Oxford insider tips

Oxford is like Italy inasmuch as there is a lot that can be enjoyed for free thanks to the wealth of its religious buildings. Good art and music shows are put on in college chapels, several of our churches are worth visiting and the colleges themselves (when open) are beautiful and, with the exception of Christ Church, free.

Eating and drinking

  • The best advice is to avoid restaurant chains in Oxford. We have some great, highly individual places to eat (read my recommendations on my Oxford Cafés and Restaurants page). With the honourable exception of Pizza Express at Golden Cross, I'd say try somewhere you've never heard of before you arrived in Oxford. And take advantage of the fact that Oxford has kept so many of its old pubs in their original slightly down at heel state. They are a dying breed in the UK. Read my guide Nightlife in Oxford: a pub crawl for more on Oxford's best pubs.

Getting around

  • I've already written at length elsewhere that the best insider tip you can have is to leave your car behind. I'd also say don't take taxis unless you are sure you need them. Walk or cycle (see my notes on my How to get around Oxford page for cycle hire details). This will save you money once again and you'll get to see much more of the city at a slower pace.
  • If you do have a car, study the parking regulations in places like St Giles where you can park for free overnight (if you are astute) and the roads running off Walton Street where you can park for free for an hour or so (again read the signs carefully and set your watch to make sure you're back in time). Never assume that Oxford traffic wardens won't get you.

Sights and attractions

  • Our museums - The Ashmolean Museum, Pitt Rivers, Oxford University Press and Museum of the History of Science - are also free which really is extraordinary. Each deserves a visit. Look into churches and colleges when they're open and just follow your nose along the back lanes. Just as in Venice you'll come upon unexpected architectural delights where you least expect them. You really don't need to pay out any admission fees to enjoy Oxford. 
  • On a damp day I'd also recommend sitting in either the café at Blackwells Bookshop or at Waterstones and reading a book or two for free. Nobody minds if you are discreet about it. The coffee, however, has to be paid for.

Other useful tips

  • I would urge anyone visiting Oxford to eschew shopping (see my Shopping in Oxford notes). We have some good individual shops but mostly Oxford is an average provincial English town when it comes to stores. Why waste your time on identikit shopping when there is so much on offer that is wholly unique? In particular avoid Cornmarket, the Clarendon Centre and Westgate Centre. These are the sections of Oxford that could be anywhere in Britain. Personally I wish they were!
  • Finally, set your alarm and get up early in the morning. Have Oxford to yourself as the early morning sun begins to define and illuminate our wonderful architecture and don't forget your camera.