What type of "everyday" items should I bring back from a trip to the UK?
November 7, 2013 2:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm going on a trip to Southeast England soon and I'm wondering what sort of higher quality everyday or household items I should consider shopping for.

For example, the last time I was over, I found a rain jacket for my preschooler that was both more stylish and better built than what I've seen in the U.S.
I've also heard that shoes are often nicer or longer lasting that what we generally get over here.

What other things along these lines should I keep in mind?

Cookware? Cutlery? The world's best salt shakers?
Bathroom things? An awesome washcloth, a super cozy bathmat?
How about clothes? Socks? Bjorn Borg underwear? Women's PJs?

You get the idea, basically the things you'd find in a department store. I'm talking about things that can be found in your average to higher-end high street store, not necessarily super luxury specialist boutiques.

Please keep in mind I have to get it back to the U.S., but I'm not opposed to shipping something very awesome.
Also, it'll be Christmas season, or close to it, so Christmas decorations or traditional items aren't unwelcome.
posted by madajb to Shopping (36 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Marks & Spencers underwear.

This might be helpful.
posted by inire at 2:09 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Harrods is good for Christmas decorations.
(I know you said you weren't looking for luxury but buying a couple of decs has long been seen as the cheapest way of scoring the oft coveted Harrods carrier bag)

Also Christmas puddings, brandy butter, Christmas crackers.
posted by runincircles at 2:22 AM on November 7, 2013


I've become a big fan of bunting as a Christmas decoration. Go for some nice fabric bunting!

You'll have trouble getting Christmas crackers back to the US on most commercial airline -- I think BA may be the only exception. Be sure to check the rules for your airline before you spend tons of money on awesome crackers. Sadness.
posted by olinerd at 3:01 AM on November 7, 2013

If you're near Cornwall/Devon, clotted cream fudge is a must.
posted by bumcivilian at 3:03 AM on November 7, 2013

posted by foleypt at 3:16 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

My suggestion, as random as this sounds, is lambswool pullovers. I like to wear non-bulky sweaters over my work shirts in the winter, and while they're not especially hard to find in the US/Canada, I tend to like the cuts and quality of the ones I find in British shops a bit better. They tend to be a little thicker, with stronger and higher bands at the waist and cuffs. I don't know that they're necessarily higher quality per se, but there's apparently a subtle difference in consumer preference and I like the pullovers made for the British market.

As for shoes, especially mid-range, I think the quality's about the same as anywhere, but owing to slightly difference preferences among the people buying them, you can certainly find shoes that are a little different to what you're seeing in North America. I've come back with shoes a couple times, though one pair were actually disappointing in their durability.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:44 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

(Good god I had no idea crackers are too explosive for planes. Good catch olinerd ta.)
posted by runincircles at 3:51 AM on November 7, 2013

Well, apparently there are barbarians out there whose lives don't revolve around tea-drinking. If you're not one of them, perhaps an electric kettle? I've heard they're hard to find outside our funny little island :)
posted by greenish at 3:53 AM on November 7, 2013

greenish: Don't buy an electric kettle in the UK and take it to the US, because the voltage there is different and it won't work! I did that - ended up having to go to Walmart and get a US model. (You can get them there.)
posted by winterhill at 3:57 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would avoid Harrods for shopping, personally. It's great for novelty value though.

If you're in London, then some tips:

Clothing: Marks & Spencer for basics and underwear, Primark for cheap fashion, ASOS (online) for mid-range fashion, Selfridges for a good range of mid-high fashion. Generally Oxford St is good for the big department stores and flagship stores, Bond St and Sloane St/Harvey Nichols (and around) for couture, Carnaby St and Covent Garden for smaller chains or indie, Notting Hill and Kings Rd for interesting independents and some chains. Of the department stores, John Lewis is solidly middle ground and generally good quality, Selfridges is good for selection, House of Fraser is upper middle end fashion, Harrods is for tourists, Harvey Nichols is for fashionistas and BHS and Debenhams are more lower middle end. Also Liberty - high end, but a good place to hunt for more expensive gifts and one offs. It's a lovely place to browse. If you're really short of time, the Westfield Mall in west London is big, relatively new, and has a broad range of shops, with a focus on fashion.

