Firstly - well done! Oxford is home to two top-class universities and you've got into one of them, which is no mean feat. These pages make up Daily Info's guide to being a new student in Oxford, written by us - former Oxford University students. Read on to find out what you're likely to encounter once you arrive in the famous city of dreaming spires.
Let it be known that you live in Oxford and you will find yourself subject to all kinds of assumptions - that you spend your afternoons punting on the river (summer) or eating crumpets by the fireside (winter), that your sitting room is oak-panelled, that your conversation, as the six o'clock sherry is poured, is in Latin....
While such things do occur in Oxford (some might say not nearly often enough), for those who live here it is a city like any other. Well, perhaps not quite like any other..! Daily Info has, since 1964, been a handy reference and community resource for generations of Oxford students, residents and visitors. A glance at the menu system above will give you an idea of the different areas we cover (i.e. all of them). A good place to start is our suggestions of things to see and do, written by people who live here!
Lost? Confused? You need a map! We can help there. Daily Info's rather beautiful map of Oxford is available from our offices on the Cowley Road. Your school, hall or college may well also have a supply.
Setting Up Shop
Sorting out your room
But oh no - your room is dingy! The window looks out onto a red brick wall and slate roof with pigeon poo. There is no phone signal because some other very beautiful stone building is in the way. The floor slopes alarmingly downhill and there are no right angles anywhere.
Cheer yourself up - decorate your room! Look out for the poster and pot plant sale in the Oxford Union, usually in the first couple of weeks of Oxford University term. The Covered Market is also good for pot plants - as well as for brightly coloured lengths of cloth to drape elegantly over the cracks in your walls and pretty paraphernalia with which to clutter your bookshelves. Collect interesting whisky from the interesting whisky shop on Turl Street or one of Oxford's other excellent off licences to line your mantelpiece, and go shopping for trendy kitchenware in Little Clarendon Street.
Be aware that your college or hall may have rules forbidding such pleasures as fairy lights (cheap at the Argos on New Inn Hall Street).
Finally - most importantly and the crowning glory of your room - stick up our A2 Daily Info Year Planner (available free at your college or freshers' fair and at the Daily Info office) - and marvel at its usefulness.
Then books. They are useful things. Oxford is built on them. The Bodleian stacks burrow out under Broad Street and goblins with trolleys bring the dusty volumes to your fingertips. In practice, most (if not all) of your reading list content should be available from university libraries, so they should be your first port of call, however occasionally you may want your own copy of something to scribble on. Take a look at our Book Shop guide and also our classified ads page for people wanting to buy or sell books.
Blackwell's bookshop has a good second hand section for literature. Get there early on in the university year for good bargains on textbooks donated by last year's finalists. If you get really lucky, maybe you'll get one with notes from the best kid in the year in the margin. If it could happen to Harry Potter, it could happen to you...
Planning Your Year
Oxford University divides the year into 3 terms of 8 weeks: Michaelmas (autumn), Hilary (spring) and Trinity (summer) University terms. Exam schedules vary wildly from course to course, but often there are Mods exams at the end of Trinity of the first year and Finals (very important) exams at the end of Trinity of the third year, and the second year can be the best opportunity for joining societies, putting on plays, dancing till dawn etc.
Oxford Brookes divides the year into two long semesters, both with exams at the end of them. More info here. Again, the exam schedule will vary from course to course, but usually there’ll be exams at the end of each semester.
Oxford is absolutely stuffed (no pun intended) with brilliant restaurants and cafés to suit every taste and budget. Obviously you want to save money / make friends by eating in halls or your campus' cafeterias, and cooking yourself, but sometimes you just need a good curry / steak / coffee with mates. Have a look at our eating out guide or our searchable restaurants and cafés list, which lets you search, for example, for all the pubs that serve food in East Oxford.
Being a time-rich but cash-poor student, you can take advantage of special offers: pre-theatre deals, lunchtime offers, early dining, 'two-for-one's and so on. Make sure to ask about a student discount, especially when getting takeaway - look for discount vouchers on Student Beans by signing up to their website. This is mostly for the big-name chain restaurants, but some locally-owned restaurants often have good deals on here, and Oxford is full of chain restaurants as well, so either way, the site is worth a look.
