A love letter about the UK
Our first ever flight, back in 1984, connected the UK with the USA. We even named our company after the Atlantic Ocean that we crossed. Since then, we’ve flown millions of people both ways across ‘the pond’, and the one thing we love as much as flying our customers to the United States is bringing our American friends to the UK. That’s because we know the treats that lie in store. Let’s take a look at our history-packed, fun-filled, fascinating and beautiful group of islands and find out what’s waiting to be discovered.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The first thing you need to know about the UK is that it’s relatively small, smaller than Michigan, in fact, smaller than 11 US states. What exactly is the United Kingdom, is it Great Britain, Britain, the British Isles? Does it include the Island of Ireland, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland? Where does England fit in? (click here for an explanation) What about counties? The UK consists of many different counties, yet you’d be hard pressed to find out how many! There are administrative counties, historic counties, and ceremonial counties. And yes, we are European, although we’ve left the European Union. Confused? It’s all part of the fun.
A country for all seasons.
As a country planted firmly in the northern hemisphere, the UK enjoys distinctive seasons. Each one brings its own charm and reasons to visit. Summers are characterised by their long warm days, perfect for outdoor activities, fun in the sun, strawberries and cream, festivals, parks, gardens and beaches. Autumn, a time of change, is cooler and a great time to visit galleries, historic stately homes, unique National Trust properties and museums. Winter is a time to wrap up warm and experience old country houses, roaring fires, a warm brandy. It’s also a time for winter festivals: Christmas in a country hotel or maybe Hogmanay (New Year) in Scotland. And finally, spring, a season of renewal and rebirth, when the sun lifts higher in the sky and warms the earth, daffodils and bluebells carpet the land and forest and pasture grow anew. A great time for a refreshing walk along rugged coasts, Easter festivities and May Day celebrations.
Most of our flights from the USA arrive at London’s Heathrow airport. Handy if you for exploring the city, its often dramatic history and its cultural highlights. Read any list of the top ten cities in the world and you’ll find London. It’s a city that has something for everyone; no matter what your interests. Whether you’re a history buff, royal watcher, art enthusiast, party animal, historian, music lover, culture lover, foodie or shopaholic, this wonderful metropolis has it all. There’s a story to tell at every corner and a unique cosmopolitan multicultural feel to the city. If you only spend a couple of days in London you can still get a feel for the city, its people, history, and culture. Head up to the top of the Shard for the best view in town, take an inexpensive) river shuttle along the Thames to Greenwich passing many famous landmarks and sites of historical importance. Stop off at the Cutty Sark or Maritime museum at Greenwich. Then back to the South Bank to meet the street artists, then take in a show, or treat yourself to one of London’s many fine-dining restaurants. See a few bands in London’s famous clubs and pubs. And finally, leave vowing to return to this vibrant city.
The Home Counties
Step outside of London, and in an hour, you’ll find yourself in a different world – the Home Counties. These are the counties surrounding the greater London area and are generally accepted to include Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey, and Sussex. The home counties are scattered with picturesque towns and charming villages. Here you’ll find peace and quiet, beautiful countryside and wide-open spaces within a hairsbreadth of the city. If you only have a night or two to find your spot in the country this is where to head.
Venturing further afield
In just one day by train or car and you can be pretty much anywhere in the UK and all the possibilities that brings. Visit the glorious countryside of the Yorkshire Dales and moors, discover ancient market towns with a thousand years of history, wander around a National Trust property or relax in one of the splendid parks and gardens. Sit outside at a village pub on a sunny day or cruise along one of our beautiful rivers. Spend a few days on our canals or cruising the Norfolk Broads. Visit the stunning Lake District in the northwest or the magnificent southwest counties of Devon and Cornwall. These are home to so many beautiful places, including the Exmoor and Dartmoor national parks, charming fishing villages and magnificent beaches. Or how about taking a trip up to Scotland with its glorious highlands and granite cities, or across to Wales and its dramatic landscapes. Explore gloriously green Northern Ireland, experience the ancient Giants Causeway and the ultra-modern Titanic building showcasing the maritime history of Belfast and see the locations for Game of Thrones. These countries have their own Celtic charm, separate traditions and cultures.
In the UK, you are never more than 70 miles from our endless coastline. And what a varied coast it is. There are beaches that look like they’ve come straight from a Caribbean holiday brochure (although the sea temperature tells a different story). There are wild craggy coasts, with rugged rocks carved by millennia of Atlantic storms. There are fossil strewn beaches, towering white cliffs, port cities that tell the story of our seafaring nation, bohemian enclaves like Brighton or fun family resorts. Walk one of the many coastal paths for spectacular views, stay in a quintessential British B&B or treat yourself to a night in a luxury coastal hotel.
When it comes to history, the UK is rich pickings. It’s written all over the land. Every location comes with its own stories and legends. History can be seen in the buildings, the ancient stones, the pomp and ceremony, the monarchy, social hierarchies, diverse cultures and religions.
For fans of The Crown, Bridgeton or Downton Abbey, you can visit the locations and learn about the real history of these beautiful places and the people who lived and worked there.
The history of the UK has also been forged by conflict; with our neighbours, between countries in the UK, between religions and as the two world wars. From the Battle of Hastings to the Battle of Britain, the most prominent world events have often played out around our relatively small island nation.
Despite its size, there’s an astonishing variety of local cultures, traditions, and accents to be found within the shores of the UK. You won’t meet a more diverse, humorous, friendly, and occasionally eccentric bunch. It’s also produced some of the greatest names in just about any field you can mention. Literature, science, medicine, exploration, engineering, music, art, politics and conservation. People like Churchill, Dickens, Isaac Newton, Shakespeare, Constable, James Cook, Wordsworth, Tim Berners-Lee, James Watt, Elgar, Tracy Emin, David Attenborough, Alexander Bell, The Beatles, and David Bowie (this really is just scratching the surface). This is a nation of inventors, engineers, artists and innovators who’ve introduced so much to the world. The list is long and includes trains, cheddar cheese, the internet, stamps, the flushing toilet, penicillin, the jet engine, the mobile phone and the television. Each and every one of these Great Britons have their own sites to visit where you can walk in their footsteps and learn more about their extraordinary lives. Wander lonely as a cloud in the Lake District, follow in Darwin’s footsteps on his thinking path at his house in Kent or enjoy Shakespeare in the replica globe on the South Bank in London or at his birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon. Visit some of the many castles, stately homes and ancient monuments or discover our seafaring history at places including the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Liverpool, or Bristol.
The UK in numbers
The UK is a beautiful, fascinating, historic destination waiting to delight you at every twist and turn. There are 4000 castles, 3000 country homes, 32 UNESCO world heritage sites and 60 prehistoric sites (including Stonehenge and Avebury). There are 1303 stone circles, 10 national parks, an undetermined number of counties, 6180 historic gardens and parks, 4 countries (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), 9 cities and 31,368 kilometres of coastline (according to Ordinance Survey). All are waiting for you to explore but there’s only one airline waiting to give you the best service in the sky. That’s us We know recent times have been tough but we can’t wait to welcome you onboard soon.
Fly to the UK on our modern efficient aircraft tended every step of the way by our brilliant ground and onboard teams. Visit our Covid-19 travel hub to discover everything we’re doing to make sure you can fly with total confidence.
Book flights at virginatlantic.com
Useful links –
Historic royal palaces – Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, it has since been the home of 39 monarchs. It is open to visitors throughout the year.
Royal Collection trust https://www.rct.uk/
English Heritage cares for more than 400 historic monuments, buildings and places
Ancient monuments is a database of historical sites including an interactive map
Association of British counties https://abcounties.com/