Oxford

For other places with the same name, see Oxford (disambiguation).

Oxford is the oldest university city in the United Kingdom, some 50 miles (80 km) to the west of the capital London in its own county of Oxfordshire, on the rivers Thames (the section of the Thames in Oxford is known as "The Isis") and Cherwell. Together with Cambridge (the second oldest university city and Oxford's great rival), Oxford has long represented the English academic establishment and élite ("Oxbridge"), a haven of tradition and endeavour. Oxford's famous "Dreaming Spires" refer to the medieval churches and colleges that dominate the bustling modern town in all their Gothic splendour. Picturesque architecture and a vibrant modern life (driven by students, light industry and technology) set in the rolling countryside of Oxfordshire make this a great destination.

Understand

The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

History

Oxford was first occupied in Saxon times, and was initially known as "Oxanforda". The settlement began with the foundations of St Frideswide's nunnery in the 8th century, and was first mentioned in written records in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 912. By the 10th century Oxford had become an important military frontier town between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex and was on several occasions raided by the Danes.

The University of Oxford was founded in the 12th century and therefore constitutes the oldest English-speaking university. Oxford, like Cambridge, differs from many other universities in that there is no 'campus' as such, and no central university building. Instead, the University consists of approximately 40 colleges and associated buildings, such as the Exam Schools (on the High Street: closed to the public), the world-famous Bodleian Library (main buildings in Radcliffe Square, off the High Street: limited access to the public), and several world-class museums. Each college has its own individual character, some date from the 13th century, others are merely a few decades old. Many of the colleges are closed to the public, particularly during term times, but some are open at different times. For example: Christ Church (the college of "Brideshead" fame) is mostly open, and has the added bonus of having a (small) cathedral attached, where excellent music is performed at Evensong everyday; it also has an excellent art gallery. Some of Christ Church's buildings are used in films such as Harry Potter. Other colleges of note are Magdalen (pronounced 'maudlin'), which has a deer park, and those along the High Street, all of which have an impressive list of alumni. Shelley fans should visit University College. Former women-only colleges such as the pretty Somerville (Woodstock Rd) further to the north of the centre are interesting to get a feel for the range of colleges in Oxford.

During World War II, Oxford was spared from the German carpet bombing that levelled many other British cities, making it one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the United Kingdom. The city has a population of 150,000, and the metro area 244,000.

Orientation

Central Oxford is built around two intersecting throughfares which cross at Carfax:

One of the best online resources for planning a visit to Oxford is the Virtual Tour of Oxford, hosted by the university's chemistry department.

Get in

All Souls College

By road

Oxford is linked to London by the 50 mile (80 km) south-eastern stretch of the M40 motorway. The journey takes 50–90 min, depending on traffic, which can be heavy. The north-western continuation of the M40 conveniently links Oxford with England's second largest city, Birmingham, and the West Midlands.

Parking and access restrictions are very stringent in the narrow streets of central Oxford, policed by both wardens and cameras, with heavy fines applicable. The one-way traffic systems are circuitous and confusing, making it difficult to get around by car. Visitors driving to Oxford from the south have easy access to the Westgate multi-storey car park on Oxpens Road near the city centre, which is handy but expensive. An alternative is to use one of the five municipal Park and Ride services which are located in the city outskirts on all sides of Oxford (these are well signposted). They offer free parking and, on the park and ride bus, take about 12 minutes to reach the city centre. However £2 is charged for the return bus trip to the city centre. Forget about using the Thornhill Park and Ride on weekdays, it is invariably full.

By train

Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in the United Kingdom.

Oxford has a large railway station immediately west of the city centre and south of Jericho. Fast First Great Western trains run to and from London Paddington every half an hour, the trip taking about an hour. Commonly, these trains call at Reading, Slough (for Windsor Castle), and Didcot Parkway, though not all trains call at each of these stations. Without a railcard, tickets to London cost £20 off peak and £40 at peak times, although you can buy tickets for about £4 if you book in advance online. There are also stopping services to London calling at a large number of stations, which run every hour and take about 90 min. First Great Western also runs approximately hourly trains on the Cotswold line to Worcester and Bicester.

Cross Country Trains run through Oxford, mostly running to/from Manchester and Southampton. These trains run approximately half-hourly in both directions until about 9PM. All of these trains stop at Reading going south, and Leamington Spa for Warwick and Warwick Castle, and Birmingham going north.

