Few places cram in as much scenery, history and culture as the United Kingdom. It’s a busy, eccentric and unique destination; a land of daft humour, tea-and-cake clichés and a thousand and one different personalities; a land where thrusting cities like London, Glasgow and Manchester share map space with the peaks of Snowdonia and the colossal slopes of the Highlands.
Four component nations make up the UK, and the end result is as many-layered as that fact would suggest. Its arts scene continues to be one of the most creative and successful in the world, its passions still run high on everything from politics to sport and its overall character is as modern as it is multicultural. Even the food’s good these days.
London remains the natural focal point. Its skyline, mixing medieval turrets with soaring steel, is a good marker for the place as a whole. From its markets to its museums, its pubs to its palaces, it’s a bona fide world city packed with diversity. But you don’t have to look far to find other great urban centres – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all home to richly engaging cities full of heritage, music and nightlife. Some, like Bath and Edinburgh, offer postcard-perfect medieval skylines. Others, like Belfast and Liverpool, are handsome in places but just as notable for their indelible personalities.
As a country, of course, the UK’s urban centres are just one part of its allure. Britain is often extremely beautiful. Seaside towns, national parks and honey-stoned villages still fill the guidebooks, and the scenic pull of areas like the Cornish coast, Giant’s Causeway and the Lake District is as strong as it’s ever been. Once you factor in the endless cultural associations that Britain throws up – from Henry VIII to Hogwarts, The Beatles to Braveheart, male voice choirs to Monty Python – it stands as a country very much its own.