Welcome to United Kingdom
Explore Our Best Destinations United Kingdom
Classical England is renowned for its palaces, castles, manor houses, white cliffs and rocky coastlines. Lush green countryside and parks go hand-in-hand with flower-decked villages and traditional pubs. Modern England however takes you by surprise with its creative fashion, culinary diversity, adventure sports and pulsating nightlife. Visitors are lured to the wildly romantic north of Great Britain by kilts, Nessie the Loch Ness monster, malt whiskey, bagpipes, mountains and golf!
Scotland offers some spectacular views of mountain tops, lakes and cliffs. The Atlantic weather front ensures that the light changes constantly and the dramatic and sparsely populated Highlands are best explored on foot. Edinburgh, small city, big ideas. Edinburgh’s cultural festivals have now been joined by new restaurants with Michelin stars, fashion houses and boutiques, the revamping of the port and one of the most sensational parliament buildings in Europe.
Red double-Decker buses, the golden tower of Big Ben, the imposing dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the neon-Gothicky towers of the freshly painted Tower Bridge: London is a city with something for everybody.
Capital of United Kingdom: London
Official language: English
The currency: Pound sterling
Climate: Regional climates are influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and latitude. Northern Ireland, Wales and western parts of England and Scotland, being closest to the Atlantic Ocean, are generally the mildest, wettest and windiest regions of the UK, and temperature ranges here are seldom extreme
Population: 65.14 million (2015 census)
Queen: Elizabeth II
Prime Minister: Theresa May
Calling code: The international calling code is +44
The climate in: United Kingdom
LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
The United Kingdom is situated off the northwest coast of Europe between the Atlantic Ocean on the n and nw and the North Sea on the e, separated from the Continent by the Strait of Dover and the English Channel, 34 km (21 mi) wide at its narrowest point, and from the Irish Republic by the Irish Sea and St. George’s Channel. Its total area of 244,820 sq km (94,526 sq mi) consists of the island of Great Britain—formed by England, 130,439 sq km (50,363 sq mi); Wales, 20,768 sq km (8,018 sq mi); and Scotland, 78,783 sq km (30,418 sq mi)—and Northern Ireland, 14,120 sq km (5,452 sq mi), on the island of Ireland, separated from Great Britain by the North Channel. Comparatively, the area occupied by the United Kingdom is slightly smaller than the state of Oregon.
There are also several island groups and hundreds of small single islands, most of them administratively part of the mainland units. The United Kingdom extends about 965 km (600 mi) n–s and about 485 km (300 mi) e–w. Its total boundary length is 12,789 km (7,947 mi), of which 12,429 km (7,723 mi) is coastline. The Isle of Man, 588 sq km (227 sq mi), and the Channel Islands, comprising Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark, with a combined area of 194 sq km (75 sq mi), are not part of the United Kingdom but are dependencies of the crown. The 0° meridian of longitude passes through the old Royal Observatory, located at Greenwich in Greater London. The United Kingdom’s capital city, London, is located in the southeast part of Great Britain.
The population of United Kingdom in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 60,068,000, which placed it at number 22 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 16% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 18% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 96 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 0.2%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 64,687,000. The overall population density was 245 per sq km (635 per sq mi); in England there were 371 persons per sq km (961 per sq mi), with 4,233 persons per sq km (10,968 per sq mi) in Greater London.
The UN estimated that 89% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.36%. The capital city, London, had a population of 7,619,000 in that year. Other major metropolitan areas in England, with estimated populations, were Birmingham, 2,215,000; Manchester, 2,193,000; Leeds, 1,402,000; and Liverpool, 975,000. Other large English towns include Sheffield, 516,000; Bradford, 478,800; Bristol, 406,500; and Coventry, 300,844. The major cities in Scotland are Glasgow (1,099,400) and Edinburgh (460,000). Belfast, the major city in Northern Ireland, had a population of 287,500; and Cardiff, in Wales, 305,000.
Spoken throughout the United Kingdom and by over 456 million people throughout the world, English is second only to Mandarin Chinese in the number of speakers in the world. It is taught extensively as a second language and is used worldwide as a language of commerce, diplomacy, and scientific discourse. In northwestern Wales, Welsh, a form of Brythonic Celtic, is the first language of most of the inhabitants.
