Think of Oxford, think of its university. Given that this seat of learning is one of the world’s oldest, it’s no wonder that the city is synonymous with its educational institution. During term-time, Oxford is thronged with eclectically dressed students, weaving through the streets on rickety bicycles or hurrying to their next lecture. But as visitors will soon find out, there’s far more to this cosmopolitan little place than study.
That said, visiting the university is high on most travellers’ agendas. But it isn’t quite as simple as it seems: Oxford is divided into over 30 colleges, where professors are based and students live. Dotted all over the city, each has its own identity and attraction (‘beauty’ may be a step too far in the case of 1960s-style St Catherine’s College). Visitors are welcome to wander round all colleges, but charges and opening hours vary (enquire at the tourist office on Broad Street). A few city centre colleges well worth your time are grand old Magdalen, with its riverside meadow and deer park, neat and formal Trinity, and Christ Church, whose dining hall you may recognize from the Harry Potter films. Book buffs may also be interested in a tour of the university’s Bodleian Library, one of the oldest libraries in Europe (and a very handsome building to boot).
If you’re search of culture, Oxford will certainly provide: the thriving university means that the city has a packed arts agenda and some world-class museums. The recently-restored Ashmolean Museum houses a vast collection of art and archaeological artefacts, including the world’s largest collection of Raphael drawings. Fans of anthropology will love exploring the exhibitions at the Pitt Rivers Museum on South Parks Road. It also makes a great rainy day activity for families, with plenty of curiosities for kids to marvel at (the shrunken heads are bound to impress). If the sun shines, however, you may want to give punting down the river a go. Do as the students do and load up on Pimms and picnic goodies before hiring a punt from Magdalen Bridge (the less adventurous can also rent someone to do the punting for them).
Aside from the obvious tourist attractions, Oxford has plenty to offer visitors who are keen to soak up the city’s atmosphere. An ideal place to do just that is the bustling Covered Market, crammed with independent shops, stalls and cafés. And although Christ Church Meadow is postcard-perfect, it can get crowded with tourists in summer, so make like the locals and head north of the city centre to Port Meadow, a generous patch of riverside common land. It’s also close to two great gastro pubs, The Perch and The Trout, should you need to refuel after your walk.
These days, Oxford isn’t just a great place to study: it’s also a top choice for diners and drinkers. Just north of the cit y centre, trendy Jericho’s streets are packed with restaurants and bars, including sleek cocktail bar the Duke of Cambridge and popular French restaurant Pierre Victoire (both on Little Clarendon Street). Another key area for food fiends is East Oxford, in particular Cowley Road, which boasts the city’s biggest choice in international restaurants, with everything from Lebanese to Thai on offer. In recent years, Magdalen Road has become the city’s number one address for local produce cooked to perfection, with the much-lauded Magdalen Arms and top brunch location Oxfork both located here. But when it comes to drinking, you can’t beat a pint in one of the cosy city centre pubs: places like the Turf Tavern and Eagle and Child are almost as steeped in history as the university itself.
For more information about Oxford take a look at our Get Up & Go Guide