Hidden Gems And Independent Shopping – What To Explore In Oxford

26 January 2022

The city of dreaming spires isn’t just a university town. There’s so much more to explore beyond the colleges and academic buildings of Oxford.

Behind the obvious, Oxford is packed with bustling streets, markets, independent shops, and hidden gems.  

Let us take you on a journey around this beautiful city to explore some unexpected delights.


In the north of the city, Wolvercote is a village within Oxford and a great place to start your adventure.

It’s nestled on the edge of the expansive Port Meadow (one of the largest open spaces in Oxford) and is full of old-school charm.

Wolvercote has some excellent pubs including the picturesque Trout on the River Thames and the cosy Jacobs Inn.

Some people swim in the river here in the summer months. But if you prefer dry land, you can walk in the meadow, but be careful of boggy conditions in wetter weather.

Port Meadow is an ancient grazing area and is still used for horses and cows – you might even make some new four-legged friends on your visit. 

From Wolvercote you can visit the ruin of Godstow Abbey, situated on an island between streams running to the river.

There’s a lovely walk if you follow the path from the abbey beside the river up the western side of the Thames.

You’ll pass a pub called The Perch at Binsey, and then head all the way into central Oxford.

Wolvercote’s Sunday Farmers Market is also well worth a trip if your timings work out for delicious produce from local makers.


Moving towards the city centre is the neighbourhood of Jericho. Walton Street is the backbone of Jericho which runs alongside Oxford’s canal.

Brimming with history, including the Jericho boatyard and the home of the Oxford University Press, Jericho is also now bustling with shops and restaurants.

If independent shopping is your thing, be sure to check out Little Clarington Street, which runs between Walton Street and Woodstock Road.

There are some wonderful restaurants along Walton Street too, including Branca and Mamma Mias, as well as cocktail bars and pubs like Freuds and The Jericho Tavern.

The Phoenix Picture House, next to The Jericho Tavern is one of two independent cinemas in Oxford (the other is The Ultimate Picture Palace in East Oxford).

The North Parade market runs every other Sunday on North Parade which is slightly north of Walton Street.

Or you could pop into Barefoot Bakery on the same street for coffee and their famous doughnuts and cinnamon buns.

Central Oxford

While there are plenty of hidden gems in Oxford, some of the city’s better-known attractions are worth the hype too.

The Covered Market, which dates from the 1770s is a historic market with permanent shops and traders.

Head inside from Cornmarket or High Street to see the magic for yourself.

You also have the Museum of Natural History on Parks Road that brings together scientific studies from across the University of Oxford.

Today, it’s home to exhibits for the public including a spectacular collection of dinosaur fossils and models.

The museum is also attached to the Pitt Rivers Museum of anthropology and archaeology, so you can visit both together for an educational day trip.

For younger visitors (and their grownups), The Story Museum tucked away on Pembroke Road is a real treat!

The family-friendly museum has different spaces for very small little ones upwards, focused on stories and books.

It also has special shows, exhibitions and performances, and a wonderful café. We recommend you book ahead for this one.

Fancy roaming the outdoors?

Two spectacular outdoor spaces in central Oxford worth a trip are the University Parks and Christ Church Meadow.

University Parks in the north of the city is open to the public and can be accessed via Parks Road.

Here, you’ll be able to relax in the large gardens, overlooking the cricket ground and picture-perfect duck pond.

To the south of the city, Christ Church Meadow is a popular walking spot.

It’s bordered by Christ Church (a university college and the city’s Cathedral) which brings the real wow factor to the walk.

The main access to the meadow is via Abingdon Road, and once you walk past the Christ Church itself you can stroll down towards the river.

You may even pass some of the grazing cattle on the fields.

Cowley Road and Magdalen Road

If Oxford had a centre, it would (geographically at least) be at Carfax.

Here, four busy streets meet at a crossroads by Carfax Tower, and while not necessarily worth a special visit on its own, it can be a useful orientation point.

To the north is Cornmarket, a busy shopping street that leads to the north of the city (including Jericho and Wolvercote).

You can head west down Queen’s Street to the mega new shopping complex, The Westgate Centre and on towards The Oxford Castle, eventually passing Oxford’s train station.

Make your way along St Aldate’s to Christ Church and onwards to cross the River Thames.

Then you’ll head east down High Street, which is full of shops, cafés, and university buildings before making it to Magdalen Bridge.

If you do want to, this is a great place to do one of Oxford’s more famous activities and hire a punt, or you can spend some time at the Oxford Botanic Garden.

At the Plain roundabout, St Clement’s heads up the hill to Headington, where Oxford Brookes University is based.

Alternatively, wander to Cowley Road, the main shopping street in east Oxford and you’ll start to see more independent shops and restaurants again.

Cowley Road is known for its summer carnival, music scene, range of shops and great food.

From Cowley Road, stroll down Magdalen Road which runs across to Iffley Road and you’ll find another wonderful neighbourhood to discover. 

The road is packed with independent shops and venues including The Missing Bean coffee shop, Green Routes Cafe, movement studio Everybody Studio, and performing arts centre, Pegasus Theatre.

This street mirrors many of the magical, independent, and unique places to explore in Oxford.

Ready for some Oxford adventures?

So much of the city is waiting to be discovered, and there’s a whole world beyond the usual tourist trails.

One of the wonderful things about Oxford is that it’s a relatively small city and you’re never too far off course. 

If you follow your nose and explore where looks interesting, who knows what gems you’ll find.