Approximately 26% of those living in Wales speak Welsh (up from 19% in 1991). Some 60,000 or so persons in western Scotland speak the Scottish form of Gaelic (down from 80,000 in 1991), and a few families in Northern Ireland speak Irish Gaelic. On the Isle of Man, the Manx variety of Celtic is used in official pronouncements; in the Channel Islands some persons still speak a Norman-French dialect. French remains the language of Jersey for official ceremonies.
There is complete religious freedom in the United Kingdom. All churches and religious societies may own property and conduct schools. Established churches are the Church of England (Anglican) and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). The former is uniquely related to the crown in that the sovereign must be a member and, on accession, promise to uphold the faith; it is also linked with the state through the House of Lords, where the archbishops of Canterbury and York have seats. The archbishop of Canterbury is primate of all England. The monarch appoints all officials of the Church of England. The established Church of Scotland has a Presbyterian form of government: all ministers are of equal status and each of the congregations is locally governed by its minister and elected elders.
About 71.6% of the population belong to one of the four largest Christian denominations in the country: the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, and the Methodist Church in Britain (originally established as a type of revival movement by the Church of England minister John Wesley, 1703–91). Many immigrants have established community religious centers in the United Kingdom. Such Christian groups include Greek, Russian, Polish, Serb-Orthodox, Estonian and Latvian Orthodox, and the Armenian Church; Lutheran churches from various parts of Europe are also represented. A total of about 2% of the population are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, or Unitarians. The Anglo-Jewish community, with an estimated 300,000 members, is the second-largest group of Jews in Western Europe. There are also sizable communities of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Buddhists.
In Northern Ireland, about 53% of the population are nominally Protestants and 44% are nominally Catholics; only about 30–35% of all Northern Irish are active participants in religious services. The Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland tend to live in self-segregated communities.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit London is in the spring when the temperatures are mild and the city’s parks are green and blooming. However, late spring – along with summer – is also prime tourist season, and hotel and flight prices reflect the surge. You’re more likely to find airfare and accommodation deals in the fall and winter though you’ll also encounter chilly temperatures. It’s important to note though that December in London is an incredibly popular place to be during the holidays, so expect the streets to be crowded with both English and international tourists. And no matter when you travel, you should pack an umbrella: London is notorious for experiencing misty days and showers year-round. Another thing to keep in mind: it’s nearly impossible to escape crowds in London. Along with being one of the biggest cities in Europe, it is one of the most popular destinations to visit in the world, so no matter what time of year you go, you’re bound to run into lots of tourists.
Despite its northern latitude, the United Kingdom generally enjoys a temperate climate, warmed by the North Atlantic Drift, a continuation of the Gulf Stream, and by southwest winds. Mean monthly temperatures range (north to south) from 3°c to 5°c (37–41°f) in winter and from 12°c to 16°c (54–61°f) in summer. The mean annual temperature in the west near sea level ranges from 8°c (46°f) in the Hebrides to 11°c (52°f) in the far southwest of England. Rarely do temperatures rise in summer to over 32°c (90°f) or drop in winter below -10°c (14°f).
Rainfall, averaging more than 100 cm (40 in) throughout the United Kingdom, is heaviest on the western and northern heights (over 380 cm/150 in), lowest along the eastern and southeastern coasts. Fairly even distribution of rain throughout the year, together with the prevalence of mists and fogs, results in scanty sunshine-averaging from half an hour to two hours a day in winter and from five to eight hours in summer.
Peak tourist season in London is pretty much all year-round, but late spring (and summer) are especially busy. By making your London Town jaunt in late spring, you’ll have the opportunity to witness the royal parks and gardens blossoming, and hit the city’s weather sweet spot. However, the earlier you visit in spring, the more likely you’ll run into slightly smaller crowds. While fall and winter can be especially rainy, and summer can get a bit muggy, spring in London enjoys a happy medium, with average temperatures hovering between the 50s and 60s.
London is still crowded with tourists well into mid-September, thanks to the mild 60 to 70-degree temperatures. The photogenic autumn foliage also doesn’t hurt either. If you’re looking to really sink your teeth into the culture, however, this is the best time to visit. These month’s annual events, especially Guy Fawkes Night, are celebrations deeply rooted in not only London but England’s history
If you’re looking to save a pound or two, travel during the chilly, winter season (except for December when rates rise due to the holidays). Though temperatures average in the 30- to 40-degree range, you’ll be able to enjoy a more authentic London experience sans large tourist hordes. Because the city sparkles with twinkling lights and festive events during the holiday season, central London is usually overrun with holiday shoppers, especially at Oxford Street. If you’re in London for the holidays, plan to take in the city’s Christmas splendor away from popular shopping hot spots.
