There’s far more to life in England’s City of Spires than Harry Potter film sets and punting along the river. Make the most of life in this city with our top hidden gems in Oxford.
1.The Bear Inn
Dating back to 1242, the tiny, quirky and utterly charming Bear Inn (known simply as ‘The Bear’ to those in the know) is a must-visit. From the white-painted exterior to the classic wood paneling and creaky floorboards inside, this friendly pub oozes character – the ceiling and walls even sport a historic collection of the university’s club ties.
2. Blackwell’s Bookshop
This is a book store like no other in Oxford. Whether you’re looking for a study aid or your next novel, Blackwell’s Bookshop is the place to go. In fact, spanning four floors and with enough room to boast over 125,000 books, the store will have just what you need plus a whole heap more. Boasting a longstanding history, like most of Oxford, Blackwell’s first opened in 1879 and these days also hosts events including book signings, readings and public talks.
3. Phoenix Picturehouse
For movie fans, the Phoenix Picturehouse offers a different cinema experience. What started as an independent movie house in 1913, this cinema has kept its historic charm and traditional touches, and regularly puts the spotlight on modern art productions and classic films, alongside the Hollywood blockbusters.
4. G&Ds Ice Cream
If you don’t like ice cream, you can stop reading right now. But if you do (of course you do), then you can’t get to a G&D’s Café fast enough. There are three G&D’s Cafés in the city center, each serving the brand’s signature homemade ice cream made with locally-sourced ingredients. They sell delicious pastries and bagels too, but the rich and lavish ice cream is the star of the show.
5. New College
Though it’s not really a secret (it’s an Oxford University college, after all), New College receives far fewer visitors than it’s super-famous peer, Christ Church College. Here you can immerse yourself in the classic English historic architecture that Oxford is famous for and tour the elegant cloisters, chapel, hall and gardens. Between October and Easter each year, New College is free to visit and is just a few pounds during the summer months.
Leave the city behind for a day and head out to explore the pretty suburb of Jericho. This pretty neighborhood is lined with classic English red-brick townhouses and rows of Victorian terraces, has a village green on which ponies graze, and boasts a high street filled with boutique shops, trendy cafés and relaxed pubs – perfect for a roast dinner after a Sunday walk down by the river.
7. The Creation Theatre
Love theatre? Check out the unique and quirky performances put on by the Creation Theatre. This company puts on plays and storytelling experiences in unusual spaces, from castles and college gardens to bookshops and factories – anywhere that’s not a traditional theater! Whether you’re a hardcore thespian or you’re looking for a lively and memorable evening with your friends, there’s certain to be a play for you. The Creation Theatre also offers workshops and a drama club if you’re interested in working on your acting skills or trying a new hobby.
8. Tom Tower
Tom Tower is Oxford’s Big Ben. Tom is actually the name of the huge bell inside the ornate clock tower which overlooks the quad at Christ Church College and is well worth a visit. It can be heard ringing out across the city every hour and even continues the tradition of ‘calling the students’ back to college at 9.05pm every evening when the students used to have a curfew.
9. Ben’s Cookies
Oxford’s covered market is popular with locals and tourists alike, but knowing which of the various stalls and food sellers to seek out in the crowd requires some insider tips. For a sweet treat, head straight to Ben’s cookies. Founded by passionate chocolate-lovers, Ben’s Cookies have been making the best freshly-baked bites in town since 1983, so you know their recipes are as good as your nan’s.
10. Duke Humphrey’s Library
Head upstairs from the famous Bodleian Library and you’ll find Duke Humphrey’s Library – one of the oldest libraries in Europe. This H-shaped reading room was built when Duke Humphrey donated his collection of 281 books to the University of Oxford in 1447; at the time, the university only had 20 books! These days, it is filled with oak bookcases and shelves heaving with ancient tomes, one-of-a-kind books and old manuscripts. Don’t just eye up the books, though, the ceiling is also adorned with beautifully painted panels, each sporting a coat of arms.