Travel Guide Europe United Kingdom England

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Introduction

St Ives, Cornwall

St Ives, Cornwall

© All Rights Reserved Midworlder

It couldn't be any more English: bright red double-decker buses and the Tube in London, cabbies, tea and scones on a rainy afternoon, perhaps a pie and pint for dinner. Culture and history enthrall visitors, from the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London to Stonehenge,the many magnificent Medieval cathedrals, the numerous castles and stately homes and the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge. England sometimes feels like a giant open-air museum, where every valley reveals another cathedral or ancient ruin and every footstep falls on layers of history.

But 21st century England is not simply, or even mainly, about heritage and history. The vast majority of tourist clichés have long been long obsolete: London no longer has 'pea-souper' fogs; Manchester is no longer a grimy industrial city; Englishmen do not wear bowler hats and you'll have to look long and hard to find a 'gentleman'. Modern England is a vibrant, growing economy dominated by the services sector. If the country no longer makes things as much as it once did, it sells advertising, insurance, technology and music to the rest of the world instead. And, nowadays, it eats well and widely. You'll find cuisines from across the world represented in all English cities, towns and, very often, in villages too.

Of course, some clichés were never true. In England, it can (and often does) rain but it rarely rains for very long or very heavily. London's rainfall is actually about the same as that of Paris and about half that of New York City. And snow? Well, the fact that the whole country still tends to grind to a halt when there is any sort of snowfall should tell you that, unless you are in the mountains, lying snow of any depth really isn't a common occurrence!

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Brief History

England has been inhabited since Palaeolithic times. The earliest evidence of human habitation discovered so far (fossilised footprints found on the Norfolk coast) dates back over 800,000 years and there is a wealth of prehistoric sites throughout the country. Later, England was invaded and/or settled by many peoples, including the Romans, Angles, Saxons and Jutes (often combined as 'Anglo-Saxons'), the Danes and the Vikings. In 1066 the Norman invasion placed King William l (known as 'William the Conqueror') on the English throne. This was the last time that England was invaded.

By the end of the 16th century (1500s), England was beginning to become a global power, partly due the successful reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The English Civil War turned the 17th century (1600s) into a rather bloody one, with the long-running battles between Royalists and Parliamentarians finally ending in 1660 when the monarchy was finally reinstated with the accession of King Charles II.

When the unmarried and childless Queen Elizabeth l died in 1603 the English throne passed to King James Vl of Scotland, who became King James l of England. Since that time the kings and queens of England have also been the monarchs of Scotland, although the two countries only entered into full political union in 1707, creating the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain'. In 1800 an Act of Union with Ireland created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

During the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, England became the world leader in innovation, invention, manufacturing and engineering, thus increasing its global empire.

As part of the UK, England suffered heavy casualties in both the First (1914 - 1918) and Second (1939 - 1945) World Wars, and endured a huge amount of bomb damage during the latter. During the second half of the 20th century, England, under the reign of current Queen Elizabeth II, has gradually recovered from the effects of the last World War. The majority of former colonies have long been granted their independence and modern England is now a hugely multicultural and multhi-ethnic country.

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Geography

 The Coastal path round Cornwall and Devon

The Coastal path round Cornwall and Devon

© All Rights Reserved bob flinn

Geographically England includes the central and southern two-thirds of the island of Great Britain, plus offshore islands such as the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly. It is bordered by two other countries which form (with Northern Ireland) the United Kingdom - to the north by Scotland and to the west by Wales. England is closer to the European continent than any other part of mainland Britain. It is separated from France by 21 miles (34 km) of sea, though the two countries are now joined by the Channel Tunnel. England also has coastlines which border the Irish Sea, the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

The ports of London, Liverpool, and Newcastle lie on the tidal rivers Thames, Mersey and Tyne respectively. At roughly 217 miles (350 km), the Severn is the longest river flowing through England. It rises in Wales and empties into the Bristol Channel. The River Severn is especially notable for the Severn Bore, a tidal bore (wave), which occurs several times a year and can sometimes reach over 6 feet (2m) in height. The longest river which is entirely in England is the River Thames, 214 miles (346km) long. There are numerous lakes in England, the largest being Lake Windermere in the aptly-named Lake District.

The South East of England, particularly the Greater London conurbation, is densely populated and largely flat. Much of the South West consists of gently undulating agricultural land, with some areas of high moorland (particularly Exmoor and Dartmoor). Cornwall is a rough, ruggedly beautiful rural peninsula, with the sub-tropical Isles of Scilly lying beyond. East Anglia is generally flat, with much fenland and long stretches of sandy coastline. The Pennine mountain range forms a 'spine' through the north of England, with the high ground of the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, Howgill Fells and the Lake District also punctuating the landscape. Their geological composition includes, among others: granite, sandstone, limestone and coal, with karst landscapes in calcite areas such as parts of Yorkshire and Derbyshire. The Pennine landscape is high moorland in its upland areas, indented by the fertile valleys of the region's rivers and containing three national parks: the Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland, and the Peak District. The highest point in England, at 3208 feet (978m), is Scafell Pike in Cumbria. The Cheviot Hills straddle the border between England and Scotland.

The English coastline is varied and diverse. Long, sandy beaches are commonplace in some parts whereas in other areas the coastline is made up of huge cliffs, pebble beaches and rocky outcrops. Due to its geological history England, like the other countries of the U.K, is generally well-suited to agriculture. Much of the soil is fertile for crops and much of the land is good for animal grazing.

