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United Kingdom

United Kingdom Travel Guide

flights to United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is comprised of two large and several tiny islands just off the north west coast of the European Continent. Surprisingly, for it's size, The UK has been a major player in world history and even more strangely once oversaw a vast empire that stretched throughout virtually the entire globe. The British penchant for cultural diversity is somewhat at odds with the UK itself. United in name only England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are geographically individual and each has their own very distinct cultures. Even within the countries themselves, regional traditions, dialects and attitudes vary widely. The one thing that the whole of the United Kingdom seems to have in common is the ethic of hard work and the love of a good drink – the British invented pub-culture.

England is probably the most diverse of the four countries both topographically and culturally. The north and south divide is certainly no myth but in all fairness this is probably only really apparent to the English themselves. As far as history goes England is like a vast theme park of castles, battlefields, legendary cities, incredible architecture and down right dirty deeds; English history is steeped in murder and betrayal. Swinging London is the country's main attraction. A vast and filthy metropolis which is comprised of several interconnected towns each of which has its own distinctive character – from the grandeur of the ‘City’ to the bright lights and glamour of Leicester Square, the bustle of Camden Lock to the cool ambience of Covent Garden – London is never anything less than fascinating.

Northern cities tend to have an industrial bias with Victorian mills virtually everywhere you go. The North East has Durham with it's immense Cathedral and Newcastle with it's happening city centre and excellent pubs serving that famous brown ale. The North West is probably the most industrial area with the cities of Manchester and Liverpool virtually having to re-invent themselves since the demise of the cotton trade and shipbuilding. The English countryside is the envy of the world… what it lacks in spectacle it makes up for in charm. The Lake District is virtually picture perfect whilst the far south is quintessential postcard Britain.

Regardless of the proximity of so much of the country to England, Wales is probably the most cultural autonomous of the four UK countries. Welsh language is still spoken by 20% of the population and is on the increase, with many schools being welsh speaking only. The Welsh are from a non-conformist background, which would appear to be the main drive behind their passionate nationalism. They are a cultured race with a great love of poetry, drama and music (in particular singing), however the second religion is rugby.

The countryside, covered with wonderful rolling hills and mountains, heather and moss, is often bleak but always beautiful. Snowdonia National Park takes pride of place with the highest peak in Britain (south of Scotland) and numerous fascinating ruins and castles. City-wise, Cardiff is the capital and although first impressions may not be too favourable, if you dig a little deeper there is a vibrant underbelly and some of the best nightlife in the British Isles. Llandudno is Wales’ main holiday destination and a lovely choice too. Every bit the traditional Victorian seaside resort it oozes charm even if it is a little out of touch with the 21st century. Those seeking history should head for Conway, home of the most famous castle in the country and one of the best preserved medieval walled cities in Europe.

Despite it's fearsome reputation Scotland is one of the friendliest countries on the planet. Proud and strong by nature the Scots are second only to the Irish when it comes to having a good time. Like all the British Isles, bar England, they have retained much of their pagan roots and traditions; customs and festivals are taken very seriously. Scotland’s countryside is spectacular to a fault. The highlands are so dramatic they take your breath away. Nowhere in the UK is there a wilderness to compare to the areas around Loch Lomand and Loch Ness. The places virtually crackle with mystery and adventure as you wander amongst the monsters, ghosts and banshees.

When it comes to Scottish cities Edinburgh is destination one and it really is no surprise. An elegant city of gob-smacking majesty overlooked by the imposing castle and surrounded by hills covered in wonderful buildings from the last two centuries, it’s no wonder it has inspired so many writers, poets and musicians. Glasgow is an entirely different animal – sophisticated, vibrant and stylish the city has undergone a renaissance over the last twenty years. Today’s Glasgow is light years from the down trodden unemployment-heavy slum it once was, with Sauchiehall street amongst the most exciting, happening city centre streets in Europe. Its also one of the best places to watch a soccer match especially between Rangers and Celtic when national pride takes a back seat to religious fanaticism for 90 odd minutes.

Northern Ireland has had a bad rap. The troubles have not done any favours to anyone even those who would think otherwise and the scars are still broadly apparent. But you have to remember that this is Ireland and the Irish are a notoriously resilient folk, who remain passionately Irish. Belfast is one of Ireland’s most vibrant and interesting city’s, hospitable, cultured and handsome. When you're not tempted by the terrific pub scene you should check out Donegal Square and the imposing City Hall, the stunningly elaborate Queens Bridge and the wonderful Grand Opera House. Galway, on the west coast is a lively city with almost legendary nightlife, superb shopping and more culturally based festivals than anywhere else in Ireland.

Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland needs no introduction, it's reputation is global and it is one of the few places that lives up to it's name 100%. From the magnificent architecture along the banks of the River Liffey to O’Connell Street with it's classy department stores and wonderful statuary Dublin is totally alive. The Temple Bar area has an atmosphere comparable to the best areas of Amsterdam, but go to any of the 700 pubs in the city and you’re assured a warm welcome and a first rate pint of Guinness. Cork on the other hand is so laid back it feels like slow motion. Irish hospitality is always forthcoming and the city has a cultured air, which seems somewhat at odds with the party spirit that oozes from every nook and cranny. Away from the towns and cities you become fully aware of the true secret of Ireland’s magic. From the eerie limestone karst landscape of the Burren, to the spectacle that is Giant’s Causeway, the idyllic beauty of the Kerry Ring to the storybook architecture of Blarney Castle and its famously lip served stone – you simply know you are walking in a place of legends.

The UK has much to offer the traveller. So the weather might be dodgy and the food variable; many of the urban areas are modern and unappealing and public transport generally sucks. But on the whole there is more than enough to keep the most discerning traveller happy for a visit of any length and the sheer diversity of cultures and landscapes remains unmatched anywhere else in Europe. It is a generally friendly, good-humoured place; a place where stories are swapped and good company is always appreciated. Above all it is one of the true seats of international history where mythology and reality are often blurred and the modern day hero was conceived and nurtured. In short a visit to the UK is a very satisfying means of self-education.

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