Next time you visit our capital city don’t forget to forage for some quintessential London snacks to bring home with you. A selection box of biscuits, indulgent bars of chocolate or a package of traditional cake are all brilliant London souvenirs that’ll transport you back to this snack-loving capital as soon as you unwrap them. And you don’t have to spend a fortune! Here’s a round up of the best British snacks, by a Londoner.
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Where to buy London Snacks to Bring Home
It doesn’t matter where you are in the capital, as long as you’re near a food shop or cafe then you’re likely to find a great London snack. The British people are a nation of grazers and in between meals we love a cup of tea or coffee and a ‘little something’ as Winnie the Pooh would say.
Some of the most popular British snacks can also make the best London gifts and souvenirs. Here’s where to find them.
Supermarkets and grocery stores are a great source of favourite British snacks that can double as London souvenirs. Waitrose and the Marks and Spencer Food Halls are the up market options that are fun to browse. But you’ll find lots of choice in big branches of Sainsburys, Tesco and Morrisons too. Around Christmas time you’ll find tins designed with gifts in mind, some with a London theme like this After Eight mint advent calendar.
Convenience stores and post offices on the high street stock chocolate bars and sweets in snack sizes.
Specialist old fashioned sweet shops give you a flavour of the past. Seek nostalgic tasty treats at Toffee Nose or Sugar Sin, in Covent Garden or Mr Simms in Kingston upon Thames.
Luxury department stores like Selfridges and Harrods have mesmerising food halls whilst the historic Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly has lovely food gifts in gorgeous packaging.
Delis and grocers are a great source of British snacks. Partridges on Sloane Square is a family run food store with a Royal Warrant. It has a range of American groceries too.
The History of British Snacks
The British have loved sweet snacks ever since sugar first arrived in the UK. In the 16th century it was a luxury ingredient only the rich could afford: Queen Elizabeth I ruined her teeth thanks to her penchant for sweet treats, in particular marzipan.
The habit of afternoon tea was first adopted by aristocratic ladies in the 19th century who felt peckish as dinner times grew later. As more people began to travel to work and so eat their main meal of the day later in the evening, an afternoon cup of tea and a sandwich or cake became increasingly fashionable.
Our most popular savoury snacks have been eaten by Brits for centuries. Pork pies, sausage rolls and Cornish pasties all use pastry cases as handy receptacles for meat and veg. Workers could carry them easily into field or factory and literally eat the packaging at lunchtime.
Nowadays sausage rolls, basically sausage meat in pastry, are still a popular savoury quick-fix snack. And the recipe is often jooshed up to appear as savoury delicacies at afternoon tea or drinks parties.
Unfortunately, import restrictions may mean you’re not allowed to take meat products home – if home is outside the UK. So make sure to try them while you’re here! High street chain Greggs stocks basic varieties to take away, all supermarkets have them in the chilled sections, or go up-market and find handmade examples at Borough Market.
It’s true to say that British snacks are multi-cultural these days. Doughnuts, danishes and muffins have eclipsed traditional scones in coffee shops. And on-the-go London snacks are just as likely to be pizza slices or poke bowls as cornish pasties.
But we’re still fond of our native dishes. Bakery chain Greggs sells about 2 million sausage rolls every week. And afternoon tea has become a must-do London snack (or full-scale meal!) for lots of visitors.
Historic London snacks
Looking for a true taste of London? These sweet and savoury British snacks were all cooked up in the capital and make a great London food souvenir.
The Chelsea bun
The Chelsea bun is a true London snack, born in the capital and named after its neighbourhood. In 1700 the Original Chelsea Bun House stood on the borders of Chelsea and Pimlico. King George II and his family were enthusiastic visitors and later, Charles Dickens mentioned it in one of his novels. A substantial snack, the Chelsea bun is a yeasted whirl, rich with butter, spice and currants. A Chelsea bun is at its best fresh and warm from a bakery. Ironically they are most easily found these days in the cafes or online at Fitzbillies in Cambridge!
Maids of Honour tarts
Even older than the Chelsea bun, Maids of Honour tarts are said to have been a favourite of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII. In fact Henry jealously guarded the recipe of these dainty almond’y cakes. You can taste them at Newen’s The Original Maids of Honour Tearooms, near Kew Gardens in Richmond. Or buy a boxful online here.
