United Kingdom

Map of United Kingdom
Map of United Kingdom

Introduction to United Kingdom

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (usually shortened to the United Kingdom or the UK) is a country situated on a collection of islands known as the British Isles off the north-western coast of continental Europe, and surrounded by the North Sea, the English Channel, the Celtic Sea, the Irish Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean.

The United Kingdom, often referred to simply as 'Britain', is a constitutional monarchy with a unitary state and is composed of four constituent parts: the three constituent countries of England, Scotland, and Wales on the island of Great Britain, and the province of Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland. The UK has several overseas territories, including Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, and has sovereignty over the Crown dependencies of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The UK has close relationships with the fifteen other Commonwealth Realms, which share the same monarch as head of state.

The UK is also one of the largest member states of the European Union and a founding partner of both the UN (with a permanent seat on the Security Council) and NATO.

The UK has been a member of the European Union since 1973. The attitude of the present government towards further integration is conservative, with the official opposition favouring a return of some powers and competencies to the UK. It has not chosen to adopt the Euro as domestic political opinion runs strongly against such a move, whilst the government itself has not seen fit to advance membership based on a judgement of the economic costs and benefits in doing so.

Most of England consists of rolling lowland terrain, divided east from west by more mountainous terrain in the Northwest (Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District) and north (the upland moors of the Pennines) and limestone hills of the Peak District by the Tees-Exe line. The lower limestone hills of the Isle of Purbeck, Cotswolds, Lincolnshire and chalk downs of the Southern England Chalk Formation. The main rivers and estuaries are the Thames, Severn and the Humber Estuary. The largest urban area is Greater London. Near Dover, the Channel Tunnel links the United Kingdom with France. There is no peak in England that is 1000 metres (3,300 ft) or greater.

Scotland's geography is varied, with lowlands in the south and east and highlands in the north and west, including Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain at 1343 metres (4,406 ft). There are many long and deep-sea arms, firths, and lochs. A multitude of islands west and north of Scotland are also included, notably the Hebrides, Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands. The capital city is Edinburgh, the centre of which is a World Heritage Site. The largest city is Glasgow.

Wales is mostly mountainous, the highest peak being Snowdon at 1085 metres (3,560 ft) above sea level. North of the mainland is the island of Anglesey. The largest and capital city is Cardiff, located in South Wales.

Northern Ireland, making up the north-eastern part of Ireland, is mostly hilly. The main cities are Belfast ('Beal Feirste' in Irish) and Londonderry / Derry ('Doire' in Irish). The province is home to one of the UK’s World Heritage Sites, the Giant's Causeway, which consists of more than 40,000 six-sided basalt columns up to 40 feet (12 m) high.

In total it is estimated that the UK includes around 1098 small islands, some being natural and some being crannogs, a type of artificial island which was built in past times using stone and wood, gradually enlarged by natural waste building up over time.
Flag of United Kingdom
Flag of United Kingdom

Cultural notes about United Kingdom

The culture of the United Kingdom is rich and varied, and has been influential on culture on a worldwide scale. It is a European country, and has many cultural links with its former colonies, particularly those that use the English language (the Anglosphere). Considerable contributions to British culture have been made over the last half-century by immigrants from the Indian Subcontinent and the West Indies. While it can be argued that a common British identity still permeates society (though this is a contested and contentious assertion), the origins of the UK as a union of formerly separate nations has resulted in the preservation, to a greater or lesser extent, of distinctive cultures in each of the "Home Nations".

The United Kingdom has no official language. English is the main language and the de facto official language, spoken monolingually by an estimated 95% of the UK population.

However, some nations and regions of the UK have frameworks for the promotion of autochthonous languages. In Wales, English and Welsh are both widely used by officialdom, and Irish and Ulster Scots enjoy limited use alongside English in Northern Ireland, mainly in publicly commissioned translations. Additionally, the Western Isles region of Scotland has a policy to promote Scottish Gaelic.

Under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which is not legally enforceable, the UK Government has committed itself to the promotion of certain linguistic traditions. Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish are to be developed in Wales, Scotland and Cornwall respectively. Other native languages afforded such protection include Irish in Northern Ireland, Scots in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where it is known in official parlance as "Ulster Scots" or "Ullans" but in the speech of users simply as "Scotch", and British Sign Language.

