Oxford Covered Market: How To Visit + What To Eat & Buy!

visiting oxford covered market

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Visiting Oxford? One of my favourite places to eat and shop, not to mention a historical, beloved feature of the city, is Oxford Covered Market.

The Oxford food scene has gone from strength to strength in recent years with countless Asian restaurants and speciality coffee shops joining the existing range of high-quality restaurants and local businesses.

Must read: my ultimate Oxford restaurant guide (21 places and growing!)

The street food scene in Oxford is surprisingly good. There are several markets that run on specific days of the week, but Oxford Covered Market is open 7 days a week.

It’s also the only Oxford indoor market, perfect for rainy days (about 60% of days in England, yes?).

What to expect from the Covered Market

The Covered Market Oxford houses a mix of local businesses from grocery and butcher stands that have been around decades to hipster coffee shops that have popped up in the last three years.

For a tasty lunch, there’s hearty English food like fry ups and pie, as well as international food from Greek to Thai.

I love the affordability of Oxford Covered Market: £10 will get you a delicious meal and drink in almost any cafe.

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As well as affordable food, the Covered Market is home to various shops selling clothes, jewellery, flowers and trinkets.

Related read: all the best Oxford markets for food and shopping

History of the Covered Market, Oxford

The Covered Market has been a beloved feature of Oxford for the past 250 years since opening on 1 November 1774.

It was built as a solution to the Oxford Mileways Act 1771 which required the widening of Oxford’s streets and the removal of butcher stands. When they were housed inside their own market, they became legal traders again.

Despite the new shops and businesses that have popped up in recent years, you’ll still find fresh produce stands in the market. It’s wonderful to see how old traditions have lived on.

Oxford Covered Market opening times

The Covered Market in Oxford is open from 8am to 5.30pm, Monday to Saturday and from 10am-5pm on Sundays.

If you visit early on a weekday, you’ll have the place to yourself. This could be nice if you fancy a leisurely breakfast at Brown’s Cafe or coffee at Colombia Coffee Roaster’s, but the market certainly gets more atmospheric towards late morning as the lunch crowds arrive.

It’s worth noting that not all the shops’ opening times match the official market trading times. If there’s a specific cafe or shop you want to visit, check they don’t close before the market does.

Below I’ve listed the opening times where a business differs from standard market times. But I know individual vendors change their hours from time to time, so do double-check their channels.

Things to do in Oxford Covered Market

Aside from the obvious of shopping and eating, don’t leave the Covered Market without doing the following…

Find the Polish gnome

Gnome statue

It took years of visiting Oxford Covered Market for me to notice this adorable gnome statue.

The city of Oxford is twinned with Wrocław in Poland, a city known for its 300+ gnome statues. This one named Zyczliwek (meaning well-wisher) was gifted to Oxford to celebrate friendship between the cities.

It’s not the first stop on his world tour: he’s also spent time in Guadalajara, Mexico, somewhere I know well.

Find him beside the colourful murals at the entrance to Golden Cross Shopping Centre. This Oxford indoor market alley connects the Covered Market to a small courtyard with a couple of nice cafes including Coffeesmith.

Mural at Covered Market Oxford
Market mural

Find the world’s oldest ham at Oxford Covered Market butchers

This is definitely a ‘thing to do’ and not a thing to eat!

In 1993, local butcher Michael Feller bought a 101-year-old ham at auction. Even though it was technically edible, he understandably chose not to tuck in.

Today, it still hangs at M. Feller butchers at the ripe old age of 129! See if you can spot it.

Learn about the market’s history

market history
Oxford indoor market through the ages

Beside Donburi Inn is a wall of old photos, many picturing the market 100 years ago. Take a few minutes to imagine how it would once have looked.

Alice in Wonderland details in Oxford Covered Market

Chesire cat
The Cheshire Cat in Oxford Covered Market

These adorable hanging sculptures have recently popped up in the Covered Market as a nod to Oxford’s Alice in Wonderland connections.

Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was a lecturer at Christ Church, one of the most famous Oxford colleges to visit. He struck up a friendship with the ‘real-life Alice’, otherwise known as Alice Pleasance Hargreaves.

