Traditional to avant-garde
With an intriguing blend of tradition and avant-garde, Oxford has plenty to offer the most discerning shoppers.
Queen Street, just up from Oxford Castle, is where you will find chain stores such as Marks & Spencer, The White Company, Beaverbrooks the jeweller and Accessorize. Opening onto Queen Street is The Westgate Centre shopping mall, which recently underwent a massive £500m revamp and now boasts more than 100 stores including John Lewis, 25 restaurants and cafes, a boutique cinema and roof-top terrace dining.
Also accessed from Queen Street is the Clarendon Centre, a smaller indoor shopping mall with a mix of big name outlets selling clothes, shoes, jewellery such as Gap and French Connection. And if it’s well-made shoes you’re looking for, then don’t miss The Brogue Trader back in the Westgate Centre. Just across the way is the High Street – known locally as ‘The High’ – and home to some of the more upmarket boutiques such as Karen Millen, Coast and Jigsaw.
Make sure you pay a visit to Oxford’s Covered Market – there are five entrances, including one off the High Street. As soon as you step inside, you will be bowled over by the delicious smells and colourful bustle and spot stalls selling almost everything from cheese, organic meat, sausages, fish to chocolates, cake and flowers. Some of the city’s best, if understated, cafes are also tucked away in here, so it’s a great place to grab a quick and inexpensive coffee or bite to eat. You can also pick up stylish clothing and accessories while you’re in the covered market plus shoes, bags, belts and jewellery.
From there, make your way into Cornmarket, another busy street packed with shops such as WH Smith and Boots, as well as cafes and a busker or two. Just before you reach the crossroads at the top, you’ll find Boswells. This wonderful family-owned department store started trading more than 275 years ago and stocks everything, from toys, electronics, books, duvets and linen down to toothbrushes and soap. Take time to sample afternoon tea in its first-floor waitress-service 1738 cafe – named for the year the store was opened.
Make sure you pay a visit to Oxford’s covered market – there are five entrances, including one off the High Street
Print and whiskey
Turning right out of Cornmarket you’ll find yourself in Broad Street with the majestic walls of Balliol College on your left. Wander along and you will spot the Oxford University Press shop on the right and Blackwell’s book emporium on your left. Blackwell’s is well worth a visit, if only to see the quirky Norrington basement room, lined with shelves groaning with thousands of books. Make your way back down the road, stopping to nip down Turl Street on your left.
This little lane is worth noting, not just for its good eateries but also because it is home to The Whisky Shop, offering one of the UK’s largest and most varied selections of firewater, from single and double malt to Irish, Scotch and other varieties from around the world. While in Turl Street, linger long enough to also enjoy Aidan Meller’s superb art gallery before heading back onto Cornmarket, where at the crossroads with Broad Street, St Giles and George Street, you’ll spot Debenhams on the corner.
A little further down St Giles, look for a narrow cut-through passage, Friars Entry. This brings you out near the bus station and Gloucester Green where there is a traditional, open-air market on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9am to 4pm plus Saturdays from 10am to 5pm. Wednesdays are a general market where you’ll find a vibrant mix of fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers and plants, household goods, cheeses, pet food, frames, books, fabrics, in fact, just about anything you might need.
On Thursdays, it’s the turn of antique, vintage, art and craft traders, while Saturdays tend to have more off-beat foods on offer side-by-side with craft, vintage and arty bargains. If it’s quirky you’re after, head for Little Clarendon St, where you’ll find an eclectic mix of one-off independents.
Wednesdays are a general market where you’ll find a vibrant mix of fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers and plants, household goods, cheeses, pet food, frames, books, fabrics, in fact, just about anything you might need
Market stalls and local produce
Next stop after Little Clarendon Street is Jericho’s Walton Street, home to the Oxford University Press. This is one of the most fashionable parts of town, with a diverse range of second-hand book shops, cafes, cocktail bars and indie boutiques and its own art-house cinema. Follow Banbury Road out of town and you’ll soon come to Summertown, where there are a number of thriving indie boutiques and restaurants. North Parade, which runs between Banbury Road and Woodstock Road via Church Walk, is south of South Parade though no one is really sure why.
One school of thought says the strange geographic mix-up dates back to the English civil war which pitted Charles I against Oliver Cromwell. Charles made Oxford his headquarters and some say North Parade marked the northern-most position of the Royalist forces, while South Parade was the Roundheads’ mark. Whatever the truth of it, this narrow lane has a larger-than-life personality, with its artisan food shops and popular twice-monthly farmers and producers’ markets on the second and fourth Saturdays.
After wandering around one of Oxford’s best cheese shops, there’s also a chance to meander around the market stalls which spill into the road, continental style. Sample curries, pies, Brazilian street food to mouth-melting beetroot followed by raspberry chocolate brownies and the sweetest Turkish Delight. It’s not just about food, although what’s on offer is so tempting you may well forget about anything else. But if you can tear yourself away long enough, there are plenty of other non-food items on sale, including plants, flowers and pottery.
