About the city | University of Oxford
Oxford skyline
Oxford skyline
(Image Credit: Cosima Gillhammer / Graduate Photography Competition)

About the city

About Oxford

Oxford is a diverse and historic city, just 57 miles (92 km) to the west of London and well connected to the rest of the UK, including international transport hubs, by train, air and road.

You can see fine examples of architecture from every period from late Saxon onwards within the city – many of which belong to the University of Oxford and its colleges. Oxford’s complex history has given rise to its unique character. Some parts of the city have winding medieval lanes, while others have wide boulevards of Georgian houses, and others are modern housing estates.

Oxford today is a modern and forward-looking city. It is one of the most culturally diverse in the United Kingdom and home to not only two universities, but also several hospitals, motor manufacturing, education, publishing and a large number of science and technology-based companies.

Oxford is one of the greenest cities in the south of England with extensive parkland and meadows within the city boundaries. It is surrounded by rolling countryside – the Cotswolds, Chilterns and North Wessex Downs and the rivers Thames and Cherwell run through it. The need to move cattle across these rivers gave the city its original Saxon name Oxenaforda meaning ‘ford of the oxen’ in around 900AD.

The balance of old and new, city and country mean that Oxford is a popular location for filming, and many stories have been set in Oxford. Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse books are set in Oxford (as is the TV adaptation and the spin-off series Lewis and Endeavour). Philip Pullman’s trilogy 'His Dark Materials' is partly set in both Oxford and a parallel version of the city in another world. Possibly most famous of all Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is considered the quintessential Oxford novel. Much of the Harry Potter film adaptations were filmed in various Oxford colleges, as have adaptations of many other novels set in the city. 

Importantly, Oxford is also well known as a safe city. It has Purple Flag status and the Complete University Guide ranks Oxford in its top ten safest student cities

Culture and nightlife

Oxford has a vibrant and varied cultural and night life. Many museums and attractions are also part of the University, such as the Ashmolean, the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Botanic Gardens. There’s plenty of opportunity to see exhibitions, go to night-time events, festivals and cinema screenings at venues across the city. Oxford is also home to the New, Playhouse and Burton Taylor theatres, as well as smaller venues in colleges and at arts and community centres like the Old Fire Station.

Oxford is especially famous for its music scene with venues such as the O2 Academy, the Bullingdon, the Holywell Music Room, the Sheldonian and multiple pubs where bands play. Every spring there is a huge folk music festival and the city has produced bands like Radiohead, Foals, Supergrass, Ride and Swervedriver, as well as being home to the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra and the City of Oxford Silver Band to name a few. The local area also hosts many music festivals: Common People, The Wilderness Festival and Truck Festival being the most well-known. There are also large events in the city throughout the year such as the Cowley Road Carnival and St Giles Fair.

There are  a huge range of dance groups and amateur theatre companies that you can either watch or get involved with, including two Morris sides (the City and the University) and classes including Jazz, Hip Hop, and Zumba from the Oxford University Dance Society.

Oxford is also a foodies’ paradise, with many great restaurants, cafes and pubs and excellent food stalls in the Covered Market and at Gloucester Green Market. Whether you head to Jericho for some cake at the Barefoot Bakery, or down to the Cowley Road for a trip to Oli’s Thai or Arbequina (which recently received excellent reviews in the national press), there are plenty of places to eat and drink in the city.

To find out more about what’s on, have a look at the Daily Info website. You can also discover more of the city's fantastic independent shops, restaurants and markets at the Independent Oxford website or in their printed Independent Oxford Compendium.

Transport and getting around

Oxford is a small city so it’s easy to get around. There are walking or cycling routes to most places – Oxford has one of the highest proportion of people cycling to work anywhere in the UK. If you don't have your own bike there are many options to hire a 'dockless' bike from as little as 30 minutes. 

There are several bus companies operating within the city covering the whole of the greater Oxford area and many nearby towns and villages. We also have excellent links to Heathrow and Gatwick Airports by coach and London by both bus and train. Buses to London run all day every day, so you can explore the capital as late as you like. Oxford train station is also on the Cross Country, Chiltern and Great Western lines taking you down to the West Country and Cornwall or up to the north of England. Most transport providers also offer student or young person discounts. 

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