(but without written constitution)
|Currency||British pound (GBP)|
|Area||total: 244,820 sq km |
water: 3,230 sq km
land: 241,590 sq km
|Language||English, Welsh (about 26% of the population of Wales), Scottish form of Gaelic (about 60,000 in Scotland)|
|Religion||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|
|Country Calling Code||+44|
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the United Kingdom or the UK) occupies all of the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern portion of the island of Ireland and most of the remaining British Isles. Located just off the north-western coast of mainland Europe (and counting Ireland, France, Belgium and Holland as its nearest neighbours), the UK is comprised of four countries within the Union: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Several island protectorates also exist, which include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The UK today is a diverse patchwork of native and immigrant cultures, possessing a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture, both of which remain hugely influential in the wider world. Although Britannia no longer rules the waves, the UK is still a major destination for many travellers. The capital city of the United Kingdom (and of England) is London.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is made up of several countries and territories:
Note that technically Great Britain is the name for the largest of the islands that make up the British Isles: Scotland, England, and Wales. It is often used as a misnomer for the entire United Kingdom.
- Great Britain:
- England - by far the largest component, in terms both of size and population
- Scotland - situated in the far north of Great Britain
- Wales - located within the largely mountainous western portion of Great Britain
- Northern Ireland
Note that English, Welsh and Scottish people may all be referred to as "British", but to refer to Welsh or Scots as "English" is both inaccurate and impolite.
- The Channel Islands: Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney and Sark.
- The Isle of Man
The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not strictly part of the UK, but rather are 'Crown Protectorates'. This means that they have their own democratic governments, laws and courts and are not part of the EU; but they are not entirely sovereign either.
See also: Republic of Ireland (not part of the United Kingdom).
Many cities and towns in the United Kingdom are of interest to the traveller. Following is a alphabetical selection of the more notable - others are listed under their specific countries and regions:
- London - the vast capital of both England and the United Kingdom overall
- Bath - historical city, stunning Georgian architecture and Roman thermal baths.
- Belfast - capital of Northern Ireland
- Birmingham - the UK's second largest city
- Brighton - sea-side resort near London, gay quarter
- Bristol - largest city in South England (after London), vibrant music scene, historic buildings
- Cambridge - historical city, home to the world famous Canterbury - famous Cathedral City and the UK's second most visited tourist city
- Cardiff - capital of Wales, castle and varied cultural events
- Edinburgh - capital of Scotland, castle and culture
- Glasgow - Scottish city, new cultural hotspot
- Inverness - The gateway to the Scottish Highlands
- Leeds - a great northern city, now discovering a new post-industrial vibe
- Liverpool - vibrant northern city, home to the Beatles and soon to be European Capital of Culture
- Manchester - voted England's second city, thriving bohemian music scene, gay quarter and dozens of tourist attractions
- Newcastle - the major city in the North East has re-invented itself: great for clubbing and makes the most of its river
- Oxford - historical city, location of the world renowned University of Oxford
- Portsmouth - the great British naval city, home to Nelson's Victory, amongst other attractions
- Sheffield - a large, diverse city in Yorkshire - the greenest city in England, with one third within the stunning Peak District National Park
- Swansea - Wales' second city, spectacular coastal scenery, sandy beaches and diverse cultural events
- York - historical city
The United Kingdom has an array of National Parks that serve to preserve areas of wilderness, natural and cultural heritage.
Most basic mapping in the United Kingdom is undertaken by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain (http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/) (in England, Scotland & Wales) and the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland (http://www.osni.gov.uk/). The maps found in bookshops may be published directly by those organisations, or by private map publishers drawing on basic Ordnance Survey data.
One consequence of this for the traveller is the widespread use of Ordnance Survey grid references in guide books and other information sources. These are usually presented [xx999999] (eg. [SU921206]) and form a quick way of finding any location on a map.
Alternatively, every postal address has a postcode, and most internet mapping services enable locations to be found by postcode. Popular mapping services are Streetmap.co.uk  (http://www.streetmap.co.uk/) and Multimap.co.uk  (http://www.multimap.co.uk/). Postcodes will usually identify a location to within a few metres.
The UK has a benign humid-temperate climate moderated by the North Atlantic Current and the country's proximity to the sea. Warm, damp summers and mild winters provide temperatures pleasant enough to engage in outdoor activities all year round. Having said that, the weather in the UK can be changeable and quite often contitions are windy and wet. The British rain is legendary, but in practice it rarely rains more than about half an hour at a time and sometimes parts of the country stay dry for weeks, especially in the East.
Immigration and visa requirements
- Citizens of the European Union do not require a visa, and have permanent residency and working rights in the UK. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland have additional rights allowing them to vote in elections.
- Citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland also have permanent residency rights, but may require a work permit in some circumstances.
