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The United Kingdom is officially known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Luckily, very few people feel the need to refer to it as such. At one point, the United Kingdom was the world's major superpower, with its colonial fingers stretched across a quarter of the world's land. That was little more than a century ago. But in the intervening century (the fire-spewing 20th century), the UK and the Western world at large, has seen two World Wars which have drastically reduced the international power of the UK. Politically, the UK has become a middle-ranking power, retaining this status by virtue of its seat on the United Nations Security Council and its nuclear capability. Culturally, the UK is still a place of supreme importance: the mother of the English-speaking world, the birthplace of many great artists, novelists and thinkers, and a haven for the pub-thirsty. The four nations which comprise the UK are distinctive destinations, but one similarity is shared by all: a warm, hospitable manner which challenges the cold, damp weather.
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The history of the islands off the coast of north western Europe is a long one, with human settlements dating back thousands of years, and there are a number of monuments and structures on the islands from these "pre-history" times, including Stonehenge. In 43 AD, the Roman Empire started a conquest of the islands, and remained in rule over parts of Great Britain until the 5 century AD, and were the first people to build a bridge across the Thames River at the site of present day London Bridge in London.
After the withdrawal of the Romans, the islands split into a number of different kingdoms and saw various rulers rise and fall from power, including the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans (French). England, Wales and Scotland all eventually became protestant kingdoms, while Ireland remained mostly Catholic.
After the Treaty of Union that was agreed on 22 July 1706, the United Kingdom was formed on May 1st, 1707 when the Kingdom of England (at the time which included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland formed a political alliance. The Kingdom of Ireland was brought into the United Kingdom in 1800, though in 1920 a number of counties formed the now independent country of Ireland, leaving only 6 counties in Northern Ireland still as part of the United Kingdom.
In the 18th and 19th century, the United Kingdom saw the development of the parliamentary system and the industrial revolution. It was the heart of a vast colonial empire, with outposts across the globe. The British Empire was often said to be the empire on which the sun never sets, as it's global reach ensure that it was daytime in at least one of its numerous colonies or subject nations.
The first 50 years of the 20th century saw two world wars, in which the United Kingdom were one of the key combatants. After World War II, most of the United Kingdom's overseas colonies and subject nations became independent from the United Kingdom, however many still have strong links to the UK through participation in the Commonwealth of Nations.
The second part of the 20th century saw the return of troubles to Northern Ireland, with the 1969 riots and Bloody Sunday (1972) as the darkest days. The I.R.A. brought terror to Northern Ireland, England and occasionally to mainland Europe. An end to these troubles came in 1998 with the Belfast Agreement. Other events that caused a lot of tension within the UK, was the closing of many of coal mines and steel mills, leading to massive strikes in the 70's and 80's.
The United Kingdom joined the European Union in 1973 (after being vetoed by the french in 1961), and continues to play an important role in the further development and growth of that body. However, while Europe continues to develop closer ties, the direction within the United Kingdom is heading in the other way. Both Scotland and Wales have examined the idea of gaining independence from the United Kingdom. Scotland has created a Scottish Parliament, with Scottish Independence Party currently in control and the potential for a legislative way to gain independence. Wales has a Welsh Assembly with limited legislative powers.
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The United Kingdom is a series of islands off the North-west coast of the European continent. The largest island is Great Britain, containing the countries of England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland, 6 counties in the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland makes up the fourth of the four "home nations" of the United Kingdom. In addition to these two large islands, there are over 1000 other islands that form the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom has a land mass of 245,000 km². The tallest point in the United Kingdom is Ben Nevis, in the Nevis Range in Scotland at 1,344 metres above sea level. The United Kingdom has 12,429 kilometres of coast line, and is criss-crossed with rivers, so that the visitor is never far from water. The longest river is the Severn River, running through Wales and England.
The United Kingdom shares an international border with the country of Ireland. At it's closest point, the United Kingdom is only 35 kilometres from France, separated by the English Channel. The island of Great Britain is connected by an underwater tunnel to the European mainline which is called the Chunnel.
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The United Kingdom consists of four home nations located on the British Isles that have unique cultures and histories that are intertwined.
It is extremely important for visitors to be aware that England is not a synonym for the United Kingdom, even if it is often used as such in the United States and in France (and even, sadly, in England). Using 'England' to mean 'Britain' or 'the UK' may well cause offence in Scotland and elsewhere.
