Comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland lies in the North Atlantic Ocean. Many people confuse it with Great Britain, which is only a political entity of England, Scotland and Wales. The union between these four countries has a history of over 300 years and it greets its visitors with diverse culture, beautiful landscapes and fascinating history. The United Kingdom is the birthplace of world-renowned poets, writers and sports like football, rugby, golf and cricket (invented in Belgium but popularized by the British).
The powerhouse of the UK and home to the Royal Family, England is known for its verdant landscape, national parks, beach-lined coast and historical ruins and monuments which reflect its unbelievably long and rich history.
England’s capital London is one of the world’s most visited cities and houses a cluster of iconic monuments. This 21st-century city with world-class facilities, has a history that can be traced back to the Roman period. You have several options to explore the city – take the bus, hop on an iconic black taxi, ride the tube, opt for a cruise in the Thames or just wander around on foot.
An ideal sightseeing tour of London can be started from Trafalgar Square, from where you can reach Buckingham Palace – the official residence of the Queen of the United Kingdom, in no time. From here, walk through the Birdcage Walk street to reach Westminster Abbey, a fine example of Early English Gothic architecture and Big Ben (Elizabeth Tower), the iconic clock tower attached to the Palace of Westminster. Located across the Thames, London Eye (also known as Millennium Wheel) is an observation wheel that offers bird’s eye views of London.
River Thames features some of London’s most iconic bridges like the Tower Bridge and Millennium Bridge. The Millennium Bridge is a pedestrian-only footbridge from where you can have a stunning view of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Tower Bridge is London’s most iconic bridge across which lies the Tower of London – a castle with 22 towers.
This royal palace and fortress together with the British Museum and National History Museum are the best places to learn about British history. The National History Museum features a unique collection of over 80 million exhibits including animals, plants and minerals. The British Museum is the largest in the country and houses galleries from all over the world, welcoming over 5 million visitors annually. Other notable museums and galleries in London are Madame Tussauds, Tate Modern, National Gallery and Victoria & Albert Museum. Cricket enthusiasts can visit Lords and The Oval, where they can opt for a stadium tour and if lucky, watch a live game. London also organizes Europe’s largest street festival – Notting Hill Carnival.
England’s charm extends beyond London to two of the world’s most prestigious university cities – Oxford and Cambridge. They date back to the medieval era with remarkable architecture and are renowned for their world-class teaching and research facilities. Though the universities are massive, the cities are comparatively smaller and each has a distinct ambience of its own.
The historic city of Canterbury is known for its UNESCO world heritage listed 6th-century cathedral and a medieval center surrounded by Roman walls. Nowadays, it is a bustling city packed with a student population and dotted with numerous pubs and restaurants.
Birmingham, the second-largest city in England, was an important centre of the Industrial Revolution, which gave it the name, ‘City of a Thousand Trades’. Contrary to popular belief, Birmingham has a longer network of canals than Venice, which are today lined with world-class dining options. Stratford-upon-Avon, located near the city is the birthplace of the world’s most famous playwright of all time – William Shakespeare, and also holds his grave – Holy Trinity Church.
The medieval city of Salisbury is home to one of the world’s most iconic prehistoric structures – Stonehenge, which attracts about a million visitors a year. Close by, Bath is an elegant and picturesque historical city and a UNESCO world heritage site. It is the home to some of the best-preserved Roman bathhouses and beautiful Georgian architecture.
The Cotswolds region which enclose six counties including Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, has a hilly rugged terrain and is dotted with charming villages, churches and mansions. You can walk or cycle to explore this region for the perfect countryside experience.
The UNESCO world heritage listed Cornwall region in England’s southwestern corner is a popular holiday destination. It has rugged terrain and sandy beaches, picturesque harbour villages and seaside resorts.
Manchester and Liverpool need no introduction for football enthusiasts. While Liverpool boasts of an impressive cultural heritage, Manchester has a rich industrial heritage of being a textile powerhouse in the 18th-century. Chester, close to Liverpool is a well-preserved walled city with Roman fortifications and Tudor-styled buildings.
The Lake District region in northwest England, is the most popular national park in the United Kingdom and features the highest mountain in England – Scafell Pike. It is also home to a labyrinth of glacial lakes which offers great lake cruise experiences. Its unique hill-farming culture brought the region the world heritage site recognition from UNESCO in 2017. York in northeast England is known for its extraordinary cultural and historical wealth. This historic city’s skyline is dominated by the medieval York Minster – one of the world’s most elegant Gothic cathedrals.