Realistically, you'll probably be heading to the supermarkets for the vast majority of your calorie needs. In the centre of town there’s a big Sainsbury’s in the Westgate centre and another, smaller one on Magdalen Street. You may also want to visit the medium-sized Tescos on Cowley Road, and (depending on how bothered you are by the ethics of supermarkets!) the smaller one recently moved in next to Sainsbury's on Magdalen Street. When shopping for food, be sure to look out for specialist food shops as well. The best places to buy chocolates, fudge and sweets, and reviews of organic veg box deliveries, which can be a great way of eating well cheaply, especially when you live in self-catered accommodation, can also be found here.
You may also want to browse the food shops in the Covered Market - the butchers are (generally) incredibly friendly and sell delicious sausages, and buying fresh fruit and veg there is hardly more expensive than in the supermarkets. Farmers' markets selling fresh produce, and the Gloucester Green Wednesday market (as well as occasional French or Christmas market in the town centre) are listed and reviewed on our site.
It should be noted that almost all shops close by 4pm on Sundays. Your best bet for late night shopping on a Sunday evening would be the Sainsbury's on Cowley Road or on The Plain, which both stay open until 11pm, as do the branches on Magdalen Road and in Summertown.
Getting around and running away!
If you are an Oxford University student in a central college studying English or History, you may never need to walk for longer than ten minutes in any direction ever again! However, if you're a mathematician, a scientist, a Fine Art student at Anglia Ruskin or an Oxford Brookes student with things to do in the city centre, you are going to have to find ways of getting around the city.
A lot of people choose to invest in a bicycle. They're tremendously useful in Oxford: quick, reliable (or at least, with bike shops all over Oxford, never too difficult to fix), and a good sort of on-the-go exercise for busy types. Take a look at our bikes for sale page which has individual sales of bikes and also links to great first and second hand bike shops. I loved my bike possibly more than my boyfriend in first year, because it meant I only ever had to wake up a minimum of twelve minutes before my lectures. Worth remembering, though is that bike thieves are clever, everywhere, and have lots of free time on their hands - so get a decent lock, and don't use your £600 racing/road bike to get to lectures! Buy a cheaper one for £30 or so, second hand, to do that.
Buses in Oxford are frequent and relatively inexpensive, and a really good way of travelling around. The Oxford Bus Company, linked from our Transport page, boasts a 'fleet' of low emission buses, on which you can use smartcards ('keys'). You can top these up online, skip queues onto buses with them, and pay less overall if you use the buses a lot. The Brookes Bus, which anyone can use, is also part of this system and Brookes students get a 'BROOKESkey' included in the cost of first year accommodation. There is also the Students' Union Safety Bus which will pick you up from or drop you off anywhere within the ring road between 9pm and 3am on Saturday nights for a donation of £1.
On the Transport page we also have lists of taxi company and removals vans' phone numbers along with reviews, and it is always worth asking your college or university about schemes they run which enable you to have cheap taxis home late at night.
For longer or more planned trips, our Lifts and Journey Sharing page has lists of tickets for sale, most commonly for the airport but also for festivals, buses and train journeys.
Oxford has a lot of sport on offer, but it can seem hard to break into - even harder if you're not aware of all the things that are going on! Many of the sports facilities offered by the universities and town clubs are are listed on our Sports and Fitness page. Sailing, rowing, rugby, football, cycling, jogging, dance and cricket are just some of the activities available.
Or, if you're looking to set up or join an Oxford team in a sport you can't find listed anywhere, you could always use our Sports Equipment and Players Sports Equipment and Players page to find kit, equipment, or fellow chess-boxing enthusiasts (apparently it's quite big on the continent...)
When you tell people you're going to University in Oxford, you may have found that their reaction mixes pity with the congratulations. But it's not all just cowering in the candlelit library, trudging back and forth to lectures carrying a tonne of books and sleeping on lever-arch files in the hope that knowledge will osmosise into your brain. Occasionally the faculty door is unlocked, the librarian guard is bribed - occasionally people have fun here too!
There's plenty of fun to be had, and our guides can help you navigate through what's on offer - from what films are on tonight to club nights to the best pubs in Oxford (and whether they offer quizzes).
Keeping the parents quiet
The parents have descended upon you - what do you do? Museums are always a good bet for starters, and Oxford has a fairly inexhaustable collection. The Natural History Museum boasts an almost complete dodo skeleton, strokable stuffed cheetahs, and a beehive of live dancing bees on the staircase - it is closed for refurbishment until January 2014 though, so one to head to in the new year. Hiding behind it there is the Pitt Rivers, where glass cases full of archaeological and ethnographic objects are atmospherically illuminated in a vast and gloomy room. Add to that the Museum of the History of Science, Modern Art Oxford, the popular Ashmolean, and the Musical Instruments Museum where the curator has been known to play some of the more bizarre instruments for visitors, and you've got quite enough to wear out even the most energetic parents.
