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Hidden Gems of Oxford

By Alana Maslen

As the term begins and many new students are heading to the city a question is asked, what should I visit in Oxford?

Do you head for the iconic architecture such as the Radcliffe Camera, or delight in the historic stores of the covered market, followed by the modern Westgate centre. Perhaps you prefer to see the city by water and try your hand at punting (where when the weather is good you can accidentally engage in floating bumper carts). Do you focus on the contemporary monuments of Oxford, such as Herzog and de Meuron’s Blavatnik School of Government? The list can seem endless, a previous OSA blog post (Week 03// 09/10 - 15/10 ( highlights key buildings in Oxford by breaking them down into three categories, historic, twentieth-century and contemporary. This list has great suggestions, especially if you are trying to dissect the architecture of Oxford. So, in this post, I am going to try and highlight some places you may have overlooked.

Hand sketch of the Saxon Tower of St. Michael's at Northgate, by Alana Maslen

If you were to follow the city wall that once stretched eastward from St.Micheal’s, you would reach a second hidden gem, this one being literally hidden. The Turf Tavern is tucked away down St.Helen’s Passage, found just behind the Bridge of Sighs, it is one of Oxford’s more well-known pubs and claims to have hosted a range of famous people through the years. It has a great beer garden as well as a cosy interior and is well worth a visit. There are many other great pubs all over Oxford, another would be The Bear Inn, hidden just off the High Street. It is Oxford’s oldest pub and is a quirky, atmospheric place best known for its collection of historic Oxford ties!

I could not write this article without leaving my suggestion for a good place to grab a drink – Café Baba’s on Cowley Road. They provide some of the cheapest cocktails in Oxford, it's loud and it's squished, but it never lacks atmosphere and fun. If you are looking for food rather than drinks why not head to St. Clement’s, where there is a myriad of small eateries offering food from all over the world, from Sri Lankan Street food at The Coconut Tree to Philly’s Burger. If you’re looking for a more peaceful place to grab some food and drink, why not take a stroll along the Thames to The Isis River Farmhouse Pub, only accessible by walking, it has a perfect garden for warm afternoons.

After exploring the food and drink of Oxford you may be feeling the need to escape to nature. I recommend heading for a walk around the University Parks (this is open to the public but be sure to check the closing times so you don’t get locked in!) or taking a trip to the Botanic Gardens, which is free for Brookes students, both are great ways to get away from the city without actually leaving it. If you are looking for a longer trip out of Oxford, I would recommend visiting Blenheim Palace, just a short bus journey away. It is a bit more expensive than the other activities suggested here, but it is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site, and being able to explore the beautiful stately home with expansive grounds landscaped by Capability Brown is worth the price. Currently, you can pay for one visit and get a 12-month pass, which makes it more economical. The adjoining village of Woodstock is also a lovely place to wander through and grab a bite to eat.

If you like art, rather than just visiting the Ashmolean, why not visit Christ Church Picture gallery (free for Brookes students) located in the grounds of Christ Church College. If historic art isn’t your thing, take a trip to Modern Art Oxford on Pembroke Street, which has regularly changing, vibrant exhibitions. An exciting exhibition to look out for is ‘Anish Kapoor: Painting’ running from 2 October 2021 — 13 February 2022, one of Kapoor’s most notable works is the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture in the Olympic Park, London.

On a final note, the architectural fabric of Oxford itself exudes history and interest, never forget to look up, enjoy your surroundings and love your time living and learning in this beautiful city!

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