Carroll would tell Alice stories while boating and visiting Oxford institutions like the Natural History Museum. These stories inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

While wandering Oxford’s Covered Market, you’ll see characters including:

  • The Cheshire Cat
  • A young Alice
  • The Mock Turtle
  • The Caterpillar on his toadstool
  • The Dormouse in its teapot.

Oxford fresh market stands

The stands towards the Market Street entrance sell fresh, locally sourced goods including meat, fish and fresh fruit and veg.

Notable Oxford fresh market stands include Bonners, an independent family business based in the market since 1952. They sell fresh veggies grown at local Oxfordshire farms and nurseries.

M. Feller is the original Oxford Covered Market butchers supplying beef, lamb, pork, free-range chicken and – depending on the season – venison, wild boar, quail, pheasant, pigeon, rabbit, hare, goose, duck and turkey.

Oxford Covered Market food

Now for the good bit! There are some excellent Oxford indoor market cafes. In fact, you might struggle to choose between them especially if you only have one day in Oxford.

If you have a full weekend in Oxford, you can squeeze in a few brunches, lunches and snacks here. The more the better!

Highlights include…

Ben’s Cookies

Chocolate ginger cookie
Get ready for lots of Oxford Covered Market food

Let’s start with dessert (why not?).

You’ll find Ben’s Cookies all over the UK (and I’ve seen them as far away as Chennai airport in India) but the flagship store is here in the Covered Market Oxford.

The freshly baked cookies are warm and gooey. There are white, dark, milk, vegan and chocolate orange cookies but I can’t prise myself away from the dark chocolate and ginger cookie…

Cookies start at £1.50 or you can splash out in a box to take home.

Opening times: 9.15am–5.30pm, Mon-Sat; 11am-5pm, Sun.

Brown’s Cafe

Cooked breakfats browns cafe
Full English in Oxford Covered Market
Browns cafe oxford covered market
Iconic caf

Brown’s Cafe in Oxford Covered Market has been around for decades. I suspect the prices haven’t increased much in that time: visit with a tenner and you’ll get a full English, cuppa and change.

If you’re really hungry, upgrade to a £7 May Day breakfast which includes two of everything plus mushrooms and black pudding.

Read next: where to eat brunch & breakfast in Oxford

Although it’s cheap, all the food is tasty and locally sourced. In fact, the meat comes from the butcher stall about two metres away.

As well as typical English dishes, you’ll want to sample the authentic Portuguese goodies. The fish fritters, pastel de natas and bolo de arroz cost around £1.50 each. 

Opening times: 8am-5pm, Mon-Sat; 10am-3.30pm, Sun.

Coba Bubble Tea

Coba bubble tea
The Covered Market’s finest boba

Bubble tea lover? Don’t miss Coba, one of Oxford’s original bubble tea cafes.

Although the tea here is delicious (and after my travels around Taiwan I would know), the highlight is the cute and colourful cafe covered in post-it notes. I presume they’re declarations of love to boba tea.

They serve a variety of milk teas and fruit teas but you can’t beat a brown sugar tea with tapioca balls. I went with classic balls but there are various fruit jellies you can try instead.

Most drinks cost around £4.

Opening times: 10am-6.30pm, Mon-Sat; 10.30am-5.30pm, Sun.

Georgina’s

I’ve been visiting Georgina’s since I was a child. It’s quirky, cosy and colourful.

They used to serve sandwiches, soups and salads but they’re now serving some of the best Greek food in Oxford Covered Market. Tuck into mezze dishes like hummus, tzatziki, vine leaves, tabouleh, Greek salad, grilled artichokes and pitta bread.

Find Georgina’s up the stairs beside Brothers Cafe, owned by the same management. Brothers is also a good spot to eat in the Covered Market, serving tasty lunch dishes and cakes.

Opening times: 9.30am-5pm, Mon-Sat; 10am-4pm, Sun.

The Souvlaki Brothers

Souvlaki brothers covered market
Greek souvlaki

Run by – shocker – two brothers, this authentic Greek cafe is great for a quick lunch on the go.

Souvlaki Brothers serve generous pittas stuffed with meat, halloumi and veggies. Opt for a pork shoulder, lemon chicken or grilled halloumi souvlaki with salad, tzatziki and spices.