Fortunately, comfortable summertime temperatures (mid-70s Fahrenheit) make the tourist crowds a little bearable. Don’t leave your shorts home just yet; in recent years, London has experienced record highs in the lower 90s. Also, summer affords no relief from rain and subsequent humidity. Packing an umbrella is a must.
Spain occupies most of the Iberian Peninsula, stretching south from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates Spain from Africa. To the east lies the Mediterranean Sea, including Spain’s Balearic Islands. Spain also rules two cities in North Africa and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic.
The interior of Spain is a high, dry plateau surrounded and crisscrossed by mountain ranges. Rivers run to the coasts, creating good farmland. Still, the interior of the country gets very hot in summer and very cold and dry in the winter. Droughts are common.
Plants and trees grow so well on the northwestern coast, in Galicia and along the Bay of Biscay, that the area is called Green Spain. Rain, trapped by the mountains farther inland, is frequent. Beech and oak trees flourish here. Numerous coves and inlets break up the coastline.
The southern and eastern coasts of Spain, from the fertile Andalusian plain up to the Pyrenees, are often swept by warm winds called sirocco winds. These winds originate in northern Africa and keep temperatures along the Mediterranean coast milder than the interior.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Many Spaniards share a common ethnic background: a mixture of the early inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, the Celts, and later conquerors from Europe and Africa. The origins of the Basque people in the north of Spain remain unknown. Recent immigrants from North Africa and Latin America have added to the mix.
Spaniards are known for their love of life and for eating and drinking with family and friends. Traditional appetizers like tapas or pintxos, the Basque country equivalent, are popular. Regional dances and music are almost as important as soccer and religious festivals.
A link between Europe and Africa, Spain is an important resting spot for migratory birds. Spain is also home to such mammals as the wolf, lynx, wildcat, fox, wild boar, deer, hare, and wild goat. Streams and lakes shelter trout, barbel, and tench fish. But many species of wildlife face threats from habitat loss and pollution.
Due to centuries of tree cutting, large forests are now found only in the north Pyrenees and the Asturias-Galicia area. Planting new trees is difficult where sheep and goats graze. Erosion and river pollution are also problems. Spain has created many national parks and refuges, but they only cover about 7 percent of the country.
One protected area is Doñana National Park, a region of marshes, streams, and sand dunes where the Guadalquivir River flows into the Atlantic. The park’s diversity of life is unique in Europe and includes the European badger, Egyptian mongoose, and endangered species such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx.
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
In Spain, which is a parliamentary monarchy, the king and the elected president share the power. Although there is a national parliament, Spain is one of the most decentralized democracies in Europe. Each of its 17 regions manages its own schools, hospitals, and other public services.
With vibrant, historic cities and sunny beaches, Spain attracts more tourists than any other European country except France. Services to the tourism industry drive Spain’s economy, the eighth largest in the world. In 1986 Spain joined the European Community and further modernized its economy. Important industries include mining, shipbuilding, and textiles.
Settlers have migrated to Spain from Europe, Africa, and the Mediterranean since the dawn of history. The Phoenicians, who came in the 8th century B.C. called the peninsula “Span,” or hidden land. By the first century B.C. the Romans had conquered Spain.
Spain became mostly Christian under the Romans, who were followed by the Vandals and the Visigoths, Germanic peoples from Europe. The Visigoth rulers fought among themselves, and in A.D. 711 Muslims from Africa invaded Spain.
Islamic culture spread across Spain as Muslim rulers introduced new crops and irrigation systems, and trading increased. Mathematics, medicine, and philosophy became more advanced, peaking in the tenth century-the golden age of Islamic rule in Spain.
In 1492 Christian kingdoms in northern Spain conquered the Muslims and spread the Catholic religion. Enriched by silver from the Americas, Spain grew more powerful. It later lost land and power in the Napoleonic Wars, which ended in 1815.
More than 500,000 people died in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The victorious Gen. Francisco Franco ruled as a brutal dictator until his death in 1975. Soon after, Spain began to transform itself into a modern, industrial, and democratic European nation.
New Year’s Day, 1 January; Good Friday; Easter Monday (except Scotland); Late Summer Holiday, last Monday in August or 1st in September (except Scotland); Christmas, 25 December; and Boxing Day, 1st weekday after Christmas. Also observed in Scotland are bank holidays on 2 January and on the 1st Monday in August. Northern Ireland observes St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March; and Orangeman’s Day, 12 July, commemorating the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.