
Simplified UK Rail Network

See also Rail travel in the UK

The UK has an extensive privatised train network of some 34,000km (21,000 miles) covering most of the country, from Penzance in Cornwall to Thurso in the far north of Scotland. There is a multitude of different tickets, which can make train travel confusing, even for UK citizens.

Train services are not as fast as the high speed lines of France or Germany. However the UK has one of the busiest commuter and freight networks in the world with a relatively high standard of service on both main and secondary routes. Train services can range from excellent to very poor, and the trains themselves can range from older and more comfortable locomotive-hauled coaches to less spacious and less comfortable multiple units. Train travel is a viable option for exploring the UK and is usually quicker and cheaper than bringing a car into the country or renting one.

Privatisation has resulted in a huge range of quality and price of rail services. While some connections and companies have poor standards of speed, reliability and cleanliness, others offer excellent service and value for money. However tickets can be bought from any station for travel to and from anywhere on the network and it is perfectly normal to get a connection changing from one company to another.


The track, stations and infrastructure of Britain's railway network (with the exception of preserved railways) is owned by the government and known as Network Rail. Trains are operated by privately owned and commercially run Train operating companies (TOCs). The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) represents all the passenger train companies, and markets them collectively as National Rail.

Passenger rail companies

As of January 2009, the National Rail [64] network of passenger operating companies consists of:

  • Arriva Trains Wales / Trenau Arriva Cymru [65]
  • c2c [66]
  • Chiltern Railways [67]
  • CrossCountry [68]
  • East Midlands Trains [69]
  • Eurostar [70]
  • First Capital Connect [71]
  • First Great Western [72]
  • First ScotRail [73]
  • First Transpennine Express [74]
  • Gatwick Express [75]
  • Grand Central [76]
  • Heathrow Connect [77]
  • Heathrow Express [78]
  • Hull Trains [79]
  • Island Line [80]
  • London Midland [81]
  • London Overground [82]
  • London Underground [83]
  • Merseyrail [84]
  • National Express East Anglia [85]
  • National Express East Coast [86]
  • Northern Rail [87]
  • South West Trains [88]
  • Southeastern [89]
  • Southern [90]
  • Stansted Express [91]
  • Virgin Trains [92]
  • Wrexham & Shropshire [93]

One exception of note to the above is in Northern Ireland. The slightly different administrative system and legacy of the Northern Irish transport system means that Northern Ireland Railways [94] are not part of the National Rail network. See Rail travel in Ireland for more information.

Planning your trip

The first source for rail travel information in the UK is National Rail [95]. The National Rail website, and the National Rail Enquiries phone service on +44 (0)8457 48 49 50 provide train time and fare information. However National Rail do not sell tickets. Tickets are sold by train operating companies, either from ticket offices and ticket machines at railway stations, over the phone or from one of several websites.

  • National Express [96] have one of the more user-friendly websites. It is particularly useful because of the way in which it allows you to compare the cost of two one-way tickets versus a return ticket. A lowest fare finder also quickly shows you the cheapest combination of trains. It makes no charge for credit / debit card payments nor ticket collection / delivery.
  • [97] is one of the largest train ticketing websites, but its interface is not as easy to use as others. also provides the ticketing software to the websites of many of the train operating companies listed above. It charges both a credit / debit card handling fee and a fee to collect your tickets from a station or to have them posted to you.
  • RailEasy [98] is another train booking service. It charges credit / debit card handling fees.


In general you can save money on train travel by booking in advance (tickets normally go on sale three months in advance) and by avoiding travel during peak times (6-9.30am, 4-7pm Monday to Friday) as trains are busier and more expensive. You are required to buy a ticket prior to boarding a train, unless the your station has no ticket facilities (not uncommon in rural areas) in which case you must buy a ticket on the train at the first opportunity, else you are liable to pay a 'penalty fare' and may be prosecuted for fare evasion.

National Rail offers three broad kinds of ticket, which allow you to choose between flexibility and value. In increasing order of cost per mile, tickets are classed as:

  • Advance - Buy in advance, travel on specific trains
  • Off-Peak - Buy any time, travel 'off-peak' (outside busy times, normally after 10am and all day at the weekends)
  • Anytime - Buy any time, travel any time

Advance tickets are only sold as single (one-way) tickets. With the exception of suburban and commuter trains, the cheapest fares are almost always Advance tickets. These are released for sale in limited numbers approximately 12 weeks in advance, and must be used on the train specified on the reservation. They are not valid on any other train.

When purchasing a less restricted but more expensive off-peak or anytime ticket, note that return fares are normally only a small amount more than a single (one-way).

Seat reservations are normally free (with the exception, from spring 2009, of trains operated by National Express East Coast and National Express East Anglia, who charge £2.50 per reservation) and are available on most longer distance journeys and strongly recommended where available. If you are travelling on a train with reserved seating with a reservation yourself, check the paper tag or digital display above the seat before sitting down, or you may be required to vacate it.


Discounts on these tickets are available for:

  • Children - up to the age of 15
  • Small Groups – of between 3 and 9 people
  • Large Groups – 10 or more people
  • Railcards – discount cards valid for one year
  • Regional Railcards – offering discounts within a specific region

See Rail travel in the UK for full details.

Rail passes

There are two principal types of rail pass available to visitors to the UK which permit inclusive rail travel throughout the UK. Supplements are normally payable for Eurostar and sleeper trains.

  • InterRail and Eurail are passes for EU and non-EU citizens respectively. See Interrail#Passes for more information.
  • Britrail [99] is primarily targeted at visitors from the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and must be purchased online or in your home nation before you depart for the UK

Ranger & Rover tickets

Ranger and Rover tickets are tickets that permit unlimited travel with relatively few restrictions over a defined geographical area for a period of anything from one to fourteen days. A full list of tickets is available with their terms and conditions from National Rail [100]. These tickets include Rovers for almost every region of the UK, but notable tickets include:

  • All Line Rover: 7 or 14 Days - These national Rovers allow one or two weeks travel on almost all scheduled rail services in the UK. As of January 2009, they cost £375 / £565 respectively for standard class, and £565 / £860 for first class, with concessions for children and railcard holders.
  • Freedom of Scotland Travelpass: 4 days in 8 or 8 days in 15 - £105 and £140 respectively, with concessions for children and railcard holders.

Lines & routes

This list is not comprehensive, mentioning only Britain's main line railways.


With the exception of certain regional, local and some suburban routes, trains feature two classes of accommodation:

  • Standard class accommodation with two seats either side of the aisle with a variety of facing 'table' or more private 'airline' seats.
  • First class accommodation, with two seats and one seat either side of the aisle, with a larger seat, more legroom, and an at-seat service of drinks, refreshments and a newspaper (not all at seat services available at the weekend, or for the entirety of the journey).

Longer distance journeys feature some or all of the following:

  • Free seat reservations, indicated by a paper tag or electronic display above each seat
  • A walk-up buffet or shop, or a trolley service of drinks and refreshments moving through the train
  • Air conditioning throughout
  • At least one carriage with a fully disabled-accessible toilet and baby changing facilities
  • On some services, a complimentary or paid wireless internet service

There are also five scheduled overnight sleeper trains that operate every night of the week except Saturday:

Reservations are mandatory on sleeper trains, and supplements are payable on top of most ticket prices to reserve a berth. Special advance purchase tickets known as Bargain Berths are available on the Scottish sleepers, starting at £19. They are only available from [101]. All sleeper trains offer:

  • Reclining seated accommodation (comparable to daytime first class)
  • Standard Class (a cabin with two berths; solo travellers will share with someone of the same sex)
  • First Class (a identical cabin but with a single berth and more generous breakfast, toiletry pack and access to departure and arrival lounges at larger stations)

Steam trains and preserved railways

These are enjoyed for their own sake at least as much as they are used as a means of transport. [102]

By car

All of the UK drives on the left - the opposite side from mainland Europe and the USA, but the same as Australia,India, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa and a number of other countries. In one well-publicised incident, Hollywood actor Matthew Broderick was involved in an 1987 accident in Northern Ireland in which he ploughed head-on into another car because he was on the wrong side of the road. Visitors from the United States and Canada should bear in mind that as in the rest of Europe most cars in the UK are manual (i.e. "stick-shift") transmission, and that car rental companies will allocate you a manual transmission car by default unless you specifically ask for an automatic when you make a reservation. You will usually have to pay a few extra pounds for an auto but not having to worry about gears whilst learning to drive on the "wrong side of the road" is well worth paying extra for!

A car will get you pretty much anywhere in the UK. Parking is a problem in large cities, and especially in London, can be very expensive. Petrol (gasoline) is heavily taxed and therefore expensive, currently at around £1.07 per litre (around €1.20 per litre, US$5.50 per US gallon). The cheapest fuel is usually available at supermarkets. Branches of Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Asda tend to have fuel stations in their car parks, which are often cheaper than the big name fuel stations like Esso/Exxon, Shell and BP.

There are very few tolls (mainly on some large bridges/tunnels, such as the Severn Bridges) but a levy (congestion charge) of £8 (€8.68, US$10.95) is payable for driving in central London.

Traffic can be very heavy, especially during 'rush hour', when commuters are on their way to and from work - typically 7-10AM and 4-7PM. School holidays can make a noticeable difference, however, particularly in the morning rush hour.

The M25 London orbital motorway is particularly notorious (known to most Londoners as London's car park because all the traffic comes to a standstill) - it is best avoided on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, use it only if you need to, and take local advice if you plan to drive to Heathrow to catch a plane. The M6 through Birmingham is another traffic blackspot. You can typically bet on finding a traffic jam if you drive for more than 90 minutes on the motorway system. Checking local traffic reports on the radio or websites such as Highways Agency [103] or Frixo [104] can help if you know you need to travel during busy hours.

Many cities operate a "Park and Ride" scheme, with car parks on the edge of the city and cheap buses into the city centre, and you should consider using them. In major cities (particularly London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Birmingham) it is usually a much better option to park on the outskirts and take public transport to the centre. This not only saves money on parking and fuel but also saves a lot of time as heavy traffic, twisty one way systems, and limited parking space causes long delays.

