Before traveling to England, learn the basics of English history, religion, geography, climate, food and traditions. Getting globally educated can help you maximize your time in the historic shores and dreamy countryside of England!
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Imagine It: From fairytale countryside villages to the bustling streets of London, England has captured the hearts of many. Home to one of the world’s most popular cities, the British Royal Family, the iconic British flag, and afternoon tea - this country is a dream to explore. There’s no shortage of British culture to discover! But before you take on all things English, here’s everything you need to know before visiting England.
A Look at English History
English history is a long, long story of Roman rulings, ruthless invasions, medieval kings and queens, and lots of drama — if we are being honest. Let’s tackle some of England’s most significant historical events.
Archaeologists can date back 900,000 years to when the first humans arrived on this land. But until the Roman Empire arrived in AD 43, it’s hard to trace many more details without historical documents.
Probably the world’s most famous prehistoric structure is Stonehenge, located about two hours from London. It was erected about 5,000 years ago in roughly 2500 B.C. Little is known about Stonehenge, and as such, it has fascinated the world for centuries. When you travel to England, take a day trip out to Stonehenge and uncover some historic clues for yourself.
Anglo-Saxon Period in England
These are the six and a half centuries between the end of the Roman rule and the Norman Conquest of 1066, and it’s arguably one of the most important times in English history.
5th and 6th century England is commonly referred to as the Dark Ages, as historians and archaeologists are still widely in the dark about history during this time. This is due to little documentation and those that do exist are often confusing and difficult to interpret.
Just before the 5th century, Romans began to pull out of England to secure land in parts of mainland Europe. So, the Anglo-Saxon Period was a time of unrest, battles, breaking up Roman Britannia into several separate kingdoms, and Viking invasions.
Invasions from pagan Vikings were tied to climate change, as Britain at the time was 1°C warmer than it is today, which allowed grapes to grow and crops to rise in summer. These invasions often led to a shift of religion in the land of England.
**If you want to see 5th and 6th century England, visit Canterbury and explore ancient architectural masterpieces like St. Martins Church and the Canterbury Cathedral.
England begins to transform after the Norman Conquest
During the Norman Conquest, which began in 1066, an army of Normans, Flemish, and Bretons invaded England and led to Duke William of Normandy’s claim to the throne.
This was a time of change in England. From its governance and architecture to its language and customs, the Medieval Period shaped a lot of what we see in England today. The Normans restructured the Church and spread feudalism throughout the land.
Today, Medieval castles and villages scatter the country, allowing visitors to take a peek at England’s past in an up-close and detailed way. You will recognize structures like the Tower of London, which began construction in 1067, and Westminster Abbey which was built in 1090.
Centuries of Monarchies
Throughout the next centuries, many kings and queens reigned over England. Henry VII, the Stuarts, and Queen Victoria are some of the most prominent. In the 1700s, Hanoverian kings began the Georgian age which gradually erupted in rebellions from the north, particularly Scotland. However, none of those rebellions were successful in taking the crown for Georgian kings.
V-E Day marks the end of WWII
The two World Wars shattered Europe into pieces. The UK faced heavy losses, air raids, rationings, and other hardships during those long years of war.
When the Allies accepted Germany's surrender on May 8, 1945, it was marked with joyous crowds and street celebrations across the country. The day is forever remembered as Victory in Europe Day, or simply VE Day.
Religion in England
Like most of Europe, Christianity is the official religion of the UK with churches and cathedrals, new and old, scattered across the land. However, larger cities and towns make it easier to practice other faiths with mosques, temples, synagogues, and more.
London is one of the most cosmopolitan and culturally diverse cities in the world, with more than 300 languages being spoken and over 12% consider themselves Muslim, at least 5% are Hindu, and 2% are Jewish, according to 2011 data.
Though Christianity is the most common religion in England, those numbers are falling annually. Now, at least 25% of the population has reported having no religious affiliation.
Languages in England
As you can guess, the national language of England is English. However, British Sign Language (BSL) has been recognized as an official language of the United Kingdom since 2003.
When you watch the news or official updates from the government, there will often be a sign language interpreter on the side of the screen or next to the stage if you’re viewing it live.
When you find yourself in English cities like London, Birmingham, and Manchester, for example, you can also expect to hear languages from around the world whether it’s French, Polish, or Mandarin. England is quite an international and welcoming country.
Cities of England
Did you know there are cities in England outside of London!? Just kidding! We know you know. There are actually 51 official cities in England, which is a lot when you consider that neighboring Scotland has only 7 cities and Wales has just 6.
London, England’s bustling and famous capital, has a massive population of over 9 million. That’s even more than other major cities like New York City, but nothing compared to the more than 20 million that live in Beijing.
Other major cities in England include Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Newcastle, Liverpool, and Brighton. Some have excellent beaches, others have prestigious universities, charming gardens, and historical castles.
There are so many cities to explore when you visit England! While you could spend a lifetime exploring London, you can get to know some of England’s other cities much more quickly as they cover a lot less ground. Make some time for destinations outside of London on your trip to England. Plus, don’t get us started on England’s lush countryside!
Geography & Climate of England
Mostly flat with some charming green hills and meadowlands this country is laced with flowing rivers and dainty streams. England’s landscapes are not nearly as mountainous as Scotland to the north but much of its coast is made of rugged cliff lines like the dreamy White Cliffs of Dover (pictured above) and the Jurassic Coast.
As for its geography, England is one of three countries that make up Great Britain and is the biggest of the British Isles. England is bordered by Scotland to the north, Wales to the west (and partially the Atlantic Ocean), the North Sea to the east, and the English Channel to the south.