- Citizens of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States do not require a visa for visits under 6 months.
- Most other countries will require a visa, which can be obtained from the nearest British Embassy, High Commission or Consulate.
- The UK also operates a Working Holidaymaker Scheme for citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations, and British dependent territories. This allows residnency in the UK for up to 2 years, with limited working rights.
For more information of UK Immigration and visa requirements, see the British Home Office website  (http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk)
The UK is at the heart of the world's aviation industry, and London Heathrow Airport is the world's largest international airport. Situated 20 miles west of London, Heathrow offers a large choice of international destinations, with direct flights to most countries in the world. British Airways (http://www.british-airways.com) has its hub at Heathrow and offers a wide range of international flights to Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Australia. There are less direct flights to South America, although many South American airlines connect to London via Spain. Other large airlines operating at Heathrow include bmi (formerly British Midland)  (http:///flybmi.com), Virgin Atlantic (http://virginatlantic.com) and the main national airlines of most countries. London Gatwick Airport, 30 miles south of London in Sussex, is the second largest airport, and also offers a wide range of international flights. London Stansted Airport in Essex, and London Luton Airport are hubs for the budget airlines Ryan Air (http://www.ryanair.com) and Easyjet (http://www.easyjet.com) who offer direct flights to a wide range of European destinations. London City Airport is the most central airport in London, situated 7 miles east of Central London, but mainly serves business passengers to the main financial centres in Europe.
Outside London, many of the regional airports offer a wide range of direct links to European and some long haul destinations. Manchester International Airport in the North of England, is the UK's third largest airport serving many European and long haul destinations. Direct flights from North America are also available into Glasgow International Airport and Edinburgh International Airport in Scotland. Other large airports in the regions, including Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, Newcastle and Teesside. In Northern Ireland, Belfast International Airport is the only airport with international flights.
Please note that due to an increase in airport security and aviation security in general, long delays are possible when checking in for a flight. Additionally a passport or valid photo ID ( such as photo drivers license, national ID card etc.) is required for internal flights although no visas or travel permits are required.
The airport tax is applied to both international and internal flights ( 20 pounds international , 14 pounds internal) so check if it is included in any quoted air fares.
Eurostar  (http://www.eurostar.com) services run between London's Waterloo Station and Ashford in Kent and Paris (Gare du Nord), Lille and Brussels through the Channel Tunnel. Journey times average two hours forty minutes from Paris. A second class return from Paris to London costs between �85 and �230, although it is often cheaper to fly from London to Paris using a low-cost airline.
The main benefit of using the Eurostar is that it runs between the central zones of its destination cities, removing the necessity of accessing the relevant airports on the outskirts of cities (potentially very time-consuming!).
The Channel Tunnel has provided a rail/road connection since 1994. Shuttle trains carry cars from Calais, France to Folkestone, the journey taking around 40 minutes. Fares start at �49 one way and can be booked on the London. Car ferries also operate to many parts of the UK, see 'by boat' section.
Coaches are the cheapest and most uncomfortable way to travel to the UK from France and Benelux. Eurolines offer daily services from Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels to London Victoria coach station. Journeys take about 8-14 hours. Eurolines will also take you to/from other major European cities. Taking a budget flight is normally cheaper though and spares you from a 24h+ bus journey.
See the city articles for more details on routes, timings and costs.
There are a large number of ferry routes into the UK from continental Europe. Newcastle serves several routes from Scandinavia. Harwich has ferries from Esbjerg in Denmark, Cuxhaven in Germany and Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands. You can also sail from Rotterdam or Zeebrugge in Belgium to Rotterdam to Rosyth (near Edinburgh).
Dover is one of Britain's most popular passenger ports with sailings from Zeebrugge, Dunkerque and Calais in France. The Dover-Calais route is particularly busy, with three companies competing and up to 50 sailings per day.
On the south coast, Portsmouth serves ferries from Le Havre, Caen, Bilbao in Spain and there are speedy services between Dieppe and Newhaven. The other route from Spain is Santander to Plymouth, Plymouth also has ferries from Roscoff.
From Ireland, ports of entry include Swansea, Pembroke, Fishguard and Holyhead. There are sailings from Dublin to Holyhead, Mostyn and Liverpool.
From Iceland, the Faroe Isles, Norway and Denmark, a passenger ferry sails into Lerwick.
The UK has a wide range of domestic air services linking many major cities, particularly with the main domestic hubs of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Given the distances involved, however, it may be more practible and cheaper to use other forms of transport. British Airways Penzance in Cornwall to Wick in the North of Scotland. While ticket prices are relatively high, a train is often the best and sometimes the only way to get from A to B by public transport. Train services seldom match their high-speed counterparts in France, but nonetheless are often faster than driving a car.
