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Visiting Oxford - Things to See and Do

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What not to miss on your trip to Oxford, UK - suggestions from people who live here

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Oxford Poetry Walk (reviewed by Alison Boulton)

Oxford Playhouse and Live Canon theatre makers have combined to produce an audio tour of Oxford, featuring some of its most iconic locations, and the poetry they have inspired.

The tour takes approximately an hour, but there is plenty of time to stop, enjoy the read more...

Daily Info Staff (DI Staff), 05/04/12


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Shared by Alasdair, the guide from 'I Love Oxford Walking Tours'

I really love Oxford as besides its compact town centre, it's soaked in historical interests & is a nice green space with a relaxed air. There are no shortage of stories to be told about famous people past & present who have lived here. These include the likes of King Charles I who used Christ Church College as his seat of government in the Civil War.

Another figure at Christ Church you could learn more about if you head to the pub The Head Of The River and Folly Bridge. There, you can hire boats or take a cruise on a steamer along the Thames and imagine Lewis Carroll (real name of Charles Dodgson), who entertained the daughter of Christ Church College, the young Alice Liddel, with the tales we now know as Alice In Wonderland!

Over on the High Street, are some the oldest coffee houses in Europe and many a curious college tradition to hear about there, and I could tell you more about this if you were interested in joining one of my guided walking tours of Oxford. For more info see my website: www.ILoveOxford.com.

ILoveOxford (DI User), 20/06/11


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Here is a lovely map of outdoor art installations in Oxford, produced by the City Council:
http://www.oxford.gov.uk/Direct/PublicArtMap.pdf
It might keep your visitor busy for a fine afternoon!

DI Staff (Unverified), 03/03/11


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Jessica would:
Start out at the Grog Shop in Kingston Road, equipped with a picnic, and walk down to Port Meadow. Cross the river and walk along the Thames Path. The first stretch is lovely, with wild flowers and views across the river to cattle grazing. Past the station, you come to Osney Island (alas, the Waterman's Arms is now closed), and after the that the old industrial part of the river before approaching Folly Bridge and Christ Church.

Leave the Thames path here and cross over to the Head of the River for a pint: stay on the north bank for a picnic in Christ Church Meadow. Follow the north river bank through some spectacularly beautiful trees before coming to the Botanical Gardens, where you can while away a very pleasant hour or two - do make sure you visit the hothouses as well and see bananas, waterlilies and carnivorous plants.

For tea, if you are feeling rich, go to the Grand Cafe - otherwise cross over and go to the Queen's Lane Cafe. From there you can wander up Queen's Lane itself into the heart of Oxford - and then home.

Jessica Osborne (DI User), 20/08/10


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Susie would:
Sitting here in the office with the sun shining outside, contemplating an ideal day in Oxford, my mind is so full of fun possibilities that it's hard to imagine cramming them into sixteen or so hours, especially given that one of the nicest things you can do round here is spend an afternoon lying on the grass in your park of choice with a bottle of Cava and a cryptic crossword. Assuming you've got limited time in the city and actually want to do some stuff, I'd suggest the following:

Rise early. Work up an appetite with a stroll (or a run) round Christ Church meadow, hopefully while the mist is still hanging over the water, and look out for crazy people rowing instead of sleeping (or strolling), then breakfast at the Grand Café on the High Street. It's arguably somewhat overpriced, but offers low-key elegance in terms of menu and decor, with a nice line in lethal coffee. Having hopefully survived the coffee, pop into a couple of nearby colleges (clap at the mound in New College and graze with the deer in Magdalen), before continuing on a round of sightseeing. Other people have recommended the Pitt Rivers Museum on this page, and they're not wrong - it's wonderful - also the Bodleian Library, the Covered Market, Blackwell's Bookshop, St Mary's Church, Modern Art Oxford, and of course lots of the other colleges, are well worth visiting. Consider trying a walking tour - a good way of absorbing lots of historical titbits, taken with a pinch of salt. Stop off at intervals for lunch in the garden of the Vaults and Garden café on Radcliffe Square, or a pint at the Bear, the Turf or the Eagle and Child. Finish up by wearing your legs out for good and all at the fabulous new-look Ashmolean, working your way up to the roof terrace for a well-deserved round of tea and cake.