By bus

Frequent and comfortable coach services run from several convenient bus stops to Gloucester Green coach station in Oxford, normally starting at London's Victoria Station, running westwards via Marble Arch, Notting Hill, Shepherd's Bush and Hillingdon, and then onwards to Oxford. Stops in Oxford include beside others Thornhill Park and Ride station, Headington, Brookes University, St Clements, High Street (Queens Lane) (which is best for daily visitors, as it is right in the middle of the majority of University Colleges) and finally Gloucester Green, which is also well situated. Bus services between London and Oxford include Oxford Tube run by Stagecoach, X90 run by Oxford Bus Company, and the low-cost Megabus.com (which one must book in advance via the website or by phone. The service uses the infrastructure of the Oxford Tube). The Oxford Tube and X90 both run very frequently and journey time is usually 100 min (longer during rush hours).

Prices for the Oxford Tube and X90 are £14 adult one way, £17 for an adult same day or next day return ticket, and £20 for an adult return that lets you return at any point within three months. They take slightly different routes in London, so the place that you want to go to/from may influence where you board the coach. If you wish to travel late at night, only the Oxford Tube runs 24 hours a day; the X90 doesn't run between 2.30AM and 6.30AM.

There are regular bus services between Oxford and London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports with The Airline, run by Oxford Bus Company.

There is also an X5 bus between Oxford and Cambridge, taking approximately 3 h 20 min, as well as buses to Bicester and Banbury run by Stagecoach. There are also several coaches to other parts of the country that are run by National Express.

By plane

Oxford Airport at Kidlington is used mainly for private and charter aircraft and has only intermittently had scheduled airline flights; it is useful only if you fly your own plane, or are able to charter a small aircraft.

The nearest commercial airports are those around London, to the south-east, or Birmingham, to the north, with most foreign travellers preferring London.

Heathrow is the closest major airport, followed by Gatwick in terms of size and popularity. Road access from both Heathrow and Gatwick (fastest) is by M25 (heading north and west respectively) and then the M40 to Oxford's outskirts (follow the signs).

Oxford Bus Company runs several airport bus services to Oxford Gloucester Green bus station (running in from Headington and up the High with several convenient stops: check web pages below):

National Express bus company runs airport bus services to Luton Airport and to Stansted Airport.

Birmingham International Airport has fewer destinations compared to the London airports (it still has quite a lot), but it is the closest to Oxford in terms of public transport travel time. Birmingham Airport has its own railway station, which is connected to the airport terminal building via the free AirRail Link cable car shuttle, taking 1–2 min. From the railway station, trains depart to Oxford every hour between 06:14 and 22:14 and take about an hour. A non-advance, non-rail card single costs £25.50, a return £28.80 off-peak or £51 any time. You could do a lot cheaper by booking an advance ticket though (but be careful as tickets are valid only on the booked train, so if your flight is late and you miss the train, you will have to buy another ticket).

Get around

Oriel College

On foot

Oxford city centre is very compact and easily walkable. Many areas of the city centre are pedestrianised, and all major tourist sights are well signposted. The main hazard is that less-considerate cyclists will routinely ignore pedestrian crossings and often take shortcuts along the pavement. Remember to look both ways when crossing the road, though, as pedestrians suddenly striding out into the road from places other than designated crossings equally constitute a major hazard for cyclists.

That the narrow streets of the city centre are pedestrian-friendly, difficult for cars and full of beautiful buildings that will draw your attention upwards (rather than onto a more horizontal plane) does not mean that the roads of the city are overspill pavements. You will find most cyclists quite forgiving on this point as they are used to it and are often themselves pedestrians tempted to do the same as long as you suppress the urge to pass comment on any near-misses actually arising from your standing in the middle of the road.

By bicycle

The preferred mode of transport for the university student is the bicycle and like Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Beijing, there are hundreds of them. Most trains into Oxford allow bicycles to be carried for free. Fortunately, there are cycle lanes on virtually every street near the centre, however you will sometimes be sharing the road with other motorists. Though the bus traffic can be daunting, the familiarity of cyclists to local drivers makes cycling safer than it seems at first. The best option is to follow the locals as they know what they are doing. It is illegal for cyclists to run red lights (although many do) and you must use lights at night, local police frequently set up checkpoints and there is a fine for cycling without lights. Bike parking is available everywhere, but make sure you get a strong lock as bike theft is common. Avoid cable locks as they are cut through frequently.

