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ENGLAND

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England

England is the largest of the four "home nations" that make up the United Kingdom. It is also the most populous of the four with almost 52 million inhabitants (roughly 84% of the total population of the UK). On the island of Great Britain, Scotland sits to the north of England and Wales is to the west. Northern Ireland (also part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland lie across the Irish Sea to west of England (and Wales). France and the Channel Islands are across the English Channel to the south, and to the east is the North Sea.

Don't confuse "England" with the larger "Britain" or "United Kingdom".

England can be divided most generally into three sections, with deep historical and linguistic roots for each of them. These can be further divided into regions, which in turn consist of counties (most of which also have long histories, but have been revised in many cases for administrative reasons).

London 
A vast and diverse metropolitan region to itself, the capital city of both England and the United Kingdom, a global capital of finance, fashion, and culture.

South East England 
Broadly speaking, the area around and south of London, including the territory along the English Channel.

West Country 
The often-rugged peninsula extending southwest into the Atlantic and adjoining counties. Cornwall is sometimes considered a distinctive entity.

Midlands

The English Midlands is roughly the part of England east of Wales (excluding Gloucestershire and Cheshire which are in the West Country and the North West respectively) and across to the North Sea.

East of England 
A low-lying territory northeast of London, mostly rural.

East Midlands 
The geographic centre of England, reaching to the North Sea.

West Midlands 
The industrial and rural area east of Wales.

Northern England

Northern England is anywhere north of Staffordshire in the west and roughly north of the Humber river, in the east, up to the Scottish border.

Yorkshire 
Regarded as one of the most scenic, varied and interesting of all the traditional counties.

North West England 
Major industrial cities and breath taking scenery between Wales and Scotland.

North East England 
The urbanised areas of Teesside and Tyne and Wear plus the largely rural large county of Northumberland with its sparsely populated borders with Scotland and beautiful countryside and coastline.

Cities

England has many large cities. Listed below are nine of the most popular:

  • London — largest metropolitan area in Western Europe, and a global capital of finance, fashion, and culture.
  • Birmingham — the UK's second largest city (by population) in the industrial heartland.
  • Bristol — vibrant music and art scene, lovely historic buildings, an attractive waterfront and a laid back, friendly, amiable, mellow atmosphere in the West Country's largest city.
  • Brighton — regency seaside resort and university town with quirky shopping, good eating, rich culture and vibrant gay nightlife.
  • Liverpool — "The home of the Beatles", a booming cosmopolitan city famous for its vibrant nightlife, rich cultural heritage, magnificent waterfront, superb architecture, and excellence in music and sport.
  • Manchester — third most visited city in the UK, a cultural, sporting, entertainment, shopping, and media hub.
  • Nottingham — "Queen of the Midlands", home of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest, and Nottingham Castle.
  • Newcastle upon Tyne — a thriving northern city with world-famous nightlife.
  • York — ancient capital of Yorkshire, with Roman, Viking and Medieval remains.

Other Destinations

England has many outstanding landmarks and sites of interest. Listed below are nine of the most notable:

  • Hadrian's Wall — the Romans built this 87 mile wall to protect their English outpost from northern raiders.
  • Isles of Scilly — magical archipelago of tiny islands off the south western coast of Cornwall.
  • Lake District National Park — glorious mountains, lakes, and woodlands; the land of Wordsworth.
  • New Forest National Park — one of the few remnants of the great oak and hornbeam woodland that once covered southern England.
  • North York Moors National Park — with heather-clad hills, woodlands, impressive sea cliffs and secluded beaches, this area is one of the true English gems.
  • Peak District National Park — rugged moors and hills which form the northern spine of England.
  • South Downs National Park — the gentle rolling chalk downs of southern England.
  • Stonehenge — the iconic Neolithic and Bronze Age monument; as mysterious as it is famous.
  • Yorkshire Dales National Park — charming, picture postcard villages set in some of the finest landscapes anywhere in Britain.

Climate

England has been stereotyped as being cold, grey and rainy since the ancient Romans wrote home, but this is not an entirely accurate picture. Temperatures rarely get very cold or very hot, and while the country certainly gets rain, it's really not as wet as rumour has it. London alone has lower annual rainfall than Paris, New York, and Sydney, and it's not uncommon for parts of the country to go without rain for weeks. Parts of southern England often have summer water restrictions due to a lack of adequate rainfall during the previous winter. There is some scope for leaving your raincoat at home, but make sure you've got one.

Northern and western parts are usually wetter than the rest of England due to the prevailing wind from the north west bringing down cold moist air from the North Atlantic, and the sunniest and warmest areas are in the far south and south east.

Winter and autumn are usually the wettest seasons where the weather is often very changeable and at times quite windy, especially in the north and west, where cold Arctic winds arrive. Spring conditions are very changeable: a day of hot sunshine is likely as not to be followed by a week of cold wind and rain; and vice-versa. Occasional snow even as late as May is not unheard of in northern England, but it will melt quickly. Snow is particularly rare in the south east. Summer is generally warm in the south with average highs usually ranging from 18-23°C, but be prepared for unsettled weather at any time of the year and make sure to check a weather forecast if you plan to be outdoors.

Hot spells of weather can occur from May to September where temperatures may reach 30°C in the warmest areas of England, typically London and parts of the South East. Central Europe has very hot summers and very cold winters, but England is both less extreme (surrounded by water) and milder in the winter (influenced by the warmth of the North Atlantic Drift). If it were not for the North Atlantic Drift, England would be much much colder.

