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Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Bridge at sunset, London, United Kingdom

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United Kingdom
United Kingdom

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: a country of many parts

United Kingdom in short

In a nutshell

A little history first. A union ofEngland,Scotland, Wales andNorthern Ireland, the first iteration of the United Kingdom came into being in 1707.

On that date, only England and Scotland united to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. Just under a century later, in 1801, with the unification of the Kingdom of Ireland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was born. But in 1922, Southern Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom, which became the union as we know it today.

The flag of the United Kingdom in the colors of the four nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

- © lazyllama / Shutterstock

But beware: even if we speak of a "united kingdom", we cannot treat the 4 nations that make it up as a single entity, because they are so different from each other.

London, capital of the United Kingdom.

- © S.Borisov / Shutterstock

England is obviously the first of these four nations to be highlighted, as it is the most populous, the richest and the one with the largest territory in the United Kingdom. Historically and politically(cf. Brexit), it is England that has the upper hand in the region as a whole.

While London, a veritable world city, captures all the attention, England as a whole is a land of many contrasts, with its seaside resorts and cliffs to the south (Brighton, Cornwalls...), its historic cities and great universities (Bath, Oxford...), its industrial centres undergoing conversion (Liverpool, Newcastle...), and some superb national parks (Yorkshire Dale, Lake District...) that are still largely undiscovered.

Loch and old castle, typical Scottish landscape

- © R K Hill / Shutterstock

Scotland is as famous for its whisky ( Scotch) as it is for the legends of ghosts haunting its ancient castles. With its intense natural landscapes, bathed in a sometimes magical light, and the warmth of its people, Scotland is a land full of charm and mystery. With its unique folk culture, it seems far removed from its old rival, England, which is so close...

Edinburgh, the country's capital, is a reflection of Scotland as a whole, and remains an essential stop-off point before setting off on the roads of the mythical Highlands and their lochs. For the more adventurous, the most northerly archipelagos in the United Kingdom come back to Scotland, with the Orkney Islands, the Hebrides and the Shetland Islands...

Snowdonia National Park in Wales

- © R K Hill / Shutterstock

Wales ' personality is as big as its territory is small. As one of the three Celtic nations of the United Kingdom (along with Ireland and Scotland), Wales has a strong character of which its inhabitants are proud. A green country with three national parks, Wales is a breath of fresh air.

People come here as much for its history and heritage as for the extraordinary landscapes that make up this land. From Cardiff, the capital in the south, to the peaks of Snowdonia, the magnificent mountainous region in the north, Wales is off the beaten track and unlike any other part of the United Kingdom.

The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland

- © Gert Olsson / Shutterstock

Northern Ireland shares Ireland's cultural traits with those of the United Kingdom. Breathtaking landscapes, a culture deeply rooted in Celtic heritage, an insular spirit but with an incomparable sense of welcome, this special nation, which for a long time was the victim of unrest, is now at peace again, and is experiencing a real boom in tourism.

The capital, Belfast, is one of the country's most dynamic cities. While the Giant's Causeway alone is worth a trip to Northern Ireland,Ulster 's riches don't stop there: lovers of contrasting landscapes will be delighted to discover Dunluce Castle, an astonishing fortress isolated along the Antrim coast, the medieval city of Derry, the Mourne Mountains or the meandering Lough Erne.

This brief portrait of the United Kingdom depicts the coming together of four nations, each with a strong identity, four entities marked by their shared history, their varied geographies and their strong cultures: this is not one journey you can take with the United Kingdom, but no less than four different adventures!

This brief portrait of the United Kingdom depicts the coming together of four nations, each with a strong identity, four entities marked by their shared history, their varied geographies, and their assertive cultures: this is not a journey you can take with the United Kingdom, but no less than four different adventures!

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How to get there?

London is the main gateway to the UK, with its four airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted), widely served from all over France (many low-cost flights in particular) and its Eurostar train connections. Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, also benefits from numerous flights throughout the year.

Other major cities in the UK are also linked to Paris and certain provincial airports, particularly during the high season: Cardiff, Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, etc.

By boat, there are ferry services across the Channel from French ports to English ports such as Dover, Portsmouth, Poole, Plymouth... For those who like to take their time travelling.

By car, go to Calais to take the Shuttle (Eurotunnel) through the Channel Tunnel to Dover.

Where to stay?

Throughout the UK, hotels range from modest, basic establishments to luxurious 5-star hotels and palaces. All the major international hotel chains can be found in the major cities. If you're on a budget, you'll find Youth Hostels or campsites in fine weather.

Bed and Breakfasts, or original B&Bs, are also widespread throughout the country. This is often a more authentic solution than a traditional hotel.Self-catering flats or houses are another option, especially for longer stays, throughout the UK.

Practical information

When should you travel to the UK?

The United Kingdom is a diverse country, but you can travel there all year round. Winters are harsh in the north (Northern Ireland, Scotland), and the days are very short. At the height of summer, it's the high tourist season, and you have a slightly better chance of catching the sun.

