Lonely Planet’s “Give it a Try” series makes a case for…mainstream travel experiences that most consider too touristy or unsophisticated. So we’ve asked London-based writer Caroline O'Donoghue to explain why M&M’s London is the perfect supplement to the city’s cultural riches.
In the 11 years that I’ve lived in London, I’ve hosted all kinds of guests: parents, siblings, old school friends, friends-of-friends that just need somewhere to stay, nephews, nieces… Unsurprisingly, all of them want different things from their London visit. Some want to shop. Some want to eat. Some have come to see me. Some have come to see Les Misérables.
All of them think they are better than M&M’s London.
And all of them are wrong.
M&M’s London is an improbably large shop in the middle of Leicester Sq that sells…M&M’s and M&M’s-related goods. Across four brightly colored floors, you can buy M&M’s pajamas, M&M’s slot machines and M&M’s wedding favors. You can have your face printed onto M&M’s. You can get M&M’s in Farrow & Ball–style colors, from lilac to polar blue to gray stone.
“We’re going in here,” I say, tugging on my guest’s sleeve.
“Here?” They ask, the scoff already implicit. “But I don’t even really like…”
“Just trust me.”
M&M’s London has a great location
Let me walk you through a classic Saturday in London when you’re visiting me. We might start off in Borough Market in the morning, take in a few sights along the South Bank and stop off in Chinatown for a late lunch. Let’s say that takes us to 5pm – and we have theater tickets at 7. How will we fill the time? We could sit in the pub, but that would leave us in rough shape by the time the curtain goes up. A better bet: a little trip to M&M’s London.
M&M’s London offers a dose of excitement during a long day, and at just the moment you need it most. By now you’ll have seen so many sights that you’ll feel almost nauseated by culture – a feeling for which some high-concept capitalist nonsense provides the perfect antidote.
Immediately, you’ll be asking questions. Who cares about M&M’s this much? They are not remotely of the moment. They are not even very tasty. I would never think to buy them, even at the movies. And yet…here it is, 35,000 sq ft of M&M’s. It’s baffling. It’s alluring.
And suddenly, you’re laughing. You are giggling, because you’re in a world of M&M’s, and it’s strange.
M&M’s London is weird
“I assumed it would be some kind of museum,” my friend Tom tells me. “But it’s not. It’s way weirder than that.”
You’re damn right it’s way weirder than that.
Everything about this place is inexplicable and uncanny. The walls and walls (and walls) of sweets dispensers, the photo booth at which you can print your face on M&Ms, the loud music. You feel giddy in here. You want to draw on the walls with a magic marker. You want to grab a fistful of sweets and push them in your mouth. It’s a strange place. And you feel strange when you’re in it.
M&M’s London is free
So the product itself isn’t free, and there are plenty of people loading up on candy and other merch. But not once in my many years of bringing people to M&M’s London have I felt the urge to purchase anything. Because to me, it’s not a shop – but rather something closer to a nightclub or (and?) theme-park ride. A 15-minute trip you’ll be talking about for the rest of the evening. But how? You ask, 10 minutes after leaving Les Mis. How is it four floors of…just…M&M’s?
Practical advice: Visit as the day turns to evening, as you are beginning to get bored of beautiful buildings, on a weekday. And ideally after you have had two beers.