Scotland is known for its rolling hills and offers endless outdoor adventures along with historic castles, great seafood, culture and friendly people.
Capital Edinburgh is a hilly city with a medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town. The city is dotted with grand neo-classical buildings and was a major intellectual center – just like ancient Athens, which gives it the nickname, “Athens of the North”. The city organizes Edinburgh Festival Fringe – the world’s biggest art festival every summer. Edinburgh Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Arthur’s Seat volcano, Calton Hill and the National Museum of Scotland are the highlights of the city.
The port-city of Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland with historical treasures ranging from Victorian and art nouveau architecture to elegant modern structures. Glasgow is the shopping hub of Scotland and features a vibrant nightlife fueled by live music and countless pubs.
Scotland’s true charm, however, lies away from the cities in picturesque villages like Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands or Loch Ness – famous for the mythical Loch Ness monster (also known as Nessie). Isle of Skye (also known as Skye), located in the northwest coast of Scotland, has rugged landscapes, picturesque fishing villages and medieval castles.
Eilean Donan is known for the photogenic 13th-century Eilean Donan castle, which is a popular location for film, TV and ad shoots.
Wales is located in the southwestern part of the United Kingdom and is often overshadowed by its more popular neighbours. Despite being one of the smaller countries on the island, Wales packs a rich geographical diversity, beautiful coastlines, impressive castles and offers a distinct experience with a flavour of Welsh and Celtic cultures.
Capital Cardiff is a compact coastal city centred around Cardiff Castle and has a vibrant nightlife. It has a beautiful waterfront lined with remarkable architectural structures and dining options. Also known as the ‘City of Arcades’, Cardiff is an excellent shopping destination with plenty of Victorian and contemporary commercial centres.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park hosts an incredible coastal landscape, lovely beaches, abundant marine life and offers activities like walking, surfing and sea kayaking. Brecon Beacons National Park encompasses the Brecon Beacons mountain range and is filled with stunning hill scenery and outdoor activities. Both the parks can be easily explored with Cardfill as the base.
Snowdonia National Park is the first ever national park in Wales and is home to the largest natural lake in Wales – Llyn Tegid and also the highest mountain – Mount Snowdon. The 1085m tall summit of the mountain can be reached through a scenic train journey, or mountain climbing, which takes around 6-8 hours of strenuous walking to get to the top and back.
Conwy in northern Wales, is famous for the 13th-century UNESCO world heritage listed Conwy Castle, from the top of which you can enjoy impressive views of the town and its river.
As the name suggests, Northern Ireland sits in the northern region of the island of Ireland, away from the island of Great Britain. Once a part of Ireland, Northern Ireland is known for its food scene, sophisticated cities, the Causeway Coast and unpredictable weather.
Capital Belfast has a vibrant nightlife, great restaurants, pubs and theatres, but the city is better recognized as the birthplace of the ill-fated ocean liner Titanic. The legacy of the Titanic is prominent in the city – there is a neighbourhood named after it, and the dockyard where the Titanic was made is known as Titanic Quarter. To learn more about the ship, its history and how it was made, you can visit Titanic Belfast museum. Belfast also organises one of the largest arts festivals in the UK and Ireland – Belfast International Arts Festival. The hilltop Belfast Castle, the historical Belfast City Hall and Ulster Museum – located inside the Botanical Garden of Belfast are some of highlights in the city.
Londonderry (also known as Derry), Northern Ireland’s second largest city is known for its historical legacy. The city is surrounded by 17th-century city walls and you can walk through its streets and visit popular sites like Guildhall and St Columb’s Cathedral.
Northern Ireland’s other attractions like Giant’s Causeway, Castle Ward, Downhill Beach and the Dark Hedges have become increasingly popular after being featured in the HBO hit series, Game of Thrones. Giant’s Causeway is an extensive area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns and the beautiful rock formation is the only UNESCO world heritage site in Northern Ireland.
Even though England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland join together to make a single region – the United Kingdom, each country has a distinct flavour of its own. From the ultra modern lifestyle of England’s megacity London to the Irish culture of Northern Ireland, endless list of historical monuments and varying landscapes, the UK is rightly one of the world’s best travel locations.
The prehistoric monument, Stonehenge is older than the pyramids of Egypt.