Newest Review: ... around, i'm still discovering them! The City is full of cafe's and pubs and there are some lovely places by the river such as Head of the R... more
Oxford: Just look up.
Oxford in General
Member Name: Idiophreak
Oxford in General
Advantages: Pretty, character, pubs
Disadvantages: Almost prohibitively expenses, dated shopping experience.
I've lived close to Oxford most of my life.
As a youngster it was extremely rare I came, as the awkward road layouts, fume-filled city centre and expensive parking discouraged my parents from driving in - so we went to other towns, Reading or Swindon, instead. As I became a teenager, though, I would venture into Oxford on the bus. It's fair to say, I really didn't like Oxford that much at all. It was busy, noisy, stinky..all people barging into each other..I just didn't like it as a place to be.
Returning from university in Swansea, however, I found myself filled with a new appreciation for Oxford and I learnt a simple trick...Look up. If you wander round staring at your feet, Oxford could be anywhere...the same people visiting the same shops, doing the same thing...But when you get your head up and look around you, you notice the buildings, the architecture, the trees...
I don't think there's any doubt that Oxford is a beautiful city - a mass of stonework from a myriad of architectural periods, all wedged in on top of each other. There are also beautiful places to take a wander really close to the city centre - Christchurch gardens being a notable example.
In terms of shopping, new visitors may be a little disappointed - there's very little different or unique about Oxford. There's a medium-sized Debenhams, medium-sized HMV and the usual array of WHSmiths, Next, Primark and so on. High rental costs ensure that small independent retailers have trouble settling in the centre - but areas like Cowley tend to have a little more variety if you can face the walk or a bus ride.
Eating wise, Oxford has improved over the last couple of years, the new Castle complex in the old prison (and castle before that...) has brought a variety of chains to the city - hosting The Living Room, Prezzo, Carluccios, La Tasca, Wetherspoons, Pizza Express and a Krispy Kreme donut shop. There's also a Jamie Oliver's Italian in the centre, along with Bella Italia, Maxwells (american) and Ask.
A short walk away from the shopping centres, there are numerous other eateries worth a visit - Loch Fyne, Gee's, Brown's, Cafe Rouge, Strada and The Big Bang (sausages!) to name a few. There are also some places much further out from the city that warrant a dinner - the Trout at Godstow being a particular favourite of mine.
For entertainment, Oxford has 2 Odeon cinemas in the town centre and two independent picture houses a short walk away. There's also an (ageing) ice rink, Lazer Quest and a fair amount of touristy stuff, guided walks, bus tours and that sort of thing. There are two theatres in the city centre, as well as a couple of "studios" and occasional plays at the Castle and so on. Further out from the centre, there's a larger Vue cinema adjacent to the Kassam Stadium in South Oxford. This is accompanied by a bowling alley, Frankie and Bennies, all you can eat Chinese and large gym. There's a Karting track to the south of the city, although opening hours are sporadic at best.
Sports wise, Oxford is a little underwhelming - there are no leisure facilities in the town centre itself, with a few leisure centres scattered elsewhere throughout the city. There are a number of gyms, all of which are fairly expensive to join. There are a number of facilities (tennis courts, climbing wall) attached to Oxford Brookes university - but public access to these isn't always straightforward. Oxford has reasonable provisions for runners and cyclists with wide pavements and cycle lanes on major routes - although buses and traffic rarely respect either, so near-death experiences are plentiful. It's also disappointing how many people seem to think they're too busy or important to smile or say hello to runners or cyclists in the city - most people preferring to avoid eye-contact where possible. Not exactly a friendly vibe.
Transport to the city is hard work - buses from even the closest of villages will cost upwards from £3 and services are sporadic and stop comparatively early in the night. Parking is laughably expensive, particularly on Saturdays when a three hour stay will see you parting with around a tenner. There is some free parking on St Giles and Walton Street after 6:30 in the evening - but this is predictably hard to come by. There's no kind of secure parking for bikes - and most of the bikes you see around seem to have at least flat tyres, if not "pringled" wheels or stolen parts.
By contrast, transport *from* the city is a lot better - with buses and trains going to London directly pretty frequently and throughout the night (although the bus is better for late nights) - there are also bus services to Bicester Village, Cambridge and other cities further afield.
Pubbing is where Oxford really comes into it's own...there's a variety of pubs and bars to keep anyone happy. There are old-skool Oxford pubs like the Eagle and Child and Turf Tavern which are small, old and pokey - sadly however, dare I say it, these seem to have lost a little of their character following the smoking ban - without there haze of smoke they're not nearly so charming. Thankfully these places still serve a decent range of beers...at a cost. Without doing any maths, I'd suggest that £3 is around the average price for a pint in the town centre. This is continued throughout the other kinds of pubs - larger scale bars like Copa and more classy establishments like All Bar One. Only the wetherspoons really bucks the pricing trend, with a pint from £1.90, a refreshing change.
After the pub, you're somewhat short of options in Oxford - there are a couple of places to go, Old Fire Station being the most popular, but there's nowhere "good" - all the Oxford "clubs" offer little more than cheesy music and under-age girls. A formula that gets old pretty fast.
Overall, then, Oxford is somewhat a mixed bag - it's a beautiful city and great for tourists to visit, although they'd see all the sights in two or three days. Shopping wise, it's far from the ideal destination. Lack of variety and high cost of travel mean I continue to go elsewhere. For food and a couple of beers, Oxford is generally very well equipped. The high cost of *anything* in the city means staying further out from the centre is normally recommended.
I'll give Oxford three stars. I love the place, it's my home, but the council's continued campaign to stop me driving to the centre is starting to convince me to go elsewhere - and the lack of a modern shopping centre is hurting the town - maybe I'll change this review once they've redeveloped the Westgate centre - coming with more parking, John Lewis and some other large stores, this might help to put Oxford on the shopping map.
Summary: B- Could Do Better.