There's Oxford the city, and then there's Oxford: one of the world's great academic institutions. The latter may be better known than the town it resides in, but a visit to the charming city will leave you wondering why Oxford isn't more famous in its own right. It may have over a thousand years of history behind it, but Oxford isn't the sort of place to stand still and revel in its past. These days, Oxford's modern side makes it worth more than just a university tour, while its contemporary restaurants, bars and shopping are sure to impress.
For most people coming to Oxford, a visit to the Oxford University colleges is top of their list. Wrapping around tranquil courtyards and cobbled lanes, the university runs for only about half the year, meaning the other half is open for you to explore the 39 colleges and their grounds at will. While Oxford is a university town, it's also very much a museum town. The titanic Ashmolean Museum is the leader of the bunch and also Britain's oldest public museum, while Pitt Rivers Museum and the University Museum of Natural History are also both well worth a visit. Movie lovers may get a feeling of déjà vu visiting Christ Church – made famous as the location for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft in the Harry Potter film series.
Oxford is by no means solely dedicated to student-friendly food. Depending on your taste, there are a few different areas of town to check out for a bite or a pint. Northwest of the city is Jericho, the city's trendiest locale and home to the excellent Raoul's Bar. More popular with students is Cowley Road, southeast of Carfax. As one of Oxford's more ethnically diverse parts, Cowley Road is also packed with plenty of cheap places to eat and drink. A little further from the centre of town is Summertown where you'll find the largest concentration of upmarket restaurants in Oxford.
Where to Stay
Plan your trip for the right time and you can say you went to Oxford University, even if it was just for a night or two. When classes aren't in session, the university rents room out to visitors. A more luxurious place to stay in Oxford is at one of the city's boutique hotels. In a past life the Malmaison Hotel was a prison and many of its rooms are former cells, giving it an edge of intrigue with added comfort after a stylish refurb. For prime location, a hotel that's hard to beat is Old Bank Hotel found right in the heart of the university area.
If you're visiting Oxford and find yourself in need of a little retail therapy, pop by the nearby town of Bicester. Located just to the north of Oxford, Bicester Village is one of Europe's leading luxury outlets and is home to top-line brands such as Kenzo, Dunhill, Armani, Gucci and many more. In Oxford itself you'll find a pleasant collection of chain stores and independent outlets along Cornmarket. Located on Oxford's High Street is one of the city's most popular shops, the University of Oxford Shop. For all your souvenirs in one place, visit the University of Oxford Shop to pick up Oxford branded hoodies, T-shirts, bags and even graduation rings.
Oxford Like a Local
It wouldn't be a student town without pubs and clubs and Oxford has no shortage of them! If you want to share a drink with some of the locals, the night you hit the town is as important as the venue. Popular with locals on a Monday is The Bridge, Tuesdays are packed at Camera, Lava and Ignite gets the rowdiest on Wednesdays and The Catweazle's Open Mic Night is the go-to place on Thursday. When the weekend rolls around, just follow the crowds to the liveliest spots. The classic student haunt is Kings Arms on Holywell Street, while J.R.R. Tolkien’s former hangout was the Eagle and Child.