11 June 2012

48 Hours in...Oxford part II

In part one of my guide to Oxford, I highlighted some of my favourite places in and around the High Street and the Covered Market. In this section, I've picked out a few spots in Jericho, in North Oxford, and given some more general and more touristy information about the city.

View Oxford favourites - Jericho in a larger map

Little Clarendon Street, which we've always called Little Trendy Street, is about a ten-minute walk north of Carfax and is the gateway to the hip (well, for Oxford) area known as Jericho. There is a bigger branch of Taylors on the corner of Little Clarendon Street and St Giles, which is a deli as well as a purveyor of sandwiches. At 55 Little Clarendon Street is George and Davis, a branch of the G and Ds cafés that specialise in ice cream and bagels. They always have quirky, tasty ice cream flavours and if you don't find one you fancy, you can write your suggestion into their book and if enough people endorse your choice they will make up a batch; Dime Bar Crunch always used to be my favourite flavour. Just opposite is the Duke of Cambridge (no. 5-6) a studenty but cool cocktail bar. Its sign is now adorned with the current Duke's portrait but don't let that put you off because it's a nice place to hang out. Pierre Victoire (no. 9) is a long-established and popular French bistro. In need of a giant but stylish red hammock? Search no further than Central (no. 33-35), which sells all sorts of gorgeous (if pricey) furniture and homewares. Uncle Sam's (no. 25) sells vintage clothes, and there are a few boutiques near the junction with Walton Street.

Walton Street is home to Oxford University Press, but it also has a number of interesting shops and eateries. I haven't been to Raoul's (no. 32) for years but it always used to be one of my favourite cocktail bars. Two doors down at no. 34, Albion Beatnik is a lovely independent bookshop and café. You'll see Freud (no. 119), a gorgeous café-bar housed in a former Greek revival church, from halfway down the street. It's open during the day for coffee and lunch, and then in the evening for cosy, intimate drinks, when the high-ceilinged room is dotted with tea lights and colourful flowers. There is usually live music, spanning a range of genres, and they also sell the artwork that adorns the walls. This is probably my favourite place to go for a drink in Oxford.

Freud by day

Further along Walton Street, the Jericho Tavern (no. 56) is great for a drink and the food, including the brunch, is also good. Branca (no. 111) is a smart, Italian-influenced brasserie, Mamma Mia (no. 102) serves delicious pizza, and Brasserie Blanc (no. 71-72) is a good choice for a more formal--and French--meal. Finally, at no. 57 is the Phoenix, the first cinema in the Picturehouses anti-chain, and one of two lovely independent cinemas in the city. The other, the Ultimate Picture Palace, just off the Cowley Road on Jeune Street, offers more of a faded-charm experience, but is just as characterful and shows a quirky mixture of new movies and old classics.

Freud by night

Tourist information (see this post for a map)
Oxford is about an hour by train from both Oxford and Birmingham and the station is just off the Botley Road, about a ten-minute walk into town, and most buses come into the Gloucester Green bus station--about five minutes from the city centre. The Oxford Information Centre on Broad Street (another former employer of mine) offers a range of guidebooks and leaflets, and they also book guided walking and bus tours.

Oxford has a few hotels in the city centre--the Old Bank and Malmaison are both very cool, the latter being situated in a former prison, and the Randolph is a fussier, more traditional alternative. Cheaper accommodation can be found in the numerous B&Bs dotted around the city. I used to book accommodation when I worked at the tourist information centre and there are a few dodgy B&Bs out there; the TIC's website has a list of places to stay that have been vetted by Visit Britain or the AA. In the summer, especially at the weekend, Oxford gets really busy so do book well in advance, unless you want to spend the night in Reading or Banbury.

The Dreaming Spires - taken from Queen's College

Most of the colleges and some of the university buildings open to the public for at least part of the day--usually during the afternoons--and some charge for entry, particularly those in which parts of the Harry Potter movies were filmed, such as Christchurch. Of the other colleges, I like Magdalen, Merton and Queen's, although the latter is hard to enter. Radcliffe Square, which hosts several colleges, the Radcliffe Camera and the University Church, is also beautiful. Nearby is the Bridge of Sighs, but it isn't as nice as the one in Cambridge! You can rent a punt or book a guided punt tour from Magdalen Bridge, although unlike in Cambridge, you won't see many colleges from the boat. The most famous museums are the Ashmolean (art and archaeology), the Pitt Rivers (known for its shrunken heads in jars) and the Natural History Museum, although the History of Science Museum is also quirky if you're that way inclined. In the summer, open-air theatre is one of the biggest attractions. Both Creation Theatre and the Oxford Shakespeare Company regularly put on performances in the gardens of the colleges.

Punts raring for action

If you're in need of dinner and are happy with a chain, most of them are located on George Street. The first Jamie's Italian is at 24-26 George Street; also of note is the Pizza Express in Golden Cross Walk, next to the Covered Market, which is in an attractive, historic building. Here are a few pub recommendations: the Head of the River (on St Aldates), if it's a nice day and you want to sit by the river; the Bear (Alfred Street), one of the oldest pubs in town in which the walls are decorated with ties; and the Turf Tavern (Holywell Street), studenty and touristy but with a good range of beers and a network of outdoor courtyard drinking areas, Bill Clinton reportedly "did not inhale" here. To be honest, though, most of the pubs in the city centre are pretty., historic and studenty so it's hard to go too far wrong.

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