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Regions

England is divided into nine governmental regions.

Petersfield Lake

Petersfield Lake

© All Rights Reserved david.byne

Local Government

The regions above have no powers, although they sometimes form the geographical basis for services working across a wide area such as police or fire, in which case there is a specific 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 example the administrative county of Gloucestershire shares its functions 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. For more specific information, google 'local government' plus e.g. 'Somerset'.

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Cities

London

big ben

big ben

© All Rights Reserved Antek

London is a cultural melting pot where the world has found a home, a legacy of England's colonial past and a great contribution to its vibrant culture today. It makes a fabulous stepping stone to all that England has to offer but, like many capital cities, is not representative of the rest of the country. Getting out of Greater London quickly takes one through small villages, market towns and large cities which have made significant marks on history. Once you're outside London there is no shortage of rolling fields, wild moorland, peaceful lakes and stunning coastal scenery to keep you entertained on the way from one county to the next.

Others

  • Birmingham, England's second-largest city, is a thriving metropolis which originally developed as a result of its heavy industry.
  • Brighton is a cosmopolitan seaside town with a café culture and good nightlife, less than an hour away from London by train.
  • Bristol is a southern port city located in Somerset.
  • Cambridge - an old university town.
  • Leeds in West Yorkshire is another town built on manufacturing.
  • Liverpool - historic northwestern port city.
  • Manchester - historically famous for its cotton products, now a cultural centre of music and art.
  • Newcastle - once famous for its ship-building, now a centre for business and culture.
  • Oxford - home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
  • Portsmouth - 'The waterfront city', with miles of sea views, centuries of maritime history and modern developments on the water's edge.
  • Sheffield - a central English ex-industrial city, once famous worldwide for the 'Sheffield Steel' used in knives and cutleery.
  • York - historic Roman city with a magnificent Medieval Minster (cathedral), now visitor-popular with a thriving university and a modern 'vibe'.
  • Leicester - a highly multicultural city with a cathedral which now holds the remains of King Richard lll (excavated in 2012) plus an excellent visitor centre and museum focusing on Richard, the Wars of the Roses and the discovery of his remains.

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Sights and Activities

The trees of Lake Buttermere

The trees of Lake Buttermere

© All Rights Reserved Mikey B

Wherever you go in England you'll find history. The abundance of ancient cathedrals, castles, historical towns plus the scenic countryside is enough to keep any visitor occupied. Some of the most popular areas and sights are listed below.

Jurassic Coast

The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site on the English Channel coast of southern England. It stretches from Orcombe Point near Exmouth in East Devon to Old Harry Rocks near Swanage in East Dorset, a distance of 71 miles (155 km). The Jurassic Coast was the second wholly natural World Heritage Site to be designated in the United Kingdom. Its entire length can be walked via the South West Coast Path. Its official UNESCO name is Dorset and East Devon Coast.

Lake District

The Lake District is one of the most beautiful places in England and is in the northwest part of the country. The hilly landscape is stunning and the area has not lost its charm over the centuries. Many authors and painters have highlighted the sublime nature of the lakes and hills around the Lake District, though no words can truly give it justice. Small towns, villages and hamlets are dotted about amongst the mountains and lakes, often almost as picturesque as the natural beauty that surrounds them.

London Nightlife

London has some of the best nightlife in the world. Whether you're looking for a pleasant pub. a high-end restaurant or an exclusive night club you'll find it in London. But remember that London isn't cheap. Some of the trendiest London nightspots are popular with the rich and famous.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is the most important religious building in England. It dates back to 1245 and, since 1066. almost all English kings and queens have been crowned there. Many famous people are buried in Westminster Abbey, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Henry Purcell, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and several kings and queens: it would take the best part of a day just to read all the memorial incscriptions. Although the entrance fee isn't cheap (anceient buildings need maintenance funds) a visit to London would be incomplete without visiting Westminster Abbey.

Palace of Westminster

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament

© All Rights Reserved Hien

The Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament, is the iconic landmark that represents not just London but the whole of the United Kingdom. Until 1512 the site was a royal residence but a fire forced Henry VIII to move out. However, the site remained a Royal Palace; and thus 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, is often wrongly referred to as 'Big Ben', which is actually the nickname of the bell housed within the Clock Tower and not the tower itself. Big Ben's official name is the Great Bell.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, is one of the best known structures in the world. This mysterious megalithic structure was built from huge stones, some of which were transported from hundreds of miles away in Wales, around 5,000 years ago. The structure lines up with major solar and lunar events and it is thought it may have served as a calendar as well as a site for religious ceremonies. Stonehenge has inspired and awed people for millennia.

National Parks

Other Sights and Activities

  • England has a wealth of ancient Medieval cathedrals, each full of stunning architecture and fascinating history: Durham, Wells. Salisbury, Canterbury. York, Ely, Exeter, Chichester, Rochester, Ripon, Southwell, St Albans, Gloucester, Lincoln etc.
  • England also has a wealth of Medieval castles in varying states of preservation. Most originally date from the earliest years of the Norman Conquest. As well as the Tower of London, some of the best-preserved can be found in Warwick, Dover, Ludlow and Alnwick.
  • As well as cathedrals and castles, England also has a wealth of stately homes which are open to the public. There are far too many to mention here (hundreds of them!) but amongst the most visited are Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth House, Highclere Castle, Castle Howard, Osborne House, Leeds Castle, Wentworth Woodhouse, Woburn Abbey and Longleat House.
  • York is known worldwide for its wonderful Medieval Minster, its Medieval city streets, gates and walls, its Roman remains and the excavated Viking settlement of Jorvik.
  • Stratford-upon-Avon is also known worldwide for its associations with William Shakespeare.
  • The Roman Baths in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Georgian city of Bath offer a well-preserved glimpse into one aspect of Roman Britain.
  • Greenwich is the home of Greenwich Mean Time and Longitude 0°.
  • Hadrian's Wall is near the English/Scottish border. It was built around 122 AD, under the orders of Roman Emperor Hadrian and once served as the border between Caledonia (Scotland) and Roman Britannia (England and Wales).
  • The Tower of London, built in 1078 under William the Conqueror, is now the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
  • Canterbury Cathedral, dating from 1070, is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

