The United Kingdom, commonly called the UK, is a European sovereign country. The UK, which is comprised of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) and Northern Ireland, is separated from the continent of Europe by the English Channel. While these four countries share a history and culture, they have distinct identities and political systems. In addition to the mainland, the UK also includes several smaller islands, such as the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, and the Isles of Scilly. These islands offer unique attractions and natural wonders, ranging from rugged coastlines to serene countryside landscapes. Despite being relatively small, the UK is known for its diverse population, rich history, vibrant arts scene, and innovative technology sector, making it a popular destination for tourists, students, and business professionals.
Jump to Introduction, Geography, Climate, People & Society, Economy, Insight, Google Maps, Facts, and Did You Know about the United Kingdom. Or visit the driving directions page for routing instructions.
The rugged uplands of Scotland, Wales, and northern England are characterized by their impressive peaks, deep valleys, and wild moorlands. In particular, the Scottish Highlands are home to the UK’s highest mountains, with all peaks over 4000 ft (1219 m) in this region. These mountains offer some of the most breathtaking views in Europe and provide a wide range of outdoor activities, including hiking, climbing, and skiing.
Further south, the Pennine Mountains, known as the “backbone of England,” stretch roughly 250 miles from the Scottish border to the Midlands in central England. This range is known for its rolling hills, heather moorlands, and deep valleys and has long played an important role in English history and culture.
In contrast to the uplands, lowland England is characterized by its gently rolling hills and lush green landscapes. These low-lying areas are home to many of the UK’s major cities, including London, Manchester, and Liverpool, and have a long tradition of agriculture and industry.
Finally, the UK is also home to over 600 islands, many located off Scotland’s west and north coasts. These islands vary greatly in size and terrain, from the rugged and windswept Isle of Skye to the tranquil and picturesque Isles of Scilly. Many of these islands are uninhabited, offering exploration and wildlife viewing opportunities.
The climate of the United Kingdom is generally mild, temperate, and highly changeable, with weather conditions varying widely from day to day and even from hour to hour. The UK is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, which helps to moderate temperatures and provide moisture for rainfall. Rain is well distributed throughout the year, with no distinct rainy or dry seasons.
The west of the UK tends to be wetter than the east due to prevailing westerly winds that bring moist air off the Atlantic. The south of England is generally warmer than the north, owing to its location further south and the warming effects of the Gulf Stream. However, temperatures vary widely depending on the time of year and local conditions.
In upland areas, particularly in Scotland and northern England, winter snow is common and can accumulate to significant depths in some locations. This can provide excellent conditions for winter sports and snow-based activities, such as skiing and snowboarding. However, it can also disrupt transportation and other services during periods of heavy snowfall. Overall, the UK climate offers various weather conditions, making it an interesting and challenging place to live and visit.
People & Society
The people of Scotland and Wales have a stronger sense of separate identity than the English. This is reflected in their cultural traditions, languages, and political institutions. Scotland and Wales have some self-government, with their own Parliaments and devolved health, education, and transport powers. Northern Ireland also has its own Assembly and government, with devolved powers in various areas.
In 2014, Scotland held a referendum on independence from the UK, which most voters ultimately rejected. However, this debate helped highlight Scotland’s unique cultural and political situation and the desire among many Scots for greater autonomy and control over their affairs.
The UK has a diverse population, with ethnic minorities accounting for 5%. More than half of these minorities were born in the UK. Some groups, such as Asian women, can face social isolation and barriers to full social participation.
In most cities, Asians and West Indians face deprivation, discrimination, and social stress. However, it is worth noting that white working-class youths were also involved in inner-city rioting in 2011, highlighting the complex nature of inequality and social exclusion issues in contemporary Britain.
Income inequality in the UK is currently greater than at any point since records began in 1884. Key areas such as policing have yet to progress in recruiting a more multiethnic workforce. Marriage is in decline, with over 40% of all births occurring outside of marriage, although many of these are to cohabiting couples. Single-parent households account for just over a quarter of all families. These trends reflect wider changes in societal attitudes towards family, relationships, and personal choice.
The UK is a high-income, diversified economy in Europe but outside the EU. It is the sixth-largest importer and exporter in the world, with a strong presence in global financial and diplomatic circles.
