England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have claims to be different and distinct. Taken as a whole the United Kingdom contains more heritage, per square mile, than any other nation, tracts of stunningly beautiful countryside, a coastline to die for and some of the most vibrant, multicultural cities on the planet.
London is the usual gateway, and there's enough here to keep you busy for weeks. The Tower of London and St Paul's Cathedral are obvious highlights, and there are always huge queues outside Madame Tussauds' though it's not immediately obvious why.
The city of Bath is the second most visited city in the UK, a mellow city built from quarried stone. This is a refreshing relief from the buzz of the capital and far more compact: it's eminently walkable.
It's hard to choose amongst the country's attractions. Within easy reach of London the city of Oxford is more than just its famous University: it's a beautiful city of golden stone. Cambridge also has its granite charms, but is best explored by bicycle - it sits on a plain.
Head west to Dorset, Devon and Cornwall for spectacular coastal views, and edge up into Wales if you want them to yourself. Visitors don't often target the cities in Wales: it's best known for its wild and beautiful interior and wild an undeveloped coast.
The White Cliffs of Dover are seen at their best from the sea, but Kent is known as 'the garden of England' for good reason: pretty villages and rolling countryside is manicured to perfection.
Head north and the countryside opens into meadows dotted with villages, castles and stately homes. The Lake District, immortalised in poetry over the centuries, lives up to its image, and you can escape from the rambling hordes by setting off for a challenging hike. Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, dominated by the castle at it heart. It comes to life every summer for its world-famous comedy festival.
Northern Ireland is centred around buzzing Belfast: it also has castles galore and the huge hexagonal stone columns of the Giant’s Causeway.
That is just scratching the surface of this great destination. The only way to discover which parts to see is to visit yourself. Get packing!.
If in London for more than a day or two, invest in an Oyster travel card for substantial savings on underground (subway), bus, and train fares in the capital.
Remember to stand on the right on escalators – or risk an angry tutting from commuters in a hurry. To find unusual or historic holiday accommodation, try the Landmark Trust.
Summer (late June-September) brings the warmest weather and least rain – though clouds can appear at any time. Through the summer holidays crowds at popular attractions are largest and accommodation booked out. Travel between late May and mid-July, or again in September and the crowds will have eased.
Spring (March-May) brings flowers and showers, while autumn (late September-November) sees beautiful red and golden tree foliage and soft lighting. Winter is cold and usually damp; there’s some skiing in Scotland but nothing to match Europe's ski resorts.
Heathrow Airport (LHR) is 24km west of central London. Gatwick Airport (LGW) is 48km south of central London. Edinburgh Airport (EDI) is 13km west of the city centre.
Domestic flights with various airlines link major cities. Most large cities have airports, many offering international flights to Europe and further afield.
The UK’s rail service is extensive, with regular trains run by numerous private operators serving most parts of the country; it is, though, expensive – especially when booked on the day of travel. Save money by booking well in advance. Timetables are online at nationalrail.
Comfortable coaches, notably those operated by National Express, cover most of the country; they’re cheaper but slower than trains.
Car hire and fuel are both pricey, though self-drive is the only way to reach some remote areas. Some outlying islands are reached by ferry or helicopter.
United Kingdom has the full range of accommodation options, with campsites, budget hostels, B&Bs, guesthouses, and boutique and top-end hotels.
Camping is only really an option in summer – indeed, many campsites close between October and April. Online booking sites usually offer discounts on hotel rates.
The UK isn’t historically associated with fine cuisine or wine – but that’s all changed, as national interest in high-quality food soars (as evidenced by countless cooking and dining TV shows).
Classic ‘British’ meals such as fish and chips vary in quality, but the range of international cuisines is unparalleled, especially in larger towns and cities. Indian restaurants, in particular, have overtaken those in their homeland for quality and choice.
A growing wine business has seen award-winning tipples – especially whites – reach shops and tables. Most vineyards are in the south, where the climate is kinder. Cider and beer are the traditional brews; real ales (beers) are seeing a resurgence.
The UK is a healthy destination. Water is almost always safe to drink from the tap, there are few insect- or water-borne diseases, and only one (mildly) venomous animal, the adder (a kind of viper), is shy and rarely seen.
Visitors from countries that drive on the right will soon notice that in the UK traffic drives on the left. In a car, the difference is instinctive, but this can pose a danger to unwary pedestrians: look both ways before crossing a road.
In busy areas of large towns it pays to hold on tightly to purse or wallet and keep your wits about you. Even the biggest cities are safe compared with many global metropolises but can get rowdy late on weekend nights.
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