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Bicester Village is probably one of those places you'll never hear of if you don't live close to, or have never been to Bicester. I only found out about it by chance when I was at University and a friend took me there... The name gives no real clues as to just what Bicester Village is, but basically it's a shopping outlet centre, though rather than being all under one roof (such as Meadowhall), or a number of shops scattered around a retail park, Bicester Village looks posh!
The Concept *********************
Bicester Village is just one of about seven similar villages around Europe, which, according to their website serve the markets of "London, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Brussels/Dusseldorf, Milan/Bologna and Frankfurt... There is one more Village under construction that will serve the market of Munich." (Looks like Bicester must be the one serving London). The villages offer over 300 stores and 150 brands.
All the villages are managed by Value Retail, who claim to be Europe's leading outlet village operator. The idea of these villages, in Value Retail's words is to "give in-the-know customers the chance to buy previous seasons' collections direct from the world’s leading fashion brands at affordable prices". They do not sell factory seconds - "At a Value Retail Village, this stock is always of the highest quality".
The Layout *********************
Bicester Village is set out as one long street, with all the buildings, from the outside at least, looking identical bar their window displays and signage. The majority of neighbouring buildings are terraced, and all are well kept, creating the look of a very well kept 'village'. The street itself is plenty wide to accomodate the number of shoppers that the Village attracts, and there are benches and flower beds in the centre of the street. There are a couple of branches off the main street, but these are short and only contain one or two outlets down each branch. The layout means that it is easy to get around and ensure you don't miss anything!
The Outlets *********************
On the whole, Bicester Village comprises of mainly designer labelled clothes shops, though there are a few exceptions. Within the village you'll find such shops as: - Burberry - Versace - Aquascutum - cK - Diesel - French Connection - Quiksilver - Jaeger - Karen Millen - LaCoste - Reebok - Polo Ralph Lauren - Tommy Hilfiger - Elle - DKNY ... I'm sure you're getting the picture now... This is by no means an exhaustive list, there are plenty more. The outlets all tend to sell their stock at a reduced price to what you'd expect in a High Street shop of the same name. The majority of stock is either last season, or factory surplus, hence the reduction in price. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll get an absolute bargain though - for designer labels you'll still have to splash out! For example, although that gorgeous Burberry skirt you've spotted might very well have over 50% off it will still probably cost you £80+. There are some bargains however. On my last visit French Connection had plenty of great buys (e.g. trousers for £10), but on the whole you can't expect to go here and pick up a £500 outfit for £25.
As well as the shops you'll find a few places to eat... and it really is just a few: - Carluccio's - Italian style cafe - Starbucks Coffee - you must know what this is! - Pret a Manger - sandwiches and snacks
There are toilet facilities too, which are clean and tidy and even had flowers in on my last visit!
Parking is free, and there's a decent sized carpark with an overflow for the busier periods.
When Is It Open? *********************
The village is open 7 days a week (except for Christmas Day) with opening hours of 10.00 – 18.00 from Sunday to Friday, and on Saturday's and Bank Holiday's it's open that little bit longer from 9.30 – 19.00. For a quieter shopping experience it's better to go later in the day / early evening.
The Verdict *********************
Bicester Village can often get very busy, in particular those times when you'd expect any shopping centre to be busy (at the weekends, holidays etc.), and the multi-cultural surroundings mean you'll probably encounter a variety of shoppers speaking all sorts of languages while you walk through the village! Without wanting to sound at all rude or offensive I did find it annoying trying to walk around very large families not speaking English with screaming kids who just seemed to plant themselves in the middle of the street. Young children did tend to spoil the shopping experience a bit - this is not a place for kids. There is little to entertain them and they'll get bored... and when kids are bored they either seem to scream and cry, or else run around trying to cause mischief! As the shops are not all that huge inside, people with prams or pushchairs tended to cause a big obstruction within the shops.
I've been to the village on a couple of occasions now - once when I was at University a few years back, and the last visit was just a few weeks ago when going to Silverstone. I certainly wouldn't recommend on taking a trip out of your way to go to the village if you live some distance from Bicester (I live 3 hours away), especially if you're a shopper without a huge bank balance. There are bargains to be found, and the idea of all these designer shopping outlets at reduced prices sounds great, but to be honest, for me personally many of the prices are still too high to have a really good shop!
If you love your designer labels and are prepared to spend in order to get them then Bicester Village is great. If you're in the area and you fancy a shopping trip a bit different to your usual High Street then Bicester Village is pretty good. If you want to get loads of cheap bargains, you're in the wrong place.
(Scores: 7 out of 10, therefore I'll go for 3 stars)
More info can be obtained from: www.bicester-village.co.uk
(In response to comments - this is the Bicester in Oxfordshire, so not exactly in London!)