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.
Cool 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.
Cool Britannia has a wall of cute London Underground items (in case you can’t make it to the London Transport Museum gift shop).
I 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?
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.
The 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:
225 – 229 Piccadilly,
London W1J 9HR
(see website for other locations)
Hours: 9am-12 midnight