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It couldn't be any more English: bright red double decker buses, cabbies, the Tube, tea and scones on a rainy afternoon, a pie and pint for dinner perhaps. Culture and history enthral visitors: from the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London to Stonehenge to the world renowned universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The Queen's country feels like a giant open air museum, where every valley reveals another cathedral or ancient ruin.
But 21st century England is not simply, or even mainly, about the heritage industry. Many tourist clichés are long obsolete: London no longer has 'pea souper' fogs; Manchester is no longer an industrial city; Englishmen don't wear bowler hats and you'll have to look long and hard to find a gentleman. Modern England is a vibrant and fast-growing economy dominated by the services sector. If it no longer make things that weigh something, it sells advertising, insurance and music to the rest of the world instead. And these days, it even eats well.
There is obvious evidence that England has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Up until the 15th century, England was a dominion of other empires, including the Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. Towards the end of the 15th century, England started to become a global superpower in its own right, thanks to the Reformation and successful reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Civil war turned the 17th century into a bloody one, with the long-running battles between Royalists and Parliamentarians finally ending in 1660 under Charles II. Since the accession of the Stuart dynasty in 1603, the kings and queens of England have also been the monarchs of Scotland, although the two countries only entered into political union at the beginning of the 18th century. Since then, England has formed a part of the United Kingdom. During the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, England became a world leader in manufacturing and engineering, growing its vast global empire.
In the first half of the 20th century, England suffered heavy casualties in the First and Second World Wars. During the second half of the 20th century, England, under the reign of current Queen Elizabeth II, recovered from the effects of war. It also granted independence to many of its former colonies. Over the last 15 years, England's economy has thrived, thanks in large part to the success of financial and hi-tech service industries.
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The South East of England, particularly the Greater London conurbation, is densely populated and largely flat. Most of the South West consists of gently undulating agricultural plains, with some areas of high moorland (particularly Exmoor and Dartmoor). Cornwall is the exception - a rough, ruggedly beautiful rural peninsula, with the sub-tropical Isles of Scilly beyond. East Anglia is extremely flat, with much fenland and some quiet stretches of coastline. The mountains of England are in the Pennines in the north, with Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Howgill Fells and Lake District punctuating the landscape.
The coastline of the England is varied and diverse. Long sandy beaches are commonplace where in other areas the coastline is made up of huge cliffs and rocky outcroppings. Due to its past volcanic history England, and the other regions of the U.K, are highly suited to agriculture. The soil is fertile for crops and the ground is perfect for animal grazing.
England is divided into nine governmental regions.
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The regions above have no powers, although they sometimes form the geographical basis for services needing a wide area such as police or fire, in which case there is an ad hoc authority for the purpose. For England the structure of local government is now (following reforms at short intervals from each other from 1974 until the end of the 20th century) very complicated. In particular, what are regarded by many as counties, based on centuries of history, do not correspond to local government County Council areas. For examle the administrative county of Gloucestershire shares its funtions with smaller districts in much of the geographical and historical county but there is a South Gloucestershire Unitary Authority, which in its own area, shares local functions with no other authority. In metropolitan areas the situation is less complicated because there are only unitary authorities. However among residents many believe that they come under a metropolitan county, such as Greater Manchester. In fact these councils, which were not in operation until 1974, were abolished in 1986! Something of the same kind applies in London where the Greater London Council was also abolished - but there is now an elected Mayor for all of London along with a London assembly as well as over 30 London boroughs. The Council for the Isles of Scilly is a unitary authority, with some difference to anywhere else in England to take account of its unique geography. If any of this concerns you, there is a lot of general information on London but for more specific information, you are better off putting 'local government' and (e.g.) 'Somerset' into a search engine.
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London is a cultural melting pot where the world has found a home, a legacy of their colonialist past and a great contributor to its vibrant culture today. It forms a fabulous stepping stone to all that England has to offer.
Escaping London quickly takes one through tiny towns barely on the map and large cities with significant marks on history. There is no shortage of lush rolling hills, peaceful lakes and seaside cliffs to keep you entertained on the way from one borough to the next.
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Throughout England, there are traces of history. An abundance of cathedrals, castles, ancient towns and scenic countryside is enough to keep any visitor occupied. Some of the very most popular are listed below.
