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Discover: The Covered Market, Oxford

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Tejvan Pettinger

We discover Oxford’s famous Covered Market and let you know which cafés, shops and vendors are too good to miss!

The Covered Market is one of Oxford’s most-visited and best-loved tourist destinations - and rightly so. Located between busy Cornmarket Street and High Street, this quaint shopping area houses a glowing array of boutique shops, delis and good old-fashioned diners. Wander between its narrow avenues and you’ll discover a whole range of independent brands, available nowhere else in the country. The site also hosts a range of seasonal events, tours and just general community spirit.

The market first opened in 1774. John Gwynn, the architect behind Oxford’s Magdalen Bridge, designed the space. It was originally intended to accommodate a series of butchers shops, the area’s closed roof providing a means of preserving cured meat from the elements. Hints of these early origins still remain. Hedges and M Feller are two of the market’s modern butchers, offering fresh cuts of lamb, pork, beef and much more. Each Christmas, as tradition, M Feller hangs a whole smoked pig outside their front. A tad gruesome, but a little taste of outlet’s stout ancestry.

The whole site underwent a series of refurbishments and extensions in the late 19th century. Local architect Frederick Codd added a western annex in 1881, opening up the space to Cornmarket Street. A further addition was made in 1898 to the north of the market repairing damage left by a nearby fire. This area now houses some of the market’s best lunch spots, with Ricardo’s diner, The Oxford Sandwich Company and the ever-popular (and deservedly so) Alpha Bar.

Photo Credit: JamesZ_Flickr

The Covered Market is renowned for its fantastic food, and the cuisine fiends among you will have no end of fun trying each and every store. To the north of the market sits Haymen’s Fishery. This local independent monger offers over fifty different species of fish, cut and filleted right there in front of you. Just next door is Nash’s Bakery, one of the market’s oldest stores—founded in 1930—with a whole array of bread, buns and pastries. On the baking front, you also can’t miss The Cake Shop. No, really - you can’t miss it. The front window is overflowing with an array of decorative designs, from a 2-foot cake replica of Oxford landmark The Radcliffe Camera to the ever-popular Frozen recreations.

The sweet-toothed celebration continues in the south of the shopping centre. Ben’s Cookies offers the city’s best retreat for chocoholics. Founded in Oxford in 1983, the chain has now expanded across the world, with stores in London, Brighton, Korea and Abu Dhabi! One of the market’s newest stalls also has a sugary theme. iScream offers Italian gelato with Guernsey milk - what a delicious culture clash! Flavours range from the original (vanilla, choc-chip) to the more adventurous (bubblegum). And if you feel like liquid lactose, sample Moo Moo’s Milkshakes. We can swear by the peanut and banana shake.

Photo Credit: Richard Gillan

But the Covered Market isn’t all about nosh: there’s a whole range of boutique stores that make this a perfect perusing spot for gift buying. Dragon’s Den Clothing isn’t quite the gruelling experience of its TV namesake - in fact quite the opposite. This friendly store offers a particularly bright selection of Asian-influenced apparel. There are also bags, shawls and fabrics for you to browse. Nearby is the interestingly named Nothing - a vendor that’s certainly far from empty. A long thin shop front, you can see everything they have to offer right from the avenue, from toys to bags to jewellery. There’s some well-known brands and some lesser known gems.

Maybe it’s just flowers you want? Again The Covered Market is the best place to be. The Garden offers an array of pre-packaged bouquets and pick-you-own strands. In the summer, Oxford students flock here to buy their white, pink and red carnations - a necessary requirement for their finals exams. With the warmest of warm service, it’s almost worth just stopping in to The Garden to say hello.

One of the beauties of the Covered Market is that there is always more to find. We’ve tried to cover a few favourites here, but there wasn’t even space for the tasty Fasta Pasta, the sophisticated Macsamillion footwear, and the down-right bizarre bazaar The Collector’s Company. You’ll have to venture in for yourself, and discover your own stores to cherish.

The Covered Market sits on Market St, OX1 3DZ. For more information on its shops, see their website.