This is my complete guide to Banbury, Oxfordshire. Where to shop, eat and sleep and why you should visit! Absolutely everything you need to know with all the insight from a life-long resident.
- 1. A little bit of history
- 2. A short guided walk through Banbury
- 3. Where to eat
- Lunch & Breakfast – good grub guide to Banbury
- Dinner date ideas in Banbury
- Drinks – Where to go in Banbury
- 4. Places to stay in Banbury
- 5. Places to shop guide to Banbury
- 6. What to do in Banbury
- 7. And finally, why visit?
- 8. How to get there
- Are there any other local icons or eats I’ve missed off? Then let me know in the comments below to great that complete guide to Banbury!
We moved to Sibford Ferris, a village seven miles from the town in the early nineties, I was four and a bit. When we first moved here, the shopping centre consisted of just M&S and Boots, long before it was Castle Quay and my Mum, a Londoner born and bred, couldn’t believe that shops still closed smack on 5pm.
A LOT has changed since then. Over the last two decades, Banbury has grown substantially helped by its handy position located on the M40 corridor and with a commuter train line straight into the heart of the capital, that takes less than an hour. It has definitely benefited from the ‘commuter town’ phenomenon.
At times, I feel that my local town has been overlooked for its fancier Cotswold neighbours – Chipping Norton or Shipston-on-Stour. And I am as guilty as many for that. But Banbury has a lot to offer, a pretty, fully pedestrianised marketplace, independent shops and interesting places to eat (where you won’t pay Cotswold Tax for good food).
Although, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a ‘destination’ town, it does make a good base for exploring Oxfordshire & Warwickshire and for those that live in town and surrounding villages, it provides a vibrant hub.
And now more than any is the time to support the businesses in our local town, so this is my love letter to my childhood home. A complete guide to Banbury – a little bit of history, where to shop, where to eat and where to stay.
Appropriately, it also gives me great pleasure to do this with my high school friend and talented illustrator, Madeline, who to commemorate our passion for all things local has drawn the wonderful illustrations in this blog post. You can find her on Instagram and her website here.
A little bit of history
I don’t feel the need to recreate the entire wikipedia entry here in this guide to Banbury, but it is a historic market town and in 2011 registered over 46,000 citizens. People have been living here though since the 6th century, Banesberie appears in the Domesday book.
The town stands at the junction of two ancient roads, the Salt Way – used for transporting salt by horse and Banbury Lane, which travels all the way up the town’s high street and eventually joins that other famous Cotswold route – the Fosse Way. And just like every other town in the area, Banbury’s medieval prosperity was directly linked with wool trade.
During English Civil War, Banbury formed the base of Oliver Cromwell’s operations and according to local legend, planned the battle of Edgehill in the back room of the Reindeer Inn. The town continued to play an important role as a centre of commerce for the rural communities that surrounded it: the canal opened in the late 1700s joining the town to Oxford. By the Victorian era, Banbury was home to Western Europe’s largest cattle market.
Perhaps Banbury is most famous for its nursery rhyme, ‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross’. The origins seem to be quite disputed, there’s speculation that the fine lady could be Queen Elizabeth I, Lady Godiva or even Celia Fiennes, whose brother was William Fiennes, 3rd Viscount Saye and Sele of Broughton Castle, Banbury (hence ‘fine’ lady).
A short guided walk through Banbury
No guide to Banbury is complete without a short guided walk.
In latter year’s Banbury’s town centre has become distinctly quieter as out-of-town shopping centres have been built and just like every high street in the land, independent shops have suffered through several recessions and now a global pandemic. (This was indeed the subject of my Geography GCSE coursework.)
However, having said that, Banbury’s been ahead of the times in that it’s high street and main commercial streets have been pedestrianised. Long before the government was encouraging local councils to adopt low emission zones and encourage foot-traffic only shopping districts. Banbury has a pretty high street.
So let’s start at Banbury Cross.
At one time Banbury had quite a few crosses across the town but many were destroyed by Puritans in the 1600s. The current one at top of the High Street was erected in 1859 to commemorate the marriage of Victoria, Princess Royal (Queen Victoria’s eldest). It’s a stone cross in the Gothic-style and the statues are Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V.
