The shops of Covent Garden, London

Posted on
Jun 7, 2011

I love playing the part of the Ugly American.

The way I figure it, if people are going to judge and hate me without knowing me, the least I can do is have a little fun at their expense. The best part is the look on their faces when they realize I’ve been messing with them.

“Wait, wait, wait … you voted for Obama? Then why did you say America needs to blast all non-Aryan people off the planet? Oh, god … were you being facetious the whole time?”

Deeeelightful, I tell you. And so, in that spirit, let me tell you why the shops at Covent Garden are totally like the Pike Place Market, and how they obviously copied the idea from us here in the States.

Now, those of you who like to toss around facts when attempting to prove a point will note that Covent Garden was around a few centuries before the Pike Place Market, to which I will cleverly respond, “U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!” And to that display of awesomeness, there is no response.

I wandered through the market on a rainy Friday morning, trying to kill time until the London Transport Museum opened (which, ruthlessly, was not until 11am. In my jet-lagged state, I had been up FOR 7 HOURS by then). It was pouring, despite the forecast predicting only intermittent showers. Seriously, we in Seattle invented that.

Also, notice the colors on the British flag. They totally got those from us, I bet.

The shops at Covent Garden didn’t really pick up steam until 10am or so. Before then, all the vendors were putting up tarps, because apparently Londoners, like Seattlites, hate getting wet, and also refuse to carry umbrellas with them (such copycats).


So like us ... they're practically human.

The tarps also served to protect authentic English souvenirs, like calendars of Taylor Lautner and Wentworth Miller.

Get your OWN effeminate heartthrobs, London! (P.S. - We're totally keeping Robert Pattison.)

At this point, I started to get a little bummed. Regional markets all around the world seem to sell the same mass-produced, likely-assembled-in-a-sweatshop crap. A few short minutes after I took these photos, a horde of teenagers from Essex or wherever (I don’t know a single British suburban town. Ugly American, FTW!) was freaking out over this stuff. It kind of broke my heart.

Don’t worry: broken hearts mend quickly. Around the corner I found actual local crafters, selling overpriced jewelry and ugly vests (which the English call “waistcoats!”)

Putting the sarcasm aside for a minute (yes, seriously), there were some cool wares for sale. One guy had an entire stand full of photos he had taken of Banksy’s work around the city, printed onto stretch canvas (I’d have taken a photo of his stuff, except it was expressly forbidden. Which is weird, when you consider that his body of work consists entirely ofΒ  photographs of someone else’s work. But whatever). Another shop had pipes inspired by the Sherlock Holmes series. I kind of wanted to get one for Rand, despite the fact that he doesn’t smoke.

The Watson was my favorite as it was portly and round and reminded me of the good doctor.

There were still a good number of tchotckes, but they were a little more British in nature.

Guess which of these signs I regret not buying.GUESS.

And the street musicians in Covent Garden were nothing less than fantastic. Really, “street musician” doesn’t do them justice, as they were from a classical music performance group and orchestra, and they just happened to be playing in the courtyard. They were all kinds of magical. I wish Rand had been there, as he might have been able to tell me what pieces they were playing (he has a knack for that sort of thing).

It ended up being a really delightful way to kill time and stay dry until the Transport Museum opened (of course, I did cave in and bought an umbrella emblazoned with a Union Jack). Except for one truly disappointing cupcake (do not go to Ella’s), it was a really enjoyable morning. Is the centuries-old Covent Garden just a rip-off of the Pike Place Market? Probably not. But even if it were, it’d still be worth a visit.

Leave a Comment

  • Once upon a time there was a really great clockwork-toy museum there. I’ve always wanted to go back. We also saw a string quartet. Do you think they stole the idea from the gospel dudes who hang out in front of that Starbucks? Covent Garden is also the site of one of the only pictures of my shiny new bride and I together on our honeymoon, after we coerced some other tourists to take it.

  • See… We made Covent Garden for the American Tourists, and fill it with tat and send Essex teenagers to wander there…. We keep all the proper markets for the locals… πŸ˜‰

    Try Borough Market on Thursday if you’re still around, for a cracking foodie experience.

  • Bhavya

    “Keep calm and eat a cupcake”?

    • Everywhereist

      Am I so transparent?

  • I’ve seen the “Keep calm and eat a cupcake” sign at Target here in the US. πŸ™‚

    I bet the brits copied it from them!

    • Everywhereist

      Nice. πŸ™‚

  • Dawn

    Love London! Thanks for giving us a glimpse. But I so agree on Covent Garden. It absolutely feels like how Disney would spin London.

  • I hope you at least stopped by Ben’s cookies and grabbed a few for yourself, though they totally are a knock off of Mrs. Field’s. And I echo Girl, independent’s comment: GO TO BOROUGH MARKET on Thursday (not Friday or Saturday – far too crowded). I miss London’s food markets…

    (Also, I have to confess: I found your blog thanks to the Best of list, congrats. I kinda wish I lived even a little bit near Seattle so I be your friend. Insightful travel commentary, sarcasm and cracking wit a very amused reader doth make.)

