Come to London and you’ll discover one of the main constants about city life in the capital: Oxford Street is truly the most busy street in London. Indeed, it is Europe’s busiest shopping area, with the visitor stats reaching a half million people on a daily basis, and in 2012, there were around 300 shops, with at least a few more added since then.
Why Is This Street So Busy?
In case you’re looking to have a visit to that area of London, you might want to know why it’s often so crowded.
Part of it is purely location. Oxford Street is in the city of Westminster, which includes the West End with all its theatres and cinemas. Add to this the people that work in the shops and theatres, and others who live within the Oxford Street vicinity, plus all others who travel the three Tube lines that have Oxford Circus as an interchange point, and truly, you have one lively thoroughfare that stretches 1.2 miles from the Marble Arch Station to Tottenham Court Road.
Another reason Oxford Street is busy is that it’s part of the A40, a road that goes directly from London to Fishguard, a city in Pembrokeshire, Wales. It’s not signed as such, but as a result of this status, the traffic on Oxford Street is limited to buses and taxis.
A Brief History of Oxford Street
Oxford Street is an old Roman road, thus making it one of the oldest streets in London, though the capital’s name was known back in Roman times as ‘Londinium.’ The road we know as Oxford Street therefore also had a Roman name: Via Trinobantina, and it connected Essex with Hampshire. It changed in the Middle Ages to ‘Tyburn Road’ and became known for being the route on which prisoners from Newgate Prison were taken to be hanged.
‘Tyburn Road’ changed to ‘Oxford Road,’ then became Oxford Street in the 17th century. It changed from residential area to that of commerce by the late 19th century, attracting many types of sellers, from street traders to con artists and even prostitutes. By the early part of the 1900s, stores such as Selfridge’s opened their doors, and though the London blitz of WWII destroyed many shops, including Selfridge’s and John Lewis, they were rebuilt from scratch.
Shops, Stores and Tips
As mentioned before, there are around 300 shops, at least according to the 2012 count, and if you decided to shop in Oxford Street, you’ll find that, unlike Bond Street, Oxford Street still retains a street market retail atmosphere alongside the more upscale shops, creating a unique atmosphere that many London-bound shoppers seek out, regardless of the crush of people.
For instance, one of the most recent additions to Oxford Street’s many stores is Lush, a cosmetics boutique that opened in 2015. For a bit of music history, fans of traditional jazz, British blues and punk often want to visit the 100 Club, a live music venue since 1942. Various dining establishments also populate the district, providing proper ‘fuel’ for all the walking you’ll be doing.
Because Oxford Street is so famous, therefore busy, and even a bit dangerous at times, here are some tips for managing an outing to this part of the city:
- Treat it as an attraction. Oxford Street is not meant to be looked at as casual shopping potential. Because of the crowds, plan a day or two specifically for this locale into your itinerary as well as your shopping budget.
- Go during the day. While night lights are lovely to look at, night-time is when everyone wants to shop. Go during the day when everyone else is at work, the inventories aren’t so picked over, and shop clerks are not so harried and stressed, and you’ll have a lovelier time of it.
- Don’t use Oxford Circus Tube station. Because of so many people getting on and off here (three different lines cross through!), this station is quite difficult to navigate. Plus, this station is actually located halfway up Oxford Street, so doubling back is required to see all of Oxford Street. So, try the Marble Arch Tube station instead, which puts you at the western end of the street. Remember, Oxford Street is about 1.2 miles long, ending at Tottenham Court Road, so there is lots to see just within that stretch.
- Take advantage of student siscounts. If you’re here in London to study, shop with student discounts in mind. The stores may not always advertise them, but you can always check online.
- Selfridge’s is an experience all its own. Selfridge’s is something like a ‘mall’ in itself, as there are shops and dining areas inside one big department store. And Oxford Street is just its flagship location. This is the place to be for a bit of celebrity spotting, so making a day just for Selfridge’s and then coming back a day or two later for the rest of Oxford Street is a good idea.
Whether you’re in London for just a short holiday, as an expat, student or for any other reason, Oxford Street, with a good deal of planning and forethought, is not a London locale to pass up.