Matthew Arnold's evocative description of Oxford as the city of
"dreaming spires" is still accurate. Yet while many of
Oxford's handsome old streets are lined with majestic
architecture from centuries past, there's also a lively, youthful
feel to the town. And if the streets seem crowded, it's not just
with the thousands of students and tourists, but also with
residents, because Oxford is the thriving commercial centre
large area of suburbs, small towns and villages.
Oxford lies in the
humid, misty plain between two rivers, the Thames (or Isis) and
the Cherwell. Its wide
central streets are a clue that this was once an important local
market town where sheep, and their wool and leather, were
traded and worked. It has remained a market and local commercial
centre ever since.
Oxford was founded as a fortified "burgh" by King Alfred in the 9th
century, and its position in the centre of southern England
gave it a certain political and strategic importance from
Oxford university was founded in 1167. The privileged standing of its
scholars vis-à-vis townspeople led to tensions and episodes of
violence, with rioting several times throughout the 13th
century, and a three-day pitched battle between "town and
gown" in 1355.
However a modus vivendi was reached, and by the 16th century Oxford's
citizens were almost entirely dependent on the university for
their livelihoods, and remained so for centuries.
In 1913, Morris opened their first car factory at Cowley, on the edge of Oxford.
Its success, and the related industries, began to change the
character of Oxford. The town expanded far from its historic
heart, taking in many surrounding villages and adding large
areas of new housing.
Oxford Polytechnic in Headington was renamed Oxford Brookes
Parking in the city centre is expensive and hard to find.
If you're arriving by car, consider using one of the
well-signposted Park & Ride
car parks on
Oxford's ring road.
Parking in these is free and there's a frequent shuttle bus into
the town centre.
The city's main tourist
office (Oxford Visitor Information Centre) is at
15-16 Broad Street, nearly opposite Balliol College.
The heart of
historic Oxford is bounded by Broad Street, Cornmarket Street,
High Street and Catte Street, although there is a lot to see
outside this central area.
The focal point of
Oxford is the fortified Carfax Tower, which stands at the
meeting point of the town's four busy, attractive main shopping
streets (restricted access for motor vehicles), Cornmarket Street,
High Street, Queen Street and St Aldates.
At the far end of St Aldates, Tom Tower on Christ Church College,
although not at the centre, is one of the
town's most distinctive landmarks.
Oxford can be inspiring, delightful or maddening by turns. Most
maddening of all is trying to get around by car, with very poor
signposting, even major through-roads subject to a 20mph speed limit,
and much of the town centre closed to motor vehicles during the day. Better, if
you can, to leave the car at one of the
Park & Ride car parks on the ring road.
Beware that a particular danger in Oxford, to both motorists and
pedestrians, is the large number of cyclists,
riding at night without lights, on the wrong side of the road, on the sidewalk,
while drunk, while talking on the phone, ignoring traffic signals, etc.
The central area is small enough to get around on foot. To travel further there's a good bus service..
www.oxfordparkandride.co.uk - Park & Ride
- Oxford Buses
Entertainment and nightlife
Oxford entertainment and
nightlife includes traditional theatres and performance venues in the town centre and Jericho
areas. Few other county towns offer as much classical music: for
example, concerts by the amateur chamber orchestra, Oxford
Or spend the evening at one of Oxford's many pubs and clubs. The main
area for student-oriented nightlife is Cowley Road.
There's a big choice of budget eateries
in Oxford. In addition, the town centre and Jericho areas have several
above-average chain restaurants such as
Jamie's Italian and
Pierre Victoire bistro.
Among the town's brasseries serving drinks and food,
Quod also has live jazz.
A top name for tea-time treats - and in a picturesque,
evocative setting - is
The Old Parsonage Hotel.
In the High Street, the glittering 17th-century
Grand Café is reputed to have
been England's first coffee house and is a pleasant, if
busy, place for a drink, meal or set tea.
St Mary's Church, in the High Street backing onto Radcliffe
Square, has a inexpensive self-service daytime cafeteria in its
vaults. On a fine day, its garden is one of the most pleasant
places in town to have lunch or tea.
Oxford has many
atmospheric old pubs. They can be among the most
enjoyable places in town for a relaxed, informal meal.
Among the selection of historic places, some have evocative
The Turf Tavern, hidden down alleyways, and
of the River on the river bank beside Folly Bridge. Others have intriguing
literary connections, such as
The Lamb & Flag, in St Giles, supposedly a favourite of Thomas Hardy,
which also appears several
times in the TV series Inspector Morse. Opposite, the
and Child was a meeting place of 1930s writers including
C.S.Lewis and J.R.Tolkien - they gathered here every Tuesday for
lunch to discuss their work and read it aloud.
The tourist office provides a
free accommodation booking service.
Best place to stay in Oxford is in the centre,
but there is a wide range of accommodation from basic to luxurious throughout
the entire town.
Centrally located, highly rated hotels in attractive old buildings
The Randolph (opposite the Ashmolean Museum),
The Old Bank
The Old Parsonage.
More modest but thoroughly enticing is
Place, at the end of a cobbled courtyard and a lane leading to The
Where is Oxford?
England, about 50 miles NW of London.
+ 44 1865.
