When most people think of Oxford, it is understandable that one of the first things that pops to mind is the world-famous university that first opened its doors all the way back in 1096! Since then, thousands have graduated from what is currently ranked as the one of the top universities in the world, which helped to develop the coronavirus vaccine, and has produced some of the great minds of the literary world, such as Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis and Mark Haddon.
However, this wonderful city has so much to offer for those visiting, making it a shame to miss it on an interrailing trip in the UK! In this guide, we’ve provided some inspiration of sites to see and places to visit while you’re planning your exploration of this famous city.
The university is made up of 45 different colleges around the city, which are used not only for teaching and ‘tutorials’, but also as the accommodation for the students during their time at university. Given their extensive, hallowed history there are plenty of city tours and amazing visits you can make to the colleges as a visitor, in particular Christ Church College, where some of the filming of Harry Potter took place! Other university buildings that are certainly worth a trip include the Bodleian Library, which holds a copy of every book published by the Oxford University Press, the Sheldonian Theatre, where graduation is held, and the Radcliffe Camera, which is the circular History and English Library that you’ll see on almost every postcard from Oxford!
The Thames River runs through Oxford on its way to the capital, and it is unsurprising that the river forms a major part of life in the city. One of the bast ways to see the river is undoubtedly on a punt, a long narrow boat that is pushed along with some help from the riverbed by using a long pole to propel it forward. It is definitely an idyllic way to see the city from a different angle, so head down to the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse to hire a punt from there, where one of their team can also be of assistance to guide you around the bends of the river as punting is harder than it looks!
The river is also home to the University’s boat houses, which provide the backdrop for the bi-annual inter-college boat races, one being ‘Torpids’ in March and the other called ‘Eights Week which is held in May. The atmosphere created along the banks of the river is enough to get even those with no experience of the rowing world riled up, and you’re sure to pick up some of the college chants at Eights Week as you sip on some refreshing Pimms. One of the best ways to access the river, including for these events, is by walking through along the tributaries of the Thames through an area which is fondly known of as ‘The Kidneys’ – this will lead you from Rose Lane, through Christ Church Meadow along the back of the Botanical Gardens, and take you down to the main section of River to the west end of the boathouses.
AREAS TO EXPLORE
One of the most happening areas of Oxford is found along the Cowley Road – this stretch is full of fantastic restaurants, lively pubs and bars and quirky shops too. It is also the host of the annual Cowley Road Carnival, which is a celebration of the multicultural and diverse nature of the city, and features pop-up food stalls, live music, and a parade along the length of the road that features not only huge floats and puppets, but people from around the world in their traditional costume. Local community groups, schools, restaurants, families and students all get involved to make the day a success, with numbers as high as 45,000 people recorded in previous years, and with the hiatus caused by the pandemic, the 2022 Carnival is set to be bigger and better than ever.
Jericho is an historic suburb of Oxford that initially lay outside of the city walls, earning it is name through the influence of the Bible at the time, as it signifies ‘a remote place’. While the area was originally developed to house travellers from the north who were unable to enter the city after the gates were closed, you’ll be pleased to hear you won’t have this exact problem in this day and age! Nowadays, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars, and if you wander along far enough, you’ll emerge at Port Meadow. Port Meadow is an open green space that is not only used for grazing cattle and horses, but is the perfect spot to cool off in the heat of the summer – entering from the Jericho side of the meadow along Walton Well Road, head towards Fiddlers Island to jump off the wooden footbridge for a swim in the river before enjoying a picnic along the riverbanks, or a pint in The Medley or The Perch.
Slightly further north of the city centre is the little historic town of Woodstock, where Blenheim Palace can be found. After the land was gifted to the 1st Duke of Marlborough by Queen Anne as an expression of her gratitude for his successes at the Battle of Blenheim during the War of the Spanish Succession, the Palace has become an important Oxford landmark, as well as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Whilst you’re wandering the grounds, have a look for the bust of Louis XIV that was looted by the Duke of Marlborough in 1709 and placed at the back of the palace to mock the Sun King! Other features to explore include the rose garden and the walks around the lakes, which are especially stunning during the Christmas Light Show at the Palace in December. Other events on at the Palace throughout the year include the International Garden Photographer of the Year Exhibition, the International Horse Trials and the Salon Privé Classic and Supercar Show.
