Quite a lot of graduate trainees end up relocating to Oxford for the job. It can be quite lonely moving to a new city – your old friends/family might be far away, you don’t know anyone local and you may struggle with living alone. Despite this, Oxford is a lovely place and definitely worth making the most of while you’re here! Hopefully, this post will give you some ideas of where to start out exploring. Many of the places you can enjoy in your own company, and some are free of charge. And to those who already know Oxford, this might just introduce you to some new places, or give you that push to check out somewhere you’ve been meaning to go for ages.
Thirsty Meeples – roll a dice at Thirsty Meeples on Gloucester Green, a relaxed and fun board game café for new players and long-term fans. The friendly team are always on hand with recommendations in case choosing between the thousand games gets overwhelming. You book a three hour slot online, then pay a cover charge (currently £6/per adult if you order some food or drink, or £7.50 for just gaming). Then for those three hours, you can play as many games as you like! Have a sweet Oxford Fog latte in the afternoon or a cheeky cocktail on Friday night (or vice versa, I’m not one to judge). They also serve sandwiches, snacks, and cakes, and offer an impressive tea selection. One final thing: the board games have SHELF MARKS. You can even get your shelf-organisation fix on the weekends… they don’t call it their ‘board game library’ for nothing (written by: Georgina Moore, 2021/2022 Graduate Trainee).
Cowley Road Charity Shop – Cowley has a reputation as the ‘student area’ of Oxford – its bustling main road is full of fun independent shops and eateries. For those wanting a break from typical high-street fashion brands, we recommend the charity and vintage shops that can be found here.
Hinksey Pool – a lovely open-air swimming pool located next to Hinksey Park. Tickets can be purchased on a pay-as-you-go basis, or you can sign up for membership. A nice way to cool off after work on a warm day.
The Covered Market – dating back to the 1770s, this historic building holds an array of independent craft shops, food stalls, a florist and many cafés. A firm favourite of the trainees and the Oxford student population is Moo Moo’s Milkshakes, a family-run milkshake stall offering a range of flavours to enjoy separately or experimentally combine…
G&Ds – the G&D ice cream cafés are a great place to meet up with other trainees at the end of the working day. They are renowned for their delicious ice cream but also serve coffee, bagels, waffles and other deserts. There are currently three located around Oxford: George & Danver on St Aldates, George & Davis on Little Clarendon Street and George & Delila on Cowley Road. The music is great too, as long as you’re a fan of the old classics like ABBA!
St Mary the Virgin Tower, University Church – University Church played a very important role in the University’s administration around a thousand years ago. It even served as the first library before Duke Humphries was built! Today, it is a beautiful historic building in which to worship or rest and reflect. For £5 you can climb the tower (the oldest part of the church) and see some amazing views over Oxford. The Old Congregation House attached also holds a café with indoor and outdoor seating.
Oxford Castle and Prison – the tour costs around £15 and involves a lot of stairs, but lasts about an hour and is a great insight into some local history, with excellent views from the top of the tower if you go on a clear day! Would recommend for entertaining guests who like history but are unimpressed by libraries (written by: Josie Fairley Keast, 2021/22 Graduate Library Trainee).
Theatre and Cinema
Ultimate Picture Palace – a wonderful independent cinema on Cowley Road which showcases a range of independent (sometimes quirky!) films. The bar serves ice cream from the trainee’s favourite G&Ds ice cream parlour and under 26’s can sign up for the Five Pound Film Pass, which reduces ticket prices to just £5!
The Playhouse, New Theatre, The North Wall – The New Theatre on George Street and The Oxford Playhouse (opposite the Ashmolean on Beaumont Street) are considered Oxford’s main commercial theatres and play host to the UKs most popular plays, musicals and theatricals. Father out in Summertown and on a more intimate scale, The North Wall Arts Centre provides classes, exhibitions, gigs, comedy nights and family events. It also supports young and/or emerging writers and performers.
The Old Fire Station – located on George Street, this arts centre is an affordable, community-rooted alternative to the New Theatre. The Old Fire Station is home to two charity organisations: the homelessness charity ‘Crisis’ and ‘Arts at the Old Fire Station’ (AOFS), which aims to involve people of all backgrounds in the performing arts. They offer standard price tickets for £13 as well a ‘pay less’ and ‘pay more’ option, the idea being that the ‘pay more’ ticket holders will cover the difference for those who can’t afford standard prices. The atmosphere is very warm, fun and inclusive, and many performers hang around for a chat in the foyer after the show!
