It starts with London, and you could spend weeks there without seeing and doing everything. And while it’s the seat of power and by far the biggest city, it’s just one part of a unique patchwork of people and places that make up the complex state known as the United Kingdom. Today the union consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Dominated by England, they’ve shared the island of Great Britain and part of Ireland sometimes peacefully, mostly not, in their own corner of Europe separated from the continent for millennia.

London, it seems, is always growing. It’s rare to see footage of the metropolis without construction cranes dotting the skyline. From Roman roots to modern skyscrapers, the city contains layers and layers of historical wealth. The best known monuments come from the height of the monarchy’s power — the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace — alongside 21st-century additions such as the London Eye and the Shard. Various other sights (the British Museum, Trafalgar Square) are testament to the massive power of a time when the sun never set on the British Empire.

In the south of England you’ll find even older monuments, manmade (Stonehenge) and natural (the white cliffs of Dover), along with country escapes such as the Cotswolds and Cornwall. Moving north, there are well-preserved Roman buildings in Bath, cathedrals of learning in Oxford and Cambridge, then industrial cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, home of the Beatles. There’s the beauty of the Lake District, Roman and Viking history in York and the remains of Hadrian’s Wall, which lies entirely within England but once formed the northern boundary of the Roman world.

In the extreme west of Great Britain are the rolling green mountains of Wales, a Celtic country with a unique culture and fierce independent streak. The economy has evolved from agricultural to post-industrial and is now mostly service-based, and in recent decades strides have been taken to preserve and promote the Welsh language. Castles line the countryside, and locations on the Bristol Channel made Cardiff and Swansea strategic port cities.

Scotland occupies the northern third of the island of Great Britain, along with nearly 800 islands including the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. Much of the population is concentrated in the lowlands, with Glasgow and Edinburgh making the biggest metropolitan areas. Scotland has its own Celtic and Viking and fraught relationship with its neighbor to the south. The most recent referendum on independence in 2014 failed, but talk of another vote has been revived by the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Perhaps the most complicated situation in the union, made even more so by Brexit, is that of Northern Ireland, which comprises six of the nine counties of the traditional province of Ulster on the island of Ireland. Even place names (Derry vs. Londonderry) depend on where loyalties lie. The violent and tumultuous period of The Troubles is in the past, but Northern Ireland’s cities still bear the scars and murals tell the tales. In more recent times, the country has hosted the fictional skirmishes of “Game of Thrones.”

COVID entry protocols

From Aug. 2, 2021, passengers who are fully vaccinated in the USA with vaccines authorised by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be able to travel to England without having to quarantine or take a day 8 test on arrival.

Amber arrivals who have been fully vaccinated in the USA and European countries will still be required to complete a pre-departure test before arrival into England, alongside a PCR test on or before day 2 after arrival. Those vaccinated in the US will also need to provide proof of US residency. Passengers from all countries cannot travel to the UK unless they have completed a passenger locator form.

Where to stay

The Savoy

The Savoy is part of London’s luxurious DNA. London’s most celebrated and glamorous hotel, The Savoy, is perfectly placed on the banks of the River Thames and steps away from vibrant Covent Garden. The Savoy boasts 267 rooms and suites, accompanied by some of the best restaurants in London. From cocktails in one of our award-winning bars to seasonal fare in Kaspar’s, or the best of British in Simpson’s to a traditional Afternoon Tea, we welcome guests for a truly inspiring culinary experience.

Roch Castle Hotel

Literally perched on the side of a rock this tiny 12th Century castle offers panoramic views of spectacular Pembrokeshire. With only 6 bedrooms this unique property is perfect for those that truly want to escape and is also a great option for exclusive use. A calm contemporary finish is cleverly combined with many original features of this rather wonderful property. While there is not a restaurant on site, guests have the opportunity to avail of the wonderful dining experiences locally such as their sister hotel, Twr y Felin, which is just a short drive away.

Inverlochy Castle Hotel

You will find regal respite at Inverlochy Castle Hotel, managed by ICMI, set within Scotland’s foothills of Ben Nevis. Built in 1863, the castle was a private home for 100 years before being converted to a celebrated country-house hotel. Your bedroom is one of 18; each has a unique design, private bathroom, and amenities that include a flat-screen mirror television and Bang & Olufsen sound system. Outdoor activities include fishing for wild brown trout and hunting grouse or stags. Dine at Albert and Michel Roux Jr at Inverlochy Castle, savoring the finest dishes offered by the legendary father and son, using local produce.

Culloden Estate

Victorian grandiosity meets modern-day luxury in this Belfast hideaway! Residing high on the slopes of the Holywood Hills, overlooking Belfast Lough and the County Antrim Coastline, lies the Culloden Estate and Spa — a majestic Gothic mansion, secluded by 12 acres of spectacular gardens and woodland. Built by William Robinson in 1876, Culloden House was once the official residence of the Lord Bishop of Down, Connor, and Dromore — hence the hotel’s charming motto, ‘Built for a bishop, fit for a king’. Beautifully renovated for the modern world, the hotel effortlessly combines contemporary luxury with pieces from its illustrious past.