Bourbons, Garibaldis and chocolate digestives
From 1866 to 1989 the Peek Freans biscuit factory in Bermondsey London produced some of Britain’s best loved snacks. And its recipes live on.
Bourbon biscuits, two fingers of chocolate flavoured biscuit sandwiched with chocolate cream and named after French royalty, were a runaway success in the 1930s. Currant’y Garibaldis, known as squashed fly biscuits to generations of children, have also passed the test of time.
And it was Peek Freans who had the bright idea of topping digestive biscuits with a slather of chocolate. The resulting chocolate digestive is now manufactured by many brands, but we have ‘biscuit town’ in Bermondsey to thank for it.
If you’re looking for some typical London snacks to bring home you can’t go wrong with chocolate digestives!
This pocket-sized British snack has nothing to do with Scotland. Legend relates that it was first concocted in 1738 at Fortnum and Mason’s grocery store in Piccadilly. Consisting of a soft boiled egg in sausagemeat, breadcrumbed and fried until crispy, it was devised as a handy snack for gentlemen on the move!
You might not be able to take them home with you but you can enjoy Scotch eggs with piccalilli in Fortnum’s Parlour on the 1st floor of their Piccadilly store. They are real London snacks!
The Twiglet is another truly London snack, by dint of being invented here. These bags of crunchy wheat sticks look like twigs thanks to their nobbly appearance and coating of yeast extract. And it’s the yeast that divides opinion since it gives Twiglets an unmistakably Marmite’y flavour. Love them or hate them, Twiglets were a cocktail snack dreamed up at the Peek Freans factory in Bermondsey in the 1930s. They’ve been around ever since.
UK Chocolate Bars to take home
Mention British chocolate and everybody thinks of Cadburys. Whether young, old or the most ardent foodie, pretty much all Brits have a personal favourite bar. Cadbury’s chocolate is by no means high in cocoa solids, but somehow the creamy richness works.
Apart from bars of Dairy Milk, Cadburys enthusiasts will enjoy the iconic Cadburys Fruit and Nut with its 70s slogan “everyone’s a fruit and nut case”. Nowadays Cadburys have diversified with many variations, so check out supermarkets and convenience stores to experiment with the newest offerings.
And don’t forget that the weeks leading up to Easter are Cadbury’s Creme Egg season, snack-size chocolate eggs filled with a creamy white fondant and a blob of sweet yellow ‘yolk’.
British snack confectionery bars
There. Are. So. Many! Visitors from the USA might be surprised by the UK’s enormous range of confectionery bars. They’re not particularly healthy British snacks, but they are very popular plus they’re easy to pack as fun London snack souvenirs. These are the ones to try:
- Mars bar Thick milk chocolate wrapped around a bar of nougat and caramel, a Mars bar is a reliably satisfying snack!
- Flake ‘Only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate’ went the 70s ad, with suggestive shots of a beautiful girl nibbling her Flake. It is still a British favourite. Good tucked into a soft serve ice cream cornet too.
- Crunchie Golden honeycomb covered in milk chocolate, a Crunchie bar is both chewy and crunchy andyou can dunk it decadently in a cup of tea.
- Fry’s Chocolate Cream Unusually for corner shop choc this is a dark chocolate bar. The ‘cream’ is a white fondant filling and comes in peppermint and orange versions too. Fry’s made the first mass-produced moulded choc bar and it has indents, so you can easily snap a piece off.
- Turkish Delight A milk chocolate bar with a thick filling of rose coloured jelly. It doesn’t really compare to traditional lokum from Turkey, but it’s a sweet treat in its own right.
- Bounty Rich fingers of coconut enrobed in milk or plain chocolate. I’ll say rich again, but you’ll love it if you’re a coconut fan.
- Smarties Whatever your age it’s hard to resist a Smartie or two. These colourful little bean-sized chocolates with sugar shells are also very handy for decorating cakes.
Terry’s Chocolate Orange
Now here’s a novelty. The Chocolate Orange is an orange-sized sphere of milk choc which divides into segments. The flavour is of course orange’y and there’s a beguiling waft of orange scent when you unwrap it. Terry’s have recently diversified into limited edition white chocolate, dark chocolate and even mint versions of the original.