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The Glastonbury Festival is the largest greenfield music and performing arts festival in the United Kingdom. It started in 1971 with 1,500 attendees, but has now grown to a massive festival with over 130,000 people attending. Glastonbury takes place in Pilton, Somerset, over three days on the last weekend of June.
If there's one music festival to challenge Glastonbury, it would be the Reading Festival. Similar to Glastonbury, Reading has managed to stay true to it's indie rock roots, and attracts about 75,000 guests annually.
The Edinburgh Fringe takes place in August every year, and is the largest arts festival in the world. There are a number of varied performances from classic works, alternative arts and more mainstream fare. The festival takes place in a number of venues (over 250 in 2006) throughout Edinburgh, including a number of street performers on the "Royal Mile" in Edinburgh's old town.
Is a popular city wide festival which occurs every year on the August bank holiday weekend. It is a free festival in which bands and artists play on outdoor stages around the city centre. Due to its popularity the city can get quite busy during this weekends.
Notting Hill Carnival happens every August Bank Holiday (last Monday of August) in London. The main day, Monday, is preceded by built-up days taking place in Alexandra Palace and Marble Arch. Sunday is kids' day, whilst the actual festival day shows a spectacular parade to rival Rio. There are plenty of stalls, selling foods from all over the world, but primarily remaining true to its Caribbean roots. There are live bands and DJs in the many sound systems set up in surrounding streets so you can continue to party long after the midday parade. Whilst most of West London grinds to a halt as the party reaches all the way down to Westbourne Park and Royal Oak in the north, most tube stations in the area are closed, and buses suspended, or very packed, at least. So although those spiky heels look good on the dancers they might not be the most practical- be prepared to walk for miles. Local residents often sell sodas, water and beer on the streets, and some even let their toilets be used- all for a fee, of course.
The most famous of all the tennis tournaments is the two week long tournament that is played on the grass courts of Wimbledon, in june and july. The venue for the matches is the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Getting tickets to go and see a match is not easy as the tournament is the most popular in the calendar. More information can be found on the Wimbledon website. Besides the courts there is a museum, which can be visited throughout the year, daily: 10:00am - 5:00pm. Visitors of the Museum, can also book a tour of the courts, on most days of the year. It is however advised to book ahead.
A similar celebration to the ones held in the US, Halloween is the perfect excuse to dress up as anything and everything and act out your childhood fantasies. Plenty of establishments throw costume parties and you are bound to see more than your fair share of drunken zombies crawling through the streets until the early hours of the night, throwing inhibition to the wind.
Strangely enough, the English festival on November 5 celebrates the failed attempts of terrorist Guy Fawkes to blow up Parliament in 1605. Each year, impressive bonfires are constructed in public arenas and traditionally burn effigies of Fawkes on top. Huge firework displays can be seen throughout the country in park areas and backyards alike.
One of the calendar’s most fun loving evenings sees English people spilling out of pubs, clubs, and house parties on every street corner as they celebrate the past 12 months and welcome in a new year. London, in particular, is a great place to spend the evening, counting down the remaining seconds of the year outside the capital’s famous clock tower, Big Ben.
For centuries, May Day has been celebrated in England on the first of the month. While not quite as popular as they once were, the festivities today are locally-orientated and centered around the symbolic Maypole, and includes Morris dancing and the crowning of a May Queen. The festival dates back to the pagan beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons.
Famously fickle, predicting the weather of the United Kingdom seems beyond Britain's most experienced weather forecasters. Generally speaking, the UK has cool, wet winters and warm, varied summers with temperatures lower in the north and rainfall lower in the east. Temperatures in summer are mostly between 15 °C and 20 °C, although the north of Scotland is slightly cooler and the area around London is warmer. Winters are generally above zero during the day and around or slightly below zero at night.
Some areas buck this trend, however, with the southern coast of Devon and Cornwall (and particularly the Isles of Scilly) experiencing warmer, drier summers than the rest of the country. The West coast of Scotland can experience very pleasant weather during summer months due to the influence of the North Atlantic Drift.
The BBC Climate Guide page for the UK has further detailed information.
There are many international airports in the United Kingdom, with the busiest ones being those in its capital London. Here is a list of some of the main airports in the UK.
