Isle of Man
The Isle of Man  (Manx: Ellan Vannin) is an island in the British Isles, located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. It is a British Crown dependency (and therefore not part of the United Kingdom itself); the UK is responsible for defence and foreign affairs. The island has its own government (headed by a Chief Minister) and parliament - "Tynwald" (consisting of the democratically-elected "House of Keys" and the nominated "Legislative Council".) The Isle of Man is not a full member of the European Union, but an associate member.
Temperate; cool summers and mild winters; overcast about one-third of the time. The Island typically enjoys 'British' weather tempered by the effects of the Gulf Stream that runs through the surrounding Irish Sea. Exposure to sea breezes keeps average summer temperatures in the early to mid twenties centigrade, while winters tend to hover around 9 degrees and snow sometimes strikes in late February/ early March. The thick sea fog that occasionally smothers the island's lowland areas is known locally as Manannan's Cloak, a reference to the Island's ancient Sea God swathing his kingdom in mist to protect it from unwanted visitors.
A plain in the far north, with hills in north and south bisected by central valley. One small islet, the Calf of Man, lies to the southwest, and is a bird sanctuary. The highest point is Snaefell, at 621 meters above sea level.
The Isle of Man was part of the Norwegian Kingdom of the Hebrides until the 13th century when it was ceded to Scotland. After a period of alternating rule by the kings of Scotland and England, the island came under the feudal lordship of the English Crown in 1399.
The Duke of Atholl sold the sovereignty of the isle to the British crown in 1765, henceforth the British monarch has also held the title "Lord of Mann". The island never became part of the United Kingdom, retaining its status as an internally self-governing Crown Dependency.
After 1866, when the Isle of Man obtained a nominal measure of Home Rule, the Manx people have made remarkable progress, and currently form a prosperous community, with a thriving offshore financial centre, a tourist industry (albeit smaller than in the past) and a variety of other industries.
Current concerns include reviving the almost extinct Manx Gaelic language. The 1990s and early 21st century have seen a greater recognition of indigenous Manx culture, including the opening of the first Manx language primary school, as well as a general re-evaluation of the island's economy.
The Isle of Man is not a full member of the European Union or the Schengen Area, however it is part of the Common Travel Area and maintains a full customs union with the United Kingdom. No passport control checks are in place for travellers from the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands, however the plane and ferry companies usually request some form of photo ID.
The Isle of Man Airport (IATA: IOM) is located at Ronaldsway, near Castletown, in the south of the island. There are regular bus - and during the summer season, steam train - services from the airport to Castletown and Douglas.
A number of airlines, including Aer Lingus Regional, British Airways, Citywing, easyJet and FlyBe, operate regular services to the Isle of Man from regional airports throughout the British Isles such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Dublin, Belfast, London (Gatwick, Luton, London City), Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, Gloucestershire and Jersey, with seasonal services operating from Geneva.
Ferries operated by the Steam Packet Company  to Douglas from:
Visitors to the Isle of Man can purchase a Go Explore smartcard, which enables unlimited travel on all scheduled bus, rail and horse tram services on the Isle of Man for 1, 3, 5 or 7 consecutive days. The card can be either purchased online or in person from the Welcome Centre at the Douglas Sea Terminal, the airport information desk, main bus and rail stations and the House of Manannan in Peel.
Go cards cost £2 plus the amount of travel days required. One day Go Explore paper tickets for adults and children can also be purchased on boarding buses, trains and trams with no card fee. Half fare is payable on the premium Hullad Oie/ Night Owl bus services.
The island has two main historic narrow-gauge railways, both starting from (separate) stations in Douglas.
In the south of the island, the Isle of Man Railway is a historic narrow-gauge steam railway operating between Douglas, Castletown and Port Erin.
In the north of the island, the Manx Electric Railway runs between Douglas and Ramsey, using the original historic tramcars from the 1890s.
Additionally, the Snaefell Mountain Railway (to the summit of Snaefell) starts from Laxey, where connections with the Manx Electric Railway are available.
All three lines operate between the months of March and October.
There are also three short-distance tourist lines - the Groudle Glen Railway, Great Laxey Mine Railway and The Orchid Line. The former two can be accessed by the Manx Electric Railway at the Groudle Glen and Laxey stops, and the latter is located within the Curraghs Wildlife Park.
