Britain is one of the world's foremost travel destinations, and tourism is an essential part of Britain's income. It employed 1.8 million British people and contributed more than 5 percent to the GDP in 1996. The British Tourist Authority, which is supported by the government, promotes tourism in Britain and maintains more than 800 Tourist Information Centres to assist visitors. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own government-supported tourist boards as well.
Visitors to Britain come from all over the world, attracted by Britain's heritage and arts, historic buildings, monuments, museums, and galleries. In 1998, 25.8 million overseas visitors traveled to Britain. An estimated 67 percent were from Europe and 15 percent from North America, with more visitors from the United States than any other single nation.
London, the most popular tourist destination, is crowded with tourists throughout the year. Among the sites regularly visited by millions are the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, the exterior of Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey. At night visitors enjoy the hundreds of theaters and pubs in London.
Northwest Wales has many excellent castles, among them Conwy, Caernarfon, and Harlech. In Scotland, historic Edinburgh Castle looms over the capital. Great cathedrals from the Middle Ages still dominate the skylines of many English cities, including Salisbury, Durham, and Canterbury. In Wales the remains of Tintern Abbey and the small but beautiful Saint David's Cathedral are outstanding.
Stately homes are abundant throughout Britain. Among the more famous is Blenheim Palace, the home of the Churchill family. Hampton Court Palace, just outside of London, was one of the homes of Henry VIII. The Palace of the Holyrood House in Scotland was once the home of Mary, Queen of Scots. Among other worthwhile places to visit are Oxford and Cambridge, both university towns with many ancient buildings, and the Tudor home in which William Shakespeare was born in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon.