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What is Great Britain?

Great Britain is the landmass that consists of England, Scotland and Wales. It can be shortened to just ‘Britain’. It does not include Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom, however, is Great Britain plus Northern Ireland. 

Scotland is not in England, nor is Wales.

 In Scotland, the people are Scots or Scottish. In Wales, the people are Welsh. And in England, the people are English. 

The British Isles consist of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Northern Isles and over six thousand smaller islands.

Which are Great Britain’s major cities?

London: By far Britain’s biggest city, London is home to 9 million people, is a major tourist destination and one of the largest global financial centres.
Birmingham: Birmingham’s central geographical location makes it a key centre for logistics and its labyrinthine canal system is longer than its famous cousin in Venice.
Liverpool: A key UK port, in 2008 Liverpool was the European City of Culture and is renowned the world over for its music and football legacies.
Glasgow: The largest city in Scotland, Glasgow is a manufacturing and ship-building hub which hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Manchester: Another city with a famous music and footballing legacy, the University of Manchester is also where the atom was first split.
Cardiff: The capital of Wales, Cardiff has a growing reputation for its quality of life, communications sector, media industry and tourism.
Belfast: The capital city of Northern Ireland, Belfast has reinvented itself since the millennium and has a blossoming film industry (Game of Thrones was mostly filmed there).

Accents and regions

As you travel around the regions of Great Britain you will hear lots of different accents, some of which can be easier to fathom than others. People from these areas have nicknames that you may hear, too. Here are some of the most common:

• Cockneys are from the East End of London
• Geordies are from the North East (Tyneside and Northumberland)
• Mackems are also from the North East (Sunderland and surrounding areas)
• Scousers are from Liverpool and the surrounding area
• Mancunians are from Manchester
• Brummies are from Birmingham
• Janners are from Plymouth (Devon)


Great Britain is also split into a number of counties for administrative, geographical and political purposes.

England has 48, Scotland has 33, Wales has 13, and Northern Ireland has 6.

Great Britain is also split into a number of counties for administrative, geographical and political purposes.

England has 48, Scotland has 33, Wales has 13, and Northern Ireland has 6.

Transport in Great Britain

The UK’s rail network is the oldest railway system in the world, and a number of different companies provide services within Network Rail.

Trains mostly operate overground, but there’s also an underground system in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and Tyne and Wear. We also have the channel tunnel service operating from stations in Kent to Paris in France.

Ticket types in the UK are as follows:

Anytime (can use any time during the day)
Off-peak (can only be used during off-peak hours)
Super off-peak (cheaper tickets for travelling on trains that are less busy)
Advance (on sale well before the day of travel and usually a lot cheaper)

You should buy a ticket before boarding the train as there will likely be an inspector on the train who may charge you a fine if you do not have one. 

Keep left, look right

In Great Britain, we drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Our roads can be very narrow, and during peak times in busy areas, traffic can be a little nerve-racking, though most inner-city roads will have useful markings indicating the direction of approaching traffic.

Remember: when crossing the road as a pedestrian in Great Britain, you need to look right first for oncoming traffic. Looking both ways – and double-checking both ways – is always the safest approach.

Finding a public toilet

If you’re exploring an English, Scottish or Welsh town and need the toilet, they can usually be found in shopping centres, department stores, train stations and fast-food restaurants.

You might also want to download the Flush app: it’s a very handy way of locating the nearest public bathroom or restroom.

Flush on Apple.
Flush on Google.

We’re a very multicultural nation

By its very nature, Great Britain is multicultural as it comprises four different nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Many of our former Kings and Queens have come from European royal families, and our colonial past has ensured that we’ve absorbed many different cultures from around the world.

Though we all communicate in English, over 300 languages are thought to be spoken within the British Isles.

We value personal space

In Britain, we’re not standoffish or rude, but we do like to keep our distance from one another where possible and consider it polite to maintain arm’s length distance from each other when there is space available.

British people may find it uncomfortable if you stand or sit too close to them when it isn’t completely necessary to do so.

We have a unique sense of humour

We’re good at hiding our emotions in Britain, which can make us seem cold and withdrawn to other cultures. But British people have a very keen sense of humour.

A lot of our comedy pokes fun at the absurdity of everyday life. We love sarcasm, tongue-in-cheek delivery, banter, insults, self-deprecation, puns, innuendo and having a dig at the British class system.

Don’t worry if you don’t get our humour to start with, it can be very subtle and nuanced. You’ll soon learn the ropes though and be encouraged to join in.

We sneer at queue-jumpers

British people resent queuing as much as anyone. But we resent it even more if someone tries to cut in front of us.

We queue for the bus and the cinema, at the post office, in the supermarket and for the public toilets at festivals.

It’s perfectly fine to roll your eyes and complain if the queue moves slowly, but it’s not cool to ask the person in front to mind your place while you go and do something else!

We love “a cuppa”

It’s true. In Britain we have an insatiable penchant for tea.

While most countries in the world prefer coffee – and the coffee industry is rapidly growing here too, by the way – for us, there’s nothing quite like an English cup of tea.

If you are new to the country and making new British friends, they may invite you over for a cuppa and a chat.