WHERE TO EAT IN OXFORD
If you fancy some delicious Pan-Asian street food to fuel your adventures in Oxford, try Pan Pan along St Clements. Although unassuming in size, you’ll be blown away by the flavours of the food, and the friendly staff will make your meal even more enjoyable.
Whilst exploring Cowley Road, pop in to Za’atar Bake to treat your tastebuds to some authentic Middle Eastern food. The portion sizes are fantastic and all the food is made with the freshest ingredients, ensuring your food is not only filling but also beyond delicious!
This ice cream parlour is a firm Oxford favourite and a must on a hot day – try out some of their own personal frozen creations, or tuck into some of their fantastic bagels, including pizza bagels that are to die for! There are three different locations around Oxford (Little Clarendon Street, St Aldate’s and Cowley Road) so you’re ever far from a scoop or two.
The newly refurbished Westgate Centre offers a range of fantastic restaurants and bars on its rooftop, so you can enjoy the Dreaming Spires of Oxford from their height! You’ll find the likes of Pho, Sticks ‘n’ Sushi, and Pizza Pilgrims all on the rooftop, with the Westgate Social at the bottom of the shopping centre also providing fantastic street food at lunchtime.
WHERE TO GO OUT IN OXFORD
Bars and Pubs
One of the oldest pubs in the city can be found along the winding alley of St Helens Passage near the Bridge of Sighs. It is a popular location for students and locals alike, with some famous names also frequenting the establishment – the cast of Harry Potter, Stephen Hawking and Bill Clinton to name a few!
Along the High Street above one of the entrances to the Covered Market, you’ll find TVC, a bar serving fantastic drinks and cocktails on a rooftop. With Happy Hour in the week allowing you to get 2-for-1 cocktails at a great price, it is the ideal place to start off your night.
Even though Hank’s serves pizzas and opens relatively early, the bar turns into a hubbub of life and dancing as the night goes on! They serve all the famous favourite cocktails, as well as some of their own artisan ones too, so you’ll be spoilt for choice for what drink to go for.
Lying round the corner from one another, these are the most popular clubs in Oxford. With Atik providing plenty of options for music choices across their 5 different rooms, Bridge is good for those who enjoy a little respite in a spacious outdoor seating area. Tickets can usually be bought on the door for both clubs, with cloakrooms also available to store your belongings so you can get on with your dancing without having to worry.
WHERE TO STAY IN OXFORD
There are plenty of places to stay in the centre of town, but these are our recommendations of the best ones to go for:
Just a 3 minute walk from Oxford Train Station, the Central Backpackers Hostel is a firm favourite of visitors to Oxford. Complete with a terrace, kitchen and TV room, it is a fantastic place to meet people to share your experiences of the city with. Private dorm rooms are available with shared rooms also an option, including female-only rooms as well. Prices start from around £36 a night, with each bed equipped with individual storage space and sockets for charging all your electricals, and with the hostel sitting round the corner from some of the most popular clubs, it is understandable why Central Backpackers has become so popular.
The official YHA hostel that also lies round the corner from the main train station is another popular choice, especially for groups of all ages. It is a slightly cheaper choice than Central backpackers, with beds in shared rooms from £17 and private rooms from £25, so it is perfect for those travelling on a budget. There is a lounge area, a café bar, self-catering kitchens and a garden area with seating, and so again, this is a great choice for those wanting to meet some people while travelling.
If you really want to make your time in Oxford memorable, check out the options to stay in the Colleges themselves – it is the ideal way to feel like an Oxford student during your visit to the city, although the price for your stay will inevitably end up being a little more expensive than some of the alternatives.