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Events and Festivals

Music Festivals

Wimbledon

The most famous of all the tennis tournaments is the two-week-long tournament 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. As well as the courts there is a museum, which can be visited throughout the year, daily: 10:00am - 5:00pm. Visitors to the museum can also book a tour of the courts on most days of the year. It is, however, advisable to book well ahead.

Halloween

Now 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. Many pubs and clubs hold 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.

Guy Fawkes Night

The English festival on November 5th celebrates the failed attempts of Guy Fawkes and others to blow up Parliament in 1605. The Gunpowder Plot was devised by a group of English Catholics, including Guy Fawkes, aimed at blowing up the Houses of Parliament during the state opening attended by the Protestant King James I. Each year, bonfires are constructed in public areas and effigies of Guy Fawkes are traditionally burned on top. Huge firework displays can be seen throughout the country in park areas and backyards alike.

New Year’s Eve

One of the calendar’s most fun-loving evenings sees English people in pubs, clubs, and house parties celebrating the past 12 months and welcoming 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.

May Day

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 centred around the symbolic maypole, often including maypole dancing, Morris dancing and the crowning of a May Queen. The festival is thought to date back to the pre-Christian beliefs..

Other Events and Festivals

Notting Hill Carnival

Notting Hill Carnival

© All Rights Reserved StephenJen

  • Notting Hill Carnival happens every August Bank Holiday weekend in London with a Kids Day, an Adults Day and a spectacular parade which rivals that in Rio. There are plenty of stalls selling foods from all over the world, but the carnival primarily remains true to its Caribbean roots. There are live bands and DJs with sound systems set up in surrounding streets so the party can continue long after the midday parade.

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Weather

England has been stereotyped as being cold, grey and rainy since the ancient Romans wrote home, but this is not an entirely accurate picture. Temperatures rarely get very cold or very hot, and while the country certainly gets rain, it's really not as wet as rumour has it. London alone has lower annual rainfall than Paris, New York and Sydney, and it's not uncommon for parts of the country to go without rain for weeks. Parts of southern England often have summer water restrictions due to a lack of adequate rainfall during the previous winter. All the same, make sure you've got a raincoat.

Northern and western parts are usually wetter than the rest of England due to the prevailing wind from the north west bringing down cold moist air from the North Atlantic, and the sunniest and warmest areas are in the far south and south east.

Winter and autumn are usually the wettest seasons where the weather is often very changeable and at times quite windy, especially in the north and west, where cold Arctic winds arrive. Spring conditions are very changeable: a day of hot sunshine is likely as not to be followed by a week of cold wind and rain; and vice-versa. Occasional snow even as late as May is not unheard of in northern England, but it will melt quickly. Snow is particularly rare in the south east. Summer is generally warm in the south with average highs usually ranging from 18-23 °C, but be prepared for unsettled weather at any time of the year and make sure to check a weather forecast if you plan to be outdoors.

Hot spells of weather can occur from May to September where temperatures may reach 30 °C in the warmest areas of England, typically London and parts of the South East. Central Europe has very hot summers and very cold winters, but England is both less extreme (surrounded by water) and milder in the winter (influenced by the warmth of the North Atlantic Drift). If it were not for the North Atlantic Drift, England would be much much colder.

Heavy, prolonged, snow is rare and temperatures are rarely below freezing for more than a few days. Some years there will be a few days of road and rail disruption from snow - even the slightest amount of snow often causes delays on public transport, especially rail. Very severe weather conditions are rare and remedial action is usually taken promptly. Flooding and droughts are unlikely to affect the traveller. High winds occasionally disrupt travel, most often outside summer.

English people are said to have a passion for debating the weather: actually this is usually just an opening gambit to start a conversation with a stranger. Often, these conversation openers are heard among the elderly members of society. Most discussions that do involve weather usually include criticisms of it - including (though perhaps not at the same time) both that it's "too cold" and it's "too hot". Well-known conversational gambits (with due acknowledgement to Peter Kay) : "It's too cold for snow"; "It's that fine rain that soaks you through".

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Getting There

By Plane

Airports
There are many international airports in England, with the busiest ones being those in London.

Airlines
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 Irish-owned Ryanair flies to and from many of destinations in England.

By Train

Trains from continental Europe enter England via the the Channel Tunnel, a 31 mile (50.5km) 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 Lille, Paris and Brussels as well as other seasonal destinations to London and other south-eastern locations in the UK. The official site www.eurostar.com provides details and ticketing.

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 official National Rail website has all the information about UK railway timetables and fares. There are dozens of daily connections between London and Cardiff (Wales), Glasgow and Edinburgh (Scotland), as well as throughout mainland Britain. See the Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland articles for travelling within those countries.

