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Introduction

Ultra-Mini Car in Oxford

Ultra-Mini Car in Oxford

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To most, the city of Oxford is synonymous with the university it is home to: the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and one of the best. A university of some sort already existed by around 1100, but in 1167 King Henry II banned English students from attending the university of Paris, and attendance at Oxford took off. It was nicknamed the "city of dreaming spires" by Matthew Arnold, referring to the university buildings' harmonious architecture. Many of the older buildings are built of limestone from the nearby Cotswolds: as a result, much of the city has a pleasantly creamy-yellow tint.

Aside from the university, Oxford is a real city. Indeed, King Charles I based himself here during the Civil War.

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Sights and Activities

The University

Almost everything of interest to the tourist is either part of the university itself, or related to it. The university, which has expanded in recent years to about 20,000 students, is split into 39 colleges (as well as departments). Students are all members of one of the colleges, which are the basis of social life and undergraduate teaching. However, lectures are given and degrees are awarded by the university. Many of Oxford's colleges are well worth a visit, including:

  • All Souls is a college which has no students, only Fellows.
  • Balliol has emanated several Prime Ministers.
  • Brasenose College used to be David Cameron's college and has an enviable location.
  • Christ Church is famous because it has its own cathedral church!
  • Exeter College is a central college with a magnificent garden.
  • Jesus College used to be a Welsh college and still boasts bilingual signs in its lovely quads.
  • Keble College is a massive red-and-white brick college just outside Oxford's centre.
  • Magdalen College has a beautiful tower and a deer park. This college is not pronounced as it is written (mag-da-len), but instead maud-lin.
  • Merton College is possibly the oldest college and definitely the one with the weirdest annual ritual.
  • New College is (like the Pont Neuf in Paris) a very very old college. It has a beautiful chapel and cloisters.
  • Pembroke College is a small, but lovable hidden gem just across the road from Christ Church.
  • Queen's College is notable for its 18th century architecture.
  • St. John's College is one of Oxford's richest colleges and said to own lands that stretch all the way to Cambridge.
  • Wadham College is known as a rather left-wing college and was, as one of very few Oxford colleges, founded by a woman.
  • Worcester College is home to some lovely gardens and a village-like architecture.

If you do visit, do bear in mind that they are not museums: people actually live and work in them and will not appreciate you peering into their bedrooms. Stick to the parts that are designated as open for tourists.

Interesting locations that are not part of a college include:

  • The Bodleian Library - both a beautiful set of buildings, and one of the best English-language libraries in the world.
  • The Radcliffe Camera is a library building designed by James Gibbs in the 18th century.
  • The Sheldonian Theatre is the place where the degree-giving ceremonies take place.
  • Christ Church Meadows, and the River Isis - the best place to go for a walk in Oxford.
  • The Martyrs' Memorial, while England did not suffer religious wars as much as continental Europe, Protestants and Catholics did kill each other a bit in the 16th century. Three protestant clerics were burnt at St Giles in 1555-6.
  • Port Meadow is a giant stretch of unkempt land just outside the city and a great place to go for a swim in the Thames or have a picnic at the riverside.
  • St Mary the Virgin - Oxford's university church and the best place to enjoy a spectacular panoramic view from its spire
  • Cornmarket Street - Oxford's main shopping street

Museums

Not surprisingly for a university town, Oxford also has some excellent museums. Chief among these is the Ashmolean Museum, founded in 1683 and one of the oldest in the world. The Pitt Rivers Museum of archaeology and anthropology is popular and home to the famous shrunken heads, as is the Museum of Natural History which offers lots of stuff for kids, too. On the edge of the town centre, opposite Magdalen College and on the banks of the Cherwell, is the Botanic Garden, the oldest in Great Britain.

Punting

One popular pastime in the summer, for students and tourists alike, is punting on the river. It isn't as easy as it looks, and a proportion of the tourists fall in. Being punted is very agreeable, particularly if you have a bottle of something cool and bubbly - ideally some Pimm's!