Cookware/homewares: John Lewis for good quality basics, Divertimenti for high end. For design-led stuff I'd recommend Skandium/Fritz Hansen although Selfridges has a good section too. You might also want to look at Habitat and Heals - both on Tottenham Court Rd - Heals is good for nick-nack little gifts. John Lewis excels in good, solid, homewares.

Food: For food, the single best place to go is probably the little John Lewis Food Hall, run by their sister company Waitrose. However, all the Oxford St department stores have a food hall, I think. Borough Market runs on Thursday, Friday, Saturday mornings and while it is mostly fresh stuff you can buy interesting (and expensive) oils, pickles etc, many of which are British made. There is also a very good Whole Foods at Piccadilly which stocks things you won't find in the US. For gifts, especially tea, but it is overpriced, Fortnum & Mason.

Books: I'd go to Daunt Books and Stanfords and Foyle's and browse.

Gifts: London museums are great for gifts. So, depending on the age and interests of the person, the Design Museum (design, homewares), the Science Museum, The Natural History Museum (educational toys), the V&A (modern and Victorian design), the British Museum (history/culture) all have excellent gift shops.

Food I would look at: Marmite, malt loaf, pickle/chutney (Branston is the mid-range brand), high end savoury crackers for cheese, Christmas pudding (note: you do not need to buy the high end versions - a luxury one from any supermarket will be fine), proper Somerset cheddar (if you can get it home), perhaps a bottle of King's Ginger. If you want an idea of what the really good independent stuff is look at the Taste of Britain awards. You can also search by type of food. London also has a very good range of independent ethnic food shops.

Good one-off/indie places with stuff you probably won't find (easily) back home in no particular order: Jo Malone (perfume), Fenwick (hats), Rococo (chocolate), The Conran Shop, SCP, TwentyTwentyOne, Labour and Wait (homewares), Geo F Trumper (manly grooming), The Hoxton Street Monster Supplies (fun!), Hamley's (toys), Magma (art/books).

Finally, if you want to make sense of London's shopping streets, a handy guide.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:03 AM on November 7, 2013 [36 favorites]

PG Tips tea is an inexpensive, standard brand that you will find in any UK supermarket, but it's much better than the equivalently priced tea you'd find in the US.
posted by yankeefog at 4:26 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Chocolate: Galaxy and Dairy Milk which you can find in any corner or grocery store

Jo Malone candles are great and long lasting

Biscuits - Hobnobs, Digestives, Jaffa Cakes (before the Brits get on my case, I KNOW it's not a biscuit but they are in the biscuit aisle.)

Walker Sensations brand crisps - my friend took back like 4 bags of the Sweet Chilli flavour because she was positively addicted. All the crisps here are kind of fun to take back home because they are weird flavors by American standards (prawn, roast chicken, steak)

If you want proper tea, get a bag of Tetley's also readily available at grocery stores
posted by like_neon at 4:27 AM on November 7, 2013

If you're in London and don't have a Uniqlo near you in the US, they do a line of incredibly light, warm, and handy down jackets that scrunch down into a little bag. I brought back some to Canada where they were a big hit.

Seconding M&S underwear.
posted by Erasmouse at 4:41 AM on November 7, 2013

Re: Marmite. Bring it back only if you're checking your baggage (and if you like it, obv). Security will not let you bring it in carry-on as they consider it a liquid and most jars are a bit large. I learned this the hard way and came home sans Marmite.
posted by Kitteh at 5:22 AM on November 7, 2013

Is smoked salmon too ridiculous?

Just remember that any food which is not dry (i.e. block, powder) must be checked otherwise the security people may treat you as a gastro terrorist (which is many people's reaction to Marmite in any case).
posted by epo at 5:34 AM on November 7, 2013

A note on tea: if you have a shop that sells PG Tips near you in the US (I think Target might sell it), run the numbers. It's more expensive per bag than Lipton or Red Rose, but it's likely cheaper than Twinings/Tazo/Bigelow/whatever. I drink the standard Yorkshire Tea and it's actually cheaper than the standard US brands, once you disregard Lipton (we don't seem to get Red Rose here).