Parking on-street is usually heavily restricted. Never park on a white, double yellow or double red line (stopping on white or red lines is illegal. Parking on a single-yellow line is restricted (typically no-parking during the daytime e.g. 7am-7pm) and the restrictions are displayed on roadside yellow signs. Many residential streets require a resident's parking permit to park on the street, although outer-suburbs have less restrictions. On-street parking in cities may be restricted to disability-badge holders or be heavily metered, and is often for no more than a 1-2 hours stay in the daytime but is often free at night. Surface lots generally operate the pay 'n' display payment system - you must buy a ticket from a vending machine, select how many hours you wish to pay and then place the ticket on your dashboard in clear view - these places are regularly patrolled and if you don't return to your car before the allotted time you'll get a penalty or get clamped. Often you'll need to enter your car's license plate number when buying the ticket to prevent people from 'selling on' tickets with leftover time. Parking garages (known as 'multi-storeys' in British English) are usually multi-level buildings or in larger cities may be located underground. Most have barrier-controls - you'll be issued with a ticket upon entry. When returning to your vehicle you must either pay at a 'pay station' (a self-service terminal inside the car park's lobby) in which you insert the ticket and pay the required amount - the ticket will be given back to you and you must insert it into the slot at the exit barrier; or alternatively you will pay a cashier at the exit barrier - it'll normally explain the payment process on the ticket. Parking charges vary from less than 50p per hour in small towns to over 4GBP an hour in the largest cities. Many larger cities have digital displays on the approach roads indicating how many parking spaces are available in each car park.

In any town, expect regular bus services between the centre, suburbs and nearby villages, and less frequent services to more rural areas. London also has the largest mass-transit system in the world - the London Underground. Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool have tram (streetcar) services throughout the city. Glasgow and Newcastle also have underground rail systems; both are relatively small compared to the Tube, but do criss-cross the city-centre, and bus services from the outlying areas are frequent and reliable (though often slow due to traffic).

The UK has a comprehensive system of road numbers. These generally take precedence on signs: British roads are signed on a route-based rather than destination oriented basis. Therefore, before setting out on a long journey, plan the route you are going to take and note the road numbers you will need to follow. It is very unusual to see destinations, even large cities, signed more than about 50 miles in advance. Other than that, UK road signs are excellent and should be very easy to follow. Road numbers are indicated by a letter and a number as in Europe; however, the sign colours and letters are different. Routes prefixed 'M' on a blue sign are motorways - this means 70mph speed limits, restrictions on vehicle types, no pedestrians/cyclists etc. Trunk roads are prefixed 'A' and use green signs - these can have anything from 2 to 6 lanes and have varying speed limits, and usually connect towns to motorways. Many A-roads have been upgraded to motorways and are suffixed with an 'M' e.g. "A47(M)". Roads prefixed with a 'B' with white signs are the larger of the back-roads. Unclassified roads typically link smaller villages together.

Speed limits for cars are 70mph (112 km/h) on motorways and dual carriageways (i.e. roads with a median strip); 60mph (96 km/h) on single carriageway roads unless otherwise signposted; and 30mph (48 km/h) in built-up unless signs show otherwise. The use of 20mph (32 km/h) zones has become increasingly common to improve safety in areas such as those around schools.

Enforcement cameras are widespread on all types of road, though more used in some areas than others (North Yorkshire, for example, has a policy of using only mobile speed cameras operated by police). Static cameras are often well signed, painted bright colours with clear markings on the road. While this might seem rather strange, the idea is to improve their public acceptance as a 'safety' measure (rather than the widely held opinion that they're there to collect money).

There are some variable mandatory speed limits on the M25 to the west of London (enforced by cameras, again), and the M42 near Birmingham - these are shown on overhead gantries inside a red circle; other temporary speed limits shown on matrix boards are recommended but not mandatory. Apart from these and around roadworks, the motorways are generally free of fixed speed cameras. Speeds on motorways are generally much higher than the stated speed limit (usually at least 80mph), and visitors are advised to be aware of this and stick to the inside lane. Driving at slower speeds in the outside (overtaking lane) may cause frustration to other drivers.

Despite the fact that the Traffic Police have now largely been replaced by speed cameras, driving standards still remain relatively well-maintained in the UK, with the road system being (statistically) among the safest in Europe. It has long been known by visitors (and an increasing number of British) that a foreign licence plate makes you largely immune from speed cameras, congestion charge cameras and Traffic (Parking) Wardens, but do not abuse this. You may just hit upon the one Camera Operator/Warden who can be bothered to take the trouble to track down your address from your home licensing authority. Note that the British authorities have access to vehicle registration databases from various other countries. Also, British hire car companies will charge speeding fines to your credit card, long after you have left the country. Police in some areas have begun to occasionally stop foreign-registered cars at random to simply confirm that the owners are not in fact British drivers evading UK road tax / insurance / annual vehicle inspections etc. Although it is quite rare to see a Traffic Police car nowadays, some do still prowl the motorways in un-marked cars. Any police officers, regardless of their normal duties, will pursue a vehicle seen driving dangerously.

Don't drink and drive in the UK. The maximum limit is 80mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.08%) The police often patrol roads in cities and town centres on Friday and Saturday night, on the lookout for drink drivers. Police must have reason to suspect you have been drinking - they cannot randomly issue breath tests. However, the law is such that police may stop you for committing any moving traffic offence, for example, not having your seat-belt on or even failing to indicate at a junction. These minor traffic offences will give authority to police to conduct a breath test. The police may also stop you if they suspect the person to have been drinking alcohol or if you have been involved in a motor vehicle collision (Road Traffic Collision). Enforcement of drink driving laws are extremely strict and police will always take strict action on those failing a breath test or those refusing to do so. Do not abuse this as penalties are severe. Fines are up to £5000, minimum driving ban is 12 months for a first offence, and you may be imprisoned for up to 6 months. Note that a refusal to provide a breath test will result in penalties almost as severe as those for drink driving itself. Failing a breath test or refusing to give a sample of breath when requested by police will result in your immediate arrest and transport to a police custody suite where a police doctor will draw a sample of blood. A separate charge of failing to provide a specimen of breath will be added to your criminal charges. A conviction will triple your car insurance, the endorsement will stay on your licence for 11 years, and can make it difficult to find employment.

Drivers from abroad should take note that many British drivers regard the flashing of headlights as a signal that they can proceed, rather than as a warning, or as a signal to slow down due to the presence of police. This misunderstanding has led to a number of accidents. In a dangerous situation, where there is a risk of death or injury, sound your horn, even during the night. The inappropriate use of the horn is illegal between 23:00 and 07:30.

It is also an offence to use your mobile phone whilst driving, although provision is made for the use of hands-free kits which are exempt from the law. Police will stop you for using your mobile phone and a £60 penalty will be issued on the spot. This fine will be accompanied with 3 points endorsed on your license. Also, it is a legal requirement that all persons in a vehicle to be wearing their seat-belt. Persons not wearing a seat-belt may receive a £30 fine, although this does not come with any points. If a child is not wearing a seat-belt, the parent or guardian, normally the driver, is responsible and a fine will be issued for that offence also. Children under 1.4 metres are also legally required to use a child booster seat for safety reasons. Use of fog lights where there is no fog is also an offence for which you may receive a £30 fine.

Note the following differences to the road rules from other countries: side roads never have priority, there is no requirement to stop for school buses, overtaking on the left is illegal, and you may not turn left over a red light. There are no 4 way stop junctions in the UK; priority should be clearly marked on the road. Once on any roundabout (circular), you have priority over traffic that has not entered it. Be careful of two lane roundabouts, which appear to be a uniquely British phenomenon; there are complicated rules for which lane you should be in which UK drivers learn and expect other drivers to follow. You should be fine provided you're cautious and keep an eye on other traffic.

For further information on driving in the UK, buy a copy of "The Highway Code"; this is the government-published book that is used to teach drivers the rules of the road when they are learning.

By bus and coach

Local bus services are of variable quality and cost. Rural bus services are in general better than in France and the USA, but not so good as in Italy or Germany. It is useful to note that many cities and large towns have day cards for their bus networks that can work out as good value. Locals and staff will be willing to help you if you are confused by timetables.

Coach travel tends to be slower than train travel, as well as less frequent, although it is comfortable and often much cheaper. Coaches, like trains will also generally take you right to the centre of town.

The largest coach companies in the UK are:

  • National Express [105] is the largest long distance bus service in the UK, and services all major destinations on the mainland; they sell tickets online and at coach terminals. Prices start at just £1 one way for promotional 'funfares' between major city-pairs, although remain quite expensive on less competitive routes such as those serving airports.
  • Megabus [106] is a relatively new service between a limited number of major destinations at cut-throat prices, as low as £1 +50p booking charge for some routes if booked well in advance. Understandably, it is very popular with students. To get the cheapest fares you should book a week or two ahead. However fares are often still good value when booked with less time (sometimes £8 London-Manchester booked only two days in advance). Tickets must be bought online or using the booking line (0900 160 0900, at 60 pence per minute) and cannot be bought from the driver.
  • CityLink [107] services destinations in Scotland. They sell their tickets online, by text, or from the driver, although it is always advised to book your tickets in advance. Some routes also carry Megabus passengers.
  • Dot2Dot [108] is a specialised service offered by National Express coaches, providing door-to-door airport transfer service, operating between central London and Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Prices start at £17.50 - a great alternative to taxi fares!
  • easyBus [109] is London's low cost airport transfer service from easyGroup. One-way fares start at £2, servicing Stansted, Luton, and Gatwick airports. Advance booking recommended.

By taxi

There are two types of taxis in the United Kingdom:- Metered (black) cabs that can be hailed in the street and are mostly found in larger towns and cities; and minicabs (private hire taxis) which must be ordered by telephone.

Black Cabs These are useful for travelling within cities - the name originates from the old 1960s purpose-built Austin FX3 taxis which were originally painted black, but today usually are covered in advertisements. In major cities, custom-built vehicles which seat 5 people are commonly used as metered taxis, but in smaller cities regular cars or people-carriers are used instead. These taxis can be hailed on the street or picked up from a taxi rank (usually found near major shopping areas and transport hubs). Tbe rate varies, typically starting at around 2-3GBP and rising at around 1GBP a mile, making them fairly expensive. Add night charges, waiting charges, luggage charges for large suitcases etc on to the meter as well, and travelling by taxi can be expensive unless you are in a large group. A short 10 minute trip would normally cost between 3-5GBP. The 'Taxi' sign on the roof is illuminated when a taxi is available.

Minicabs More common in suburbs and smaller towns, minicabs can only be used by telephone ordering and charge fixed prices to different destinations. Local telephone directories usually advertise taxi companies, and the phone numbers are usually painted in big numbers on the side of their vehicles. Minicabs are usually much cheaper, fares for long journeys can often be negotiated (although you should agree the fare with the phone operator when booking, not with the driver) and most companies have a variety of vehicle sizes from small saloons (Ford Mondeo, Skoda Octavia, Peugeot 406 etc) up to large 12-seater minivans so if you have a large group you can specify the vehicle size. Some minicab firms specialize in serving airports and offer discounted rates.

