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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the United Kingdom or the UK) is a constitutional monarchy in northern Europe.
The Union comprises four 'home nations': England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It occupies all of the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern portion of the island of Ireland and most of the remaining British Isles. It counts Ireland, France, Belgium and Holland as its nearest neighbours. The Isle of Man and the various Channel Islands are "crown dependencies", linked to the UK by various ties and mutual obligations but not part of it.
The UK today is a diverse patchwork of native and immigrant cultures, possessing a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture, both of which remain hugely influential in the wider world. Although Britannia no longer rules the waves, the UK is still a popular destination for many travellers. The capital city of the United Kingdom (and the largest city) is London.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, with a queen (or king) as the head of state, and a prime minister as the democratically elected head of government. The prime minister ("PM") is not elected as an individual, but is the leader of the largest party in Parliament (or a coalition), which is invited to form a government. Members of Parliament ("MPs") are elected by district from throughout the UK, with the Lords of Parliament (the "upper" house of the UK legislature) either inheriting or appointed to these seats. In response to movements in Scotland and Wales for national autonomy/home rule, these have recently formed parliaments with some internal law-making and tax-setting powers, while still sending MPs to the UK parliament in Westminster, London, which remains responsible for all other matters, including international ones. England and Northern Ireland have no national governments of their own, and are directly governed by Westminster (although recent years have seen growing concern in this factor).
The UK is at the heart of the world's aviation industry, and London Heathrow Airport is the world's busiest international airport. Situated 15 miles west of Central London, Heathrow offers a large choice of international destinations, with direct flights to most countries in the world. British Airways has its hub at Heathrow and offers a wide range of international flights to Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Australia. There are fewer direct flights to South America, although many South American airlines connect to London via Spain. Other large airlines operating at Heathrow include bmi (formerly British Midland), Virgin Atlantic and the main national airlines of most countries. London Gatwick Airport, 30 miles south of London in Sussex, is the second largest airport, and also offers a wide range of international flights. London Stansted Airport in Essex, and London Luton Airport are hubs for the budget airlines Ryanair and easyJet who offer direct flights to a wide range of European destinations. London City Airport is the most central airport in London, situated 7 miles east of Central London, but mainly serves business passengers to the main financial centres in Europe.
Outside London, many of the regional airports offer a wide range of direct links to European and some long haul destinations. Manchester International Airport in the North of England, is the UK's third largest airport serving many European and long haul destinations. Liverpool John Lennon Airport is the UK's fastest growing airport which is taking on more and more flights - located in North West England. Direct flights from North America are also available into Glasgow International Airport and Edinburgh International Airport in Scotland as well as Birmingham International Airport in central England. Jet2.com is based at Leeds Bradford with many cheap flights to Europe and beyond. Other large airports in the regions include Aberdeen, Bristol, Cardiff, East Midlands, Newcastle and Teesside/Durham Tees Valley. In Northern Ireland, Belfast International Airport is the only airport with international flights, although some transfer flights may take you to Belfast City Airport.
Please note that due to an increase in airport security and aviation security in general, long delays are possible when checking in for a flight. Additionally a passport or valid photo ID ( such as photo drivers license, national ID card etc.) is required for internal flights although no visas or travel permits are required.
The airport tax is applied to both international and internal flights (£20 on international flights, £14 on internal flights) so check if it is included in any quoted air fares.
From continental Europe
Eurostar services run between London's Waterloo Station and Ashford in Kent and Paris (Gare du Nord), Lille and Brussels through the Channel Tunnel. Journey times average two hours forty minutes from Paris. A second class return from Paris to London costs between €85 and €230, although it can be cheaper to fly from London to Paris using a low-cost airline (but bear in mind that the journeys to the airports will cost an extra €40-60).
The main benefit of using the Eurostar is that it runs between the central zones of its destination cities, removing the necessity of accessing the relevant airports on the outskirts of cities (potentially very time-consuming!), and of undergoing several uncomfortable modal changes.
From Dublin in Ireland, the Enterprise takes just over 2 hours to Belfast and Irish Rail is advertising return tickets from €36.50 (November 2006). Combined Rail & Sail tickets are also available to many destinations in Great Britain. Although the SailRail website gives details of the offer to travellers from Great Britain, it is assumed that the following ticket price (November 2006) is similar from Ireland to Britain: From £50 return (London-Dublin via Holyhead). Virgin Trains may be offering advance-purchase tickets from London to Dublin from £32 return.
The Channel Tunnel has provided a rail/road connection since 1994. Shuttle trains carry cars from Calais, France to Folkestone, the journey taking around 40 minutes. Fares start at £49 one way and can be booked on the Eurotunnel website. On arrival at Folkestone, you can drive on to the M20 motorway which heads towards London. Car ferries also operate to many parts of the UK, see 'by boat' section.
Coaches are the cheapest and most uncomfortable way to travel to the UK from France and the Benelux. Eurolines offer daily services from Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels to London Victoria coach station, with connections to most parts of the UK via the domestic National Express coach system, for most destinations it is cheaper to purchase this when purchasing your Eurolines tickets as discounts are available. Journeys take about 8-14 hours. Eurolines will also take you to/from other major European cities. Taking a budget flight is normally cheaper though and spares you from a 24h+ bus journey.
See the city articles for more details on routes, timings and costs.
There are a large number of ferry routes into the UK from continental Europe. Newcastle serves several routes from Scandinavia. Harwich has ferries from Esbjerg in Denmark, Cuxhaven in Germany (put out of operation in November 2005) and Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands. You can also sail from Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Zeebrugge in Belgium to Hull, or from Rotterdam to Rosyth (near Edinburgh).
Dover is one of Britain's most popular passenger ports with sailings from Zeebrugge, Dunkerque and Calais in France. The Dover-Calais route is particularly busy, with three companies competing and up to 50 sailings per day.
On the south coast, Portsmouth serves ferries from Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, St. Malo and Bilbao in Spain and there are speedy services between Dieppe and Newhaven. The other route from Spain is Santander to Plymouth, Plymouth also has ferries from Roscoff.
From Ireland, ports of entry include Swansea, Pembroke, Fishguard and Holyhead. There are sailings from Dublin to Holyhead, Mostyn and Liverpool.
From Iceland, the Faroe Isles, Norway and Denmark, a passenger ferry sails into Lerwick.
Information provided by Wikipedia
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