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 in the world have the UK as one of their destinations. For those on a budget, there are also many low-cost carriers in Europe with destinations in the UK. Easyjet, one of the biggest low-cost carriers in the UK, flies into different parts of the country from around Europe, as does Ryanair. Also, loads of charter airlines serve destinations in warmer places like southern Europe, the Caribbean and the Middle East.
From Continental Europe:
Trains from continental Europe enter England via the the Channel Tunnel, also known as Chunnel, a 50.5-kilometre-long 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 UK.
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.
The cross-border intercity train service between Belfast and Dublin is called the Enterprise. The journey takes just over two hours and is jointly operated by the Irish Rail and NI Railways.
From Continental Europe:
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.
The drive from Ireland to Northern Ireland usually starts from Dublin city centre at Ireland's M1 motorway toward Belfast. There is neither border control nor signpost in between the journey to tell you that you have crossed the border. However, one may noticed that the road signs in Northern Ireland are only in English unlike Ireland's bilingual signs (English and Irish).
Imperial units v Metric system
In the UK, all road signs displaying distances and speed limits are in Imperial units (width and height: inches, feet; distance: yards, miles; speed: miles per hour) unlike the rest of Europe, including Ireland, where the metric system (metres, kilometres, kilometres per hour) is used.
The United Kingdom is very well connected to quite a few countries in the western and northern parts of Europe.
From the Netherlands
From Jersey and Guernsey
British Airways has flights between London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and many other cities in England like Newcastle. Other airlines include BMI, Fly Be, Easyjet and Ryanair, offering numerous connections between England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and some smaller islands like Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and the Isle of Man. While the smaller airports in Scotland a lot of the flights are carried out by Highland Airways, Eastern Airways and Fly Be.
National Rail has all the information you need about schedules and prices. There are dozens of daily connections between all major cities, including London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool (England), Cardiff (Wales), Glasgow and Edinburgh (Scotland). See the Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland articles for travelling within those countries.
The United Kingdom has an excellent system of motorways, connecting all major cities in England, Wales and Scotland and within Northern Ireland. International and local firms have offices to rent cars at many airports and downtown. The main companies include Hertz, Avis, Sixt, Budget, Europcar, Thrifty and Enterprise. Driving is on the left and you need a national or international driver's licence. Car insurance is also a legal requirement although hire companies will include this in their rates.
National Express is the main operator with daily buses connecting the bigger cities as well as regional towns. Look online early enough and you can sometimes get intercity tickets for as cheap as £1.
There are several ferry companies offering services in the United Kingdom to the outlying islands and also between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Companies include Stenaline, P&O Ferries and Norfolk Line Ferries.
Caledonian MacBrayne is one of the largest ferry operators in Scotland with services on the west coast and Clyde estuary. Many islands, including the Inner and Outer Hebrides, are served by them. In Northern Ireland, they also have ferries between Ballycastle and the island of Rathlin.
Northlink Ferries operates boats between the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands. Ferries leave from Aberdeen for Lerwick, or from Scrabster to Stromness.
Others include Wightlink Ferries to the Isle of Wight and Scilly Line boats to the Isles of Scilly.
Passport holders of members countries of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland have the right of free movement and residence in the UK.
European Economic Area: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Irish Republic, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom. Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are not members of the European Union (EU) but citizens of these countries have the same rights to enter, live in and work in the United Kingdom as EU citizens.
For all other nationals, entry clearance (visa) may or may not be required for visiting the UK.
Nationals from the following countries do not require entry clearance (visa) for a stay of three or six months:
Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Canada, Caymen Islands, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominica, East Timor, El Salvador, Falkland Islands, Faroes, Gibraltar, Greenland, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong (SAR), Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Korea (South), Macau (SAR), Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Montserrat, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Saint Helena, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, South Georgia and Sandwich Islands, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tuvalu, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City.
Visa nationals are required to apply for entry clearance before entering the UK.
For the latest visa requirements, visa application guides and other immigration matters, refer to the UK Border Agency Visa Services.
See also: Money Matters
The currency of United Kingdom is the pound sterling with the international currency code GBP (Great Britain Pound). The currency sign for pound is £ (the symbol is derived from the letter L). It is also known to the locals as quid (both singular and plural), which a slang term, so you might hear people say "two quid" instead of two pounds. One pound is divided into 100 pence (singular: penny).
Although the Bank of England (BoE), the central bank of the UK, issues most of the banknotes, sterling banknotes are also issued by seven other private banks. This often creates confusion amongst travellers when they travel from one country to another.