Fake taxis Fake taxis are not a major problem and are mostly found around the major airports. A few tips: Check that the taxi has a rear taxi-license plate on the rear bumper and that it carries the name of the local authorative council. The driver's taxi license should be displayed on the dashboard. The meter displays the correct rate (the metered fares are usually advertised on the side of the taxi). If calling a minicab, the taxi company will ask your last-name and your phone number - the driver should know this when he picks you up. If approached by a taxi driver claiming that you booked their taxi (particularly in airports or nightlife districts), ask them to confirm your name and phone number - if they don't know then it is most likely that they are fake. Most local councils require licensed taxis to be newer than 10 or 15 years old. Many fake taxis use older vehicles.

By boat

Ferries link the mainland to the many offshore islands including the Isles of Scilly from Penzance; the Isle of Wight from Southampton and Portsmouth; the Isle of Man from Liverpool and Ireland, the Orkneys and Shetland islands. There are also numerous car and passenger ferry routes between England and France and between Ireland and the UK. There are also regular ferry services between Northern Ireland and Scotland and these depart Larne, Belfast, Troon, Stranraer and Cairnryan. There are also routes from Northern Ireland to Birkenhead and Fleetwood (both near Liverpool in England).

By thumb

Pedestrians are banned on motorways, motorway junctions, as well as on certain primary routes. However, aside from those exceptions, hitchhiking is not illegal. The British are very aware of safety, and you may expect a long wait for a ride.

If you use signs, it's fairly customary to use the number of the road on them rather than the destination. In other words, from Birmingham to London you wouldn't use a sign "LONDON" but rather "M25". Two places where signs are quite useful are Land's End and John O'Groats, the two extremes of the country, especially if your sign says the other.

Note that traffic in more remote areas of Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall can be quite scarce.

By Bicycle

The UK can be both a cyclist's dream and nightmare. Fortunately cycling is popular as both a sport and a means of transportation. Bike rental exists in some cities e.g. Cambridge or Oxford and in some scenic areas. A handful of smaller cities such as Reading have introduced 'Community Bicycle' schemes in which a bike can be rented from various 'bike stations' around the city and this is expected to be introduced in London before the 2012 Olympics. The wheels of choice for most British cyclists is the hybrid bike - they have the comfort and practicality of a city bike combined with the performance (multi-speed gearing) and ruggedness of a mountain bike. Conventional mountain bikes and single-speed roadsters are also common, and folding bikes are becoming more popular in major cities. Bicycles are expensive in the UK - expect to pay 100GBP-plus for a basic model. They are sold by individual manufacturer's dealers (e.g. Dawes, Raleigh, Giant), automobile product stores (e.g. Halfords), sport accessory stores (e.g. Decathlon) and through private bicycle retailers. Cheaper used bikes can be purchased online via websites such as EBay or may be advertised in newspapers, notice-boards etc.

Urban cycling varies city-to-city. Most cities have designated cycle-lanes although they are routinely ignored by drivers and are often shared with buses, motorcycles and taxis. Some major roads will have split-pavements for pedestrians and cyclists, whilst other times cyclists are expected to ride in the traffic. This can be dangerous if you're not a skilled cyclist and general traffic rules should be adhered to. It's a legal requirement to have reflectors and a bell, and a rear blinker light must be used at night. Also many cyclists use standard arm-signals to alert motorists - if you are turning left or right you should raise your left or right arm respectively, and if you wish to stop then you should wave your left arm up and down. Cycling is banned on certain roads - all motorways and many primary (A) roads - a sign will indicate this.

Most cities will have designated bike-parking areas with bicycle racks and are almost always free. Carry a good lock with you as bike-theft is common. Bicycles are permitted on SOME trains, depending on the operator. Commuter trains generally allow folding bicycles only, some regional trains may have a rack that can carry 2-3 bicycles, while many intercity trains have a baggage car that can hold many bikes. Check with the operator before-hand - bikes will almost always require a reservation: on some trains for free, some for a small charge (typically half the adult fare) whilst others will require a full-fare ticket. Reservations can be made over the phone (via National Rail or via the train operator), or at the station ticket office. Long-distance coaches also allow bicycles, although again they must be reserved and there may be a surcharge. Local city buses and regional buses don't allow full-size bikes but some operators may permit folding bicycles - you should check before hand. If a bus is quiet then it's often down to the driver's discretion. Rapid transit systems also have varying bicycle policies e.g. London Underground allows folding bicycles at all times and conventional bicycles outside of peak hours as long as the train isn't crowded.

The SUSTRANS Cycle Network is a series of paved and unpaved cycle tracks covering the whole country, passing through some spectacular scenery on the way. Their website ( has a comprehensive cycle-map and most cycle-stores, tourist information centres and youth hostels also sell their maps.

"Two countries divided by a common language"

Speakers of American English will find some terms which differ in British English:

  • Barrister/solicitor - lawyer
  • Bill - check
  • Biscuits - cookies
  • Bonnet - the hood of a car
  • Boot - the trunk of a car
  • Bum - ass
  • Cash point/cash machine - ATM
  • Chemist/pharmacy - drug store
  • Chips - fries, which may be "french fries" or thick-cut traditional English chips
  • Christian name - first name
  • Crisps - potato chips
  • Cupboard - closet
  • Dinner - for some people it is the midday meal; they would call the evening meal "tea"
  • Dummy/dummytit - pacifier
  • Fag - cigarette (only used colloquially), also a rude, demeaning way of referring to a homosexual man
  • Fanny - "female private part"
  • Football - soccer
  • Jam - jelly
  • Jelly - jello
  • Lift - elevator in building; the offer of a ride in car
  • Mobile (phone) - cell phone
  • Nappy - diaper
  • Off licence/off sales - liquor store
  • Pavement - sidewalk
  • Pushchair/pram/buggie - baby stroller
  • Queue - line
  • Ring - call (someone on telephone)
  • Rubbish - trash/garbage
  • Serviette - napkin (on table)
  • Smart - can also mean sharp (well-dressed)
  • Surname - last name
  • Tea - tea; can also mean an early evening snack meal, or sometimes the main evening meal.
  • Supper - sometimes means snacks after the evening meal at a later time of the night
  • Toilet - washroom/restroom
  • Torch - flashlight
  • Trousers - pants

English is spoken throughout the country, although there are parts of major cities where immigration has led to a variety of different languages being spoken as well. English spoken in the United Kingdom has several different dialects, some of which may contain words which are unfamiliar to other English speakers. A trained ear can also distinguish the English spoken by someone from Northern Ireland as opposed to someone from the Republic of Ireland, or even pinpoint their origin to a particular town. English in Scotland and Northern Ireland can be spoken quite fast.

Welsh is also widely spoken in Wales, particularly in North and West Wales. The number of Welsh speakers has risen over the last few years, but this bilingual population is still only around 30% of the total population of the Principality. Government bodies whose area of responsibility covers Wales use bilingual documentation (English and Welsh) - for example, see the website of the Swansea-based DVLA [110]. Road signs in Wales are bilingual. Even the non-Welsh-speaking majority in Wales know how to pronounce Welsh place names. Once you hear how to pronounce a name, have a go and try not to offend!

Gaelic (pronounced 'Gaylick' when referring to Scotland) can be heard in the Scottish Highlands and Islands but sadly boasts all too few native speakers. The ancient Cornish language of Cornwall, in the far south west, was revived during the twentieth century, but it is not passed down from parent to child as Welsh and Gaelic still are. Be aware, however, that Cornish place names remain and can be rather challenging to pronounce for non-locals! The Irish form of Gaelic is still spoken in some remote border areas of Northern Ireland.

Scots has much in common with English, and can be heard in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland (where it is known as Ulster-Scots) in various degrees. It can be difficult to understand, so feel free to ask someone to repeat themselves or speak more slowly. Speakers are likely to use standard English with outsiders.

All speakers of these minority languages are fluent to near-fluent in standard English but react well if you show an interest in their native tongue and culture. Inter-migration in the United Kingdom means you are likely to encounter people from all over the UK and beyond no matter where you visit. It is rare to find a place where all adults have the same accent or dialect.

There's an old joke that the people of the US and the UK are "divided by a common language", and travellers from English-speaking countries outside the UK may have difficulty catching specific words where regional accents are strong, but still there should not be any major difficulties in communicating. The British are good at understanding English spoken in a foreign accent, and visitors who speak English as a second language need not fear making mistakes. You may just get a slightly blank look for a few seconds after the end of a sentence while they 'decode' it internally. The British will not criticise or correct your language.

A few examples of words that overseas visitors may not be familiar with:

  • Wee - small (Scotland, Northern Ireland, some English people)
  • Loch - lake (Scotland)
  • Lough - lake (Northern Ireland)
  • Aye - yes (some parts of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and North England)
  • Poke - ice cream served in a wafer cone (Northern Ireland) or paper bag in Scotland
  • Downing Street - used to refer to the Government (similar to White House referring to the President of the United States)
  • Cymru (which English-speakers may pronounce as 'Sim-roo' but some attempt more accurately as 'Cum-ree') - Wales (Wales)
  • Cockney rhyming slang is not a language but a collection of terms, some local and temporary, others so long-lasting that they are used by many people who don't realise that they are rhyming slang. Example of the latter: "raspberry" for the derisive noise called "Bronx cheer" in the US - derived from "raspberry tart", rhyming with "fart".

British people have historically been very tolerant of swearing, when used in context.

National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK
National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK

The United Kingdom has an array of National Parks and designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that serve to preserve the country's natural heritage. There are 14 National Parks in total spread across England, Scotland and Wales (9 in England, 2 in Scotland and 3 in Wales) and 49 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (35 in England, 4 in Wales, 9 in Northern Ireland and 1 in both England and Wales). There are no Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Scotland, but there are the equivalent National Scenic Areas, of which there are 35 spread across the country.

  • Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, 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 in Wiltshire.
  • 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. Located in the city of Canterbury in Kent
  • Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, is home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
  • The ancient and world-renowned universities of Oxford and Cambridge
  • The Eden Project near St Austell is a massive botanical gardens including indoor rainforest and Mediterranean biodomes.
  • The Giant's Causeway sixty miles 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.



The United Kingdom is a very expensive country, although the Pound's somewhat dramatic recent falls against many currencies, especially the Euro, are helping some overseas tourists who are finding things are now cheaper than they are in their home countries. However, the high cost of basics such as transport, accommodation and food means that you'll spend around £50 per day as a budget traveller and more if you want to afford luxuries such as taxis, 3 star hotels, and meals in restaurants.

