Oxford: a City Guide
The city of gleaming spires…whilst my loyalty will always lie with Cambridge, I must admit that Oxford is one of my favourite cities in the UK. It really is architecturally beautiful, and although quaint, is always buzzing with students hurrying to lectures. I’ve visited a number of times over the last couple of years to see friends studying at university, or family who live nearby. See below for the spots I always make sure to visit when I’m in town…
Most of the times that I’ve visited Oxford, I’ve either popped down for the day or stayed with a friend studying at university, so have never needed to book a hotel room. Whilst I can’t account for anywhere within the city, if you’re planning on exploring the nearby area, there are some great options scattered across Oxfordshire, which I would definitely recommend.
I always make a point of visiting The Rickety Press when in Oxford. This pub is located in Jericho, a residential part of town, and has a cosy, homely atmosphere. The all-day menu serves up a selection of pizzas and burgers, but their weekend brunch is the real winner: expect options such as avocado toast and buttermilk waffles on the menu. My favourite is their ‘Mighty Veggie’: a vegetarian version of the full English, complete with hash browns, mushrooms, and the most delicious cheddar and leek fritters.
Perfect for: brunch, or a casual dinner
A beautiful, greenhouse-like restaurant in a quieter part of Oxford, Gee’s provides the ‘wow’ factor if you’re looking to enjoy a sophisticated lunch or dinner. The menu is British with a Mediterranean influence: enjoy your meal whilst dining amongst a sunlit, plant-filled space (I can imagine it being pretty romantic at nighttime too).
Perfect for: a fancier meal
A cosy, independent coffee shop in the centre of Oxford. Observe students hurrying to lectures from a perch by the window, and enjoy the range of home-baked vegan treats or toasted bagels, with a cup of specialty coffee.
Perfect for: a quick coffee
A specialty coffee institution originally hailing from Bath, Society Cafe is a Scandi-inspired coffee shop serving up proper coffee. Their branch in Oxford is often packed with students, whiling away the time on their laptops and making use of the free WiFi. You’ll also find a selection of home-baked cakes and pastries, as well as fresh sandwiches on the counter.
Perfect for: specialty coffee
Often packed on the weekends, The Handlebar is a unique bike cafe, offering up an extensive brunch menu every day. Many of the options are vegan-friendly, including their avocado toast with almonds, seeds and beetroot hummus, and their coconut pancakes, served with berries or banana.
Perfect for: those with food intolerances
One of my favourite restaurants in Oxford, Turl Street Kitchen is located slap bang in the centre of town. The cosy restaurant, bar, and cafe is open all day, and offers a seasonally changing, classic British menu - the upstairs room provides a quiet environment to enjoy coffee and while away the hours, whilst downstairs, the restaurant is rustic and candelit in the evenings. The setting is casual, and the food is always fresh and tasty. The restaurant is a social enterprise, with profits going towards Oxford Hub, a charity dedicated to supporting university students engaging in social action. There are also eight rooms that are available to sleep in.
Perfect for: lunch or dinner, any time of the year
If you want to enjoy a delicious slice of cake with your cup of tea, Barefoot is the place to visit in Oxford. The counter is always heaving with homemade layer cakes in a range of interesting flavours (apple blackberry and thyme, or raspberry and rose), plus all manner of brownies, cookies, flapjacks, and loaf cakes. You’ll definitely get your bang for your buck here, as the staff are very generous with their serving sizes. Bring a friend to help you through!
Perfect for: afternoon tea, or coffee and cake
The Bridge of Sighs
This beautiful, architectural masterpiece joins two sections of Hertford College together in the centre of town: I’ve seen a number of engagement photoshoots taking place underneath the bridge.
The Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library
Affectionately referred to as the ‘Rad Cam’ and the ‘Bod’ by Oxford students, both buildings are part of the university’s library. Located in the heart of the city, they’re probably the most famous landmarks in Oxford.
Rather than paying the entry fees, I’d recommend climbing the tower at the University Church of St Mary (which is located right opposite the Rad Cam), from where you’ll get incredible views of both buildings, plus the surrounding colleges.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum
Hosting an impressive display of natural history specimens (including dinosaur specimens), the Museum of Natural History is well worth a visit, and you can easily while away a couple of hours here if you’re a history nerd like myself.
The museum is also attached to the Pitt Rivers Museum, which houses the weird and wonderful private collection of Augustus Pitt Rivers: there’s a whole host of archaeological and anthropological gems here.
Naturally, one of the most obvious things to do whilst in Oxford is have a gander around some of the colleges. Whilst some have entry fees or limited visiting hours if you’re not visiting a student of the university, you won’t want to miss on having a peek inside one or two. Christchurch is the most tourist-heavy (the famous staircase was used as the entrance into the Great Hall in the Harry Potter films), or Magdalen for its deer park, but personal favourites of mine are Balliol and Worcester (which both have pretty gardens).