This is Oxford. Isn’t it beautiful? If you’re in town for the day – and you should make this happen – here are my tips on how to spend it. Have fun!
1. Walk around town.
^ Turl Street pride.
Oxford is a small city, so just walk, get lost, and find something magical along the way. Wander into colleges that are open. They’re all nice. But especially Exeter. Usually a student will claim that his or her college is the best, but unless they go to Exeter, they’re wrong :) The Bodleian quad is also worth a wander; it’s quite studious and stuff.
2. Stroll through the parks.
^ Christ Church meadow in the evening.
Loop around Christ Church meadow – it’s a gorgeous path that goes by the river and provides excellent views of cows. Great for running too! You can also venture up to Uni Parks, which is more of a park park, but go across the bridge near the back and enter more natural walking paths. In the summer, go to the Botanic Gardens, home to Tolkien’s tree and Lyra and Will’s bench. If you have more time and it’s a nice day, wander up north to Port Meadow for a complete escape from the city.
3. Explore the Covered Market.
^ bonus points for a peachy ceiling.
In the centre of Oxford lies this market, older than the US of A (like most things in Oxford. But come on, this is a market.). My favourite stops include The Cake Shop (on my list of Best Cupcakes Ever!), Bens Cookies (the original stall for this now UK-wide chain), Georgina’s (a psychedelic café up some stairs), and Cardew & Co. (for excellent and affordable loose leaf tea, and other kitcheny things)
4. Have a scrumptious local lunch.
^ Vaults. It’s so lovely.
I recommend Vaults & Garden as the best combination of quality healthy food (and lovely scones, homemade jams, and tea too!) with Oxfordian atmosphere, as it’s located at the base of St Mary’s Church in Radcliffe Square (go tower climbing after – see next point!). Another great option is the Turl Street Kitchen (good any time o’ day – breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea with cakes, or dinner! Delicious and cosy, with all proceeds benefiting the Oxford Hub charity organisation). And it’s right across the street from Exeter – how perfect. If it’s a nice day, grab a sandwich from the Alternative Tuck Shop (best sandwiches ever) on Hollywell Street, or a customisable salad box from Alpha Bar in the Covered Market. Stop by G&D’s Ice Cream Café for dessert (located on St Aldate’s near Christ Church, Little Clarendon Street on the way to Jericho, and down Cowley Road, next to Atomic Burger, where I’ll force you to eat later)
5. Go up a tower!
Abandon the queues at St Mary’s and go up Carfax Tower instead – offers spectacular views of Oxford from above. Gain some perspective. Take pictures. So worth it!
6. Browse the bookstores.
^ Albion Beatnik. A loving bookstore packed with creative book-inspired decor.
Broad Street hosts the original Blackwells bookshop, which is home to over three miles of shelving. It’s kind of a maze so have fun. Also, venture up to Jericho to visit the Albion Beatnik, a tiny independent literary dream, where you can also sit for tea and cake.
7. See museums – it’s free!
The Ashmolean is one of the most prominent art and archaeology museums in Britain, with a lovely newly refurbished rooftop café was well. The Pitt Rivers and Oxford Museum of Natural History (alas, closed in 2013) share an adjoined space, hosting a real (not live) Dodo bird and a fine selection of shrunken heads.
8. Dine eclectically.
^ My universe.
For incense, pillows, and lots of tiny plates, try the Morroccan tapas haven Kazbar. For a sticker book menu, Batman & Barbie paraphernalia, and a dish called “Sci Fries” wander down Cowley until you reach the picket fence that is Atomic Burger‘s front porch. If both are too weird for you, (a) why are we friends, and (b) I guess you can always try the Jam Factory for more of a “fine dining” experience in a gallery featuring local artists.
9. Enjoy the evening entertainment.
Oxford is home to the Phoenix Picture House and the Ultimate Picture Palace, both awesome old school cinemas that play more off-beat films and occasionally screen classics as well. Oxford drama is hugely happening, and I simply must plug Oxford Theatre Review for listings. On Mondays, be sure to check out the Oxford Imps for top-notch improvised comedy at the Wheatsheaf.
10. I guess I’m obliged to mention pubs.
I’m not much of a pubber, but it’s kind of a thing here. In the city centre, feel like a local by finding The Turf through a narrow alleyway by the Bridge of Sighs. They have mini bonfires outside in the winter, and you can toast marshmallows in them! Or, if you’re into literary stuff, you must go to the Eagle and Child for the Inklings’ old hangout.
Most importantly, have a wander. Tolkien said that not all who wander are lost, and guess where he spent a lot of time? (Exeter College).
Oxonians and visitors ~ anything I’ve left out? Happy travels!
P.S. while you’re in the area, here are some guides to Cambridge & East London!