Hidden in the centre of Oxford, with unassuming entrances and over 50 amazing permanent 'stalls', is the Oxford Covered Market. A Georgian foundation (1774), it is as a jewel of independent retailing and small businesses in the heart of the city centre.
There are jewellers such as 'Next to Nothing', who sell a variety of handmade pieces, along with a range of other accessories, stretching down one side of the market.
Gift shops abound, with great ranges of cards, Oxford souvenirs and craft items from around the world. On a more day-to-day scale, there's a newsagents on the north side just by an exit onto Market Street, where you can get your daily news and confectionery fix.
Helen and Douglas House, a local children's hospice, also have a shop in here, where you can pick up all sorts of interesting things. The charity sector has its place to play in this great retail community.
There's a Timpson's cobbler where you can get good service to fix your shoes, which you might have bought at one of the beautiful shoe retailers also in there.
The market is a wonderful place to buy food, and it doesn't have to be more expensive than supermarkets. You can buy exactly what you want, in precisely the required quantities, so there will never be waste. It excels itself in the range of produce available, and it's worth window-shopping for gastronomic delight. I can't pick out every good food shop, but here is a sample of what is on offer.
Cardew's Coffee Shop can be smelt from outside, with the rich aroma of tea and coffee hanging thick in the air. They sell a great range of loose tea and coffee. If you ask for advice they're more than happy to talk you through the range, and grind it to your precise requirements, or just send you home with the beans. The shop is a treasure trove of useful culinary equipment you never knew you needed, going well beyond the hot drinks market. They always have seasonally relevant gifts in too, so it's a great place to buy souvenirs, as well as getting your caffeine fix.
Just round the corner is a miraculous place, the Cake Shop. You never know what astonishing creation you'll find in the window, and it's worth going past just to see. A cake decorated as the Sheldonian theatre perhaps, or an exquisite wedding cake? The shop sells everything you ever wanted to decorate a cake, but you can also just stand and watch the highly skilled employees create all manner of confectionery marvels. They also sell small cakes as 'novelty' gifts, which although not cheap, do look fabulous.
The Cheese Shop occupies a long thin counter which always seems to bustle with interest. A personal favourite is the Katherine, a hard English goat cheese which is almost translucent inside, with a delicate taste. Ask them for advice and they are bound to help.
You can buy fresh fish from a variety of fishmongers, again well-equipped to tell you precisely what you're buying and how to cook it, with freshness and provenance guaranteed.
For meat, there are several butchers to choose from. I like David John's. Here you can buy cold cured meats, but also fresh meat to cook yourself. The sausages are incredible: venison and red wine, pork with tomato and basil or pork and garlic are just some of the interesting options. The 'Oxford' sausage is particularly fine, but I have no idea what goes in it! Mix it with the 'Oxford sauce', and you've a hearty meal.
There are also a number of greengrocers, whose wares line the streets tempting you with the colourful fruit and veg, fresh, and often local. It's a great place to pick up seasonal food, and purchase exactly what you want.
If you want to stop to eat then there are also several cafes. Morton's has branches around Oxford, including here, and offers exceptional baguettes, and a good meal deal. Another gem is Pieminster, with a huge range of fresh pies designed to suit all tastes.
Ben's Cookies always has a long queue outside, as locals, students and tourists alike wait for warm, soft, gooey cookies. They sell them by weight, in paper bags, fresh from being baked. Their 18 flavours include triple chocolate, chocolate and orange, ginger, lemon They're not a cheap treat, but are worth every delicious mouthful.
Overall, I cannot recommend the Covered Market enough as both a place to wander through and a source of excellent produce, local and from further afield. It's under huge pressure from rent rises and chain stores, and needs all the support it can get, if we are not to lose this precious, quirky, fascinating place.