By Car

With a car, the Eurotunnel service is the fastest way to cross the English Channel. The shuttle train transports both you and your vehicle from Calais, France to Folkestone, England via the Channel Tunnel in about 35 minutes. Booking in advance is almost always essential. A number of roads, from motorways to country lanes, cross England's borders with Wales and Scotland. There are, of course, no border formalities. The most important road connections into and out of England are:

  • M1 then A1 from London to eastern Scotland
  • M4 from London to South Wales
  • M6 from the English Midlands to Western Scotland
  • A5 from London and A55 from Chester to North Wales.

By Bus

Eurolines and National Express provide services to both continental Europe as well as Scotland and Wales. While Britain has had long distance buses for decades and many of them serve various points inside and outside of England, France only opened its long distance bus market in 2015. Of course, several companies have jumped at the opportunity and London-Paris (via the Chunnel) is probably the most obvious international route, which is offered by several companies, including French ouibus, British Megabus or German Flixbus. While travel times are usually a lot longer than by plane or train, the prices tend to be rather low and fares below 20€ are not unheard of.

By Boat

England is very well connected to quite a few countries in the western and northern parts of Europe.

From Ireland

From Sweden

From the Netherlands

From Belgium

From Germany

From France

Spain

From Jersey and Guernsey

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Getting Around

By Plane

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 such as Ryanair, Easyjet and Flybe.

England's only scheduled helicopter service, operated by the appropriately-named British International, connecting Penzance in mainland Cornwall with St Marys and Tresco in the Isles of Scilly.

By Train

Paddington

Paddington

© All Rights Reserved Crouchy

There is an extensive train network serving all cities, most towns and some villages. All train times, details and fares are shown on the official National Rail site. Buying tickets through this site takes you to the sites of the various rail operators. 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 slightly pleasanter experience but only worth buying if the difference between available fares is very low.

At weekends and during public holidays 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.

By Car

Cars can be hired from airports, city and town centres and near many stations. The main companies are Hertz, Avis, Sixt, Budget, Europcar, Thrifty and Enterprise.

The English 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 major problem in most cities and on 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, a multiplicity of speed cameras (with automatic fines for speeding) and drink-driving regulations, together with a tough driving test, mean that safety standards on England's roads are amongst the highest in Europe. However accident 'blackspots' do still exist and particular care should be taken in rural areas and after dark.

It is illegal to use your mobile phone whilst driving. Penalties are very severe.

By Bus

Rivleaux Abbey, Yorkshire

Rivleaux Abbey, Yorkshire

© All Rights Reserved Midworlder

England's bus network is extensive, with every town and almost every village onnected to the public transport network. Many local bus services are provided by regional operators. In rural areas buses sometimes only run on certain days and/or to a very limited timetable devised to serve the needs of residents. 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.

National Express and Megabus operate a national coach network between major cities. If tickets are purchased in advance this is usually the cheapest way of covering long distances, but long-distance bus travel is time-consuming and often uncomfortable when compared to trains.

By Boat

There are a small number of useful boat services within England:

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Red Tape

For visa-related information, refer to the United Kingdom article.

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Money

See also: Money Matters
Further information: United Kingdom

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 with the Visa and Mastercard logos are widely accepted, although not necessarily for small amounts. American Express is not accepted in many places so it's best to have a Visa or Mastercard.

There are ATMs in all town centres, at transport hubs and at many large supermarkets and petrol stations. Bank-operated ATMs do not charge a fee but a very few privately-operated ATMs do. The ATM screen makes it clear that a fee will be charged before you start the withdrawal process.

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Work

Unless you are an EU citisen it is very likely that you will need a work visa to legally work in the UK. Working illegally is really not a good idea and, if discovered, you are likely to be deported. Check the work visa requirements for your citizenship on the official government website https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa

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Study

England has some of the best universities in the world. Probably the best known are those in Oxford and Cambridge but there are dozens more.

There are also dozens of 'language schools' offering English language courses. Many are genuinely accredited but some are very dubious. It's best to do thoroughly research a language school before you pay for a course.

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Language

Unsurprisingly, English is the main language in England, though it is spoken with many different accents throughout the country. Generally, English accents can be broadly divided into Northern and Southern accents. However, within these two main 'regions', accents can vary widely between different counties, towns and cities. For example, natives of Liverpool (called 'Liverpudlians' or more informally 'Scousers') have a distinctive accent that is easily distinguishable from that of someone from nearby Manchester (called 'Mancunians') and even from the surrounding countryside. Some cities even have multiple accents depending on the area of the city and the social class of the speaker. For example, working class 'Cockneys' of the East End of London sound very different to more well-heeled denizens of west London. England is generally considered to have the greatest variety of accents in the English-speaking world, even when compared to a much larger country like the United States.

In Cornwall, a very small number of people speak Cornish, a Celtic language similar to Welsh and completely separate from English. However, with fewer than a couple of hundred speakers of the language, any experience of Cornish you get is likely to be confined to road signs or information boards.

No other languages are widely spoken, but with widespread immigration to England from other Commonwealth and European Union countries in the past few decades, you might also hear other languages spoken in the big cities. You may hear (and even see signs in) Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Gujarati, Polish, Italian, Greek, Turkish and varieties of Arabic. Largely because of links with Hong Kong and the overseas Chinese community in Malaysia, many Chinese Cantonese speaking people live here; London, Manchester and Sheffield in particular have thriving communities.