Bus Vannin is the government-owned-and-operated bus company, which operates bus routes to all the major towns and villages on the island.
Bus Vannin operates a fleet of Mercedes Benz Citaro and Wrightbus StreetLite single-deckers, Volvo B9TL and Dennis Trident double deckers plus a trio of Mercedes Benz Sprinter City 45 minibuses. The company also operates a small Heritage fleet of AEC and Leyland double-decker buses from 1948 and 1949, which are available for private hire. With the exception of the Heritage Fleet, all buses are wheelchair-accessible.
Single and return tickets, and 1-day Go Explore tickets are available on the bus from the driver.
The company operates the Hullad Oie/ Night Owl late-night service, which operates on most Fridays and Saturdays. Services depart Douglas at 00:15 and serve all the major towns on the island.
By horse tram
During the summer, Douglas has iconic horse-drawn trams operating along the Promenade from the Sea Terminal to the terminus of the Manx Electric Railway at Derby Castle. It is also of particular use for travelling to the numerous hotels on the Promenade, however it is often seen as a novelty rather than a serious way of getting anywhere in particular.
Until 2016, the trams were operated by the Douglas Borough Council, however it was announced that they had closed the line as it was not financially viable. The service is now provided by the Isle of Man Heritage Railways.
Single journey horse tram tickets are £3 for adults and £2 per child, or £10 for a family of two adults and up to three children. Day tickets are £6 for adults and £3 per child, or £15 for a family of two adults and up to three children. Additionally, Go Explore tickets are valid on the horse trams.
Cars can be hired from various locations on the island, including the airport and Douglas Sea Terminal. Local agents operate on behalf of major international rental firms.
The Isle of Man has a very extensive road network, all of which is paved and passably well maintained. Congestion is low (outside Douglas at rush hour).
Rules of the road closely mirror those of the United Kingdom, with the notable exception that there is no overall speed limit for private vehicles (in other words, in a derestricted zone there is no blanket 70 or 60 mph limit like there is in the UK). Careless and dangerous driving laws still apply, so one may not drive at absolutely any speed, and there are local speed limits on many roads.
Unlike the United Kingdom, the legal driving age is 16. However, regardless of age, drivers are limited to 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) in the first two years after passing their driving test, so take extra care.
Like the UK, the Isle of Man drives on the left and road signs are based on those used in the UK. It is illegal to use a hand held mobile phone whilst driving. Petrol is expensive, even by UK standards.
Many of the country roads are narrow with substantial stone walls on each side, making evasive driving potentially tricky. Despite the absence of speed limits outside urban areas, caution is advised.
Caravans (camper trailers) may not be brought to the island.
English is the first language of all but around 150 native speakers of Manx - a language descended from Old Irish and closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic. All children on the Isle of Man have the option to study Manx at school, and there have been great efforts in recent times to revive the language. It is estimated that around 2% of the Manx population - 1800 people - are Manx speakers. One of the most striking elements of the language is many consonant mutations can occur, e.g., Doolish (the Manx name for Douglas), can easily become Ghoolish.
Bilingual road, street, village and town boundary signs are common throughout the Isle of Man. All other road signs are in English only.
Like the United Kingdom, proficiency in any language other than English is rare.
The official currency is the Manx pound (£), which is divided into 100 pence, or pennies. It comes in the same denominations and sizes as the pound sterling, and both currencies are pegged at a rate of 1:1.
UK notes and coins (whether from banks in England, Scotland, or Northern Ireland) are universally accepted on the Isle of Man, but Manx notes and coins are not generally accepted in the UK. To assist those travelling, the ATMs at the Sea Terminal in Douglas and the Isle of Man Airport both issue Bank of England notes only.
A number of businesses accept euros, however this should not be relied upon and the exchange rate will usually be poor.
The Manx banknotes have some unique features:
Many UK chain stores are represented in the Island (mainly in the capital, Douglas); for example, Boots, WH Smith, Waterstones, Marks and Spencer, Next and B&Q all have a presence on the island.
The island has its own supermarket chain, Shoprite, with 12 branches across the island in Peel, Douglas, Onchan, Ramsey, Castletown and Port Erin. The UK-based supermarket Tesco has a branch in Douglas, and the Co-op has 10 stores across the island.
There is a small 'lifestyle' shopping centre at Tynwald Mills near St John's, with a number of outlets selling upmarket clothing, furnishings and gifts.
