A few years ago we decided, like many Aussies do, to pack up our worldly possessions and move to the UK. Eventually, we found ourselves living in Witney, a market town just outside Oxford…lush rolling hills, cosy old pubs and any other British stereotype you can think of. Working in Oxford gave me a fab opportunity to discover the city, here are a few of my hot tips and favourite spots…
Coffee Coffee Coffee
the most important thing first!
The UK is not renowned for the stuff and outside of London, it can be hard to find a decent cup. In saying that, Oxford actually has a few great coffee places, two of my faves are…
Tucked just off Cornmarket street, this place is a perfect spot for your first cup of the day. Relaxed atmosphere, lovely people (no coffee snobs), always unique, local artwork covering the walls. This was my regular spot on the way to work each morning, they do not disappoint. Later in the day it can be hard to find a table amongst the students/writers/arty laptop-toating types.
The Missing Bean
Another great spot, right near Jesus college this place is pretty small and can get busy with students but super worth it. These guys roast their coffee just around the corner and provide a lot of the other independent cafes in Oxford.
Turl Street Kitchen
This place is well known by Oxford locals, founded by The Oxford Hub, a student network of charitable groups doing amazing things. Their upstairs function areas host everything from entrepreneur seminars to yoga classes, expect to see a great mix of people here. The food is amazing, really fresh, local produce and a continually changing menu – tasty salads and fresh bread to get you through a day of touristing.
I think this place has become a bit of a franchise and are all over the UK now but Oxford is where they’re from so I’m including it anyway. Head to the Covered Market, find the little red stall and get involved. So many good flavours, good ratio of fillings to regular-cookieness…not sure what else to say about a cookie store except they do damn good cookies, so you should go there.
Oxford is old, really old. While working there, my boss told me instead of a 10-year plan (that most cities use), Oxford works on a hundred-year plan, which I think is actually pretty cool. The whole world is changing at a rapid pace and Oxford is taking its sweet time. Anyway, yes, you must visit all the old beautiful buildings and touristy sites, the colleges, the Bridge of Sighs, Radcliffe Camera, The Bodleian (which I just read has something like 12 million books – literally they have a copy of every single book released in the UK since 1612 – what!?).
As with all touristy places, go early or expect to be elbowing a thousand tourists to get a decent photo. Plus, Oxford in the early morning when the streets are quiet is definitely a place worth being.
Oxford has a huge number of museums and art galleries. If you are pushed for time, I’d head to the Ashmolean, really interesting exhibits and close to the centre of town.
If you’re after something different, The Pitt Rivers Museum is worth a look, tucked downstairs, right at the back of the Natural History, the space is dark and creepy – filled with half a million objects from all over the world – manuscripts, photographs, shrunken heads in jars (yep) – such a weird and cool place.
To really appreciate Oxford, you need to see it from above. There are plenty of towers in the colleges and around the city, probably one of the best is the Church of St Mary. The cramped, spiral staircase up to the top can be crowded but super worth it – it really is the best way to see the beauty of the city. If you’re looking for something with less of a line, the Varsity Club on High Street has a rooftop bar with amazing views. Fewer tourists, more beers.
It’s a massive cliche, but super fun. I’ve only been to one place so that’s the one I’m going to recommend! Cherwell Boathouse is hidden down a small alleyway near the Oxford University Parks. The boathouse is lovely but crowded and expensive, instead, take your boat north up the river to the Victorian Arms pub – have a beer on the grass before heading back. Hot tip – do not fall in the river – it is gross. Also, do not attempt to race anyone who is from Oxford or went to uni there, they are trained in the oldy worldy ways of punting and they will definitely beat you by miles with a smug, Oxford smile on their face.
Little Clarendon Street
Just outside the tourist-heavy central Oxford is Little Clarendon Street, and it’s worth a look. There’s a bakery at the top with amazing sausage rolls, baguettes, simple but tasty food. The street itself has a great mix of restaurants, housey stores and possibly the best cheese shop ever (head there on a Saturday and they’ll make you an amazing toasty out of whatever cheese you like!) There are two great bars at the western end, Raoul’s Bar for really good cocktails and The Oxford Wine Cafe for their amazing wine list.
On a side note…..Cheese racing
Ok, this is outside Oxford but worth a mention. This insane tradition has been around for years and is as hilarious as it is dangerous. A wheel of cheese is released at the top of a (super-steep) hill and contestants run, roll, tumble down after it. If you have seen videos you’ll know why people go away with broken ankles, concussions and I imagine a lot of bruises. Last year’s winner, after receiving her 8-pound Double Gloucester prize went straight to the hospital for a dislocated shoulder. Good times.
Oxford is one of those places you can have no plans and fill an entire day just wandering around. There is a tonne of other great places to go but I feel I should probably wrap this up. It really is a great place and definitely worth a look.