Is the UK truly the land of fish and chips, stamps, and polite queuing? Does the queen really send a telegram on your 100th birthday? Test your knowledge of the United Kingdom with these 30 facts about Britain.
How well do you know the United Kingdom? Here are 30 interesting facts to prepare you for visiting or living in this historic country. Get ready to test yourself on how many of these United Kingdom facts you already know and prepare to discover some interesting new information about the UK.
1. We do love to be beside the seaside
The UK’s coasts are famous around the world, from stunning winding walks and clifftop landscapes to golden sandy beaches. Indeed, England alone boasts more than 60 beaches with the coveted ‘blue flag’ status. While the weather in the UK isn’t always great, if you do find a sunny day you’ll never be far from a great day out – nowhere in England is more than 75 miles from the sea.
2. England has an important stake in the origins of Champagne
It might be synonymous with a famous French region, but contrary to popular belief, Dom Perignon didn’t invite the signature sparkling wine. Indeed, more than forty years before it’s claimed Perignon invented champagne, the English scientist Christopher Merret documented an early version of the fermentation.
3. London’s transport system might be bigger than you think
London’s transportation system is one of the oldest in the world – and also one of the largest. The 270 functioning stations of the London Underground boast over 400 escalators (the longest is at Angel in North London), but there are another 40 stations that aren’t even used anymore – and that’s before we even mention the famous red buses.
4. One Welsh town is particularly difficult to pronounce
Road signs in Wales tend to be written in both Welsh and English, but some of the more complicated spellings might still flummox you when you’re in Wales. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwlllllandysiliogogogoch is one of the longest town names in the world – but don’t worry – most people choose to shorten it to the more manageable Llanfairpwll. Read more about where to learn a language in the UK in our guide.
5. Stonehenge is older than the Pyramids
That’s right, located in the south of England and one of the UK’s most famous tourist attractions – Stonehenge was believed to be created in around 3000BC, meaning it’s older than Egypt’s pyramids.
6. The Shard towers above the rest
London might have some of the UK’s most iconic older buildings, but the English capital’s modern ones sure know how to stand out, too. The Shard, located near London Bridge, was completed in 2012 and is currently Europe’s tallest building at a staggering 1,150 feet. If you happen to be in the area, you can even enjoy champagne on a viewing platform near the top.
7. The Queen might wish you a happy birthday
You might have heard about people turning 100 getting a telegram from the Queen. In the modern day, it’s actually a personalized card, and it’s not just limited to your hundredth birthday – you can apply for one for your 105th birthday too – and for each birthday year after you turn 105.
8. The British really love their tea
Some stereotypes have a base in reality – and this is one. The British consume more than 165 million cups of tea every day – that’s 20 times the number drunk by Americans.
9. Chicken Tikka is the top dish
You might equate British food with fish and chips, a lazy roast dinner on a Sunday afternoon, or a steak and kidney pie, but UK residents actually once voted chicken tikka masala as the country’s national dish.
10. Royal properties are record-breaking
Windsor Castle, built in 1080, is not only the oldest royal residence in Britain – but it’s also the largest royal home in the world.
11. The Queen doesn’t have a passport
Queen Elizabeth II has visited over 100 countries on official duties – but astonishingly, she doesn’t need to have a British passport. This is because British passports are issued in the name of the Queen.
12. You can drink in parliament – occasionally
UK laws are thrashed out in the Houses of Parliament, but MPs aren’t allowed to drink in the chambers – with one notable exception. The Chancellor is allowed to consume alcohol while he or she delivers the annual Budget speech, which outlines the government’s economic policies for the year.
13. Great Britain isn’t the United Kingdom
This is commonly mistaken, but Great Britain and the United Kingdom are actually two different things. The United Kingdom includes Northern Ireland – but Great Britain doesn’t.
