10 June 2012

48 Hours in...Oxford part I

As I mentioned yesterday, I made a quick pit stop in Oxford yesterday afternoon, and took the chance to a few old favourites, and to discover some new places. I've now put together a short guide to some of my recommendations for shopping, eating, drinking and caffeinating in Oxford, organized this time by area. As I ended up with quite a long list of places, I've split the post into two; this part covers the city centre and the second part will cover the Jericho area, as well as a few tourism basics.

View Oxford favourites - city centre and tourist information in a larger map

The High
Oxford's city centre is dominated by the historic university, and most of the central areas of interest stem from the four streets that meet at the Carfax crossroads. One of these streets is the High Street, known locally as the High, which houses several of the prettier colleges, some of the more interesting retail opportunities, and more sandwich shops than you can shake, er, a baguette at.

Starting from eastern end of the High, there is the Sandwich Shop of Dreams (then called Harveys, now part of the Taylors empire, at no. 58). I am slightly biased as I used to work there part-time when I was at school but they have a great range of sandwiches made to order and plenty of other light viands. The breakfast baps are pretty good; Freddie Windsor used to order the turkey, crispy bacon and three cheeses ciabatta; Paul McCartney and the then Heather Mills-McCartney opted for soup and a salad; Harold Bishop had a sausage bap. The Grand Café (no. 84) is one of several places in Oxford that claim to be England's first coffee house; their posh afternoon teas are a lovely treat, but they also serve cocktails in the evening. Pod (no. 86-87) has an eclectic range of jewellery, girly gifts and pretty homewares, and Lexington (no. 36) is perfect if you're dressing for an American Independence Day-themed party: almost all of the clothes they sell are red, white and/or blue. I liked the look of a blue and white starry scarf but it was over £100, so I gave it a miss.

Quod - good burgers and cocktails
Quod (no. 92-94) in the Old Bank Hotel has been a family favourite restaurant over the years and despite a few dodgy menu/chef changes at various points, it remains the best place in town to get a good burger. The cocktails are pretty decent too and it's a nice place to spend a Friday or Saturday evening. In summer, you can sit out on the terrace and, this being Oxford, they also do afternoon tea. Crammed full of reasonably priced but pretty jewellery, party frocks and accessories, Aspire (no. 21) is another great shop for girly gifts.

The Covered Market and its surroundings
Approaching its 250th anniversary, the Covered Market, which can be accessed from the High, Cornmarket Street or Market Street, houses more traditional market shops (including butchers, bakers and pasta makers), and many other independent stores. Similar to Aspire, Fresh (9 Golden Cross Walk) sells jewellery and women's clothing, including lovely lace-trimmed cardigan and cami sets in a wide range of colours. Chocology does a good line in (surprise, surprise) chocolates and chocolate-related products; Cardews is one of the city's best tea and coffee merchants; Covered Arts has framed most of my family's pictures and they sell lovely Oxford-themed prints; and the aisle that runs parallel to Turl Street is lined with independent jewellery sellers. Food-wise, I spent many a Saturday afternoon eyeing up Oxford students at Brothers; Mortons is good for a sarnie; Brown's is my favourite greasy spoon; and there is always a line outside Ben's Cookies.

The Covered Market

Just outside the Covered Market at Lincoln House on Market Street is a new shop called Objects of Use. Rather than selling beautiful-but-useful objects, they try to see the beauty in ordinary objects. The objects in question are wonderfully presented and it's a lovely place to browse; Robert Dyas it ain't. Around the corner at 14 Turl Street is The Missing Bean (see my full review here), my top choice for a good macchiato in town.

Turl Street: mind the inevitable bike(s)!

Cornmarket Street and Queen Street are full of the usual boring chain store and fast-food joints you will find in every other town in the UK (Mission Burrito on St Michael's Street and The News Café on Ship Street are good places off Cornmarket Street for a quick lunch). They have been redeveloped countless times in the past 20 years but they still look ugly, so it's best avoid them, except as a means of getting somewhere more pleasant. Speaking of which, my guide to Oxford continues here...

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