Stonehenge is one of the best known structures in the world and is near present day Salisbury. This mysterious megalithic ruin was built over thousand of years from large stones transported from hundreds of miles away in present day Wales. The structures are designed to line up with major solar and lunar events and may have been a large calendar for religious ceremonies. Stonehenge has inspired and awed people for millennia and continues to this to the current day.
The Lake District is one of the most beautiful places in England and is in the north-west part of the country. To this day the beauty is stunning and the area has not lost its charm. Many authors and painters have highlighted the sublime nature of the lakes and hills around the Lake District but no words can truly give it justice. Among the mountains and lakes, small townships and hamlets are dotted about. These are just as picturesque as the natural beauty that surrounds them.
London has some of the best nightlife in the whole world. If you're looking for a nice pub, a blue colour watering hole or one of the fanciest night clubs on this planet, London has it. Make sure to have extra money to burn because these places are fun but never cheap. Many of the trendiest nightspots are very popular with the rich and famous.
Westminster Abbey is the most important church in all of England and maybe Europe. The main function of this church is the coronation of all the new British monarchs. There are also several very famous tombs in Westminster Abbey. Some of these are the tombs of Geoffrey Chaucer, Henry Prucell, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and also several kings and queens. Any visit to London is not complete without visiting the amazing Westminster Abbey.
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The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament, is the iconic landmark that represents not just London where it is located, but the entire United Kingdom as well. Until 1512, the site was a royal residence, but a fire forced Henry VIII to move out. However, the site remained a Royal Palace; therefore, its official title is the Palace of Westminster. Today, it is where the two Houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom (the House of Lords and the House of Commons) meet.
The Clock Tower, the main part of the iconic landmark to travellers, if often referred to as Big Ben, the nickname of the bell housed within the Clock Tower. Big Ben's official name is the Great Bell.
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England has a mild maritime climate with no extreme weather in general. Temperatures in summer (June to September) are around 20 °C to 22 °C during the day and around 13 °C or 14 °C degrees at night. Though some days might have temperatures over 30 °C, especially more inland. Coastal areas are a bit cooler in summer but milder in winter. The inland northern parts are generally colder year-round. Winters are generally above zero during the day and around or still slightly above at night, though both frost and snowfall is not uncommon. Precipitation is possible year round, mostly in the form of rain. Spring is a bit drier on the whole and is a good time to visit England.
There are many international airports in England, with the busiest ones being those in London.
British Airways is the national carrier of the United Kingdom and flies to many main cities around the world. Apart from the national carrier, virtually all major airlines have England as one of their destinations. For those on a budget, there are also many low-cost carriers in Europe with destinations in England. Easyjet, one of the biggest low-cost carriers in England, flies into different parts of England from around Europe. And of course Ireland's Ryanair flies to dozens of destinations in England and beyond as well.
Trains from continental Europe enter England via the the Channel Tunnel, also known as Chunnel, a 50.5-kilometre undersea rail tunnel. The two main services are the Eurostar, a high-speed passenger train, and the Eurotunnel Shuttle, for vehicle transport (see By Car section, below). Eurostar runs from Paris and Brussels as well as seasonal destinations to London and other south-eastern locations in the UK. Refer to the Eurostar Route Map for all possible connections to the rest of England.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is a luxury train service with the original and main journey being London-Venice. There are also several other journeys to choose from, with stops in Budapest, Istanbul, Krakow, Paris, Prague, Rome and Vienna. Carriages dated back to the 1920s and 1930s are used to give a vintage feel for this luxury train service.
National Rail has all the information you need about schedules and prices. There are dozens of daily connections between London and Cardiff (Wales), Glasgow and Edinburgh (Scotland). See the Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland articles for travelling within those countries.
The Eurotunnel service is the fastest way to cross the English Channel in the comfort of your vehicle. The shuttle train transports both you and your vehicle from Calais, France to Folkestone, England via the Channel Tunnel in about 35 minutes. From Folkestone, the M20 motorway connects to London.
England is very well connected to quite a few countries in the western and northern parts of Europe.
From the Netherlands
From Jersey and Guernsey
It is possible to fly between most major cities. British Airways operates an extensive service covering almost every major population center. Cheaper national flights are available with budget carriers Ryanair, Easyjet and FlyBE. Routes which may be of particular interest given the comparative expense of travelling overland include London to Newcastle with Easyjet, London to Newquay with Ryanair and Birmingham to Newquay, Manchester to Exeter, Manchester to Norwich and Manchester to Southampton with FlyBE.