London and the South East is up to three times as expensive as other parts of the country. Further North things are more reasonably priced, although some groceries, goods and services can be more expensive than average in Northern Ireland.

Cigarettes and tobacco

Cigarettes are heavily taxed and expensive, ranging from around £5 to £6 for 20 cigarettes. Rolling tobacco is also expensive, but much cheaper than pre-made cigarettes. Rolling tobacco is sold in 12.5-gram, 25-gram and 50-gram pouches, at around £2.50, £5, and £10 respectively. 50 grams can make around 100 cigarettes (hand-rolled) which would cost around £20-£30 for the pre-made variants. Imported brands such as Marlboro, Camel or Lucky Strike are generally the most expensive as are well-known UK brands such as Benson & Hedges and Embassy. Popular and less pricey local brands include Lambert & butler and Silk Cut (a light cigarette similar to Marlboro Light), while the cheapest brands (Mayfair, Richmond, Superking) are quite frankly, terrible. Note that it's illegal to brand low-tar cigarettes as 'light' in the UK - Marlboro Light is usually referred to as 'Marlboro Gold', and many brands use the term 'smooth' instead. Most cigarettes come in low-tar and menthol varients, and many brands also sell 'Superking' (100mm length) varients too.

Almost all newsagents, supermarkets and petrol stations sell tobacco, and most will also sell some brands of pipe tobacco and cigars. For a more extensive selection of tobacco products, most towns and cities will have at least one specialist tobacconist.

The minimum age to purchase tobacco is 18. Customers who appear younger than 18 may be asked to produce a passport or other identification.

Smoking is illegal in all public buildings, with the exception of some hotel rooms (enquire when booking). For the purposes of the anti-smoking law, a 'building' is classed as having a minimum of three walls and a roof, so this can include things such as 'open' bus shelters. It is also illegal to smoke at train stations. Penalties can include a £50 'on-the-spot' fine. Most pubs and nightclubs have smoking areas which fully comply with the relevant legislation. Areas where smoking is not allowed will have prominent no-smoking signs.


The currency throughout the UK is the Pound (£) (more properly called the Pound Sterling, but this is not used in everyday speech), divided into 100 pence (p, pronounced 'pee').

Coins appear in 1p (small copper), 2p (large copper), 5p (very small silver), 10p (large silver), 20p (small silver with angled edges), 50p (large silver with angled edges), £1 (small, thick gold) and £2 (large, thick with silver centre and gold edge) denominations, while Bank of England notes (bills) come in £5 (green/light blue), £10 (orange/brown), £20 (blue (newer design) purple (older design)) and £50 (red), and depict the Queen on one side and famous historical figures on the other. The size increases according to value. It's often best to avoid getting £50 notes. £50 notes are often refused by smaller establishments - they are unpopular because of the risk of forgery, and because of the amount of change one needs to give on receiving one. Banks are also unlikely to change them to smaller notes for you, though a post office or bookmaker might.

However, Scottish and Northern Irish banks issue their own notes in the above denominations, with their own designs. If in doubt, check what you are given for the words "Pounds Sterling". £100 notes and some old £1 notes are also in circulation in Scotland. Bank of England notes circulate freely in the whole of the United Kingdom, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland it is quite common to receive change in a mixture of English and/or Scottish or Northern Irish notes. Welsh banks do not issue their own notes.

Some English vendors might refuse to accept notes issued by Scottish or Northern Irish banks - whether from unfamiliarity or prejudice. They are under no obligation to do so, so use them at a larger retailer, or change them for Bank of England notes at a bank. There should never be a charge for this - though foreign-exchange dealers at airports or ferry terminals might well try to charge you.

Coins are uniform throughout the United Kingdom. Non-English speaking visitors should be aware that the new coin designs (introduced from 2008) no longer show the value in numbers, only words.

You may also hear the slang term quid for pounds. It is both singular and plural; "three quid" means "three pounds". It is likely that people will use the slang "p" when they mean either a penny or pence. Note the singular is penny and the plural pence. Some people still use traditional terms such as a penny, tuppence and thruppence (1p, 2p and 3p). The words "Fiver" and "Tenner" are common slang for £5 and £10, respectively.

In general, shopkeepers and other businesses in the UK are not obliged to accept any particular money or other method of payment. Any offer to purchase can simply be refused; for example if you try to pay with notes or coins they don't recognise. If in doubt, ask someone when you enter the shop. If settling a debt, for example, paying a restaurant or hotel bill, usually any reasonable method of payment will be accepted unless it's been made clear to you in advance how you must pay. However, travellers cheques are never accepted in place of cash.

ATMs, which are often known in the UK as Cashpoints, cash machines or informally as 'holes in the wall', are very widely available and usually dispense £10 and £20 notes. Traveller's cheques can be exchanged at most banks. Be aware: some non-bank ATMs (easily identified, sometimes kiosk-style units, as opposed to fixed units in walls, and often at petrol/gas stations and convenience stores) charge a fixed fee for withdrawing money, and your home bank may as well. On average the cost is about £1.75 per withdrawal, but the machine will always inform you of this and allow you to cancel the transaction.

Visa, Mastercard and Maestro are accepted by most shops and restaurants, although American Express is usually accepted only in large stores, and it is worth asking if unsure, especially if there are long queues. Since February 14, 2006, Chip and PIN [111] has become nearly compulsory, with few companies still accepting signatures when paying by credit or debit cards. Customers from countries without chips in their credit cards are supposed to be able to sign instead of providing a PIN; however, it is wise to carry enough cash in case the retailer does not comply.

Although most small shops will take cards, there is often a minimum amount you have to spend (usually around £5). Anything under the minimum and they will refuse to accept the card.


Although shopping in the UK can be expensive, it is generally regarded as a world-class destination for shoppers both in terms of variety and quality of products, depending on where and what you buy. Fierce competition has brought prices down considerably in the food, clothing and electronic sectors. Prices do vary and it is always worth visiting the various retail stores as bargains can often be found. Avoid buying from the tourist areas and stick to the High Street shops or the many 'out-of-town' retail parks where prices will be considerably cheaper.

VAT (Value Added Tax - a mandatory tax on almost all goods and services in the UK) is 17.5% (since 1 January 2010), with reduced rates of 5% and 0% applying to specific categories of goods (food from supermarkets and some books, for example, are taxed at 0%). For most High Street shopping, VAT is included in the sale price. However, for certain larger purchases, especially in the area of computers and electronics, stores may show prices without VAT, however these are clearly marked with "exc VAT" next to the figure. In many of the larger towns and cities, many shops have the blue "Tax-Free Shopping" sticker in the window, meaning that when you leave the European Union (not just the UK), you can claim back the VAT before you leave the country. However, in order to do this, you must keep any receipts you receive from your purchase.

Electronic items such as computers and digital cameras can be cheaper here than many European countries (especially Scandinavian countries), but do shop around. The internet is always a good way to judge the price of a particular item, also you can use this as a bargaining tool when agreeing on a price with some of the larger electronic retail stores. If visiting from the US, there may be duties and taxes charged that make some of these purchases much less of a bargain so shop wisely.


Despite jokes and stereotypes, internationally orientated British cuisine has improved greatly over the past few decades, and the British remain extremely proud of their native dishes. Restaurants and supermarkets in the middle and upper range have consistently high standards, and the choice of international dishes is the best in Europe. However, British eating culture is still in the middle of a transition phase. Unlike their continental neighbours, many Britons still eat to live rather than live to eat, and as a result, food quality is variable at the budget end of the market.

The United Kingdom can be an expensive place to eat out compared to, say, the more southern European countries, but relatively cheap in comparison with countries such as Switzerland and Norway.

Many restaurants in city centres tend to be a little more expensive than ones in the suburbs, and pubs do tend to be slightly more expensive in the countryside, but generally, a three-course meal without drinks will cost the traveller anywhere between £10 and £15. Chicken tikka masala with rice is sometimes claimed as the UK's most popular dish, though roast beef is a more traditional national dish.

If all else fails decent picnic foods such as sandwiches, cakes, crisps, fresh fruit, cheeses and drinks are readily available at supermarkets. Street markets are a good place to pick up fresh fruit and local cheeses at bargain prices. Bakeries (eg Greggs) and supermarkets ( eg Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose and Asda) usually sell a good selection of pre-packed sandwiches, pasties and cakes along with a range of soft drinks, juices and mineral waters.

Many large shops, especially department stores, will have a coffee shop or restaurant.

Smoking is now banned in all restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs - there are no exceptions. However some establishments have provided 'smoking areas' and smoking is allowed in the gardens/terraces outside pubs and restaurants unless otherwise stated.

Fish and chips

Deep-fried, battered fish (usually cod or haddock, though with a wider selection in some areas) with rather thick chips, always made from real chunks of potato rather than thin tubes of extruded mashed potato. Fish and chips are often served with mushy peas (in England), and dressed with salt and malt vinegar (or 'Sauce' in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland). "Proper" fish and chips can be bought only from either a backstreet "chippy" or a specialist fish and chip restaurant (the latter are mostly at the seaside, although there is a national chain, Harry Ramsden's, which does quite good fish and chips, but at "tourist prices"; Mr Ramsden's original shop, near Leeds, was a legend). However, a "proper chippy" (a backstreet "fish and chip shop", or just "chip shop") is the quintessential place to buy fish and chips. In the north you can also add mushy peas to your order. These are rarer in the south of the country. In Scotland, especially Glasgow, some fish and chip shops deep-fry almost everything they sell, including meat pies, pizzas, and even battered Mars or Snickers bars. In Northern Ireland, you can also order a Pastie (not to be confused with a Cornish Pasty). This is meat minced with onions, potato and spices, which is then battered and deep fried. It can be served in a bap (a soft bread bun), on its own, or with chips. Anything served with chips in Northern Ireland and in parts of Scotland, is referred to as a "supper", eg, "a fish supper" or "a pastie supper".

The best ones are specialists, serving perhaps a few alternatives such as a selection of pies or sausages. They are usually located near where people live, though some good ones, especially "sit down" chippies, can be found in town centres. They can be spotted by the illuminated sign which usually has a picture of a fish and a name: either punning and piscine, such as "Codroephenia" and "The Codfather" or proud and proprietorial, "Fred's Chippy", or even both as in "Jack's Golden Plaice". Typically the a lot of people eating or waiting is an indication of good food.