Now go home, relax - then put on your sparkly eye make up and go out for dinner in East Oxford at the Magdalen Arms, (or try Fishers, Aziz, Fratelli's, Door 74). Yes, they're right about Moya too. Eat lots - you've earned the calories. For the evening's entertainment, I'm not really qualified to recommend gigs or clubs; after such a busy day I'd rather split the evening between a couple of favourite pubs: If you're a bar person I'd try Kazbar on Cowley Road, but I'd probably usually recommend the Fir Tree on Iffley Road and the the Half Moon on St Clements, where you'll hopefully come across a lively folk music night.

Stumble home at two in the morning singing snatches of traditional ballads and vowing to take up the fiddle. Sleep.

Susie Cogan (DI Staff), 26/07/10


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Alwyn would:
In order to thoroughly experience Oxford, you have to embrace both sides of the city: Town and Gown. The University tends (unsurprisingly) to dominate guidebooks, but you’re missing out if you just stick to the museums and colleges.

Start the day with the best the “Town” has to offer: an artery-hardening breakfast at the St. Giles' Café, then a stroll down the High Street. Here you can window-shop for impossibly expensive silverware, antiques and the sort of clothes you can only buy if you’ve got a double-barrelled name and at least one title. Console yourself with a milkshake from Moo-Moo’s in the Covered Market. Alpha Bar’s salads and Pieminister’s pies are both perfect examples of often-disappointing dishes, and make an ideal lunch! Now, time to try the "Gown" side of things by visting the famous Oxford colleges.

Wear a pair of pyjamas and carry a large pile of books under one arm and a bottle of Pimms under the other. College porters will assume you are a student, and let you in without charging a ruinous entrance fee. Older visitors can replace the pyjamas with tweed and the Pimms with sherry to impersonate a don instead. As well as the usual suspects of Magdalen, Christ Church (the “Harry Potter college”) and Merton, try Worcester’s lake, the Woody Allen gargoyle in Teddy Hall, and The Light of the World in Keble College Chapel.

Continue your student experience (and put that Pimms to good use), by heading to Magdalen Bridge for a spot of punting; if it’s a terrible day, so much the better! Unimpeded by tourists travelling in slow circles in the middle of the river, you should be able to get the punt up to a full speed of 2, perhaps 2 ½ mph. See our guide to punting for more information on how not to fall in (or, if you must fall in, how to do so in the most dignified manner possible).

Once towelled off, stroll across Magdalen Bridge and down Cowley Road and appreciate how the other half of Oxford lives; if the fantastic street art and vibrant international atmosphere don’t draw you in, the most important place in Oxford should. If you have time, head up to Headington to check out their famous shark, buried head first in a house. Eating places to watch out for are retro-chic diner Atomic Burger, brilliant fish-n’-chips-n’-Chinese-n’-Cambodian takeaway AK City, and authentic pizzeria Mario’s. If you’re feeling brave, try the Red Star Spice Challenge, and have your photo put alongside those of spice lovers and macho posturers from across the world.

To tackle the feeling that your throat is about to burst into flames, head out for a cocktail. It would be unfair to single out one particular Oxford cocktail bar as especially excellent: Kazbar, Café Tarifa, the Grand Café, Raoul’s, the Duke of Cambridge and Angels are all worth a try. More importantly, all of these establishments have different Happy Hours, so get the timing right and you won’t pay full price for a drink all night.

To inject a final touch of authentic student colour into your visit, get a late-night snack at one of Oxford’s (in)famous kebab vans. Cheesy chips are probably safest, but a chicken, egg and cheese burger will, once tried, never be forgotten.

Alwyn Collinson (DI Staff), 03/05/10


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Miranda would:
Walk through New College Lane to look at the gargoyles, then, if fine: buy a basketful of goodies (from Maison Blanc or Gatineau, Manos or the Co Op plus or minus alcohol from Oddbins), and punt from the Cherwell Boathouse to the Vicky Arms for lunch. If wet: the recently revamped Ashmolean for Art, the University Museum for Nature or the Pitt Rivers for all kinds of human weirdness. Or if your visitor prefers their nature a bit more animated, to the Goldfish Bowl on Magdalen Road - one of Europe's leading aquarium shops, it's almost as good as the zoo. Or, your companion may prefer the elegant simplicity of a day spent gently lurching between the Turf Tavern, the Angel and Greyhound and the King's Arms.

