Amazing Key Facts About Britain
Great Britain is made up of England, Scotland and Wales – three countries on one island and several small islands. The United Kingdom (UK) combines Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland with England, Scotland and Wales.
The Channel Islands, near the coast of Normandy in France, are British but not part of the UK. They are British Crown Dependencies. The Isle of Man in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland is also a self-governing British Crown Dependency.
The population of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is estimated to be 65.1 million.
The capital of the UK is London.
There are 69 official cities in the UK – 51 in England, six in Wales, seven in Scotland and five in Northern Ireland. In the UK a city is created by a charter granted by the monarch establishing a municipality as a city – a system first established in the middle ages. UK cities usually have a cathedral.
More Key Facts About Britain
The UK is 243,610 square kilometres in area – 94,060 square miles – and is the 80th largest country in the world by area.
The longest river in the UK is the Severn (354km) which rises in Wales and flows through England to its estuary in the Bristol Channel.
The highest peak is Ben Nevis in Scotland (1,345 metres).
Poole on the south coast of England is the UK’s largest natural harbour and second largest in the world (Sydney in Australia is the largest).
The Bristol channel on the west coast of England has the UK’s longest tidal reach, 14.5 metres (48ft) and second longest in the world to Canada’s Bay of Fundy. The river Severn has the third highest tidal range in the world, after the Bay of Fundy and Ungava Bay in the Hudson straits. People travel from all over to surf the Severn’s river Bore: a tidal wave that travels along the river.
English is Britain’s national language, spoken by more than 600 million people worldwide. Citizens of more than 160 nationalitiesspeaking more than 300 different languages live in the UK.
There are more than 2,500 museums in the UK and many of them are completely free to visit.
History and heritage
Britain was colonised by the Romans 2,000 years ago, and many place names still reflect their status in Roman times. Many towns with names ending with -ceter, -chester, or -caster are former Roman military towns. The towns of Chester and Colchester are two obvious ones. The World Heritage city of Bath in the west of England has excellently preserved Roman baths and a Roman temple that are acknowledged to be among the finest in northern Europe.
Christianity is the major religion in the UK but the country is tolerant of all religions and British people and visitors are free to choose and follow their own beliefs.
Politics and governance
The UK is a member of the European Union but not a member of the Schengen area. Following a referendum in June 2016, the UK will leave the European Union although the exit date has not yet been set. The currency is sterling – British pounds (100 pence to the pound).
The UK has a central government led by the Prime Minister but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have devolved administrations responsible for many domestic policy issues.
The world-famous principle that everybody, including the monarch, is subject to law was first agreed by King John in 1215 when he signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede, near Old Windsor in England. The Magna Carta remains a cornerstone of the British constitution.
The Head of State is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – the world’s longest serving Queen. She does not ‘rule’ the country but fulfils important ceremonial roles for the government. These include the State Opening of Parliament on the first day of a new parliamentary session when the monarch processes from Buckingham Palace to Westminster in a horse-drawn gold coach escorted by the Household Cavalry.
The Queen has to remain strictly neutral in all political matters and is unable to vote or stand for election. Her eldest son Prince Charles is heir to the British throne. His eldest son Prince William is second in line to the throne.
The Channel Islands have their own legislative assemblies and administrative, fiscal and legal systems. The United Kingdom government is responsible for their defence and international relations. Jersey and Guernsey are the two largest Channel Islands.
The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have the same passport and visa requirements as the UK.
UK public holidays
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland share public holidays on 25 December (Christmas Day), 26 December (Boxing Day), 1 January (New Year’s Day), Good Friday and Easter Monday (dates vary each year), and the first and last Mondays in May (Early May and Spring bank holidays).
In Scotland, 2 January, the first Monday in August and 30 November (St Andrew’s Day) are also public holidays.
In Northern Ireland, 12 July, which marks the Battle of the Boyne (Orangemen’s Day), is a public holiday.
If a bank holiday is on a weekend, a ‘substitute’ weekday becomes a bank holiday, normally the following Monday.
Love is GREAT – LGBT Britain
Britain welcomes every letter of the acronym LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) along with everyone else, which is why it’s a favourite destination for visitors of all ages, ethnicities and sexual preferences.
A progressive change in British law in July 2013 made it legal for gay men and lesbians to marry their chosen partners in England and Wales. The Queen gave her Royal Assent and same-sex marriage became legal on Wednesday 17 July 2013. It is also legal in Scotland.