The Fine Lady statue, from the nursery rhyme was unveiled by Princess Anne in 2005, and sits opposite the cross. The piece was sculpted by Artcycle Ltd in Stoke on Trent and cast in the Welsh village, Llanrhaedr Ym Mochnant.
From the cross, walk up Horse Fair towards St Mary’s Church.
St Mary’s Church
The church was built in 1790 to replace the Medieval one that was damaged in English Civil War. It was designed by Samuel Pepys Cockerell and the tower was added by Charles Robert Cockerell in 1818.
From the church take the path that winds behind it and down to White Lion Walk which includes a bunch of independent stores and cafes.
Through ‘Old Town’
You cut through White Lion Walk to Parsons Street, also known as Old Town. You can walk down this pedestrianised street, past Banbury’s oldest pub, The Reindeer, to the marketplace. There’s several pretty buildings in this area exhibiting Tudor style (white with oak beams) and Hornton stone facades from the 1500s.
It’s worth walking through the marketplace, past the old hardware building, which now houses Connell’s estate agents.
And finally, the Town Hall was built in the 19th century after previous town hall buildings had been ransacked during the Reformation.
Where to eat
So now that you’re well-acquainted with the geography of the town centre, here are a few of my favourite places to eat and I’m covering off breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here is my foodie guide to Banbury.
Lunch & Breakfast – good grub guide to Banbury
Caffe Veneto – By far the best lunch offering in the town centre, a little slice of the Med on High Street. Hot paninis, Calabrese salad or a freshly baked croissant. I also love the decor with its used coffee sacks and stripped back wood. Occasionally the guys do pop-up evening specials, we had a great Valentines there a few years ago.
The Rustic Bean – Banbury’s best independent coffee shop on Parson’s Street. Tom particularly approves because they serve Square Mile coffee. It’s nice to sit inside and they have a good selection of cake. There’s a limited lunch menu. The team have also opened kiosks in Lock 29 – Rustic Bean Juice’d and Rustic Bakery, clearly going for Banbury domination.
Banbury has a whole bunch of chain coffee shops, if I pick one of those, it’s always Muffin Break – why? Clues in the name. Muffins.
Pinto Lounge – Where Tom & I met! An after work drink date where I probably drank too much and then drove home – not my finest moment, but despite that Tom still married me (Sulgrave Manor, worth a visit if you’re in the Banbury area). I do like it here, there’s a good brunch option with classics like pancakes, huevos rancheros and tapas in the evenings.
Dinner date ideas in Banbury
Thai Orchid – Hands down, this is the place that I have come back to time and time again. It’s won several awards for its Thai cuisine. It’s a place my parents used to come on a date night when I was little and I remember my Mum coming back after we’d been with a babysitter telling me about the legendary dessert trolley. Yes a dessert trolley! Thai food is some of the best I’ve ever had. Never had a bad meal here.
Zushi – I was beyond excited when Zushi opened its doors a few years ago. It offers a good selection of sushi favourites, plus bento boxes and Korean BBQ. Again, if I’m not eating in Thai Orchid, I’m eating here. Read my full review here.
Purple Mango – Is my Indian of choice in Banbury, it’s actually in Hanwell Fields but you can drive there and park outside. They also cater well to large groups.
Taquero Banbury – is a new Mexican street food joint which opened during the pandemic, but formerly Little Amsterdam. I was sad to see Little Amsterdam go, but Taquero is run by the same people so fingers crossed when we do go the grub will be good.
Restaurant Calzone – is a popular choice for Italian food. Pasta & pizza is pretty first rate with friendly, welcoming staff.
Drinks – Where to go in Banbury
Ye Olde Reindeer – Said to be Banbury’s oldest building as used by Cromwell. It’s the most ‘country pub’ in town with low ceilings, dark wooden floors and good Hooky ale. Good pub grub.
The Old Auctioneer – Decent cocktail menu and has a vibrant outdoor seating area.
