When to go to Oxford

Spring - blossom and daffodils

According to the Met Office, spring in Britain runs through March, April and May. I'd argue that our revels on May 1 (May Morning, read more below) mark the beginning of summer in Oxford but March and April are definitely spring. You can tell from the blossom in St Giles and the daffodils in Christ Church Meadow. Nevertheless, this can be a cold, damp time in Oxford. Visit Oxford Fashion Week ( March )  www.oxfordfashionweek.com  and the Oxford Jazz Festival  ( April ) www.oxfordjazzfestival.com both in various venues across the city.

Summer - a glorious warm glow but crowded

Oxford is glorious in the warm glow of an early English summer. The only problem is that everyone else seems to know this. The riverbanks are crowded and so is the town. Nevertheless, I'd still urge a first-time visitor to aim from May to early July. In fact, I'd say be there for May Morning and join the crowds outside Magdalen College. The celebrations are playfully pagan. Ironically, May Morning always proves cold but the whole country usually warms up soon after.

I'd also say come here in June where the atmosphere is festive and the city is big enough not to be overwhelmed by students released from their final examinations. Early July is lovely too with everything in bloom and the student population now gone. The only problem then is the invasion of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students who overwhelm the place. For some strange reason EFLs tend to walk nine or 10 abreast blocking up the city streets. 

Oxfordshire Artweeks  ( www.artweeks.org ) run throughout the county in May, offering the opportunity to visit and buy from artists in their own studios. In the last week (21-30 May 2011) the festival moves into the city itself with sculptors, painters, photographers and jewelry-makers opening their homes to the public. An opportunity to browse, chat and even buy. Some of Oxford’s more enterprising artists even offer you a glass of wine or cup of tea.

Autumn - new students and a thriving arts scene

September is great because the summer school students are gone, the undergraduates haven’t arrived yet and the weather is still good. However, if I'm being picky, the light tends to be flat. Come October the students return. It's great to see the new intake but part of the experience of arriving at Oxford is shouting and vomiting. The arts scene, never dormant, really picks up in the autumn with concerts and visiting theatre and opera productions.

Winter - snow and carol services

We have enough trees in Oxford to make autumn attractive and it looks beautiful in the snow (of which there is an increasing amount in recent years). Carol services in colleges can be lovely and I could imagine nothing more glorious than Christmas in one of the traditional log-burning hotels. Avoid Oxford in January and February. In fact I'd avoid anywhere in the northern hemisphere in those damp and ugly months. Even the students look ghastly.