After Dinner mints
Bendicks Mints Ennobled with a Royal Warrant, Bendicks of Mayfair’s Bittermints were all the rage in the heady days of the 1930s and are still a failsafe after-dinner gift. The intense 95% dark choc and white mint fondant combo is their signature, or try their selection box.
After Eight Mint Thins The height of sophistication according to 70s TV advertising, the dark chocolate and white mint pairing still appeals, as does the wafer thin format with a rippled choc coating. But these are much sweeter than Bendicks!
Variety packs of British confectionery
A great way to sample as many British chocolate snacks as possible without total sugar overload is to buy some fun-size or miniature selection packs. From modest boxes to family-sized tubs you can find them in supermarkets all year round, but especially before Halloween and Christmas. They make fun London food gifts.
Look out for Heroes, miniature-sized Cadburys favourites including Fudge, Twirl, Wispa, Double Decker, Dairy Milk Caramel etc.
And also Celebrations from the Mars stable with miniature Mars bars, Snickers, Bounty, Milky Way and more.
21st century British chocolates
Enough of nostalgia, now it’s time to focus on some brand new UK chocolate bars. Still at a supermarket price point, you can find a range of increasingly sophisticated and innovative chocs.
H!P vegan chocolate bars are made from oat milk and, in their natty paper wrappers, are instantly gift-able. The company prioritises ethical sourcing and sustainability too.
Montezumas is a small business from Brighton that is now stocked in many supermarkets. Again they focus on ethical production and innovation. Their bestselling organic Giant Chocolate Buttons make a great Christmas stocking filler. Or try a few of their imaginative choc bars: Black Forest, with dark choc and cherry or Happiness, a milk chocolate bar with salted caramelised hazelnuts.
My encyclopaedic knowledge of British sweets and chocs is all thanks to growing up in the 1970s. It was a golden age for confectionery with OTT ad campaigns for chocolates (who could forget the Bond-esque Milk Tray Man!) and a sweet shop on every corner.
Children deliberated over pocket money sweeties like Black Jacks, Fruit Salad, Parma Violets, Love Hearts, sherbet fountains and (yikes) packets of sweet cigarettes. Whilst parents treated themselves to selection boxes of Dairy Box or Black Magic chocolates for the weekend.
These days the old-fashioned sweet shop is a rarity but you can still find some favourite British candy in supermarkets. I discovered very traditional bags of sweets at Morrisons, including aniseed’y Coltsfoot Rock which I haven’t seen for years, toffee bonbons dredged in powered sugar and mint humbugs.
A shout out here for Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe in Castle Street Kingston upon Thames which has the traditional sweet shop vibe with shelf upon shelf of jars of sweets as well as nostalgic old pocket money favourites like:
Swizzel’s Love Hearts A true survivor from the 1950s is the tube of Love Hearts. These little circular tablets are hard and slightly fizzy on the tongue but their real appeal lies in the love messages printed on each sweet.
Favourite British bags of sweets
These are the sharing bags that we snaffle up for long journeys or nights in front of the TV! If fruity gums are your thing you’ll find plenty of choice.
Roundtree’s fruit pastilles fruit flavoured and jewel-coloured rounds of chewy jelly with sugary coats.
Maynard’s wine gums first developed in 1909 by the son of a tee-total sweet manufacturer, history relates that Maynard’s gums have never contained alcohol. But the chewy fruit lozenges are still stamped with names like Port, Sherry and Burgundy. No idea! Except that wine gums are less sugary than most other sweets so perhaps were aimed at adult palates.
Jelly Babies First mass-produced by Bassetts in 1918, Jelly Babies have only recently been given distinguishing shapes and names! These little person-shaped fruit jelly sweets have a characteristic ‘bite’ and a faint dusting of starch to stop them sticking together in the bag.
Liquorice allsorts Not fruity, but in the same grab bag bracket, allsorts are another first from Bassetts. The concept was apparently achieved in 1899 when someone accidentally dropped a tray of samples. Their company mascot, Bertie Bassett, was a figure made up of the sweet shapes. If you like liquorice these are incredibly more-ish!