By car

Avoid driving in central Oxford. Traffic is heavy, the one-way system is very confusing, the streets are often very narrow with restrictions, and parking is very expensive. Use the park and ride system, or forget the car and come in by public transport. If you have a motorcycle or a scooter, things are a little easier.

By bus

Buses leaving an Oxford park-and-ride

Local urban buses are mostly operated by the Oxford Bus Company and by Stagecoach. Fares are expensive and are charged by distance (pay the driver when boarding: change is available), but if you plan on making more than two trips in one day, buy an all-day pass to save money. The main hubs for local buses are the rail station and St Aldates. If you are in town a while, there is also a rechargeable smart-card that gives discount on bus fares.

Park and ride

Oxford Bus Company operates several park and ride services for people visiting the city by car, because parking is difficult to find and expensive in the centre.

Buses operate from Pear Tree, Redbridge, Seacourt, Thornhill, and Water Eaton. The buses operate from 06:00 to 23:30 on weekdays and Saturdays. Return fares start at £2.40 per adult, and children travel free when accompanied. Parking charges apply at Pear Tree, Redbridge, and Seacourt.

By taxi

Oxford has both metered taxis which can be flagged down from the street or taken from taxi stands located around the city as well as 'minicabs' which must be ordered by phone. Meter taxis are quite pricey but are convenient for short hops if travelling in a big group. Minicabs are much cheaper for long-distance journeys; the fare should be agreed over the phone when booking or should be bargained with the driver – never get in a minicab without agreeing the price.

See

Visitors to Oxford should definitely visit at least one museum, visit at least one college and – if possible – hear one of the world-class college chapel choirs. A walking tour (see 'Do' below) is a good way of achieving this.

Landmarks

Hertford Bridge (aka the Bridge of Sighs)

Colleges

Exeter College Chapel

Many Oxford colleges allow tourists to visit their grounds during certain hours and certain seasons, although some are closed to tourists at all times. Those that do open are generally closed to tourists during certain times of the year, especially University terms (approximately October/November, January/February and May/June), particularly in May/June, which is when exams are taken. It is advisable to visit the College's website before visiting, or to enquire at Oxford's local tourist information office to be certain you are not disappointed.

Each college has a unique history and something interesting to offer in terms of striking architecture or historical notoriety.

Balliol, University, and Merton Colleges each claim to be the 'oldest' in the University, with founding dates in the 13th century, although the exact year may be unclear or contested. They are fine examples of the collegiate Gothic architecture for which Oxford is renowned.

Exeter College on Turl Street is an example of one of Oxford's smaller colleges. Built in 1314, it is also one of the oldest and in its front quad exemplifies collegiate architecture in Oxford. The Victorian neo-Gothic chapel is modelled on the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, and houses 'The Adoration of the Magi', the famous pre-Raphaelite tapestry by William Morris. The Fellows' Garden neighbours the Divinity School and the Bodleian Library and offers one of the best views in Oxford, over Radcliffe Square.

New College on Holywell Street is interesting for being the only college to be built straddling the ancient city wall, which cuts through the center of the grounds.

The Queens' College along High Street, founded in 1341, is renowned for its grand 18th-century Classical style architecture for which is unique among the ancient (medieval) colleges, which have otherwise each been rebuilt or expanded over the years in a largely Gothic or neo-Gothic style. Tourists are not admitted to this college.

All Souls, also along High Street, is famous not only for its striking towers, but also in that it does not accept undergraduate members, but rather elects only two graduate fellows each year based upon their performance in what has been described as the 'hardest exam in the world'.

Finally, two colleges (some of the largest and most famous in Oxford) that have somewhat established themselves as tourist destinations are Magdalen and Christ Church. You're as likely to see a tourist inside as a student, but they do offer regular visiting hours, tourist facilities, meticulously manicured and beautiful grounds, and ticket booths for charging admission fees.

Museums and galleries

Parks, gardens, open spaces

Many of Oxford University's colleges have parks and gardens to walk through that are open to the public.

Do

Walking tours, that last about two hours, from St Aldates, near the centre, are an excellent way of visiting some of the more famous colleges, such as Christ Church and Merton. A number of independent general and ghost tours also start nearby in Broad Street.

