It may be small, but the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a mighty feast of variety. From world-famous icons to unexpected gems, this cluster of nations always has something new - or old - to discover. Its cities sprawl out from glorious medieval castles and gothic cathedrals, whilst its countryside stretches out in a patchwork of lush greens and vibrant yellow.Multiple personalities
Home to the green mountains of the Peak District, the pleasant pastures of Kent and the hulking urban mass of London, England has more personalities than you could possibly imagine. It comes as no surprise therefore that its people are in turn unwaveringly polite, screamingly eccentric and quietly reserved. Take a timeout on the Cornish coast, sail the picturesque canals of the Norfolk Broads or roam the romantic moors of the North - it's all the same to your well-mannered hosts.Hiking paradise
Cross the border into Wales and an entirely different country awaits you - one of eminently cultural but well-proportioned cities and cloud-shrouded mountains. Hikers will find their true home in the criss-crossing network of paths and trails, whilst the Welsh coast is home to some of the most picturesque spots in the UK.Enchanting islands
To the very south, the English Channel harbours two incredibly beautiful anomalies. Guernsey and Jersey lay a stone's throw from the French coast but you won't find many islands with such strong British flavour.The wilds of the North
Meanwhile, the giants of the North do battle with the ferocious Scottish landscape. Haunting lochs sink to enormous depths, harbouring unknown creatures beneath their smooth surfaces, and a myriad of windswept islands splays out in all directions. Venture into the urban arena however, and you'll find a world of cutting-edge architecture, ancient castles and a passion for art, literature and poetry which is second to none.The scars of war
But who could forget the craggy coastlines and infinitely spectacular scenery of Northern Ireland. In a country that a few short years ago was ripped apart so fundamentally by war, it is remarkable to see the remaining scars side by side with the healing forces of youthful culture and artistic flare.
The United Kingdom, though not always the best place for a sunny holiday, receives countless visitors every year - especially London. A unique, global city, it is one of real diversity - from the traditional monuments like Buckingham Palace to the alternative atmosphere of up-and-coming areas like Camden Town and Hackney. Beyond its world-famous landmarks and West End shows, take the time to wander traditional Saturday food markets and discover hidden bars down tiny backstreets. The capital's collection of museums and galleries is also second to none and summer brings hazy days spent lounging in its sprawling parks or enjoying strawberries and cream at Wimbledon.
A trip to the English coast is always a good idea and though the weather is variable, summer always offers an opportunity for bathing, especially in the south. Head to Brighton for a bed-and-breakfast stay, along with some of the best-tasting fish and chips in the country. The Isles of Scilly and Jersey are also perfect for a short weekend away by the sea.
If you have access to a car, Wales is a great place to spend a few days, visiting Cardiff Castle before heading to the pub for a well-deserved drink. Scotland is also ideal for walking enthusiasts and nature lovers. The impressive scenes at Loch Ness are well worth a visit and always slowed down somewhat by herds of over-friendly sheep! The Highlands are perfect for those in need of solitary landscapes, challenging hikes and friendly faces. Northern Ireland is also to home to some of the UK's best sights, with its vast castles and historic capital Belfast. Just be sure to pack a waterproof - as if you needed reminding.
Over centuries and centuries of history, British traditions have stood the weathering test of time to hold an ever-important place in the hearts of today's population. But perhaps the most interesting of all is that here sits a country which considers itself one of the most forward-looking societies, whilst also clinging desperately to the out-dated notion of class.
From distinguished private boys' schools to the celebrated Royal Family, the UK still puts an awful lot of effort into being 'posh'. But climb down from the gold-plated balconies of high society and you'll find a people who firmly believe in the all-healing power of a good cuppa, will put the world to rights over a pint and will never, ever hear a word against the sacred art of queuing.
British cuisine might not be as sophisticated and regional as some of its European neighbours' but it still has a certain something special. Whether the dishes are made with fresh produce from countryside markets or part of the multicultural cuisine found in London, British cuisine has all the variety you could ever ask for.
Amongst the classics are shepherd's pie, roast beef and roast potatoes, steaming stews and roast lamb served with mint sauce. In terms of desserts, fruity crumbles are a must, as well as warm apple pie with plenty of custard. If you want some real British cheese, Cheddar is the ultimate choice - perfect when melted on top of a hot jacket potato or buttery toast à la Welsh rarebit.
Tatws Pum Munud is also a great Welsh tradition, a slow-cooked stew of smoky bacon, potatoes, onions and vegetable stock. In Scotland, the national dish of haggis, made from sheep's stomach, is not to be laughed at. In Northern Ireland the key ingredients in most main meals are lamb and potatoes. An Ulster-fry is an Irish take on the English breakfast served with copious amounts of sausages, eggs, bacon and toast. Along England's south coast, fish and chips are the perfect accompaniment to a walk along the seafront - topped off by a nice cup of tea in a seaside café.
If it's shopping you're after, there's no place better than the English capital. Younger visitors should head to Oxford Street for Topshop's flagship store, whilst the more alternative shopper can explore Carnaby Street's vintage boutiques. For a bit of light shopping, head to Camden Town or Portobello Market where you'll find all sorts of eclectic goodies and trendy clothes shops. For those with more sophisticated tastes, Harrods is the way to go; its teatime trinkets are world renowned.
That said, London isn't the only place for shopping. Edinburgh's Prince's Street and Cardiff's Victorian arcades are also perfect spots for shopaholics. If you visit Scotland, try and find yourself a Tartan souvenir or even the full kilt, whilst Welsh gold jewellery is one of the finest examples of British handicrafts to be found.