An interesting and scenic flight is England's only scheduled helicopter service, operated by inappropriately named British International, connecting Penzance in mainland Cornwall with St Marys and Tresco in the Isles of Scilly.
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There is an extensive train network serving all cities and most towns. The ticketing system is confusing and complex and travellers often pay too much for tickets as a result. The cheapest available tickets are special discount rate tickets issues directly by the train companies. These are usually sold as singles. The very cheapest are available on National Express owned routes (including London to Peterborough, Leeds, York and Durham) or via the Stagecoach franchise Megatrain (routes include London to Exeter, Axminster, Bournemouth and Sheffield, and Manchester to Oxenholme - the Lake District, Penrith and Carlisle). Other operators, including Virgin Trains, may offer discount rate single tickets. It's important to note that these tickets are only for travel on a specific train - if you book this ticket type and travel on the wrong train you'll be charged the full Standard Open fare. This will always be extortionately expensive.
Rather more expensive are 'Saver' tickets. These are always cheaper as returns than as singles and are available for any route on the network. It's possible to reserve a seat, but permissible to travel on any 'off-peak' train. The definition of 'off-peak' varies according to the route, but will always include most trains departing after 10:00am.
'Standard Open' tickets are available up until the last minute on any train, and are the preserve of the rich, the desperate and the mad. As an example, the Standard Open single fare from London to Exeter is more than 12 times the cheapest discounted fare available from Megatrain - for travelling in the same class on the same train.
Some train companies offer special discounts for first class tickets. Occasionally this makes them almost as cheap as the cheapest available standard fare. Travelling first class is a pleasant experience and worth buying if the difference between available fares is low.
At weekends long distance routes can be disrupted by repair work. Information on all routes, including details of engineering work and train running, is available at the website of National Rail.
For more details on how to 'beat the system' to get cheap fares, see the Money Saving Expert website about cheap train tickets.
The road network is extensive and in good condition, so it is easy and convenient to drive around the country. Levels of car ownership are high, and congestion is a problem in most cities and most motorways, particularly in and around London, Manchester and Birmingham.
Be aware that driving into Central London requires payment of a Congestion Charge, which you'll be liable for even if you're driving a hire car. Non-payment of the charge will result in a large fine.
Strictly enforced speed limits and drink-driving regulations together with a tough driving test mean that safety standards on England's roads are among the highest in Europe. Some accident 'blackspots' do still exist however and particular care must be taken in rural areas and after dark.
England's bus network is very extensive. As a result almost every town, village and hamlet is connected to the public transport network. Most local bus services are provided by regional operators. In rural areas buses may only run on certain days. This would be difficult to work out if it wasn't for the extremely useful Traveline service which provides a searchable database of local and regional bus timetables. Local buses are usually comparatively cheap.
National Express and Megabus operate a national coach network between major cities. Providing tickets are purchased in advanced this is usually the cheapest method of transport to cover long distances, with all Megabus fares starting from £1 each way. Long-distance bus travel can be time consuming and uncomfortable compared to rail or air travel.
There are a small number of useful boat services within England:
For visa-related information, refer to the United Kingdom article.
The pound sterling is the currency of England, with the international currency code GBP (Great Britain Pound). The currency sign for pound is £ (the symbol is derived from the letter L). The Bank of England (BoE), the central bank of the UK, issues pound sterling banknotes and coins for the whole of the United Kingdom.
You can change money from major currencies at most banks, Post Office and some travel agents throughout the country.
Credit cards, usually Visa and Mastercard, are widely accepted. American Express is not accepted in many places so don't rely on that alone.
ATMs are located in all town centres and transport hubs and quite often petrol stations.
England has some of the best Universities in the world and of course some of the best known are those in Oxford and Cambridge. There are dozens more though and if you want to learn proper English, there is no better place than England of course. Check the Study in Britain website, or check the English in Britain website for learning the language.
English is, unsurprisingly, the main language here and you will be able to speak that across the country. That said some accents can be difficult to understand. There is a small movement in Cornwall that is trying to revive Cornish as a language, but you are unlikely to encounter someone who doesn't speak English.
