The United Kingdom (also known as Great Britain) is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It has a long history as a major player in international affairs and fulfils an important role in the EU, UN and NATO.
A journey through the UK is a journey through history - from the ancient megaliths of Stonehenge to the space-age domes of the Eden Project in Cornwall. It's also a trip to the 21st-century: London is gearing up for the 2012 Olympics while cities like Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle revel in their heritage and confidently face the future, with industrial buildings revitalised as waterfront galleries or trendy apartments, flanked by tempting bars, shops, restaurants and some of the finest music venues in the world. For the history buff, few cities compare with Edinburgh and Glasgow; for the hungry, try haggis if you must but don’t miss the Aberdeen Angus beef or smoked salmon from Dumfries & Galloway or, for the thirsty, the peerless malt whiskies of the Isle of Islay or Obanawait. There is wild mountain scenery of the Highlands & Northern Islands and cold, sparkling seas washing against the Outer Hebrides.
The twentieth century saw Britain having to redefine its place in the world. At the beginning of the century it commanded a world-wide empire as the foremost global power. Two world wars and the end of empire diminished its role, but the UK remains a major economic and military power, with considerable political and cultural influence around the world.
Great Britain was the world's first industrialised country. Its economy remains one of the largest, but it has for many years been based on service industries rather than on manufacturing.
The UK is ethnically diverse, partly as a legacy of empire. Lately, the country has been struggling with issues revolving around multiculturalism, immigration and national identity. It has been at the forefront of youth culture since the heyday of the Beatles and Rolling Stones in the 1960s.
It has a rich literary heritage encompassing the works of English writers such as William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, Scot Robert Burns, Welshman Dylan Thomas and Northern Irishman Seamus Heaney.
Traditional music has deep roots across the UK, which has also produced classical composers from Henry Purcell in the Baroque period to Benjamin Britten in the 20th century.