AKA – The place I feel like I spent most of my late teens and ealy twenties, watching mates in bands play here amongst the quirky decor. Most lively place in town, somewhere for a ‘night out’
ATIC – A bit like the above, often hosts one of nights – comedy nights or adult painting. Good selection of beers and a good vibe at weekends or Friday Night. Would probably head here first and then on to AKA.
Places to stay in Banbury
As I’ve lived in the Banbury area most of my life, I’ve not really had any call to stay over in town. However here’s three that I recommended to guests when we got married.
Mercure Banbury Whately Hall Hotel – My in-laws stayed here when we got married and said they had a good breakfast, comfortable rooms and had helpful staff. This is one of the bigger hotels in town and has a lovely building opposite Banbury Cross.
Three Pigeons – Some time ago I had a really fancy Valentines feast with one of my friends. Based on that and the website, I’d recommend the Three Pigeons pub which has three well-furnished rooms. A good place if you’re looking for something a bit cosier.
There’s also a Premier Inn which is handily located just off the M40 junction.
Places to shop guide to Banbury
Where to shop? Banbury does offer everything. There’s plenty of out-of-town options, including the fairly newish Gateway (just off the motorway), which offers the usual suspects – Costa, M&S, Next, Fatface etc.
Castle Quay – Banbury’s shopping mall built on the site of the town’s castle. It’s home to most of chains you’d expect to find, although at the moment there are some pretty big vacant units. It is however undergoing a huge renovation and a new area is being developed which will house a supermarket and a number of restaurants which will line the canal.
Lock 29 – However, the centre has just opened Lock 29 a huge space dedicated to local producers and food outlets. It opened in the middle of the pandemic and when all the units are open will make a great addition to the centre, a food hall – think a scaled back version of London’s Mercato Metropolitano.
Nothing but Footprints – This is Banbury’s only zero-waste shop and I LOVE IT. I come to Banbury pretty much to go to this shop alone. It’s everything you’d imagine, you can buy a range of food staples, cleaning products and luxury goods with no or little packaging. Bring your own containers to fill.
The Artery – This wasn’t a shop I was familiar with, but Madeline definitely is. A place to go for all your art supplies.
Church Lane Gallery – Likewise another spot I was unfamiliar with until Madeline introduced me. It’s a centre for showcasing local artists from jewellery, painting, ceramics to textiles.
What to do in Banbury
Ok, so if you’re not shopping there’s the Mill Arts Centre which often has reputable names from comedy, music and drama gracing its stage as well as a number of community groups. It’s also where I had my 18th birthday party – so highly recommend the Miller’s Bar there.
Banbury Museum – In the centre of Castle Quay, this is a lovely little museum which not only has information on local history but will also host touring exhibitions. Latterly, Young Turner (which was a triumph at Blenheim Palace) and Pop Art in Print have been particularly noteworthy.
And finally, why visit?
At the beginning of this guide to Banbury, I said the town was on the cusp of re-emergence. Several huge developments are underway both in the town centre and there’s over 2000 houses being built on its outskirts. This fresh injection of population and interest will go a long way to supporting Banbury’s independents and eateries.
Also you have to come to Banbury to try a Banbury Cake (which is also the name of the local rag) – a spiced, oval shaped, current filled pastry. (Essentially a riff of an Eccles cake) They were first made by Edward Welchman whose shop was on Parsons Street and the recipe was recorded for the first time in 1615 in The English Huswife by Gervase Markham. And it seems they were traditional snacks mostly sold at train stations – apparently Queen Victoria would regularly eat one during her train trip from Osbourn, Isle of Wight to Balmoral.
Banbury is really convenient – just off M40 and is well connected by train. It’s less than 30 minutes on the train to Oxford, under an hour to Birmingham and London. It’s a good base for exploring these neighbouring counties.
How to get there
A complete guide to Banbury wouldn’t be complete without directions!
Banbury is on junction 11 on M40, about 90 minutes drive from London; 45 minutes from Oxford. It’s served by Chiltern Rail Line.
So there we have it, I hope I’ve convinced you that as soon as lockdown’s lifted, you’ll be finding your way to visit the town of my youth, Banbury!