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Bicester Shopping Secrets
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For the shopaholics among us, a destination filled with designer shops, boutiques and delicious places for brunch sounds like the ideal day out, right?
Well for me, it certainly has because in the past year alone, I've ventured to Bicester Village, in Oxfordshire, just shy of five times.
It may be a two and a half hour round trip, but the thought of spending the day milling round exciting designer stores, with the prospect of a pretty nifty bargain in sight (depending on your definition of bargain) sounds good enough to me.
The village has recently expanded their boutiques selection with a huge extension, taking the scale of the destination to the same length as the renowned Champs-Elysées in Paris.
Which is why on Saturday afternoon, I not only left with a bundle of shopping bags filled with treats, but also a bonus 11,500 steps on my pedometer.
So shopping is exercise after all.
Since I consider myself a bit of a seasoned Bicester-shopper, I thought I'd put together a little guide just in case your first time lays ahead and you're not sure what to expect.
Here are some of my tried and tested secrets, shopping hacks and favourite places to refuel...
How to get even BIGGER discounts
Certain times of the year are better for bargain finds then others.
Usually once the city stores have finished their sales, this is the best time to take a trip to Bicester because they receive a bundle of past season stock.
Other times, it is luck of the draw.
I would recommend trying to squeeze in a visit during the week if you can, because weekends can get extremely busy - however saying that, they are open early morning until pretty late at night - so you can plan accordingly.
To get even bigger discounts, make sure you pop into the Visitor Centre before you start shopping and pick yourself up a VIP card, if you can.
Sometimes you will need an invitation for this (it helps if you are signed up to a Bicester membership) but sometimes they do give them out.
These cannot be bought online (so don't fall into a scam, as I know some places 'sell' them) and are only valid on the day you pick the card up.
Essentially the card entitles you to an extra 10% off in store and it works in every single boutique at Bicester apart from Prada.
Make the most of Bicester's services
Each time I go back, I'm extremely impressed by the wide range of 'extra' services Bicester has to really make your day a luxurious and stress-free experience.
For example, if you want to make the most of every minute and don't fancy driving round for a parking space, pre-book for Valet Parking.
It's £25 and you drive up to the entrance, hand over your keys and they park your car for you.
15 minutes before you're ready to leave, they'll drive it right back to you and you can load up the car with all of your exciting new purchases.
We've opted for this a couple of times and not only do you feel like an absolute queen when your car is waiting for you with the doors open (even if it is only a Honda Civic), but it takes the hassle away and you can whizz off straight home.
They also offer a handsfree shopping service, perfect if you're really looking for the ultimate shopping spree, without having to manoeuvre 102832487 bags around with you for the remainder of the day.
For £15, they pick up your shopping from each boutique and store in until you're ready to collect it at the end of the day. Make sure you register in advance for this at the Visitor Centre.
And, if you have absolutely no idea where to start on your Bicester shopping journey, you could always opt for the assistance of a personal shopper? Enquire on their website to book.
And for the ultimate VIP experience, book one of their exclusive shopping experiences - which includes a pass to Bicester's new 'Apartment' lounge, where you can relax with complimentary drinks and snacks - resting your weary feet, before the next batch of shops!
Watch the vlog:
Stop for a bite to eat
Seeing as Bicester is more of a 'destination' then a place you'd swing by to pop to the shops, it makes sense you'd want to properly enjoy your day by refuelling at one of Bicester's eateries.
They actually have a pretty great selection of quicker takeaway bites and sit-down restaurants, each of which have previously been fantastic at catering for allergies and intolerances.
If you're in a hurry to get back to your shopping, head to Itsu, Pret or one of the 'street style' food stalls, offering pizza, pulled chicken wraps, crepes and noodles.
I say 'street style' lightly because everything at Bicester is picture perfect, so Instagrammable and luxurious, you can't quite liken it to the busy, street food that we're used to. They are more so boutique kiosks in themselves.
However I can quite honestly say that we've eaten our way around Bicester on numerous occasions and wherever you opt for, the food is delicious.
Just make sure you don't miss out on the 'Create Your Own' Hot Chocolate stall!
For a longer, relaxed lunch or brunch, try one of the below:
Delicious British restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you want something hearty and wholesome, this is where you'll want to venture.
The menu features locally sourced produce, offering delights such as the spit roast chicken with aioli or the flourless chocolate cake and Bramley apple pie.
I'd personally recommend the chicken burger with crinkle cut fries, but it's up to you!
The Secret Garden Cafe -
Inspired by the 1930's children's book, this dining option is more of an 'experience', as you walk through an old-fashioned sweet shop, a quirky old British sitting room and a hidden garden in order to reach your table.
Sit underneath a floral indoor canopy while you enjoy a seasonal salad, a local pie, a gin and ginger cocktail or a delicious smoothie.
Le Pain Quotidien -
Amazing vegan options and definitely the place to stop for brunch if you're with a group of girls!
Warm up with a frothy coffee, before tucking into an avocado on toast extravaganza, topped with super seeds and cress.
Or dine there in the evenings with a glass of wine and the hummus and bread platter.
How to get there - Bicester is located in the heart of Oxfordshire and is accessible by car and train. By train, you can get from London Marylebone to Bicester Village station in 46 minutes, with two services each hour. There is also a shopping express luxury coach which takes visitors from four locations in London directly to Bicester and back in a day.
Parking - parking is free at Bicester and they have a multi-story car-park right next to the entrance.
Opening hours - these differ, but usually the boutiques are open until 9pm at night most days. The Village is open everyday except Christmas day.
Have you been to Bicester and discovered any amazing finds? Or are you planning a visit? I'd love to know your experiences!