It’s quite easy to become confused about what constitutes the British Isles. Let’s try to clear things up. The British Isles, geographically speaking, consists of two main British and Irish island groups; this refers to the entire group of islands with over six thousand small islands, including:
- the whole island of Great Britain—England, Scotland, and Wales,
- the whole island of Ireland—Northern Ireland (UK) and Republic of Ireland,
- the Isle of Man (British Crown Dependency),
- the Isle of Wight (Hampshire county, England),
- the Isles of Scilly (Cornwall county, England),
- the (Inner and Outer) Hebrides (Scottish archipelago),
- the Northern Isles of the Orkneys and Shetlands (Scottish archipelago),
- the Channel Islands (included by some, though not geographically part of the British Isles, but rather, the French coastline).
Each maintains unique cultural backgrounds and regions… and over 2000 years of history.
In reference to the political bodies, the British Isles includes two sovereign states: the United Kingdom (UK) and the Republic of Ireland, plus the Isle of Man, a British Crown Dependency. The Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey are also British Crown Dependencies but not geographically part of the British Isles since they are so close to the coastline of France.
The United Kingdom (UK) is one nation with four countries/provinces, which consist of three countries on the island of Great Britain—England, Scotland, and Wales—plus the province of Northern Ireland (six counties of Ulster) on the island of Ireland.
Linked by ferries and a sophisticated rail system, which even reaches the European continent, this relatively small island nation has been far-reaching in its global impact. A lifetime could be spent exploring its vast array of architectural masterpieces—ancient rock formations, medieval castles, bridges, palaces, churches, monuments, and modern structures—across a diverse landscape.
Note: The British Commonwealth of Nations, known simply as the Commonwealth, is an association of 54 independent countries, or member states—almost all former territories of the British Empire—from every continent around the world “working together for prosperity, democracy and peace.”
Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland is a politically separate, independent nation that shares a small portion of the Irish Isle with Northern Ireland (UK province). Ireland is a member state of the European Union (EU), but since 1949 is no longer part of the (British) Commonwealth of Nations.
British Crown Dependencies
Self-governing possessions of the British Crown, the island territories include:
- the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea,
- the Channel Islands: the Bailiwick of Guernsey (with Alderney and Sark) and the Bailiwick of Jersey—in the English Channel (near the coastline of France)
British Overseas Territories
The British Crown is also responsible for 14 overseas territories including Gibraltar on the Iberian Peninsula and four island groups in the West Indies: Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, and the British Virgin Islands.
The United Kingdom
UK “Home Nations” of Great Britain + Northern Ireland
99 counties: England (48) + Scotland (35) + Wales (8) + Northern Ireland (8)
Since Brexit in Jan 2020, the UK is no longer part of the EU (European Union).
The Republic of Ireland
Independent nation, separate nation from the UK and part of the EU (European Union)
British Crown Dependencies
Self-governing island territories, separate from the UK
♦ Isle of Man
+ Channel Islands: Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey
Kensington of London
Photo by Ali Giaudrone
England is the largest country in the United Kingdom (UK), home to the nation’s capital of London, which has been occupied for over two millennia (2000 years). Other main cities include Birmingham in the Midlands, Manchester and Liverpool in the Northwest, and Leeds and Sheffield in Yorkshire. Oxford and Cambridge are well-established university towns in southern England.
See the official England Tourism pages.
Photo by Kate Bielinski on Unsplash
Scotland is the most northern country in the UK with three official languages: English, Scottish Gaelic, and Scots. In the Scottish Lowlands, the capital of Edinburgh sits on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, while Glasgow sits on the Clyde River. The Scottish Highlands includes the Hebrides and the Orkney Islands. The highlands’ Celtic society of clans was destroyed as a result of the Jacobite uprising’s final defeat in 1746 in the Battle of Culloden near Inverness.
See the official Scotland Tourism pages.
Caernarfon Castle, Caernarfon
Photo by Neil Mark Thomas on Unsplash
Wales is a country of the UK on the eastern shore of the isle of Britain surrounded by the Irish Sea and England to its east. Its official languages are English and Welsh, a Celtic language. The southern coast along the Bristol Channel is the most populous area with Cardiff, the capital and largest city, and Swansea, the second largest.
See the official Wales Tourism pages.
Photo by Ainars Djatlevskis on Unsplash
The island of Ireland is to the west of Great Britain between the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea. The island is divided between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, a country of the UK. The official languages of the Republic of Ireland are Irish, a Celtic language, and English. Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland and Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland.
Explore Places of the British Isles