After your day out, take advantage of the fact that parents always want to buy you the decent meals they imagine you're not getting! Here’s a selection of the best restaurants to take your parents to (knowing full well that they are paying the bill…): Gees, The Old Parsonage and Quod make for good quality lunching, as do The Trout Inn or the Cherwell Boathouse, though both the latter are a little out of the way, but in beautiful settings and well worth the walk. For excellent Chinese or Thai food there’s Shanghai 30s or Chiang Mai Kitchen. Oxford has an excellent seafood specialist restaurant in the form of Loch Fyne, which comes highly recommended. The restaurants at The Randolph and Malmaison hotels are pretty swanky and good places to dine if you’re having a super special or celebratory meal. Finally, for teas and cakes, or something just a little lighter or a whole lot sweeter, there’s the Vaults or the Rose on the High Street. If none of these take your fancy, check out our food guide and decide for yourself!
Need to find somewhere for them to stay? Try our hotels and guesthouses page!
Coffee and kebabs
Amongst the rich variety of experiences awaiting you at university lurks the 4am post-club kebab, the 11pm coffee as you finish that essay, and, perhaps, the 6am coffee-and-cramming before an exam. Not every shop serving such delicacies is open all of the time (except for Wendy's news, on Broad Street. I don't think I've ever seen them shut!) Our Late Opening page can give you a run down of restaurant opening hours, 24-hour garages, supermarket and chemist opening times, the last post (it's usually accepted that you should send your mum a birthday card of some kind before her birthday, even at uni) and lots of information about takeaways.
To go back to the humble kebab, we also have a page dedicated to the fine workmanship Oxford's kebab van proprietors put into their constructions (actually, this isn't sarcasm - a kebab, chips, or a veggie burger after a long night can seem like a lifesaver!). Read reviews of kebabs, burgers and the ubiquitous (but surprisingly variable) cheese, chips and beans - then write your own.
On our cafés and restaurants page, you can search for restaurants or cafés by name and find what kind of food they serve, whether or not they have wifi or wheelchair access. Most of our listings have opening hours on them so you can always search for those which open early or late if you really need that early-morning coffee to function!
It's drinking Pimms and eating strawberries while cruising along in the sun. It's picnicking en route and gaining a following of ducks. It's clinging on to a tree branch overhanging the water and hoping against hope that the arts students will remember which way you have to paddle to make the punt move back underneath you, before the last strength in your arms gives out, and you fall abandoned into the waiting river.
What student in Oxford could possibly forgo it?
Check out our Punting page for info on where to find a punt, how much it'll cost, how to wield a punt pole, what to do when you drop the pole, and how to show off your skills (or hide the lack of them) on the river!
Sound and Fury
Decided you need another amp for your room, or want to play in a band but need to find like-minded musicians in Oxford, or want to hire a band for a birthday party or event? Try our Musicians, Instruments and Kit page.
Oxford has quite a good reputation in the music world for producing the likes of Radiohead, who started off playing Oxford pubs and other venues and, more recently, Foals, Stornoway and Little Fish. It's also got its fair share of places to go and hear live music, which plays all over town in restaurants and pubs or bars, as well as at the O2 Academy on Cowley Road.
Believe it or not, music festivals near Oxford aren't bad, either. The annual Truck Festival isn't, as the name strongly suggests, a Truck festival - the name comes from the fact that, when it started, the stage was the back of a truck. It has grown considerably since then, with the likes of Temper Trap, Tim Minchin, Foals, Stornoway, Los Campesinos, Blood Red Shoes, Pulled Apart by Horses, Teenage Fanclub, and Ms Dynamite! (I missed seeing her, though :( sadly.)
Other useful stuff:
- Gigs this week
- Concerts this week
- A Musician's Guide to Oxford Concert Venues
- A Musician's Guide to Oxford Gig Venues
- Music Reviews Archive
Spending your loan
However carefully you're budgeting you will need the occasional cheeky splurge, and Oxford has an amazing array of shops (high street, designer, eclectic, vintage, charity), delicatessens, and markets, all deserving of your cash.