A "sit down chippy" is a chip shop with a separate dining room. Whilst no real one will be exactly like this, although most elements will be present, a stereotypical sit down chippie will be brightly lit and decorated in a nautical theme with yellow or blue formica-topped tables. Typically a waitress will take your order for a Cod Meal, alternatively Haddock, Plaice or another dish, and within five minutes your meal will be served: a huge fish, a mountain of chips and mushy peas. Accompanying it, in more up-market places, will be a sachet of tartar sauce, a slice of lemon, a big plate of bread-and-butter, and a pot of tea. Some will have a separate pot of hot water, either to dilute the tea if it is too strong for your taste, or to "top-up" the tea in the pot when you have poured out your first cup. On the table will be a large shaker of salt and a bottle or plastic squeezy bottle of brown malt vinegar, which is what the most British will put on their fish and chips. There may even be a tomato-shaped plastic container of ketchup or a container of brown sauce. Fish and chips bought from a pub, hotel or non-specialist restaurant bear little resemblance to that from a chippy.


A 'take-away' is either a shop supplying prepared meals for people to eat elsewhere, or the meal itself. A very British take-away is the Fish and Chip shop; the sandwich shop is a popular choice at lunchtimes; they often also sell pies and cakes. Alternatively, most towns and many main routes have a selection of fast-food chains. Various types of take-aways are present in nearly all towns, ranging from fish and chips to "Indian", which can often be operated by non-Indians like Bangladeshi, and Chinese shops. Thai and Indonesian takeaways are becoming quite common, and lots of others in bigger towns. Generally the standard of take-aways is good, but the best guide is, as always, to observe what the locals are doing. In towns and cities these places tend to open late (sometimes till about 1am) to cater for the so called after-the-pub crowd. At this time they tend to be busy and rowdy so to avoid the queues the best time for a takeaway is between 7pm and 11pm after the teatime rush but before the supper crowds.

Food in pubs

See below for general points about pubs.

Almost all pubs (see below) serve food, although not all will do so during the whole of their opening hours. Prices of all these types vary enormously, and you should seek local advice if you have particular requirements or standards. Do not sit at a table in a pub expecting a waiter to take your order for food or drinks: pubs nearly always work on a "queue at the bar for drinks: order at the bar for food" basis. You go to the bar to request and pay for drinks and food. To avoid annoying customers behind them, groups usually order as one, and "settle up" between themselves later (see elsewhere for "buying rounds"). You normally order your "starters" and "mains" together (food-oriented places have numbers screwed to the tables for you to quote, or will give you a number to take to your table). You then wait for your drinks to be poured and carry them to the table. When your meal is ready, it is either brought to you or, less commonly now, announced when it is ready for you to collect. The person who tidies away your main course may ask you what dessert you would like, or you may have to order at the bar again.


Larger towns have a range of restaurants to suit most tastes and you will find a very broad range of different cuisines, including Indian, Chinese, Thai, French and Italian. Waiters generally expect a 10% tip (but all too often do not get it from the native population) and in some places this is automatically listed on your bill. However, if you are dissatisfied with the service in any way, you are under no obligation to pay the service charge. Generally British people are not great tippers. As a visitor the 10% rule is more than generous and worth sticking to. Visitors from The US and Canada are seen as very generous tippers and even a bit of a soft touch by some.

The usual fast-food restaurants (McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway and local chain Wimpy) are widespread in larger towns and cities but uncommon in smaller towns. They are typically located in major shopping areas, in or around major train stations, in out-of-town retail parks and in motorway service stations and airports (the latter 2 are usually more expensive). Prices are average - a burger, chips and drink meal will cost about GBP4-5. Most are open from around 7:00-22:00 although some in large cities are 24-hours. Fast-food restaurants in out-of-town locations offer drive-through service. Apart from Pizza Hut, delivery service is not offered.


One of the most popular types of restaurant in the UK is the Indian restaurant. They can be found in every city and most towns large and small. There are now more and more upmarket Indian restaurants in the larger urban centres. Indian restaurants serve cuisine commonly known to their customers by the generic term "curry". Common Indian restaurant dishes include Chicken Tikka Masala, Prawn Biryani and the incredibly spicy Vindaloo. A popular version of curry is known as balti, possibly named after the metal bowl the food is cooked and served in. Balti cuisine, and a number of other commonly served dishes such as the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala, originated in the UK though it is clearly based on food from the Indian subcontinent. Birmingham in the Midlands is considered the balti capital of the UK as this dish was conceived there. Curry Mile in Manchester is well worth a visit if you are in the city.

Motorway service areas

Motorway service areas are notoriously expensive places to eat, though the vast majority are open 24 hours by law. Most contain fast-food outlets and all have (free) toilets. Some services may be limited overnight such as the range of hot and cold food, although most will keep a selection available. Service areas are often best avoided as it is often possible to find cheaper and much better places to eat within a mile or two of a motorway junction. Try 5 minutes away [112], a website listing facilities no more than 5 minutes' drive from motorway junctions.


Vegetarianism has become more widespread in the UK over the last few decades. If you are staying as a guest in a British home it would be considered courteous to inform your host beforehand as to any dietary requirements, but this will not be considered rude or even particularly unusual. However, bear in mind that even if you call yourself vegetarian some people will assume you eat fish, so if you don't, then tell them so. Nowadays, it is rare to find a pub or restaurant with no vegetarian options.

If you are a vegan, be prepared to explain precisely what you do and don't eat on a fairly frequent basis. Outside of specialist eateries, most places probably won't have a vegan-friendly main meal, so be prepared to hunt around, order bits and bobs, or in a pub make do with the ubiquitous bowl of chips and tomato ketchup and even then it would be wise to check whether the chips have been cooked in animal fat, a practice quickly falling out of fashion.

In general, the best places for vegetarian/vegan food are specialist veggie pubs/restaurants, of which most major cities will have at fewest one, and Indian, Chinese and South-East Asian restaurants. These will normally have a range of vegetarian and vegan options. Ironically, one of the few places you may see without any meat-free food at all is an extremely expensive luxury restaurant. If you're fortunate enough to be dining in such a place, it may be worth ringing ahead.


Children are not necessarily allowed in all pubs and restaurants unless a lounge area is provided, and high chairs are not always available. Most pubs that serve food will accept children, and it is usually easy to distinguish those that do. The general rule is that children cannot sit or stand about in the area where drinks are being served; so if the pub has only one small room, they are not allowed. Children are permitted in most drinks-only pubs, especially those with gardens, but again, they are not supposed to come near the bar.

  • Black Pudding - a sausage made of congealed pig's blood, rusks and sage, cooked in an intestine. Available all over the UK but a speciality of the North of England, in particular from Bury, the Black Country, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In actual fact, it tastes much better then it sounds.
  • Cheese - Although the British are not as famous for, or as proud of, their cheeses as their neighbours in France, a multitude of cheeses is produced, and are generally named after a particular region. Well-known examples include Stilton (named after Stilton but produced elsewhere) - a blue cheese to rival Roquefort or Gorgonzola, Cheddar (named after the village of Cheddar in Somerset), Lancashire (which may be "creamy" or "crumbly"), Wensleydale (a valley in North Yorkshire), Caerphilly and Cheshire. The quality varies tremendously, depending on where they are bought; the best place is probably a local market – e.g. buy your Lancashire cheese in Lancashire. Supermarkets will offer a wide range of cheeses but are often of inferior quality.
  • Cornish Pasty - beef and vegetables baked in a folded pastry case. Originally a speciality of Cornwall, but now available throughout the UK. Usually very good in Devon and Cornwall, but can be of variable quality elsewhere. The variety sold in a plastic wrapper in places like petrol (gas) stations and motorway service stations are well worth avoiding.
  • Deep Fried Mars Bar - Originally from Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, but now available in other parts of Scotland and sometimes by request in fish & chip shops elsewhere in the UK. Not usually available in south-east England, where it is sometimes believed to be an urban myth.
  • Haggis - a mixture of sheep innards, minced meat and oatmeal boiled in a sheep's stomach. Available widely, but a speciality of Scotland. Also available in many supermarkets, where it appears that many sheep have plastic stomachs - although the contents are often quite reasonable - sometimes mildly spicey.
  • Lancashire Hotpot - a hearty vegetable and meat stew. A speciality of Lancashire, but available throughout the UK. In Lancashire, it is often accompanied by pickled red cabbage or pickled beetroot.
  • Laverbread - a puree made from seaweed, rolled in oatmeal, lightly fried and generally served with bacon rashers, though can be prepared as a vegetarian dish. Available in Swansea and West Wales.
  • Oatcakes - this speciality of Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire and Derbyshire is a large, floppy, oat-based pancake, eaten hot, in place of bread at breakfast time, or with a savoury filling. Not to be confused with the Scottish oatcake, a sort of biscuit.
  • Pastie - recipes vary, but generally a pasty is minced pork with onions, potato and spices, shaped into a thick disc, covered with batter and deep fried. Pasties are unique to Northern Ireland and well worth trying from a Fish & Chip shop.
  • Pork pie - a pie made of pork, with an outer of a particularly crispy sort of pastry. Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire is their spiritual home but they are available across the country. They are served cold or room temperature as part of a cold meal.
  • Potato Bread - a mixture of potatoes, salt, butter and flour. A speciality of Northern Ireland which, alongside Sodabread forms one of the main ingredients of an 'Ulster Fry'. Similar to, but not quite the same as potato bread, are Potato Cakes as sold in England and Tattie Scones in Scotland.
  • Sausages - Europeans will be surprised to discover that the filling contains breadcrumbs as well as meat (Britons think of frankfurters and similar solid-meat sausages as German). Generic sausages are nothing special and very much a 'mystery meat' experience, but regional speciality recipes such as Lincolnshire and Cumberland are well worth trying in a pub.
  • Sunday dinner/Roast dinner - this meal is common throughout the UK. 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. In England sometimes Yorkshire Puddings are added to the plate.
  • Welsh Cakes - scone-like cakes studded with raisins and dusted with sugar. Available in bakeries throughout Wales and served hot off griddle at Swansea Market.
  • Yorkshire Pudding - a savoury side dish made from unsweetened batter. Squat and round in shape - often served with a roast dinner (consisting of roast potatoes, roast beef and Yorkshire puddings). Originally a speciality of the former industrial cities of Yorkshire, but a popular side-dish throughout the UK.


