Make your first stop Truck Store – part retro record shop, part coffee shop, it’s one of those places you’ll want to visit with a friend who knows all the latest artists, and just nod your head as they comment on the quirky selection. Even more unusual is Alice’s Shop, a tiny village-like store selling a host of memorabilia relating to Lewis Carroll’s most famous story. Moving to the High Street, you’ll come across Oxford’s Covered Market, with its artisan food shops, quirky clothing and jewellery – it’s a great place to browse for stuff you probably don’t need.
The perfect hangover or lazy breakfast meet-up spot is Heroes Sandwich Bar. Tucked away on Ship Street, this place is a favourite of students, so get there early to beat them to a table. If you’re a lover of all things green-fingered and organic then head down to the Vaults and Garden Cafe. With outdoor seating that overlooks the iconic domes of Radcliffe Square, they serve daily specials from Moroccan tagine through to melt-in-your-mouth Oxford blue cheese tart.
Those in search of a more high-flying dining experience should scale their way to the top of the Ashmolean Museum and step outdoors to its rooftop dining room. Expect views over the city spires and haute European cuisine made from locally sourced ingredients.
Elsewhere, on the first Saturday of every month the Bitten Street Food Market takes place – the city’s best foodie event, it features a roster of tempting food stalls, from Bill or Beak through to Dosa Deli. Lastly, Turl Street Kitchen (TSK), serves up hearty, wholesome food (braised pork, risotto and potato gratin to name a few), with a different menu every day.
Positioned in the heart of the city, the Old Bank Hotel (named because the hotel sits on the site of an old Barclays) offers modern grandeur, stunning views and plenty of style. Looking for more bang for your buck? Take a look at the Remont Oxford Hotel. A little further north of the city centre, this cosy little bed and breakfast offers a comfortable stay and easy access to sites beyond the city, such as Blenheim Palace (the birthplace of Winston Churchill and historic home of Princess Diana’s family).
Boutique style comes easily to Oxford, showcased by the Vanbrugh House Hotel. A typical Headington stone (Oxford’s limestone) townhouse with individually decorated rooms, it makes for the perfect city break stay. Finally, tucked away on Banbury Road is The Old Parsonage. Set in an ivy-covered, 17th-century building, its rooms are surprisingly modern, light and spacious, and they famously serve one of the best afternoon teas in town.
Tired of being dragged around the same old sights? Don’t panic – Oxford is king of the British pub. Speaking of kings, grab a pint at the centrally located King’s Arms (aka the KA). Known for its selection of daily pies and local cask ales, it’s the oldest pub in town and is said to have a resident ghost.
For the best plonk around, head to 1855 Wine Bar in the Oxford Castle Quarter – the modernised castle setting provides the perfect atmosphere for an evening drink. Freud sits in what was previously St Paul’s Church, complete with fairy lights, stained-glass windows and grown-up cocktails – it’s hard to think of a better mix.
Bright lights and episcopal influences not for you? Try the adorably quaint Turf Tavern. If pubs had personalities, this would be the friendly recluse – hidden away but always reliable. For a cocktail, try Raoul’s Bar, which majors on homemade ingredients and where there are no shortcuts with the tiki drinks – the Donn Beach Zombie is not for the faint-hearted (there’s even a drink quantity restriction on the menu).
St Mary the Virgin’s church tower offers one of the best bird’s-eye views over the city centre – just give it a miss if heights aren’t your thing. Skip the queues getting in to view Christ Church College and head down to Worcester College – one of the university’s lesser known but most beautiful colleges, it’s a must-see for classic quads, architecture and gardens.
On a summer’s day, nothing beats a good ol’ punt on the River Cherwell. Punts can be rented from the Magdalen Bridge Boathouse for an amenable fee, but get there early on weekends to avoid disappointment. Highly recommended – both in Oxford and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – are The Oxford Imps. They’re the university’s best improv comedy group and each of their shows is entirely unscripted and hilarious. If music is more your thing, check out Out of the Blue, the university’s premiere all-male a capella group, who cover The Who and Lady Gaga.
Popular hangouts include the stylish Varsity Club, which comes with some killer views courtesy of its rooftop bar. Reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever, Atik (aka ‘Park End’) offers groovy tunes, a retro light-up dance floor and moderately priced drinks. For die-hard music fans and lovers of rising comic stars, skip on down to the O2 Academy Oxford. The music is on the whole quite niche, but they do get some big acts – upcoming performers include The Buzzcocks.
Great Western Railway offers single fares to Oxford from London Paddington from £5. See gwr.com for more information and to book tickets.