Morris' car factory

For decades cars have been manufactured at the Morris's factory in Cowley, just outside the city. The site is now owned by BMW.

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Getting There

By Plane

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).

By Train

Oxford station is large and located 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 Car

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.

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.

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Getting Around

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.

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 temporary car park on Oxpens Road next to Ice Rink whilst the new Westgate Shopping Centre is built. 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). Some offer free parking depending on the site and bus takes about 12 minutes to reach the city centre. However £2.80 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.

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 £2.80 per adult, and children travel free when accompanied. Parking charges apply at Pear Tree, Redbridge, and Seacourt.

By Public Transport

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 known as The Oxford Key that gives discount on bus fares.

By 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 Bike

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.

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Sleep

Budget

  • YHA Hostel Oxford (2A Botley Road) – Located next to the rail station and ten minutes walk from the city centre. Car parking is very difficult for this hostel.
PropertyAddressTypePopularity
Central Backpackers13 Park End StreetHostel82
Oxford Backpackers Hostel9A Hythe Bridge StreetHostel78
YHA Oxford2a Botley Road Oxfordshire, OX2 0ABHostel80
Athena Guesthouse255 Cowley RoadGuesthouse-
The Galaxie Hotel180 Banbury RoadHotel-
Hawkwell House HotelChurch Way Iffley VillageGuesthouse-
The Ridings Guest House280 Abingdon RoadGuesthouse-
Heythrop Park HotelEnstoneHotel-
Foxcombe Lodge HotelFox Lane Boars HillHostel-
All Seasons Guesthouse Oxford63 Windmill Road Headington,Oxford OX3 7BPGuesthouse-
Nanford Guest House137 Iffley RoadGuesthouse-
The Westgate Hotel1 Botley RoadGUESTHOUSE78

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafés can be found in many cities and towns. All UK public libraries provide access, often branded as "People's Network", usually at no or little charge, though there is usually a time limit. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access, including wifi, but most times at a cost. Using the internet on your personal phone can become expensive very quickly, with carriers charging 100's of times the local rate for data. To avoid these expensive roaming charges, you can hunt for wifi at a local cafe or hotel, or rent a mobile hotspot via several providers including DATAPiXY, and XCOM Global.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to the United Kingdom is: 44. To make an international call from the United Kingdom, the code is: 00

In case of emergency, call 999 or 112 from any phone. Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you for your location, and the service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard or mountain rescue). You can call this number from any mobile telephone as well, even if you do not have roaming.

Although the number is declining, you can still find payphones in many public areas, especially stations, airports etc. You can usually pay with cash and sometimes by creditcard or, for international calls, special phonecards are still available.

Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2. 3G data services are available, usually priced per megabyte and coverage is usually very good in the UK, however it may lack in rural areas. Roaming on your personal phone plan can be expensive. To manage costs, consider purchasing a local UK SIM card for your phone. Several companies offer local SIM cards including Telestial, and CellularAbroad.

Post

The Royal Mail provides postal services in the United Kingdom. The Royal Mail's store fronts are called Post Office and offer services ranging from sending letters and packages to foreign currency exchange. Use the branch locator to find the nearest Post Office branch. There will be at least one post office in any town/city and there are quite often post offices in larger villages. It's common for a post office to be incorporated into a grocery store, where there will be a small counter located at the back of the store for dealing with post related matters. All post offices are marked with signs that say 'post office' in red lettering. Post boxes can be found at any post office and standalone large red post boxes on the streets or red boxes in the sides of public buildings.
For sending packages overseas, it might be a good idea to check prices and services with international companies like TNT, UPS or DHL.

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Quick Facts

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County
Oxfordshire
Population
151,000
Postcode
OX
Coordinates
  • Latitude: 51.756205
  • Longitude: -1.259489

Accommodation in Oxford

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