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The UK in a nutshell: Fast facts

You’ve got your visa, your plane tickets are booked – and you suddenly realise you have no idea what the difference is between the UK and Great Britain or what bank holidays you can look forward to. Read on for a few basic facts about the UK.



The basics

The UK is short for The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a sovereign state, in the same way as France or the USA, but is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The term “Great Britain” refers to a landmass, not a country. The term “Great’’ is used, simply because it is the largest island in the British Isles, with the countries of England, Scotland and Wales within its shores.

Capital cities

England: London
Wales: Cardiff
Scotland: Edinburgh
Northern Ireland: Belfast

UK population Size

As of 2013, the approximate population size is 64.1 million people.

Official languages

Britain has two official languages, which are English and Welsh - English being the most commonly spoken. Scottish Gaelic is also spoken in some parts of Scotland.


The UK is a constitutional monarchy that is a representative democracy. The monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, is recognized as the head of state. The sovereign of the UK also acts as head of state of fifteen other Commonwealth countries, putting the UK in a union with those states. The Crown has sovereignty over the Isle of Man and the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey.

The elected Prime Minister is the head of government.

Economic profile

The UK is a leading trading power and a financial centre. Agriculture is an important industry and highly efficient. Primary energy, like coal and oil, are major contributors to the economy, but services like banking and insurance are the greatest contributors.


Britain uses the Pound Sterling. The sign for the Great British Pound (GBP) is £.

Time zone

Winter months: Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)
Summer months: UTC + 1


Britain has a fairly temperate climate and is sometimes overcast. The weather can vary greatly from day to day, but generally summer (June-August) is a warm 14-25° C and winter (December-February) is a cool 1-4° C.

Major UK holidays 2016

25 March Good Friday
28 March Easter Monday
2 May Early May bank holiday
30 May Spring bank holiday
29 August Summer bank holiday
26 December Boxing Day
27 December Christmas Day (substitute day)

Weights and measures

Historically, the UK used the Imperial System. The Metric System is now more commonly used, with the exception of a few items, for example distance and speed are measured in miles and miles per hour.


Voltage is 240 volts AC at 50HZ. Appliances generally use standard 3-pin square plugs and sockets.

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