Banknotes issued by the BoE are accepted everywhere in the UK and are legal tender in England. However, this is not true for banknotes issued by the seven other banks. Some merchants may refuse to accept banknotes issued by banks other than BoE and banks in that country. For example, Bank of Scotland banknotes might not be accepted by merchants in England and Northern Ireland. Ulster Bank banknotes might be rejected in Scotland. Do not worry if this happens. You could try to use them again at bigger merchants or simply exchange them at banks pound for pound, with banknotes issued locally or that from BoE. When you make a purchase in cash and there is a change, you may ask the merchant to give you the change in BoE notes and they will usually oblige the request if they have them.
Fifty pounds (£50) banknotes are best avoided as they would not be accepted by merchants due to their rarity and the risk of counterfeit notes. So if you are given £50 banknotes when you exchange money at money changers, return them and ask for smaller denominations.
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), also known locally as cash machines, cashpoints, or "holes in the wall," are widely available in urban and sub-urban areas. Banknotes dispensed by ATMs are in £10 and £20 denominations. All ATMs are connected to the Cirrus and PLUS networks. Some ATMs may charge a withdrawal fee and you will be informed of this before the completion of the transaction to allow you to cancel it if you do not agree with the fee.
Credit cards are widely accepted and Visa and Mastercard are usually the preferred ones by merchants. American Express is usually only accepted by large stores, so check before you decide to purchase anything if that's the only card you have.
All citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland have permanent working rights in the UK. However, some EU member countries from eastern Europe may need to register themselves before they could work here. 
Nationals from other countries who wish to live and work in the UK will have to apply under the point-based Highly Skilled Worker (Tier 1 General) category. Applicants have to score a minimum number of points in order to be eligible for this programme.
The British government also operates a Youth Mobility Scheme for nationals of selected countries aged 18 to 30 years old. Successful applicants will be allowed to live and work in the United Kingdom for a maximum time of 24 months.
The United Kingdom is home to many highly-ranked universities. The ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge (the latter celebrating its eight hundredth anniversary in 2009) and the slightly newer University of London are regularly placed highly in rankings of the world's best universities. For more information on different universities, see the articles on specific cities.
English is, not surprisingly, the main language in the UK. Since the language originated in the UK and has evolved over hundreds of years, mixing Germanic roots with huge dollops of French and Latin vocabulary, there are wide local variations in both accent and vocabulary, with mutual comprehension not always guaranteed. However, there is a standard form of English, which is used in newspapers and (often) on the BBC.
But English was not the first language to be spoken in the British Isles. Before the Romans arrived - and, indeed, while they were here - Britons spoke various Celtic languages, and the descendants of these languages are still spoken, particularly in the hillier areas less exposed to Roman and Anglo-Saxon influence. Some Celtic languages - such as Manx and Cornish - have died out for practical purposes. Other Celtic descendants are still widely used, notably:
These days few, if any, native speakers of Welsh or Gaelic are monoglot. So you can speak English anywhere and expect to be understood - if your English is good enough.
There are many national dishes from each of the regions of the U.K.
All regions of the U.K have their own variants of a full breakfast or fry up. All contain some combination of fried bacon, eggs, sausages and other ingredients.
You will find a wide ranch of accommodations within the United Kingdom. From simple and cheap hostels and B&B's to the 5 star hotels in the big cities. For a list of accommocations, please check the city or town pages in this guide or go to the accommodation section. (see the toolbar on top.)
The drinks for which the UK is known are not necessarily the drinks drunk by the majority. In common with other northern European countries, alcohol consumption is relatively high by international standards, and much of this consumption takes place on Friday and Saturday nights, when the atmosphere of city and town centres is markedly affected. The beer most commonly drunk is continental lager; alcopops are also popular.
But you don't come to the UK to drink German or Czech beer, wonderful though it can be. The UK is the home of ale. The variety of ale around the country is one of its cultural glories. Unlike the lager sold in pubs, ale is usually alive: it sits maturing in barrels in the cellar of the pub (and so it can go off quite quickly). It is best drunk at a warmer temperature than lager (although not actually, despite the cliché, 'warm'). An ale is likely to be 'real' (that is, still alive) if the barperson has to pull the pump by hand. If he or she just flips a tap, it isn't real ale and it may be very ordinary indeed. Other forms of ale are occasionally seen but are not common: mild in the north of England, and porter (from which stout was derived) in London.
