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Leaving Stateside shores for the UK soon? What a fascinating place Great Britain is, right? It’s hard to imagine anywhere else that has as much amazing history, stunning scenery and diverse culture packed in such a compact space (compared to the US, that is).
From the iconic white cliffs of Dover to those marvels of modern engineering the Forth bridges, and the Welsh Valleys to Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway, this is a nation of dramatic scenery that provokes intense emotions. And when it comes to history, the pomp and ceremony of the Palace of Westminster and Buckingham Palace, and the volcanic majesty of Edinburgh Castle are just a few prime examples of what makes the UK such an epic adventure for visitors.
In terms of culture, Britain is much more of a melting pot than you might imagine. Big cities like London and Birmingham spice things up with music, food, and art from every corner of the Earth, and there’s always a warm welcome in Wales. Meanwhile, Scotland is a cultural powerhouse that pulls on diverse influences from Ireland, Nordic nations and beyond, and Northern Ireland has a refined charm all of its own – as well as perfectly-poured pints of the Black Stuff!
With a huge network of reliable roads (including many convenient motorways), the UK is also the perfect place to rent a car, hit the road and explore. And although following an itinerary is efficient, be sure to leave enough space in your schedule for unplanned stops – Britain is the type of place where you discover unexpected delights around every corner!
Guide to the UK
In some ways, the UK might not be as old as you think. In fact, Britain’s beginnings as a political entity stem from 1707 when the parliaments of Scotland and England united (their crowns had united back in 1603). So the UK’s date of birth only predates that of the US by a few decades – not a big deal in the scheme of things. That said, the individual and shared histories of the constituent UK nations (often as opponents during wars and conflicts) stretches back far further and incoming groups such as the Romans also had a massive influence over the future politics and culture of what became the UK. Britain flourished economically following mass industrialization in the 19th century and its 20th century history was dominated by the two World Wars where it joined forces with the US (amongst other nations) to fight Nazi Germany and its allies. Today, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland each have forms of devolved power, although the buck stops with the UK parliament in Westminster. And Britain’s monarch is still the official head of state – the dearly departed Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 70 years and her son Charles III now sits on the throne.
As you might expect, there’s lots of shared culture in the UK. But it’s anything but bland and uniform – each of the four nations that makes up the UK has its own distinctive culture and people arriving from all over the world for generations have also made the milieu much richer. Standard English is the shared language, but Scots (a sister tongue) is commonplace in lowland Scotland, while Gaelic still has linguistic strongholds in the Scottish Highlands and Islands and Welsh not only sounds beautiful but produces some of the longest place names you’ll see anywhere! You’ll also hear Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland – which has its own colorful phrases delivered in a characteristic clipped burr. Throw in the language, music, and cuisine of British people with roots in Caribbean, Asia and pretty much everywhere else and you’ve got yourself a heady (and fantastic) blend that satisfies all the senses.
Britain is renowned for tradition and formality. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring and stuffy – there are lots of cultural layers and alternative subcultures in the mix. From the punk rock revolution led by the Sex Pistols (which continues to inspire generations of DIY creatives) to the graffiti-based guerilla art of Bristol’s Banksy, there’s space in good old Blighty for people who march to the beat of their own drum. And even the food is getting more rebellious – previously criticized as bland by continental cousins, you’ll now find some of the world’s spiciest (and tastiest) curries in cities like Leicester and Glasgow or grab the best jerk chicken and rice n peas this side of Kingston, Jamaica in London’s Brixton. Last but not least, if you want to really immerse yourself in the UK’s diverse creative scene, take a trip north to Edinburgh for the Festival Fringe – held annually each August, this is the world’s largest arts festival and showcases everything from niche literature to experimental dance and avant garde theatre.
Things To Do in the UK
Britain is blessed by some epic scenery with eternal appeal. You can get close to most of it in your car, but some more remote beauty spots are a little less accessible and require good boots, waterproof gear, and decent stamina. For many locals and visitors, Scotland boasts the UK’s most effortlessly elegant natural scenery – evident everywhere from the stiletto rock stacks of Skye’s Old Man of Storr to the lush surrounds of Loch Lomond. Meanwhile, Yorkshire’s Malham Cove has dramatic curved cliffs enclosing lush greenery, Dorset’s Jurassic Coast has the Durdle Door limestone arch, County Antrim’s Giant’s Causeway showcases gorgeous natural geometry and Gwynedd’s Snowdonia National Park is a majestic mountain playground.
Where should you head to let your hair down? The good news is that the UK has prime party spots up and down the land. Fatboy Slim’s old stomping ground Brighton is always a good pick – this classic British seaside town has attracted pleasure-seekers for generations. Meanwhile, Cardiff boasts traditional pubs and chic cocktail bars, Glasgow has bars full of bantering locals and cool live music venues and Liverpool is a must if you like hanging out in a metropolis with impeccable musical heritage. But don’t forget Manchester – the home of two of the world’s most legendary football teams also has a brilliant musical heritage and the trendy Northern Quarter is one of Britain’s best neighborhoods to relax and unwind in.
Traveling to the UK with your kids? There are plenty of attractions to float their little boats too. You can expand their minds at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort with rides, activities, and adventures, entertain older kids with wild rollercoaster rides at Alton Towers and have a magical time at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. Alternatively, Blackpool Pleasure Beach has bright lights, fun rides, and an iconic tower, while Edinburgh Zoo hosts the UK’s only pair of pandas. And apart from all of these headline attractions, most towns and cities have gorgeous green spaces, playparks and woodlands that little ones just love.
Eating Out in the UK
Yeah, you read that right. Outside of the subcontinent itself, the UK might be the best place for Indian food. Purists will tell you that British Indian cuisine might be adapted to suit a broad range of palates, but it’s delicious all the same. Some of the best places to set your taste buds on fire are Dishoom in Covent Garden, Asha’s in Manchester and Purple Poppadom in Cardiff.
If you’re out and about anywhere in the UK, there’s lots of delicious local, regional, international and fusion streetfood available too. For stacked, juicy burgers and buffalo wings, catch the Orange Buffalo food truck in London locations like Hoxton and Tooting. Alternatively, The Smoked Vegan in Bristol’s Harborside market serves lots of spicy plant-based delights.
Best of British
Fancy something more traditional in your belly? Try plush Scottish dining and cocktails at Monteiths in Edinburgh, brunch at the Great British Restaurant in London, or an evening meal at Carters of Moseley in Birmingham.
Transport in the UK
Top UK airports include London Heathrow (LHR), London Gatwick (LGW), Manchester (MAN), Glasgow (GLA) and Edinburgh (EDI). But there are many more regional and international air hubs up and down the nation here you can land, rent a car and set off for your adventure.
The public transport system in the UK is diverse and far-reaching. It comprises overground railroads, underground trains, buses and trams.
Always drive on the left-hand side of the road in the UK, don’t drink and drive and please wear a seatbelt. The road system is expansive and well-maintained in general. Great places to drive include the Cotswolds in England and the North Coast 500 route in the Scottish Highlands.