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United Kingdom

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ImageSome people call it Britain. Others say Great Britain. Many people mistakenly call the whole country England. But its real name is a mouthful: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That’s why it’s usually just called the United Kingdom, or UK for short.


The United Kingdom is a country made up of four parts: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. For centuries, it was ruled by kings and queens. The United Kingdom still has a monarchy, although today its power is mostly symbolic.

England is the biggest part, but don’t forget the others. Each part was once ruled separately. Each has its own culture and its own native language, which some people still speak. Each even has its own national soccer team!


Facts About the United Kingdom



Official name

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland



Official language



60,300,000 people

Rank among countries in population


Major cities

London, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow


94,300 square miles
244,000 square kilometers

Rank among countries in area


Highest point

Ben Nevis
4,406 feet/1,343 meters


Pound sterling


The United Kingdom lies off the northwest coast of Europe. There are two main islands—Great Britain and Ireland. There are hundreds of smaller ones, too, especially off the coast of Scotland in the north. Northern Ireland is on the same island with the country of Ireland, but it’s part of the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom has lots of coastline and coastal towns. Rolling plains cover much of the interior. There are mountains, too. Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the highest at 4,406 feet (1,343 meters). England has an area of mountains and lakes called the Lake District. Wales is almost entirely covered by craggy mountains and deep, green valleys.

The weather in the United Kingdom is mild and damp. It’s rainy or overcast up to 300 days each year. That’s why so much of the countryside is lush and green!


London is the capital of the United Kingdom. It’s located in England, and it’s the biggest city in Europe. More than 7 million people live there.

London has great churches like Saint Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. It has a castle called the Tower of London and a large public square called Trafalgar Square. There’s Big Ben, the famous clock tower at the Houses of Parliament. There’s also a famous shopping and entertainment center called Piccadilly Circus.

The United Kingdom has other big cities such as Edinburgh in Scotland, Belfast in Northern Ireland, and Cardiff in Wales. But none is as big and important as London.


When you’re in London, don’t forget to visit Buckingham Palace. This famous palace is the London home of Queen Elizabeth II. Guards carefully watch over the palace grounds. Tourists enjoy watching the changing of the guards.

The queen has very little power when compared with earlier English kings and queens. Today, an elected prime minister and Parliament hold most government power. But Elizabeth II is popular with her people. You’ll find her image on every British stamp, banknote, and coin!


The United Kingdom is the birthplace of the English language. Today, English is spoken in more parts of the world than any other language.

English is considered one of the world’s richest languages. It has well over half a million words! Why so many? Because many different people settled in Britain over the centuries, and each group added their own words.

The United Kingdom has produced some of the greatest writers of the English language. You’ve heard of William Shakespeare, right? He was a great playwright and poet from England. Shakespeare wrote many famous plays, including Romeo and Juliet.


In the 1800s, the United Kingdom was the center of what’s called the Industrial Revolution. It built the world’s first railroads and large factories. It improved machinery to manufacture goods more efficiently. Later, the Industrial Revolution spread to the rest of Europe and to the United States.


The United Kingdom began to build an overseas empire in the late 1500s. It built a large navy to serve its growing empire. By the early 1900s, the United Kingdom controlled the world’s greatest empire.

“The sun never sets on the British Empire,” people liked to say. They were right. The empire reached around the world, so there was always daylight somewhere in the empire. British possessions included India, Australia, and parts of Africa and the Caribbean. Even the United States began as a British colony!

In the 20th century, the United Kingdom lost most of its world empire. But the country continues to work with many of its old colonies in an organization called the Commonwealth of Nations. Commonwealth members share many customs and traditions with Britain.

Many people from Commonwealth countries have moved to Britain. These immigrants have made the United Kingdom very diverse. Today, the United Kingdom is a multicultural country of more than 60 million people.

 Source: Microsoft ® Encarta