The railways in England, Wales and Scotland were originally built and operated by numerous private companies, mostly in the 19th century. After nearly 150 years of independence (and successive amalgamations which consolidated them into four large companies by 1923) they were nationalised as 'British Rail' in 1947, but they were privatised again in the 1990s. The track has recently reverted to state control as 'National Rail', but the trains are run by a patchwork of different private operators. However, tickets can be bought from any station for travel anywhere on the network and all train times and fares can be found on the National Rail web site Lake District, Carlisle, and on to Scotland, with stops at Motherwell and Glasgow's Central Station.
Train services in Northern Ireland are operated by the state owned Translink (http://www.translink.co.uk/), who also operate rural and urban buses within Northern Ireland. Train services in Northern Ireland are, however quite limited. The main line travels from Londonderry in the north west, hugging the north coast before it travels cross-country to Belfast. From Belfast, the cross-border Enterprise service operates with stops in Portadown, Drogheda, Dundalk and Dublin. Recent major investment has led to the vast majority of rolling stock in Northern Ireland being replaced. Train services in Northern Ireland are not part of the National Rail network. Train and bus times can be found on Translink's web site, or by calling 028-9066-6630 from anywhere in the UK or +44-28-9066-6630 from outside the UK.
Other domestic rail services which are not part of the National Rail network include the Heathrow Express service between London Heathrow Airport and central London, the London Underground system, and several smaller metro or light rail systems in other cities. For details of these see articles on the city in question.
A car will get you pretty much anywhere in the UK. Parking can be a problem in large cities, and especially in London, can be very expensive. Petrol (Gasoline) is heavily taxed and therefore expensive, currently at around 80-90 pence per litre (around $6-7 USD a gallon). There are very few tolls (mainly on some large bridges/tunnels) but a levy (congestion charge) is payable for driving in central London. Traffic can be very heavy, especially during 'rush hour', when commuters are on their way to and from work. The M25 London orbital motorway is particularly notorious - it is best avoided on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, and only use it if you need to.
All of the UK drives on the left (the opposite side from Europe and the USA).
Speed limits for cars are 70mph on Motorways and most dual carriageways, and 60mph on single carriageway roads unless otherwise signposted (in towns the limit is 30mph unless signs show otherwise): enforcement cameras are widespread.
Don't drink and drive in the UK. The maximum limit is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Fines are steep and imprisonment likely.
By bus and coach
Local bus services are of variable quality and cost. Getting to outlying rural areas can be especially hard, as there may be only one bus a week. Services run by major coach companies like National Express  (http://www.nationalexpress.com/) and the new cut-price Megabus  (http://www.megabus.com) provide an alternative to train travel for longer journeys.
There are different types of Taxi in the UK.
In London, strictly regulated "Black Cabs" (not always Black) can be easily recognised by the unique vehicle type. The drivers must pass a strict test on the geography of London, known as "the knowledge". These types of vehicle are often found in other major cities, with similarly strict regulation.
Outside London, normal cars and minibuses can usually be licenced as taxis - it is up to the local council how they are distinguished, but they always carry additional plates, usually at the rear, giving details of their approval by the relevant local authority and number of passengers they can carry. Visual identification is almost always through an illuminated sign on the roof, and often through a distinctive colour paintwork.
Minicabs are normal saloon (sedan) cars or vans/minibuses. They are similar to taxis, but must be pre-booked from a minicab office or over the phone. Minicabs may be 'metered' as taxis and charge by mileage/time, or 'off-meter' and charge a set rate for a set route. Properly regulated Minicabs will always have a local authority approval plate as with taxis.
Any other car or driver offering to take you anywhere may not be licensed or insured; some large cities have a problem with such drivers touting for business so take care.
Ferries link the mainland to the many offshore islands including the Isle of Wight, Isle of Man, Orkneys and Shetland islands. There are also numerous car and passenger ferry routes between England and France and between Ireland and the UK.
English is spoken everywhere. In some parts of Wales or the Scottish highlands, Welsh or Gaelic may be used, but everyone will speak English to tourists. There are strong regional accents which may make comprehension difficult. Slang terms are also used widely by some Brits, which can further hamper efforts at understanding by foreigners. Some examples include "chav" referring to a rough or 'common' type of person with a liking for branded fashion items (e.g. heavy gold chain, sports clothes.)
Government bodies whose area of responsibility covers Wales are officially bi-lingual with English and Welsh (for example, see The DVLA site (http://www.dvla.gov.uk/))
The currency throughout the UK is the pound (�) (more properly called the Pound Sterling, but this is not used in everyday speech), divided into 100 pence (p). Coins appear in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, �1 and �2 denominations, while notes come as �5, �10, �20 and �50 bills, depicting the Queen on one side and famous historical figures on the other. �50 notes are relatively new and are often not accepted by suspicious vendors (get change at a bank if a problem). Several Scottish and Northern Irish banks issue their own notes in the above denominations. �1 and �100 notes are also in circulation in Scotland. Some vendors are reluctant to accept Scottish and Northern Irish notes outside their respective countries.
