The atlas tells us these are just a dinky couple of islands, floating just off the north-west edge of Europe. The history books tell a different story. Over the centuries, the culture, language and customs of the British Isles have introduced themselves, with or without a welcome, everywhere from Alaska to Zimbabwe, and most points in-between.
We all have an idea of what British means, but it falls apart under scrutiny, replacing that notion with a more complex, compelling and seductive picture. For starters the British Isles feature not one, but five nations – England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – each with a fierce sense of identity.
That carefully preserved local character is a boon for the visitor, who can take in the gleaming 21st century skyscrapers of the city of London and the romantic towers and battlements of the 12th century Welsh border castles in the same day, assuming they know their way around a train timetable.
Paradoxes abound. These are crowded islands, but blessed with large expanses of starkly beautiful and desolate moors, in Scotland, northern and southwest England and southern Ireland. Mountains are modest in height but gloriously scenic in the Scottish Highlands and the Snowdonia National Park in Wales.
A little guidance is a must, which is where we come in. Detailed itineraries, flights, hotel bookings and transport information can help you discover your own magical adventure in these fascinating islands.
For many visitors, part of the allure is discovering their family roots. The great Atlantic ports of Liverpool (birthplace of The Beatles) and Cork can provide moving pilgrimage destinations for travelers looking to retrace their ancestors’ journeys.
History and heritage are around every corner. The fabulous, imposing medieval castles can seem to have come straight from the imagination of J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin. In fact, the Harry Potter films used Alnwick Castle as a stand-in for Hogwarts, while the Game of Thrones TV series films many scenes on location in Northern Ireland.
British food used to be the punchline to a global joke, but those days have long gone. British chefs have discovered seasonality, local produce and the abundance of great fruit, fungi, fish, game and poultry the islands provide. Add in the wealth of ethnic eateries available on every high street, and visitors can be assured of great culinary experiences, from fast food to fine dining.
Sure, the weather may be unpredictable, but it keeps the British supplied with small talk and the chance to employ every Brit’s favorite accessory, the brolly.
From the lush green hills to thatched cottages, Westminster Abbey to Hadrian’s Wall, these are islands rich in beauty and character. Come prepared to discover the magic, mystery and unique heritage of the British Isles.