The Oxford Tourist Information Centre on Broad Street offers a Pottering in Harry's Footsteps tour.

The only Oxford-based Harry Potter walking tour is offered by the Oxford Tourist Information Centre. Like all the non-Oxford-based Potter tours, Duke Humfrey’s Library is not included (only Bodleian Library staff can lead visitors into this hallowed space). Harry Potter Places Book Two—OWLs: Oxford Wizarding Locations guides Potterites through the decision-making process required to enjoy all Oxford Harry Potter sites, including Duke Humfrey’s Library.

Sport and recreation

The Oxford Dodo — not as lively as the swifts

Stage and screen

Oxford has four city-centre cinemas, screening mainstream (Odeon) and art films (Ultimate Picture Palace, Phoenix Picturehouse). The latter sometimes has showings at 11:30PM for night owls.

Oxford also hosts a number of London productions on tour, as well as playing host to a large number of student productions each year. Oxford has a lively student-drama scene. The following theatres put on amateur student productions during term-time, which are often very good value for money:

The Sheldonian Theatre

Concerts

Learn

Christ Church (Meadows Building), one of the largest colleges

Most lectures are only open to members of Oxford university; however, a variety of public talks and lectures are organised throughout the year.

It is also possible for members of the public to attend residential summer schools within the University, such as with Oxford Royale Academy .

As well as the obvious world-famous university, those wishing to study in Oxford may wish to enter at Oxford Brookes, an entirely separate institution.

Buy

A large number of shops in the city centre specialise in selling the ubiquitous Oxford University range of souvenirs. One is official, the others less so, but all do a roaring trade in T-shirts, sweaters, calendars and paraphernalia:

Books

Unsurprisingly for a university city, Oxford is noted for both antiquarian, specialist and new books.

Eat

Pembroke College

Drink

Pubs and bars

Oxford has many old pubs, as well as newer nightclubs.

Nightclubs

Certain weeknights are student-only at some clubs, so you should probably check before going.

Sleep

Oxford has a large number of B&Bs and guesthouses, located both centrally and in the suburbs. Check the website of the Oxford Association of Hotels and Guesthouses to get some ideas of available options.

Most hotels in the city centre are pretty expensive, and you pay almost London prices. Be advised to book in advance if you are travelling in summer since free accommodation can be rare during high season. The tourist information office in the city centre can help find available accommodation for a small fee.

Budget

Travelodge and Premier Inn have budget hotels on the outskirts of Oxford, although one will need to take a twenty minute bus ride to get to the centre. Alternatives in the centre include:

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Although perceived to be a very affluent university city, there are also some areas that suffer from unemployment and poverty. It is not unheard of for areas of Oxford to report higher rates of violent crime than many larger cities in the UK.

Blackbird Leys, a suburb of Oxford, is possibly the best-known crime hotspot. The area suffers some instances of drug dealing and anti-social behaviour, although it is no worse than any other large housing estate across the country.

Street crime in the center of the city, with the exception of bicycle theft, is low, though proper precautions as would be followed in any other city should be taken. Avoid getting caught up in drunken revelry or street fights, and, remember, traffic is on the left (so look both ways). Oxford has a large number of student cyclists, especially during term time (January, February, April, May, October, November), making hearing alone insufficient for checking whether a road is clear.

Oxford has a relatively high rate of not only street performers but also beggars (though still a low number of the latter by international standards). Police advise not handing over money to those who expressly ask for it unless threatened.

Gay scene

Oxford has a small gay scene and a gay area, which is accepting and friendly. The city is surprisingly gay-friendly for Middle England, evidently helped by a huge student population (and when compared to places like Birmingham and Coventry). The city's LGBT population is not as high places like Manchester, Brighton, London, Blackpool; but it is safe and comfortable feeling for gay visitors.

Connect

Oxford public library in the Westgate Shopping Centre has free internet available. The hostels near the train station all provide the Internet to residents.

There are also internet cafes in the city. One to try is located above the baguette (sandwich) shop on the far south end of New Inn Hall Street (the little lane running perpendicular to George Street, right across from Gloucester Green bus station and immediately parallel to Cornmarket Street). They also offer international telephone calls, international fax, and printing.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, September 13, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.