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Quads and staircases

14 December 2012

by Natalie K. Watson

Oxford is one of the world's oldest universities, and the oldest in the English-speaking world, but it is far more than a city on a university campus.

What to see
Christ Church Cathedral is also a college chapel, and attending a service there can be a good way to catch a glimpse inside the world of quads and staircases.

Highlights of university architecture include the Bodleian Library and the Radcliffe Camera. These are primarily places of work for scholars and students, but the Bodleian frequently has exhibitions which are open to the public. Next to the Bodleian is Wren's Sheldonian Theatre, the centre of the University's ceremonial life, but also used as a concert venue. The Holywell Music Room, where Mozart and other famous musicians have performed over the centuries, is near by. The tower of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin offers a good panoramic view of the city.

The Ashmolean Museum, on Beaumont Street, has recently been refurbished, and combines a splendid collection of paintings with a range of other treasures. Christ Church Picture Gallery has a smaller collection, but is worth visiting. Among the city's green spaces are the extensive University Parks, and the more bucolic Christ Church Meadow. A walk (or a punt) along the river is enjoyable indeed.

The Covered Market is a must-visit for shoppers, offering a wide selection of shops offering groceries (watch out for the geese hanging from the ceiling outside the butchers' shops), craft goods, and other delights such as Brown's café.

Oxford has a good selection of cultural events for all ages and tastes. The Playhouse offers a good mix of professional and student productions. The Phoenix Picturehouse, on Walton Street, is one of the best arthouse cinemas outside London. In the summer, there are plenty of outdoor Shakespeare performances in college gardens.

Lovers of real ale will find a splendid selection in the Turf Tavern, near the Bodleian Library. Or try the Eagle and Child on St Giles, once the meeting place of the Inklings.

Among my favourite places in Oxford is the University Museum, on Parks Road, which houses the university's extensive natural-history collections, including the famous Dodo. Housed in the same building is the Pitt Rivers Museum, the university's anthropological and archaeological collections. Both museums are a good place to take children on a rainy afternoon.

Near by
For those who want to venture out of Oxford, Woodstock is an enjoyable little market town with good pubs and shops, and home to Blenheim Palace, Churchill's birthplace, with its extensive gardens. The Cotswolds are within easy driving distance, and make a delightful change to the vibrancy of the city.


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