Let’s move quickly beyond William and Kate wedding trinkets, the snow globes with a smiling royal family, the key rings, commemorative plates, and a thousand other mementos that flood the streets and souvenir shops of England at the announcement of another royal baby, wedding, or jubilee. If royal mementos and statues of Buckingham Palace guards float your boat, “Fancy That of London” stores have a full selection of memorabilia; you can also find royal commemoratives at the airport.
Unique English Souvenirs
If you’re looking to buy something other than tourist trinkets, you’ll have to venture out of the tourist markets and shop where the English shop. Here are some affordable, packable items to check out:
Tea, tea pots, and tea accessories. The English have turned tea into an art form, and there’s no more authentic English souvenir than something to do with the national drink. Tins of tea make nice gifts. Tea strainers, metal tea balls (which are also used to strain loose tea), tea pots, tea cozies, tea towels, and and tea cups will remind you of your daily “cuppa” in an English B and B. You’ll never settle for almost-hot water dumped on top of a tea bag in a mug again!
Jams, jellies, and foodstuffs. Check out the food market at Harrod’s (and do make time for tea while you’re there). They have a huge selection teas from traditional to newer trends like green tea and fair trade teas. And you’ve never seen such an assortment of bitter orange marmalade!
Placemats. Yes, placements: Virtually every English table is set with placemats that look like a bigger, hard version of a mousepad. They are made of coated cork. You can bring home placemats bearing pictures of everything from Buckingham Palace guards to classic English paintings to flowers to the royal couple. You can buy them in cooking shops, tourist shops, and even museum shops.
Antique maps and nautical equipment. Little pieces of England’s long and storied history are for sale in map and antique shops in London. It’s always fun to look at a map that was the based on the best guess of an explorer who sailed the seas hundreds of years ago and put whole countries in the wrong place. In London, check out St. Christopher’s Place. You’ll also find unique and site-specific memorabilia at historic sites around England, from Stonehenge to Norman castles to World War II fortifications (some of which, such as the World War II operations headquarters in Dover, are located within the grounds of Norman castles).
China statuettes. Small statuettes made of china are are popular in English homes, often placed by the fireplace, on the mantle, on an occasional table, or in a china cabinet. You’ll want to choose a small one and take it home in hand luggage.
Gifts to Buy in England
England is a wonderful place to shop for specialty gifts for people who have particular passions:
- For the gardener: Framed floral prints taken from old books. These can be surprisingly affordable. Look for them in antiques markets.
- For football fans (That’s soccer to most Americans): Pick up team memorabilia. Just make sure you get the teams straight. In addition to football, rugby and cricket memorabilia make nice gifts for the sports fan back home.
- For the musician: The Beatles, the Stones, and the Kinks rocked the world. Check out the Beatles Shop in Liverpool for music memorabilia.
- For the knitter: Handmade English sweaters designed by high-end fabric artists are beyond the budgets of most travelers (500 pounds and up). But if you are a knitter, or are buying a great gift for one, pop in at the Patrica Roberts Shop on Kennerton Street in London, and check out the pattern books. If you can splurge, buy the wool as well. You won’t find better quality anywhere.
- For the reader: Shakespeare, Jane Austen, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, and Beatrix Potter are only a few of the U.K.’s literary luminaries. Sites associated with the great writers (either where they worked or where they lived) have copies of books and other mementos.
Shopping in England has a huge advantage for the America visitor over other international destinations: You can understand the language (mostly, that is). Take the time to learn about the places you’re visiting and to pop into the little hole-in-the-wall stores that celebrate their histories and local lore.
The current exchange rate isn’t conducive to large purchases. However, floral prints and kitchen items and foodstuffs can be affordable, especially if you buy them in stores with local clienteles. Museum shops can also have some nice mementos, reasonably priced.
Copyright 2012, Karen Berger. All rights reserved.