Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 24: London Christmas crackers

Happy Christmas Eve to all! It’s Day 24 of our Advent Calendar which means that it is time for the final Holiday tradition. For this one we don’t have to travel far, as we are taking a look at the good old Christmas crackers. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

Photo credit: Saz B on Unsplash


What is Christmas without Christmas crackers with the paper crowns, riddles and silly jokes? But, did you know that Christmas crackers have only been around for less than 200 years? In 1847, a Londoner, Tom Smith, was trying to figure out a way to promote the sales of his bonbons. He first experimented with the adding of messages into the wrappers, small “love messages.” According to a tale, still trying to improve his sales numbers, Mr Smith was lighting a fire and when he heard the logs crackle, he found the inspiration to create a bonbon that would crack when pulled open. Mr Smith called his new cracking bonbon “the Cosaque” but – to Mr Smith’s dismay – the term “cracker,” invented by his competitors, was the one that stuck. The explosive popularity of the crackers was a bit of a double-edged sword for Mr Smith, and for his son, Walter Smith. Eventually competition was popping up everywhere and Mr Smith the younger had to find a way to distinguish their crackers from those sold by everyone else. This is when he decided to abandon the sweets entirely and the crackers we know today were truly born, with the paper crown, the riddle and the trinket.

Will you be pulling crackers this Christmas?


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What bloggers are saying about Marco Polo Guides

Our travel guides are often found in the hands of travel bloggers and who better to put them to the test! Here is what a few of them had to say about Marco Polo Guides:

Heels in My Backpack

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Rome Spiral Guide: “It’s difficult when you’re visiting somewhere for the first time and only have a short amount of time to experience it. How are you meant to prioritise what to do? Should you just hit the big time high profile sights? Try to go off the beaten path?

Well this is the predicament I was in when I visited Rome last month. My Anchored cruise was departing on the Sunday and I decided to fly in on the Friday night so I could enjoy a full Saturday of Rome goodness. So essentially I needed to experience Rome in a day… I mean I know Rome wasn’t built in a day so presumably it would be difficult to see it all in a day, right?

Enter my brand new and shiny Marco Polo Spiral Guide to Rome.

To maximise my time, I thought I’d try out one of their ‘Perfect Day’ itineraries to make sure I was making the most of this glorious day.

And it really was glorious, it was 33 degrees celsius on this particular day. Not the ideal temp for walking around in the boiling sun all day, but hey, I went with it.
There are several day itineraries in the guide but I decided to go for the ‘Ancient City’ variation. Mainly because it included the Colosseum and I’m basic like that. But also because it looked like it had a good mix of the big sights I had heard of and under the radar gems.” See the full post here:

The Sunny Side of This

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Brussels Pocket Guide: “My favorite parts of their guide were the Do’s and Dont’s of Belgium (particularly the driving laws of the city), the useful phrases section both in French and Dutch, and their Discovery Tours suggestions. For this review we did a little bit of a mix and match of their Discovery Tours section, given that we had the baby with us and we wanted to go around by public transportation.

We were also very relieved that the restaurant suggestions all come with the place’s schedules. Restaurants in Brussels are usually not open on Sundays, and only open during lunch time or dinner (ex. 12-2, and 6-9pm). Luckily, the park we visited had a festival that particular weekend and it was filled with food trucks!” Read more on

Sophie’s Suitcase

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London Spiral Guide: “I had a lovely 48 wandering London and used my trusty guide to keep me heading in the right direction and I came across so many lesser known shops, cafes and restaurants because of this. Marco Polo Travel Guide books trump other equivalent maps because each time the book mentions a place, whether it’s a cafe, bar or landmark, it also makes sure it references the map co-ordinates too so that you can find the place super easy. BINGO!” See the full post on

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Paris Spiral Guide: “We also sat down with a cup of tea and planned the next 48 hours of our lives, in beautiful Paris! I don’t know why but I hadn’t really asked for tips and tricks from the internet and instead was relying solely on my new Marco Polo Travel Guide to get us from one spot to another.