You can find all the usual High Street suspects stretching along Cornmarket, Queen Street and into the Westgate (need a map?). There's also a centre in Temple Cowley (follow the Cowley Road down, down, down...) with pretty much every low-budget clothing outlet you could desire. Then (to expiate your guilt after visiting Primark!) go to the fair trade store under St Michael's church, and Oxfam on Broad Street, whose upstairs clothes section often has some great stuff.
On our map, you will find second-hand / charity shops denoted by the white elephant symbol. Headington High Street is particularly rich in charity shops, and the Cowley Road has quite a few as well. In the centre, there's also Unicorn on Ship Street - a wonderful and crazy shop which has to be experienced to be believed!
There's also an outlet shopping centre with designer clothes and other items at clearance prices in Bicester Village, only half an hour away by bus or even less by train from Oxford Parkway station. It's great for when your parents visit and want to take you shopping, or to buy ball and party dresses and black-tie and accessories before a big event.
Strangely, Bicester Village is also excellent for buying good-quality sports gear cheaply, just a tip!
Oxford has a wide range of venues to cater for your cinematic urges!
There are two Odeons within spitting distance of each other in Magdalen and George Street, which are central and surrounded by restaurants — useful for a good evening out. The Ultimate Picture Palace on Cowley Road (East Oxford) is a one-screen cinema bursting with character, excellent for art-house releases as well as the more mainstream films and with real champagne glasses available to take in to the screening! They also tend to wait for you if you get there slightly late and want to buy a drink.
You will also most likely become very well acquainted with the Phoenix Picturehouse in Jericho, where there's always a varied programme with a great selection of mainstream and more independent or alternative films. They also organise free screenings for students as part of their Slackers Club!
If, however, you want to mix a little exercise into the experience (or just want to take advantage of their many, many screens), the Vue Cinema just outside the ring road is a 5 mile (about 25 minutes - 20 if you're speedy) cycle from the centre of town, or a 3 mile cycle from the Brookes' Student Union. There's a bowling alley nearby, as well, should that attract you.
And you can find out what films are on in Oxford.
There's also always a lot going on in Oxford theatre, with college plays and productions, as well as local theatre groups and national ones. With many large and small theatres and performance spaces around Oxford, ranging from the Oxford Playhouse on Beaumont Street to college theatres, to the Botanic Garden, it can be difficult to choose what to see or even to know what's on. But never fear - it's Daily Info to the rescue! You can see what's on tonight on our Theatre page or search for reviews of a particular production.
If you're thinking of getting involved in the Oxford theatre scene, our Theatrical Needs classified ads page has information about auditions, singers, painters, make-up artists and props. You can post your own ads there or put up a free event listing for a play - or any event - you're involved in using our easy form!
We've also written up a page full of tips and advice on how to break into the student drama scene in Oxford and how to get the biggest and best audiences to your shows, with a little help from your friends (that's us. We're your friends!).
We also offer bigger, splashier, paid advertising as well as the free listings service - more info here. Theatre, cinema, gigs, meetings and lecture listings go onto our printed sheet (which goes up twice a week, every week of the year, all over Oxford) and online, so people can search for your production and put up reviews.
Rehearsal and performance space (always quite difficult to come by in Oxford on a low budget) can be found on our Halls for Hire page as well.
If you want to see lots of theatre but not spend lots of money then there are also a couple of ways in which you can get to see theatre for free. Volunteering Front of House is one way to do this and the Old Fire Station, Oxford Playhouse, North Wall Arts Centre, Pegasus Theatre and Creation Theatre all regularly recruit volunteer Front of House Ushers. You might have to sell some programmes and point out the loos to a few people, but you then also get to watch the show you're working on for free!
Alternatively, you can see shows for free by becoming a Daily Info Reviewer. To join our official reviewers list send us an example of your writing, once you've proven you know how to string along some convincing and witty sentences we then send you our weekly circular with all the events looking for reviewers and you can let us know what you might be interested in.
Where to live
Most new students in Oxford live in university (or college) accommodation, at least for their first year of study. However, you should start thinking about where you plan to spend your second year sooner rather than later. This doesn’t mean queuing outside a lettings agent’s before Christmas, which isn’t fun for anybody (except perhaps said letting agent), but you do need to pick housemates and start househunting at some point in your first year. Mid-January is a pretty good time to do it, as some of the rush has died down and you’ll have a reasonable idea who you want to live with, where you’ll want to live, and what your budget is going to be. Of course, there’s no harm getting an earlier start, but don’t let yourself be panicked into picking a house(mate) that’s too expensive/in the wrong place/lives in his own filth.