Most dishes are around £6. Don’t miss the oregano fries!

Opening times: temporarily closed.

Oxford Cheese Company

This market stall has been a firm favourite in the Covered Market since 1983.

Browse traditional English cheeses including several made in Oxfordshire, as well as French cheese, ewe and goat’s milk cheeses and rare cheeses.

Oxford Cheese Co. also sell biscuits, crackers, chutneys, honey, oil, vinegar and pates. The staff are highly knowledgeable so, if you don’t know what you’re after, just get chatting.

Opening times: 9am-5pm, Mon-Fri; closed weekends.

Alpha Bar

Alpha bar salad
Dolma & chickpea box

Salad is usually the last thing I’d order but I’m happy to make an exception for Alpha Bar. Their enormous salad boxes stuffed with vine leaves, falafel, chickpeas, cheese and pumpkin seeds start from £4.

This colourful takeaway bar also serve daily specials like veggie lasagne, veggie Thai curry and hearty soup. Everything is fresh, healthy and filling. You can’t beat it for lunch on the go.

Opening times: 10.30am-3.30pm, Mon-Sat; closed Sun.

A Taste of China

This hole in the wall serves authentic Chinese food: none of that Angliceed sweet & sour nonsense.

Dishes include dumplings in hot and sour soup (£8), bang bang noodles, and ‘Chinese burgers’ (like bao buns) from £4.50. 

It’s predominantly a takeaway but there are a few seats outside. It’s advisable to call ahead and order. Avoid the lunchtime rush if you can!

Opening times: 10.30am-4.30pm, Mon-Sat; 11.30am-3pm, Sun.

Colombia Coffee Roasters

Colombia coffee roasters

The best coffee in the Covered Market – and some of the best in Oxford for that matter – can be found at Colombia Coffee Roasters.

Their rich, ethically sourced coffees are best enjoyed with any of their cakes or baked goods. The knowledgeable staff can help you pick out a bag of ground coffee to take home.

Opening times: 10am-5pm, Mon-Fri; 9am-5.30pm, Sat; 10.30am-4.30pm, Sun.

Read next: the best cafes and coffee shops in Oxford

The Covered Market Cake Shop

There are no words to fully emphasise how much I want a birthday cake from the famous Cake Shop in Oxford Covered Market. The fantastic creations in the window are decorated with icing figurines and 3D scenes.

Many of the large cakes cost £100+ but you can pop inside to buy slices of cake for £5.

Find the Covered Market Oxford cake shop across from Brown’s Cafe near the Market Street entrance.

Moo Moos

Moos moos milkshakes covered market in oxford

When I was 15 (no clues as to how many years ago that was!), I saved all my wages for Moo-Moos milkshakes.

Although smoothie cafes have been popular for years now, I remember how much I loved the novelty when Moo Moos first came to the Covered Market.

There are hundreds of varieties of smoothies and milkshakes including all your favourite blended chocolate bars like Mars and Ferrero Rocher. Get a loyalty card and start using it!

Opening times: 10am-5.30pm, Mon-Sat; closed Sun.

iScream Gelateria

If you need to buy a gift for a loved one (which absolutely includes yourself by the way), look no further than iScream.

This gelateria serve some of the most delicious ice cream in Oxford (flavours include coconut, salted caramel, passionfruit, white chocolate and tiramisu) as well as luxury confectionery.

From fudge to truffles and marzipan, it’s all here. Although I couldn’t justify the cost, the pink Himalayan salted caramel truffles look divine!

Opening times: 9.30am-5.30pm, Mon-Sat; 10am-4pm, Sun.

Pieminister 

Pie minister pie mash and gravy


Pieminister is popular around the country and I can see why!

They have a range of meat and veggie pies like steak & ale; steak & stilton; chicken and mushroom; jackfruit ‘steak’ and black pepper; and mushroom, asparagus and white wine.

Upgrade your order to include mash, gravy and mushy peas. This restaurant in Oxford indoor market is small but cosy.

Pieminister is great value with plenty for vegans and celiacs. They also do a mean bottomless brunch with breakfast-themed pies and cocktails for £20.

Opening times: 11am-3pm, Mon-Sun.

