The United Kingdom (the ‘UK’) comprises the island of Great Britain (made up of England, Scotland and Wales), which is located northwest of the continent of Europe, and the northeastern part of Ireland. The UK covers an area of just over 94,000 square miles (243,000 sq. km.) and has a population of around 63 million people. The United Kingdom also controls 14 overseas territories, the governance of which dates back to the British Empire. The largest city in the UK is London, the capital city of England and host city of the 2012 Olympic Games. 


The geography of the United Kingdom, which is surrounded by the North Sea around the more northern part of the island of Great Britain, the English Channel to the south of island, the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Northern Ireland and Irish Sea between the Northern Ireland and the western part of Great Britain, varies mainly by country. The island of Great Britain, which has a coastline that is around 11,000 miles (just under 18,000 kilometers) long, is connected to the European mainland by way of the Channel Tunnel, the world’s longest underwater tunnel. England (slightly over 50% of total area) is mainly lowland terrain, with hillier, more mountain areas in the north of the country. Scotland (around 30% of total area) comprises the mountainous, rugged Highlands in the north and the flatter Lowlands in the south, as well as almost 800 islands. Wales is for the most part mountainous, especially in the north. Northern Ireland is mostly hilly. The UK climate is temperate, with temperatures varying from season to season (with mild winters and moderately warm summers), although rain is experienced frequently all year round and snow is often recorded during the winter and early spring.


English is the official language of the UK, while Irish, Scots and Ulster Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Cornish are all recognized regional languages. Due to the diversity of the British population and immigration, several languages are spoken in the United Kingdom. More languages are spoken in London than anywhere else in the world.


The United Kingdom, a member of the G8 group of leading industrialized countries (among other things), is the world’s 22nd richest economy by GDP per capita. Since the Industrial Revolution, the UK economy has gradually shifted from industry to services and commerce, with the service sector presently accounting for almost three-quarters of GDP. While the automotive industry is also a key driver, tourism plays an important role in the UK, which is the sixth most visited country in the world. London, a city with hundreds of years of history and culture and several parks, tourist attractions, renowned theaters, hundreds of art galleries and museums, and a vibrant music scene, and also the world’s largest financial center together with New York, receives more international visitors than any other city in the world. The UK’s main exports are manufactured goods, fuels, chemicals, food, beverages and tobacco, while its principal export partners are the USA, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium and Spain.


While there are many traditional local and regional dishes in the respective countries making up the UK, in the last decades – as a result of migration – international cuisine predominates the British dinner table, with the majority of restaurants also serving foreign specialties. In 2011, ‘Chicken Tikka Masala’ – roasted chunks of chicken served in an Indian-style, spicy gravy was voted Britain’s most popular dish. In recent years, there has been a shift from a traditional meal consisting of meat, potatoes and two vegetables, to more exotic cuisine. Traditional foods include fish and chips (fish deep fried in batter or breadcrumbs and served with chunky fries), toad in the hole (a sausage cooked in the middle of a soft pudding made of batter), meat pies, and various roasted meats served with potatoes, vegetables and often a sweet sauce. (For example, pork is served with apple sauce, turkey with cranberry, lamb with mint, and duck with orange.)

At Christmas, a typical British meal comprises roast turkey accompanied by roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, parsnips, Brussels sprouts (often served with chestnuts), carrots, other seasonal vegetables, gravy and sage stuffing.


As a result of history (in particular the British Empire), the UK’s status as an island, and recent immigration trends, the cultural landscape of the United Kingdom is highly diverse. Due to the previous powers of the British Empire, British influence is still found in the language and culture (as well as legal systems) of some former British territories, while British writers, artists and musicians have had a major influence across the world for several centuries.


William Shakespeare is considered the greatest playwright of all time, while other prolific British writers over the centuries include Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dylan Thomas, George Orwell, T. S. Elliot., J. R. R. Tolkien and, more recently, J. K. Rowling.


Several British classical music composers such as Henry Purcell, Sir Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, and Benjamin Britten, and popular music artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Police, Radiohead, Oasis and Amy Winehouse have also attained worldwide acclaim.


British art has also made an important contribution to the Western world’s art history, with key artists and painters including John Constable, William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, Sir Joshua Reynolds, L. S. Lowry and William Morris, and more recently Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Peter Blake, Gilbert and George, Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili, Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas.


Sports are extremely popular in the UK, with soccer (known as ‘football’ in the UK) considered the national sport, while cricket, rugby and athletics also attract several participants and spectators.