It’s our way of being sociable without going to the pub, so make sure you get involved.

We stand on the left side on escalators

When travelling through England, it’s important to note that we stand on the right and walk on the left of escalators. It helps every commuter travel at the speed they’re comfortable with.

If you’re travelling on the London Underground and are stood still on the left of the escalator, people will soon let you know to move over.

It’s highly recommended to avoid rush hour traffic where possible.

You should also note that you need to push the button to open train doors as they do not open automatically.

We don’t make too much noise in restaurants or on public transport

Most people in Great Britain like to keep themselves to themselves and it’s generally frowned upon to be too loud in restaurants and on public transport.

Any loud activity in these environments will likely result in disdainful stares, especially if you are in a designated quiet zone.

We hold knives in our right hand and forks with our left, avoid talking when our mouths our full and place our cutlery gently onto the middle of plates when we are finished to signal to the server or hostess that we have finished our meal.

We are a nation of pet lovers

It’s believed that 1 in 2 Great British households share their homes with a furry, scaly or squawky friend.

Pets are considered “part of the family” by British people and help bring families closer together.

Dogs are the most popular pets in every region of the country except London, where cats are the preferred option.

British folk are very proud of our Royal Family, currently led by His Majesty King Charles III.

As well as performing daily civic duties, they help to strengthen national unity and stability, and British people line the streets of London to get a glimpse of them during royal weddings and other public celebrations.

The Royal Family carry out over 20,000 engagements in the UK and abroad every year and answer over 100,000 letters.

British sport

Sport plays an extremely important role in British culture. Association football – or just “football” – is by far the most popular sport, attracting the most spectators and churning the most profit.

But Britain is well-versed globally for the diversity of its sporting endeavours, including cricket, tennis, golf, rugby, motorsport, cycling, horse racing, athletics, snooker and darts.

In fact, the games of football, tennis and golf were all invented in Britain. As were rugby and badminton, both of which were named after the places where they originated.

Pubs are the cornerstone of British society, a place to go to socialise, relax and have a drink.

If you order a lager, ale or a bitter, you will likely receive a pint (568ml) of it unless you specify you would prefer just a half (284ml).

You can also purchase wines and spirits, and most pubs now have a food menu and offer non-alcoholic options for non-drinkers and designated drivers.

Getting your ‘round’ is an essential part of pub culture. One person buys a round for the group and then the honour moves to the next person. It’s seen as bad form to leave the pub when it’s your round, for obvious reasons.

We rarely tip bar staff in pubs, preferring instead to offer them a drink. We often say “cheers!” and chink our glasses before we start each beverage.

Last orders at pubs is usually between 22:30 and 23:00 when a bell will sound for you to go to the bar. Once the second bell has rung, no more drinks can be ordered, and it’s time to go home.

Food plays an important part in British culture with multicultural influences on every high street up and down the land.

Traditional British dishes include a full English breakfast, a Sunday roast dinner, fish and chips, bangers and mash and shepherd’s pie. Though many would argue that curry is our national dish, such is its popularity on our dinner tables and our high streets (we invented the chicken tikka masala on these shores, too).

In British culture, Christmas dinner is also very important: most households will cook a roast turkey with all the trimmings, including roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy and cranberry sauce. It’s customary to follow this with a yule log, mince pies and Christmas pudding for dessert. Nom!

What is the national currency?

Britain’s national currency is the pound sterling (£), which is made up of 100 pence (p). We use notes in denominations of £50, £20, £10 and £5, and coins in £2, £1, 50p, 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p and 1p formats.

You can change money in bureaux de change on high streets, in airports and major railway stations; at banks; in travel agents; and at post offices.

It's a good idea to shop around to get the best deal and always ask how much commission is charged.

Where can I tap to pay?

You can pay with a contactless debit or credit card almost everywhere, including on London taxis, buses, trains and the Tube.

Where can I get cash?

If you’d like to withdraw pound sterling, most banks offer free cash withdrawals. Exchange rates and overseas charges are set by your own bank, so check before you travel.

Should I tip in bars or restaurants?

Tipping in Great Britain is voluntary.

Generally, if you have received good service, a British person will leave about 10% of the bill as a tip. However, sometimes a service fee has already been added to the bill.

If your bags are taken up to your room by a porter, a tip between £2-5 is plenty.

Regarding cab rides, some passengers will round up their fare if they feel they have arrived at their destination in an efficient and friendly manner.

January New Year’s Day celebrations, Hogmanay, Burns Night
February Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year celebrations, London Fashion Week
March St David’s Day, St Patrick’s Day celebration, Shrove Tuesday (AKA Pancake Day), Lent, Mother’s Day
April April Fool’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, The Boat Race, St George's Day
May May Day Bank Holiday, FA Cup Final, Chelsea Flower Show
June Trooping the Colour, Spring Bank Holiday, Father’s Day, Taste of London, Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships
July Pride London
August Notting Hill Carnival
September London Fashion Week
October London Film Festival, Raindance Film Festival, Halloween
November Bonfire Night, Remembrance Sunday, London Jazz Festival, St Andrew’s Day
December Advent, Chanukah, Christmas Day, Boxing Day