Cornmarket Street, High Street, Queen Street and the surrounding area are Oxford's main shopping streets. Apart from the chains such as Gap, Mango, HMV, M&S, Curry's digital, Primark and so on, you can also find some local shops, especially on High Street. The area is very busy especially on Saturdays, but you are likely to find more or less everything you need. Try Queen Street for women's clothes, Debenham's for a more refined taste, Boswell's for housewares, and the Covered Market (see another tip) for food.
Cornmarket Street runs from Carfax Tower down to the beginning of St. Giles Road and George Street. As this has always been the heart of Oxford, you can also find some historic sites there. Oxford's oldest building, the Saxon Tower from 1040, squeezes between a coffee shop and another shop, just next door Pret-à-manger serves sandwiches in the most curious building on Cornmarket Street, a former brothel that nowadays must be among the wryest buildings in England. Funnily, there's also a mobile phone shop in that house... On Cornmarket's upper end, you can find Carfax Tower from the 13th century, which is accessible for a small fee. Opposite the tower, a plaque commemorates the site of Swindlestock Tavern, the place where the riots between town and gown broke out in 1355 (see another tip). Nowadays, the building is home to a bank. Apart from these historic sites, Cornmarket Street is as ugly as only a British shopping street can be. After the war, most of the old buildings were torn down to make room for look-alike shopping and business buildings. Only the names of the streets and some of the buildings still bear proof for the existence of the Middle Ages. Cornmarket was - of course - Oxford's corn market (with a pillory in the middle of the street), Westgate Shopping Centre was built where the western gate of Oxford used to be (compare Eastgate Hotel on High Street), and the Golden Cross Shopping Arcade goes back to the Golden Cross Inn from the 15th century.
What to buy: clothes, books, cds, housewares...
What to pay: as everywhere
I think that Bond Street, High Street and Cornmarket Steeet will satisfy your hunger for shopping.
In case you get bored because your wife is taking centuries into the shops you can take pictures around, watch people or drink a beer in pub near by! :)
Take the time to wander off the High Street up to the Cowley Road. There are some pretty intersting shops up that way.
What to buy: Some neat-o ecclectic shops up this way. Looking for sari pillow covers or inflatable sheep dolls?
Golden Cross is an alley, effectively, that runs between Cornmarket & the Covered Market. It is an attractive, but small enclosure of shops & restaurant where stylish jewellery & clothes may be bought, there is also a Neal's Yard branch for oils & herbs etc, and next door they have a health food store.
Around the corner are more clothes stores & a luggage shop, and at the far end you see the Oxford Cobbler to the right as the alley opens out to the expanse of the covered Market.
Cornmarket is the shopping centre of Oxford. Visitors will find Cornmarket disappointing, it is full of chain stores, banks, fast food & mobile phone shops, which together with coffee shops & big issue sellers make it no different from shopping areas anywhere in England. So what does it have to recommend it?
Cornmarket is quite central to everything. At one end is Carfax corner, an ancient tower (page to come) and the High Street, St Aldates & Queen Street begin here, the other end leads to George Street, Magdalen Street & Broad Street, & these are the places of interest.
We also notice not quite as far as the High Street end a blue shielded display for The Golden Cross. An alley that runs to Oxford's famous Covered Market.
Because of space limitations, my descriptions of these streets & market are under seperate entries currently being written.
Cornmarket currently suffers - not just from MacDonalds, KFC & Burger King, but from a granite flooring that went wrong. A few years ago Cornmarket was pedestrianised, and eventually work undertaken to created a decorative granite blocked floor in several colours. The contractors did not prepare well, blocks were cracking soon after being laid, & finally the contractors went out of business.
After months of limbo the blocks are at last being lifted in favour of hopefully better work by new contractors. Look above the shopfront facias and Cornmarket breathes a different flavour. The stone of a past age shows a time when building values meant so very much more.
Pictures to follow
What to buy: In Cornmarket the chain stores have taken over. Travel to the Broad Street end for Boswells, and old fashioned Department store, and Waterstones. A largeish branch in competition with Oxford's many other bookshops.
What to pay: More than what fast food is worth!
Cornmarket Street was recently voted Britain's 2nd worst street - from an aesthetic viewpoint - in a recent Radio 4 poll. The council have made a bit of a mess of it, and it's been dug up several times in the last few years. Nevertheless, it is a good street for shopping and it's also pedestrianised.
Types of shops: McDonalds, HMV, Virgin, Carphone Warehouse, Virgin, Next, Clinton Cards, The Works - isn't there a depressing similarity to all British high streets?
There are a variety of great shops on Little Clarendon Street. If, like me, you are fed up of the usual high street shops, then this street is the place to go to.
Summertown - where I lived for a year while studying at St. Anne's - is a small suburb/village in North Oxford. It's a good place to shop away from the crazy crowds of Cornmarket.