David John Pies 

David John Pies serve – you guessed it – hearty pies. Unlike Pieminister, it’s a takeaway joint… And there’s absolutely nothing for vegans. But they’re high quality and affordable: nothing costs more than a fiver.

Fillings include pork and stilton and pork and black pudding. There’s also a range of pasties, quiches and samosas.

To summarise, anything hearty, meaty and English can be found here.

Opening times: 8am-5pm, Mon-Sat; closed Sun.

Sasi’s Thai

Sasis Thai cafe oxford covered market

Although there’s plenty of amazing Asian food in Oxford, you can’t beat Sasi’s Thai. Tuck into authentic Thai dishes like crispy pork with basil, cashew chicken, green/yellow curry and pad Thai.

On top of that, there are specials that change daily.

Although prices have jumped up in the last few years (I remember when it was £5!), it’s still only £8 for two scoops of mix-and-match curry to eat in.

My only complaint? There’s only one veggie option and no vegan option. Surprising in today’s day and age!

Opening times: 10am-5.30pm, Mon-Sat; closed Sun.

The Cellar Door

Teardrop wine bar covered market
wine shelves

This new business in the Covered Market Oxford describes itself as ‘the tiniest wine shop in Oxford‘.

Indeed, they couldn’t be much smaller: this hole in the wall has just a couple of tables where you can sit and sample excellent wines from around the world, with a large selection of English wines. Take a bottle home or choose from several on tap.

I opted for red wine from Portugal (£7 for a large glass) before noticing they offer ‘tasting flights’ for £10. All in the name of research, I ordered it and received a board of four small wines. They were delicious, especially the orange wine which I’d never tried before. This is a fun idea if you fancy something a bit different!

You can also bring your own food, as long as it’s from the Covered Market.

Find them next to the Oxford fresh market stands.

Opening times: 11am-5.30pm, Tues-Sat; closed Sun.

Teardrop 

Next to the Cellar Door is another tiny bar, Teardrop. This ‘nano bar’ serves draught beer from cask real ales to keg beer. If you enjoy what you try, pick up a few bottles of beer or mini-kegs to take home.

Opening times: 10am-5.30pm, Mon-Sat; closed Sun.

Oxford Spanish Ham Experience

I’ve yet to visit this new stand in Oxford Covered Market but I’ll be sure to update you when I do. Oxford Spanish Ham Experience sells 100% free-range Iberico ham.

Since it’s just a metre from Cellar Door, why not pair their offerings with Spanish wine?

Looking for cheap food in the UK? Check out my London street food market guide and the best meals for under £10 in Manchester.

Oxford Covered Market shops

As well as eating and drinking, the other main thing to do in Oxford Covered Market is browse the shops. Independent Oxford businesses to check out include…

Nothing

Browse silver and precious stones at this classic jewellers in the Covered Market Oxford. It’s another institution that’s been around for decades.

As well as jewellery, they sell hats, gloves, pashminas and cute Jellycat toys.

Next to Nothing

This colourful shop has been in the Covered Market as long as I can remember. Next To Nothing (located beside Nothing jewellery store, get the pun?) sell women’s clothes and accessories alongside unisex slogan tees.

Pop inside to browse colourful gifts, bags and trinkets.

The Garden of Oxford

This is the place to shop for beautiful, fresh English plants and flowers. Browse houseplants, garden plants and bouquets for special events.

Having been in the market since the 1980s, this fragrant store overflowing with flowers is one not to miss.

Ansari

Ansari is a gorgeous women’s boutique selling clothes, bags, scarves and jewellery from around the world. Don’t miss their beautiful Italian leather bags.

TVC – the Covered Market’s rooftop bar

Aperol Spritz on top of the Covered Market

When Oxford Covered Market closes, take the stairs up to The Varsity Club, known by locals as TVC.

Not only does this bar above the Covered Market boast spectacular views of the dreaming spires, but it’s one of the best places to eat and drink outdoors in Oxford with a fantastic range of cocktails, deli boards and sharing platters.

Read next: the 21 most photogenic places in Oxford

Liked this? Check out my guide to the other top Oxford Market, Gloucester Green Market.

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See you next time,

Rose

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