Few places cram in as much scenery, history and culture as the United Kingdom. It's a busy, eccentric and unique destination; a land of daft humour, tea-and-cake clichés and a thousand and one different personalities; a land where thrusting cities like London, Glasgow and Manchester share map space with the peaks of Snowdonia and the colossal slopes of the Highlands.
Four component nations make up the UK, and the end result is as many-layered as that fact would suggest. Its arts scene continues to be one of the most creative and successful in the world, its passions still run high on everything from politics to sport and its overall character is as modern as it is multicultural. Even the food's good these days.
London remains the natural focal point. Its skyline, mixing medieval turrets with soaring steel, is a good marker for the place as a whole. From its markets to its museums, its pubs to its palaces, it's a bona fide world city packed with diversity. But you don't have to look far to find other great urban centres – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all home to richly engaging cities full of heritage, music and nightlife. Some, like Bath and Edinburgh, offer postcard-perfect medieval skylines. Others, like Belfast and Liverpool, are handsome in places but just as notable for their indelible personalities.
As a country, of course, the UK's urban centres are just one part of its allure. Britain is often extremely beautiful. Seaside towns, national parks and honey-stoned villages still fill the guidebooks, and the scenic pull of areas like the Cornish coast, Giant's Causeway and the Lake District is as strong as it's ever been. Once you factor in the endless cultural associations that Britain throws up – from Henry VIII to Hogwarts, The Beatles to Braveheart, male voice choirs to Monty Python – it stands as a country very much its own.
When To Go
The UK has an undeserved reputation for its rain! The climate does vary day to day but as a guide there are four defined seasons.
Summer is generally from June-August and is typically 14-30C with long evenings. Autumn is September- November and around 7-18C. Winter is December-February and can be from 1-5C. Generally the south of the country experiences warmer weather than the north. Spring then occurs March-May and is usually 6-12C.
– Overall the UK is a safe country but do exercise the usual caution especially at night and in crowded areas.
– Layer clothes up and allow for changes in the seasons.
– When walking the fells and national parks, ensure you carry a map and basic supplies.
– Be a responsible traveller.
– Obey the countryside rules and take all rubbish away with you.
– Check the latest travel advice.
– Edinburgh – Edinburgh Castle, Ghost Tours, Royal Mile, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Ceilidh (traditional Scottish dance), Golf at Musselburgh Links (world's oldest golf playing course), Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour, Sample Scotch Whisky & Royal Lyceum Theatre.
– Glasgow – Glasgow School of Art (designer was Charles Rennie Mackintosh), Glasgow Film Theatre, Burrell Collection, Glasgow Cathedral & Botanic Gardens.
– Aberdeen – Maritime Museum, Duthie Park Winter Gardens, Provost Skene's House, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Satrosphere, St Machar's Cathedral, Gordon Highlanders Museum.
– Dundee – RRS Discovery, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Botanic Gardens, Angus Folk Museum, Glamis Castle, Camperdown Wildlife Centre, HM Frigate Unicorn & Dundee Flower and Food Festival (September).
– Inverness – Inverness Museum & Art Gallery, Caledonian Canal Heritage Centre, Loch Ness (and Loch Ness Monster), Culloden, Landmark Forest Heritage Park & Black Isle Wildlife & Country Park.
– Orkney – Neolithic Orkney, Italian Chapel, Highland Park Distillery, Orkney Museum & Tankerness House.
– Lewis – Calanais Standing Stones, Blackhouse Complex, Lewis Loom Centre & Gearrannan Blackhouse Village at Carloway.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
– Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast
– Henderson Island
– Gough and Inaccessible Islands
– Dorset and East Devon Coast
World Heritage in Danger
– Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City
– St Kilda
– Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd
– Durham Castle and Cathedral
– Ironbridge Gorge
– Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
– Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey
– Blenheim Palace
– City of Bath
– Frontiers of the Roman Empire
– Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey including Saint Margaret's Church
– Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's Church
– Tower of London
– Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
– Maritime Greenwich
– Heart of Neolithic Orkney
– Blaenavon Industrial Landscape
– Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda
– Derwent Valley Mills
– New Lanark
– Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
– Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape
– Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal