Known as ‘The City of Dreaming Spires’, Oxford is well-known for its prestigious Oxford University, beautiful sights and rich history, but, as with any student city, there’s the buzzing nightlife beneath the surface. Nestled amongst the stunning architecture and historical streets there are hundreds of bars, clubs and restaurants to keep you full and entertained. There are also plenty of parks and open green spaces perfect for chilling out on sunny days. The city centre is small enough to easily explore by foot, with popular areas Cowley Road and Jericho not much further out.
Explore the City
Home to lively nightlife and diverse restaurants, Cowley Road is one of the most popular hotspots in Oxford. Fill up on a variety of different cuisines, from authentic Italian, all-you-can-eat Chinese and tasty American dishes at Big Society. There are plenty of pubs to try beers, wines and locally sourced ales. If you visit in June, check out the Cowley Road Carnival with live acts, music and drinks all day.
Punting along the River Cherwell
For a relaxing and unique way to soak up the city’s historical sights, hire a punt and take a leisurely ride down the River Cherwell. It’ll take you past sights like the famous Botanic Gardens, Christ Church College Meadows and St Hilda’s College Gardens. Take a picnic and bottle of bubbly or stop off at one of the many pubs along the way.
If you like high-end shopping, head over to nearby Bicester, just a 30-minute drive away, for their luxury village-style shopping outlet. There’s such a large selection of discounted fashion brands that it’s worth making a day of it. If all the shopping makes you hungry, there are food vendors dotted around including hot noodles, gourmet hot chocolates and creative crepes.
Eager to get behind the wheel? There are plenty of driving experiences for you to give a go in Oxford. Reach high speeds in rally racing, race against your friends at go-karting or tackle off-road terrain in a quad bike or rage buggy. For an even more challenging activity, try blind 4x4 driving, where you can put your navigational skills to the test.
Eat like a Local
There are plenty of options for dining in Oxford, both chains and independent. In the city centre, you’ll find popular favourites to rediscover with tons of global cuisines. Explore Cowley Road or Jericho, and you’ll find some of the delicious independent eateries that Oxford has to offer.
Head over to Cowley Road to experience cuisines from all around the world. Try Kazbar for Spanish and Moroccan-style dining and tasty tapas dishes and sangria. Yeti Nepalese offer varied choices of traditional Nepalese and Indian dishes, with an emphasis on healthy eating. Atomic Burger is a quirky spot with delicious and unique burger combinations, like the extremely hot Fallout burger and danger fries.
The First Floor Restaurant
Challenge yourself to an all-you-can-eat buffet of delicious Indian, Chinese and Thai dishes at this restaurant on Cowley Road. For a set price you can help yourself to as much as you like at this deceptively large restaurant, which is great for groups. For a little extra you can try the selection of cocktails, wine, beers and spirits.
Oxford has all your favourite chain restaurants, and many of these are great for groups. For Italian, there’s Pizza Express, Zizzis, Prezzo and Jamie’s Italian in the city centre. For French dishes, head to either Cafe Rouge or Côte Brasserie. There’s Wagamamas for Japanese food and Pho for Vietnamese street food. If you’re looking for a burger, both Byron and GBK are centrally located.
Oxford has a varied nightlife, catering to both locals and students which means there’s plenty of pubs, clubs and bars. Popular areas include the city centre, Cowley Road and Jericho - all great for fun nights out. Whatever your mood, there are stylish cocktail bars, live music venues, traditional pubs, lively nightclubs and hidden gems.
The Varsity Club
Take in views of the city or watch the sunset from the stunning rooftop bar of this four-storey venue - the best place to enjoy a Pimm’s or a cocktail during summer. If it gets a bit chilly, there are several different areas inside including a Moroccan themed bar, the first floor with a DJ and dance floor and areas for private hire, perfect for groups.
As a student city, Oxford has no shortage of clubs to drink and dance until the early hours of the morning, but you might find yourself surrounded by partying students. Atik is the largest nightclub in Oxford with five rooms and plenty of bars and dancefloors. Dress up and head to Bridge which has a garden and VIP lounge, plus the main and R&B rooms. Emporium is a stylish club on St Ebbes St with a plush VIP area.
Known as one of the trendiest places to live, Jericho has plenty of quirky independent restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars. Jericho Tavern hosts live music acts, summer BBQs and serves real ales, continental beers and ciders. Raoul’s is an award-winning cocktail bar that uses fresh fruit to create imaginative cocktails. A traditional pub on the outside, The Duke of Cambridge is actually a chilled out cocktail bar.
Places to Stay
For great value for money, book one of the popular chain hotels and get a twin or triple room - that’ll save you plenty of drinking money for later. Hotel Inn and Travelodge are the favourites among groups, but you might choose to stay a little further out of the city centre to save even more, and places are relatively close; so you won’t be spending hours in a taxi.
A guide to one of the most famous student cities
A city renowned for being home to one of the world’s top universities. Oxford is a student hub brimming with culture, nightlife and an intriguing blend of old-meets-new. Teeming with tourists most weekends, there is much more to it than just photo opportunities however.
Oxford at a glance:
- Nicknamed ‘the city of dreaming spires’, it’s a haven for culture vultures
- Home to hundreds of bars, nightclubs and live music venues nestled amongst the historical streets
- Smaller than other major cities and mostly flat, it’s ideal for exploring on foot
- Take to the water to enjoy a spot of punting and get a unique perspective on the city
Cowley Road - a hotspot of bars, pubs and restaurants Feeling hungry, thirsty or just looking to discover the best eateries in Oxford? Look no further than Cowley Road. Whether you’re after an authentic Italian, an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet or sizzling Indian fare there’s a restaurant that caters for every taste. After filling up on food, pop into one of the many watering holes and relax with an excellent selection of beers, wines and locally sourced ales.
