Differences between England, Britain and The UK

When visiting the United Kingdom there is often confusion about the differences between England, Britain and the UK itself. These 3 entities are not entirely the same thing although there are a number of overlapping similarities between them.

There are expected to be many changes to the way people travel to the UK after Brexit. Therefore, knowing which country is which could be crucial.

To help make this simpler, this article explains the key distinctions between England, Britain and the UK. It gives visitors to the country a clearer picture of:

  • The countries make up the UK
  • How Britain and England are different from one another
  • What the British Isles are
  • The languages that are spoken across the UK

What is the UK?

The UK is officially known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a country situated in the British Isles in the North Atlantic, approximately 30 miles (around 50km) off the coast of Northwest Europe.

The United Kingdom has 4 countries within its borders. These include:

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales
  • Northern Ireland

Each country is a coequal constituent member of the UK, with the main capital city and national administration located in London. It is home to around 68 million inhabitants across its territory.

All 4 countries have their own capital cities and in the case of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, their own devolved parliaments with fiscal and lawmaking powers. The capitals of each country in the UK are:

  • England: London
  • Scotland: Edinburgh
  • Wales: Cardiff
  • Northern Ireland: Belfast

In addition to the 4 main countries that comprise the United Kingdom, the nation also administers several islands and lands known as the British Overseas Territories. Residents living in these places are also British citizens and these make up the remainder of the former British Empire.

The full list of British Overseas Territories include:

  • Anguilla
  • Bermuda
  • British Antarctic Territory
  • British Indian Ocean Territory
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Cayman Islands
  • Falkland Islands
  • Gibraltar
  • Montserrat
  • Pitcairn Island
  • St. Helena
  • St. Helena dependencies
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
  • Turks and Caicos Islands

Are Britain and England the Same Thing?

Not exactly. Britain is a geographical term for the island of Great Britain, where England is located. However, they are not quite the same thing.

While Britain can be used to mean England, it also refers to Wales and Scotland too. Not all British people are English and England doesn’t cover the entirety of Britain.

Confusion often arises between these two entities as England is the biggest country found on the island of Great Britain. However, it’s not possible to refer to all British people as English.

There is a long-standing rivalry between Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales with England. It is therefore considered impolite and incorrect to refer to Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish people as English.

It is perfectly acceptable to refer to English, Scottish and Welsh people as British. Yet it is not technically correct to call Northern Irish people British.

Northern Irish people are British citizens like other UK nationals but do not live on the island of Great Britain. Due to the complicated political history of the country, it is best to use the term Northern Irish when discussing the nationality of the population living there.

differences between england, britain and the uk

What are the British Isles?

The British Isles are an archipelago consisting of over 6000 islands in the North Atlantic. Great Britain is the largest, with the island of Ireland as the second biggest.

Many of these thousands of smaller islands also make up the territory of the United Kingdom and Ireland. They include major offshore destinations such as:

  • The Isle of Wight (England)
  • The Isle of Man
  • Anglesea (Wales)
  • The Shetland Islands (Scotland)
  • The Outer Hebrides (Scotland)
  • The Orkney Islands (Scotland)
  • The Channel Islands
  • The Aran Islands (Ireland)
  • Clare Island (Ireland)
  • Achill Island (Ireland)

Does everyone speak English in the UK?

Almost all of the UK’s 68 million inhabitants speak English. It is the official language of the country and is used in most day-to-day and official matters.

Yet, whilst everyone will speak some level of English in the UK, not everyone in the UK is English and it is not the only tongue spoken by the people. There are also a number of other languages spoken across the country. These include the following minority languages:

  • Welsh
  • Irish
  • Scots
  • Ulster-Scots
  • Scottish Gaelic
  • Cornish

It is, however, fairly uncommon to come across a situation where only one of these languages is spoken. Nevertheless, some of these languages may be used officially alongside English in parts of the UK such as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom is what it today thanks to the countries that comprise its territory. It is a mix of many different nationalities and that has created a unique cultural landscape that is almost as diverse as the land itself.

It is essential to travel with the right visa when visiting the UK. Visitors from the EU will likely need a UK eTA before travelling to Great Britain or Northern Island after Brexit is fully complete. To do so, tourists will need to apply online and meet the correct requirements.