    • Everywhereist

      I did not. Instead, I had a disappointing cupcake at Ella’s. Sadness.

    • Adrian

      as someone who used to live rigth next to borough market you really have to go on a saturday as nowhere near as many traders are there on a thursday/friday!

  • That is a shame. And I rescind my statement before; upon reading further into your blog, it appears that you have already experienced the foody wonderfulness of Borough Market. Carry on, good fellow.

    • Everywhereist

      Thank you. Also, if you have any cupcake suggestions …

      • Molly

        Unfortunately not, cupcakes weren’t quite in style when I lived there. I can, however, send you to get the best hot chocolate on the planet, if you feel like heading up to Tufnell Park… it’s a place called Rustique. And if you go to Camden Market at all, try to find SoBo cookies. My husband worked with them for a while, very delicious huge cookies. Enjoy!

      • Oooh yes indeed I have some cupcake ideas and tips for you next time you’re in London!!

        Hummingbird Bakery (four locations around the city)
        Bea’s of Bloomsbury (
        Crumbs and Doilies (find them at the markets around town…)
        Primrose Bakery (

        Can’t go wrong with ANY of these really but I’m partial to Hummingbird Bakery as kind of a traditionalist when it comes to these things….


        • Everywhereist

          There is now a serious risk of me moving to London. πŸ™‚

  • You absolutely do not need to smoke to own a Holmes inspired pipe. They look like they’d make great bookends …

  • Ivy

    Let’s face it, other than the whole royalty thing, the Brits secretly wish they were half as cool as Americans (with all that freedom and all). πŸ™‚

    I’ve never been to London, but I’ve always heard that they hate Americans there. Funny, I heard that while in South Vietnam… you know an area that has every right to hate the USA, but love us anyway.

    Great post! Glad I found your blog!

    • Everywhereist

      In truth, Britain is like anywhere else – some people will hate you for being a Yank, some will love you for it, and most won’t care – they’ll determine whether or not they like you after they’ve spent some time with you. πŸ™‚ Which is as it should be.

      • Sigh

        We r not all snobs u know, I think some Americans r quite rude.

  • I’m so jealous that you’re in London. I loved it when I was there. Like your blog. Congratulations on the Time thing. Hope I’ll be able to join you on that list soon.

  • Schmate

    As an American transplant to the UK (who’s addicted to cupcakes), I HIGHLY recommend making a run to the Selfridges food hall. Find the cupcake stand at the back (by the chocolate section) and get the red velvet one with the pink circle on top. SO much better than Ella’s / just about every other cupcake shop in London.

    • Everywhereist

      Did … did you say red velvet?

  • Hi!

    What a lovely town, London! Thanks for sharing those wonderful pics and walks.

    Kind regards,


  • I really enjoyed your article. Pity you did not drop into Tuttons for a coffee as well. It looks a bit like a tourist trap because of its locationel. It isn’t cheap, but it is good value. We Londoners who run it love our restaurant and Covent Garden. It does have its share of tourist tat, but it also has a lot of hidden gems.

    • Everywhereist

      Hugh – This is the first I’ve heard of Tuttons. It’s your place? Next time in London I might pester you for a visit. πŸ™‚

  • Jean-Luc

    Why would anybody hate or judge you just because you are an American? Most people, in Europe at least, feel sorry for the American people because of the USA Patriot Act. We just wish we could help you restore democracy and make you free again.

    Great blog – thanks!

    • Everywhereist

      Aw, thanks Jean-Luc. I was being a little tongue-in-cheek, but I have noticed some unpleasant treatment in Europe on occasion (then again, I’ve noticed the same thing inflicted on Europeans in the U.S. Can’t we all just eat cupcakes and hug?)

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  • I live in London and avoid the piazza like the plague. To think it used to be a lovely flower market. I guess it’s nice for the kids though…seeing all the street performers. It seems that markets have become just like the international chain stores – as you said, they all sell the same thing!

    I prefer the streets north of the piazza. There is a nice gaggle of shops and cafes around Earlham Street including Magma bookshop, Fopp for cheap CDs and some nice bead shops if you are craft-inclined on the road. For a drink, try Freud’s bar and gallery at the end of Neal Street and turn right. It is down some steps in a basement.

    Cupcakes? I have to agree with Schmate, ‘Red Velvet’ is melt in your mouth scrumtiousness (Hummingbird Bakery do them). Or (ready for this Everywhereist?!) try a ‘Black Bottom’.

  • Paul

    Can’t we all just eat cupcakes and hug?….

    That is how come I have put on 50lbs since moving to the states and got a 3 year old..Maybe more hugging less cake in the future..

    As an ex Londoner I have to say reading your posts makes me homesick..then I remember we have sunshine every week here..

    • Everywhereist

      Then, clearly, you don’t live in Seattle. πŸ™‚

  • adam bucci

    what was the name of the string quintet that played there monday afternoon? they were choreographed and were upstaged by a ballerina during offenbach’s ‘the infernal gallop’

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