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London Parliament, United Kingdom
London, © Can Stock Photo / sborisov

The United Kingdom is also known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  In the past it has also been known as Britain, Great Britain and the British Empire.  It is comprised of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and its current format dates back to the early 1700s.  The capitals are London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast respectively.  The United Kingdom has 14 overseas territories, including the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos Islands, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.  Britain is also the founder of the Commonwealth of Nations, which is also referred to as the British Commonwealth or simply as the Commonwealth.  The Commonwealth has 54 members from the era of the British Empire and includes countries such as Canada, Australia and India.

Early explorers such as Sir Francis Drake (known better as a pirate to the Spanish), Captain George Vancouver and Captain James Cook sailed the oceans of the world in order to expand British interests.  Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated Napoleon's forces in 1805.  The British Empire reached its peak in the early 1900s.  Winston Churchill was well known for leading the country in its resistance to heavy bombing by Nazi German in the 1940s and rallied support from other nations to end Hitler's reign of terror.  Today the United Kingdom is a progressive multi-cultural nation.


Many countries are exempt from travel visa requirements to the United Kingdom.  Members of the European Economic Area are exempt.  That covers the European Union, plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.  Switzerland has a standing exemption as to more than 40 other countries, including the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.  For a list of countries that require a travel visa, visit the UK government web site or check your specific country at VisaHQ.  For a list of exempt countries, visit Project Visa.  Those citizens who do require a visa can complete the application and pay the fee online at the UK's web site.


Although the United Kingdom is a member of the European Union, it does not participate in the use of the Euro.  The official currency is the British pound sterling (GBP).  Visitors will find a strong reluctance to accept any other currency.


The climate of the UK is moderated by the Atlantic Ocean, which makes snowfall relatively rare in winter.  Rainfall is quite common throughout the year, giving the British Isles the deserved reputation of being cool, cloudy and damp.

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