GMT (+ 1 hour during British Summer
Pound Sterling (£).
and Oxford's other museums
The oldest public museum in Britain, still
free to enter, the
Ashmolean occupies a well-designed six-storey modern
building behind a fine neo-Classical facade in the town
centre. One of Britain's leading
art and archaeology collections, its Egyptian and Anglo-Saxon
sections are among the best in
Europe. Exhibits extend from earliest times to the
present day, themed on subjects such as money and trade, writing
and textiles. The art and design collections encompass a wide
range, including Flemish painting, silverware and ceramics,
pre-Raphaelites, Impressionists and modern art. There's a
basement cafeteria, and a restaurant at the
top of the building.
Among Oxford's many other museums and galleries are the
Museum of Oxford,
telling the story of Oxford with entertaining displays;
Bate Collection of Musical Instruments; the
National History Museum and
attached to it, the
Pitt Rivers Museum, an idiosyncratic
Victorian personal collection of thousands of ethnographic
pieces displayed in glass cases (with unreadably tiny labels!).
The university's 38
colleges are independent and autonomous. Would-be students apply
not to the university but to the college of their choice. Most are centuries old and full of character, and
often open to visitors. Handsome
St) is one of the oldest (founded 1260) and traditionally has
some of the most distinguished alumni, while nearby
Wadham (Parks Rd)
is noted for its informal atmosphere and liberal tradition.
(pronounced 'Maudlin'; High St), beside the River Cherwell, is
one of the most picturesque and has its own riverside meadows
and deer park.
Church (St Aldates), whose gateway is surmounted by the city's landmark
Its magnificent Great Hall was the model for Hogwarts
Hall in the Harry Potter films. The college has its own art gallery of Old Masters and even its own
cathedral (which entitles Oxford to be called a city). Among dozens of distinguished alumni and
luminaries associated with the college, Lewis Carroll,
author of Alice in Wonderland, was a
Christ Church mathematics tutor.
www.ox.ac.uk - Oxford
Almost 1000 years old,
originally a Norman fortress. subsequently a prison,
only part of Oxford Castle survives, including a tower
with exceptional views.
Oxford Castle Unlocked is an
entertaining family-oriented hands-on overview of the castle's
history, complete with costumed actor-guides.
The rest of the site is occupied by the luxury Malmaison hotel (in which
former prison cells are now guest rooms) as well as restaurants
and bars, exhibitions and events.
Rising on a crossroads in
the very centre of the town, this 23m (74ft) Norman tower is all
that remains of what was Oxford's main church for 500 years
until 1896, when the rest of the building was demolished. 99
steps climb to the top, giving a beautiful view over city-centre
spires and roofs.
Opposite Magdalen College,
these quiet, delightful gardens alongside the River Cherwell
were the first Botanic Gardens in Britain. They are part of
Oxford University, which created them in 1630. Within the main
walled area, attractive plant beds are arranged by families of
plants. Outside the walled area are traditional garden themes,
such as a beautiful rock garden. Interesting glasshouses
include carnivorous plants, a lily house and exotic tropical
The main library of
Oxford University - which has several other distinguished libraries
- is the Bodleian. It's housed in a number of connected buildings, all
in constant use by students and academics. The library can be
visited on guided tours (including the option of individual
visits with an audio-guide) which begin in the 15th-century
Divinity School and encompass some of Oxford's most impressive
medieval and 17th-century architecture.
The Bodleian's exhibition area in the Weston Library, on the other side
of Broad St., hosts a succession of exceptional exhibitions of
its own and borrowed historic archives.
The Covered Market The 18th-century covered market in
the town centre has a surprising variety of traditional
butchers, bakers, leather goods, fashion and shoe shops and many
other boutiques and shops along paved lanes.
The indoor shopping centres
Oxford's main modern shopping mall is Westgate, in Castle
There's also a traditional, independent department store, Boswell's, in Broad Street,
trading since 1738.
The main shopping streets Oxford's main shopping
areas are Cornmarket,
and the parts of High St and St Aldates close to
Books Blackwell's in Broad Street is
said to be the largest
bookshop in the world.
There are lovely riverside walks out of town beside the
For a quiet stroll in town, take a break in University Parks
beside the Cherwell.
moment of peaceful relaxation, some colleges have beautiful gardens.
is sung in the Cathedral of Christ Church College, on Sundays
and Mondays at 6pm.
Dancin' Oxford Spring Festival
2021 (see website for dates)
An exuberant celebration of all
kinds of dance, with shows and workshops
city. They organise other dance events
throughout the year, too.
Postponed to 28-29 November 2020 and spring 2021
A week of talks, debates, readings, with a broad
array of well-known writers in Christ Church and Corpus Christi College,
the Sheldonian Theatre and Bodleian Library.
30 April-1 May (every year)
May Day is one of the town's biggest public
celebrations, with colourful traditional events starting the day
before and continuing all night. A highlight, for those who are
awake, is the singing by Magdalen College choir from the top
of Magdalen Tower in the High Street at 6am.
Cowley Road Carnival
5 July 2020 online
4 July 2021
Plenty of music, dancing, food and multi-cultural easy-going fun
along this crowded, cosmopolitan main street through East
Flights to Oxford: the closest airports to Oxford are
London Heathrow and Luton, both within about 90
minutes by car.
Google map of road access to
Buses run between Oxford and Heathrow, while the
Oxford Tube is a frequent bus shuttle to central London.
Trains connect Oxford to London Paddington and Birmingham.
By road, Oxford is on the M40 and A34.
On arrival, consider using the Park & Ride car parks, which offer
free parking and a shuttle bus into the city centre.