Percy Pigs A brainwave of UK store Marks and Spencer in 1992 these gummy sweets with friendly pig faces are actually made in Germany. Originally containing pork gelatin they turned vegan in 2022. Bridging the age gap, M&S have diversified into Percy Pig pyjamas, duvet covers and even nail polish!
The Romans had rusks, the British navy survived on ships’ biscuits and biscuits helped to add sweetness to a tea break when sugar was rationed during World War Two. The love of a biscuit (better known as cookies in the USA) lies deep in the British psyche and every supermarket carries a huge selection. At elevenses (mid-morning) or afternoon snack time, a biscuit or two is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee.
Brits often judge biscuits by their dunk-ability, because we like to dip a biscuit in a cup of tea to soften it and release the flavours. But it can go badly wrong if the biscuit is fragile or submerged too long!
Best biccies for dunking are the McVities trio: Ginger Nuts, Digestives (with or without a chocolate topping) and the aptly named Rich Tea. Relative new kid on the block (launched in 1985) and an immediate dunking success story is the Hob Nob, an oaty, crunchy biscuit available with or without a chocolate layer.
But this is only the beginning. We are spoiled for choice! In every supermarket you will find an aisle stocked with Custard Creams and Fig Rolls, Lemon Puffs, Jammie Dodgers and legions more.
If you’re wondering where to start, you can buy a selection box of biscuits at a supermarket or online to help pinpoint your favourites.
Also try these popular British snacks:
Jaffa cakes These spongy discs, with an orange filling and chocolate top, may look like biscuits but they’re officially cakes!
Tunnock’s tea cakes Again is it a cake or a biscuit? Little foil-wrapped marshmallow’y domes covered in chocolate on a biscuit base.
Historic British snack biscuits
Really good shortbread is delicious: buttery, crumbly and more-ish. Look out for the brands Walkers (who have a Royal Warrant) and Deans, and avoid cheap souvenir tins sold for the tourist trade. Walkers make plenty of gift boxes and even an Advent calendar. The cute Scottie Dog shortbread packs featuring the Royal Warrant make good London food souvenirs – even though shortbread originated in Scotland.
History buffs will want to try a Fortt’s Original Bath Oliver if they can track one down. Invented 250 years ago by Dr William Oliver in Bath, the chocolate version was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth II. Sadly they’re an endangered species since United Biscuits stopped production during the pandemic. Plain Bath Olivers are traditionally eaten with cheese and wine.
Traditional British cakes
Every county of our island nation has its own local cake recipes. And most households have their favourites, often passed down through the generations. Cake is a favourite British snack at any time of the day, whether to accompany a cup of tea or celebrate a birthday. Many cake recipes are now confined to cookbooks, home kitchens and specialist food stores but some, like traditional British scones, have hit the contemporary mainstream. These heritage recipe British snacks make great souvenirs:
- Eccles cakes A small puff pastry pie encasing a sweet currant paste. Eccles cakes from Lancashire have been around since the 1600s.
- Bakewell tarts The original Bakewell pudding comes from Derbyshire. Today’s Bakewell tart or Cherry Bakewells are variations on the theme. A pastry case encloses frangipane sponge with a sugar paste topping and a cherry.
- Battenburg History relates that this pink and yellow checkerboard cake, wrapped in marzipan, was first devised as a wedding gift for Queen Victoria’s granddaughter who married a Prince of Battenburg. This pretty cake is an afternoon tea favourite.
- Scones Another afternoon tea staple, scones are solid yet fluffy little cakes, which are delicious with jam and clotted cream.
- Crumpets A griddle cake with a characteristic holey surface which is a wonderful vehicle for butter. Toasted crumpets have a distinctive chewy texture.
- Malt loaf A chewy, gooey sweet bread with raisins and a rich malty colour and taste. Serve sliced and buttered. Look out for the Soreen brand in supermarkets.
- Welsh cakes Another griddle-baked treat, these sweet and fruity little rounds have a touch of spice and a dusting of caster sugar.
- Bara Brith This traditional Welsh yeasted fruit loaf is called a tea bread, and tea is indeed an ingredient. Spread a slice with butter and serve at teatime.
- Mince pies A traditional British snack at Christmas time, an individual mince pie features a rich sweet mincemeat filling inside a pastry case.
