Situated at the extreme end of the Old World, with no resources of it's own, it makes one wonder how a cold and damp Britain ruled the worlds in days of yore. An island country, split into three main provinces – England, Wales and Northern Island, the country has much to offer for a tourist. Formally known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United Kingdom consists of one main island – Great Britain encompassing England, Scotland, Wales; a part of the island of Ireland – Northern Island and other small islands like Isle of Wight located just south of England, Orkney and Shetland Islands in the north of Scotland, Isle of Man located between Great Britain and Ireland and the Channel Islands located between England the European landmass with islands like Isle of Skye acting as an annexure to the mainland complete the list.
Though there are many airports tagged as international, for all practical purposes, the five London airports – three in city and two outside – Heathrow, Gatwick, London City Airport, Stanstead and Luton are the main entry points into the country. Heathrow is the airport of choice, due to the proximity to the city and the choice of flights. It is about 20 miles from London city and takes around 25 minutes on a fast train.
London is a major destination in the international tourist circuit and consequently, it is more tourist friendly than many of the large cities in the world. Hotels abound all over the city catering all the cost ranges, all sorts of palates and artistic tastes. Also, English being the language of communication simplifies the matters even more.
London boasts of a well maintained and well-publicised tourist circuit. There are private tour operators catering all sorts of clientele – both generic and purpose specific. Grouping them together, Buckingham Palace, The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Circus, Soho and Theatreland, Trafalgar Square, National Art Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, London Eye, Sea Life Aquarium and other Southbank attractions are the most important of the tourist preference. British Museum is just a stone’s throw away from there. If you are there at the time of the Queen’s birthday celebrations, you will be in time to watch the military performances both at Buckingham Palace and at Horse Guards Parade.
For those interested in shopping, Oxford Street and the Regent Street forking off from it
Other major tourist attractions in London include
- London Zoo, Lords Stadium, Madame Tussauds and Regent’s Park
- Tower of London with the Crown Jewels, Tower Bridge, Monument and HMS Belfast
- Wimbledon, Lords and the Oval, Rugby Stadium, Wembley Stadium and the Foot Ball Clubs like Chelsea and Arsenal for the sports buffs
- Greenwich Observatory, Cutty Sark, and the National Maritime Museum
- The Central London Parks. Except for Regents Park, they are almost in a continuation starting with Green Park and terminating at the Kensington Park, with Hyde Park as the largest one
- Kew Gardens
- St Paul’s Cathedral and Tate Modern
- South Kensington Museums - Natural History Museum, Victoria And Albert Museum and the Science Museum
- Imperial War Museum London
Soho, the riverside in Central London and Covent Garden are the perfect places for chilling off.
Besides this, London in particular and Britain, in general, have got a museum for almost every type of collectible. Also, the custom of conversion of the houses of famous people into museums is also strong.
Britain as such doesn’t have any particular choice of food - everything is allowed here and everything is available here. That is the advantage of being a global city. For an Indian, there is no problem whatsoever with food - Indian food is available in every nook and corner of Britain, not just London.
The most convenient mode of transport inside London is public transport. All the parts of the city are well connected by both bus, rail, and tube. Though the costs are a bit on the higher side, you can get either a one day pass as a tourist or top up a smart card (Oyster Card) for a week or the duration of your preference. Indian driving license is valid for a year in Britain and as a tourist, you can book your own car and drive your heart’s pleasure.
Though the focus of every tourist in the UK is London, there are sufficient places for the curious to explore. The best ways of moving in and out of the city are either by the national rail or hiring a private cab. London is connected to all parts of the main island through multiple railway terminuses, some of them like Marylebone, King’s Cross and Waterloo are architectural masterpieces in themselves. For a person to venture out of London, the main themes of tourism will be castles, museums, churches and nature. Till almost 1600, Britain was not a united country, with Scotland and Britain regularly sparring with each other. This, combined with the history of violence in the country ensured that the whole of the country is filled with large forts, some of the greatest being Tower of London, Dover Castle overlooking the English Channel, Cardiff Castle, Windsor Castle, Edinburgh Castle and the likes. Edinburgh Castle is one of the most fascinating ones in the country. It sits on the top of a boulder frowning upon the city of Edinburgh. The other important feature of this castle is that it houses the Scottish crown jewels. Famous for it’s military tattoo, Edinburgh is a must watch for those planning to visit Scotland. Windsor Castle is another - it is one of the official residences of the British Royalty. Being at a stone’s throw away from London, this is a favourite haunt for the visitors.
Britain, being one of the principal banner holders of Christianity in the world and a country with near 100% Christian population, by default, will boast of some fine churches, some of the most famous being London’s Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, Bristol Abbey which has got the grave of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Canterbury Cathedral being the head of the Anglican Church and the cathedrals in large places like Salisbury, Winchester, Gloucester, and York.
Large places like Bath with it’s Royal Crescent clubbed with Bath, Edinburgh-Glasgow-Stirling, Liverpool-Manchester, Birmingham are separate tourist circuits in itself. They have got their share of museums and serve as staging grounds for different tourist spots in the country. Additional attractions include the University towns of Oxford and Cambridge each offering splendid architectural views and important museums. The Isle of Wight is another standalone tourist place. It is an island south of England, within a visible distance of Southampton. It is famous for some breathtaking cliff views, pleasant drives, and water sports.
Britain has got it’s share of natural beauty with the main destinations being Lake District, Peak District, Wales, Cornwall, and Scotland. Lake District and Peak District are situated in the North Central England, each named for obvious reasons. Both offer some great drives and views along with their share of adventure sports. One can simply drive and do nothing for a whole day or even more to enjoy the natural beauty. By virtue on the road to Scotland, people tend to cover one of the both while going to Scotland. Scotland, a separate country once and a province in the United Kingdom now is famous for two things - Whisky distilleries and splendid nature. The province is full of lakes (locally called Lochs), castles and hills. It is England’s share of natural beauty to the world and can be considered a must visit for any visitor hitting the United Kingdom. The focus of every tourist will be the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow which they use as launchpads into the Scottish highlands, Glen Coe, the famous mountain pass, Loch Ness with it’s famous monster and Isle of Skye. The norther you go, the dramatic the scenery becomes. Edinburgh in itself boasts of rich architectural heritage, museums and is most famous for it's military parade happening in August. Scotland can be visited in any part of the year except the months succeeding the summer.
The other equally prominent tourist area of United Kingdom is Wales. A collection of kingdoms conquered by Britain a millennium ago, the section of Snowdonia, the crown of Wales is wilder and more rugged than any other in the United Kingdom. It is an area with high hills and narrow roads. The visibility in itself is not that great making the drives even interesting. Though adorned by castles here and there, Wales is famous for it’s natural beauty more than anything else.
Cornwall is a lesser cousin for Wales and Scotland but will offer you some very great beaches and cliff views with Land’s End and Lizard Point being the best views. By being more remote and unreachable, Cornwall was actually famous for piracy till it was civilised by the British. Eden Project, world’s largest Greenhouse is situated in Cornwall and is an interesting visit.
English is the lingua franca of the country. Though Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, and Welsh are spoken prominently in the respective provinces, a basic knowledge of English is sufficient for any visitor to get along in this country.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
A Software Engineer by profession, my hobbies include reading and philately. My stamp collection, which started as a haphazard one as like any other stamp collection, has slowly turned to focus mainly on Indian stamps and ended up in me writing a book over that - Stamps of British India and It’s States.
I pass my time blogging and my blog cbkwgl.wordpress.com is a mishmash of everything, with focus primarily on Indian history, poetry and my views over everything. You can reach me at [email protected]