The English are not known for being particularly fond of learning foreign languages, and often rely solely on English when they travel abroad! French (and to a lesser extent Spanish, Italian and German) is usually taught in schools, but they are no longer compulsory. Few English people are fluent in a foreign language but they may remember enough to be willing to help a stranger in difficulties (if they can get over the embarrassment of being seen to "show off"). For this reason, you should be prepared to have to use English to make yourself understood.

There are some peculiar words and phrases that even a native speaker of another variant of English may not understand. For example, when an English person says "Meet me at half five", they mean "Meet me at 5:30". If the directions say "go to the top of the road", that means the end of the road. Some words mean one thing to Americans and something else entirely to English people. When an English man says he shared a "fag" with his "mate" that means only that he smoked a cigarette with a friend. If he adds that they also had a "gorgeous" meal, it means it was followed by a nice dinner. Then there are the words unique to British English; a sneaker or tennis shoe, for instance, is called a "trainer." The expression "cheers!" is used both when drinking with somebody and as a substitute for "thank you."

You will hear English people say "sorry". This is not down to guilt or self-consciousness but simply because it is synonymous with "excuse me", and is used to get somebody's attention. Alternatively it can be synonymous with "pardon". Any comments along the lines of "What are you sorry about?" are pointless and likely to be received with blank looks.

As London is one of the world's most multicultural cities, you will be hard-pressed to find a major world language that is not spoken by someone there.

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Eat

England once had a reputation for poor food but things have changed beyond recognition in the last 20 years. The quality of the average restaurant has improved in leaps and bounds: the English will no longer tolerate overcooked vegetables and leathery meat in the way they might once have done.

England has traditional dishes famous the world over from beef Wellington and steak and kidney pie to the humble sandwich. However, a modern English meal is just as likely to be lasagne or chicken tikka masala, with these international meals sometimes taking on a decidedly English flavour. The English are great adopters of other countries' food and wherever you go you will find a wide selection of restaurants and take-aways serving cuisine from all over the world.

Pubs are a good place to get reasonably-priced food, though many stop serving food at around 9:00-9:30pm. Others may not serve food between lunch and dinner. Pub food has become quite sophisticated in recent years and, as well as serving the more traditional hearty English fare, more exotic dishes are now prepared in many larger pubs and "gastropubs".

London has 60 Michelin-starred restaurants, almost as many as Paris' 77. Eating out at a high-quality restaurant can be an expensive experience: at the very top end (Michelin-star level) expect to pay at least £100 per head including wine.

Ethnic restaurants and take-aways (Chinese, Thai, Indian, Mexican etc.) are found everywhere - even larger villages can have them. Usually the food is of good quality and will cater for most tastes. In towns and cities these restaurants are often open late (especially on a Friday and Saturday night) to cater for people eating after the pubs have closed. At this time that they can get very busy and lively, so if you want to avoid the crowds visit the restaurants before the local pubs shut.

Unlike many other European countries, vegetarian (and, increasingly, vegan) food is widely available in pubs and restaurants, with several dishes usually appearing on the menu alongside meat and fish options.

A service charge is sometimes added to the bill but otherwise a tip of around 10% considered to be the norm. Tipping in bars, pubs and cafes is not expected and may well be refused.

'Traditional' English staples include:

  • Fish and Chips - battered fish, usually cod or haddock, with thick cut, deep-fried chips.
  • Roast Dinner - traditionally eaten at Sunday lunchtime. Slices from a roasted joint of meat served with roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy and sometimes with Yorkshire Pudding (especially with beef). Beef is served with horseradish sauce, pork with apple sauce and lamb with mint sauce.
  • Cornish Pasty - a pastry filled with finely-chopped meat and vegetables (traditionally onions, potatoes and swede).
  • English breakfast - a combination of bacon (fried or grilled); fried egg; sausages; black pudding (a type of blood sausage); fried or grilled mushrooms; fried bread; fried or grilled tomatoes, toast and, often, baked beans.
  • Pies - steak and kidney; steak and ale; chicken and mushroom plus any number of other variations, including vegetarian.
  • Cumberland Sausage - a curled (not linked) sausage from the north of England. There is a wide variety of other sausage types, usually made of pork or beef with a variety of flavourings.
  • Ploughmans lunch - a plate which may include British cheeses, ham, pork pie, pickles, salad and bread. A very basic 'ploughmans lunch' of bread, cheese and ale is recorded as being eaten by farm labourers as far back as the fourteenth century.

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Sleep

England offers the usual Western assortment of sleeping options, including:

Hostels - Both private institutions and those part of a hosteling network (which may require membership so check ahead) usually offer dorm-style accommodation, sometimes with a simple breakfast included (think toast and tea). Many hostels in popular destination cities fill up during the busy summer season, so try to book ahead or at least call before you arrive.
Bed and Breakfasts - can range from a single room in a private home to large historical buildings with dozens of rooms. In many towns the tourist office has a list of rooms available and can help you call around.
Hotels - in cities and towns, and near motorway junctions, as well as some grand Country House Hotels. Budget hotel chains include 'Travelodge' and 'Premier Inn'; these are simple, yet clean and comfortable.
Motels - Mostly in the form of large chains such as Travel Inn and Travelodge, with hundreds across the country.
Camping - There is a widespread network in country locations of campsites that welcome tents, caravans, or motorhomes. Sites may welcome some or all of these. But don't expect to find many close to cities and major tourist attractions.
Universities - It has been possible to get accommodation in some Universities and Colleges out of term time for a while. However University Rooms is a bit better than most previous sites, in that it provides good information and tips about the places it covers, which include Oxford and Cambridge. However it does not cover all the places where accommodation is available.

