Student cities: studying in Oxford

Student cities: studying in Oxford
Oxford offers culture both old and new against a historic backdrop, with traditional pubs and pretty architecture as well as plentiful nightlife, live music and free festivals.

The home of the UK’s oldest university is like a cultural TARDIS – once you’re inside it and living in Oxford it’s somehow bigger than it should be. It’s only a bit larger than the seaside town of Eastbourne, but its 17.6 square miles packs in venues playing all genres of music and styles of theatre, plus mainstream and arts cinemas, great pubs, night clubs and a considerable amount of laid-back café society.

Oxford is famous for being pretty architecturally. It houses 38 colleges – many of them grand and classical – but it’s also a city with an up-to-date and cosmopolitan feel. It feels as if some trendy part of London has been relocated 60 miles to the west to spread young, urban pizazz among lots of stately buildings.

Free and cheap stuff to do in Oxford

Among the best ways of whiling away the time is to walk along one of the three water routes that run through Oxford: the River Cherwell, the Oxford Canal, and the River Thames (traditionally referred to as the Isis in the Oxford area). Respectively, you’ll see students lounging in punts, students living on narrow boats, and students sweating and competing in scull boats.

For great deals to see art and foreign language films and classy mainstream movies, head to the Ultimate Picture Palace cinema on Cowley Road or the Phoenix Picturehouse in Jericho. The cinemas offer special rates for student membership.

If you like to discover new bands, Truck Store on the Cowley Road has free music gigs as do The James Street Tavern and the Mad Hatter on Iffley Road. The Bullingdon Arms on Cowley Road, The Wheatsheaf on the High Street and The Jericho Tavern charge for their events but their prices are affordable.

The city has free music festivals too. In May, there’s Woodstock Live – a short bus ride north of the city. Cowley Road has an excellent carnival and music festival in early July. Later the same month, Charlbury is a lovely small, riverside music festival in a pretty village 10 minutes train ride from the city.

Artsweek Oxfordshire in May sees sculptures and painting pop up around the city.

There’s a glut of paid-for festivals too, both in and around the city. On the music front, there’s Supernatural, Truck, Common People and Towersey; music and mixed arts festivals include Oxfordshire Festival of the Arts, Wilderness, and Offbeat. Oxford Literary Festival and Foodies Festival nourish the belly and love of words.

And our roll-call of free stuff mustn’t omit Oxford’s three great museums. The first is the Ashmolean Museum, which rivals London’s British Museum for its collection of antiquities. Next up is the Oxford University Museum of Natural History with its giant dinosaur bones. Adjacent is the Pitt Rivers Museum – a mind-boggling collection of everything from Chinese eyeball massage equipment to shrunken heads. Everything has been grouped according to the distinctive taxonomy of its founder, Lieutenant-General Augustus Pitt Rivers. Wandering around, you simply don’t know what to expect from one museum cabinet to the next. So, for instance, you get arrows designed to make whistling sounds when fired from bows in a cabinet next to ancient flutes – classified together as ‘things that make whistling sounds’!


The Westgate shopping centre is currently undergoing a £500m redevelopment and is due to reopen for Christmas 2017. There’s a very fine covered market behind the High Street for accessories, deli food and gifts. Food markets are in Gloucester Green, Oxford Castle Quarter and behind the Cowley Road. If you like vintage clothes, head to Walton Street, Little Clarendon Street or The Plain. Oh, and there are excellent book shops near the Bodleian Library. Truck Store, which we’ve mentioned above, is great for CDs and vinyl.


Oxford has a wide range of places to drink. There are a lot of very traditional pubs such as The Lamb & Flag and The Old Bookbinders Alehouse, which are immensely popular with students. Four busy riverside pubs grace the Thames, and there are live music and DJ bars in Walton Street and the Cowley Road. Freud’s – a converted church in Jericho – is a very easy-going place to drink after hours. It has occasional jazz nights and most evenings the admission is free. The main nightclubs are in the O2 Academy Oxford (also a live music venue) and around Park End Street.

If you’re looking for work experience

In terms of casual work, there are always opportunities to earn money in Oxford’s huge leisure and tourism sector, and of course there is work related to the universities or to other educational establishments in the city. Other than that, Oxford’s main industries are publishing, IT and science.

Universities in Oxford

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