UK, Great Britain, Britain…which is it?

There’s often a bit of confusion when it comes to the United Kingdom. People sometimes refer to England when they actually mean the entire island of Great Britain, which includes England, Wales, and Scotland.

But where does one end and the other begin? And what about the little islands in between? Where does Ireland come into it and what, actually, is the UK?

Britain, British Isles, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom – many people use these terms interchangeably but they’re actually different. Let’s break it down:

  • The ‘British Isles’ is a geographical designation for the group of Islands which includes Great Britain, Ireland, Isle of Wight, the Hebrides, Shetland Isles, Orkney Islands, Isles of Scilly, and the Isle of Man. Some people include the Channel Islands too (Guernsey and Jersey).
  • Britain is technically only England and Wales. Scotland is part of Great Britain but many Scots refer to themselves as Scottish, not British.  
  • Great Britain is the entire island, which is home to the countries of England, Wales and Scotland.
  • Great Britain is not the United Kingdom; it is part of the the United Kingdom.
  • Northern Ireland is not part of Great Britain but it is part of the United Kingdom.

Once you know that the UK’s full name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it becomes a little easier to remember. We call it the UK to simplify matters.

What is part of the United Kingdom?

  • England, including Isle of Wight, Isles of Scilly, St Michael’s Mount, and many other islands and isles
  • Wales, including islands like Anglesey, Bardsey, Skomer, etc. 
  • Scotland, including all its isles and islands, such as the Hebrides, Shetlands, Orkneys, Small Isles, Arran, Bute, and The Cumbraes. 
  • 6 counties in Northern Ireland (Armagh, Antrim, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, Tyrone)

What is not part of the UK?

  • The 26 counties of Southern Ireland (Republic of Ireland)
  • Isle of Man
  • The Channel Islands* – Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey (which includes Guernsey, Alderney, Helm, and Sark)

*Self-governing British Crown Dependencies – they are linked to the United Kingdom via the monarch not the parliament, which means they govern themselves and have an independent political system.


ALWAYS check what form of travel documents you need before going anywhere and ensure that you have everything with you in case you are asked to provide this while you’re travelling. This includes travel by air, ferry, train, etc. South Africans need a visa to enter the United Kingdom, both Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Find out about UK visas here GOV.UK  and Irish visas here: DFA

Please note that British TIPS does not issue visas for any country, and we are unable to assist you with visa applications. The links provided above will get you to all the info you need. Alternatively, chat to your travel agent to assist you with your visas.

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