Heavy, prolonged, snow is rare and temperatures are rarely below freezing for more than a few days. Some years there will be a few days of road and rail disruption from snow - even the slightest amount of snow often causes delays on public transport, especially rail. Very severe weather conditions are rare and remedial action is usually taken promptly. Flooding and droughts are unlikely to affect the traveller. High winds occasionally disrupt travel, most often outside summer.

English people are said to have a passion for debating the weather: actually, this is usually just an opening gambit to start a conversation with a stranger. Typically, these conversation openers are now heard only among the elderly members of society. Most discussions that do involve weather usually include criticisms of it - including (though perhaps not at the same time) both that it's "too cold" and it's "too hot". Well-known conversational gambits (with due acknowledgement to Peter Kay): "It's too cold for snow"; "It's that fine rain that soaks you through".

People

The people of England, like their language, are a mixed bunch who have regularly been infused with new blood - from the Romans nearly 2000 years ago taking control of the ancient British in the region, to the later influences of Angles, Saxons and others from Europe after which created the original idea of the English, to the Vikings and then the Normans about a thousand years ago. Since then, there have been Hugenots, Chinese, Jews fleeing pogroms, people from former British colonies in the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s, Indians expelled from newly independent former African colonies, workers from new EU member states such as Poland, not to mention people from other UK nations and the Republic of Ireland. The full list is very long, but England has long been used to outsiders making it their home - even before England existed! Like in any country you will get people who are unfriendly to foreign visitors, but England is noted as being one of the most tolerant countries in Europe, and racism is very low when comparing to other nations. Almost everyone will treat you well if you are polite and make an effort to fit in. Smile, be polite, don't be pushy if you can help it: that's how to get on with the English.

The English are well used to foreign visitors and you can expect them to be friendly and polite. One thing to bear in mind is that many mostly elderly English people are terrified of giving offence and dislike lying, and so will try to avoid potential pitfalls by sticking to safe (often boring) topics of conversation and occasionally doing the tricky job of avoiding offence by evading a question which worries them, while also trying not to offend you by point blank refusing you an answer. This sort of thing generally wears off as people get to know you. The younger generation is often quite different as far as giving offense is concerned.

Big cities and even some rural areas, like those anywhere, have their social problems, but England is predominantly an affluent country with little visible poverty. Rough areas contain rough people in England as in any country: muggings, car theft, and other street crime are unhappily common in some districts of many towns and cities, but England is by and large a very safe country as long as you use common sense.

In tourist destinations, you will meet a mostly friendly people who will take the time to answer a stranger's question, and who may speak English in a colourful or accented way but will be willing to standardise and simplify their speech if you're struggling. Some would say there is a north-south divide, with people in the North more friendly and approachable (Liverpool for instance was voted the fourth friendliest city in the world by travel magazine Rough Guide in 2014), while the South (mostly just London though) is a more closed culture with people less willing to stop and speak, but don't take offence, remember most Londoners you see on the streets will usually be rushing to get to somewhere (eg work) and simply don't have the time to talk. If anything, the South of England is split between the "overheated" and overcrowded South-East, and the more rural, amiable South-West/West Country where a more laid back, relaxed, friendlier atmosphere beckons. The North/South divide is also somewhat confused by the fact that Bristol (the largest city in the South West) has a very laid back, relaxed, leftfield and mellow atmosphere that is completely different with the relentless hedonistic atmosphere of the likes of Brighton and Bournemouth or the conservatism of many cities in Southern England. In rural areas of the south, particularly East Anglia and the West Country, people are generally much more laid back and enjoy taking the time to have a chat with strangers. In most of England you will usually find that if you are polite and friendly, you'll get the same in return.

London itself is a very international city where you may meet a variety of nationalities, depending on what part of the city you are in.

 

Talk

Unsurprisingly, English is the main language in England, though it is spoken with many different accents throughout the country. Generally, English accents can be broadly divided into Northern and Southern accents, with natives of Liverpool having a very distinctive accent that is easily distinguishable from that of someone from neighbouring Manchester.

No other languages are widely spoken, but with widespread immigration to England in the past few decades, you might also hear other languages such as Polish, Chinese, German, various South Asian languages or even various African languages being spoken in their respective communities.

When an English person says "Meet me at half five", they mean "Meet me at 17:30". If the directions say "go to the top of the road", that means the end of the road.

Some words mean one thing to Americans and something else entirely to British folks. When an English man says he shared a "fag" with his "mate" that means only that he smoked a cigarette with a friend. If he adds that they also had a "gorgeous" meal, it means it was followed by a nice dinner. If they had a "shag" it means they had sex afterwards.

Then there are the words unique to British English; a sneaker or tennis shoe, for instance, is called a "trainer."

Moreover, the diverse history of the country, and the influx of various cultures over the centuries (e.g. Vikings, Normans, Romans, Celtic peoples), have produced a very wide range of accents, and there are still traces of regional dialects (vocabulary and grammar). Best not to imitate the accents, you will be seen as mocking.

Another English peculiarity is the use of terms of endearment for strangers such as "darling", "pet", "love", "hun", "duck", "bab", "mate", "sweetheart", "flower", "queen" and a few others. It can be confusing, or perhaps even embarrassing, for somebody who is not accustomed to this to be called "darling" by a total stranger; however, this is something which is nowadays mainly used by the older generation and found less in the younger generation although some younger males may call a woman "Darlin" this is usually either as a form of cat calling (and can often be followed by derogatory demands or language but is often harmless) or directed towards a female friend.

You will hear English people say "sorry". This is not down to guilt or self-consciousness but simply because it is synonymous with "excuse me", and is used to get somebody's attention. Alternatively, it can be synonymous with "pardon". Any comments along the lines of "What are you sorry about?" are pointless.