The legal age to buy and consume alcohol is 18 (16 for a glass of beer, cider, shandy, or perry with a substantial meal and an adult present) but many older teenagers younger than 18 have seemingly little problem in purchasing alcohol in smaller pubs and from off licenses. Nevertheless, if you're over 18 but lucky enough to look younger, expect to be asked to prove your age when buying alcohol (also, in certain places if you look under 21 or 25, you have to prove you're over 18, known as "Challenge 21(25)"), especially in popular city spots. The most trustworthy form of ID is a passport or driving license which shows both your photograph and date of birth. Whilst ID cards are likely to be accepted (providing there is a photograph), any other form of ID willl not be accepted. In private residences the minimum age to drink alcohol is 5 years old, although it is likely that if a 5 or 6 year old etc. were getting drunk, the matter would be brought before the courts as child neglect.

Getting drunk is acceptable and often it is the objective of a party, though the police often take a dim view on those causing alcohol-related trouble. This applies to all levels of the British society - it may be worth remembering that the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had to collect his son Euan from a police station after he had been found drunk celebrating the completion of his GCSE exams taken at the age of 16. Nevertheless, Britons have a great sense of humour and everything is forgotten after a hangover, at least until the next time. Drinking is an important part of the British culture and, even though it is frequently complained about, it is as popular as ever.


The pub or public house is the most popular place to get a drink in the UK. Even small villages will often have a pub, serving spirits, wines, beers, cider, and 'alcopops', accompanied by crisps, nuts and pork scratchings. Many serve snacks or meals. The greater volume of drinks served are various kinds of beer, mainly lagers, bitters, and Guinness. People not looking to drink real ale are free to choose a pub just on the basis of location, and character, because most national "smooth" bitters or TV-advertised lagers are available in any non-real-ale pub; however, even non-real-ale drinkers often find that they prefer the types of pubs with a range of real ales, because they tend to be more "traditional", with a more individual character and less oriented to juke boxes, games machines, fruit machines and large crowds.

Across the whole of the United Kingdom there is now a blanket ban on smoking inside pubs and restaurants, though many pubs have areas outside, often known as "beer gardens", where smoking is (usually, but not always) permissible. However if you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be able to stay after the formal closing hours this is called a "lock-in" and smoking may be ok if the pub landlord allows it. This will often occur only in the later hours after 11PM and these lock-ins can last any amount of time. As they are classed as a private party, they happen in only a few pubs, and often only pubs with more regular customers, although this is not always the case. Once at a lock-in, you cannot leave and come back in again.

British real ales, championed by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) [113], are amongst the best in the world - though people used to colder, blander, fizzier beers may find that the taste needs to be acquired. People looking for real ale will need to select the right pubs, because although a wide range of pubs serve one or two real ales, only a "real ale pub" will have a wide selection. British ale has a limited shelf life compared to most foreign beers, and as some pubs have only a "token" cask with low turnover, it's often well past its prime and has a strange vinegary taste: often, unfortunately, people's first and understandably only experience with "real ale". If you do receive an 'off' pint, ask for a replacement at the bar, which will usually be forthcoming.

The phrase "free house" was usually the main indicator for people looking for a good choice of beer, because this indicated that the pub was not owned by a particular brewery and served whatever beer its landlord thought would appeal to their customers. However, this is no longer a significant factor, because most national pub chains are now owned by large conglomerates who deal centrally with brewers and serve the same mass-market brands in all their pubs: these conglomerates (not being breweries) can still call their pubs "free houses".

British people usually follow a kind of unwritten code of conduct when in pubs, though types of venue can vary dramatically, ranging from a 'local' pub, usually a quiet place consisting of one or two rooms, to a chain pub such as J.D. Wetherspoons which are very large rooms capable of holding hundreds of people.

  • Don't tap money on the bar surface to attract the barman's attention.
  • Tipping is not a tradition in most pubs and you should take all of your change. Regular customers who have a relationship with the staff will offer to buy the landlord, or bar worker, a drink. They may say something like this: "A pint of Best, landlord, and one for yourself." The landlord will often keep the money rather than have too much to drink. However, you are not obliged to do this yourself.
  • Especially in a 'local' pub, keep your voice down and avoid drawing attention to yourself.
  • It might be best to avoid heated debates about controversial subjects in pubs and bars; if others get involved these can escalate.
  • If you require extra chairs, you may want to take one from another table. If someone is already seated (even if it is only one person seated at a six-person table) you must ask if you can take the chair.
  • Waiting patiently at a bar is imperative. Pushing in line will not be tolerated and could lead to confrontation. If someone cuts in line before you, feel free to complain - you should get support from other locals around you. Bear in mind that pubs are amongst the few places in Britain which don't actually have formal queues -- you just crowd around the bar, and when everyone who was there before you has been served you can order.
  • In the male toilets, especially in big pubs or clubs, don't try to strike up conversation or make prolonged eye contact. UK pub toilets are very much "get in and get out" places - some drunk people can take a casual remark the wrong way.

Pubs with a good choice of real ales may exhibit almost any pattern of ownership:

  • By a real-ale brewery (in which case the pub will serve all of the beers made by them, and perhaps only one "guest beer").
  • By a national or local pub chain who believe it is possible to serve a range of real ales at reasonable prices (their chain buying power can force down a brewer's margins) in a pub that non-real-ale-fans will be willing to patronise.
  • By an independent landlord committed to real ale (usually the ones with the most idiosyncratic beers, and the hard-core "real ale type" customers).

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. Recently there has been a trend, strongly resisted in some quarters, towards chain-pubs such as the Hogshead, Slug and Lettuce and those owned by the JD Wetherspoon company. Another recent trend is the gastro pub, a smartened-up traditional pub with a selection of high-quality food (nearly at restaurant prices).

Beer in pubs is served in pint and half-pint measures, or in bottles. A pint is slightly more than half a litre (568ml to be precise). Simply ordering a beer on tap will be interpreted as a request for a pint, e.g. 'a lager, please'. Alternatively 'half a lager, please' will get you a half-pint. If you ask for a "half-pint of lager" in a noisy pub, you will almost certainly get a pint, because no-one asks for a "half-pint" and the bar person will have thought you said "I'll have a pint of lager, please". Prices vary widely based on the city, the pub and the beer, but generally pints will be in the range £2 to £3.

Spirits and shorts are a sixth of a gill, now standardised to 25 ml, in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, the standard measure is a quarter of a gill (over 35 ml). A dram in Scotland was traditionally a quarter of a gill.

Pubs often serve food during the day. Drinks are ordered and paid for at the bar.

When applying for a licence, pubs can specify any opening times they wish; this can be challenged by neighbours, etc. Closing times are typically the 'last order' time - the pub can sell drinks before this and customers have to drink up and leave within 20 minutes of the licensing hours.

Until the recent change in licensing laws, closing times were 11PM and 10.30PM on a Sunday, and this is still quite common. The most common closing times at the weekends in towns are between 12AM and 1AM, and some larger pubs may apply for a license until 2AM and clubs 3AM or 4AM. It is not unheard of that some bars have licenses until the early hours (6AM) although this is rare as many who are out until this time are likely to go to nightclubs and then home. Theoretically, a pub can ask for a 24-hour license, though few have done so.

Wine bars

In cities, in additional to traditional pubs, there are more modern wine-bars and café-bars (often known simply as bars), though the variable weather means that there is not as much of a 'street scene' as in other European cities. However, depending on the weather, there are more and more pavement cafés in the UK than in the past. Parts of London, Manchester and other up-and-coming cities are good examples of this change of scene.

Prices in bars tend to be higher than in pubs, with less focus on beer, and more on wine, spirits and cocktails. Customers are often younger that those of traditional pubs, though there is much crossover and some bars are more "pubby" than others.


Clubbing is popular in most large towns and cities, and many have world-renowned venues as well as many alternative venues. Great clubs can be found in London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Brighton to name just a few places. Prices in clubs tend to be considerably higher than those charged in pubs, and opening hours may not be the attraction they once were, as pubs can now open late too. Most clubs will not admit anyone under 18. ID may be asked for at the door, but ID checks at bars are less common. Dress codes are sometimes applied by doormen or bouncers before entry, sometimes none-too-consistently. Common dress codes are simply to dress smartly and aviod wearing sports wear including trainers.

Clubs are often cheaper during the week (Mon-Thu) as many of these nights are designed to cater for students; however, you usually have to pay an entrance fee. For a club in a small town (capacity 250-300) this will usually be £1-£2 on week night, £2-£3 on weekends, and seldom more than £5 on special occasions. Conventional clubs in bigger towns and alternative clubs in cities will cost anywhere between £5 and £10. Large clubs, especially those in cities, that cater for a "dance" crowd will almost certainly cost over £10, though seldom more than £15. For towns with a large student population, it is often much cheaper to go clubbing during week nights (Monday-Thursday), as many clubs advertise towards students on these nights, offering discounted drinks and cheaper entry.


The UK offers a wide variety of hotels rated on a scale of stars, from 5-star luxury (and beyond!) to 1-star basic. There is also a vast number of privately run bed and breakfast establishments (abbreviated as "B&B"), offering rooms with usually a fried 'full English breakfast'. Alternatively you can rent a private house which is let as a holiday home; many such holiday homes advertise on a wide variety of free websites or advertise on their own websites. Good deals can usually be found by using a search engine for "self-catering holiday accommodation".

Budget travellers can opt to stay in a youth/backpackers' hostel

  • YHA England and Wales [114], tel 0870 770 6113
  • Scottish YHA [115], Email -, tel 0870 1553255
  • HI Northern Ireland [116], tel 028 9032 4733
  • In recent years an independent hostel scene has opened up, with some privately owned hostels offering a more relaxed regime than the YHA. They're listed on the Independent Hostel Guide [117].

Another option is to stay at short term rental apartments. There are numerous such companies around the country. Some are listed below:

  • Flats in London [118], tel +447510062715
  • Earlsfort Apartments Dublin [119], tel + 35314781100
  • The White House, Glasgow [120], tel +44 141 339 9375

There are also many campsites, with widely varying levels of facilities. "Wild camping" on private land outside recognised campsites may be awkward outside remote areas, though one-night camping stops may be feasible if undertaken discreetly, or landowners may give permission to wild-camp for free, or for a small fee, if asked.

Some travellers to the United Kingdom decide on a campervan or caravan holiday, whereby your accommodation travels with you. Most parts of the country have a good range of camping and caravan parks available.