I'd plan to return in the evening to a concert or play (preferably in one of the colleges in order to show off the unique architecture and student vibe). Edamamé, a Japanese restaurant of amazing food and unusual opening hours, is good for a brisk meal if you're trying to fit a lot into an evening (you may have to queue but it usually moves swiftly). If you decide to skip culture for the evening, and especially if your visitor eats meat or fish, you mustn't miss Moya, that jewel of Oxford dining. Civilised yet unpretentious, with beautiful dishes intelligently designed and exquisitely cooked. If it's a Sunday night, and if neither of you have to work the next day, you could finish up with the folk night at the Half Moon.

Miranda Rose (DI Staff), 03/02/10


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Ben would:
Head down to George & Danver on St Aldate's and grab a breakfast bagel. If it's sunny, take it into Christ Church meadow and sit for a while by the river. If not, eat it there (would a mid-morning ice cream be wrong?) and head down Pembroke Street to Modern Art Oxford.

Once you're done being cultured, head over to Hythe Bridge St and wander up the canal into Jericho, past the assorted houseboats and towards the Gardener's Arms on Plantation Road. It's an unpretentious, friendly pub out of the bustle of the city centre that serves excellent vegetarian food, of the sort you needn't be a vegetarian to enjoy.

Rain or shine, a visitor can't leave Oxford without a trip to the Pitt Rivers Museum, at the back of the Museum of Natural History on Parks Road. Make sure you check out the items hidden away in drawers and behind curtains - it's an eclectic, occasionally creepy collection, but worth a peek. If it's a sunny day, the University Parks next door provide an escape from the shrunken heads and Tim Hunkin installations.

In the evening, the Cowley Road is the place to be. Mario's Trattoria doesn't look like much but is where the city's Italians go to eat (be prepared to wait). Afterwards, there'll be a gig on, or there are plenty of great places to go for a drink. (Maybe start at the Brickworks?) Alternatively, for something a little calmer, wander down to the Victoria Arms in Old Marston for a meal as you watch the sun go down over the river.

Ben Werdmuller (Unverified), 03/02/10


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Jamie would:
- Get up early and walk/jog through the University Parks. The trees are fantastic in the morning mist.

- Have breakfast at the Excelsior on Cowley Road. It's the least pretentious café in town, and still the coffee is exceptional.

- Walk from Magdalen Bridge into the Botanic Gardens and then Christ Church Meadow, following the Cherwell till it meets the Isis, then back up towards Merton College. Ideal route for watching plants, people and punts.

- Have lunch and go shopping in the Covered Market... my favourites include Cardews, the Oxford Framing Gallery, Chocology, the Cake Shop and Ben's Cookies!

- Head from Carfax along Cornmarket, right into Broad St, right down Turl St, left along the High St and left up Catte Street, stopping in as many shops and colleges as you feel like! Try the tower of St. Michael's at the North Gate, the three Blackwell shops, Exeter College chapel, Scriptum, the Black Sheep Gallery and the Bodleian Library.

- Wander underneath Hertford College Bridge and find the little passageway that leads to the Turf Tavern. Ideal for ale with an academic.

- Have dinner... there is just far too much choice to discuss here! Have a browse on our Food page.

- Round off the evening with a concert at the Sheldonian Theatre or the Holywell Music Room; a film at the Phoenix Picturehouse or the Ultimate Picture Palace; a gig at the Jericho Tavern, the Cape of Good Hope or the Wheatsheaf; or just a pint at the Bear, the White Horse or the Half Moon.

Jamie Huddlestone (Unverified), 03/02/10


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Photo of Hertford Bridge in the snow
Hertford Bridge in the snow

Headington Hill Park crocuses
Crocuses explode all over Headington Hill Park in February - the University Parks also has a lovely path near the Science area lined with different varieties

John Lindsey, Covered Market
John Lindsey Butchers, Covered Market

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