England has a reputation for dire food, and if you want to find it, you can. But things have changed beyond recognition in the last 20 years. Restaurants have undergone a revolution: master foreign chefs such as Raymond Blanc and Giorgio Locatelli have built careers here as they always have, but many of the best restaurants are owned and managed by home-grown chefs such as Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal and Gary Rhodes. Perhaps more importantly, the quality of the average restaurant has improve in leaps and bounds: the English just don't tolerate overcooked vegetables and leathery meat the way they used to. And pubs – which in the 1960s served beer to men – now make far fatter margins serving food to families. Over large swathes of England, and spurred on by the ban on smoking in public, the gastropub is replacing the local boozer.
Traditional English staples include:
Away from the hearty homecooked meals, some of the world's top chefs reside in England, particularly in London. Eating out at one of the Ramsay chain (Gordon Ramsay, Claridges, Maze, etc) is a great experience.
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It must be said, though, that when they eat out (and very often when they cook at home), the English do not usually eat English food. The most popular food is Indian (which is usually in fact Bangladeshi), Chinese and Italian. Thai food is increasingly commonly found, not just in restaurants but also in pubs. It is said that the most common dish ordered in English restaurants – and therefore surely our 'national' dish – is chicken tikka masala, a dish unknown in India and invented in the UK. This is not a new phenomenon: the taste for "curry" was brought back by Army officers and their wives returning from India in the nineteenth century. And after a night on the beers, when one's judgment is a little clouded, a kebab with extra chilli sauce is just the ticket.
There is plenty of accommodation to be found in England, ranging from hostels to luxurious hotels in the city centre of London. Like the rest of the UK, England has a lot of Bed and Breakfasts and some websites where you can find a lot of them include bedandbreakfasts-uk.co.uk and bedandbreakfastnationwide.com.
Traditionally England is the bastion of Real Ale and most pubs will have a suitable brew on tap. Cider is also widely sold, and is particularly good in the West Country where orchard conditions are at their best. Some good white wines, particularly sparkling whites, are produced along the south coast.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to England. The country has a very high health standard, with good doctors, hospitals and widely available medication.
See also: Travel Safety
Although the Media would like to portray that the country has rampant gun and in particular knife crime, the reality is that England is like all other countries: a visitor is highly unlikely and would be very unlucky to be caught up in such violence, although there is a lot of "low level" crime, again standard regardless of the country.
London in particular but also provincial cities such as Manchester and Nottingham have all been tarnished with a reputation for violence. What is undeniably true is that there are many "US-style" gangs in the inner city suburbs and the vast majority of knife and gun crime is gang related.
Usual precautions for single women should be kept. Travelling in unlicensed taxis is very unadvisable and indeed somewhat stupid, given the vast numbers of legitimate "Black Cabs" and licensed cars that operate across the country.
Otherwise, the only violence you are likely to experience will be drink related.
In case of an emergency dial 999 or 112.
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There are internet cafés in most towns and cities and many coffee shops also have wifi connections if you have your laptop with you. The connection speeds are usually pretty good. In larger hotels it is also common to find wifi connections.
See also: International Telephone Calls
There are phone boxes in all towns and cities. Usually, you'll be able to quickly find one around the town centre or at a train/bus station. The traditional red phone boxes have been largely replaced by glass and steel boxes. Some boxes require use of a phone card (they will be signposted as such), but most accept cash.
If you are phoning the UK you should remove the first zero of the phone number.
The Royal Mail provides postal services in the United Kingdom. The Royal Mail's store fronts are called Post Office and offer services ranging from sending letters and packages to foreign currency exchange. Use the branch locator to find the nearest Post Office branch. An alternative includes TNT Post.
There will be at least one post office in any town/city and there are quite often post offices in larger villages. It's common for a post office to be incorporated into a grocery store, where there will be a small counter located at the back of the store for dealing with post related matters.
All post offices are marked with signs that say 'post office' in red lettering. Post boxes can be found at any post office and standalone large red post boxes on the streets or red boxes in the sides of public buildings.
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Lived in the UK for the last 10 years or so,2 years in Yorkshire, the rest in London and Surrey.Know a good amount of where to go and how to do it cheaper.
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I have a vast knowledge of the Isle of Wight and a good knowledge of Brighton and the surrounding area. I am now discovering London so I may be able to help with that.
I study modern British and European History, so if you need any historical information to help with your travels then please ask :)
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travel advice and tips
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spent months there
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I have lived in England all my live (apart from a couple of jaunts away to travel in other parts of the world!), in several different areas and... I run a travel company, Great British Escapes, which arranges tailor-made holidays in Britain, so I travel extensively in Britain for my job. Very happy to help if I can.
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