While the rooms are generally comfortable, rooms at the lower end of the price scale may be small and usually come without air conditioning, cable TV, coffee machines, and other amenities. In very inexpensive accommodation, for example in dormitory-style hostels, towels and soap may not be provided. Most hotels that provide breakfast will offer a choice between a full English or continental style breakfast. The continental normally consists of bread rolls, croissant, cereal, pain au chocolat and cold meats such as ham and salami. Beverages such as fresh fruit juice, tea, coffee and hot chocolate are served too.

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Drink

The legal drinking age throughout the UK is 18. If you look younger the pub may ask for proof of age and, if you look under 25, supermarkets and other shops which sell alcohol will require proof of age. Pub landlords have the right to refuse service to anyone at any time, regardless of age.

Pubs

The traditional drinking establishment is the "pub" (short for "public house"). These are normally named after local landmarks or events, and most will have a heraldic (or pseudo-heraldic) symbol on the sign outside; more recent establishments may poke fun of this tradition (e.g. "The Queen's Head" featuring a portrait of Freddie Mercury, lead singer for the rock band Queen). England seems to have an incredible number of pubs. While in a city you are usually not more than a 5-minute walk from a pub. The pub is an English institution, though a declining one. Tastes are changing, smoking has been banned inside pubs, beer is ever cheaper in supermarkets, drink-driving is illegal and a social taboo, and pub landlords are often squeezed by sharp practice by the big firms that supply beers to and own many pub buildings. There are many different kinds of pub. Some are traditional 'locals', and a real part of the community. In most neighbourhood pubs you will find all generations mingling together, which often gives patrons a feeling of community. It would not be uncommon to see three generations of one family congregating in a neighbourhood pub. Nevertheless, pubs can vary widely in character. Depending on the area, you can find a warm and friendly welcome, or drunken youths spoiling for a fight.

However, pubs are becoming more and more specialized. In city centres, many have been taken over by big chains; some are soulless, some are moderately pleasant. Some independent pubs have become wine bars or cocktail bars; perhaps the least pleasant are those pubs which pack in customers on their way to a nightclub, with loud music, no space, and super-cheap spirits to make sure their clients are as drunk as possible by 11pm.

However, many pubs are evolving in a more healthy direction. There are now many pubs that pride themselves on serving 'real ales'—beer brewed on a smaller scale to traditional English methods and recipes. Any visiting beer lover should track these down. Many pubs, both in the countryside and in cities, have moved towards serving good food. And while most pubs will serve food, it's in these 'gastropubs' that you'll find well-prepared food, generally a mixture of traditional English dishes and international influences. The prices will tend to match.

Pubs have a little of their own etiquette. At any proper pub, service is always at the bar. It's polite to strike up a conversation with anyone else who is standing or sitting at the bar. And if someone buys you a drink, you will be expected to 'stand your round' later on, buying for whoever you're drinking with. If you're planning to leave promptly, or don't have enough money, then you should politely decline the offer.

Although traditional pub licensing laws severely restricted their hours of operation, laws enacted in 2005 allow pubs to request more flexible opening hours. Few pubs have requested anywhere near the "24-hour drinking" that is theoretically possible: as a general rule more traditional pubs will close at 11PM still. Some of the more trendy bars will close nearer to 1AM, filling a niche in the market between traditional pub and nightclub. However in most cities and many towns, centrally located pubs and bars will stay open any time from 2AM till 6AM, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Also, at public holiday times, many pubs extend their closing times - especially on New Year's Eve.

If you abstain from alcohol, you need not worry; many pubs also serve non-alcoholic drinks.