As we were only going to be in Paris for 48 hours we circled the places we really wanted to visit, and then crossed a few others off the list that we would save for another trip. We mapped out our route for the days and used the book to find out opening times, entry prices and how we would get there.” Read more on

Tara Povey – Where is Tara

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Dublin Spiral Guide: “If it’s your first time in Dublin, especially if you’re just visiting for a weekend, you might feel a bit overwhelmed about where to begin and how to really make the most of your time to experience the best that the city has in store. Never fear. Marco Polo and I are here to help you out. Marco Polo, you ask? The famous explorer? Well, kind of – The Marco Polo Dublin guide, stuffed to the gills with useful information. It’s a real gem when it comes to maximizing your time and planning your trip. Each part of the city is handily dealt with in separate sections. It’s easy to see at a glance which attractions are close to each other, how to get to them, and where to find great food without going out of your way. Navigating and finding your way around has never been easier.” Find out more on

Alice – Teacake Travels

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London Spiral Guide: “There’s just so much to see and do around London! You could spend months and months here without barely scratching the surface. Yet, when time is so short, we need to get to the point!

What if you want to do something different, like that time I set out to discover the street art scene in Shoreditch? What if you want to see a different side of London, hangout in places that you won’t find in most guidebooks, see the city’s charmingly British eccentricity and hit up some of the most weird London attractions?

You could spend hours searching for tidbits online or alternatively arm yourself with my advice and a copy of the Marco Polo London spiral guide.

Divided into sections for different parts of the city, each chapter has a handy map and suggestions on how to maximize your time, leaving you able to discover the different parts of London with ease. There’s also terrific digestible recommendations for places to eat and drink in here, to stop you feeling overwhelmed from all the wonderful dining options in London!” See the full post on


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Eat Like a Local – London

British food has long ceased to be good for a cheap laugh; today, London boasts over 50 Michelin-starred eateries and fulfils all culinary desires: from Afghan to Zen food; kosher-Chinese, garlic cuisine and gluten-free options – there are many new cuisines to explore. And the sushi and tapas fever continues too.

London Marco Polo Guide

Local specialities to try on your visit to London:

For those who are unfamiliar with English food, here are some items found in London’s
pubs, cafés and restaurants that visitors from other parts of the English-speaking
world may find puzzling.

Ale – heavier dark beer, ideally drunk at cellar temperature, with many regional variations; one local favourite is London Pride.

Bangers & mash – sausages and mashed potato. Often to be found in pubs, like bubble & squeak (mashed potato with green cabbage, originally a leftovers dish) and shepherd’s pie made from mutton or beef mincemeat, covered with a mashed potato crust.

Cider – naturally cloudy alcoholic apple drink; stronger than French cidre.

Crisps – national potato snack, not to be confused with chips (fries)!

Crumpets – round soft yeasty muffin with holes; fabulous with butter and the dark-brown, love-it-or-hate-it Marmite yeast extract.

Curry – korma and masala curries are mild, Madras curries rather hot, vindaloo is extra hot. Common starters are thin poppadums (wafer-thin chickpea-flour crispbread) with pickles (onions, mint sauce, chutney); there’s also naan bread or chipati flatbread.

Custard – vanilla sauce, often served as an alternative to liquid whipped cream, e.g. with apple pie, ice cream or fruit crumbles.

Fish & chips – the famous national dish: breaded fish & fries with salt and malt vinegar.

Pie – mincemeat in pastry, Victorian fast food, originally with an eel filling. Eel is a Cockney speciality and can be sampled (jellied or stewed) in the few remaining eel, pie & mash shops of the East End.

Roast – a Sunday roast – roast beef or roast chicken with roast potatoes and sauce – is served in hotel carveries and many (gastro) pubs.

Scones – sweet and crumbly; with butter, jam and cream (or even clotted cream) they are a firm part of traditional afternoon tea.


