What you need to know about the UK
From Stonehenge to the Beatles, Edinburgh Castle to Cardiff Bay; nowhere does history and heritage quite like the UK. This tiny kingdom is four beautiful countries in one, each with its own unique character, dialects and hidden treasures. In just a few days you can discover the roly-poly hills and valleys of Northern Ireland, the wild coastline and lochs of Scotland, the patchwork countryside and seaside charm of England, and the snow-capped mountains and slate-roofed villages of Wales.
You can visit thousands of ancient castles, discover 69 unique and individual cities, and explore some of the world’s finest museums, theatres, shops, pubs and 21st century attractions. And where else can you experience every kind of weather in just one day? Bring your umbrella and immerse yourself in the historical riches and breathtaking beauty of this extraordinary island nation.
Food and drink
The UK’s reputation for terrible food is long past – now Britannia rules the kitchen once again, giving the world some of the most innovative chefs and many of the finest restaurants, cafes, tea shops and gastropubs in the world. The UK diet is as diverse and varied as its people, bringing together culinary influences and traditions from every period of history.
You can’t visit the UK without trying a full English breakfast, fish and chips at the seaside, traditional afternoon tea and a roast dinner - just maybe not all in the same day! Regional foods and specialities abound, from English cheeses to Welsh lamb, Scottish haggis and Northern Irish breads.
Pubs are a UK institution – you’ll find 57,000 of them in every city, town and village across the UK, so find your local and relax with a pint or two of the local ale. Cheers!
Browsing the UK’s shops is a pleasure that offers something new and extraordinary around every corner, whether you’re exploring London’s iconic department stores or the quirky boutiques of Edinburgh’s cobbled streets. Shopaholics will find plenty to tempt them across the UK, from glossy mega-malls to the speciality stores and artisan shops of regional towns and villages.
Markets are a large part of UK culture – it’s where the locals shop for local foods and fresh flowers, rummage for vintage clothes or browse for antiques; you’ll find them everywhere from Portobello Road in London to the squares and halls of the UK’s market towns.
London’s shopping may be world class, but there are equal riches to be found across the UK, from rare Welsh gold to Scottish Tweed, Northern Irish linen and English pottery – the question is, how many souvenirs can you carry home?
The UK’s culture has evolved from 2000 years of complex history, creating a wealth of art, literature, films and TV. These have not only formed the foundations of the modern United Kingdom, but also the world’s view of this little island nation. The UK has a wealth of wonderful traditions and cultural riches, from Shakespeare’s plays and red London buses to the BBC and Harry Potter.
Whether the Brits are talking about the Royal Family, football or the weather (it will almost certainly be one of these three), they’ll usually be speaking English, which makes it easy for visitors to explore the wealth of heritage and history. Regional dialects and English vernacular can sometimes cause confusion, but it’s a friendly nation that welcomes visitors with a breezy “hello”, so you’ll always find someone who’s happy to lend a hand.
The UK is a small country, so it’s a lovely place to explore in a hire car, at your own pace. The UK’s rail network is modern and (mostly) efficient, and it offers a scenic and relaxed way to travel between the UK’s major cities and towns; however UK trains are considerably more expensive than most of mainland Europe, so coach travel may be a better value option if you’re not pressed for time.
All UK towns and cities have good local bus and taxi services and many of the larger cities like London and Newcastle also have underground services.
If you prefer pedal power or walking, Britain is one of the best places in the world to go for a walk or explore by bike, with hills that are challenging but not too taxing, and a huge network of national cycle routes and footpaths that will take you through breathtaking and ever-changing scenery.
Things to watch out for
Unlike most of Europe, the UK drives on the left and most hire cars will have a manual (stick shift) gearbox – you may need to request an automatic.
Driving in the UK is generally considered less terrifying than other countries in Europe – UK drivers are mostly law-abiding when it comes to things like pedestrian crossings, and there are heavy penalties for speeding and dangerous driving.