While I didn’t have as much time in Oxford as I would have liked due to the coronavirus pandemic, I certainly squeezed as many activities as possible into my time at St. Clare’s. I was fortunate enough to meet someone from my college who studied in Oxford a year before I did, and gave me some recommendations. In an attempt to pay that kindness forward, I write this post to share some of my favorite places and activities I discovered in Oxford.
It is first important to note the easy accessibility of public transportation in Oxford. There are public busses that circulate throughout the city, and no matter what time of day it is there is usually a bus coming around the corner. The longest I ever had to wait for a bus was 20 minutes, and that was rare. It’s usually 2-10 minutes, averaging more around 4. And, there are busses and trains that can take you from Oxford to any other part of England, or cabs if you prefer. When I was studying abroad, my roommate took me straight to the Gloucester Green bus station to get a 3-month bus pass for almost any bus around Oxford, so I could get just about anywhere without needing to pay the driver every time.
One major part of studying abroad is trying all the native foods. While I just shopped at the local Tesco in Summertown for all my groceries, I also spent a fair amount of meals with my friends at local restaurants. First, I found two fantastic places for Italian food. The first of these was near my dorm in Summertown, called Mamma Mia Pizzeria. It’s traditional round pizzas that taste like they’re straight from Italy. They also serve pastas and other entrees, but there’s nothing like a big ol’ pizza on a Friday night. The second is in the heart of Oxford, right near the Gloucester Green bus station, called Pizza Stazione. I loved going there for lunch with friends, because the pizzas are individual sized but cut into slices, so you can mix and match with your pals. You can tell that the ingredients are all super fresh too.
For the famous fish and chips meals, I was advised to go to the coast of England and get some fresh. I didn’t get a chance to do that, but it sounds like solid advice to me. That said, there are little pubs all over Oxford that serve great pub food, and the fish and chips are no exception. My personal favorite for that particular meal was The Kings Arms, right near the city centre, but almost any pub will do it right. Make sure to salt those chips though – England is very frugal with their salt.
On the topic of pubs, there are many and I tried pretty much all of them with my friends. While I’m only 20 and know next to nothing about alcohol, there were definitely a few that were especially fun places teeming with life. On one of my first nights in Oxford, Ricky, the activities coordinator at St. Clare’s, brought us all out to a pub called the Harcourt Arms, where he performs live music some nights. While the crowd is generally older and its a bit of a walk from city centre, the music is well worth the trip. Another great pub is Turf Tavern, which is a historical sight as well as a great place to sit outside with friends and have a drink. Its always busy, and I’ve been told by many of my teachers that Shakespeare himself used to go there during his stays in Oxford. Lastly, if you’re looking for something unique, the Mad Hatter is a perfect spot. They have karaoke, and the drinks are Alice and Wonderland themed. It’s definitely a great place to go with friends.
If you’re a club-goer, or interested in checking out the club scene, there are many fun places. St. Clare’s students flock downtown to Cirkus for its themed nights, like Latino Music Night on Thursdays. It’s a small club, and all St. Clare’s students go together on the weekends and take up the entire dance floor together. If you’re looking for a bigger club with people from the other Oxford colleges, Atik and The Bridge are fun too, with different music stages set up throughout each building to cater to different tastes. For a night on the town, each of these three spots have something unique to offer.
Oxford is home to many beautiful college campuses, and on certain days you can go inside and take a look around the colleges. There are also many professors at St. Clare’s who also teach at the colleges, and they can bring you in to see their libraries and for special dinners at the schools. Each of the Oxford colleges has hidden gems within its walls; some have architecture that dates back centuries, some have special parks and gardens home to unique wildlife, and some even inspired famous movies, like the Harry Potter set!
Aside from exploring the colleges, there are all sorts of different tours you can take in Oxford. If you’re interested in playing tourist while you’re abroad, definitely look into some of the available tours. You can explore some of the spaces that inspired the Harry Potter movies, take historical tours and see Oxford’s oldest buildings, or go out of town to tour the Cotswold villages or Blenheim Palace. Or, just walk the streets and explore yourself! There’s plenty of cafes, shops, and attractions to suit everyone’s interests.
I was fortunate enough to get to explore Oxford first-hand, and I can honestly say that I have never seen a more beautiful place. It is amazing how at-home I felt immediately after moving in, but simultaneously so in awe and full of wonder at its beauty. If you are fortunate enough to visit, explore every inch of that beautiful city! There is so much to see and do, it’s like its own little world.