  • Lager - Predominantly the pilsner type: pale, fizzy and cold. Because of the popularity of this type of beer among the young, there are many mass-market national brands brewed in the UK (and widely advertised with "having fun" type ads) which may disappoint anyone wanting more than simply cold, fizzy, alcohol. Some national brands are much better, and often stronger, and may be sold in bottles as well as on draught. Purists often prefer imported European-brewed lagers.
  • Bitter - The most common example of the English type of beer that is classified as "ale". They are typically darker than lagers—they are called bitter because they have more hops than "mild" (another less-common kind of ale). Again, there are well-advertised national brands for the mass market, usually less strong than lagers. Most are now not "real ales": they are not matured in the barrel; they are often called "smooth" or "cream" (which means that they are infused with nitrogen to give a small-bubbled head) and are often served very cold from a small tap on a tall, illuminated stand.
  • Stout - A dark, heavy, usually very bitter beer. Originally called Porter, Arthur Guinness decided he could do better and made Guinness which he branded a Stout Porter. Guinness is one world-famous Irish brand that is available almost everywhere in England, often in "normal" and "extra cold" versions.
  • Ale - This is not simply another word for "bitter" or "beer". It is used to describe any beer other than lager (i.e. it is a beer brewed at cellar temperatures using floating yeast, i.e. bitters, milds and stouts). However, these days "ale" is often used a little self-consciously, usually either as a "matey" word for any type of beer ("Anyone fancy a few ales?") or in a consciously "traditional" way ("Try a pint of good old English ale"). To ask for "A pint of ale, please." would sound like a line from a period film. However "real ale" is an accepted term, so to ask "What real ales do you have on?" would be quite normal.
  • Real Ale - The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has been a very successful consumer campaign; its aims have been to ensure that mass-market beers do not completely force out beers made in the traditional way. CAMRA created the term "Real Ale" to summarise the type of beer they wanted to keep alive: it must be allowed to continue maturing after it leaves the brewery (i.e. not be pasteurised or filtered to remove living yeast; be stored and served without additional gas (i.e. does not have carbon dioxide or nitrogen forced into the beer); and be served at the appropriate temperature for the style: traditional ales are not generally served warm, as many people believe, but at the temperature of the 'cool' cellar they have been maturing in for several days (ideally, 8-12 °C) . Most real ales are served from the distinctive "handpumps" which allow a pint to be "pulled" from the cellar by several full-length strokes requiring visible effort on the part of the server. Most "real ales" served in ordinary pubs are bitters, but these come in a wide range of strengths, colours, and bitterness. A majority of pubs now serve at least one or two national brands of real ale, and perhaps one or even two local ones.
  • Cider - In England this means an alcoholic drink made from apples (often much stronger than beer). These are generally brewed in the West Country, Herefordshire and Suffolk. The West Country is more known for the traditional cloudy, still 'scrumpy' cider, whereas the other regions produce more clear, fizzy cider. The more commercial brands of cider, served from pressurised kegs and so available at any pub, are clear, fizzy and cold, and quite strong (they are usually moderately or very sweet, so the high alcohol content may go unnoticed by a novice). A real ale pub will usually sell at least one "real", unpressurised, cider, perhaps from a barrel sitting on the bar. This may may be clear or slightly cloudy, but will almost certainly be still, not too sweet, and very strong (7% alcohol is only average for this type of cider). The most traditional cider is called scrumpy and is usually very strong, very cloudy and possibly rather sour. Some commercial ciders have "scrumpy" in their name, but these are not quite the same as a gallon jug bought at the farmhouse door.
  • Perry - Similar to cider but made from pears (is sometimes called pear cider, especially if imported). Farmhouse perry was always difficult to get hold of outside the West Country, but this is improving, and there will nearly always be some available at a beer festival. Keen perry-spotters might notice the sweetish "undercover" commercial versions: advertised nationwide with a "girls night out" theme and sold in wine-shaped bottles with "inexpensive white wine"-type labels bearing the legend "Perry" in small letters.

Non-alcoholic drinks

Tea is widely drunk throughout the country, almost always hot, usually strong, usually with milk, and quite often with sugar. Unless specified, "tea" will be assumed to be an English Breakfast blend of black tea, although other teas and blends (green, chai, Earl Grey, lapsang souchong, etc) are available in specialty environments. There are many popular brands (the most recognisable brands are PG Tips and Tetley). Tea is usually drunk at home or at work or to accompany breakfast in inexpensive restaurants (where it will usually arrive with milk in a separate jug), or with afternoon tea (scones, cream, jam, and cakes) at a "tea-room" (less frequently seen these days, except in expensive hotels or in holiday areas). It is often the cheapest drink in coffee shops. Tea is often served in pubs and bars too.

Coffee is as popular as tea. Instant coffee (made with hot water, hot milk, or "half and half") is much used at home and work, and in inexpensive restaurants. If it is made with just hot water, then it is "black coffee"; with added cold milk it becomes "white coffee". Percolators are little used, and machines with paper filters are less common than they once were: they often fill a restaurant with a coffee aroma, but a mediocre restaurant will often leave the made coffee heating for too long. Therefore, at dinner parties or good restaurants, the "french press" (cafetière) has become the standard way to serve "real" ("ground") coffee: the customer can leave the coffee infusing until it is as strong as they like, then press the filter down to stop the brew and restrain the grounds from getting into the cup. The drinker then adds their own milk (hot milk is often provided; cream less often) and sugar. Seattle-style coffee bars serve the usual types of espresso-based coffees (but with a less-bewildering choice of combinations of coffee, milk, sugar, and flavourings). Decaffeinated coffee is available, but not standard. A pub may serve coffee, and indeed chains (especially Wetherspoons) invariably do, but "bar" type of pub (at a non-busy time of day) is a better option. International coffeeshops such as Starbucks, Costa's and Caffe Nero are very common in large towns and cities. These often serve a wide range of coffees, teas and hot chocolate. The traveller may have a more rewarding experience in an independent coffee house, where the drinks are often better, and there are homemade cakes and pastries available.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There is no cost to any patient to be treated as an outpatient in hospital for accidents and emergencies that arise while you are in England. If you aren't a resident or covered by a reciprocal arrangement (for example have a European Health Insurance Card) you will be charged if you are admitted to hospital - so it is wise to have travel insurance.

In a medical emergency, dial 999. These numbers are free of charge from any telephone. For advice on non-emergency medical problems, you can ring the 24 hour NHS 111 service on 111 or check their website for advice.

Emergencies can be dealt with under the NHS (National Health Service) at any hospital with an A & E (Accident & Emergency) department. At A&E departments, be prepared to wait for up to 2–3 hours during busy periods before being given treatment if your medical complaint is not too serious. Obviously, more serious ailments are usually treated immediately. Evenings are normally busiest, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays and in city centres.

Walk-in centres also provide treatment for less urgent conditions on a first come first served basis. They often have longer opening hours than GP surgeries. Who you see and what treatments or advice you are given will depend on your condition. You may be seem by a nurse. See NHS Walk-in Centres for further details as to what services they can provide.

Many GP practices are under great pressure, there being more patients than GPs to cope with demand. Many practices have long appointment waiting times, some over 3 weeks. In more urgent cases most practices will make an effort to find an appointment or direct you to other treatment services.

