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United Kingdom

Island nation of NW Europe, it is the largest political division of the United Kingdom. Its capital, London, is also the capital of the United Kingdom. Separated from mainland Europe and France by the English Channel, England has a proud historical tradition as a powerful maritime nation and was formerly the nucleus of a worldwide colonial empire.

The English have made a substantial contribution to the development of Western civilization, not least in the creation of a parliamentary system of government that has been emulated throughout the world.

Home of a succession of Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Age cultures, exemplified by Stonehenge, En gland was invaded by Rome under Julius Caesar in 55 b.c.; although the Roman conquest of Britain was not begun in earnest until the invasion under Claudius in a.d. 43. By the end of the first century all of England was under Roman control and was to remain so for the next 300 years despite occasional uprisings, of which the most important had been that of the Iceni, a British tribe, under Boadicea in a.d. 61. During the Roman occupation, cities were founded, trade flourished, and a great wall was built by Hadrian to keep out the Picts from the North. As barbarian invasions threatened other parts of the empire, however, Roman troops were withdrawn, and Britain was left unprotected against the invasions of the Anglo-Saxons and Jutes.

By the end of the fifth century a.d., the new invaders had begun to settle and form kingdoms, of which Wessex was to emerge as the most powerful in the ninth century. At the same time, eastern En gland was continually threatened by Viking invaders from Denmark, and although the Danes were initially defeated by Alfred, king of Wessex, by 1016 the Danish king Canute controlled all of England . When the Danish line died out in 1042, the Wessex dynasty was restored with the accession of Edward the Confessor.

England was again invaded in 1066, this time by William the Conqueror, duke of Normand y, who defeated the English king Harold at the Battle of Hastings, ending the Anglo-Saxon period and beginning the Norman. Under the Norman kings central government was strengthened and the feudal system firmly established to facilitate administration. The accession of the Anjevin Henry II Plantagenet in 1154 brought further French land s to the English throne through his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1171 the conquest of Ireland was begun. Wales was conquered by Edward I in 1282, and in 1337 England began the long military struggle with France known as the Hundred Years’ War. Despite victories at Crecy in 1346 and Agincourt in 1415, England was unable to retain possession of her French land s after Joan of Arc raised the siege of Orleans in 1428 and helped rally French nationalism, and by 1453 England had withdrawn, except from Calais. The collapse of the feudal system was hastened in the 14th century by the new economic and social forces and the new demand s of warfare and administration. Between 1455 and 1485 the throne of England was contested by the houses of York and Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses, which decimated the nobility and ended with the accession of the Tudor king Henry VII, after his victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field.

Under the Tudor kings political stability was restored, and in the 16th century the Protestant Reformation reached England , culminating in Henry VIII’s break with the papacy after his marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1533 and the establishment of the Church of England . During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) English explorers visited the New World, and the eastern Spice Island s and the country’s growing commercial and maritime interests led to increased confrontation with Spain. The Spanish Armada, sent to invade England , was beaten in the English Channel by Admiral Charles Howard and later destroyed by storms in 1588. At the same time the Elizabethan Age was a period of great intellectual and artistic achievement in drama, poetry, music, and architecture.

The accession of the Stuart king James I united Scotland and England under one crown. However the Stuart kings were beset by financial difficulties. Charles I’s insistence on the divine right of kings and his disregard for parliamentary government caused relations between king and Parliament to deteriorate sharply, so that in 1642 civil war broke out between Royalists and Parliamentarians. The decisive battles of the war, Marston Moor of 1644 and Naseby in 1645, were victories for Parliament, and by 1648 the Royalist cause was lost. Charles I was executed in 1649, and the leader of the Parliamentarians, Oliver Cromwell, was made Lord Protector in 1653.

The Protectorate lasted until 1660, when Parliament invited Charles II to return to the throne from exile, beginning the Restoration Period. However, the old differences between Parliament and the Stuart kings and between Protestants and Catholics, surfaced again and after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which expelled James II Stuart, the throne was offered to Protestant William of Orange and his wife, Mary, James’s daughter. They reigned within the constitutional framework created by the Bill of Rights of 1689, which limited the powers of the monarchy and gave Parliament supremacy. In 1714, after the death of Ann, William and Mary’s daughter, Parliament invited George of Hanover to rule, initiating the present Hanoverian dynasty.

In 1707 England and Scotland became the United Kingdom of Great Britain by the Act of Union. Thereafter England ’s history is largely synonymous with that of Great Britain. Throughout the 18th century Great Britain gradually acquired a vast overseas empire. By the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession, Great Britain gained territory in Canada from France and Gibraltar and Minorca from Spain. British success continued during the Seven Years’ War of 1756 to 1763. In Canada, Quebec was captured in 1759 from the French, and in India French power was destroyed at the battles of Plassey in 1757 and of Pondicherry in 1761. The Treaty of Paris of 1763 confirmed Great Britain as the chief colonial power in the world, and by the end of the 18th century its colonization of Australia had begun. Great Britain’s military supremacy was, however, effectively challenged during the American Revolution, from 1775 to 1783. In 1775, 13 British colonies of North America revolted against colonial rule and , aided by the French, finally achieved independence after defeating the British at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. The United States of America was then formed.