You may also hear the slang term quid for pound.
The �50 note is to be avoided; very few establishments are happy to take a �50 note, due to their rarity and the high amounts of forgery on �50 notes. Most high street banks will not change notes or coins unless you have an account with them, this is very annoying if you have a legitimate �50 note no shop will accept!
ATMs are very widely available and usually dispense �10 and �20 notes. Traveller's cheques can be exchanged at most banks. Be aware some non bank ATMS now charge a fee for withdrawing money. On average its about �1.75 per �20 so it pays to check before you use the ATM.
Visa, Mastercard and American Express are accepted by most shops and restaurants, although Amex is the least popular card of the three.
Compared to the rest of Europe and especially America shopping in Britain is expensive. With the possible exception of a few specialist items, most things are likely to be cheaper in your country of origin. Nonetheless, London's huge choice of shops attracts large crowds of shopping tourists every year, especially before Christmas.
Certainly only the minority of visitors will come here for the famous food, however despite this, British cuisine has improved greatly in the past few years. The truth is that Great Britain certainly is among the most expensive places to eat out in Europe, but despite this the UK has a number of high-quality eating outlets. The stereotype made by Jacques Chirac, saying that British food is the second worst in the world after Finland does stand out in some eating outlets, but many restaurants/pubs in the UK do serve delicious and reasonably-priced food. Many restaurants in city centres tend to be a little more expensive then ones say, in the suburbs, and pubs do tend to be slightly more expensive in the countryside, but generally, a three-course meal without drinks will cost the traveller anywhere between �10 and �15. Chicken tikka masala with rice is UK's official dish (well almost).
A very British way to have food is to go to the sandwich shop and get a freshly prepared take-away sandwich. Alternatively, most towns and many road routes now have a branch of an American fast food chain. Many large shops will have a coffee shop or restaurant. A variety of take-away (carry out) food of various types is available in most towns, ranging from fish-and-chips to Indian, Chinese, Thai and other cuisines. Generally the standard of 'Take-aways' is good, although travellers should beware. A good guide is, as always, to observe what the locals are doing. If there are a few people waiting to be served then the food should be good- although at pub closing time it's worth noting that a takeaway's popularity may be based more on its opening hours than its cuisine.
Almost all pubs (see below) serve food, although not all will do so during the whole of their opening hours. Quality and prices of all these types varies enormously as mentioned above and you should seek for some local advice. Pubs work on a self service basis; you order your drinks and food at the bar and pay upfront. Do not sit at a table in a pub expecting a waiter to take your order as you will be rather disappointed . Regulation of opening times has changed recently with many venues now open past the traditional closing time of 11pm. Some pubs can now open 24 hours although this is rarely taken advantage of.
Larger towns have a range of restaurants to suit most tastes and you will find a very broad range of different cuisines, because Brits are very open minded and love food from India, China, Thailand, France and Italy. Waiters generally expect a 10-13.5% tip and in most places you get directly charged for the service. The service is average and you should keep your expection in the same level.
One of the most popular types of restaurant in Britain is an Indian restaurant. Most common in certain areas of large cities and not often found directly in city centres or other tourist traps, Indian restaurants serve cuisine known as balti, named after the metal bowl the food is cooked (and served) in. The cuisine supposedly originated in the UK though it is clearly based on food from the Indian subcontinent. Common balti dishes include Chicken Tikka Masala, Prawn Biryani and the incredibly spicy Vindaloo. Birmingham in the Midlands is considered the balti capital of the UK as this dish was originally concieved there.
Motorway Service areas
Motorway Service areas are notoriously expensive places to eat, though they are open 24 hours by law. Most contain well known american-style fast food outlets, and toilets.
Children are not necessarily allowed in all pubs and restaurants, and high chairs are not always available. Most pubs that serve food will accept children, and it is usually rather easy to distinguish those that do. The general rule is that children cannot sit (or stand about) in the area where drinks are being served; so if the pub has only one small room they are not allowed. Children are welcome in most pubs, especially those with gardens, but again they are not supposed to come near the bar.
- Roasted Meats
- Fish and Chips
- Jacket potato and beans
- BLT sandwich
- Tuna sandwich
- Fillet Wellington
- All day breakfast
It should be pointed out that whilst these are foods famous for only being found in Britain, the British diet actually consists largely of imports and the menu of even the cheapest pub will include international dishes such as pasta, pizza or chinese foods.
- Black Pudding - a sausage made of congealed pig's blood and rusks cooked in an intestine. Available in Manchester and parts of the North of England. Excellent, but very fatty.