Uniquely Manx products include Smoked Kippers and Manx Tartan.
Manx food is often very good and continues to improve. Some good restaurants and bistros can be found. Fish and chips are also popular. Crab baps are available from a kiosk on Peel Quay.
There are several varieties of Manx cheese. Boxes of Manx kippers can be ordered for delivery by post.
A local speciality worth trying is chips, cheese and gravy, similar to the Canadian dish poutine.
Another favourite available as a takeaway is a baked potato with a topping such as chili.
Also try the "Peel flapjack" from Michael Street bakers in Peel.
The minimum age to purchase alcohol is 18. Unlike the United Kingdom, it is not permitted for 16 year-olds to consume alcohol on licenced premises with a purchased meal.
The Isle of Man has two breweries, Okells and Bushy's. The Isle of Man has a beer purity law that permits no ingredients in beer other than water, yeast, hops and malt. Accordingly, a well-kept pint of Manx beer is worth seeking out.
Wine is quite reasonably priced and readily available in food stores.
The majority of hotels are located in Douglas, including the traditional seafront hotels on the Douglas Promenade. Standards can be variable - some are rather dated and in need of refurbishment. More luxurious hotels (up to four stars) are also available.
Couchsurfing is available.
There is no university on the island, although the University of Liverpool runs some courses. There is an Isle of Man College, and an International Business School .
The Isle of Man has very low unemployment, largely because of the financial sector. Seasonal work in the tourism industry is available, but note that a Work Permit is required to work on the island (including persons from the UK) obtainable from the Isle of Man Government. 
The Isle of Man is generally a very safe place, more so than much of the United Kingdom. In an emergency contact the Isle of Man Constabulary (the island's police service) on 999.
Town centres have real glass in bus shelters and graffiti is not prevalent. Alcohol is commonly a cause of anti-social behaviour, though levels of violent crime are relatively low.
Health conditions are very similar to the UK. The island has its own National Health Service (NHS), meaning that universal healthcare is free at the point of delivery. The island has a well-equipped modern hospital (Noble's Hospital, near Douglas) but some complicated medical conditions, i.e. severe burns, may require removal to the UK.
The Isle of Man's small size and small population means it can be a socially conservative place, although some major social reforms have been legislated for by Tynwald, the Manx parliament. Homosexuality is legal, although attitudes to homosexuality can be conservative, particularly among the older generations. Despite more than half of the island's population being born elsewhere, there is a low level of racial diversity, though racism is not usually an issue of concern.
Capital punishment was not officially abolished until 1993, although no execution had taken place on the island for over 100 years. Corporal punishment has also been abolished - it was used for young male offenders until the mid 1970s.
People from the Isle of Man are known as Manx. The Manx are very proud of their identity; the Manx flag will be frequently seen. You should be conscious of using terms such as "the mainland" for the UK, as the island is semi-independent - the locals simply refer to it as "across", from "across the water". The geographic isolation and harsh winters makes the Manx resourceful and self-sufficient - complaining about the lack of trivial things is likely to earn the reminder "there's a boat in the morning!" - i.e. "if you can't survive an hour without organic quinoa, get back on the ferry".
In the past there have been accusations that the Isle of Man is a "tax haven". The finance industry is the major employer and considerable efforts have been made by the Manx authorities to improve the regulation and propriety of this industry. Some Manx regard the finance industry as a mixed blessing - although it has brought valuable jobs and financial stability when traditional employments such as farming and fishing have decreased because of EU competition, it has also led to significant immigration and cultural change, and the Manx have become a minority in their own country. The Isle of Man's financial industry now works to a more rigorous standard than the UK. Nevertheless, taxes are considerably lower than in the UK - although Valued Added Tax is the same by agreement between the Manx and UK Governments.
The international dial code for the Isle of Man is 44, the same as the United Kingdom, and has the dial code 01624 (07624 for mobiles).
The island has two telephone operators, Manx Telecom and Sure (Cable and Wireless). There are no UK-based operators in the island, so roaming charges may apply to foreign SIM cards.
Prepaid SIM cards are readily available in telephone shops and general stores.
The island has 3G and 4G mobile internet, and broadband internet is readily available. Wireless internet access is readily available from a number of hotspots in pubs, cafes, hotels, attractions and businesses.