Britain and Ireland
The British and Irish Isles refer to the islands of Great Britain, Ireland and nearby islands. They are located in Europe.
Until 1922, Ireland was in fact part of United Kingdom. There are several distinct cultures in this island group, however there remain certain cultrual similarities between them, for example the English language is universally understood.
Many of the geographic names have different meanings depending on the context. For example Ireland in legal terms relates to the country Ireland, and not the geographical concept of the Island of Ireland. Similarly, Great Britain sometimes is understood to mean the largest island in the British and Irish Islands, but sometimes is understood to include certain other Islands, which are part of England, Scotland or Wales such as Lundy, Harris or Anglesey.
For further details it is probably best to look at the sections of the individual entities.
English is spoken to native standard by all but a tiny small minority of inhabitants of the British and Irish Isles. English is also the first language of the majority of inhabitants of the archipelago. However several million people speak languages other than English as their first language. Indeed it may surprise some visitors, (from within as well as outside of the islands) that in some small pockets, English is the first language of only a minority of speakers.
Considering the relatively small area compared with other English speaking areas, there are considerable variations in accent and dialect in spoken English throughout these Islands, although by and large this should provide no major obstactle to visitors with reasonable fluency in English. There are however dialects of English in certain parts of the Island group which can be said to form distinct languages such as "Scots" and "Ulster Scots".
The indigenous languages of the islands are generally of Celtic Origin. Welsh is the most widely spoken of these, and in some Western parts of Wales it remains the majority language. Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic are also spoken, and while closely related and sharing much of the same base vocabulary, these Gaelic languages are under normal circumstances not mutually intelligible. There are attempts to revive the Cornish language.
In the Channel Islands there are small numbers of Norman French speakers.
Most official signage is mono-lingual in English, and even where it is multi-lingual one of the languages will always be English. However in Wales and Ireland signage is almost always billingual. Billingual singage is not unknown in certain other pockets, such as parts of Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
In recent decades immigration from farther afield has seen a number of other linguistic communities establish themselves throughout the islands, mainly, but not exclusively in urban England.
Visitors may find more useful information in the "Get in" sections of the specific part of the region they wish to enter.
Immigration and visa requirements
There are five separate jurisdictions with their own immigration rules in this region. So a traveller may wish to check the requirments for the territories in which they wish to travel, on the appropriate pages. The Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands have their own immigration rules, which are not exactly the same as the United Kingdom itself, these mainly concern long term residency, and are probably not important for the average tourist. Despite there being different rules in the different territories there is considerable co-operation and co-ordination between the various authorities in this region which means that the British and Irish Isles comprise a Common Travel Area, which helps the vast majority of travelers enjoy hassle free travel when crossing borders within the Region.
There are direct flights from somewhere outside the British and Irish Islands, to every constituent part of this region, except the Isle of Man.
The largest port of entry to this region, is London Heathrow Airport. Situated 15 miles west of Central London, Heathrow offers a large choice of international destinations, with direct flights to most countries in the world. Many onward air connections within the region are possible. Coach connections to other places in mainland Great Britain are generally good. Rail connections from Heathrow to London are good, however there are no direct services to other parts of Great Britain, a change of train will be necessary in London, or possibly at Reading Station which is served by a regular shuttle coach.
Heathrow's location in the far South East of the region means that many travellers to many other parts of these islands may be better off getting a direct flight to the specific part of the Region they are interested in. However from some parts of the world Heathrow may be the only realistic option, to get into the region, and then further arrangements for onward travel would then be required.
Other Airports such as Birmingham, Dublin, Gatwick, Glasgow, Manchester, Shannon are served by a number of long haul as well as European cities.
There are many other airports where a traveller can enter this Region from some long haul cities, and many European cities, further information is available on the pages about the specific country, or part of the country.
The Common Travel Area
The United Kingdom, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands maintain a common travel area, somewhat akin to the Schengen Area on continental Europe. Broadly speaking crossing the borders within the British and Irish Isles is very simple compared with most other international borders.
The arrangment's origins lie in the fact that whole of the Island of Ireland was once part of the United Kingdom and so there was never a need for immigration control for what was at that time domestic travel. Whilst Ireland and the United Kingdom have been separate countries for many decades, for the most part both have found it more beneficial to maintain relatively open borders. However because of the way it has developed over the years, the CTA arrangment is not as formalised as other similar arrangments (such as the Schengen Area), and so the exact rules can be quite complex for some third country nationals. There are therefore some limited exceptions to the principle of complete freedom of travel.
The Pound Sterling is the currency of the United Kingdom and its Crown Dependencies. The Euro is the currency of the Republic of Ireland. With very limited exceptions, neither currency is accepted outside their territories within this region. Travellers should therefore be aware to have Sterling and or Euro as appropriate to their travel plans.
United Kindom and Crown Dependencies
Sterling is the local currency. Euro is accepted in certain border areas, for example near the land border with the Republic of Ireland, or in certain businesses near ferry terminals serving Ireland.
