Oxford – City Guide
Oxford sometimes appears a world unto itself: the beautiful buildings complete with dreaming spires are breath taking. But, if you want to enjoy Oxford’s charm and eccentricity without just following the tourist trail, then you need to visit the places local students love.
Things to do
Luckily, everywhere in Oxford is within easy walking (and even easier cycling) distance. This gives an amazing range of things to do, places to eat and nightlife – all within a 20 minute stumble back to bed.
- The Covered Market is a jewel inside the city, with cute cafés and more local cheese, meat, fresh fruit and boutiques than you can ever hope to find (quite literally, given the market’s labyrinthine layout). It is definitely worth an exploration.
- If you want to really blow all the student loan on a shopping spree then you can have a bumble around Oxford’s Claredon Shopping Centre, or alternatively take a bus to the enormous Westfield centre in West London.
- During the spring or summer, you can take a traditional Oxford punt, rowing boat or pedalo out to cruise the River Cherwell. Get a group of you together and it’s bound to be a laugh.
- On a warm day, head over to the University’s Botanic Garden, the oldest of its kind in Great Britain and a beautiful place to wonder through between the river and the High Street.
- Make sure you get a chance to see the beautiful Blenheim Palace, both the grounds and the house are stunning, especially at Christmas time.
- Finally, London is less than an hour away by train and with a rail card you can get tickets at dirt cheap prices.
Arts and Culture
There’s so much going around the city if you fancy a cultural day out, just try to avoid the tourists!
- The Pitt Rivers Museum is full of archaeological and anthropological objects lit up in cases in a vast and gloomy room – it sounds interesting and it really is. See everything from shrunken heads to samurai swords.
- Just in front of Pitt Rivers is a beautiful Victorian Gothic building housing the Natural History Museum. It’s filled with dinosaur skeletons, skeletons and minerals, and also has an almost-complete remains of a Dodo.
- The Ashmolean is undoubtedly one of the finest buildings in the country and inside is a great collection of art and archaeology – from ancient mummies to Andy Warhol paintings.
- If you’re looking for something a bit more modern, the Modern Art museum have some great exhibitions throughout the year and the café inside is a beautiful stop for tired feet.
- If you’re up for seeing a live show, make sure you check out a play at the Oxford Playhouse, one of the UK’s leading theatres. Twice a term you’ll find large-scale student productions here as well as other professional plays.
- Make sure you see an Oxford Revue show – the brainchild of Michael Palin and where some of britians best loved writers and comedians started out, such as Alan Bennet, Rowan Atkinson and Stewart Lee.
Music and Nightlife
Oxford may not seem like the most happening of places in terms of nightlife on the outside, but you will be shocked to find that there is plenty going on (well… more than Cambridge anyway).
- You can start any night in one of two Wetherspoons with very reasonably priced beer. These, The Four Candles and The Swan and Castle, are favourites with students and locals alike, and the latter has the added bonus of being within the stunning Oxford Castle complex.
- Alternatively, take a flintlock into The Eagle and Child and enjoy a drink or some food in the pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met with the other Inklings whilst they lived in Oxford.
- The King’s Arms is also a favourite, where the Winter Pimms is to die for and the sheer numbers of Oxonians packing out the rooms shows the prominence of this establishment in Oxford life.
- The pubs all have a distinctive identity but none more so than The Half Moon which also hosts a weekly open mic folk night.
- For a night out, each night has a student club night but the big ones are Park End (now Atik), Lola Lo and Emporium. For the some alternative nights and fantastic concerts, try The Cellar which is an exciting underground music venue where you can see the great names before they become famous.
- Don’t miss out on an Itchy Feet night – expect a night of dancing and 50s music which is sure to leave lasting memories.
- For classy cocktails, Jericho is the place to go. Freud is the place to drink a cocktail. It’s unmissable with its Grecian pillars. Alternatively, Café Tarifa is a superb cocktail bar where they put on film and music events throughout the year.
- Finally, the main concert venue is the O2 Academy which hosts big names from Jess Glynne to Nick Mulvey to Maverick Sabre.
Places to eat
- Chill out with a coffee and cake at Java&Co or Combibos, both of which serve lovely drinks and the best desserts. For the dramatically-conscious, one can always find student actors and directors procrastinating in the Turl Street Kitchen, or, if you’re in more in the mood for an ethical or political debate, then join the student activists having passionate discussions downstairs in the Kitchen or upstairs in the Hub. This is the place where big plans are made.
- The best pizza can be found at The White Rabbit where the atmosphere is cheerful and the staff are friendly.
- And because it’s Oxford, visit Thirsty Meeples, a chilled out and friendly board game café where the milkshakes are divine and the customers play anything from Dungeons and Dragons to Articulate. It’s a good chilled afternoon or fun alternative to a night out when the queue to Park End is just too long to contemplate.
- Sometimes a student needs to escape the craziness of central Oxford. Rest assured, very close and within a ten minute walk from Cornmarket, is a calmer but quirkier side to Oxford with cafés, like Albion Beatnik and The Natural Bread Company, as well as some much loved restaurants. Make the parents take you to Branca when they visit or go with friends to enjoy large portions of good value Greek food at Manos or tapas at Al Andalus.
- For those of you who enjoy a little fresh air, take a picnic to Port Meadow and see where Lyra and her friends waged war in Northern Lights or go punting up the river to The Victoria Arms or The Perch.
- For cafés, particular favourites are Beetroot, for the healthier choice, Quarter Horse Coffee for the best hot chocolate and brownies, or Truck Store if you want a café which doubles as a record store.