Tried and tested
It’s a touristy city for a reason: its most famous sites are imbued with culture, with academic accomplishment permeating the intertwining sandstone walls; each building is unendingly impressive. Meander round the city centre and marvel at everything around you, but look out for the these in particular:
- The Bridge of Sighs: a classic
- Go to the top of the tower of the University Church, right opposite the equally impressive Radcliffe Camera.
- Wander down Christchurch meadow and sit by the river
- Visit the eclectic Pitt Rivers museum, the highlight being the shrunken heads or the more classic Ashmolean, which houses paintings and objects from a collection of countries and millenia.
Oxford’s cafes hold a special place in my heart. As the silence of a library, initially so focus-inducing, morphs into a weight too heavy for my shoulders, I tend to seek one out to finish off an essay or some reading with the steady hum of people chatting and coffee brewing in the background. Cafes are the best spot for a quick catch up or a long chat, and the city is dotted with some of the very best.
- The quintessential Oxford cafe, Turl’s Street’s The Missing Bean might just have the best coffee in the city. There is seldom a free spot around lunch and tea time (a clear sign of how well-loved it is) and scoring one often warrants excited texts to whoever you may be meeting.
- There may be no better spot for a hungover brunch, unpicking whatever went on the night before over a stack of (vegan, yes, but still delicious) pancakes or avocado toast at the Handlebar cafe. They don’t allow laptops in the afternoon, so this is very much a catchup rather than study space.
- Tucked away on King Edward Street, Skogen Kitchen is the stuff of dreams. Their food is delicious and it is the ideal study space: quiet, plenty of chargers, and lots of natural light (but don’t go downstairs, which lacks exactly that). Make sure to try their freshly made cinnamon and cardamom rolls, or their waffles (or both).
- If you want a cheap, cheerful and absolutely amazing bite to eat, Taylor’s is an absolute Oxford classic. Their fresh pastries are rivalled only by their paninis and pasta-bar. They are helpfully posted around Oxford to ensure you are never more than a street away from their warm cookies, but their branch on the top of Little Clarendon Street is my favourite.
- The tiny, cosy Brew feels out of the way enough to provide a break from Oxford madness while still only really being a fairly short walk down Banbury Road and is a great spot for a hot chocolate after a walk through University Parks.
While Oxford houses just about every major chain in the UK, which is why I tend to eat at Leon and Itsu more than anywhere else while there by virtue of convenience and speed, it’s the independent spots here that are truly special.
- Mamma Mia is often overshadowed by the (decidedly fabulous) Franco Manca, but deserves its own praise: it’s the perfect spot to indulge in fresh pizza after going to see something at the Phoenix Picturehouse and having a wander around Jericho.
- Head straight to Tse Noodles for one of my favourite spots to go for dinner with friends because of the fantastic dim sum and noodles and convivial atmosphere. Make sure to try the chicken scallion noodles and pork buns. The quality of the food is worth the occasional wait, as it is pretty much a one-man operation.
- Gee’s is a true treat in a gorgeous setting: a glasshouse bathed in sunlight at daytime and strung with fairy lights at night which somehow makes the fresh Mediterrean food taste even better.
- Similar to the above, the Old Parsonage Hotel manages to balance both a cosy and elegant setting and will always feel special.
- Turf Tavern’s outside area is the best place to drink the day away with friends within Oxford, but if you feel like day drinking after a walk head to either The Trout or The Perch, both of which have picturesque gardens on the edge of Port Meadow (home to alight-filled stretch of the river and wetlands, as well as the odd cow and wild horse).
- On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Bear and The Victoria are my favourites for cozy winter evenings.
- The King’s Arms is an easy go-to overlooking the gorgeous Sheldonian Theatre.
- The White Rabbit is my favourite for food; their pizzas are good enough in their own right. The heated seats are a definite plus as it gets dark.
Oxford’s nightlife is an interesting one. It’s very much the people who make it, rather than music. Occasionally, there are events by notable DJs and you can almost hear the entire city sigh with relief at the prospect of one much needed monthly techno night following weeks of the aptly named cheese floor.
- Frevd is built out of the remains of a stone Church (the decor alone makes it worth visiting). Their cocktails are fantastic but expensive, so this one is definitely a treat. Go when there are live performances which range from Brazilian Carnaval to Stravinsky and are all equally engaging.
- If you want the ‘typical’ nightlife experience, go to Fever, Parkend or Bridge. You will hear Mr Brightside played at 10pm and you will see everybody you know. Enough said.