Restaurants serving traditional English cuisine:

Afternoon Tea

This stylish five-star hotel has already received the Tea Council award for the best afternoon tea in London. In the Palm Court expect alongside finger sandwiches and scones original and unusual variations, e. g. candied orange peel in a glass filled with colourful sugar. Afternoon tea daily 2–6pm | 1 C Portland Place, Regent Street | tel. 79 65 01 95 | | tube: Oxford Circus

Tea at the Ritz, between marble pillars and chandeliers, is a society ritual worth sharing. £53 gets you the city’s finest tea, sandwiches, scones, patisseries. You may also like to order a song from the pianist with a little card! For gentlemen, a jacket and tie are obligatory: no jeans or trainers! Booking essential. Daily 11.30am, 1.30, 3.30, 5.30, 7.30pm | 150 Piccadilly | tel. 73 00 23 45 | | tube: Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly, Victoria)


English cuisine:

Old-fashioned and atmospheric all-daybreakfast café in Soho. Closed Sun | 101 Wardour St. | tel. 77 34 37 50 | tube: Piccadilly Circus (Bakerloo, Piccadilly) | Budget

Between Thursdays and Sundays, the bar, lounge/restaurant on the river Lea offers fabulous views of the Olympic Park, served with London smoked salmon. Booking essential! Thu/Fri 7–11pm, Sat 10am–2pm, 7–11pm, Sun 12 noon–4pm | Stour Rd., Fish Island | tel. 85 25 23 65 | | tube: Pudding Mill Lane (DLR) | Moderate–Expensive

Location, location, location! Airy wooden panelled stylish restaurant overlooking the pond in St James’s Park. The menu is original, even if portions are on the small side for the price. Daily, closed Sun evenings | tel. 74 51 99 99 | http://www.innthe | tube: Charing Cross (Bakerloo, Northern) | Moderate

Classic-old-fashioned family run East End caff. The listed decor is stunning: gold and chrome-opal glass outside, wood panelling and wonderful Art Deco style inside. Mon– Sat 7am–5pm | 332 Bethnal Green Rd. | tube: Bethnal Green (Central) | Budget

You’ll be hard pressed to find a more English lunch: at the garden centre! Chef Skye Gyngell presents a small menu with seasonal ingredients. On a budget? Go for the Teahouse. Church Lane (Petersham Road), Richmond, Surrey | tel. 86 05 36 27 | | train from Waterloo to Richmond or tube: Richmond (District), then 30 min. Thames walk or bus no. 65 or 371 | Expensive, Teahouse | Moderate

Sound fish & chips in an increasingly trendy street in Spitalfields. The fish comes in fresh from Billingsgate Market and according to the owners is caught sustainably. Mon–Thu 11am–11pm, Fri/Sat to 11.30pm, Sun to 10.30pm | 6–8 Hanbury St. | tel. 72 47 08 92 | | tube: Liverpool St., Old St.(Northern) | Budget

Best of British in Borough Market’s Floral Hall, with a view of St Paul’s. Slightly expensive for what it is, but where else can you order an English Pinot Noir? Great breakfast, early opening for the market folk. Closed Sun eve | Stoney St. | tel. (0)84 50 34 73 00 | | tube: London Bridge | Moderate

London’s oldest chippie has been frying since 1871. Variable service. Takeaway cheaper and quicker. Daily | 47 Endell St. | tube: Covent Garden (Piccadilly) | Budget

London’s oldest restaurant (since 1798), famous for its steaks and game dishes, oysters and pies, has something of an old country house: massive wooden panelling, heavy curtains, velvet coverings, on the walls paintings, prints and hunting trophies. Beautiful skylight. Mon–Sat 12 noon–11.45pm, Sun to 10.45pm | 35 Maiden Lane | tel. 78 36 53 14 | | tube: Covent Garden (Piccadilly) | Moderate


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London Marco Polo Guide

What’s the best thing you have ever tasted in London? Comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.