- Cornish Pasty - beef and vegetables baked in a folded pastry case. Originally a speciality of Cornwall, but now available throughout the UK.
- Deep Fried Mars Bar - available in Glasgow and parts of Scotland.
- Haggis - a mixture of sheep innards and oatmeal boiled in a sheep's stomach. Available in Scotland.
- Lancashire Hotpot - a hearty vegetable and meat stew. A speciality of Swansea and West Wales.
- Potato Bread - a mixture of potatoes, salt, butter and flour. A speciality of Northern Ireland, which when added to a Full English Breakfast (alongside Soda Bread) forms an Ulster Fry!
- Yorkshire Pudding - a pastry baked with meat drippings. A speciality of Yorkshire, but a popular side-dish throughout the UK.
- "Oatcake, North Staffordshire" - A large, floppy, oat based pancake, eaten hot with a savoury filling. Specific to Stoke on Trent and surounding area. Not to be confused with the Scottish oatcake, a sort of biscuit
Some think that Britons tend to drink alcohol mainly in the evening, during the day they are sustained by tea and coffee. Bill Bryson was only half-joking when he said "I remain impressed by the ability of Britons of all ages and social backgrounds to get genuinely excited by the prospect of a hot beverage", however latest reseach has shown that Britons are Europe's heaviest drinking bunch, despite the high price of alcohol. Getting drunk is acceptable and often it is the objective of a party. This applies to all levels of the British society - it may be worth remembering that the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had to collect his son Euan from a police station after he had been found drunk celebrating the completion of his GCSE exams (taken at the age of 16). Nevertheless, Britons have a great sense of humour and everything is forgotten after a hangover, at least until the next time.
The pub (public house) is the most popular place to get a drink in the UK. Even small villages will often have a pub, serving spirits, lagers, ales, snacks, and increasingly a selection of wines and alcopops. British real ales, championed by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) (http://www.camra.org.uk/) are amongst the best in the world - though they are not to everyone's taste. The best selections can be found at 'freehouses' which are not 'tied' to a particular brewery.
Many pubs are very old and bear traditional names, the "Red Lion" or "King's Arms"; before widespread literacy pubs would be identified by most customers solely by their signs. Recently there has been a trend, strongly resisted in some quarters, towards chain-pubs such as the Hogshead, Slug and Lettuce and those owned by the JD Wetherspoon company. Another recent trend is the gastro-pub, a smartened-up traditional pub with a selection of high-quality food (often at restaurant prices).
Beer in pubs is served in pint and half-pint measures, or in bottles. Simply ordering a beer on tap will be interpreted as a request for a pint, eg 'A London Pride, please'. Alternatively 'half a London Pride, please' will get you a half-pint. Beer is relatively cheap in the UK compared to most parts of Western Europe, even considering the high inflation of beer prices recently. Prices vary widely based on the city, the pub and the beer, but generally pints will be in the range �2 to �3.
Pubs often serve food during the day. Drinks are ordered and paid for at the bar.
Check out Beer in the Evening (http://www.beerintheevening.com/) for an excellent directory of pub listings with reviews and customer ratings.
Passport to the Pub (http://www.sirc.org/publik/pub.html) is an entertaining (semi-serious) guide to British pub culture for visitors, written a few years ago (though licensing laws have recently changed, and opening times are now less strict than they describe).
In cities there are more modern wine-bars and cafe-bars, though the variable weather means that there is not as much of a 'street scene' as in other European cities.
Clubbing is popular in large towns and cities; Manchester, London and Sheffield have world-renowned venues as well as many alternative joints and Newcastle is widely regarded to be the "party capital" of Europe. Prices in clubs tend to be considerably higher than those charged in pubs.
The UK offers a wide variety of hotels rated on a scale of stars, from 5-star luxury (and beyond!) to 1-star basic. There is also a vast number of privately-run bed and breakfast establishments (abbreivated as "B&B"), offering rooms with usually a fried 'full English breakfast'.
Budget travellers can opt to stay in a youth / backpackers' hostel
- YHA England and Wales  (http://www.yha.org.uk), tel 0870 770 6113
- Scottish YHA  (http://www.syha.org.uk/), Email - firstname.lastname@example.org, tel 0870 1553255
- HI Northern Ireland  (http://www.hini.org.uk/), tel 028 9032 4733
There are also many campsites, with widely varying levels of facilities.
Many travellers to the United Kingdom decide on a campervan holiday, whereby your accommodation travels with you.... Most parts of the country have a good range of camping and caravan parks available.
