Oxford is such a fascinating city – on the one hand it’s poet Matthew Arnold’s ‘city of dreaming spires’; home to the world’s most famous university, packed with breathtaking architecture, intriguing museums and a solemn air of academia that seems to ooze from every honey-coloured brick.
Where to stay in Oxford
Where to stay in Oxford
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On the other hand Oxford is a bustling, industrious metropolis with a wonderfully diverse population, creating a unique city with a vibrant, beating heart.
Whether you’re here to ramble the cobbled streets around Oxford’s 38 historic colleges, explore the beautiful meadows, rivers and canals, or simply to shop, eat and drink like a local, you’ll find Oxford has plenty of treasures hidden behind all those books.
Food and drink
It’s easy to forget that Oxford is located in the beautiful English Cotswolds, with a world of local produce and artisan brewers right on the city’s doorstep.
Whilst historically the decent restaurants and bars in Oxford used to be fusty and formal affairs, there are now plenty of cool and relaxed places to find great food and drink, including organic ales from local brewer Wychwood.
From the rooftop restaurant at the Ashmolean to floating eateries on the River Cherwell and the trendy bars and eateries of bohemian Jericho, you’ll find plenty of great places serving traditional pub grub, afternoon teas or cutting edge cocktails.
And if you fancy blowing the budget, it’s just 10 miles to the village of Great Milton, where you’ll find Raymond Blanc’s Michelin-starred Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons.
Oxford is a great city for shopping, particularly if you’re looking for something a little different. Oxford’s High Street and Cornmarket is home to all the usual well-loved brands, but turn a corner and you may find yourself in an ancient cobbled street full of boutiques, gift shops, jewellers and artisan food vendors that will all give you plenty of reasons to splash out.
Oxford’s covered market has a wonderful range of specialist shops, from vintage fashions to books and world foods, or you can head to artsy Jericho for quirky boutiques and independent stores. If you’re looking for high end audio, furniture and fashion, head for the fancy north Oxford suburb of Summertown.
Oxford has always been an important city for automotive manufacturing, and Mini cars are still made here at BMW’s Cowley Plant. The city is a centre for publishing too, with a number of small publishing houses as well as larger firms like Wiley-Blackwell and Oxford University Press.
Many research, science and tech firms are based in the city and work closely with the University, such as Oxford Instruments, Research Machines and Sophos. You’ll find a number of science parks around the city, many of them owned and run by the University in conjunction with R&D and innovation firms.
Firstly, don’t drive into Oxford. The centre is difficult to navigate, parking is notoriously non-existent and you’ll be tearing your hair out before you can say “university challenge”.
Instead, use one of Oxford’s outstanding Park & Ride sites around the city, or simply jump on a train, coach or bus to the city centre – there are good services from across Oxfordshire and further afield, with regular train services from London Paddington that take less than an hour.
Once you’re here, Oxford is a city best explored on foot or by bike, although the city buses are reliable and good value. There’s no night bus service, but there are plenty of taxis which you can hail on the street or outside of your serviced apartment or from one of the city’s many taxi ranks.
Things to watch out for
Oxford is one of the UK’s most popular cities for tourists, and the city centre at weekends can quickly grind to a halt as students and locals battle with camera-wielding visitors for pavement room. If you value your personal space, visit outside of term time and avoid the main tourist season.