That said, I've never seen the decaf Yorkshire Tea in a shop in the US, nor the hard water version. (You can get both Amazon, I believe.) If either of those are of interest to you, it might be worth carrying back, otherwise run-of-the-mill tea isn't worth it.

Things that are semi-prized in my family (because they come via someone's suitcase): stuff from Lakeland (though less so lately--most of the clever stuff has shown up in the US), mince pie tins (specifically the kind with rounded bottoms), suet (real and vegetarian--only really relevant if you cook certain things*). There's a bigger range of unscented/mildly scented deodorants available (we were on a Nivea kick for a while).

*I suppose if you can find a butcher you can find real suet in the US. I'm not sure what you do for vegetarian. Grate Crisco?
posted by hoyland at 5:55 AM on November 7, 2013

Both Tetley and PG Tips tea are easily available in the U.S.; or at least in the far northwest corner. Ditto electric tea kettles (-- the BEST! How did I live without one? -- I would definitely avoid Walmart, on general principles, try Target or Amazon.)

What you can't find in the states are all-wool leg, knee, elbow warmers. Or toast racks. Now you might not want a toast rack, but they're perfect for holding DVDs from Netflix.

The one area I think the UK absolutely outshines anywhere else is ***Christmas Decorations*** They just seem classier than anything you can find in other countries.
posted by kestralwing at 5:58 AM on November 7, 2013

Go and have a mosey around Cos – it's terrific for reasonably(ish) priced, good quality clothes and shoes, as is & Other Stories. I don't think you have either shop in the States (yet).

Do umbrellas count as everyday objects? (They sure do here.) The absolute ne plus ultra of umbrella shops – in fact, the ne plus ultra of shops full stop – is James Smith & Sons. It's a completely anachronistic and utterly wonderful place!

If you do decide to take back some cheese (and you should, you should), Neal's Yard Dairy is a good bet. I recommend the Stichelton and the Tunworth.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 6:01 AM on November 7, 2013

Mason Pearson hairbrushes are ridiculously expensive and ridiculously excellent and long-lasting. I wonder if you can get them for less in the UK.
posted by Dragonness at 6:08 AM on November 7, 2013

I have nothing to recommend besides to respond to one recommendation I saw because I had my wife bring back a bottle of Green Chartreuse thinking it was impossible to get here and it turns out it's not so hard to find after all. Anyway,

perhaps a bottle of King's Ginger

You can get it here in the states, I've seen it in numerous stores here in the last year or so. It is delicious but I'd use your luggage space for something else I think.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:30 AM on November 7, 2013

There are nice shaving creams & soaps that are more expensive in the U.S. (Mitchell's Wool Fat soap is one example that can be found in the U.S. but which I believe is less expensive over there.)

If you know a book-lover, sometimes there are U.K.editions of books that would make a nice addition to their collection (I bought the U.K. paperbacks of the Harry Potter books, for example, as I enjoy the different cover art and non-Americanized spellings.)

Footie(soccer)-related items (those nice, long scarves for example) might be exciting for an American fan of the U.K. game; same with rugby gear.

Many universities in the U.K. sell ties & warm winter scarves [I have a six-footer in soft wool!] and other items in their colors. This would be a cool gift for an Anglophile, or someone living where it gets cold.*

Good Irish bacon.

Wait, are you an American or originally from the U.K.? What you consider "everyday" might be different!