As a more quirky option, the Landmark Trust  (http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/) is a charitable organisation that buys up historic buildings, follies and other unusual examples of architecture - especially those in danger of destruction - and renovates them in order to rent them out to holidaymakers. For bookings, tel 01628 825925, mailto:email@example.com
The UK has been a centre of learning for the past 1000 years and possesses many ancient and distinguished universities. Many former polytechnics and other colleges have been promoted to university status over the past 25 years , and there are now over 120 degree-awarding institutions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The two most famous (and oldest) universities are Oxford and Cambridge, but England also has several other world-class institutions, including several in London (notably Imperial College, the London School of Economics, University College London and King's College London), Warwick, Bristol, York, Nottingham, Bath, Loughborough, Manchester, Newcastle and Durham.
Scotland has its own semi-separate educational system, with universities in Aberdeen, Edinburgh (Edinburgh, Napier, Queen Margaret and Heriot-Watt), Glasgow (Glasgow and Strathclyde) and St Andrews.
There are only two universities in Northern Ireland: the Queen's University of Belfast, and the University of Ulster (which has campuses in Belfast, Jordanstown, Coleraine and Londonderry). Although Queen's is the older and more famous institution, both are highly respected throughout the UK as centres of excellence.
Traditionally the University of Wales was comprised of four large universities: Aberystwyth (http://www.aber.ac.uk/), Bangor (http://www.bangor.ac.uk/index.php.en?width=1024&height=768), Cardiff (http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/index.html) and Swansea (http://www2.swan.ac.uk/), but since many polytechnics were upgraded to university status the number of Welsh universities has increased.
Foreign students make up a significant proportion of the student body at UK universities, with over 300,000 foreign students in 2004. All applications go through a central body UCAS (http://ucas.com), which acts as a clearing house passing applications to the universities for consideration and feeding their decisions back to applicants. Course fees for overseas students vary considerably, costing significantly more for the prestigious institutions.
The UK - and London in particular - remains an exceedingly popular destination for those seeking to learn the English language. A huge variety of organisations and companies exists to cater for this desire, some much more reputable than others:
- the British Council  (http://www.britishcouncil.org/learning-learn-english.htm) offers courses and advice
Citizens of the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland have permanent work rights in the UK. Citizens of Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, or Slovenia may need to to register under the Worker Registration Scheme. Generally the citizens of other countries will require a visa to work for more than six months in the UK. However, the UK has low unemployment, making it easier for those with specialist skills to gain working visas. A general shortage of skilled labour in the health sector means the British health service actively recruits abroad, making it easier for those with speacilist health care skills to work in the UK.
The UK does operate a working holiday programme, for citizens of Commonwealth countries which allow residnecy and limited work rights for 2 years.
For more details see the British Home Office's visa and immigration website  (http://www.ukvisas.gov.uk).
In some areas petty crime such as pickpocketing can be a nuisance more than a threat, but such crime is not very common in almost anywhere except city centres, etc. Some general points for the worried:
When out and about:
- Avoid looking like a rich target, don't flash wads of cash or wear massive amounts of jewelry.
- Keep your eyes open, if the area is heavily vandalised and there are groups of young people hanging around, perhaps it's not the best place to stop.
- Try not to get too drunk - if you have had too much get a taxi home....
- Like many Western countries, in recent years the UK has developed something of a "yob culture": disaffected, and generally white younger people adopt anti-social behaviour - usually fuelled by binge drinking - and may intimidate others by shouting obsenities or acting tough. They are best ignored. Their language and behavior can be threatening, but in crowded areas they are usually not dangerous.
When using a private car it is vitally important to:
- Keep the boot or trunk locked - in some areas thieves open the boot and snatch bags at the traffic lights.
- Keep mobile phones and valuables out of sight - this goes double when you park the car.
- Park in well lit places with no cover around the car - if there are bushes, etc. thieves can work on the locks out of sight.
- It's worth extending your insurance to cover all costs of window / windscreen replacement, it's not uncommon for thieves to just smash the glass to get in.
When on public transport:
- Buses and trains: Stay near the driver/conductor when getting on
- Taxis: Use the licenced black cabs, rather than private taxis, even though they might be slightly more expensive. When using a black cab it's always worth checking for a licence number, this is displayed next to the number plate. It is not uncommon for second hand black cabs to be put back to work without a licence late on Friday or Saturday nights.
When in public:
- In some towns it is an offense to drink alcohol in public although this law is widely flouted.
- Public nudity is very rare and while not strictly a criminal offense, you can be prosecuted if thought to be with the intention of shocking people.
- Sex in public places is illegal, although it's not uncommon in some public parks at night or known "lovers lanes".
- The age of both heterosexual and homosexual consent is 16 (in Northern ireland it is 17). However, the homosexual age of consent is 18 where there is a "relationship of trust".
The local emergency telephone number is 999, however the EU-wide 112 can also be used. For advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24 hour NHS Direct service on 0845 4647.