Low Budget London

London and low budget don’t usually go together. However with some clever planning and top Insider Tips, you can visit this bustling city without spending a fortune! Here are Marco Polo’s top tips:

London Eye

Sightseeing & Attractions

So much in London is free. The British Museum, The National Gallery, Tate Modern, walking along the Thames to look at street performers, Hyde Park… the list goes on! Check out: and which lists guided tours, festivals, exhibitions, open days and cultural events costing nothing or £3 at the most.

Tourist attractions often offer online savings, as well as options to combine two attractions and save: e.g. London Eye with sightseeing cruise on the river or church visit with concert.

In summer, look out for the More London Free Festival’s films, music and theatre on the Thames free of charge. (


Low Budget Accommodation

In the summer college break, Imperial College London offers 500 large, centrally located rooms, including breakfast for £49–86. Watts Way | Princes Gardens | Tel. +44 (0)20 7594 9507 | Tube: South Kensington (Circle, District, Piccadilly)

Interesting for Heathrow and Gatwick travellers: at the Japanese-inspired Yotel pod hotel, the designer standard cabin costs from £55, the premium version from £82. Also bookable for just four hours – now that’s handy! Tel. +44 (0)207 100 8010 |

Garden Court Hotel:  Friendly hotel in pretty location, with garden. 40 rooms. | Includes buffet breakfast  | 30–31 Kensington Gardens Sq. | Tel. +44 (0)20 7229 2553 | | Tube: Bayswater (Circle, District)

Ridgemont Hotel: Traditional Bloomsbury family-run affair. Note: only half of the smallish rooms have their own bathroom. Garden. 32 rooms | 65–67 Gower St. | Tel. + 44 (0) 20 7636 1141 | | Tube: Goodge Street (Northern)

Keystone House (Hostel): New and welcoming King’s Cross hostel with just under 100 beds and personal atmosphere. A tip for early bookers: good-value two-person ‘dorms’. There is a women’s dorm too. Every Sat at 6pm people get together on the roof terrace for a free welcome drink! In-house internet café. 272–276 Pentonville Road | Tel. +44 (0) 20 7837 6444 | | Tube: King’s Cross, St Pancras
London Phoneboxes


Top restaurants slash their prices at lunchtime; set meals are cheaper than à la carte. Check the website of the local evening newspaper Evening Standard and for good deals.

From morning to night, vegetarian outfit, Tibits (12–14 Heddon St. | Tel. +44 (0)20 7758 4110 | offers a huge selection of freshly prepared, good value dishes and salads. Child friendly play corner downstairs.

An alternative for summer: buy everything you need for a picnic from the supermarket and rent a deckchair in one of the many inviting parks (4 hrs £2).


Cinema and Theatre

New releases, classics and iconic flicks (from £5.50) are on show at the Prince Charles repertory cinema in Chinatown. 7 Leicester Place | Tel. +44 (0) 20 7494 3654 | | Tube: Leicester Square (Northern, Piccadilly)

Pick up half-price theatre tickets for the same evening (plus a £3 fee) at the two ‘tkts’ theatre booths ( Tkts Leicester Square (southern side) | Mon–Sat 10am–7pm, Sun 12 noon–4pm | Tube: Leicester Sq. (Northern, Piccadilly). There are two separate windows: one for matinee tickets, the other for evening shows (limited to two per person).



Fashion-conscious Londoners browse in charity shops ( – preferably in wealthy areas such as Chelsea, e. g. at the British Red Cross  | 67 Old Church St. | Tube: Sloane Square (Circle, District).

Variations on the latest fashion trends are for sale at Primark: 499–517 Oxford St. | | Tube: Marble Arch (Central) | and Peacocks, e. g. 201–203 Old St. | | Tube: Old Street (Northern).

Content from the London Marco Polo Spiral Guide

London Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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What’s your top tip for London on a budget? Comment below, tweet us @MarcoPoloGuides or tell us on Facebook.