Oxfordshire County Library – located near the entrance to Westgate shopping centre, this public library is a warm friendly space with all the sections you could want, including literature, fiction, history, local history, nature and poetry. A borrowing card is free and also gives you access to the library’s computers (including internet).
Museum of Natural History – although taxidermy might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the Natural History Museum uses it for educational purposes to bring to life a whole array of creatures. My personal favourite is the albatross – he is enormous! What is particularly great about this museum is that it all fits in one big room: no risk of walking in an overwhelmed daze over endless different floors, ending up exhausted by the end of the day…It is also nice to see that everyone gets the same irresistible urge to put their head between the jaws of the T-Rex skeleton! There are plenty of interactive exhibits for children, as well as a gift shop and a coffee stand outside. The Pitt Rivers Museum of archaeology and anthropology is also located just behind the Natural History Museum, crammed to the ceiling with fascinating artefacts.
Evensong – the majority of colleges hold an Evensong service on a Sunday afternoon/evening. Some colleges with bigger choral traditions will have services in the week as well. Keble, Queens, Merton, Magdalen, New, and Christchurch choirs are all recommended. The services are free, open to anyone, and require little audience participation compared to other types of service such as Communion. It’s a great way to hear good choirs for free and experience a nice space for calm and reflection.
Oxford Botanical Gardens – thought to be Britain’s oldest botanical gardens, the Oxford Botanical Gardens were founded in 1621 to supply the University’s medical students with useful herbs and plants. In the Walled Garden section, you can see the layout of the beds in methodical rows reflects this past. It is a lovely space to relax with a book or study the different plants and their purposes. Or you might want to explore the different hothouses, which include the ‘Rainforest House’ (featuring the pineapple plant!), the ‘Water Lily House’ and the ‘Conservatory’. Several literary sculptures lurk in the gardens for you to find, including the famous Cheshire Cat and a daemon from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. There is even a ‘Lyra’s Bench’, which Pullman used as the setting of Will and Lyra’s first meeting. Entrance is free with your Univ/Bod card!
The Headington Shark – a (very unique) art installation in the Headington area, not far from the Oxford Brookes library. There are also some nice places to eat and several charity shops nearby, if you wanted to make an afternoon of it (written by: Josie Fairley Keast, 2021/22 Graduate Library Trainee).
The Thames Towpaths – the Thames Towpath runs between Foley Bridge and the West Oxford area of Osney (where many of the graduate trainee training sessions take place), right through to Portland Meadow and beyond. There is also a towpath from central Oxford out to Jericho, which almost reaches Summertown. These paths are great for spotting the local water-loving wildlife, such as shoals of spawning fish and plenty of geese and ducks/ducklings in spring! My favourite spots to date are a black kingfisher near Portland Meadow and Eddie the Osney Heron (who has his own Facebook page). Portland Meadow is even a popular spot to swim if you’re feeling brave enough!
Christchurch Meadow – a big green space right in the centre of Oxford, sometimes home to rare English Longhorn cows… The path takes you down to the Thames (where you will often see row teams practicing on the water), and then you can choose whether to loop back along the Cherwell or carry on to the University boathouses. Make sure you are aware of the opening closing times though, or you may get locked in!
University Parks – located conveniently in Central Oxford, these Parks hold a number of sports grounds as well various nature trails, such as the Oak and Thorn walks or along the River Cherwell. The Parks’ website features a helpful map of these routes, as well as a guide on the different types of trees found along them.
For example, the Oak Walk features a Tibetan Whitebeam tree which blooms with tiny white flowers in late spring. The South Walk also takes you past the ‘Genetic Garden’, dedicated to genetics researcher Professor Cyril Dean Darlington. Darlington first established the garden in 1964 to showcase the evolutionary spectacle of plants, and many of the original specimens are still there.
South Park – for trainees living in Cowley, South Park might be a closer alternative than University Parks for getting out into some green space. It consists of 50 acres of parkland and offers some lovely views over Oxford, which allowed one of this year’s trainee cohort to get an excellent shot of Oxford at sunset…