In the 18th century, the highbrow and provocative Restoration comedy lost favour, to be replaced by sentimental comedy, domestic tragedy such as George Lillo's The London Merchant (1731), and by an overwhelming interest in Italian opera. Popular entertainment became more important in this period than ever before, with fair-booth burlesque and mixed forms that are the ancestors of the English Music Hall. These forms flourished at the expense of legitimate English drama, which went into a long period of decline. By the early 19th century it was no longer represented by stage plays at all, but by the closet drama, plays written to be privately read in a "closet" (a small domestic room).

A change came in the late 19th century with the plays on the London stage by the Irishmen George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde and the Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, all of whom influenced domestic English drama and vitalised it again.

Today the West End of London has a large number of theatres, particularly centred around Shaftesbury Avenue. A prolific composer of the 20th century Andrew Lloyd Webber has dominated the West End for a number of years and his musicals have travelled to Broadway in New York and around the world, as well as being turned into films.

The Royal Shakespeare Company operates out of Shakespeare's birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon in England, producing mainly but not exclusively Shakespeare's plays.

Important modern playwrights include Alan Ayckbourn, John Osborne, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and Arnold Wesker.

The UK was, with the US, one of the two main countries in the development of rock and roll, and has provided bands including The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, Queen, Status Quo, the Sex Pistols, the Manic Street Preachers, Oasis, Radiohead and Coldplay. Since then it has also pioneered in various forms of electronic dance music including acid house, drum and bass and trip hop, all of which were in whole or part developed in the United Kingdom. Acclaimed British dance acts include Underworld, Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers and Portishead.

Official Canadian government advisories for travelling to, in and around United Kingdom

On July 7, 2005, a series of terrorist bomb attacks occurred on the transport system of central London, causing over 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries. On July 21, 2005, explosions or attempted explosions took place at three underground stations in London and on a bus in Hackney. British authorities have warned that further attacks cannot be ruled out.

Most Canadian visitors to the United Kingdom do not experience problems.

Violent crime occurs. Petty crime such as pickpocketing and mugging occur in urban centres, tourist sites, restaurants, buses, trains, and the London Underground. Vehicle theft also occurs. Remain vigilant, ensure personal belongings, passports, and all other travel documents are secure, and do not show signs of affluence. Sexual assaults have been reported by passengers using unlicensed taxis, known as minicabs. Use only officially marked taxis. The emergency phone number for police, fire, and ambulance is 999.

The ratification and ongoing implementation of the Good Friday Agreement have seen a marked reduction in sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Although the main paramilitary groups are observing a cease-fire, some small renegade groups have not accepted the agreement and continue to be responsible for acts of violence. Authorities may occasionally impose localized measures, such as traffic or parcel/luggage checks, in the interest of public safety.

Some civil unrest, often associated with Protestant parades through predominately Catholic neighbourhoods, has occurred in Northern Ireland during the Orange Order summer marching season (April to August). Visitors may encounter delays and disruptions in some areas, particularly during the weeks leading up to July 12, the day Protestants celebrate their victory at the Battle of the Boyne.

Strikes, political protests and road blockades occur but rarely result in violence. Avoid demonstrations and large gatherings. Strikes may occasionally interfere with services, such as mail, telephone, and transport.

There are widespread reports of ATM and credit card fraud. Beware of ATM scams, ranging from simple to sophisticated methods, sometimes involving hidden electronic devices that obtain account information and personal identification numbers (PINs). Users should pay careful attention when their credit cards are being handled by others during payment processing.
Country Data
Population 60,270,708
Capital City London (Greater London)
Major Cities(s) London, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Sheffield, Bradford, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol
Major Religion(s) Anglican and Roman Catholic 40 million, Muslim 1.5 million, Presbyterian 800,000, Methodist 760,000, Sikh 500,000, Hindu 500,000, Jewish 350,000
Physical Size 244,820 km²
Land Area 241,590 km²
Water Area 3,230 km²