In the United Kingdom, most banks notes are produced by the Bank of England. In Scotland and in Northern Ireland, the various banks produce their banknotes too. Each Crown Dependency government produces its own banknotes for local circulation.
In England and Wales Bank of England notes are the only ones which commonly circulate, and a visitor is unlikely to see any other variety of bank note. Scottish bank notes are almost universally accepted by large retailers, and are generally by smaller ones too. Roughly speaking, the closer to Scotland the more readily they are accepted, perhaps due to more familiarity with them. Scottish notes are extremely rarely given in change, although it is not completely unknown for Scottish £5 notes to be offered and accepted as an alternative to coins as change due to a the shortage of bank of England £5 notes. Northern Ireland notes are generally accepted in large retailers, but are even rarer to see than Scottish notes. Northern Irish, Scottish, and Crown Dependency notes can be exchanged for Bank of England notes for free in banks.
In Scotland, most circulating notes are produced by the local banks. Bank of England notes also circulate freely. Northern Ireland notes are generally accepted by most retailers. Northern Ireland notes can be exchanged for mainland notes for free in banks. Crown Dependency notes can be exchanged for local notes for free in banks.
In Northern Ireland, most circulating notes are produced by the local banks. Bank of England notes also circulate freely. Scottish notes are generally accepted by most retailers. Scottish notes can be exchanged for Northern Irish notes for free in banks. Crown Dependency notes can be exchanged for local notes for free in banks. Travellers should be aware however that notes produced by Northern Irish banks are still Sterling, and so are not valid for circulation in the Republic of Ireland- where the local currency is the Euro.
In the Crown Dependencies notes generally only circulate in each dependency. Bank of England notes also circulate. Scottish and Northern Irish notes may be accepted.
An overseas traveller with non Bank of England Sterling bank notes would be well advised to change them for Bank of England notes before leaving the UK or Dependent territory, since these notes may well be unfamiliar overseas. The obvious exception to this is Northern Ireland notes, will be familar in the republic, and can be changed for Euro there- this may be worthwhile if a traveller doesn't intending crossing back to the UK.
United Kingdom Coins follow standard designs, so in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and circulate freely throughout the United Kingdom, the Crown Dependencies, and the other Dependent territories that use Sterling.
Coins from the Crown Dependencies, and the other Overseas territories, (e.g. Falkland Islands, Gibraltar etc), have their own designs and only commonly circulate in their respecitve territory. Otherwise conform to the same wieght and other specifications to mainland UK coins. They may occasionally be seen in circulation outside these territories- including in the United Kigdom, and for the most part circulate freely, although the occasional eagle eyed retailer or customer may decline them. Banks will exchange them if need be, but this usually is unecessary. If the worst comes to the worst, vending machines, parking meters and such like have not been known to object to non-mainland coins!
Republic of Ireland
Only the Euro is legal tender. Sterling may be accepted in certain border locations, for example in ferry ports, or near the Northern Ireland land border.
Euro notes have a standard design throughout the Eurozone, which obviously includes Ireland.
Euro Coins have a side that is common throughout the whole zone, and another side with a national symbol. However all coins are valid throughout the Eurozone. Since Ireland has no land borders with any other part of the Eurozone, other than at more "internationalised" locations, such as airports, it is speculated that Ireland has proportionately less "foreign" Euro coins in circulation than most other Eurozone countries. This is more a point of interest rather than practicial concern there are no known difficulties in using non Irish Euro coins.
The game of golf as we understand it developed in this region specifically in Scotland. The British and Irish Isles, despite a stronge challenge from Iberia in recent decades remains the Europe's most important region for the sport. Indeed it can make a strong arguement to be the world's main golfing destination.
Whilst Scotland is considered the home of golf, and remains a major worldwide golfing destination in its own right, the Scots' celtic cousins, in Ireland and more recently Wales are clearly challenging for pre-eminence as premier golfing destinations, both having well established courses, and having invested heavily in new courses too. Indeed Ireland has recently hosted, and Wales is about to host the 2010 Ryder Cup. England as the largest country in the region, has the largest number of courses, and so clearly should not be overlooked as a golfing destination either, even if its celtic neighbours hit above their weight.
There are unsurprisingly a number of top class golf courses in all of the major countries of the region, as well as good quality courses to suit more modest pockets.
The "Pub" concept has it's origins in the British and Irish Islands. These are premises licenced for the sale of alcoholic drinks, for consumption on and off the premises. The pub concept is distinct from the broader concept of a "bar". There are similarities shared by "pubs" throughtout the British and Irish Isles not shared with other sorts of drinking establishments elsewhere, the Irish Pub experience can be very distinct from the pub experience of elsewhere in these Islands.
Distilled spirits have been drunk on these islands for millennia. Whisky (or Whiskey in Ireland) is produced predominantly in Ireland and Scotland. There are however also Welsh and English Whiskies too.
Throughout this region, traffic drives on the left. In the United Kingdom, and its Crown Dependencies, speed limits are expressed in miles per hour. In the Republic of Ireland speed limits are expressed in kilometres per hour.