Note: I have a scarf from Reading Uni., which I simply love. I was once stopped on the street asking if it was, indeed, a scarf from Reading, and I preened obnoxiously all day. :7) The scarf started to wear thin after about 15 years, so I mailed it back to the manufacturer -- who kindly overhauled & rebuilt it, so now I am warm again!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:05 AM on November 7, 2013

Irish bacon is great, but better to buy it in Ireland. In England, buy a quality English bacon that hasn't travelled far and/or is based on native breeds/curing methods - old spot bacon or Suffolk black bacon are both delicious.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:37 AM on November 7, 2013

The everyday items I buy religiously every single trip back to the UK (at least once every two years) are bras from Marks & Spencer, own brand tea bags from Waitrose or Sainsbury's and cheese.

I've lived in the US for 20 very, very happy years and I've still not found bras that can equal M & S for prettiness, construction and choice.

American tea is generally disgusting. The own brands from the best British high street supermarkets are vastly superior - and the price is excellent. (This includes own brand Earl Gray). I will even ditch the outer box packaging and worm the inner bags of teabags around my shoes and toiletries, basically I'll stuff every spare corner.

Cheese. Unless you have an Amish supplier, or live near a Manhattan super deli, American cheese is an abomination.
I bury vacuum sealed half pound blocks of Sainsbury/Waitrose best cheddar, cheshire and caerphilly among my less fragrant worn clothes in the suitcases I check through. I've never had a problem bringing the personal cheese stash in...and in the unlikely event that one day I DO get my suitcase opened at USA customs & discover I've violated the ridiculous rules, I'll play it apologetic and dumb.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:44 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

marmite, bovril,
waitrose, m&s,
maplin for the mad brit inventors,
twinings earlgrey tea, yorkshire tea or pg tips - each have their merits, some sort of pretentious tea set to go with it,
foodie/independent ethnic or health food shops,
clarkes shoes,

indian/asian saris, jewelry,
turkish sweets like delight, do you have licorice and fudge in the states?
jamacian food - spices?
god awful polish food you might be weird and actually like - sourcrout?
posted by jago25_98 at 8:50 AM on November 7, 2013

Decent marmalade. Frank Cooper's thick cut Oxford for preference.
posted by pont at 9:21 AM on November 7, 2013

If you are stocking up your medicine drawer, grab some Gaviscon (heartburn medication). The UK version actually has alginates and works very well. The US version is basically just antacids.
posted by vacapinta at 9:25 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Marmite, PG Tips, and various other Unilever products (I've seen McVities Digestives and Hobnobs also, and Heinz soups and beans) are more and more widely available in the US. Expensive, but available, so possibly not worth the effort.

Bras, though - if you require such or know someone who does, especially if you/they are over a 36C. M&S, any department store really, and then Bravissimo. And bathing suits for the larger-chested females, also Bravissimo/Pepperberry.

Not to take home, but while you're here, eat all the dairy products.
posted by you must supply a verb at 9:29 AM on November 7, 2013

proper curry powder at any supermarket.
Boots Number 7 cosmetics (some available at Target).
Tweed jackets for men at M&S.
Cashmere from M&S-good value.
Seconding Gaviscon.
Bacon which you may be able to bring if it is vacuum sealed-smoked back bacon.
Cheese-vacuum sealed.
Stronger OTC painkillers.
Scottish Smoked salmon-vacuum packed.

And agreeing with 'you must supply a verb'
ENGLISH CREAM-eat it there- no relation to US thing called cream.
posted by claptrap at 10:21 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

kestralwing - A toast rack. I had no idea such a thing existed until now.

olinerd - Bunting is excellent, I don't think I've ever seen non-plastic bunting over here.

wenestvedt - Technically English, but I've never lived over there as an adult.

vacapinta - In tablet form, or does it matter?

you must supply a verb - I do not require one, but my wife will appreciate the suggestion.
posted by madajb at 10:50 AM on November 7, 2013

I don't know if you or your wife are perfume/fragrance fans at all, but if I were in your position, I would absolutely check out the Penhaglion's, and a) buy something, b) do a whole lot of sniffing and make copious notes on the different scents so that I could order online later if I wanted to. Penhaglion's on Fragrantica.
posted by taz at 10:55 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I do like Penhaglion's, it's so delicious smelling.

British Candy is different from US candy. Great stocking stuffers! Smarties look like M&Ms, but the shells have a flavor!

