Visiting Oxford – A City Guide
Oxford is two places in one, blended seamlessly together. On one side is the ‘city of dreaming spires’: medieval university colleges with tranquil courtyards, populated by students riding bicycles and punting on the river. On the other is a vibrant modern metropolis that’s a major regional shopping and business hub.
Oxford: city layout
Central Oxford, the focus of both student and town life, is packed with colleges and shops. Many colleges are clustered around picturesque Broad Street, while the High Street and the pedestrianised Cornmarket are the highlights for shoppers. You’ll find more colleges north and south from here. The trendy northwestern district of Jericho is filled with arty bars and boutique shops. Further north again, the wealthy suburb of Summertown is home to more upmarket restaurants and bars. Down-to-earth East Oxford is a good place for multicultural shopping and dining. The city centre is embraced by two rivers – the River Thames to the west and south, and the smaller River Cherwell to the east. Beside the Cherwell you’ll find Christ Church Meadow, the Oxford University Parks and the University of Oxford Botanic Garden.
What to see and do in Oxford
Start an architectural tour of the university on Broad Street, home to Trinity and Balliol colleges, and the impressive Sheldonian Theatre, designed by Christopher Wren. Don’t miss the Bridge of Sighs that links two halves of Hertford College across New College Lane, or the circular Radcliffe Camera library. To the south, Tom Tower stands guard at the entrance to Christ Church college. For a different perspective, rent a punt and propel yourself along the River Cherwell with a pole. Or let someone else do the work and join a relaxing boat cruise on the Thames.
The concierge recommends…
Hotels in Oxford
You’ll find hotel accommodation to suit every taste and budget in Oxford, from luxurious city-centre retreats to modern business-friendly establishments. If you’re looking for something more modest, you’ll also have a wide choice of small suburban bed-and-breakfast guest houses.
The highest concentration of hotels and guest houses are found in the city centre, where you’ll find the main tourist sights and most shops and restaurants. You’ll find more places to stay, including smaller guest houses, in the leafy northern suburbs, especially along Woodstock Road and Banbury Road. There are lots of places to eat here too, and you’ll have frequent and fast bus connections into the centre. Staying on the outskirts of the city to the north puts you near several business parks and provides easy access to the picturesque Cotswolds countryside. Hotels to the southeast put you within easy reach of the M40 motorway to London.
Eating Out in Oxford
Oxford’s cosmopolitan nature means you’ll find restaurants in every price category. You can choose anything from trendy cafés to exclusive bistros, and many pubs serve fine food. Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurants are also very popular.
The city centre is a good place to look for well-known chain eateries and bars serving ‘pub grub’, as well as more exclusive high-end British and international restaurants. To the northwest of the centre, trendy Jericho is where you’ll find hip, modern restaurants aimed at a younger crowd. Head further north into the prosperous suburb of Summertown and the restaurants become more upmarket. If you’re looking for good-value cuisine of every description, from Nepalese to Lebanese, head southeast from central Oxford along Cowley Road.
The chef recommends...
Shopping in Oxford
Oxford’s shops range from modern chain stores to quirky boutiques, via historic markets. Befitting its status as a seat of learning, bookshops are common and you can find pretty much any title you’re looking for. You’ll also see Alice in Wonderland souvenirs, reflecting the city’s connection to the author, Lewis Carroll.
Shopping in central Oxford is focussed around High Street and the pedestrianised Cornmarket. At the heart of this area, don’t miss the Covered Market, which has been selling fruit, vegetables and other fresh produce since 1774, and now has crafts, gifts and fashion too. Head north into Jericho to browse a host of independent stores selling everything from bespoke fashion and handmade jewellery to mouth-watering Mediterranean food.
In East Oxford you’ll find the Templars Square shopping centre, home to more than 60 high-street retail outlets and several cafés.
Best bookshops in Oxford
Culture & Nightlife in Oxford
Reflecting its student population, Oxford is brimming with cultural attractions, from museums and art galleries to theatres and cinemas. At night you’ll be able to choose from traditional centuries-old pubs and modern wine bars, and there are several nightclubs if you want to dance into the early hours.
Central Oxford is where you’ll find the bulk of the city’s museums and galleries. If you get thirsty you’ll also be near several classic old-style pubs, cocktail bars and wine bars. Head northwest into Jericho and you’ll enter an area of fashionable bars with a young and arty vibe. There are lively nightclubs throughout the city, but to find the highest concentration try the area between the railway station and the centre, particularly along Park End Street and Hythe Bridge Street.
Best theatres in Oxford
Visiting Oxford with a Family
Oxford is a family-friendly city with plenty of attractions to keep children of all ages entertained. You’ll find wide open green spaces where they can let off steam, museums designed specifically to stimulate young minds and several different ways in which you can all take to the water.
There’s an advanced network of safe cycling paths, so you and the kids can don your helmets, rent bikes and pedal your way around the city. If walking is more your thing and you fancy a breath of fresh air to escape the city bustle, head to the expansive University Parks, where children can enjoy running around surrounded by flowers and lush greenery. Or you may prefer to head onto the river with a boat trip, where you can explore the city’s waterways or join a longer cruise into the countryside as far as Abingdon.
Best family attractions in Oxford