However, the UK’s economy has been vulnerable to personal consumption-led growth, meaning consumer spending has driven much of its economic activity. This can be challenging during economic uncertainty, as consumers may reduce spending, leading to reduced economic growth.
Following the UK’s exit from the EU, there are concerns about increased regional trade barriers and potential disruptions to supply chains, particularly in the event of a no-deal Brexit. These uncertainties have already led some businesses to relocate or reassess their investment plans in the UK.
Inflation has also been challenging for the UK, as rising prices can hurt the country’s trade values. In particular, higher costs of imported goods can lead to reduced export competitiveness and lower profits for UK businesses.
Despite these challenges, the UK remains a global leader in finance, technology, and other key industries. Its skilled workforce, innovative entrepreneurial culture, and strong institutions have helped it weather economic storms in the past and position itself for continued success in the future.
The United Kingdom has a unique constitution that needs to be codified in a single document. Rather, it comprises various sources of law and convention that have evolved. Generally, the UK government system is based on parliamentary democracy, with Parliament holding supreme authority.
The origins of the UK Parliament date back to the 13th century, when a council of advisers known as the Great Council was first convened to check the monarch’s power. Over time, this council grew in size and importance, eventually becoming today’s bicameral Parliament. Parliament comprises the House of Commons, directly elected, and the House of Lords, largely appointed.
In addition to Parliament, the UK government system also includes several other key institutions, such as the Prime Minister (who is the head of government), the Cabinet (which advises the Prime Minister), and the judiciary (which interprets the law). Several administrative bodies, such as local councils, also play important roles in delivering services and managing public affairs.
While the UK’s constitution may not be written down in a single document, it is considered relatively stable and well-established. The country has a long history of democratic governance, the rule of law, and its political institutions are widely respected at home and abroad.
Name: United Kingdom (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
Languages: English. Note: the following are recognized regional languages: Scots (about 30% of the population of Scotland), Scottish Gaelic (about 60,000 speakers in Scotland), Welsh (about 20% of the population of Wales), Irish (about 10% of the population of Northern Ireland), Cornish (some 2,000 to 3,000 people in Cornwall)
ISO code: uk, internet: .uk
Capital city: London, GPS: 51 30 N, 0 05 W
Time: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time) (+1hr, begins last Sunday in March; ends last Sunday in October)
Population: 68,138,484 million United Kingdom (2023 estimate) constituent countries by percentage of total population: England 84.3% Scotland 8.1% Wales 4.7% Northern Ireland 2.8% (British / Briton(s), British (collective plural))
Urban population: 84.2% (2021) – 9.426 million, London (capital city), 2.750 million, Manchester, 2.626 million, Birmingham, 1.902 million, West Yorkshire, 1.681 million, Glasgow, 936,000 Southampton/Portsmouth (2021)
Location: Western Europe, islands – including the northern one-sixth of the island of Ireland – between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, northwest of France. The United Kingdom is a European country. You may find 47 other countries on this continent.
Coordinates: 54 00 N, 2 00 W
Bordering countries: (1 nation): Ireland 499 km
Land area: 241,930 sq km
Water area: 1,680 sq km
Total area: 243,610 sq km – Twice the size of Pennsylvania; slightly smaller than Oregon.
Terrain: Mostly rugged hills and low mountains, level to rolling plains in the east and southeast
Highest point: Ben Nevis 1,345 m
Lowest point: The Fens -4 m
Natural hazards: Winter windstorms, floods.
National holiday(s): the UK does not celebrate one particular national holiday
Did you know about the United Kingdom?
- The shortest war in history was fought by the United Kingdom against the Sultanate of Zanzibar in 1896. The war lasted just 38 minutes before the Sultan surrendered.
- The town of Windsor, home to Windsor Castle, is the only place in the United Kingdom where men are still legally required to remove their hats in the presence of the Queen.
- The highest mountain in the British Isles is not Ben Nevis in Scotland, as many people believe, but Mount Snowdon in Wales.
- The world’s oldest public zoo, the London Zoo, opened in 1828 and still operates today.
- The United Kingdom is home to the world’s largest collection of living plant specimens, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The collection includes over 50,000 different plant species.
You may also be interested in Ireland.
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