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Big Ben, the British Flag and a Telephone Box: Why we love British Kitsch

More than any other city I can think of, London is a city of Icons.  You can’t think of London without these images coming to mind:

A cherry red telephone box. The unmistakable London Underground design.  The Buckingham Palace guards in their furry bearskin hats.

The towering Big Ben, still telling time the old-fashioned way.  The British Flag (affectionately known as Union Jack). Black cabs rolling down the streets.

These British icons have so woven themselves in British culture that they now represent what we think of as quintessentially “English”.  So while I would skip over buying a mini leaning tower of Pisa or Eiffel tower replica, in London I find myself drawn to red telephone bank or the rubber duck emblazoned with the Union Jack.  These kitschy type souvenirs have a long history in Great Britain, which has always been a country of travelers and souvenir collectors.  Bringing an iconic souvenir home with me reminds me of the British quirkiness that I love.

But not just any tatty telephone box will do– for classic kitschy “souvenirs” that still maintain a high level of quality, the best place to go is Cool Britannia.

piccadilly circus london horsespiccadilly circus london nightCool Britannia sits in the heart of Piccadilly circus.  Like Times Square, Piccadilly circus is often referred to as the “center”, and while it may be central geographically, I’m not sure anyone would argue that it represents the heart of London in any other way.  Even without trying, you’ll likely pass through Piccadilly anyway, and it’s worth checking out at least once to see the chaotic crowds mixed in with elegant old buildings, flashing screens and tourist trap attractions.

piccadilly circus london cool britanniaYou’ll recognize Cool Britannia by the dancing doormen out front, outfitted head to toe in Union Jack.

british flag rubber ducks london unique gift souvenir The rubber duck selection was excellent. How can you leave with just one of these adorable ducks?

big ben rubber ducks london unique gift souvenir I love the expression on this Big Ben duck.

 london bus unique gift souvenir Cool Britannia has a wall of cute London Underground items (in case you can’t make it to the London Transport Museum gift shop).

 london unique gift souvenir leggings british flagThese stretch pants are questionable…

 london unique gift souvenir tank top sparkly dressy british flagbut I can see this sparkly Union Jack tank being a fun thing to wear on a night out.

 london unique gift souvenir tshirt british flagI love the cheekiness of Cool Britannia’s selections. If they had just one “lousy t-shirt” option, I would have immediately thought “tat.” But when you check out their 10 variations (mum, boyfriend, sister-in-law), it makes me realize that Cool Brittania is on the joke. Have these t-shirts become such a ridiculous cliché that they’re actually cool-ironic to wear now?

 london unique gift souvenir car toyNot sure what these VW bugs are going in the Britannia store?

 car toy mini cooper london unique gift souvenirIt would make more sense to pick up one of these minis (even though they’re owned by BMW, the real Mini Coopers are still made in the UK).

You’ll also find all sort of smaller “classic” souvenir items that will evoke a sense of nostalgia– like these red telephone box banks and wind up London bus toys.

mini cooper british flag union jackThe store has fun props to keep you entertained while shopping.  It’s definitely worth spending a pound or two more here for the quality souvenirs and fun shopping experience than venturing into the depressing tatty shops and stands lining the street.

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Have you ever embraced your inner tourist and bought kitschy type souvenirs?  Tell us about it in the comments!

Want to read more posts about London?  Check out these posts:
A walk through the Harry Potter gift shop at Platform 9 3/4, London
Why this New Yorker loves the London Underground (and my picks from the London Transport Museum Shop)
I got it at Primani, dahling.  Why frugal tourists love London’s Primark.

Fashion Forward Brits Declare Love for the Onesie– Not just for Babies

London Souvenir Shopping Details:
Cool Britannia
225 – 229 Piccadilly,
London W1J 9HR
(see website for other locations)
Hours: 9am-12 midnight

11 Responses to Big Ben, the British Flag and a Telephone Box: Why we love British Kitsch

  1. Rolling Harbour 11/18/2013 at 5:46 am #

    Mmmmmmm. But if you live in London? Edinburgh is another rich kitsch-mine. Arguably there’s only so much a sentient being can take… but I agree it’s colourful and cheerful, especially in November! RH

    • Kristin Francis 11/18/2013 at 6:00 am #

      Thanks so much for your commment! It’s written from a tourist’s perspective, I doubt many Londoners are collecting their own souvenirs! Which is why I haven’t written a NYC (where I live) section yet : )

      • Rolling Harbour 11/18/2013 at 11:21 am #

        Quite right. Last time I was in NYC I bought a yellow cab keyring, and a small cartoony Chrysler Building print from a stall on the High Line (neither for me)… so I see what you mean! 😎

    • Kristin Francis 11/18/2013 at 5:40 pm #

      Exactly! I am going to have to survey some non-New Yorkers for that section, I really don’t have a clue. Thanks again for reading and contributing to the discussion! Lots more London posts to come.

  2. Amy 11/18/2013 at 1:50 pm #

    Nice! Not sure how I missed seeing Piccadilly Circus when I was in London.

    • Kristin Francis 11/18/2013 at 5:42 pm #

      Hi Amy, thanks for reading and commenting! Not sure how you missed it either : )
      It’s actually very close to Fortnum & Mason, which was one of my favorite shopping stops. I’m enjoying their biscuits as I type.

  3. travelecstasy 12/26/2013 at 8:50 am #

    Hi, I’ve nominated you for the sunshine award! Keep on blogging!
    http://travelecstacy.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/sunshine-award/

  4. usaabroad 07/07/2014 at 9:33 pm #

    I love London! I’ve never been to cool britannia, but I do love me some British kitsch, so I’ll have to check it out next time I’m there!

    • Kristin Francis 07/07/2014 at 10:46 pm #

      It’s hard because I keep going back to London when I should really be exploring more of the world!

  5. Susan Milne 05/24/2016 at 9:00 am #

    I love London, well all of GB. I’m from Canada and I have been over twice and planning to go over again. I have been to the Piccadilly store and bought a lot of treasures. I have a London jacket that I bought there. Whenever I wear it I always have someone ask me about it.

    • Kristin Francis 05/28/2016 at 9:30 pm #

      I’ve been back to London so many times, it’s hard to justify when there are so many places to visit, but there’s something about it! That sounds like a wonderful souvenir and I’m sure it’s fun to share your stories when asked about it.

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