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Oxford offers many wonderful places to stay, from modern hotels with all the amenities, to quaint old guesthouses which offer home cooked, local fare. With choices to suit all budgets and tastes, and with places to sleep never too far from town, you should have no trouble finding a bed. We do recommend a few outstanding places, but that doesn't mean you should turn your nose up at the rest.
The old castle and prison in Oxford (Castle Street) is being converted into a shopping and heritage complex, due to be completed by the summer. Already opened is The Living Room Piano Bar and Restaurant, La Tasca Tapas Bar and Restaurant, and Tootsies Burgers. Hotel Malmaison, many of whose rooms will feature original prison bars and windows, is due to be completed in early November, and several other restaurants and shops and a regular market will open in the months following.
Oxford offers many wonderful places to eat, from baguette sandwiches for when you're too busy shopping to sit and have a proper meal, to amazing pub fare and fine dining. For any time of day. Most, if not all, of these restaurants have been road tested by our editors, who think eating out is a true litmus test of how good a city is to visit or live in.
When dining in Oxford restaurants, it is essential to book your table in advance - especially during high tourist season. Always specify whether you require smoking or non-smoking, as most restaurants do have smoking sections. It is customary to leave the waitstaff a minimum of a 10% tip if you are satisfied with your service, but do check the menu carefully as some restaurants add the service charge directly to your bill, especially for larger parties. There is no shortage of activities in Oxford.
You haven't really experienced Oxford until you've heard a musical performance in the Sheldonian Theatre, the Holywell Music Room or in one of the other many beautiful concert locations around the city. Here you can find a list of upcoming events and buy your tickets in advance so you can plan your special night out ahead of time. If this kind of music isn't your scene, check out our nightlife section for more information on places that play other types of music.
Oxford is a student town, and so there's plenty of great bars, pubs, and clubs to choose from. The English love a good pint, and a pub is a great place to sit back, relax, and even possibly meet a person or two - especially if you're buying the next round.
Oxford is fortunate to be situated where it is - one hour from London, 15 minutes from Blenheim Palace, a little over an hour from Stonehenge, and a half hour from the nearest Cotswolds town. The possibilities are almost endless - even those who live here in Oxford probably haven't seen all there is to see nearby.
People in Oxford are very friendly towards tourists. If you want to avoid looking like a tourist (and this goes especially for Americans), try the following: don't wear big white clunky sneakers and baseball caps, don't ask what someone does for a living before you even know their name, don't ask where the campus is, and don't pronounce Magdalen College 'mag-da-len' (it's pronounced 'mawd-len'). When visiting any country or different culture, be observant of how others behave, and try not to draw too much attention to yourselves. The English are generally reserved.
The nearest Cotswolds villages are only about 30 minutes from Oxford (Minster Lovell, Burford), but can be up to a couple of hours away (Bath), depending on which villages you are interested in. The Cotswolds are a large region comprised of many villages dotted along a hilly ridge. See our Nearby Excursions for more information on visiting the Cotswolds.
Many of the fitness centres around Oxford are membership-based and don't allow a pay-as-you-go visitor. Your best bet if you're staying in the city is the Ferry Sports Centre in Diamond Place, Summertown. They have an indoor swimming pool, squash courts, fitness classes, and weight training areas. To get there, take the #2 bus north on Banbury Road to Summertown (approx 10 minutes). Also in Summertown is the Yoga Garden at 4 South Parade.
At the peak of summer (July), the sun doesn't fully set until about 10pm and rises before 5am. At the peak of winter (January), the sun sets by about 4pm, and doesn't rise until 8am. As you can see, the days in winter are very short, and in summer are incredibly long. It's important to keep the short days in mind if visiting Oxford in the winter and you plan to do a lot of sight-seeing.
An annual event at Shotover Country Park, just east of Oxford (follow the Old Road east from Headington over the bypass and up a steep hill to the top where the road ends at the car park). Bring along a painted hard boiled egg, and enter it in one of the competitions: Spot the Egg, Best Painted Egg, Fastest Egg, or the Demolition Derby (hurling your egg down an obstacle-laden slope, hoping to be the egg that reaches the bottom uncracked).
A visit to the prestigous Home Design & Interiors Exhibition at Blenheim Palace can provide visitors with an exclusive accessory or an elegant piece of furniture to give their home added style whilst quality exhibitors will be anxious to show visitors the very latest design ideas for the home and some of the most stylish traditional furniture available.