Online private GP/doctor consultation services are starting to be available in the UK. These services use a Smartphone app and enable you to consult a medical professional online. Consultations are paid for through a subscription or on a one-off basis. As such services progress more providers are likely to enter the market and services will adapt depending on demands. For example, Babylon Health.

Dental care is mixed NHS and private. Many dental practices reserve a few appointments each day for urgent and emergency treatments. These appointments are normally made on a 1st come 1st served basis on the day to people who are in need of urgent treatment and often they will all be filled soon after the clinic opens. For emergency out-of-hours dental care (e.g. weekends), call the NHS Direct 111 number and they will check if your condition warrants emergency care and if it does give you the number of an emergency dentist (which may be some distance away).

For advice on minor ailments and non-prescription drugs, you can ask a pharmacist (there are many high-street chemists). These are increasingly using green signs similar to ones seen in Europe to identify them. Small pharmacies are also found inside many larger supermarkets. Major pharmacies are Boots and Lloyds: at least one of these can be found in any city or large town and quite often some smaller towns too. These two firms can issue drugs prescribed by a doctor as well as any over-the-counter drugs. Superdrug, Semi-Chem, Bodycare and Savers do sell some over-the-counter medication but are not to be considered as places to go for advice about minor ailments. A smaller range of medication can also be found in most supermarkets. ID is usually required when buying medication if you look under 25.

Smoking is prohibited in all public buildings, and the ban is almost universally enforced. All enclosed workplaces are lawfully required to be smoke free. Some restaurants provide separate outside areas for smokers and many pubs now have outdoor beer gardens where smoking is permitted, while many places will have a group of people standing outside the front door or off to one side to smoke.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

England is like the vast majority of other countries: visitors are highly unlikely to become victims of any violent crime. In crowded places there is always a risk of pickpocketing and petty theft, just as there is in any country. regardless of country.

London and some provincial cities such as Manchester and Nottingham have, at times, had a reputation for violence. There are a very few "US-style" gangs in some inner city areas but those areas are highly unlikely to appear on any visitors' itineraries. The vast majority of knife and gun crime in England is gang-related and certainly not something about which the visitor should be concerned.

It should be stressed that, as a visitor, you are highly unlikely to experience or see any sort of violence or violent crime.

When visiting England you should be more concerned about pickpocketing and petty theft than robbery, mugging or violence. Pickpockets and petty thieves exist everywhere in England just as they do elsewhere in the world, not just in cities, and they are especially likely to be around in visitor-popular and crowded places. Use commonsense precautions. Keep cash, cards and phone safely inside your clothes (not in handbag (purse) or backpack), stay alert in crowds, don't leave your bag hanging off the back of chairs, don't flash your cash and take note of who is nearby when using an ATM.

If you are a solo female traveller take the commonsense precautions you would take anywhere in the world. Unlicensed taxis are illegal and using them is just not sensible, so don't accept rides from 'taxis' which tout for your custom. Instead, use the huge number of legal and licensed taxis and minicabs (which can only be ordered by phone) that operate across the country. All licensed taxis and minicabs display a licence plate and have a meter. Outside London, licensed taxis and minicabs are usually ordinary vehicles. You'll only find the iconic 'black cabs' in London and perhaps a few in some other very large English cities.

In case of an emergency dial 999 or 112. These numbers connect you with police, ambulance and fire services but are onlyfor emergencies. If you need to call the police to e.g. report the theft of your wallet you should use the country-wide non-emergency police number: 101.

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Keep Connected

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Village life.

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Internet

As smartphones have become increasingly common the number of internet cafés has greatly reduced. A few still exist, although they are now found only in larger towns and cities. UK public libraries provide internet access, time-limited but at no or little charge, though you usually need to book a slot in advance.

The vast majority of hotels, hostels and b&bs now provide wifi, generally free of charge. Free wifi is increasingly common in public spaces (airports, parks, city centres) and in the majority of restaurants, pubs and cafes.

Unles you are an EU citizen, using the internet on a mobile (cell) phone can quickly become very expensive, with carriers charging many times the local rate for data. To avoid expensive roaming charges, you can use the free wifi at cafes, hotels etc or, if you have an unlocked phone, you can easily buy a pay-as-you-go sim with data access.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to the United Kingdom is: 0044. 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, cave or mountain rescue). You can call this number from any mobile telephone, even if you do not have roaming or the phone is out of credit. Note that these numbers are for emergencies only. The non-emergency police number is 101.

Although payphone numbers have greatly declined, you can usually still find them in public areas such as railway stations and airports. You can usually pay with cash and sometimes by card.

Mobile phones are commonplace. The main networks are EE, Vodafone, Three and O2. 3G and 4G data services are available and coverage is usually very good throughout the UK, though there can be blackspots in more rural areas.

Post

The Royal Mail provides postal services in the United Kingdom. The Royal Mail's stores 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 often post offices in larger villages, often incorporated into a shop.

All post offices are marked with signs that say 'post office' in red lettering. Post boxes can be found at any post office and there are also standalone large red post boxes on the streets and red boxes in the sides of public buildings.

For sending larger packages overseas, it is a good idea to check prices and services with international companies such as TNT, UPS or DHL.

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References

  1. 1 Mid-2015 estimate. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved on 2017–03–10.

Quick Facts

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Capital
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Government
Constitutional Monarchy
Nationality
English
Population
54 786 300[1]
Languages
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Religions
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Currency
Pound sterling (GBP) £
Calling Code
+44
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