Crisps: fun British snacks
We call them crisps, other countries say chips. We mean the finely sliced, fried (or baked) and salted slivers of potato that come in brightly coloured crinkly packets.
Factory-manufactured crisps took off in the UK and USA at roughly the same time. In the 1920s Londoners could buy bags of plain Smiths crisps with salt in a twist of paper. Then in 1954 Walkers produced the first cheese and onion flavoured crisps and a British snack icon was born.
Walkers (not the same as the shortbread!) is an omniscient crisp brand in the UK. Cheese and onion and salt and vinegar flavor crisps rub shoulders on the supermarket shelves with roast chicken, prawn cocktail (reminiscent of the 1970s dinner party) and special editions. This December Walkers crisps are promising us a festive roast turkey flavour and, more surprisingly, a Christmas pudding variety too.
For an upmarket take on these favourite British snacks, look out for Burts and Tyrrells brands for hand cooked crisps using local potatoes. Tyrrells favourites include British Beef and Ale potato crisps and Parsnip, Beetroot and Carrot veg crisps. While the Burts range offers Guinness flavoured British potato chips.
More savoury British snacks
Crisps are only the beginning when you consider the huge choice of savoury nibbles on British supermarket shelves.
Take Smiths Scampi Fries for instance, lemon and scampi flavoured snacks that are pleasantly redolent of fish and chip shops.
Or the pub stalwart, Pork Scratchings, which are a little like the crackling from roast pork.
My personal favorite are KP Hula Hoops, crunchy short cylinders of potato and corn which irresistibly fit onto the tips of your fingers!
And I’m also partial to Jacob’s mini Cheddars, crumbly baked biscuits flavoured with real cheese.
Finally a shout out to Jacob’s Cheeselets, another oven baked cheese snack which mysteriously I can only ever find in party size canisters over the Christmas period.
British snacks in tins
Heinz baked beans There are many manufacturers of baked beans but somehow Heinz is best! Beans on toast is one of the most iconic British snacks, although you do have to sit down at a table to eat it unlike most of the other snacks on this page.
Steamed puddings Heinz used to make individual tins of steamed pudding. Classically British and reminiscent of 70s school dinners, these spongey, syrupy delights included treacle sponge, chocolate sponge and the gloriously named spotted dick. We heated them up, sometimes perilously, in pans of boiling water. Heinz discontinued these tinned puds recently but a similar concept is Aunty’s Puds, the same popular flavours but in little plastic pots: microwaveable in 30 seconds. That’s progress.
Bird’s custard Also available in store cupboard pots and the perfect accompaniment to a steamed pud!
HP Sauce The Original HP Sauce by Heinz is a great London food souvenir. Not only does it carry a Royal Warrant on the collar of the bottle but the label also features a sketch of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. This savoury brown sauce is an essential for a full English breakfast and a beloved accompaniment to the bacon sandwich.
Branston pickle A tangy sweet pickle from Staffordshire this ticks all the nostalgia boxes. We still ‘bring out the Branston’ to perk up a sandwich or, that other favourite British snack, cheese on toast.
Worcestershire sauce Another contender for your cheese on toast is Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce. Dating back to 1837 it’s a store cupboard staple that enriches casseroles and is irreplaceable in a Bloody Mary.
Marmite See Twiglets. An acquired taste maybe but Marmite, spread thinly on buttered toast, is a classic British snack.
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Unfortunately the devastatingly delicious combination of a fresh scone with jam and clotted cream can add up to a whopping 1000 calories per serving!
After a costly legal battle vs HM Customs and Excise in 1991 McVities convinced the court that despite appearances Jaffa Cakes aren’t biscuits. They argued that biscuits go soft as they stale whereas cakes – and Jaffa Cakes – go hard. As a result Jaffa Cakes continue to be VAT free, unlike biscuits.
Please note that all visitor information here is for guidance only. Please check the relevant websites for the most up to date information on tickets, entrance requirements, opening times etc.
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About the author Nancy Roberts is a former women’s magazine editor and writer. She lives in London and is mum to two 20-something boys. In Map&Family she shares info and inspiration for curious travellers: singles and couples as well as families travelling with teens and young adults.
All photos are all rights reserved. Please do not reproduce these photos without prior written permission