Oxford is known for many things – its prestigious university, its buildings with their famous ‘dreaming spires’ and its beautiful parks and gardens. A lesser-known treasure – tucked away off the main streets – is the historic Oxford Covered Market. Opened in 1774, it’s still full of unique and vibrant shops and stalls. This guide reveals 10 of the best stalls to visit within the market.
Bar, Cafe, Restaurant, Sandwich Shop, Vegan, Vegetarian
Alpha Bar provides gourmet salads and sandwiches at affordable prices. Local, seasonal menus and the fact that all of its food is prepared daily make this an excellent place to grab a healthy bite, with great vegan and vegetarian options. Alpha Bar also focusses on ethically produced goods and ingredients and has a ‘no waste’ philosophy, which means you can buy its products with a good conscience.
Ben’s Cookies is now a popular chain, but it’s well worth visiting it in Oxford, as it’s the original store. Helge Rubinstein launched the business, named after her son Ben, in the market in 1983. The Oxford branch is a small, unassuming kiosk in one corner of the market, which often has a huge queue stretching down one of the market’s alleys. It’s worth the wait, though, as Ben’s does the best cookies in the whole of Oxford.
In the far corner of the market, you’ll find Cardews of Oxford, the oldest recognised provider of fine tea and freshly roasted coffee in the city. Located in the market since 1965, the store has been growing its clientele for over 50 years, and if you drop in, you’ll find it packed with coffee enthusiasts and tourists alike. It’s an excellent place to get proper coffee in Oxford or to pick up a gift for your caffeine-crazy friend.
Another long-term market tenant is M Feller and Daughter, a butcher’s shop that specialises in organic meat. M Feller, who’s been a butcher since he was 14, has had a store in the market since 1979, and the company takes pride in its fine-quality meat. Pop in for sausages – made daily on the premises – or in-season delicacies such as quail, pheasant and venison. The butcher shop is also the proud owner of the world’s oldest ham, buying it at an auction in 1993. It still hangs in the butcher’s window today.
The milkshakes from Moo-Moo’s are a favourite in the university town | Courtesy of Oxford Covered Market
Milkshake parlours such as Shakeaway have taken the UK by storm in the past 10 years, but any Oxford local will tell you that the place you need to grab a shake from is Moo-Moo’s. The basic concept is simple yet effective – you pick your favourite ingredient, and the team will blend it into a milkshake with ice cream. The family-run business opened in 2006 and has proved a well-needed addition to the market.
Browse indoor plants and beautiful bouquets at The Garden of Oxford | Courtesy of The Garden of Oxford
The Garden of Oxford stocks beautiful, English-grown flowers, sourced from London’s New Covent Garden Market. Whether you need a bespoke Valentine’s bouquet or some sunflowers to brighten your room, the helpful and attentive team will be able to help you. Opening in the market in 1984, it has remained a firm favourite for both residents and those visiting Oxford. As well as fresh flowers, you’ll find indoor plants and Kew Gardens pottery here, together with seasonal garden products.
The Hat Box is Oxford’s only specialist hat shop. As well as stocking a host of different styles and colours, the shop can also create something just for you – with matching handbags available. Whether you’re after a fascinator or a fedora, Gillian and the team at The Hat Box will be able to help you out.
It wouldn’t be a market without a cheese stall, and the Oxford Cheese Company is the best. Known as one of Britain’s leading cheese specialist traders – open since 1983 – it has a huge selection of English and continental cheeses. Its range includes its private-label cheeses Oxford Blue and Oxford Isis, but the most peculiar thing it provides is its cheese wedding cakes.
Sofi de France, or Sofi’s as regulars affectionately call it, is a sandwich shop and one of the best places to grab a cheap bite in the city. You can pick from a variety of ingredients depending on your tastes and watch while your baguette is put together. You can then enjoy your sandwich in one of Oxford’s many parks or dine in the shop – it’s in the perfect spot for people-watching.
At Teardrop Bar, you can enjoy a drink or buy beer to take home | Courtesy of Oxford Covered Market
After doing some shopping, you might be in the mood for a pint. Teardrop Bar, a concept shop and nano-pub in the market, is the place to go. Run by Church Hanbrewery, it sells various draught beers, which you can drink on-site or take away in growlers – try the tasty Teardrop Citra, a pale ale with tangerine notes.