Also, I bought a pack of Tesco Scones and I just LOVED them! I know, palatte like a cow's back-side. I don't know if this is the kind of thing you had in mind, but it's worth knowing.

Enjoy your stay!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:05 PM on November 7, 2013

For tea, I liked Yumchaa much better than any of the others. You can get it in Camden Market, where I always find interesting stuff to bring back home.

Neal Street near Covent Garden Underground station has some shops with interesting and unusual items. And another very good tea store, whose name I don't remember, but it's hard to miss.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 5:00 PM on November 7, 2013

I asked a similar question and just returned last night from London. These are the things I brought back that you can't get here: Waitrose brand tea, lots of books from Foyles that I haven't seen yet here in the States, Wispas hot chocolate mix (I nearly fainted with joy - also saw Cadbury's brand hot chocolate mix), really nice super thick warm leggings, a hot water bottle with a furry warm coverlet, high end Nivea face creams in glass jars, Radox brand shower gels with the funky handles. I stayed next door to the huge Westfield shopping mall so had time to have a good gander, some recyclable bags just for fun from British stores. The Uniqglo stuff? You can get similar stuff here under different brands. I honestly did not see that much that you can't find in the USA without too much trouble.

By the way, pretty much every woman seemed to be wearing leggings with knee high boots and a colorful scarf and lots of dark clothing.
posted by HeyAllie at 9:02 PM on November 7, 2013

The biggest specialist chain for tea (and coffee, but less good for that) is Whittard, who have stores across London, including one in Covent Garden. The best known place in Covent Garden is Tea Palace. Teasmith in Spitalfields is fun place to buy and drink specialist tea, but the focus is more on oriental teas.

If you're interested in cheese, apart from going to Borough Market, these are the best places to go:

- Paxton & Whitfield (Jermyn St, i.e. just below and parallel to Piccadilly)
- Neal's Yard Dairy (Borough Market, Covent Garden)
- La Fromagerie (off Marylebone High St, so not far from Oxford St)
- La Cave A Fromage (South Kensington)
- Rippon Cheeses (nr Victoria)

P&W and Neal's Yard Dairy specialise in British cheeses. La Fromagerie and La Cave a Fromage specialise in French cheeses. Rippon Cheeses has a little of everything. The big department stores (Harrods, Selfridges, John Lewis - not sure about the others) also have decent cheese counters.

In general, if you're just buying cheddar, the premium store brand stuff is pretty decent. Many of the farms that send stuff to the specialists also make cheddar for the big supermarkets too. If you want more interesting British cheeses you will need to go to a specialist though, although Waitrose does carry a decent range of British cheese.

Finally, finally - everyone mentions Borough Market, which is fine. It's the original and it's got the selection. It's expensive though and increasingly more of the market is being taken over by vendors of food to eat there, rather than food to have at home. If you go after about 10am on Saturday it is incredibly busy. There are tons of little farmers' markets in London. Also, a 10-15min walk from Borough Market, Bermondsey now hosts a breakaway from Borough Market. It is around Druid St and Maltby St, and also further away on Frean St and while it is starting to get a lot busier now is still far less busy than Borough Market.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:19 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

MuffinMan's advice on shops is great. If you have to pick one department store, I'd go for John Lewis. If you have to pick one street, pick Oxford Street. Also, there is a John Lewis on Oxford Street.

You might also have a nose around the Camden Markets, ideally on the weekend -- they have a large variety of independent/specialist shops and stalls, and even if you don't find any good bargains it's an interesting place to visit.
posted by Drexen at 6:34 AM on November 8, 2013

Honestly, there's not a lot you can't get here anymore, at least in some areas or online. One thing that's not super easy to get that I really appreciated is that Selfridge's has a concession for Mariage Freres tea. You can get a lot of the blends from this Paris-based teamaker many places, but not all of them, and especially not the seasonal blends.

I'd also second Penhaligon's. I didn't leave myself nearly enough time when I went there.
posted by emcat8 at 10:45 PM on November 10, 2013

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