Get to Know Oxford
Photo: Colleges, University of Oxford
Known as the ‘city of dreaming spires’, Oxford is famous the world over for its prestigious university, the oldest in Britain. But Oxford is also a thriving cosmopolitan town, home to a hi-tech community, trendy shops and music venues. An eclectic mix of ancient and modern, there’s plenty for residents and visitors to explore, from culture to nature and shopping to punting. Here are some of our favourite places…
One of Oxford’s most beautiful landmarks, the Radcliffe Camera library forms the hub of architectural Oxford (the word camera means ‘room’ or ‘building’ in Latin). Built in the 18th century, the construction and maintenance of the library was funded by the estate of John Radcliffe, a notable doctor, who left the money upon his death in 1714. Designed by James Gibbs, the Radcliffe Camera was the first circular library in England. Today the iconic library can be visited on guided tours and is also still used by university students as a place of study.
Photo: Radcliffe Camera – Britain Express
This museum is very unusual, but in a magnificent way, as it encourages education and the support of community engagement by exploring all forms of stories. Located in the heart of Oxford, the Story Museum hosts immersive exhibitions, gallery spaces and events that all celebrate story forms. Currently undergoing an exciting redevelopment, the museum is set to reopen in Spring 2020, with the transformation including 10 amazing new spaces to explore and enjoy, including a Whispering Wood, a Treasure Chamber and an Enchanted Library. There is no cost to visit the museum, and you can grab a hot drink and some tasty food from the café, between your visits.
Founded in 1860, with the aim of drawing together scientific studies from across the University, today the award-winning museum holds an internationally significant collection of natural history specimens, and continues to be a place of scientific research and fieldwork. The museum is as spectacular today as when it opened; the attractive Victorian neo-Gothic hosted a famous clash of ideologies, now known as the Great Debate (concerning Darwin’s theory of evolution vs. biblical creation). Today you can view enormous dinosaur skeletons, collections of rocks and fossils and the evolution of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, as well as a series of exhibitions throughout the year. Admission is free so make sure you head down there if you have a free afternoon.
Photo: Oxford University Museum of Natural History – OUMNH
Author of many iconic books, such as ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’, J.R.R Tolkien is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery with his loved one, Edith Mary Tolkien. He studied at Exeter College in Oxford and delayed his enlistment for WWI until he obtained his degree in 1915. Shortly after the completion of his degree, he enlisted as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers and was sent to active duty on the Western Front. After only four months he became ill with trench fever following the Battle of Somme and was sent back to England. All but one of his close friends were killed in action, and in honour of his friends and the reaction to his war experiences, he began to create many stories that make up The Silmarillion. It took him many years to return to Oxford permanently, where in 1937, he published his first major book, ‘The Hobbit’.
Bars & Restaurants
This Young’s pub is the biggest and most central pub in Oxford. It claims to be the oldest pub in the city, and is one of the main student hubs, mainly because it is surrounded by Oxford University buildings. Serving a wide choice of drinks and great food, including real ales and homemade pies, it’s a firm favourite for students and visiting families.
Otherwise known as the infamous, subterranean, undergraduate hangout den, this 2-level nightspot is the place to be – with a heated garden, table football and live music. A maze of dark corners and low ceilings all lead to the one almighty dance floor where you can showcase your dance moves, as Purple Turtle cover an array of genres, from 90s party to guilty cheesy pleasures!
Whilst studying in Australia, owners Ori and Vicky grew to love laid-back cafes and wanted to set up their own speciality coffee scene. Their roastery in East Oxford now enjoys a great reputation for excellent coffee, sustainable production and a friendly relaxed atmosphere. The beans are carefully sourced from around the world, so be sure to pop in to this chilled espresso bar serving fresh roast coffee, sweet pastries and ciabatta sandwiches.
This stripped down, Scandi-style café is designed with all of us in mind, offering a place to relax for those with a bike, buggy or dog, to come with their friends, or to come alone for some solitude and people-watching. Serving perfectly prepared coffee, exquisite tea or luxury hot chocolate made from chunks of the real thing. With a variety of delicious cakes, pastries, freshly prepared sandwiches and healthy treats for children. There is even a creative space designed for children to get their ideas flowing, allowing parents to collapse into a sofa and relax. It‘s the perfect place to take your laptop and get on with some personal admin or uni work, but also great to socialise with friends.
Founded in 1621, this is the oldest botanical garden in the UK with nearly 6,000 different types of plants. It is described as a ‘year-round oasis of biodiversity’ located in the heart of the city. The volunteers have a mission to share the scientific wonder and overall importance of plants with the world, and are committed to educating as many people as possible, helping to conserve plants and supporting teaching and research within the university.
Photo: Oxford Botanic Garden – Discover Oxfordshire
This canal takes you from the beautiful university city of Oxford to the three spires of Coventry, with the long-distance route option following the towpath from Oxford for 77 miles. The canal is home to a rich variety of wildlife, so be sure to look out for endangered water voles and other creatures! To really take in your surroundings, it is recommended to hire a boat and navigate your way along this picturesque waterway. As you wind through quaint villages, be sure to stop off at Port Meadow, an ancient area of grazing land that hasn’t been ploughed for around 4,000 years.
Leisurely sail upstream or down river in this truly timeless, slightly eccentric, idyllic pleasure of punting, from Cherwell Boathouse in the heart of Oxford. Ideal for those who don’t wish to tackle the great length of the canal, and it can be a cheap fun experience with a group of friends.
Photo: Punting at Cherwell Boathouse – Experience Oxfordshire
As well as smart shopping centres with all the top retailers, Oxford has a labyrinth of colourful streets overflowing with quirky boutiques, antique shops and markets.
Food, fashion and flowers – over 50 traders showcase the best of local produce inside this striking building. Soak up the atmosphere and find a unique bargain or two. Open daily, the market is popular with residents and tourists.
A short drive or train ride away, you’ll find this luxury shopping destination, with 160 famous brands offering year-round discounts!
Explore Oxford’s Surrounding Areas
The birthplace of Winston Churchill, this UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts beautiful architecture set in stunning ‘Capability’ Brown parkland.
A fun family day out to enjoy the animals.
A place of historical importance, once the top-secret home of the WWII Codebreakers and where modern computing began.
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