Generally speaking, the period from May to October is the most pleasant for travelling in the United Kingdom.

Formalities for entering the United Kingdom

Following the Brexit (which is far from being unanimously supported by the four nations), you will need a passport to enter the United Kingdom. Beware: a simple identity card is no longer enough! Unaccompanied minors must also have an exit permit.

Money

The official currency in the UK is the pound sterling (£). Credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) are widely accepted, and cash dispensers are available for withdrawals. Cash and travellers' cheques in euros are easily exchanged.

It should be noted that several entities issue their own variants of the pound sterling, such as the Scottish pound or the Irish pound. These have the same value as the pound sterling, which is also accepted everywhere.

Transport: getting around in the UK

Throughout the UK, the car will be the most practical means of transport for travelling in complete freedom.

If you're taking your own car, remember to bring your driving licence, identity card or passport, vehicle documents, a European accident report, breakdown and accident cover, and your insurance certificate.

To hire a vehicle, all you need is your national driving licence. You should compare the rates offered by the agencies carefully, and be aware of any additional charges. It's also a good idea to bring your own GPS for a cross-country road-trip, as this bonus can quickly add to the cost of the rental.

Every country in the UK has a good network of coaches, serving the regions efficiently. This is an economical means of transport, although it does have its limitations in terms of timetables.

Trains are another option, but are generally slower and more expensive, except on certain major routes linking the UK's main cities. Unevenly developed, the rail network is much better in England than in Northern Ireland or Wales, for example.

Driving in the UK

Driving is on the left, traffic on roundabouts is clockwise, and speed limits are expressed in miles, with a maximum of 30 mph (or 48 km/h) in built-up areas, only 20 mph (or 32 km/h) near schools, 60 mph (or 97 km/h) on roads and 70 mph (or 113 km/h) on motorways.

Before setting off, familiarise yourself with the road signs. Some are similar to those in France, while others are unique to the UK. Find out how to behave on the road and the basic rules of etiquette. And of course, seatbelts are compulsory!

United Kingdom: what to bring back

You always end up packing a souvenir stamped with the colours of the United Kingdom flag, the Union Jack: there are every conceivable version! London is of course the capital of shopping, and you can bring back everything from English specialities to clothes and tea.

But shopping doesn't stop in London, of course; you can also enjoy it in the streets of Edinburgh or under the Victorian arcades of Cardiff. From Wales, you can take home a piece of Clogau gold jewellery, and from Scotland, you can bring back a tartan blanket or even a kilt, even if you have to find the opportunity to wear it... Above all, you'll fill your suitcases with tea, whisky, shortbreads (Scottish butter biscuits) and marmalade, and that goes for every trip!

United Kingdom: what to eat

British food isn't exactly renowned the world over, especially in the eyes of many French people. However, there are many typical dishes that visitors should try, fresh produce in the markets and a multicultural and varied gastronomy.

Among the classics on the restaurant menu are shepherd's pie, roast beef served with roast potatoes, English stew with beef or lamb, or roast lamb and mint sauce, a roast lamb topped with a sauce made with mint, sugar and vinegar. In the south of England, you can simply eat a good fish and chips while strolling along the seafront.

As for desserts, the UK is the home of crumble, Christmas pudding, jelly, which is not to everyone's taste, and the delicious apple pie. The British don't offer much in the way of cheeses, but cheddar is one of them.

Every region has its own speciality. In Wales, local recipes are popular, such as the Welsh rarebit, a slice of toasted bread covered in melted cheddar, the unpronounceable Tatws Pum Munud, filled with smoked bacon, potatoes, onions and stock, or Welsh lamb casserole.

In Scotland, the national dish is haggis, stuffed sheep's belly. Otherwise, Scotch is a religion in the country!

In Northern Ireland, the ingredients used in the dishes are often mutton and potatoes. TheUlster Fry is a hearty breakfast of sausages, eggs, bacon and bread.

Meals in the UK

The typical day in the UK goes like this: a savoury breakfast followed by a light meal at lunchtime, even a snack, then it's tea time, with a cup of tea and a splash of milk, and in the evening we eat early, sometimes even around 6pm!

Health

No vaccinations are required, but make sure you have your current vaccinations up to date. Make sure you have your European Health Insurance Card (provided by your social security office), which will enable you to be covered locally.

Security

Beware of pickpockets throughout the UK's major cities.

Electricity

240 V. Sockets are 3-pin. An adapter (for British sockets) is therefore essential.

Taxes and tips

In restaurants, service may or may not be included. If this is not the case, leave a tip of around 15% of the amount.

lightbulb_outline Editor's tip

While it's possible to visit all four countries in the same holiday, we think it's best to devote one trip to each destination. Whether it's England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, each of these countries is worth spending time in to discover the breadth of its culture, the beauty of its different landscapes, the strong character of its people and the folklore specific to each nation.

Useful links
Website of the British Tourist Office :

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