Emergencies can be dealt with under the NHS (National Health Service) at any hospital with a Casualty or A & E (Accident & Emergency) department. At A&E be prepared for up to 4 hours to be seen to if the medical complaint is not serious.
Whilst all treatment by an NHS hospital or doctor is free to British citizens, people from outside the UK will, in many cases, be required to pay for treatment. However citizens of the EU and a small number of other countries can obtain certain treatment if they hold a European Health Card.
For advice on minor ailments and non-prescription drugs, you can ask a pharmacist (there are many high-street chemists), notable pharmacist chains include Boots and Lloyds and many supermarkets also have pharmacists.
People in the UK are generally polite, friendly and understanding towards tourists, however non-English speakers should be prepared for difficulties as foreign language speakers are rare even in tourist areas.
Public behaviour doesn't vastly differ from continental Europe. Public displays of affection between other people is unlikely to cause offense in most situations, however passionate kissing in enclosed areas such as on a bus may cause problems, so try to avoid this.
It is acceptable to address someone by their first name in most situations though names are often avoided amongst total strangers to avoid causing any offense or a feeling of overfamiliarity. In very formal or business situations first names are not commonly used at least until people are more well acquainted and Mr X, Miss Y or Mrs Z are used. Waiters, shop assistants and other people providing a service will often address you as Sir or Madam (note: NOT Madame which a french pronunciation) or possibly as Mr X etc.
On hot days in the summer it is acceptable for men to walk shirtless in towns and cities, especially near the seaside or other tourist areas. However it would be very impolite to do so in a shop or pub and totally unacceptable in a restaurant. Short trousers are perfectly acceptable anywhere in the summer except for establishments with explicit dress codes.
Beaches can become very crowded in summer especially during public holiday weekends and school holidays. In the UK , in certain situations, it is still considered taboo for women to sunbathe topless (probably because there are so few days a year when it is warm enough to do so, thus a sight to which people are not accustomed!) It is common for very young children to be on a beach unclothed. Nudist beaches are common in Britain though most are found in secluded locations away from town and city centres.
When visiting Britons' homes, it is largely regarded as good practice to remove one's shoes upon entering, though most hosts will seem to motion that they are not too bothered about this. Use your common sense; if they're wearing their shoes in the house, it's probably okay.
Very important to most Britons is etiquette at mealtimes. Some visitors are surprised to find British people even eating pizza with a knife and fork. Ridiculous as it may be, you may be judged on how you comport yourself at mealtimes, though as always, foreigners are given some leeway. Some simple rules to follow are: do not begin eating until everyone has been served (again, use your judgment even if you are told to begin eating by those who have not been served); never talk with your mouth full, this is the cardinal sin of dining; contrary to American practice, it is customary to hold your fork "upside-down".
It is often said that it is impolite to return used cutlery to the table, but this rule is largely ignored - use your judgment. When finished eating, return your cutlery to the middle of the plate, together. Do not be too afraid to leave uneaten food; most hosts will not find this offensive.
There are a few other etiquette practices to try, which may gain you a lot of respect amongst some Britons. The most important of which is the greeting. The most common greeting you'll receive from a Briton is the handshake. There are some very important rules to follow when giving or receiving a handshake: do not grip too firmly as this may be seen as a sign of aggression, but equally do not offer up a limp hand. Never shake hands whilst wearing gloves or with your other hand in your pocket. It is very important to stand up when giving or receiving a handshake. If it is not entirely practical to do so, such as in a restaurant, a cursory lean forwards will probably suffice.
Between female acquaintances, don't be too surprised to find British people practising a "continental" kiss on the cheek, albeit with typical British restraint. Also, amongst young Britons, friends will often greet each other with an uncharacteristic hug. Except between very close relatives, men will never kiss as a greeting, but a reasonably aggressive hug and back-slapping may happen.
While these rules may appear arcane and pedantic, you will find that most Britons appreciate good manners more than just about any other character trait, and will look down on bad-mannered souls with scorn.
Though Britain is said to no longer have a class system, class divisions are still a lot more pronounced than in continental Europe or America. Most of the social conventions mentioned above will often only apply to people who see themselves as middle class. As the culture in North America is much more open and people usually won't mind if you start a conversation with someone you don't know or ask someone you don't know what they're doing, Britian may come as a bit of a shock, it is usually not common practice to speak to people you don't know other than to ask for help and asking someone what they're doing generally is taken as offensive.
In case of emergency, call 999 or 112 from any phone. Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you for your location, and the service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance and coastguard).
The UK's calling code is 44. To phone another country, dial 00 followed by the calling code and subscriber number.
