The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (commonly called the UK) is a country located in the north west of Europe. The United Kingdom shares a border with the Republic of Ireland and is connected by the Channel Tunnel to France. The capital city is London. Other large cities in the United Kingdom are Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow.
The United Kingdom's History
The United Kingdom was created on 1 May 1707 with the union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland. Wales was part of the Kingdom of England. Although legally separate countries, they had been ruled by a common monarch since 1603. In 1800, Ireland became part of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom was the source of the Industrial Revolution which greatly increased the country's power and lead to the development of the British Empire which, at its largest, controlled nearly a quarter of the world. In 1922, the southern counties of Ireland formed the Republic of Ireland, leaving just the northern counties as part of the United Kingdom.
For many centuries the UK had an empire which was the largest the world had ever seen. At some point over the past 400 years the following countries were all part of the British Empire: The USA, Canada, South Africa, Kenya, Malta, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand as well as many other places. Independence was achieved for most British colonies by the 1970s. Nowadays there remain a few islands in the Pacific and Caribbean which are still British colonies.
Between the late 1960s and 1997 Northern Ireland suffered a violent conflict called The Troubles in which over 3000 people were killed in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere in the UK. Violence between Catholics and Protestants resulted in bomb attacks, demonstrations and shootings between civilians, paramilitary groups, the Police and the British Army. Things are much more peaceful nowadays but violence does still occur occasionally.
The United Kingdom's Geography
The United Kingdom is located on two islands (Britain and Ireland) to the north west of Europe off the shores of northern France. Only the northern sixth of Ireland is part of the UK - the remainder is the Republic of Ireland.
Large parts of England are low lying but there are upland regions (like the Lake and Peak District's) in the North, as well as mountains in Scotland and Wales. The highest mountain in the UK is Ben Nevis at 1343 metres. The north of England and Scotland also feature many lakes (termed lochs in Scotland)
Northern Ireland is in the north east of the Ireland primarily centred on the UK's largest lake, Lough Neagh.
The longest river in the United Kingdom, is the River Severn, which starts in North Wales, emerging into a large estuary between England and Wales.
Off the coast of the United Kingdom are a number of islands- the biggest islands are the Hebrides and Shetlands off the coast of Scotland, Angelsey off the coast of Wales and the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England.
The Isle of Man (located between Britain and Ireland) and the Channel Islands (between England and France) are not part of the United Kingdom but are possessions of the British Crown and self-governing.
The United Kingdom's People
The United Kingdom is a country of 4 nations : England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Over 63 million people live in the UK and more than 50 million of those live in England. English is the most spoken language but many people speak Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Cornish, Urdu and Polish (the second most spoken language) as well as many other languages.
Whilst the majority of the UK population are Christians, there are also followers of other faiths in many large cites. The UK includes Europe's second largest Jewish and Muslim populations and also large numbers of Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists. A sizable minority of the UK population are not religious.
Many Christians in England, Scotland and Wales are Protestant, although there are also many Catholic churches, especially in Northern Ireland, Liverpool and London.
In Northern Ireland around half the population are Catholic and half are Protestant.
The United Kingdom's Sights
The UK is a popular tourist destination with over 30 million foreign tourists per year. The majority of tourists visit London, Cambridge and Oxford but other cities popular with tourists include Edinburgh, Cardiff, Manchester, Bath and Liverpool.
Famous landmarks in the UK include Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Durham Cathedral, Edinburgh's Royal Mile, Ironbridge Gorge, The National Library of Wales in Cardiff. There are 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the UK including Stonehenge, Blenheim Palace (a stately home and birthplace of Winston Churchill), Canterbury Cathedral and the Frontiers of the Roman Empire, on the border between England and Scotland.
The Royal Family attracts many people to the UK every year because of the large palaces and ancient customs connected with the monarchy. Many sports popular throughout the world - football, rugby, cricket and others - were created in the UK and major sporting events attract visitors from other countries. Theatre, musicals and the fact that most major museums are free-of-charge make the UK popular with cultural tourists.