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Oxford

Christ Church, Oxford, with Tom Tower (c) Andrew Sanger

Encaenia, Oxford (c) Visit Oxfordshire

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Renowned for centuries as one of the world's centres of academic excellence, a place of fine Gothic palaces devoted to learning, Oxford is also a charming market town in one of the prettiest parts of England.
  Oxford University, Britain's oldest and grandest, is huge; its many colleges dominate the town. Their rituals and ancient customs have a special appeal. It's not unusual to see gowned graduates or undergraduates streaming along the High Street to attend some arcane ceremony. But there is more to Oxford than that, with plenty of good shops, good restaurants and a plethora of good pubs, as well as world-famous museums and libraries, two thriving theatres and first-class arts and music.
  In term-time, students make up a quarter of Oxford's population, and a large number of the town's visitors are their family members. There's liveliness and good-humour in the air, perhaps because so many have something to celebrate.


 Get the feel

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 for a large area of suburbs, small towns and villages.

 What, why, where

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 the start.
  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.
  In 1992, Oxford Polytechnic in Headington was renamed Oxford Brookes University.

 Getting started

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.
www.oxfordparkandride.co.uk

The city's main tourist office (Oxford Visitor Information Centre) is at 15-16 Broad Street, nearly opposite Balliol College.
http://experienceoxfordshire.org

 Compass points

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.

 Getting around

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 ignoring the rules of the road, 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
www.oxfordbus.co.uk
- Oxford Buses

 Entertainment and nightlife

Oxford entertainment and nightlife is of an exceptionally high standard, with 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 Sinfonia.
  More usual is to spend the evening at one of Oxford's many pubs, popular clubs and late-night dance venues. The main area for student nightlife is Cowley Road.
www.oxfordplayhouse.com - Oxford Playhouse
oxford-theatres/new-theatre/ - New Theatre
www.oxfordsinfonia.co.uk - Oxford Sinfonia
www.inoxfordmag.co.uk - 'What's On' latest

 Eat and drink in Oxford

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 Brasserie Blanc, 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 pubs
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 settings, like The Turf Tavern, hidden down alleyways, and The Head 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 Eagle 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.

 Hotels in Oxford

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 include The Randolph (opposite the Ashmolean Museum), The Old Bank and The Old Parsonage.
  More modest but thoroughly enticing is Bath Place, at the end of a cobbled courtyard and a lane leading to The Turf Tavern.

 Oxford basics

••Where is Oxford?
In S
England, about 50 miles NW of London.
••International phone dialling code:
+ 44 1865.
••Time zone:
GMT (+ 1 hour during British Summer Time).
••Money:
Pound Sterling (£).

 Must-see

 The Ashmolean 
 and Oxford's other museum

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 large, busy 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; the 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 Colleges
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 Balliol (Broad 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. Magdalen (pronounced 'Maudlin'; High St), beside the River Cherwell, is one of the most picturesque and has its own riverside meadows and deer park.
  Grandest is Christ Church (St Aldates), whose gateway is surmounted by the city's landmark Tom Tower.
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 University

 Oxford Castle 
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.

 Carfax Tower 
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.

 Botanic Gardens 
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 species.
www.botanic-garden.ox.ac.uk

 Bodleian Library 
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.
www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

 Shopping in Oxford

••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. www.oxford-covered-market.co.uk
••The indoor shopping centres – Oxford's main modern shopping mall is Westgate, in Castle Street. Its car park is the largest in Oxford. 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, Queen St and the parts of High St and St Aldates close to Carfax Tower.
••Books – Blackwell's in Broad Street is said to be the largest bookshop in the world.

 In the Know

••There are lovely riverside walks out of town beside the Thames.
••For a quiet stroll in town, take a break in University Parks beside the Cherwell.
••For a moment of peaceful relaxation, some colleges have beautiful gardens.
••Choral evensong is sung in the Cathedral of Christ Church College, on Sundays and Mondays at 6pm.

 Events and festivals

Dancin' Oxford Spring Festival
3-12 March 2017
An exuberant celebration of all kinds of dance, with shows and workshops
 around the city. They organise other dance events throughout the year, too.
www.dancinoxford.co.uk

Literary Festival
25 March-2 April 2017
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.
www.oxfordliteraryfestival.com

May Day
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
2
July 2017
Plenty of music, dancing, food and multi-cultural easy-going fun along this crowded, cosmopolitan main street through East Oxford.
www.cowleyroadcarnival.co.uk

 Flights and Getting to Oxford

••Flights to Oxford: the closest airports to Oxford are London Heathrow and Luton, both within about 90 minutes by car.
••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.
Google map of road access to Oxford.



 

 

 

 

 

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 Oxford
Updated January 2017.
All rights reserved worldwide.
Text © Focus Guides and Andrew Sanger.
Pictures: 'Spires from Radcliffe Square' (top left) and 'Christ Church' (top right) are © Andrew Sanger. 'Academic ceremonial' (left) is © Visit Oxfordshire, and used with permission.
Permission to use: This guide may be freely PRINTED ONLY for personal non-commercial use. Unless a LICENCE has been obtained it may not, in whole or in part, be COPIED nor used for any COMMERCIAL purpose.
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