67.22 million (2020)

Official language


Languages spoken

English is the de facto language of the United Kingdom and is spoken by 98% of the population in almost 40 different dialects. In Scotland, 1.5 million speak Scots (the most popular language after English), in Wales an estimated 900,000 people speak Welsh, the official language of Wales, and 124,000 speak Irish in Northern Ireland. Welsh is also the only language in all of the UK that has a legal status, so expect to see public signs in both languages.


Known colloquially as Brits, British people pride themselves on their customs and traditions, particularly if they are a defining factor of the area they are from. For example, you will never see anyone from Yorkshire drink anything but Yorkshire Tea. While Brits are a stoutly diverse, multinational and multicultural society, they also possess strong regional identities that become infinitely greater when asked about the country’s north-south divide. Its cities are also some of the most cosmopolitan and multilingual in the world, especially London, where 40.2% of residents are Asian, Black, Mixed or of other ethnic groups.  


The UK is a secular state where Church and State are entirely separate. Christianity is the largest religion at 59.5% of the population identifying themselves as so, followed by irreligion (25.7%) and Islam (4.4%).

National Holidays

  • 1 January: New Year’s Day
  • Friday before Easter Sunday: Good Friday
  • Monday after Easter Sunday: Easter Monday
  • First Monday in May: Early May bank holiday
  • Last Monday in May: Spring bank holiday
  • Last Monday in August: Summer bank holiday
  • 25 December: Christmas Day
  • 26 December: Boxing Day


Condensing the UK’s history into a few paragraphs is hard, but we’ll do our best. Before the fifth century, the Roman’s controlled most of present-day England and Wales. After they abandoned Blighty to protect Rome, the Anglo-Saxon’s swooped in, followed by the Vikings in the latter half of the ninth century and the Normans in the early 11th century. After settling into their newly acquired land, the Normans adopted the French language and feudal system and Canute the Great (995-1035), king of the newly unified Denmark and Norway, became the king of England in 1016. After a string of battles and murdered monarchs, Henry Tudor, the half-brother of Henry VI, defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and became Henry VII, founder of the House of Tudor. And following Henry to the throne was perhaps England’s most famous, flamboyant and fearless ruler, Henry VIII. We probably don’t need to tell you his story…

Cut to James I’s rule, where a group of Catholic extremists led by Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament (and is still celebrated throughout Britain on Guy Fawkes' night on the 5th November, with fireworks and bonfires), and swiftly past Charles I reign, and you have the end of a monarchy until 1660. By the 18th century, monarchs became more passive figures, lending the reins of the government to the Prime Minister. This was particularly the case for Queen Victoria, who was only 18 years old when she ascended the throne in 1837. The longest reigning British monarch (until Queen Elizabeth II), she was almost the most glorious, ruling over 40% of the globe and a quarter of the world's population.

The 20th century was marred by the UK’s involvement with the World Wars (which we’re sure we don’t need to give you a breakdown of). Following World War II, the United Kingdom was bankrupt. The British Empire dismantled, which granted independence to colonies such as India. Most of these ex-colonies formed the British Commonwealth, now known as the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1952, Elizabeth II became queen and was the second longest reigning monarch in the world. Following her death in 2022, King Charles III ascended the throne.  


The UK is formed of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It officially left the European Union in 2020, which it had been a member of since 1973. The United Kingdom is a unitary state that is governed within the framework of a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy (where the presiding monarch is head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government). Parliament is formed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Both are responsible for legislation, scrutinizing government work and debating current issues; but while the Commons is publicly elected, members of the House of Lords are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the prime minister.


Us Brits love to say sorry. It’s in our DNA. Used as an expression to convey good manners, it is a phrase that has become inherently British and is one of the nation’s most used words (up to eight times a day). In the UK’s major cities, a tip of 10-12% will be added to your bill. Although you are not required to pay it, it is customary to do so unless your experience was particularly poor. In smaller towns and villages, pubs and restaurants may expect a small discretionary tip but it is not required.


In its cities, apart from the designer shops that adorn its main streets, there are a multitude of markets. Some haven’t changed an inch; some have undergone fancy makeovers and others have found themselves at the epicentre of hipster heavens. On London’s Brick Lane, you’ll find yourself thrift shopping to your hearts content, while along York’s cobblestoned Shambles you’ll think you’ve apparated to Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. It is in the UK’s seaside towns though that you’ll find the nation’s delightful knickknack shops. Filled to the brim with gifts, trinkets and souvenirs, you’ll have to make sure you save some room in your suitcase.


Given our reputation for bland food, you’d be surprised to learn that one of the UK’s national dishes is chicken tikka masala. A perfect example of how the UK absorbs and adapts external influences, it can be found in every Indian restaurant around and in most pubs who specialise in something we like to call ‘pub grub’. Think fish and chips, steak and kidney pie, bangers (aka sausages) and mash (potato) and you have yourself the UK’s offering of hearty fare. We haven’t forgotten about Sunday roasts either. Criminal to have any other day of the week (except Christmas, of course), roasts require a few slices of meat, all the trimmings (stuffing, roast potatoes, a medley of vegetables and a Yorkshire pudding) and an ample serving of gravy. In fact, they are the only way to round off a week.


Head to any town or city in the UK and you’ll find the same thing on pretty much every corner – a pub. Home to cask and craft ales, lagers, local gins and soft drinks – of course – don’t be surprised if you stumble across locals who have been frequenting the joint since they turned 18. Set in 16th century coach houses and converted buildings down London side streets or bucolic country villages, expect to feel like you’ve just walked into a home-from-home.

Useful information

Practical Guide

United Kingdom in Context

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