As a more quirky (though sometimes expensive) option, the Landmark Trust [121] is a charitable organisation that buys up historic buildings, follies and other unusual examples of architecture - especially those in danger of destruction - and renovates them in order to rent them out to holidaymakers. For bookings, tel 01628 825925,


The UK has been a centre of learning for the past 1,000 years and possesses many ancient and distinguished universities. Many former polytechnics and other colleges have been promoted to university status over the past 25 years , and there are now over 120 degree-awarding institutions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The two most famous (and oldest) universities are Oxford and Cambridge (often referred to as Oxbridge by many Britons), but England also has several other world-class institutions, including several in London (notably Imperial College, the London School of Economics, University College London and King's College London, all are part of London University). Outside of London in England the top universities are located in Durham, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Exeter, Leeds, Sheffield, Bristol, York, Nottingham, Bath, Loughborough, Newcastle, Southampton and Warwick.

Scotland has its own semi-separate educational system, with universities in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh (Edinburgh, Napier, Queen Margaret and Heriot-Watt), Glasgow (Glasgow, Strathclyde and Caledonian), Stirling and the oldest and most traditional one at St Andrews.

There are two universities in Northern Ireland: the Queen's University of Belfast, and the University of Ulster (which has campuses in Belfast, Jordanstown, Coleraine and Londonderry). Although Queen's is the older and more famous institution, both are highly respected throughout the UK as centres of excellence.

Traditionally the University of Wales comprised four large universities: Aberystwyth [122], Bangor [123], Cardiff [124] and Swansea [125], but since many polytechnics and institutes were upgraded to university status the number of Welsh universities has increased.

Foreign students make up a significant proportion of the student body at UK universities, with over 300,000 foreign students in 2004. All applications go through a central body UCAS [126], which acts as a clearing house passing applications to the universities for consideration and feeding their decisions back to applicants. Course fees for overseas students vary considerably, costing significantly more for the prestigious institutions.

The UK - London, Manchester and Edinburgh in particular - remains an exceedingly popular destination for those seeking to learn the English language. A huge variety of organisations and companies exist to cater for this desire, some much more reputable than others:

  • The British Council [127] offers courses and advice.


Citizens of the European Union (temporarily excluding Romania and Bulgaria), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland have permanent work rights in the UK. Citizens of Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, or Slovenia may need to to register under the Worker Registration Scheme. Generally the citizens of other countries will require a visa to work in the UK. The UK has had low unemployment in recent years, making it easier for those with specialist skills to gain working visas. A general shortage of skilled labour in the health sector means the British health service actively recruits abroad, making it easier for those with specialist health care skills to work in the UK. This however may change due to the large investment the British government has made into getting more nurses and doctors trained from the United Kingdom. There continues to be a severe shortage in dentists, with many British people travelling to Hungary or Poland for dental treatment.

The UK does operate a working holiday programme for citizens of Commonwealth countries, which allows residency and limited work rights for up to two years.

The credit crunch, however, has caused many businesses to lose profit and go broke. Unemployment in 2008 reached its highest since the economic downturn of the early 1990s.

For more details see the British Home Office's visa and immigration website [128].

  • WWOOF [129] arranges for volunteers to work for free on organic farms throughout the UK in exchange for room and board. This system provides an excellent means to experience life in the country-side, make friends and, at the same time, learn a little about organic farming.

Stay safe

In general the UK is a safe place to visit; you won't go far wrong heeding the general advice and the advice for Europe.

In any emergency call 999 or 112 (free of charge from any phone, including mobiles) and ask for Ambulance, Fire and Rescue Service, Police, Coast Guard or Mountain And Cave Rescue when connected. Unlike many other countries, the United Kingdom does not have different numbers for different emergency services.

Late at night it is not uncommon to find rowdy groups of drunk people, especially young men, on the street, but unless you go out of your way to provoke trouble you are unlikely to experience any problems. The police have fairly wide ranging powers to fine or arrest people who are causing a disturbance, and although they can be heavier-handed in major cities they are generally tolerant. Drinking alcohol in public (except outside a bar or pub) is not permitted in many areas.

If you are bringing or hiring a car, be aware that the UK (particularly Northern Ireland) has one of the highest car theft rates in the world, so be sure to lock the doors if you leave your car, and always park in a busy, well-lit area. Don't leave valuables on display in a parked car - satellite navigation systems are a particular target.

The age of both heterosexual and homosexual consent is 16 throughout the United Kingdom. Homosexuality is generally accepted throughout the whole country, though some of the inhabitants of conservative rural areas may be less tolerant than those of liberal metropolitan areas.

Racism can be an issue in the UK but racially motivated violence is very rare. The main concern for Britons isn't racism; the government strongly encourages the notion of a multi-cultural society, but recent high levels of immigration have been of debate. However, the UK is generally regarded by its own immigrant population as being amongst the most liberal and tolerant of European countries in this respect, but obviously there will be some people who are exceptions. Most Britons will go out of their way to make tourists and immigrants feel welcome and it's not uncommon for police to impose harsh punishments on any form racial abuse - physical or verbal.

Illegal drugs

All illegal drugs in the United Kingdom are classified under 'A', 'B' or 'C'. Class A drugs are typically regarded as the most dangerous by the law (and include severe penalties for supplying or using), and class C is the least harmful (and carry much lower penalties). Remember: all of these drugs are equally illegal; the classes are used to determine policing priorities and penalties.

Class A drugs include ecstasy (MDMA), LSD, heroin, speed, and cocaine; penalties will mean arrest and possibly jail even for possession. Magic mushrooms were previously legal because of technicalities in the law, but are now class A.

Cannabis is now a 'Class B' drug. A first offence for possession will usually result in a formal warning, or an on-the-spot fine. Subsequent offences may result in arrest.

Examples of Class C include ketamine, some steroids, some prescription drugs such as Valium (legal if they are prescribed for you), GHB, and some tranquillisers.

Drug use is a growing concern for authorities, with some of the highest levels in Europe. Cannabis and ecstasy are both very widely available and you could even be offered it if you are in the right location such as certain markets and clubs. Ecstasy has been known to be cut with anything from poisons to washing powder.

Stay healthy

The local emergency telephone number is 999; however, the EU-wide 112 can also be used. For advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24-hour NHS Direct service on 0845 4647 (NHS 24 in Scotland on 08454 242424)

Emergencies can be dealt with under the NHS (National Health Service) at any hospital with a Casualty or A & E (Accident & Emergency) department. At A&E be prepared to wait for up to 4 hours to be seen to if the medical complaint is not serious, depending on the time of day/night. The longest waiting times usually occur on Friday and Saturday nights. Emergencies will be dealt with immediatly and before any question of remuneration from foreign nationals is even contemplated.

While all treatment by an NHS hospital or doctor is free to British citizens, people from outside the UK will, in many cases, be required to pay for treatment. However citizens of the EU and a small number of other countries can obtain certain treatment if they hold a European Health Insurance Card. Depending on the circumstances, for non-British and non-EU citizens, fees for emergency treatment may be waived. It is advisable, nevertheless, to enquire about payment.

As a foreign national, you will not be charged for essential treatment in genuine emergency situations (such as being taken to the hospital via ambulance after serious accident) or a life and death matter - so do not worry about refusing critical care on the grounds of cost.

For advice on minor ailments and non-prescription drugs, you can ask a pharmacist (there are many high-street chemists, and to practise legally all pharmacists must be registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB), which involves a university degree and other exams and training). Notable pharmacist chains include Boots and Lloyds, and many supermarkets also have pharmacists.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases are spreading between young people, so make sure you practise safe sex. There are around 50,000 HIV victims living in the UK. HIV is very uncommon, but because of this, people have unprotected sex, getting the virus and not thinking they have it. So, as anywhere else in the world, safe sex is a must!. Condoms are available in toilets, from doctor practices and from other retailers such as large supermarkets.

Tap water is safe to drink everywhere, unless otherwise stated.


The electricity supply runs at 230V, 50Hz AC. Only visitors from countries such as the US and Canada, where the voltage supply runs at 110V 60Hz, will need a voltage converter (which can be picked up in most specialist electronic shops). Most appliances needed whilst travelling (such as mobile phone chargers, laptop chargers, shavers and the like) are designed to run off both voltages, however check on the label before setting off.

British plugs have three flat, rectangular pins which form a triangle. These sockets are the same used in Ireland, Cyprus, Malta and several other former British colonies. It is possible to force a thin Europlug (with no earth pins) into the socket, however this is not recommended for obvious reasons. Most shops will sell plug adapters.

Note that during the Christmas and New Year holiday period much of the country shuts down. During the week leading up to Christmas people will travel to their hometowns to visit their family, meaning that the motorway traffic can be very heavy and trains are much more crowded. Also, many people rush to shopping areas to stock up on food and drink and last-minute gifts. On Christmas Day, Boxing Day (Dec 26th) and New Year's Day most businesses will close (including supermarkets and most restaurants and bars) although major hotels remain open. If you don't have a car then avoid travelling on these days as the only available transport is taxis, which will charge up to three times the regular price. If you have a car then it is much better as roads are almost empty on Christmas Day and parking is often free. If you need to purchase food, drink or cigarettes on these days then most petrol (gas) station convenience stores will still be open but almost everything else is closed. Also, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve bus and train services may run on a Sunday schedule meaning that services are much less frequent.


It's acceptable to address someone by their first name in most social situations. First names are sometimes avoided among strangers to avoid seeming overly familiar. In very formal or business situations first names are not commonly used until people are better-acquainted.

The British can be extremely indirect when requesting things from people they do not know. It is common for Britons to "ask around" questions when requesting something: for example, one would be more likely to say something along the lines of "Could you tell me where I might find the changing room?" when in a clothes shop, rather than 'Where's the changing room?'. Although asking questions directly is quite common, it can sometimes be seen as overly abrupt or even rude. Similarly, saying 'What?' when not understanding something can be considered rude around authority figures or people you don't know, so 'Pardon?' is more appropriate to use in situations with a stranger or a superior. British people apologise a lot, even when there is absolutely no need to do so. For example, if someone trod on someone else's toe by accident, both people would normally apologise. This is just a British thing to do, and dwelling on it (e.g. "What are you sorry about?") will mark you out as a foreigner. Often a British person will request something or start a conversation with 'sorry'. Allow some personal space between you and others in queues and elsewhere. You will usually find this in such places as movie cinemas. Generally, unless people know each other, you will find they will usually choose to fill up every row of seating and keep as much distance of possible until there is a requirement to sit directly next to each other. Exceptions are in very crowded situations where this is impossible, like on the tube.

Greetings are dependent upon the situation. In anything but a business situation, a verbal greeting (such as 'hello (name)!') will suffice. Younger people will usually say 'Hi,' or 'Hiya,' but not 'Hey' – this is normally used to attract attention, and could be considered as impolite. Another British greeting (frequently used by younger people) is 'You all right?' or 'All right?' (sometimes abreviated to "A' right" in northern England), which basically is a combination of 'Hello' and 'How are you?'. This term can be confusing to foreigners, but it can be easily replied to with either a greeting back (which is far more common) or stating how you feel (usually something short like 'I'm fine').