There are nine geographical regions in England. These are London, the North East, North West, Yorkshire, East Midlands, West Midlands, South East, East of England and the South West. And although England is small, you’ll find different accents and traditions in each and every region. See if you can spot the differences during your trip to England! Curious about the different British accents? Check out this video!
Though England is overall flat and fertile, it does offer a few notable peaks. You’ll find Scafell Pike, England’s tallest mountain of 3,209 feet, in the beautiful Lake District in northern England. Another notable peak is Helvellyn, also in the Lake District and hovers close to the Scafell Pike’s height at 3,117 feet.
Let’s talk climate.
Is England as rainy as its stereotype says it is? London is almost synonymous with umbrellas, drizzly weather and trench coats. Though England’s capital has its fair share of rainy days, it doesn’t even make the top 10 wettest cities when compared to other European capitals. Shocking, right?
London averages 557.4 mm of rainfall annually. According to data from Current Results, the wettest capital in Europe is Podgorica, Montenegro. London is low on the list with other capitals like Barcelona, Rome, and Berlin well above it.
The reason England has a reputation for being a rainy country is because, well, it does rain frequently, it’s just usually a light rain or a slight drizzle. While other cities like Barcelona may have fewer rainy days, its rainy days result in a lot more rainfall than that of London’s typical weather. And when it comes to rainy days in England, the west knows best. Leeds and Manchester are two of England’s rainiest cities.
England has a temperate maritime climate, meaning that it’s often greeted with cloudier, though moderate weather. The temperature in the Thames river valley, particularly, ranges from about 35 °F (2 °C) in January to 72 °F (22 °C) in July. Heat and cold waves do happen, resulting in freezing weather of 0 °F (−18 °C) to scorching hot temperatures of above 90 °F (32 °C).
England’s Economy & Major Produces
England’s rich land has been fertile and prosperous for centuries, but as the decades pass, the country’s economy continues to shift with the changes.
Up until the 18th century, England’s economy was primarily agricultural. With its relatively flat land and fertile soil, the country was (and still is) ideal for growing crops like wheat, barley, and turnips and producing cheese, milk, and other dairy products. At the turn of the Industrial Revolution, England’s economy took a slight turn, where iron and steel, textiles like wool and fabric, and shipbuilding proliferated.
Nowadays, crops are still a major produce for England. Wheat, barley, corn, apples, berries, and potatoes are all common. However, England also has a flourishing garden industry, with flowers, herbs, and garden veggies a large part of the economy.
These industries are followed by livestock, with cheese and milk having a particular focus. Every country focuses on dairy production, but England has a strong tradition of cattle breeding.
When it comes to England’s exports, the country is a leader in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The UK is one of the global top 10 markets, holding about 2.5% of the global pharmaceutical sector in 2019.
What are some of the most famous products made in England?
Some of the most famous English and British products exported around the world include things like sticky Marmite, Dr Martens shoes, Aston Martin cars, and Cadbury’s chocolate bars. Do you have any of these quintessentially English things in your life?
When you think of England, some things like afternoon tea, the Royal Family, and pub culture might come to mind. England is full of interesting cultural traditions that have shaped much of the world today. Here’s what you should know before traveling to England.
Afternoon tea in England
Guy Fawkes Night / Bonfire Night
English cuisine tends to get a bit of criticism for being bland or uninteresting. However, many of its main foods have been appreciated and adapted around the globe. Some of the most popular British and English dishes are fish and chips, Shepherd’s pie, beef wellington, a full English breakfast, scones, and Cornish pasties.
One of the best foods to try on a trip to England is shepherd’s pie.
A wholesome and filling British dish, shepherd’s pie originated in Scotland and northern England and is mainly made from minced lamb (or beef) and potatoes. However, you can find vegetarian alternatives as well! It’s most popularly enjoyed at home, but it can occasionally be found on menus at restaurants.
Fish and chips is another classic British dish.
Popular thanks to its water-locked land, fish and chips can be found throughout the UK. It is commonly served from small shops or “a chippy” specializing in this fried dish, but it can still be found at sit-in restaurants as well.
Another English goodie is a baked pastry stuffed full of meat and vegetables.
Cornish pasties first became popular with tin miners as they were easily transportable and didn’t require a plate or cutlery, like shepherd's pie would. Nowadays, they play a significant role in British food culture. It's even thought that this was the inspiration for the empanada, popular in Argentina and throughout South America.
Travel tips for England
Before you indulge in all things delightfully British, here’s what you should know before traveling to England.
- People drive on the left in England and the UK as a whole. Steering wheels are also on the left-hand side as a result. If you plan to drive in the UK, don't fret. It's not as scary as it might seem. Just stay aware, review road signs before you travel, and be cautious at roundabouts. Here are some more tips for driving in the UK.
- Sarcasm and banter are commonplace. The English don't take themselves too seriously. Sarcasm and humor can be found throughout England. If you’re caught in the line of fire of a sarcastic remark, don’t take offense! It’s often a sign of endearment and it’s all just playful.
- On that note, the English are also all about politeness and manners, which almost contradicts their love for sarcasm. Expect to hear many “thank you’s” and “pardon me’s” when you visit England.
- They eat a lot of curries! The English and the UK as a whole love this traditionally Indian dish. Actually, it’s said that you can find the best curry outside of India in the UK. If you’re a fan of Indian cuisine, you will be fully satisfied in England.
- It’s easy to get around England by bus and train when traveling from place to place. The country is well connected. However, only three cities in England have a metro system: London, Liverpool, and Newcastle. Keep that in mind when you are visiting England! Buses or walking are the most common ways to get around most English cities.
- England uses the pound (£). One pound is a coin, not a bill (or notes as they are called in the UK). Cards are commonly accepted through Scotland, but it is still handy to carry some pounds on you as well.
- Call 999 in the case of an emergency!