When househunting, obviously you'll be considering how nice the house is (and how much you're paying) but spare a thought for location (location, location). It's not just about how far it is to the shops/library/pub: Oxford has several different districts, each with their own distinct character and advantages. Briefly:
East Oxford has a reputation as the "alternative" side of Oxford, featuring street murals, sex shops, and more ethnic restaurants than you can shake a kebab at. It's also packed with bars and pubs, which gives it a completely undeserved reputation for being a bit dodgy. East Oxford is no less safe than anywhere else in Oxford; it's also vibrant, exciting, and somewhat cheaper than other parts of the city. Starts east of Magdalen Bridge and encompasses the area around Cowley Road, St. Clement's and Iffley Road.
Headington is a perfect place for Brookes students to live, because it's extremely convenient for all their campuses. It's also got a good range of shops and restaurants (and a shark!), and rents comparable to East Oxford (ie. cheaper than average), but the nightlife could be accused of lacking sparkle or indeed of not existing. Fortunately, it's very easy to access the rest of the city by bus, even late into the night. The adjacent village/suburb of Marston is quieter still, and you can easily get to the Oxford University science area through University parks. This makes it quite popular for academics and postgraduate students.
North Oxford has an entirely deserved reputation for being the fancy end of the city (see cartoon above) particularly Jericho, a place to live if you value access to a gourmet coffee, a book about the history of the beatnik movement, or a trendy cocktail above, say, a pint of milk. Seriously, it is a very nice area, with attractive houses and tons of great restaurants and bars, but this is reflected in the prices. Further north you hit Summertown, which is to Jericho as Headington is to East Oxford: further away, slightly cheaper, and a bit less characterful.
For a general overview on househunting, have a look at our Accommodation Advice Page. If you’re ready to jump straight in, look at our Houses & Flats to Let and Rooms to Let classified ads pages, where you’ll find plenty of properties on offer from letting agents and independent landlords alike. You don't have to choose one of the first few properties you view! If you shop around, you'll have a better idea of the kind of facilities you're looking for, as well as what's a fair price to pay for them.
It's probably also a good idea to look at our Scams page. Property scammers aren’t common, but you should be wary if you’re asked to put down a large deposit on a property you haven’t seen.
Hopefully, you'll always be bright-eyed, happy, un-hungover and safe throughout your time in Oxford. But realistically you might need the occasional piece of friendly advice along the way, and Daily Info is standing by! For example, when you realise in a pre-party panic that your dress or tux still bears unidentifiable stains, our list of dry cleaners and launderettes in Oxford may be just what you need.
If you're feeling a little fluey (and chances are, in Freshers' Week, you will), campus nurses are a good first port of call but, if you're new to the city, it might be wise to have a quick scan over our Medical Help page, which has opening hours and information about hospitals, clinics, sexual health centres, and dentists. Even if you remain healthy all the way through uni, you might need to go to a doctor for injections if you plan to travel in your (very) long summer holiday, so it's worth bearing their existence in mind!
On the subject of health, people will often tell you: never, ever, no matter what the provocation, have unprotected sex when neither (none?) of you have been checked out for communicable diseases. This is possibly the best piece of advice you'll ever get. Unfortunately, most people only find out about the horrible things you can catch the morning (or the week, or the decade) after. It's so tragically simple to prevent. Most JCRs have some arrangement to supply free condoms, and you can also pick them up free from one of Oxford's Sexual Health Centres. Although condoms won't protect you from everything, they go a heck of a long way. As it were.
Oxford University also offers a counselling service, for which you can sign up. All treatment is free and confidential. Information about counselling services such as Nightline or the Isis centre can be found here.
For problems of an academic nature, our Tuition page can be used to seek tuition, although first port of call should be your tutors or professors as they will be administering your course and will usually be able to provide any extra help you need.
I can't remember how often I lost my keys, phone, parents, and all manner of other things. Luckily for you, Daily Info has a Lost and Found page to help reunite you and your missing items.
There's also a Phones page to replace the phone you lost whilst dancing just a bit too exuberantly in Bridge and, if you yourself should get lost in or around Oxford, we have a copy of our map on our website, too.
We often have competitions running on our website, to win useful things like meals for you and some friends, or free cinema tickets. Check our Competitions page for current comps and past prizes.