14. The BBC is paid for by the public
Most TV channels in the UK show adverts in between programs, but those operated by the BBC (or British Broadcasting Corporation) don’t. This is because they’re paid for by a TV licensing fee in the UK. Every household in Britain that chooses to watch TV must pay annually for the license, which costs around £145.
15. Cheese rolling is a sport
Well, once a year anyway. While England might be more commonly known for football, cricket, and rugby, you’ll also find more left-field sports here, too. Indeed, once a year, competitors compete in a cheese rolling competition, where they chase a 9lb block of Double Gloucester cheese down a steep hill.
16. The pound is rooted in history
While the UK’s humble pound coin changed its design in 2017 – with older coins now only accepted at the bank – the currency itself remains the oldest one in the world that’s still in use, having clocked up an impressive 1200 years.
17. The UK has more cities than you might think
The UK’s surface area isn’t massive compared to some countries, but in total there are 69 official cities – with 51 in England, seven in Scotland, six in Wales, and five in Northern Ireland.
18. You can walk the mainland
And people regularly do it for charity, too. The longest mainland distance in the UK is from Land’s End in Cornwall to John O’Groats in Caithness – a total of 870 miles.
19. London has the largest library in the world
The towering British Library in King’s Cross, London, has over 170 million items in its catalog.
20. Golf is Scotland’s national sport
The sport was invented in St. Andrews in the 15th century. In 1457, it was famously banned by King James II because it was interrupting archery practice. Scotland still boasts the finest ‘links’ courses in the world.
21. Scotland also has a famous monster
The Loch Ness Monster (known affectionately as Nessie) supposedly dwells in Loch Ness – the largest lake in the UK. While this creature is of course mythological, many people have claimed to have sighted her in recent decades.
22. The first billionaire author is from the UK
You’ll probably have read some of her books, too. J. K. Rowling, best known as the author of the Harry Potter series of books, has sold more than 400m copies in 55 languages around the world.
23. Stamps originated in the UK
The United Kingdom was the first country to use postage stamps. The first stamp was known as the Penny Black and was issued in May 1840. It’s not as cheap to send a letter as it once was, however – the price of a first-class stamp is now 65p, or a second class stamp is available for 56p.
24. There are over 100 universities in the UK
From older red-brick universities in major cities to specialist colleges that have taken on university status in recent years, there are now well over 100 universities across the UK. There was once, however, only two. Oxford and Cambridge remain the UK’s most famous educational establishments, and until 1832, they were the only ones.
25. Big Ben isn’t the name of the famous clock
The towering clock tower of Big Ben is one of London’s most famous sights – but Big Ben is actually the name of the bell rather than the clock. The tower is set to undergo a long-term refurbishment project which has caused great tension in the UK – with the Prime Minister even attempting to intervene.
26. Royal weddings are public holidays
The UK loves a good ceremony, and it certainly makes a big deal out of royal weddings. The most recent major event took place in 2011 when Prince William married Catherine Middleton. The day of their wedding was declared a national holiday, which meant an extra day off work.
27. France is closer than you might think
They may not always be the best of friends, but England and France are certainly neighbors. The Channel Tunnel connects Dover in England to Calais in France. Opened in 1994, it’s the second-longest underground tunnel in the world, at 21 miles in length. With the advent of high-speed services on the Eurostar from London and Kent, you can now be in Paris in a little over 2 hours from the English capital.
28. Ravens could bring the monarchy down
On the grounds of the Tower of London, there must always be at least six ravens at any one time. This is due to an ancient decree put in place by King Charles II. It’s said that if this rule is broken, the monarchy will fall.
29. Strawberries and cream are eaten by the gallon
The world-renowned Wimbledon Tennis Championships takes place each summer in South West London. Over the course of the two-week event, over 27 tonnes of strawberries and 7,000 litres of cream are consumed as part of the event’s famous dish.
30. Ancient languages are still spoken – albeit not widely
The UK has four surviving Celtic languages that are still officially recognized in the modern day. These are Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, Welsh, and Cornish.