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The first thing that comes to your mind when you hear Oxford is the university and all the illustrious writers, architects, singers, artists or political people that left their mark in the world after studying in the city of “dreaming spires”, from T.S. Eliot, the poet, to Elizabeth Taylor or the Emperor Naruhito of Japan.
The oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford attracts thousands of tourists every year with its campus spread all over the city and the stunning architecture. But aside from the study halls, Oxford has a lot to offer, from great places to enjoy exotic food to bars that keep the music going until early in the morning.
Just one hour away from London, Oxford does not disappoint when it comes to food joints, from great American style dinners, such as Dirty Bones (Chicken & Waffles and don’t stay away from the lamb fries, nicely seasoned with an Uptown Spritz) to a small and quaint Carribean eatery – Spiced Roots – where the Spinach bhaji, Plantain and Okra Risotto goes perfectly with the rum cocktails.
One of the best hidden-in-plain-sight secrets is Sushimania, where before 2020 took over, an all you can eat experience used to be better than a high-priced restaurant in London. Just across the road the Lighthouse Pub makes some delicious Margaritas, even if it’s happy hour.
For one of the best Sunday roasts, you can head out to the Marsh Harrier pub or to the Jolly Postboys, hidden from the tourist streets, with a great brunch menu.
Drinks and fun, and always out
London’s cocktails bars are world renowned, but Oxford is a great opportunity to enjoy the same concoctions without the extra crowd. You can enjoy a Lightbulb Moment on The Alchemist’s terrace, pop in next door to Dirty Bones for a Tommy’s Margarita (ask for mezcal instead of tequila, it will change your life) or choose one of the pubs that serves anything from Guinness to limited batch pale ales.
Sandy’s Piano bar is the place to be if karaoke is your need. It can get crowded at times, but everyone knows the lyrics and the piano never stops.
Hidden behind a narrow alley that reminds you of the safe house in Harry Potter, the Turf Tavern is probably the most famous pub in the county and not only because it used to be an illegal gambling place, but for the famous people that enjoyed the hot cider here, including Stephen Hawking and CS Lewis.
You don’t need a car in Oxford and most of the time you can do without public transport as well. Most people choose the bicycle or electric scooters to commute to school or work or simply walk, as most activities are aggregated on Cowley Road and in the city centre.You can rent a dockless bike and whichever direction you decide to go, you will reach a park, a forest or a trail in the fields.
In addition, the parking in the city is very expensive, so most commuters and tourists either use the trains or leave the cars in the 5 Park & Ride car parks located around Oxford’s ring road, each with a bus service taking you straight to Oxford City Centre.
As one of the most popular streets in Oxford, you can find anything you want on Cowley Road, from small pubs, such as The Library Pub, where you can share the table and meet new people over beer and pizza, to Za’atar Bake, the place with the best shakshuka (make sure to let them know you want your eggs fully cooked, to avoid getting runny egg whites).
Get tickets to see great bands at O2 venue and avoid traveling to London for the day.
It is also one of the most dangerous streets in the city, as alcohol infused situations tend to sometimes degenerate in police incidents. Nevertheless, Oxford is one of the friendliest cities, from service industry to passers-by.
Oxford Covered Market
An historic market with permanent stalls and shops in a covered assembly in central Oxford, the Covered Market is buzzing with visitors from the early hours in the morning, when people are looking for a great English Breakfast (Brown’s Cafe is always the best choice) or for a gift hat. Local crafts artists and shop owners have been servicing the locals and tourists since 1770, with either homemade delicious chocolates or soap smelling like English Lavender. Private workshops are available for those interested in how the cosmetics on the shelf came to be and the fishmongers are always happy to chat about the catch of the day.
The Harry Potter magic
Amazing buildings from Oxford were chosen as locations for the Harry Potter movies, but the city doesn’t dwell on that as much as you’d expect. The Bodleian library is where Harry was walking about with his invisibility cloak, whilst Christ Church dining hall was the witness of some of the best televised feasts in the history of cinema, but for the students, it’s just a regular day at uni.
The crew and the actors used to hang out at the Turf Tavern during the filming, but you wouldn’t know about that unless you asked. There are tours and souvenirs shops, but a simple walk around the city will make you feel like you are in Hogwarts, better than any guide tour would, as every building is imbued with history.
One of the most fascinating aspects about Oxford is living in a city that looks like a postcard, whilst offering any modern conditions one would expect. From the Farmers Market next to Cowley Road, to the Oxford Marshes, where you can cycle on trails through the forest and the field for hours on end, Oxford is a fascinating city. Without being a large conglomerate of communities, but with a well separate division of the noisy central area and the calm streets so close by, Oxford is great not only for a day trip, but also for relocation far from the madding crowd.
Get there by train from most cities or drive and cycle once in the city!
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