During the Napoleonic Wars, British naval supremacy was a decisive factor in the struggle to contain imperial France. Napoleon’s plan to invade Great Britain was thwarted by the destruction of his fleet on October 21, 1805, at Trafalgar by the British fleet under Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died in the battle. British and other armies under the duke of Wellington were responsible for Napoleon’s defeat in the Peninsular War and for the ultimate collapse of Napoleonic France at Waterloo in 1815. Meanwhile at home rapid industrialization was transforming Great Britain into the world’s first industrial nation. During the Regency period and beyond the restructuring of the country’s economic life led to demand s for political reform, which were met in 1832 and 1867 by the Reform Bills. These extended the franchise to the middle and urban working classes. During the reign of Queen Victoria, from 1837 to 1901, Great Britain pursued a dynamic and aggressive foreign policy, expand ing her Indian empire and fighting in the Crimean War of 1853 to 1856 against Russia. Under the queen’s prime minister Disraeli, large parts of Africa and Afghanistan were colonized.

Increasingly, Great Britain’s colonial program conflicted with the interests of Germany, and in 1914, allied with France and Russia, Great Britain went to war. During World War I, British troops played a major role on the Western Front, but the cost was great, and after the defeat of Germany in 1918, the country was drained of resources and had lost an entire generation. The world recession of the late 1920s and early 1930s aggravated the country’s economic difficulties.

After the failure of attempts to appease Hitler’s Germany, Great Britain was once again involved in war with Germany in 1939. Threatened with invasion after the fall of France, it achieved air superiority in the Battle of Britain and thus kept the country intact as a base for the eventual Allied offensive against occupied Europe in 1943 and 1944. With Germany defeated in 1945, Great Britain was again faced with the problem of rebuilding a shattered economy. Demand s for independence were heard from many parts of the empire, beginning in 1947 when India was divided into the two independent states of Pakistan and India. The empire was succeeded by the Commonwealth of Nations. At home Labour governments presided over the nationalization of a large sector of the economy, and in 1972 Great Britain became a member of the European Common Market. In the early 1970s oil was discovered in the North Sea and Britain became a major oil producer.

In 1979, after years of economic stagnation, A Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher was elected. Thatcher privatized industry and broke much of the power of the unions. In 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Island s, citing longstand ing territorial claims, but Britain won a quick and decisive naval victory. Thatcher and the Conservatives won elections in 1983 and 1987. In 1984, Britain and France began digging the Channel Tunnel in a project that was completed in 1994. Thatcher resigned in 1990 over issues of European integration and John Major took over as prime minister and led the Conservatives to election victory 1992. Britain was a full participant in the Gulf War of 1991, and continued to station military forces in the Persian Gulf. Britain negotiated a peace in Northern Ireland during the 1990s, with cease-fires leading to open elections and some local autonomy. In 1997, the Labour Party returned to power under Tony Blair. The government approved more autonomy in Scotland and Wales, and reduced the privileges of the titled nobility. Labour was reelected in 2001, and Blair supported American military efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is far more to England than eating fish and chips and riding on double decker buses. There are plenty of attractions that you won't want to miss out on when you visit the country. The top five places to visit when you travelling in England are listed below.

  • London
    The capital of England, London is home to a number of famous landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Big Ben. You may want to give yourself a few days in London to make sure you have time to see everything.
  • York
    One of the most historic cities in England that can trace it's origins back thousands of years. York Minster is a must see attraction and you may also want to spend some time shopping in The Shambles.
  • Bath
    Bath is famous for its spa which was in use as far back as Roman times. There are over 5000 buildings in Bath that are of historical note so you will never be short of things to look at. It was also home to Jane Austen at one point.
  • Plymouth
    Devon is one of the most beautiful counties in England and the city of Plymouth is a particular highlight. Visit the Barbican where the first of the pilgrims left England aboard ships to settle in the New World.
  • Blackpool
    One of the most famous holiday destinations in England, there is plenty to do here such as climbing Blackpool Tower and enjoying a day at the Pleasure Beach. Explore the promenade by taking a ride on a tram.

Runnymede - Meadow in Surrey, on the S bank of the Thames River, 19 mi WSW of London, near Egham. On June 15, 1215, King John is said to have signed the Magna Carta either here or on the nearby Charter Island in the Thames. Part of the island is now a memorial to President John F. Kennedy.

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