Some white wine, both still and sparkling, is made in southern England. At this latitude, the vine is at its northern extreme. Styles are more German than French. Wine is quite heavily taxed and is not cheap in the UK. However, probably precisely because of the relative dearth of local production, it is the world's centre of the international (wholesale) wine trade. If you can't find a wine in London, it isn't exported. Port and Madeira were both invented for the British market, and the Bordeaux wine trade has had strong British links since the days of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
As for spirits, the UK is probably best known for gin and for Scottish malt whisky. Gin - which the British got from the Dutch - probably needs no introduction. The type of gin drunk in gin and tonics over the world is London dry gin.
Whisky (derived from the Gaelic for 'water of life', and hence etymologically identical to aqua vitae) shares with beer an origin in the fermentation of barley. It also shares with beer a staggering and wonderful variety, ranging from the light and aromatic whisky of the lowlands to the pungent malts of Islay. It comes in two main types: single malt and blended. A single malt is distilled in a particular batch at a single distillery. There are no bad single malts on the market; presumably the ordinary ones just died out. Blended whisky can be very good - Johnny Walker Black Label is superb - but it can be utter rubbish, fit only for a heavily diluted whisky and ginger. The difference between a good and bad whisky is like that between different species, so avoid anything under £12-15 a bottle. Whiskey, with an 'e', is made elsewhere, notably in Ireland, the USA and Japan (with some wonderful examples in the latter). But Scotland is its home: nowhere else matches the number and quality of its whiskies. Many of its whisky distilleries can be visited.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the United Kingdom. The healthcare system is the UK very good. Some of the best doctors and hospitals in the world are located in the UK. The National Health Service is the public health service provided by the government and is very good by international standards. There is also a system of private hospitals but private insurance is needed unless a patient wants to pay the full price.
For pet owners bringing animals to the UK rabies is not endemic in the UK and the authorities would like it to stay that way. Pets susceptible to rabies are required by law to spend six months in quarantine (unless they qualify for the Pet Travel Scheme - a pet passport).
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See also: Travel Safety
In case of emergency, dial 999 or 112 for Police, Ambulance, Fire Brigade and Coast Guard. It's free of charge.
Although tourist areas are generally safe, travellers should still practise some common sense safety precautions just as they do anywhere in the world.
In some towns and cities, drinking in public places is an offence, and you could be slapped with a fine if caught. However, this law is widely flouted.
Internet cafés can be found in many cities and towns. All UK public libraries provide access, often branded as "People's Network", usually at no or little charge, though there is usually a time limit. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access, including wifi, but most times at a cost. Using the internet on your personal phone can become expensive very quickly, with carriers charging 100's of times the local rate for data. To avoid these expensive roaming charges, you can hunt for wifi at a local cafe or hotel, or rent a mobile hotspot via several providers including DATAPiXY, and XCOM Global.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to the United Kingdom is: 44. To make an international call from the United Kingdom, the code is: 00
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, coastguard or mountain rescue). You can call this number from any mobile telephone as well, even if you do not have roaming.
Although the number is declining, you can still find payphones in many public areas, especially stations, airports etc. You can usually pay with cash and sometimes by creditcard or, for international calls, special phonecards are still available.
Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2. 3G data services are available, usually priced per megabyte and coverage is usually very good in the UK, however it may lack in rural areas. Roaming on your personal phone plan can be expensive. To manage costs, consider purchasing a local UK SIM card for your phone. Several companies offer local SIM cards including Telestial, and CellularAbroad.
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. 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.
For sending packages overseas, it might be a good idea to check prices and services with international companies like TNT, UPS or DHL.
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I live here and have travel extensivly around the country, so will be able to help with anything from where to go to where to stay.
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I have lived in London for the last 6 years and am pretty up to speed on interesting activities available and how to see the 'Londoner's London'. So, if you're visiting the capital and have any questions on what to do, fire away.
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Was in UK a year back - and like my log says it was a dream come true... Not sure how much I can help, but would love to share my experiences with people!
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Live in UK for over 50 yearss.
Travel by train preferably.
Knowledge of non-tourist London.
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General knowledge of England, Wales and Scotland, I have lived in all three. I live near ro London, the South coast, and the arports, so travel knowledge is good.
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