A greeting may sometimes be accompanied by a kiss on the cheek (normally between opposite genders or females) or a hug. Etiquette for a hug is somewhat complicated, so the best advice is to accept a hug (regardless of the gender offering it) if it is offered, otherwise a handshake is appropriate. In a formal situation or an initial greeting between two strangers, a handshake is the done thing, this should be of a appropriate firmness (generally moderate firmness).

The Scottish are Scottish, the Welsh are Welsh, the Irish are Irish, and the English are English. Referring to all of them as "English" can offend. You may also find, that even though they indeed all are legally classed as British (Irish referring to Northern Ireland), those not from England usually prefer to be reffered to based upon which country in the United Kingdom they were born in, rather than using the collective term British.

While doing the V sign with the palm facing outward is take to indicate either "peace" or "victory" by many Britons, doing the reverse where the palm faces inward is considered to be an offensive gesture.

Same sex displays of affection are unlikely to cause upset or offend, especially in cities and towns with larger gay populations such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Brighton, Bournemouth and Edinburgh. The majority of the United Kingdom are very accepting of the gay and lesbian community and cities such as Brighton host pride festivals each year. Civil partnerships have been legal since 2005. However, someone looking to start a fight may decide to treat this as a pretext. Try to avoid eye contact with drunken men in city centres at night, especially if they are in a large group. Outside of the larger towns and especially in rural counties such as Cornwall and Devon displays of same sex affection would be more noticed and may cause problems.



In case of emergency, call 999 or 112 from any phone. Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you for your location, and the service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard or mountain rescue). You can call this number from any mobiles as well, even if you do not have roaming. It is a very serious offence to call this number without due cause.

The UK's calling code is 44. To phone another country, dial 00 followed by the calling code and subscriber number. If calling the UK from overseas, you'll need to drop any leading "0" on the area code; similarly, if calling in-country, you may need to add a leading "0" if you've dropped the country code. When the building you're in has its own internal phone system, the number for an outside line is "9" (not "0", as in many other countries, which in the UK usually connects you to the reception desk).

Payphones are widely available, especially in stations, airports, etc. Payphones usually take cash (minimum 40p - BT, although some private payphones may charge more); change is not given, but you can choose to continue your money on to the next call. Some newer payphones accept credit and debit cards and may even allow you to send emails and surf the web. Phonecards have been phased out, though various pre-paid phonecards can be purchased from newsagents for cheap international calls. Some BT payphones now accept Euros. A simpler and often cheaper alternative for international calls is to use a direct-dial service, these offer vastly reduced call rates over the standard providers and don't require you to purchase a card or sign up for an account. You simply dial an access numbers which are charged at different rates (e.g. 0870 at the non-geographical national rate).

Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are T-Mobile [130], Vodafone [131], Orange [132] and O2 [133], and are all currently GSM-based. GPRS data services are also available, usually priced per megabyte. Since 2003, new CDMA-based 3G networks have begun to be deployed, 3 [134] being the first commercial provider. The other four networks now have 3G services deployed, although good 3G coverage is mostly limited to cities, towns and some major travel routes.

There is no charge for calls that you receive on your handset; charges are only for calls that you initiate.

Pay as you go (prepaid) plans are available. Credit the phone with a top-up card or cash payment via a top-up terminal; there is no contract and no bills, Some operators also offer some free text messages.

If you have an unlocked GSM-compatible handset (most dual- and tri-band phones are GSM-compatible) you can purchase a SIM card from several electrical or phone outlets, in supermarkets, or online. Be aware prices do vary considerably – from £5 (with £10 call credit) from Tesco online (available in Tesco supermarkets) to £30 (with £2.50 credit) from Vodafone (available at all mobile phone shops). Often bargain handset-and-SIM deals can be found, if you don't have an unlocked handset - at the time of writing you can get a very basic mobile with SIM for £18 from Tesco, though note that this will be a locked phone and won't work with other SIM cards.

The UK has extensive mobile phone coverage - 99% of the UK mainland is covered. Many towns and cities have 3G coverage as well.

Costs for calls can vary significantly depending on when you call, where from and where to. Calls from hotel rooms can be spectacularly expensive because of the hotel surcharges; check before you use and consider using the lobby payphones instead. Calls from payphones and wired, or landline, phones to mobile phones can be expensive too; if you have the choice call the other party's landline. Beware of premium rate calls, which can be very expensive. Text messaging from mobiles costs around 10 pence per message and picture or MMS messages cost around 45 pence (20 pence on some networks).

Calls between landlines are charged at either local rate or 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. Note that local calls are not generally free. The following table relates the first few digits dialled to call types, so you can avoid some of the pitfalls above:

Digits dialled Call Type
00 International call
01 Call to a landline at local or national rate (see above)
02 Call to a landline at local or national rate (see above)
03 A non-geographic number charged at the same rate as 01 or 02
05 Free call from most landlines and public payphones. Often very expensive to call from a mobile
07 Call to a mobile phone, personal number or pager
0800 Free call from most landlines and public payphones. Often very expensive to call from a mobile
0844 Variable rate from 1p to 5p/min
0845 Call at 3p per minute daytimes and 1ppm at all other times + VAT
0870 Call at 6.73p per minute day-times, 3.36ppm evening and night-times and 1.7ppm at weekends + VAT
0871 Variable rate from 6p to 10p/min
09 Call at a premium rate – anything up to £1.50/minute


Internet cafés can be found in cities and towns; check the city pages for details. All UK public libraries provide access, often branded as "People's Network", usually at no or little charge, though time is rationed. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access either via their cable TV system or WiFi, although the prices are quite steep ( provide the Scottish YHA with a network of broadband and WiFi-capable Internet terminals).

A number of ISPs charge nothing for Internet access by telephone modem - they get their payment from the phone company; local call costs are time-related. Examples are GoNuts4Free [135], DialUKT [136].

There are some Wi-Fi hotspots, although intentionally publicly available wireless is not yet widespread outside central London. Most McDonald's restaurants in the UK now offer free WiFi. Many coffee shops offer paid Wi-Fi. The most you should pay for Wi-Fi access across the UK is £1 for half an hour. Many chain cafés will charge more for no extra value.

Most of the UK is covered by UMTS/HSDPA 3G coverage, giving download speeds up to 7.2Mbps, and GPRS coverage is extensive. 3G data services should roam seamlessly onto the UK networks, or you can purchase a pay-as-you-go SIM card for which credit can be purchased in the same way as for mobile phones.


The Royal Mail has a long history. Postboxes are still the traditional red colour (although there are green and gold Victorian "Penfold" boxes retained in some areas and an historically important blue box in Windsor). Mail can also be posted at post offices.

The Royal Mail has introduced a new system where post within the UK is priced on size and weight. You can find size charts at all post offices but bear this in mind when sending a larger envelope, parcel or packet. Postage stamps cost 34p/24p (domestic 1st/2nd class for envelopes up to C5 size which are less than 5mm thick and less than 100g), 48p (Europe up to 20g), 54p (Worldwide up to 10g). Stamps can be bought at supermarkets, newsagents and tourist shops. Domestic first-class mail can usually be expected to arrive the following day; second-class mail may take several days.

If you wish to send something heavy, or want to send a larger letter or packet within the UK, then you will have to get it weighed and/or measured at the post office. The staff at post offices are very helpful, but avoid the lunchtime rush at around 12-1.30pm when there is often a long queue and 30+ minute waiting times.

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Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Generate a Summary to go with each environmental case study, this is used to generate a summary for a local state of the environment report.

Answering the following questions and generate your LSOE report.

 1. What is happening in the environment (i.e., how are environmental conditions and trends changing)?
 2. Why is it happening (i.e., how are human activities and other stresses linked to the issue in question)?
 3. Why is it significant (i.e., what are its ecological and socioeconomic effects)?
 4. What is being done about it (i.e., how is society responding to the issues)?
 5. Is this sustainable (i.e., are human actions threatening environmental capital and causing deterioration of ecosystem health)?
  * What are current problems related to in the world? Please identify at least two.
  * What has caused these problems to exist in your part of the the world? Please identify at least two causes for each problem.
  * What has the United Nations done in attempting to resolve those problems?
  * What is the position of your Country on those problems?
  * What is the possible position of other countries in your committee on those problems? Consider at least two other countries.
  * How should we the ESAI make a proposition to the United Nations to resolve those problems? 
    Making sure that your solution(s) is/are consistent with your country’s position

State and define your public policy question (a public concern)

  * Is it a real issue, with genuine controversy and uncertainty?
  * Can you distinctly identify two positions?
  * Are you personally interested in advocating one of these positions?
  * Is the issue narrow enough to be manageable?
  * Analysing an Issue and Developing an Argument 

Provide an overview of the most current scientific understanding of the issue in question;

  * Who is your audience?
  * What do they believe?
  * Where do they stand on the issue?
  * How are their interests involved?
  * What evidence is likely to be effective with them?
  * In determining your viewpoint, ask yourself the following:
  * Is your topic interesting?
  * Can you manage the material within the specifications set by the instructor?
  * Does your topic assert something specific and propose a plan of action?
  * Do you have enough material to support your opinion? 

Each LSOE report should:

be written in a manner that non-specialists can understand; include a concise executive summary or highlights section; make reference to appropriate monitoring programs that are potential sources of ecological data.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also .uk, uK, and ük




  1. United Kingdom of Great Britain.
  2. United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
  3. United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.



Up to date as of February 01, 2010
(Redirected to United Kingdom article)

From Familypedia

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland occupies numerous islands off the north-west coast of mainland Europe, including the north-east sector of Ireland. Its constituent "states" are England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

British territories nearby that are not part of the United Kingdom include the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and Gibraltar.

This wiki treats events as happening in the United Kingdom (as in other countries) if they happened in any area that is now part of it. A slight exception is made for the counties: our pages dealing with U.K. counties generally refer to the historic counties, those that were in existence, with relatively minor changes, for hundreds of years until about 1974, when they were not abolished but were mostly superseded for practical administrative purposes. Later reorganisations changed the map substantially again. Where the same names have been used for distinctly different areas, we distinguish the names in some way, such as Renfrewshire (historic).

Alternative names

The United Kingdom is sometimes also referred to as:

External links

  • Parish Locator freeware covering England, Scotland, Wales available for free download
  • People Finder find living relatives in England, Scotland and Wales.
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