The ceremony of Beating of the Bounds has been around for more than 2,000 years. It involves walking the boundaries of the parish/farm/manor, marking certain stones/trees/walls/hedges that mark the boundaries, and beating them with rods and canes while shouting, 'Mark! Mark! Mark!' The ceremony begins at St. Michael's of the North Gate on Cornmarket, and ends with refreshments.
Oxford Balloon Fiesta - This annual event features morning and evening mass hot-air-balloon launches, with the evening launch culminating in the Skyfire Spectacular - balloons burn torches in time to music along with fireworks and lighting effects. The area also hosts a wide range of entertainment - previous years have had bike stunt shows, medieval combat displays, shopping villages, food and craft markets.
Ashmolean Museum - The oldest public museum in the country, the Ashmolean houses Oxford University's internationally renowned collections of antiquities from Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Near East; British and European paintings (Italian, Dutch and Flemish, French Impressionist and Pre-Raphaelite); Asian art including Chinese bronzes, Islamic and Japanese ceramics, and Indian sculpture; sculpture and applied art (ceramics, silver, glass, etc.) and European stringed instruments. Its most popular treasures range from the Alfred Jewel to Guy Fawkes' lantern.
Christ Church Picture Gallery - This superb collection consists of 300 Old Master paintings, 2,000 drawings, 18th-century glass and Russian icons, all presented to the college by past members. The Gallery is an award-winning modern extension to the 18th-century quadrangle, behind the historic library and cathedral. There are changing displays of drawings from the permanent collection and work by contemporary artists. Paintings are primarily 14th- to 18th-century Italian, the most famous being The Butcher's Shop by Annibale Carracci.
Curioxity - A hands-on science exhibition with appeal for all ages. All exhibits have been designed to be touched and explored so visitors can make their own discoveries.
Museum of Modern Art - Internationally acclaimed as a centre for the display of 20th-century visual culture, the museum's changing exhibition programme includes painting, sculpture, photography, film, video, installations, design, crafts and performance.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History - Built as 'a cathedral to nature', the museum houses Oxford University's extensive, world-wide natural history collection in a splendid high-Victorian gothic building. Exhibits include the remains of the dodo, immortalised in Alice in Wonderland and extinct since 1680, fossil dinosaur materials, displays of entomology, geology, mineralogy and zoology and historic material donated by scientists such as Darwin. The collections are displayed in the vast glass-roofed museum court, with wrought-iron arches forming branches and leaves and stone capitals representing birds, animals and plants.
Pitt Rivers Museum - This world-famous anthropology collection, founded in 1884 by General Pitt Rivers, is a 'granny's attic' of over one million objects which together form a rich illustration of how human beings have lived and thought. Display cases are crowded with amulets, beads, pots, shrunken heads, tools, textiles and weapons, whilst masks peer from high walls and boats sail overhead. All are housed in a splendid, galleried building which preserves a strong Victorian atmosphere.
Pitt Rivers Balfour Building - An outstanding collection of musical instruments, with a music makers' gallery offering a soundtrack of rare and original recordings to accompany the collection.
Christ Church Meadow - Still grazed by cattle, the Meadow is held in trust by Christ Church as a pocket of green countryside which provides rural walkways in the heart of the city. From the main entrance via the War Memorial Gardens in St Aldate's, paths skirt the Meadow in different directions. Dead Man's Walk follows the wall of Merton College to the Botanic Garden in Rose Lane, whilst another path follows a secluded route along the banks of the Thames and Cherwell.
University Parks - The Parks cover a 70-acre site beside the River Cherwell and contain the graceful Rainbow Bridge, many fine trees and a pond. Paths, which circle and cross the Parks and follow the river, provide pleasant walks. Bridges carry footpaths over the river to Wolfson College and the Marston area of Oxford.
University of Oxford Botanic Garden - Founded as a physic garden in 1621, this is the oldest botanic garden in Britain. With a comprehensive collection of plants and trees and tropical greenhouses, it is now the most compact, diverse collection of plants in the world.
Oxford is fortunate in having two rivers, the Thames and the Cherwell, and a canal running through the centre of the city. No visit to Oxford is complete without a trip on the water, and a boating expedition, whether by punt, rowing boat, steamer or narrow boat, is an excellent way to leave the streets behind and relax in the peace and tranquillity of the waterways.
Regular half and full-day tours throughout the year from Oxford to Blenheim, Bath, Stratford, Warwick Castle, Stonehenge, Salisbury, Avebury and the Cotswolds. Tours to Windsor and Eton alternate weeks, plus Summer Specials to Gloucester, the Forest of Dean and the Welsh Borders.