If you enjoy knitting, you won’t want to miss Oxford Yarn Store which stocks a huge selection of yarns, knitting patterns and needles but also has a giant kitchen table and chairs in the centre so that customers can drop in for a chat while casting off a few more rows. The Rose & Crown pub and cafes are handy for a swift glass of beer to quench your thirst, before you go back for more. One of the best things about Oxfordshire is the choice of thriving market towns within easy reach, including Bicester, Witney, Woodstock, Chipping Norton, Burford, Abingdon, Didcot and Wantage. Rather than having to drive up the busy A34 to reach Bicester, it’s easy to let the train take the strain, thanks to the opening of a new Bicester Village station with a direct line to Oxford.
Sample curries, pies, Brazilian street food to mouth-melting beetroot followed by raspberry chocolate brownies and the sweetest Turkish Delight
Glamorous Bicester Village is a designer outlet which attracts almost six million shoppers a year. Many travel from London (47 minutes on the train) and overseas to bag its fashion bargains, and once you’ve been there, you’ll understand why. Its street-style layout looks immaculate but it’s the heavily discounted designer labels which draw in the fashionistas. Prada, Gucci, Burberry, Armani, Dolce et Gabbana and Jimmy Choo are just a few of the 130 brands that have stores here.
Coats, suits, dresses, skirts, trousers, tops, shoes, bags, lingerie, tableware, candles and all sorts of other fashion and lifestyle treats can be found at anything up to 60 per cent less than you’d pay on the high street. There’s also plenty of choice for men of all ages – from Dior Homme to Jack Wills – and children. It’s a good idea to plan to spend at least half, if not a whole, day at Bicester Village, not just because of the staggering number of outlets but the tempting array of cafes and restaurants will make you want to splash out on lunch while you are there.
There are a number of options to make your trip even more fun, including a hands-free shopping service which allows you to leave each of your purchases bagged up in the shops you visit and, when you’ve finished your shopping trip, you’ll find it has all been carried to reception for you. You can also opt for valet parking, which allows you to drive right up to the shops, hand over your car keys and head for the clothes rails.
Witney, to the west of the county, is fast becoming a magnet for shoppers not just in that part of Oxfordshire but further afield, thanks to its picturesque looks and free parking. Woolgate Shopping Centre has a large car park right next to it and offers up to three hours’ free parking, with high street retailers such as, H&M, Next, Mountain Warehouse and many more. Head for the Marriott’s Walk shopping mall for more big names including M&S, Debenhams, Phase Eight, Dorothy Perkins and Wallis.
Glamorous Bicester Village is a designer outlet which attracts almost six million shoppers a year
Nearby shopping destinations and outlets
Other market towns well worth a visit include Woodstock, home to the splendid Blenheim Palace where Winston Churchill was born. Just seven miles from Oxford, Woodstock has many independent shops selling anything from hand-made furniture to fashion and artisan bread. Also look out for the Iona House art gallery and Love Wine, a wine merchant store which is bursting at the seams with superb vintages and is staffed by friendly experts who will help you pick the perfect bottle for any occasion.
If you have time, pop into Heritage where you can see antiques and vintage items from 12 collectors and if you need a new suit, look no further than Cotswold Tailor. Sticking with west Oxfordshire, Chipping Norton is well-known for the famous faces who have homes nearby, including former Prime Minister David Cameron and former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. The pretty town’s golden yellow Cotswold stone centre has plenty of interesting one-offs such as children’s boutique Tickittyboo and MASH, crammed with unusual gifts and lifestyle ideas.
Between Witney and Chipping Norton, discerning shoppers might want to take time out to stop at Burford, often called ‘the gate to the Cotswolds’. Chain stores haven’t really made an impact on this picturesque village, so it still has an interesting mix of quirky independents, selling anything from clothing to gifts and much in between. Heading to the south of the county, Didcot and Abingdon are the main shopping hubs.
Didcot’s Orchard Centre includes more than 30 stores offering fashion, gifts and gadgets, ranging from Sainsbury’s, Argos, H&M, TK Maxx and Boots through to various independents plus restaurants and a cinema. With its wide mix of independent outlets, Abingdon is certainly not a clone town. The medieval market place, period buildings and riverside setting make it a relaxing place to browse for a new outfit or gift and there is also a broad choice of tempting pubs, cafes and restaurants to take the weight off your feet when you are all shopped out.
Near the northern boundary of the county, Banbury is well known everywhere, thanks to the children’s nursery rhyme Ride a White Horse to Banbury Cross. Its Castle Quay shopping centre gives the town a contemporary touch, featuring a host of well-known retailers. In contrast, Banbury’s town centre offers a more relaxed environment, with independent shops offering art and vintage antiques, traditional tea shops, an antiquarian book shop and a popular comic book store.
Everything you need to know about Oxfordshire
Where to eat in Oxfordshire
The best things to do in Oxfordshire
The best nightlife in Oxfordshire
Your guide to arts and culture in Oxfordshire