Port Meadow – a green oasis in the middle of the city This historical stretch of green sits next to the River Thames and dates back to the 10th century when it was used as grazing land for local farmers. Horses and cattle still roam undisturbed while locals and tourists alike come to enjoy the open space and fresh air. When the weather’s good it’s an ideal place for a picnic or a quick game of footie. When the sun goes down, pop into one of the many pubs on the outskirts and keep the good times rolling.
Jericho – a treasure trove of dining experiences away from the crowds Just across the tracks from Port Meadow, Jericho is a hidden gem full of small cafes, pubs and restaurants offering great food and drink in a lively but not overcrowded part of the city – there are fewer people around as all the tourists flock to the city centre.
Best pubs and bars in Oxford:
The Eagle & Child, St Giles Once the haunt of authors like JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, this 17th century pub serves some of the finest quality cask-conditioned beers and real ales, including Oxfordshire’s own May Ale. Reasonably priced traditional pub grub dished up in a historic and cosy setting makes this the perfect stop to start your evening.
Jericho Tavern, Jericho A stone’s throw from the city centre, the Jericho Tavern is a sophisticated open plan space with stylish dark wood furnishings. Hosts regular live music acts and serves real ales, continental beers and ciders. The garden is open all year round, with BBQs in the summer and patio heaters on standby during the colder months. Pop in on Sundays for a delicious roast dinner with all the trimmings.
Art Bar, Cowley Road A popular venue with discerning taste in music and – of course – art, Art Bar is designed around an exhibition space, with original artwork from local students and established artists. Formerly known as The Bullingdon, it now has a distinctively creative approach. Plus, it offers an extensive range of wines, cocktails, spirits and beers plus an all-day full English breakfast for next morning’s hangover.
The Big Society, Cowley Road Another Cowley Road favourite, The Big Society has a cheerful common room-style atmosphere complete with quirky student hall décor and ping pong tables. But don’t be put off by its youthful appearance – it boasts a great menu serving up all-American inspired grub alongside a selection of international beers and real ale from around Oxfordshire county.
Thirst, City Centre With a different genre of music every night and the delightfully named ‘stupid hour’ with ultra cheap drinks between 8-9pm, Thirst is the bar of choice for large groups. A fully stocked Shisha bar with a covered smoking area means you can even chill out and chat without having to shout over the music from the main bar.
Anuba, Park End Street Anuba on Park End Street boasts cheap drinks and a lively atmosphere, with a dancefloor big enough to strut your stuff on. Its stylish décor makes it one of Oxford’s trendiest vodka bars, attracting visitors from all over, without much of a student following. Private areas can be booked in advance, and there are discounts available for groups of 30 or more. It’s also the perfect place to be when your night really gets going, as it offers entry to the Bridge Bar and Club upstairs.
The Lodge, Oxpens Road No stag weekend would be complete without treating the groom-to-be to a night at Oxford’s premier burlesque bar. Book a VIP area and get personal table service all night. With plush décor and several stunning ladies to keep you entertained, it’s an evening not to be missed.
Best nightclubs in Oxford:
Camera, St Ebbes Street Although slightly pricier than other clubs, experienced bartenders, low-lighting and muted colors make Camera one of the most stylish nightspots in the city. If you want to turn the luxury up a notch then book one of its VIP packages and get a private area with table service and free bottles of champagne. Don’t fancy partying with students? Over-21s are given priority on Saturday nights. Smart dress is a must.
Lola Lo, Magdalen Street A cosy Polynesian-themed bar with cheap, tropical cocktails and friendly staff. Even the glasses are styled after iconic Polynesian characters and can be bought from the bar for the perfect souvenir – provided you get them home in one piece. Book a table or even the whole venue for all-night table service if fancy a living it up.
The Varsity Club, High Street Spanning four floors in a revamped industrial building, The Varsity Club is everything you need under one roof. There’s an impressive range of drinks served up in the ground floor lounge and a buzzing dancefloor in the upstairs nightclub. For a change of scene, head on up to the newly renovated roof terrace for some al fresco partying with impressive views.
Wahoo, Hythe Bridge Street A huge sports-themed club covering two floors and decked out with numerous plasma TVs and a packed food menu. Cheap drinks, a party atmosphere and almost always full, Wahoo’s resident DJs play classic pop tunes and regularly host nights for more specialised music tastes. The website lists upcoming events and The Glee comedy club next door regularly plays host to some of the UK’s best comedians.
Food: eat like a local:
With such a diverse population, it’s no surprise that Oxford has a huge selection of restaurants to choose from. Over in Jericho, bistro Pierre Victoire serves up traditional French cuisine alongside an exclusive wine list sourced from small, independent growers.
Fans of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver will love sampling the fresh seasonal dishes at Jamie’s Italian on George Street.
Those looking for a foodie challenge should take a trip to First Floor’s all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet on Cowley Road, which is popular with the locals and doesn’t require booking in advance.
An authentic Moroccan dining experience can be found at Kazbar, where staff are always happy to see new faces.
Quirky American-style diner Atomic Pizza serves some delicious all-American dishes named after famous celebrities, including Dolly Parton, Audrey Hepburn and the curiously named Dead Elvis burger with trailer park fries.
Best time to visit:
July is one of the best times of the year to visit Oxford, when Cowley Road Carnival kicks off, with all-day music, drinks and live acts. The neighbourhood bars and restaurants offer great deals for the occasion.
Jumping on the bus is the best and cheapest mode of transport around the city, although taxis are inexpensive thanks to all the budget-conscious students. Depending on where you’re staying, it might be better to just walk it. Don’t get a black taxi cab after a night out – walk round to the taxi rank behind St. Aldgates Tavern where you’ll find one for much less.