Payphones are widely available, especially in stations, airports etc. Payphones usually take cash (minimum 20p, although some private payphones may charge more); change is not given, but you can choose to continue your money on to the next call. Some newer payphones accept credit and debit cards and may even allow you to send emails and surf the web. Phonecards have been phased out, though various pre-paid phonecards can be purchased from newsagents for cheap international calls. A simpler and often cheaper alternative for international calls is to use a direct-dial service such as My Mondo (http://www.mymondo.co.uk/), Telediscount (http://www.telediscount.co.uk/) or Just-Dial (http://www.just-dial.com/). These offer vastly reduced call rates over the standard providers and don't require you to purchase a card or sign up for an account.
Mobile phones are heavily used. 97% of the UK population have a mobile phone - and that figure is rising. The main networks are T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2 and are all currently GSM based. GPRS data services are also available, usually priced per MegaByte. Since 2003 new CDMA based 3G networks have begun to be deployed, 3 being the first commercial provider, although their coveage is limited. UK mobile phone tarrifs basically split into two types
- Pay monthy - a fixed monthy fee plus any call charges debited from a bank account or credit card,usually includes some call or text messages for free , contracted for 12 or 18 months
- Pay as you go - credit the phone with a top-up card or cash payment via a top-up terminal, no contract and no bills, Some operators also offer some free text messages.
If you have a GSM compatable handset ( most dual and tri band phones are GSM compatable) you can purchase a SIM card from several high street electrical or phone outlets or buy online. However be aware prices do vary considerably � from �9.99 (with �10 call credit) from Fresh (available at the Carphone Warehouse) to �30 (with �2.50 credit) from Vodafone (available at all mobile phone shops). The UK has extensive mobile phone coverage - 99% of the UK mainland is covered.
Costs for calls can vary significantly depending on when, where from and where to. Calls from hotel rooms can be spectacularly expensive because of the hotel surcharges; check before you use and consider using the lobby payphones instead. Calls from payphones and wired, or landline, phones to mobile phones can be expensive too, if you have the choice call the other party's land line. Beware of premium rate calls, which can be very expensive. Text messaging from mobiles costs 10 pence and picture or MMS messages costs 45 pence.
Calls between landlines are charged at either local rate or national rate depending on the originating and destination area codes; if both are the same then the area code is optional and the call will be local rate. Note that local calls are not generally free. The following table relates the first few digits dialed to call types, so you can avoid some of the pitfalls above:
|Digits dialed||Call Type|
|01||Call to a landline at local or national rate (see above)|
|02||Call to a landline at local or national rate (see above)|
|07||Call to a mobile phone or pager|
|0844||Variable rate up to about 5p/min|
|0845||Call at local rate|
|0870||Call at national rate|
|0871||Variable rate up to about 10p/min|
|09||Call at a premium rate|
Internet access is widespread. Internet cafes can be found in cities and large towns, check the city pages for details. Public libraries may also be able to provide access for free, although you can expect a small wait to get a turn, and time is usually limited. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access either via their cable tv system or WiFi , although the prices are quite steep (www.spectrumineractive.co.uk provide the Scottish YHA with a network of broadband and WiFi capable internet terminals).
A number of ISPs charge nothing for Internet access by telephone modem - they get their payment from the phone company, local call costs are time related. Examples are GoNuts4Free (http://www.Gonuts4Free.com/), DialUKT (http://www.DialUKT.com/).
There are some WiFi hotspots, although publicly available wireless is not yet widespread outside central London. Consume.net (http://www.consume.net/) provides a directory free hotspots. TotalHotspots (http://www.totalhotspots.com/) provides a directory of pay-for WiFi access points, many in high-street coffee chains Caff� Nero and Starbucks.
Broadband is now available to 99.7% of British households using ADSL over the phone line or cable modem over the cable TV network where available. Several companies have started to offer one month contracts for ADSL, so if you have an existing BT phone line and are staying for more than 2 months, it is fairly straight forward to setup. This will either need to be already installed or you must be staying for long enough to make it worth your while. A good starting point is The ADSLGuide website, as they list all companies providing ADSL and the packages they offer  (http://www.adslguide.org.uk).
It is also possible to access the internet using the GPRS mobile data service , but conection speed is limited to 56kbps ( i.e. a dial up modem) and the tariffs are based on amount of data downloaded. However GPRS is the best solution for mobile computing, unless you can find a WiFi hotspot.
The most you should pay for access across the UK is �1 for half an hour. Many chain cafes will charge more for little to no extra value.
The Royal Mail has a long history. Post boxes are still the traditional red colour, (although there are green and gold Victorian "Penfold" boxes retained in some areas and a historically important blue box in Windsor). Mail can also be posted at post offices. Postage stamps cost 30/21p (domestic 1st/2nd class), 40p (Europe), 47p (Worldwide).
- Visit Britain (http://www.visitbritain.com/) -- the official Web site of UK Tourism