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United Kingdom Holidays

  • Explore the coast
  • Coast to coast / Brian Bestford
  • Birdwatching on clifftops
  • Birsay Palace
  • Ancient Callanish Standing Stones
  • Dramatic heights of Ben Nevis

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The United Kingdom (UK) – defined as Great Britain, Northern Ireland and a number of smaller islands – is an extraordinary place: fiercely independent, inclusive and a melting pot of ideas and cultures. It is caught between Europe and the US and full of contradictions: inventive and backward, innovative and conservative, radical and patriotic. One of the few unifying features of the UK is an obsession with its own notoriously fickle weather.

The main island of Great Britain is not one country but three rolled into one. Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Normans have jostled for position and influence over the centuries and learned to live together, often in less than peaceful co-existence. Factor in a long history of imperial expansion and a post-war influx of immigrants and it’s not surprising that Britain speaks with more than one voice. The resultant multicultural cocktail is, however, one of Britain’s greatest assets and has contributed to the country’s reputation for cutting-edge fashion, vibrant youth culture and gastronomic innovation.

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England’s historic wealth and power is writ large in the country’s castles, cathedrals and, most strikingly, in the capital city. But beyond London’s force field are numerous ancient towns and cities, each with their own distinctive character and culture, often surrounded by beautiful and easily accessible countryside. The United Kingdom’s small size means you are never very far from a great variety of natural landscapes. Nowhere is more than 113 kilometres from the coast, whose serrated silhouette is characterized by many-fingered peninsulas, sweeping sandy bays, tiny pebbly coves, exposed headlands, plunging cliffs and splintered islands. Inland, some of the most dramatic scenery is to be found in Scotland and Wales. The peaks of Snowdonia and the wilds of the Scottish Highlands (including the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis) offer visitors an immersion in nature and a true escape from the stresses of urban life.

Even more remote are the Scottish islands, each with its own history and atmosphere. Lying off the west coast is Skye, with its remarkable mountains and clan sites. Beyond are the Hebrides, home of Gaelic culture. And, off the northern tip of the mainland is Orkney, an archipelago of 70 islands that have an unrivalled richness of prehistoric sites. It is, perhaps, in these, the UK’s farthest flung corners that the country’s extraordinary natural beauty reveals itself most dramatically.